2020: le géant demain

Le Départment de Vaucluse has set to this year
to sort Le Géant out. 
Why now? 
Would the fact that the Tour de France plans to come back to Le Mont Ventoux in 2021, and proposes to send the peleton up there via the route from Sault, 
and descend to Malaucène, 
and then to go round to Bédoin 
and climb Ventoux a second time
and finish back down in Malaucène……
would that be anything to do with the works being executed up there? 

I have my suspicions… apparently they have been at it all year, sorting it out, and still had a way to go when we showed up this Autumn, on a good day… would not have liked to have been up there, even wearing high vis, and a hard hat, a day or two later……

Mrs Melling and self first visited the upper reaches of Le Géant
 thirty years ago. We went up twice at least. From both sides. In snow. Had to walk the last bits. Since then we have oft returned, in springs, in summers, in autumns (it is closed in winter except to folk on skis and the transmitter tower crew). In that time changes have been minimal but footfall has increased in leaps and bounds. Traffic up top (and nonsense parking) has been getting something of a problem… add in the increased attentions of bikers, intent of reaching the top of this unrelenting climb… well it has made the summit a place to be avoided in season, even to visit the family seat – the only public bench on the whole mountain and a spot to which we make pilgrimage, there to park our arses on the single remaining plank (the other we found broken some years back… it had a large characterful knothole in it which weakened it).

Rather than have me try to explain what'a afoot up there, I can do no better than reproduce one of the public information boards produced and erected by Le Départment de Vaucluse; this one, slap-bang in the building site that was the top road, under the communication tower. You'll cope with the French better if you enlarge the image, and with your inevitably superior ability to my skills with the lingo (as you know, I blame my school). The family seat is not indicated. It is just below the summit bend and looks west. 

The thing is: why use so much concrete? Isn't it a bit of an insult to a hill made of limestone? Is it in the spirit of protecting the environment? Nope. The path I feature at the top of this post: concrete slab instead of the local stone. Damn it all,  there is enough of it just lying about. Concrete slab with no surface texture… How will that work with Ventoux's famous black ice? 

It seems Le Départment has decided to lay concrete where-ever folk have already forged pathways, plus some extras, steps and the like, ('Accés Direct') to compensate the motorised visitor who will no longer be able to drive over the top.  But what an eyesore. What a compromise. Can't see it blending in with the oolitic limestone anytime soon either. Cyclists will continue to have full access to the summit but motorists will no longer be able to stop en route, except at designated 'pull ins'. That's not going to work, if French parking practice elsewhere is anything to go by.

And it looks as though the parking problem up there will be 'solved' by making an even bigger eyesore, ringing the summit with a roadside parking platz all the way up to the Restaurant Le Vendran. Hmm. I hope I've got that wrong.

But the truth of the matter is, the summit will continue to attract, the adjacent slopes will probably still support the rich diversity of tenacious alpine flora, the views will continue to impress and the hill will continue to be the the most distinctive landmark in all of Vaucluse, if not Provence. Nothing stands still but Ventoux itself seems sort of timeless. Will the sheep flocks still pass along the ridge? Might we still spot chamois from the Col des Témpêtes?

The communication tower isn't exactly lovely is it? And yet it has become Ventoux's trademark. 

Ours is The Family Seat.

I conclude this musing with an image of Mrs M, some thirty years ago, standing on the hairpin you can make out on my autumn 2020 black and white rendition of what remains of The Family Seat.  There were no crash barriers then, roadside… 

Will operatives tidy away the FS this time? —our hearts will be in our mouths next time we summit. . .


2020: house in an autumn sun (usually)

All through the summer of this year we wondered and worried. 
Would we make it in Autumn? Were we lumbered with a place in La France that we would not be able to get to, and what was happening in it and on it, anyway? We mused about the wisdom of our investment, pondered afresh about putting it on the market just as soon as we could get to it, get it evaluated, get it on the market, get it sold, get out, get gone. Pandemics do that sort of thing to your reasoning.

Within hours of our eventual arrival all such thoughts and worry retreated back over the distant horizon. 

Number one is a modest little house, we know that. A bit of an ugly duckling down there on Rue Fortuné Bernard under its jacket of ageing cement render, behind its shutters of green faded Farrow & Ball… Like so many houses in Sablet the house employs right angled corners sparingly so that the plan is almost a rough diamond shape. With one straight side, constant to each floor, the back wall.

