Terry Wogan’s column on France


With the sun beating down, TERRY WOGAN muses on the wonders of nature and looks forward to the annual snail feast in his little corner of south-west France

The sky is burnished steel, the sun its furnace. Nothing’s moving, apart from the butterflies fluttering amid the lavender. There’s no sign of the swallows and swifts that swooped so recklessly last summer to sip in the pond. They’re sheltering somewhere in the shade, wondering why they took the trouble to fly all those miles from North Africa to balmier climes, only to find the sun beating down just as fiercely here.

Even the buzzards have ceased drifting high in the sky on the thermals, and sit moodily on the telegraph wires, too stunned by the heat to bother searching for the passing mouse, who is under cover anyway, and will leave his foraging until it’s cooler and darker.

All is quiet, apart from the relentless chirruping of the crickets, and the steady barking of the two German Shepherd dogs in the motor home parked across the way. How anybody can travel in a caravan will always be a puzzle to somebody like me, who has never been in a tent – not to mention a caravan – in his life.

With the lack of ambient light in this corner of south-west France, the Milky Way stands out like a cloud in the inky night-time sky. But the tranquil peace is shattered by the insistent bellowing of frogs and toads and the whistling of the tree frogs. It only matters if you’re lying awake in the darkness, but can you tell a frog from a toad? Or, if it comes to that, a swallow from a swift? I’ve had the difference explained to me a hundred times, but it’s never really made it to my frontal lobe. Something to do with the tail I’m told. But who cares? Those little birds, dipping low to the ground, then swirling high in the sky, never fail to lift my spirits.

I’ve got the Escargolade to look forward to. I’ve been before to this snail feast. It’s held in a little village that boasts a few houses, a church, and a community hall which will be heaving on the great day with gastropod lovers.

The menu features an aperitif, a plate of pâté, meats and melon, followed by the triumphant snail, deliciously enrobed in your choice of vinaigrette, garlic or tomato sauce, or more simply done with parsley. A palate-cleansing Armagnac follows, and then, grilled chicken. Dessert and coffee, of course, the local red and white wine having been served throughout the meal.

The cost? Twenty quid a head… I know, take it up with the IMF. Last time, it must have been curtains for at least 20,000 snails. I didn’t know that there were so many in the world, but then I know as much about snails as I do about swallows and frogs.

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