Jill and I had joined our friend James on his 40' river cruiser for a few days on the famous Canal du Midi, which links the Atlantic at Bordaux with the Med at Beziers. Cap'n Walker is of course the man who founded Wilde's back in 1976, so the presence of the three of us on the good ship Phoenix made this a floating convention of wine bar owners. It was appropriate, therefore, that we set off from Homps, the port where wines from Minervois and the Herault were loaded on working barges for their voyage north and west to Bordaux.
We had a great time. The heart-rate slows as one cruises in a wholly leisurely manner along the tree-lined canal, drifting several metres above roads and rivers. The speed limit is merely 8km per hour, and I'm not sure the Phoenix could achieve this anyway, so there was no alternative but to relax and wait for the next bar,restaurant or spectacular vista to appear. A pastis or two helps this process, I find.
There are locks of course, and they can be fun; especially when a Parisian in a huge cruiser decides to jump the queue, provoking an outburst of multi-lingual catcalls: French, New Zealand English, English English and something unidentifiable from the charming couple in the boat just behind us.
But this was an exception: most people shared our objective, which was to ease our way towards the next restaurant, and the only deadline is the time when the chef closes the kitchen.
We had a couple of quite excellent meals along the canal. The highlight, as so often with Wilde's people, was Friday lunch: a canalside auberge in the middle of nowhere with a 14 euro three course menu du jour. Smoked salmon salad, goujons de volaille, fresh fruit and sorbet. Plus a pichet or two of pink and a pichet of red - all excellent vins de pays from the Minervois.
By lunchtime on Saturday we were back in Homps, and shared a final lunch of bread and pate, washed down with chilled Clos du Caillou. We left James to return to St Quentin via the village of Minerve and the Gorges of Brian, which is not funny at all in French.
James is returning to England on Monday. Bon voyage, Cap'n. And thanks.