It is now fashionable to say that Peter Mayle is no longer fashionable. After the success of A Year in Provence, and A Good Year, he disappeared off my radar, although one would occasionally come across an essay of his in an old copy of GQ or suchlike, when waiting in line at the hairdresser.
Acquired Tastes was very old, but new to me, and a quick skim through its pages showed that Mayle was still ploughing the same furrow. He has worked this particular furrow a dozen or more times now: Toujours Provence, Encore Provence, Provence A-Z, French Lessons, Hotel Pastis and so on. And why not?
The fact is, it is his furrow. Anyone writing even occasional pieces about living down here in the south knows that we owe it all to him. Mayle invented the genre. He is the exemplar. We are all following in his footsteps. Yes, even the Celia Brayfields and the Rose Tremains. A Year in Provence was where it all started.
I remember it well. It was 1989. Extracts had been published in the Sunday Times and I, a long-term Francophile, was hooked. When the book itself was published, I bought it on the first day, finished my work, and sat reading with a bottle of Montagny 1ère Cru. I loved it. The book, that is. (The wine was pretty good, too, as I recall.)
I loved A Year in Provence not only for itself, but because Peter Mayle was also an advertising copywriter. True, he was a rather better (and certainly better-paid) writer than I ever was, but we certainly existed in the same universe. I even had a friend who was a good friend of his, though by the time I realised there was only a single degree of separation, Mayle was already living down here: about forty kilometres from where I am writing this.
Reading that first book proved to me that an advertising copywriter could not only aspire to owning a house in the south of France: it could actually be achieved. Mayle had done it; so could I.
It took 10 years fulfil our ambition, during which time a good friend, also a fine copywriter, had established himself in Burgundy. The Luberon – some people say because of Mayle himself – was now way too expensive for us, but this side of the Rhône, at that time, was just about feasible. And that’s how and why we are sitting now in the courtyard of a small maison de village in St Quentin la Poterie, a ville de Métiers d'Art, just outside Uzès.
Technically, of course, we are in Languedoc. But this is a mere technicality, the result of a Parisian bureaucrat arbitrarily deciding that the Rhône was a convenient border. As any fule no, this is a genuine part of original Roman Provence – the Pont du Gard is only 10 minutes from here – and so I can confidently confirm, with Peter Mayle, that A Year in Provence is always, always, A Good Year.
We've had a dozen of them so far, and hope for many, many more.
Today’s listening: the Schubert String Quintet, played by the Lindsays, with Douglas Cummings on the second cello.