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We had to be up before dawn to make our flight, but it was fully worth it. I was young enough to feel exultant as we walked out to the little plane that stood waiting only for us. There were no other passengers, and the pilot was as friendly and informative as could be desired. We got to Tolouse just after eight. Far from passports being required, Jeremy’s father had arranged for us to be met on the tarmac by a hostess who read out our names, endearingly and absurdly for we were quite plainly the only passengers, as we descended, and then announced herself as being at our disposal for the day. We did not however take advantage of this offer, except to get a car to take us into the town, and the names of a few restaurants where we might choose to lunch.

But at first there was some small unpleasantness. As we wandered along, thrilled at being in so distant a town, in search of a café to have some breakfast, it appeared that we were not to be quite a unified foursome: Jeremy and Jane lagged behind in order, as we found when we turned round, not realizing at first that we were not meant to be waiting for them, to whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear. I did not myself think that I had any justification for minding this. It was after all Jeremy’s party. But Charles thought otherwise. I had done some careful research about the city, and made a comprehensive plan of what I wanted to see: when, after breakfast, there was some dithering about the itinerary, which evidently seemed too strenuous for Jeremy, Charles exploded.

‘I don’t particularly insist that we stick together,’ he concluded, after a lengthy diatribe about what he described as their infantile behaviour. ‘As far as I’m concerned, we may as well stay apart and meet somewhere for lunch. Or not, if you prefer. But if we go about together, it must be done properly. I have no desire to play gooseberry and hang about while you flirt and pretend you don’t notice you’re holding us up. So you’d better decide immediately, and tell us what you want.’

They looked upset and Jane, as she used to do, clutched my hand for sympathy. I squeezed hers, but said nothing. After all, Charles’ alternatives were very sensible: there was a lot I wanted to see and, while sentiment could always be put off for another day, the opportunity offered by this trip was unique. As it turned out, Jane thought so too. She said that of course we would stick together, and Jeremy acquiesced. Naturally he was not as enthusiastic about what we saw as the rest of us, but he took it all in good spirits: as a token of our gratitude, and indeed perhaps contrition, we did not argue when we had finished about where we should eat, but made straight for the restaurant he had selected.

It was of course the most expensive in town, but it was fully worth it. We had the most magnificent cassoulet, the local specialty of various meats cooked with beans, for our main course, all of us that is except Jeremy. He had a steak. Charles, irrepressibly, disapproved vocally of this, as of the egg mayonnaise with which he started, but to no very upsetting effect. At the end of the meal, and of the vast amounts of wine that had accompanied it, we were all thoroughly replete and totally satisfied with the world; so that, when we were back in the plane, even the comment of the pilot, that he had had as good if not better a meal at less than half the cost, inflicted scarcely a pang.

And the day was made even better because, on the way back, we had to make a detour to Paris to pick up some executives who, for some reason we did not feel it incumbent on us to find out, had gone there. We touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport and were allowed to disembark and stretch our legs round about the plane while the navigator went off in search of the other passengers. I still have the photograph Charles took of Jeremy and me lying at ease under the wings of our plane, with vast jets apparent in the background and Jane caught running, for some reason, so that she seems to be aspiring up towards something hovering in the sky. It remains amongst the most cherished souvenirs of an idyllic day, during one of the more interesting periods in my life.

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