And I thought all I had to worry about was my sociopath of a husband

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The Independent Online

The husband and I have sloped off to France to spend our sixth wedding anniversary in our accustomed manner. All around the farmhouse, Provençal vines droop with heavy fruit while the soft hum of bees serenades us from the lavender beds. Ripe figs loll in a come-hither way on the ancient pine table.

The husband and I have sloped off to France to spend our sixth wedding anniversary in our accustomed manner. All around the farmhouse, Provençal vines droop with heavy fruit while the soft hum of bees serenades us from the lavender beds. Ripe figs loll in a come-hither way on the ancient pine table.

Yes, it's the epitome of romance, and it's just the four of us. Did I not mention my uncle and his friend Leonard? Oh, and Robert, who did the flowers for our wedding, is arriving tomorrow midday. The rest of my family are perplexed at the arrangement. "Don't you want to be alone?" they often ask. But when you're married to a sociopath you have little desire to play Garbo yourself. A gang of committed bachelors is in many ways the perfect choice of chaperones. My husband, who used to publish military history, gets to talk battleships and Cathars and I have some fellow naturists to gossip with round the pool.

We have been married six years, so the heady days are over. The anniversary just provides the perfect excuse to escape the hysteria of GB not-quite-at-war. It finally got to me when a friend forbade me to go on the Tube, on the grounds that there would definitely be a gas attack within the next three months. This to someone whose livelihood depends on a twice-daily flit between Oxford Circus and King's Cross Station. Burdened with unwanted intelligence, I felt it was my duty to make other people as paranoid and tetchy as me. So I told my younger sister, Dorcas – in the same sisterly way that I once informed her about poltergeists, spontaneous combustion and the Ebola virus. What I hadn't counted on was Dorcas conveying this doomful prophecy to my mother. Mum immediately stated fretting about my older sister, Holly, who, believe me, this is true, spends her entire working day taking pictures of ads on Tube trains. But here's one comforting thought for you. If you see a cheerily loony lady photographer on the Underground, stick close by her. My sister Holly has always had a fleet of guardian angels working overtime on her case. She is the only person I know to have pulled off the cartoonish feat of inadvertently whooshing down a black run and over a ski-jump on her first attempt at skiing. She landed head-first in a snow drift to the horror of all onlookers, but was totally unscathed. Follow that woman.

My dreams of lolling by the pool, far from the harbingers of war, turn out to be optimistic. The French, as it turns out, are being every bit as hysterical as we Brits. It's just that they're enjoying squeezing every last ounce from the agony, as is to be expected with the Gallic temperament. Marseilles airport had a near-party atmosphere compared with the ghost town of Stansted, even though a local group of fundamentalist bovver-boys has threatened to bomb it. The usual pageant of hotly embracing relatives was given extra colour by the soldiers who self-consciously adjusted their sub-machine-guns before helping you steer your wayward airport trolley.

The already febrile atmosphere is enflamed by the fact that the French are spoilt for choice in the doom stakes: the domestic catastrophe of the Toulouse explosion provides as many column inches as les attentats. In this part of Provence the possibility of a disaster combining both elements is hotly discussed: the nuclear power station at Pierrelatte glowers to the north. Why Islamic terrorists would seek to flatten Marseilles, the Arab stronghold of France, doesn't seem to enter the rationale, though Front National supporters on the councils of nearby Vitrolles and Martigues provide ample provocation. A British friend who lives near Apt reports that French hostility to Arabs, always fomenting away nastily in this area, now threatens to bubble over.

The day after the twin towers disaster she was shopping in her local butcher's when the man with the cleaver blurted out, "That'll teach us French to be nice to those fucking Arabs." That's the poison that hangs in the scented air here. More menacing than the phantom gases that threaten passengers on the London Underground.

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