LIKE MOST OF THE CIRCLE of chums here – the majority of whom ship in and out like we do – one spends the first days of one's return mostly in and around the abode, saving the sallies into the hinterland until one feels one has got one's feet back under the table, on the ground etc. And often that is partly about getting an assessment of what deteriorations have taken place since one last locked up and came away.
This time, nothing too bad: the usual fuzz of sablet salts coming out of various places, Fafner not sure whether its hot water or central heating we want, or both, or neither, but with much roaring from the garage now resigned to do both, as and when commanded; some doors sticking, and the windows in need of the wash leather even though covered over by shutters all the winter. Not to mention the film of dust that has to be sucked up. A chance to look round then and see what 'extras' the village has obtained in the winter months: the swimming pool constructed across the way, the surgery relocated to a new build by the football ground, new houses threatened on the boggy bit by the former filling station, unsightly aircon added to the house up the hill. They've even raked the river shingle to clear away the herbage down there, and done the winter tree trims.
We will find lots more ever-so-slightly-changed as we potter around the mean streets and alleys. Above all we are reacquainted (or soon will be) with fellow enthusiasts from Germany, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Wales, France even, and the motherland who like this rather ordinary yet proud little place with its fish-and-chip Fridays, international book fair, grande fête, soup festivals, wine tours, Belgian nights, fun runs, history parades, brocante sales. The Mairie has applied the one-way system which is regularly ignored, and generally disliked, the traffic calming (bumps) has slowed things down a bit on the approaches while the misleading signage continues to confuse deliveries and newcomers to a degree. Junctions where road markings were painted out some time ago by a mayor-with-an-agenda continue to offer spice, risk and some dithering, the famous plastic bottle style bollards (the ones you can drive over with no ill effects, save to bollard itself) now grace the approach to the only roundabout actually within the village for no discernible reason; the bus stop thereat was very sensibly moved last year to a safer place with room for the bus to actually stop.
Yesterday it was warm cloudless and almost windless. Today it is grey wet and misty.
Never mind that, – I have a plan: I hope to offer you a short address on varietal differences in road paint and furniture, pedestrian crossings into walls, proliferations and as status symbols, roundabouts for no reason, traffic lights for fun, giving way to the right in towns and villages or not, tailgating, road surfaces, pavement parking (fr. pavements are actually for parking, mostly it would seem) and the freedom to buy-your-own official, actual road signs from any good briccolage. . . well it might not be that short. Then I may bash on about Le Menu, the greatest of french institutions, after its cake and bread supremacy, and the dire affects it may have had on some french design (or lack of it) as a result of too much déjeuner indulgence. I may also very well have something to say about typeface abuse and street advertising that seems designed to simply turn one off making purchases . . .
THE THIRD DAY ON THE ROAD dawned fair, cloudless but with a trace of a ground frost. Away without even setting foot in St Pourçain, stopping for a good croissant and coffee breakfast in Gannat, after going off piste, summoned by an intriguing set of finger posts pointing to Les viaducs Eiffel.
You see, we do try to advocate the surprise factor in travelling the way we do, sedately, looking from right to left as well as straight ahead, consulting the road atlas, (a plague on your satnavs) not being enslaved to the route so carefully worked out in advance. This time we began to wonder if this was a deviation too far, but low, in a deepening gorge we found two superb constructions of Ms Gustav Eiffel. The first trellis bridge too beset by trees and shadow to be able to view properly, but the second, a joy to behold, higher, recently repainted and in sunlight. So high, so spindly yet so confident! 1869 the year, single track and seemingly still in use. Most of our acquaintances here are so intent on covering the kilometers in as short a time as possible that they wouldn't even be on the road passing such wonders as these, let alone spot the invitational posts to go–see.
We returned to our route, to visit Riom. An hour here, pleased to find a town using the local black basaltic stone to good effect, mind you the sun was shining. Stylish houses, sombre black churches, towers and bits and pieces, thunderous law courts and a bonne chapelle of the 14thC. After this we headed south, back on the prescribed way, over the volcanic uplands of the Massif Central, where the snow still lay, flakes in the wind. Arrived Sablet at approx 1600 hours. Cold, wind blasted house soon opened up and Fafner coaxed into life to give us some hot water.
Supper then, with Louise and John, up at Terrace Towers, highlight of which was L's fantastic cauliflower soup, a dish I shall try to emulate in the fullness of time. Oh, and the log burner going, the mistral roaring through the town, a glass or two of the local juice: a great way to blow in even if we had to leave to sleep in the chill of number 1 Rue-F-B, at the end of the evening. Pleased to say the Mistral closed down largely overnight…
Two hundred and forty seven miles further on although it should have been less as we took a sanity diversion round Nevers having come out of the centre the wrong side. We had time to spare mind so no worries. And it was warmer in Nevers, situated on the Loire /Allier confluence. Fine buildings, not bad shopping streets convoluted one way system, you know the sort of thing.