Inside though most things are just about the way we want them to be (OK the bathroom could do with conversion to a wet room configuration, and in a perfect world we might be signing up for a kitchen make-over to include a dishwasher, as the current dishwasher is deemed to be not up to scratch, an assertion I resent and reject, being that dishwasher). But the sun pours in and there are three floors to play in, a terrace to catch a chill on (as it faces North and gets only some sun except in summer when there is always shade available, thankfully) and enough space to put things and never feel cramped. Long views too. All good, well mostly. Another sofa? hmm… 

Only draw back — no garden. Thought it wouldn't matter but increasingly it does… terrace flowers and plants are fine in their way but they always end up dying of thirst or cold in our absences. 

So in 2020 we were only able to make just the one visit. Residency number twenty-three. And satisfaction and pleasure at being back abounded. No talk of agents, but a determination to hold on to this homely house for a few more years, while we can. I walked round it on a sunny morning and took most of the images herewith in just a few minutes; didn't bother to put things away and move things around (the chairs are regularly shunted and rearranged). Just recording a very modest place we like and have made our retreat in the Vaucluse. We go out from it and we come back to it. No. 1 Rue FB still suits us. Mrs Melling and self haven't missed a year with at least some time in France since we first signed on the dotted, plighted troths etc. etc. This has been HQ France since 2012. 

A close call though this 2020 year of distress, but we made it, here we came and here we will return…


the homeless of sablet


The first day of the new week (monday 28 sept) and ‘The Irish’ are down at the notaire’s office, handing over keys and stuff before heading off, leaving Terrace Towers in the hands of a new owner — shock horror.

You see, Louise and John have been at the centre of the Sablet Appreciation Society; Terrace Towers has oft been the centre of that circle because a) it is so extensive and accommodating with its four terraces, big views, wood burner, comfy rooms, space and all that, and b) because J&L ‘do’ or did hospitality for us all, both individually and severally. We had some right good bashes up there, and that’s-a-fact. But now they have made themselves intentionally homeless… in Sablet at least…

J&L obviously have their reasons for going at this time – but it hurts, you know – it hurts. Ask the Kaisers, they’ll confirm it. J&L popped round to the Kaiserhof after satisfying the notairial niceities, to say au revoir and G snatched these images of the dearly departing… on his phone…as you do… 

This year of all times too. J&L are not the longest standing members of ‘The Sabletizers’ (incidently, we are the most recent in that respect) but they have certainly always put down a welcome on their mat. Crumbs! Look at how they hosted us when we went over to see them in NI for my last significant birthday! Top flight! There is a post in this blog covering that: you’ll be familiar with it I am sure…

John seems to be able to fix things too. Got our TV dish back working –twice he did that after the mistral played havoc; and he finally sorted the case of the terrace door(s) that refuse to lock. We share his taste for young wines too (he has a good palette IMHO)…

Ah me! They’ve gone, Ms Surgenor and Nelson. They could be back; they say they will be…… here’s hoping. It won't be up at Terrace Towers, clearly.

Dorte and Søren are not coming from Copenhagen. The Covid thing precludes it insurance-wise I gather. Deb and Garry are precluded back in the USA too. Keith and Liz? Maybe, but they were here only a few weeks ago so might not run the gauntlet again or want to do the quarantine thing a second time (two weeks complete isolation at home upon return and fines if you don’t – editor's note: no, K&L opted out, don't blame them). Edeltraut and Frieda have been and gone… Paul and Linda are still here of course, but want to be elsewhere for family reasons. And so on… it’s sad.

Anyway anyway anyway. Life goes on (unless you cop Covid, in which case it mightn’t). But this short post is written to salute the Surgenor-Nelson Consortium. We have had some fun! Let’s hope to have some more. But it is the end of an era for sure… There is other stuff happening too but at the moment I shall conclude —— just here.


retrospective: stop gap/catch up

Under the shadow of the pandemic
that is presently gripping one and all in one way or another, we shipped out to Sablet in the last week of September, throwing caution to the wind, determined to get at least one visit to our French estates in 2020, the year that we may all want to forget, but which the majority of us will recall with something of a shudder for the remaining time we each have left to be able to recall anything… 

Slog to Sablet? Surely not, I hear my public cry, in anguish… well only a slog insofar as the weather was rather unfavourable and our progress overshadowed by mask wearing, potential shortages of suitable sustenance, fear of the unknown, even…

This post is ‘aspirational’ at the time of writing. Because, you see, our internet connection in Sablet, where I now sit and tap out these words, is no more. 

