WITH two hours to kill until César’s grooming was over, I took myself to the nearby village of Saint-Nicolas-de-la-Grave to enjoy this ‘back season’ sunshine. It’s been far too long since I merely whiled away time outside my own four walls.

The bar/restaurant just off the square in the shade of the 17th century village church is a local haunt that has no reason to attract the few passing tourists on their way to the more famous names of Auvillar and Moissac.

Yes, like their bars, it has a blackboard outside with the lunch menu – usually though a take it or leave it option – and the interior in its plastic simplicity merely states by the bottles in the gantry that it sells alcohol.

It also, of course, sells coffee and if you must, you can sit inside and watch a huge screen usually showing trotting races. We’re a big trotting region. Or rugby. We’re a big rugby region.

I ordered a glass of wine and took a seat outside. To my left pétanque was being played on the dusty pitch outside the butcher/traiteur. Small groups of local workers – all men – were hunched over huge bowls of pasta, hands greedily reaching out for the constantly replenished bread. Pichets of vin rouge were central but then so was the water.

A dog, scrawny, collie type, ranged between tables in hope of a morsel until its master noticed its absence and called it back in a wincingly gruff voice. It turned tail and crawled to its place at his feet, mournfully gazing out.

After a cursory look as I passed to sit down, I was of no interest to any of them.

Occasionally, they’d look over their shoulders after a shout of triumph from the pétanque game; occasionally they’d shout an obscenity to the players, mostly older men, then peer at me slightly shamefaced to see if I’d heard.

I smiled to show I’d not only heard but understood and it didn’t matter a toss to me. This was their playground and always had been.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Saint-Nick and its pink-bricked buildings, often covered in ivy and clematis, and its brick chateau associated forever with England's Richard the Lionheart who conquered it in the 12th century when it was a simpler structure.

He ordered a tower to be built in front of the castle, known as the ‘Tour des Anglais’ and other towers and the wings followed. It is now the rather fine Mairie and little more.

Saint-Nick is not a place the visitor is likely to linger long in, however pretty; not with the finer attractions nearby which rate highly in their guide books. The bar and its outdoor tables are not the France people dream of when thinking longingly of long days and nights, shaded by parasols, heat sodden as all stops for lunch.

And true, if your time here is short, you want the beauty, the memories, the magnolias, the markets, the linen shrouded tablecloths and all the scents and sounds of hot summer south of France.

You don’t want the reality; however good it actually is.

This non-prettified, straightforward, TV blaring, often ugly bistros and bars is our life. Their life. And it’s a very important part of life that must not be lost.

Although our villages and rural life could be said to be dying as youth – as it should – seeks further adventures; 30 per cent of France’s population still live in small villages.

Aware of this, aware of the challenges posed in La France Profonde, President Macron has launched a campaign to open, or sustain, cafés in 1000 villages. As part of the Government’s rural agenda, money will be pumped into the project.

Already applications have been taken from villages which must fit two provisos: Fewer than 3500 residents and no café or one that is in danger of closing.

Can you imagine something similar happening in the UK? It’s certainly not because France is awash with money and can afford to, as many would think, squander, cash on such projects.

It’s the outcome of Macron’s Great Debate initiated in a blitz of community meetings to discover what the people want. It is also recognition of the discontent, dangerously fuelled by the Gilets Jaunes demos, of forgotten rural France.

But it is much, much more than that. It’s the recognition that all communities need a heart. All have the Salle des Fetes and there are numerous occasions where the mayor invites all to partake in the glass of friendship – the salute to the New Year or the remembrance ceremonies of the wars.

The café is different. It’s where the old boys wheel themselves down from the retirement home and play cards; where the market traders can wind down and discuss the future.

And, if food is served, where the women can meet or couples can arrange a meal without the fraught drive to the larger towns.

The French are rarely sentimental….only about their roots, however many generations back. In Paris they yearn for a peasant past and buy up chi chi old farmhouses.

Few would live in them for more than a three-week holiday. But the draw, the race memory, survives and the message is simple: All villages need a beating heart.