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The sun is far hotter than it should be, and my face has reddened after two hours sitting outside reading

The sky outside is the colour of my shutters: Lectoure blue, named after the nearby Gers town, which once exported the pigment made from woad to the New World and beyond.

Now it's recreated in a museum-cum-factory and sold in pots with hefty prices to old romantics such as moi in the early days of arrival.

It's subtly stronger than aquamarine, yet not as deep as sky-blue; more the colour used by the Old Masters on the Virgin's robes.

The sun is far hotter than it should be at this date, and my face has reddened after two hours sitting outside doing the most joyful thing of all – reading.

The recently arrived, now empty, Amazon box, with its treasures piled beside it on the miller's stairs to my study, thrills me every time I pass, knowing of the pleasures still to come.

Once again we're having an Indian summer – mornings misty and cool nights clear with both stars and planes competing for attention. So clear and bright that I find myself able to stand outside at midnight, head thrown back looking at the glory above me. Below, each tree, each bush is visible, even those at the far crossroads, and only the dreadful silence (to my ears) disturbs my ability to take the dog and myself to a chair and meld into the whole.

A frog's song, a rustle out of eye-line, a strange animal cough sends me scuttling back inside, while congratulating myself that I lasted so long.

Yet last week I lay in a hotel room where gentle streetlight bathed me in my bed. Where church bells tolled through the night on the hour and half-hour and the blissful sound of a digger awoke me at 8am. It's the sounds, you see, and the smell.

The smell was ozone – salt mixed with sand and all the creatures of the sea. You don't think sand smells? Oh yes it does, it really does.

I was on the Ile de Re – an 18-mile island facing the Atlantic, linked by a curving bridge from La Rochelle, one even I could drive.

It's like the Hamptons of New York, the great secret retreat of France's more private stars, politicians, and great families. The houses, never more than one storey high, cleave unto themselves behind discreet security gates and walls. Villages entrance with hidden chic restaurants serving the best of the island's oysters, fish and other seafood, served with a simplicity lacking in my fat-filled home of foie-gras, duck and goose.

London friends come here every autumn. Last week was the first time I could join them, both legs functioning, bit of cash in pocket, after a four-hour drive. Sadly, unlike the past few days, we were in the middle of torrential rains.

The night before I left, the wind was an evil entity whose fingers groped horribly under my shutters and doors.

Once on the Ile de Re there was only the rain I call Lake District rain, soft and drenching.

In St Martin and Ars, everything was open, ready to close in two weeks, and the harbours were surrounded by empty tables with chalk-board menus promising delights.

In summer it is apparently an upmarket St Tropez, without the vulgarity but just as thronged and irritating.

Last week it was a joy. Apparently it is best to experience the island and its salt flats by bike. Not an option for me, but I understand it.

Instead we drove and gazed out at beaches left with strings of seaweed between men who pulled lobster cages from high and dry sands. Breakers rolled out far, far away, and the unmistakable smell of the sea made me happy.

Many years ago as a teenage reporter in Blackpool I sat in a bus station on the south shore. Two old women of the Les Dawson variety heaved themselves off a bus from Blackburn, or possibly Accrington.

The air stank of burgers, hot dogs, onions, sweat, chips and rank fat. Screams and music came from the Pleasure Beach but had no impact on these ladies climbing off the coach.

One, her bosoms heaving from the climb down off the bus, drank deep of the smell and said: "Eeh, Ethel, smell that ozone. Bloody lovely."

Ethel drank deep and smiled. "Bloody gorgeous," she replied.

I have often thought of them when by the sea in places like the Maldives or the Seychelles and wondered, thankfully, how I'd made the transition from that bus shelter so many years ago.

I thought of them again in the Ile de Re as I sniffed t'ozone and told the story to my sophisticated friends.

As we wandered around the island, at each point, we paused and sniffed the ozone. And laughed.

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