Damn it, I don’t like paying month after month for internet connection when we are not in the offing to use it, but heretofore we have gritted our teeth for the convenience it affords when we are here. But when ‘lockdown’ came along in March and with no idea when we might cross this threshold again, we looked around to try and reduce expenditure; clearly paying more months of none useable internet charges was one outlay we could and did terminate.

Bad enough that we lost ferry deposits for a ship that never sailed anyway, and one of the three pre-booked hotels did not see fit to refund our prepaid bookings (two did, in full too, so these two businesses can expect our custom in future years, if we are spared…).

What I am getting round to explaining is that we have no internet here now and I doubt we will seek another service provider for this visit as there may be further constraints placed upon Sabletizing next year. Who knows? We’ll cope without, or at least, confine ourselves to the limited access afforded via Mme Melling’s smart phone (as you’ll no doubt already know, I have no such device myself, don’t hold with them and the life style they seem to impose on all those who have: you know, the constant fixation with that dashed little pixie keyboard and screen, from which all things now must flow into and out of…).

Philistine, moi?

Right then. So we drove through some very inclement weather at times to get here. We brought Anne with us, she intent on getting to Nice in due course to sort out her domestic affairs in that fine city. Not much dithering on route then this time. Pont Aven (the ship of that name) out of Plymouth to Roscoff, a delay for stuck bow doors on the jolly old boat, then the trudge down to La Rochelle and our first hotel. A sort of madness directed us to try and reach Port du Bec in time for lunch – which we did, just, our party craving the pleasure of a tried and tested moules-frites eaten outside in the pouring rain (under cover but only just when the wind blew, which it did at intervals). It cheered us up! I like that bit of muddy coastline. See the banner picture! Redolent, what?

As is often the case, La Rochelle is bathed in late afternoon sunshine upon arrival at our oft-used hotel where all is well organised, sanitised and tickety-boo. Best of all M and self get the diaabled accom. on the third floor (Anne goes next door in a more modest suite), in which one can swing cats in both bedroom and bathroom, if cats were allowed in for such activity.

A walk to the old port to try and assess just how much mask wearing is being practised by Les Rochellites. Hmmm. Not alot. The usual café has reduced its outside tables a little in number but I am not impressed with the lack of sanitizer, the waiter’s up and down face mask and his kiss-kiss greets to some female customers, the long and lingering greetings of some old maskless blokes at the open bar, including hugs, hand shakes and man-to-man kissing, while reducing social distancing down to something like those of bumper-cars on a particularly active fairground. The cursory wipe of vacated tables with a well used and grimy cloth tops off my feeling that here at least Covid-19 is perceived as a minor irritation for wimps and is almost actively being encouraged to sort the men from the boys… I was happy to leave.

But France is not all like that. I am pleased to say that our experiences on the road thereafter were somewhat better. As I have said our hotels were both on the ball and spotless. Breakfast in Royan was delivered with care and attention to ensuring safe conditions for customers and staff alike. Dashed good repast aussi! Even the sun shone warmly for a while. We stayed home in Cahors (apart for the compulsory bridge visit for our passenger’s benefit, see the tail-snap) and ate in the Campanile restaurant where blandness is the watchword. Fair-dos, it wasn’t half bad.

The final day driving is standard fare: the stop by to clock the Viaduc-du Millau at the very chilly and almost deserted services there, then down the A75. But no lunchtime jolly at Marseillan this year: too risky we decide. Just the slog round Montpelier to pick up the A9 autoroute up to Orange, a quick shop at Tulette as Mme Melling declines to use the Supermarché at Orange autoroute exit, then thither unto Sablet and no.1RdeFB, where goodly neighbours John and Louise have opened our shutters and upper windows to air the place. The house is welcoming, familiar and somewhat a sight for sore eyes. 

And thus it came to pass: we made it here. No telephone, the land line not having been restored despite pre-ordered to do so before departing Blightey (bloody orange). No internet (see above). No TV — as last autumn’s storm on our final day in 2019 Sablet had dislodged satellite dish (pulled the securing bolts out of the terrace wall, no less). In fact, no outside world!

Which, in the circumstances, might be considered as NO BAD THING.

