I’m generally not sentimental or nostalgic. I don’t think it would have been fun – at all – to have lived in previous ages. Now is always the best time – and if you think about it, it is the only time we have. Yet this summer, I found myself thinking, France isn’t what it used to be.

One of the most annoying things about France used to be their resistance to change, yet in their stubborn conviction that their way was of course right, lay a great protection for all things delightfully French. Vive la difference!

When we first explored France with our children, 25 years ago, we had not travelled very much at all, so it was a great adventure to go down through France. At that time you could set off from Calais with no bookings and just turn up at hotel or campsite and be assured of a place. We would wander along and just kind of stumble across wonderful things. Carnac just a field of stones without even a fence to protect it; the beautiful Pont du Gard, where John and Rory walked on the very top of the aquaduct.

No-one spoke anything but French (why would they?). You could only eat proper meals at 12 noon and 8 pm. In every restaurant of calibre the owner or his wife would act as maitre d’. and would be ensconced in some strategic position viewing all, and local diners would greet and kiss this notable on arrival and departure as if seeking permission to eat at their illustrious table. We found if we shook hands on departure and praised the food (which was uniformly excellent), when we next patronised the establishment we too would be greeted by Madame like a long lost relative and escorted by her in person to a table.

John who was working in France some of that time leading a team that was changing each country’s locally designed computer system to a standard one none of them wanted, came across the French attitude –  ( I’ve been to the Sorbonne therefore my intellect is superior and my decisions are correct and should not be challenged), – and could terminate ‘side’ discussions with his phrase: “The business of this meeting will be conducted in English,” had one or two run ins with French bureaucrat types on holiday. He found one bank clerk singularly unhelpful, refusing to understand his less than perfect French, but also declining any other language. “Then find me some educated person who does speak English,” said he and saw at once by the bank clerk’s deeply offended manner that he did indeed speak English perfectly well and knew that he’d been insulted.

But France has changed. You really must book hotel room and campsite ’emplacement’, even in May and June – not strictly the ‘high’ tourist season. No restaurant can afford a maitre d’ who does no other work. The majority of people speak quite reasonable English and are perfectly obliging. I suspect (my ear is not good enough to establish) that as in the UK, many of the waiting staff are not French. You can get a snack at any time of day. Ancient wonders are fenced off, charged for; rendered profitable and infested with tourists.

In many ways it’s easier, more convenient, more up to date – but it’s less French.

So France has changed. But then, so have we. We’re probably not what we used to be either!

Here’s the grey cat of an earlier blog, (photographed by John and set free from imprisonment in the computer by Robert!) cleaning his whiskers after enjoying our fish.