Don't expect any other pictures today, by the way, but we passed through some quite reasonable campagne, nothing dramatic you understand, but pleasingly undulating. Had our first croissants and grands cafés in Sezanne (no itsy bitsy hotel petit dejeuners for us, as we like to get what we pay for). Then we had The Menu in a place called Prèmery (no, neither had I – ever heard of it – that is). The resto was the only place open and was throbbing. Black and white framed photos of former americorn fillum stars all over the walls and a proprietor who sounded an old car horn behind the bar when his customers somehow let it slip that their birthdays were imminent, as you do. Sort of a C+ meal but good enough to settle our resolve not to risk St Pouçain cuisine tonight. I shall nibble a quiche thingey and drain one of my two cans of Bass in the privacy of our hotel room. No gadding for us, at our age an'all we'll be in bed as soon as the Ibis Budget clock chimes nine.
Tomorrow, the Massif Central! And we should get into Sablet mid afternoon, where we might be lucky enough to get supper with our good friends Louise and John, as the former has intimated we may.
HERE WE ARE THEN, earlier than it was planned but safely ensconced in the hotel overlooking the SNCF trainset servicing depot at Epernay.
We have rolled out the family tumbril with the squeaking clutch pedal and chirruping air fan, diced with the SUVs and slick saloons of the M3, M25, M20 to safely overnight in comfort overlooking the redolent harbours of Dover;— embarked on DFDS's fine ferry Dover Seaways to slip to Dunkirk, 4th car off and under grey skies made it once more to the home of fizzy wine. En route, I saw a man in shorts as early as Hook services and then another in Dover with flip flops and prophet style beard, pushing a buggy. It was about 10 below and grey as a plate of school rice puddin.
Since then we have added a mere 187 miles to the clock and are now looking forward to the first pizza or similar of the excursion, at a previously tried and tested resto called Sardaigne, before the luxury of single beds and a drive-in shower wafts us away to Erowande.
So no issues to report, (we did note that all nine turbines are up on Beebles Moor back in North Devon), crossing smooth and rather longer than remembered, but it was very grey. Tomorrow the hack down to St Pourçain where, when last there on the way back to Blightey avec famille, I walked out of a restaurant the service was so shockingly poor. Trust Mary has got another venue up her sleeve because I utterly refuse to eat in that place again. Where (and what) did we eat in poor misunderstood Dover? In our room of course— we took lots of crisps, cold sausages, hb eggs, bananas, juices and choco bars . . . tea and coffee provided. Now its back to French sparcity, no tea and coffee in our rooms here, but we can at least, watch the trains! Just remembered I have a can of Bass in the boot but having just replaced our breathalyser kit — the first one was life expired without having been employed, I think I shall restrain myself on the beer front and instead have a glass of champers with the evening meal . . . or not, as I am a bit price sensitive. Yes, one has to be able to breathalyse oneself in France, the police insist. Ditto dipped headlight thingeys. Must remember to stick those on some time in the coming weeks, recycled from years back, obvs
WE'VE BEEN COMING TO FRANCE for more than thirty years, Mary, longer than that. We know some of it very well, a lot of it slightly, and a load more not really as yet. We used to rely on our memories and an archive of transparencies to keep tabs of what we saw, where we went, where we stayed etc. After mostly finishing with the business of earning salaries, wages, and having dispensed with camping en route to and from the holiday houses we rented, we now prefer to have our own base down in the Vaucluse; we have more time out here and can have a bit of fun recording the odd and not-so-odd things we do/see/experience hereabouts. Digitally.
Mary started a blog when we were looking to buy in France, kept it up, has now got me at it: she clearly enjoys making a report on what we get up to, admittedly sometimes spitting tacks over it, and each trip out declaring that this blog would be the last . . . so with her guidance, advice and shoving – here it is; make of it what you will!
Of course, whilst both wife and son-and-heir have a full and comprehensive grasp of the language, not to mention a deep and constantly expanding engagement with all things french, your correspondent remains somewhat puzzled and confused.
So that's my angle really, I mean, where the hell are we, and what the devil is going on? Why are they doing that? Who built this and when? What is the point of that?
In fact, driving on the right.
The posts are listed on the right, see, latest first, click on them to take a look.
I like driving on the right. We like it. Seems natural. Like France. It's different. Surprising, pleasing, and sometimes utterly harebrained— all exaggerated, confused, coloured for me by my lack of a grasp of the language. Disgraceful. I lean heavily in all matters negotiable upon my good woman who handles all these issues with consummate ease. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here at all.
And don't tell me I will pick it up in time, damn it. I haven't and it's too late now, it won't happen. (I blame my school). Which is why this blog is in English!