Ha! That is easy to say — but a restriction almost too hard to bear, even for me who is dismissive of much of the modern fixation with being constantly in touch with everybody and every thing. Oh well. Let’s see how this all ‘pans out’ shall we?

Whatever, I know all this will be of intense interest to my public, but by the time you get to read this it will be very well past its read by date. Sorry if you wasted your time ploughing through the above: it will teach you to be more discerning… but there will be more to follow I expect, with which I may tempt you, perhaps………?  hmm thought not. 

Oh well… I'll plough on, as and when…


november retreat 1: gentle journey

For reasons that are all too apparent now, I need to fix this return trip, Sabbers to the UK… I am gaining comfort from it even as I try to give out the gist of it, at this remove of some six months is it?

Just two days before we started packing up to come to the motherland the weather turned ugly, the wind cranked up and we had some water through the roof. Not a lot, but enough to summon Mr Fernandes. The next day a couple of our roof tiles shifted too, one flying off down the road. We left that to Mr Fernandes too. Don't worry, I will get to it as soon as I can, he said, and we are pretty sure he did just that. We'd check it when we were out in the Spring, don't worry about it.

We were determined to try and make a memorable progress back from PACA84 even this late in the year, as we had the son-and-heir with us, taking his delayed annual leave (from Spring).
So this is what we did: [nb: if you click on it you can get it full screen so that you you can admire the wonderful detail and clarity of design to the full! Not many people know that you know…]

Day one: 15 November: As is the way of things, departure day was contrastingly clement. A bit of mist and low cloud… I remember thinking as I steered the motor along the Camaret ring road — no need to give Le Géant a last look because we'd be seeing it all again in Spring, a few short months away. Ahem.

So, on to the A9 auto route, and in a short hour and a half, off again to sink some breakfast in Sète, the clouds left behind north of Montpellier, bright blue skies for our petit dejéuner canal-side in the old town. Never imagine it was two weeks into November; croissants so good that we re-crossed the bridge over the grand canal and patronised the source of the croissants for our lunch takeaway in baguette sandwich form, made to order with some humour. 

Back on the road along the coastal strand, stopping off for a short walk along the now deserted beach. I don't think we had set foot thereupon with Adam at least, since he was in a romper suit… And of course we could not bypass Marseillan. Have we ever, without the customary stroll down the port? Everything more or less closed at this time of the year, such as La Pacheline. But come on come on, we must get on!

We were still in time to take the A75 for the climb up into the hills, slipping off near Le Caylar and making a hillside stop-by for the sandwich lunch. Fabulous sandwiches: a man could be happy and never seek to better such substantial sustenance.

Replete, we motored on without further recourse to the A75, to reach the town, or is it city of Millau, the place the Millau viaduct was built to save. Our hotel – buried deep in the centre, but found by a combination of perseverance, shouting and Mme Melling's failsafe sense of direction. The remainder of daylight hours were used to gain an idea of the town, passed through before but not previously patronised by a stop over. I found it reasonable but not a contender for world heritage consideration… the other two in the party were considerably more moved by the place.

I have to own the evening restaurant was special. Wonderful, original (see bottom right, before the pleasure of the food we consumed had manifested itself before us). It might persuade me of another Millau stopover, you know, next time, when we come this way again – say in the Spring? 

Ha – hollow laugh…

The two pictures in the bottom panel that do not feature a fountain were suppled by Mme Melling.


november retreat 2: a hint of the white

We have looked down on Le Viaduc de Millau from this spot before now but this morning we caught but a glimpse due to autumnal cloud, as you can see. The son and heir was sanguine: it was good enough for him that his parents had at least taken in the longer view at a previous passing, maybe another time, you know in 2020 perhaps? Tsch!

Day two, 16 November, early away from Millau and over the hills. I reproduce our route once more so that you can see our plan unfolding, without having to go back to day one of this progress. My comments about viewing the plan in full screen mode on day one of this account hold good here as well. I recommend it to assist you in achieving a more comprehensive understanding of our aspirations for this journey. It is, I would have thought, rather too small to read without employing the full screen enlargment feature supplied by the software manufacturer. Especially on a Smart phone pixie screen. But you know best, of course.

