Our youngest son’s slumbers were disturbed one day last week by the sound of breaking branches outside his first floor window. On opening the shutters he was amazed to see a man perched high up in our lemon tree, a magnificent specimen that sprouts up from the tiny concrete apron that cannot be called a garden.

The lemon tree is the only garden we have, gives us great joy and allows us to pretend we live in the countryside. I just love it when I can reach out and take a lemon to deliver to the kitchen on demand.

“Would you find me a lemon,” Betsy asks, and dutifully and euphorically I grab a firm young lemon through our son’s window and bring it back to her, as Rex might dutifully bring back a just-thrown ball.

“What are you doing there?” My son enquired.

“Ah, good morning,” said the man in the lemon tree. French people are always so correct, aren’t they, something I admire so much. However, he seemed to think that Bonjour was the only word he needed to say in the circumstances.

On seeing that the man in the tree had a large canvas bag and was filling it with our lemons, our young hero said, unsurprisingly: “Those are our lemons!”

“Do you live here?” asked the man in the tree.

“Yes,” said our son.

“Ah, but you don’t live on the ground floor!” The man in our lemon tree seemed to think this was the clincher and he could keep the lemons. Indeed, there may be a French law that allows lemon gatherers to enter private gardens on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“My brother lives on the ground floor.”

At this point my son expected the tree intruder to ask to see the original of our lease. Not a copy, and stamped by a Notaire within the last seven days.

My son was becoming a little hot under the collar. He had been disturbed from his sleep before lunch and on top of that there was a fruit thief in our tree.

The lemon burglar sensed this and suggested a compromise. “We could share them?”

Our youngest closed the shutters and moving quickly along the balcony at the rear of the house and down the spiral stone stairs, heading for the front door.

The man in the tree had disappeared.

I am convinced he was from the Tax Office in Menton and the lemon thieving was just a cover in order to find out who lives in our villa and what time we get up.

That it was lemons that provided a subterfuge reminds me of the Labour finance minister in the UK in 1974, Denis Healy, a man with huge eyebrows, who famously said that he would raise the income tax rate to 98 percent and “squeeze the rich until the pips squeak.”

In the meantime we await an amended tax bill from Menton. And I hope we have a few lemons left over.

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