Standing 4ft 6 in his muddy rubber shoes, Didier Bouyssou had an arresting gunslinger’s limp, a cheery and largely toothless smile and was our best neighbour. Ever.
Tucked away in a wooded valley, our first house in France was bounded on one side by the river and the other by Mr B’s fields where, weather regardless, he happily pottered around each day.
Essentially an oversized allotment, Didier’s land was devoted to producing unhealthy looking maize and a wide variety of wizened veg, so lacking in appeal that even the rabbits left it alone. All the more left then to take to the weekly market, there to foist upon unsuspecting tourists.
Looking every bit an underfed and vaguely gullible soul, Didier was in fact a born salesman. Deliberately setting up his little stall next to the biggest and smartest, he had the forlorn appeal of a small, scruffy and seemingly abandoned puppy, waiting patiently for his master’s return. Depending on the time of year, smartly dressed Brits would wander away from the covered market hall, clutching grubby paper bags full of desiccated beans, over ripe tomatoes, roadside grown wild garlic or foraged walnuts - surprised looks on their faces as to how or why they’d parted with hard cash for any of it. Meanwhile, pockets jangling, Mr B would fold up his small trestle and head home for lunch.
Being neighbours, he wouldn’t take a centime from us, yet we regularly arrived home to baskets full of Mr B’s bounteous generosity – some of it even edible. Hay for the horses too – hand cut from his paddock in 40° heat and then forked onto his trailer, Didier would work ‘till sunset, heave the stuff into our barn and expect nothing more than our thanks. It took a while – and a deal of dedication on both our parts – to overcome the language barrier, but the friendship which endures was ample reward for the effort.
When we moved, we gave Didier a photo of him collecting walnuts with one of the boys. Like us, he keeps his copy in a frame by his fireplace (just below the moth eaten stuffed fox) and says it’s one of his most precious things. And it’s one of ours too.