This route was the one that was thickly lined with cowslips the last time we passed this way. Now we stepped over patches of fresh snow to take in the view shown at the head of this post. A dashed chill in the air as well. After a suitable passage of time we reassembled in the motor and drove on. As we climbed yet higher into the Causses, the white stuff came more into view; before we pulled over to break our fast at a snow dusted Sales-Curan the precipitate had graced the windscreen in passing flurries.  And another excellent haul of croissants was obtained and another splendid round of grandes crèmes were placed before us by a native of the country of origin, running the bar and tabac for many years she confirmed,  and rumbled by Mme Melling as being of English extraction.

Our comfort restored we drove on, our next diversion, mostly for the benefit of our youngest crew member, was to divert down the lovely Gorges de l'Aveyron once more and pass by the succession of little mills which once pounded iron with water powered drop hammers; they (the mills) get bigger as onefollows the twists and turns of the valley that ends up at Villefranche-de-Rouergue, until one is passing industry only recently abandoned, powered by water turbines rather than the up stream shot-over wheels.

Now, I am sorry that the route I have asked you to examine in detail does not include this excursion. It goes off the D911 to a place called La Bastide d'Evéque which you don't actually go through, and down into a tributary valley of the Aveyron first, to the La Ramonde hammer mill (14th century site and possibly building) on the Lézert stream, see picture here below. We did it first back the spring, 23 April in fact, and completely overlooked by my failure to make a post for that return. I have slipped up badly here, I hardly deserve the loyalty of Mrs Trellis of North Wales, let alone my public at large…
Do let's get on: Villefranche-de-Rouergue then, through to Cahors.

By-passing Cahors for a complete change, we stopped to eat at Prayssac (not listed on my route, sorry, just after Cahors on the road to Bergerac), just across the square from where Mme Melling and self once had an atmospheric top flight breakfast one dark and very rainswept morning. Today the resto was being patronised by a bunch of rather snotty and ostentatious Chinese (wine buyers, Mme Melling opines) who did not pay for their lunch, were being idolised by the patron, and who monopolised table service (and the wine list) to the disadvantage of other diners eating there. Food OKish but overpriced for us lesser mortals. Humph!

The rest of the day saw the weather rather turn against us. Plans to venture into Bergerac were scotched by heavy rain so we settled down to a few odds-and-sods of provender we had with us once we had booked in at the Ibis. Would not be wanting to overdo things, and maybe it would be fine in the morning for a snoop around Bergerac…

All pictures herewith by your author excepting the snow covered pines which Mme Melling secured on her phone through the windscreen of the motor. I thank her for the copyright inclusion of this image.


november retreat 3: living in the moment

Bergerac on a Sunday morning (17 November) in late autumn before and around 0800 hours is not exactly an hive d'activité. Reminded me of a town in lockdown, if you can imagine such a thing! In the early morning mists and street washed dampness we traipsed, and at last espied a purveyor of breads and cakes open for the odd soul seeking a first baguette of the day, etc. We acquired croissants and exciting looking filled baguettes but gave up on anything further, retired to the wheels and got on the road.

Fog and mists. Sainte Foy-la-Grande finally provided the necessary, rather large good coffees with which to swill down the Bergerac provender (the baguettes held in reserve for lunch). The café is just behind the market hall in the view I include here. It was busy. Sainte Foy-la-Grande was not. Did they forsee a time when this would be the norm? Sainte Foy-la-Grande is the town which yielded the fine Meissen fish plate that graces our kitchen wall these twenty-five years or more, here at Bullsmead Towers. Bought it for a fiver. I have suddenly had a thought! Could I repair that chip in the plate's rim, the reason for it being so cheap? Hmm. A bit of painted polyfilla . . . hmmmmm.

You will, once again, find no reference to our next diversion on the route exhibited on the previous two posts concerning this journey, so I shall not reproduce it again herewith. Mme Melling took us off the straight-and-narrow and via various rutted tracks and country by-ways, to visit the pile where Montaigne wrote his philosophies et thoughts down (mostly in that tower illustrated to left and to right of the ancestral home, pictured above).

I understand from the literati (my family) that this chap was an all round good egg and a bit of alright when it comes to views on life, loves, philosophy, cats, etc; in Fr of course so mostly beyond my humble comprehension (I blame my school). I have heard of him though (see book from shelf at Bullsmead Court). No tour of the place was available (thankfully) but we were permitted to wander round, for a small consideration, although not at the front of the big house as the present incumbents were in there stuffing their faces no doubt with petit dejéuner-en-crôute. The son and wife were deeply moved by the whole environment and I felt that indeed, it had character.

