It's been great being back here for a few weeks. It's September, and the crowds (well about 200 when they're all here) of summer visitors have locked up their homes and returned to Paris. We fortify ourselves on wild figs on our daily walks ... the best way to eat organic food! (In fact it's about the only way round here. Farmers keep traipsing the fields, pumping out clouds of chemical spray. It's a marvel they're not all dead.)

We're about to head off for a new life in England, taking a trip through Bordeaux first of all. I've prepared myself these last few days by writing an article on the local wine industry, on rocky ground here in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It has fulfilled an ambition, a day spent on the grape harvest. It's been truly refreshing to enjoy a hands-on day's work, something physical and outdoors. I see the virtues of Patrick O'Brian's way of life. He had his own private vineyard in the hills near here, blended the winegrowing with his writing. Like me he tended to get up in the night to tease out the ideas for the next day's writing. Writing, as with all of life, somehow works best when nature's working all around you.