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postcard from languedoc

Before we embarked on our journey, we kept asking: "What happens if the children get ill?" Luckily, our first-aid book is among Tallulah's bedtime reading. We pore over methods of preserving amputated digits and rescuing an electrocuted woman by standing on a telephone directory and prodding her with a broom. I like the way the victim looks so absurdly content and clean. Of course, the answer to the question is obvious. We would call a doctor. But what if you are parked in the middle of nowhere? Oh, hypothetical - phooey.

It happens in the mountains of Languedoc. For once, we're not interested in the revival of endangered European languages. In fact, we're thankful the French have marginalised their regional tongues. I would be hard- pressed to explain Tallulah's symptoms in Occitan. Tallulah has a chesty cough, not helped by an incessant downpour. We are parked down a mile- long track, across a flooded ford. The track belongs to our friend, horse- trekker Roland Bec, an irresistible Frenchman who serenades Tallulah on his guitar. She falls for him, but not with her usual wild joy.

That night, Tallulah's temperature rockets to 104F. She thrashes about in her bunk, muttering "Carry me, carry me" increasingly deliriously. Most worrying of all, she has a headache. Richard pulls on his waterproofs and sloshes across a field to Roland's house where he is forced to interrupt a dinner party to ask Roland to call his doctor. I trust French doctors, because the French are so obsessed by their bodies - inside and out. No other European high street has so many salons de beaute and laboratoires de analyses medicales. Where our bodily secretions are hidden away in the back of hospitals, the French study theirs between the post office and boulangerie.

Roland's doctor arrives with impressive speed. He twists Tallulah's head from side to side. Nobody mentions the M word, but this is what he is thinking. However, he diagnoses bronchitis not meningitis. I am overwhelmed. I cradle Tallulah; lights are low; rain drums on the roof. I want to keep the doctor here, this competent visitor from the real world.

Roland offers help. I have seen Roland jabbing a horse with antihistamine - he knows his stuff. But this time he's offering to drive Richard five miles to the nearest chemist. In the event, his son has taken the car, so a guest is persuaded to drive them there. The doctor prescribes seven drugs. He insists on bottled sea-water to spray up Tallulah's nose and six sessions of "clapping". We look blank. It seems we must find a kinaestherapist (whatever that is) to bring up her catarrh by rhythmically patting her chest. "Suppo?" he asks, as he signs off. "Pardon?" "Suppositoires?" "Non." Here I draw the line. "Pas pour les anglais."

Tallulah, I am happy to report, has recovered.

Helena Drysdale