I am pleased to report that the weather lifted and cleared somewhat as we proceeded hereafter. We eventually arrived on the coast and our oft used route: we stopped on the sea-front once more at Saint George-de-Didonne to consume our sandwiches which we had brought from Bergerac. Excellent, excellent, why would any person on the road want more? Tasty, rapidly assimilated, moderately priced and satisfying. No long waits for service – or that illusive pudding – or terminating coffees – or long waits for l'addition, then similar wait for card reader gadget.  Open the bag, take out the napkin and get it down you. Wipe fingers, brush crumbs off paunch, motor on. Simples. St Georges is quite refined but the out-of-town beach requires chestnut palings to contain drifting sands. Mother and child (unknown to us) are on the wet sand, not walking on the waters.

Our further excursion in this phase of our retreat back to the motherland does feature on the planned route back: namely, reaching the hotel in La Rochelle by means of the coastal road through La Grande Côte, and via La Coubre, Ronce les-Bains, Rochefort etc. We did just that, stopping briefly not far up the road from our very first ever easter rental on this coast, in La Grande Côte, making abeyance to Cordouan, out there in the bay. Now under lighter skies and low light, we motored on to set foot again on the beaches of Pointe de Coubre. The snaps below give you the idea. That's Cordouan, beneath the image of the fishing pavilions at La GC. Monument Historique y'know, World Heritage Site expected, etc. etc.

Fans of my Pharesighted blog will be very aware of our fondness for La Coubre. It looked rather fine on this afternoon as at last the paint job has been renewed. It certainly needed it. Closed of course to the climber, a faint hope flickered briefly as there were quite a few folk about, it being Sunday, but no such luck. We contented ourselves with filling our shoes with the exquisite blonde sands of the shore, enjoying the sea air and uplifting late afternoon light, subconsciously social distancing as you can detect below, if we had but known it. Spiffing.

After La Coubre it was a matter of simply driving on to our overnight lodging in La Rochelle, the usual good feed at the place next door and a comfortable night in the unassuming surrounds of the rather atypically good Premiere Classe. Mind you, so sedate was our progress on this day, so untaxing the mileage undertaken, that we still had time for a stroll round the port and a drink in the old port bar before getting back to the serious business of our supper… Ah yes we thought, we will be down this way again for sure in 2020, it will be nice to eat once more in whatever-the-name-is restaurant and see how the restoration of the old port lift bridge has come along…  ah me… folly, what folly!

All pictures on this post are by your author with the exception of the strangely deserted scene in central Bergerac; that image was donated by Young Adam. 


november retreat 4: the final miles


How fateful those words read now! 

As if to remind us why we come this way, our morning departure (this is 18 November now, a Monday which, and when incidently, restaurants often choose to be closed, please note) was kissed by clear skies, when our breakfast stop at Luçon was up to the usual standard, and our deviation to le Passage de Grois, most pleasant. The tide was in, the tourists out, or not around. For a full fifteen minutes we had the landward end to ourselves, and in this wonderful light — we shall not readily forget it. Port du Bec just had to be called in upon also, naturally, although we were altogether far too early for the moules–frites we have enjoyed here on other less clement occasions. Oh to have a small bolt-hole here! We pressed on, after pottering up and down in that reluctant manner we have on our 'final days' when we are only too aware that on the morrow we will not be iaround these parts.  We drove to Saint Brévin ostensibly to find somewhere to eat, prior to crossing the Loire.

We didn't find such a place: the blame, as is usual in this tribe, being apportioned to me for some reason. I have learned to tolerate the misrepresentation of myself as a no-lunch promoter by my family, to suffer the insults and vitrolic remarks heaped upon my person when lunch does not spring from this village or that town, ignoring the stoney silences and deep sighs that punctuate the rebukes. I do so with resignation and the infinite patience for which I am widely known. My conscience is clear. Not my fault if everywhere was either closed or not in the least sense present. It is no use shouting at me, you should have pulled us over for a filled baguette or three when there was the chance!


With the hounds and snakes of hunger snapping at our heels  (something like the image right) we took once more to the road (and over the bridge) while I managed to deflect the vitriol still flying my way by the suggestion of a tea-time interlude at distant Guingamp.

It can seem a bit of a slog (well it IS a a bit of a slog) to get across the Brittany peninsula these days, particularly since 90 kph became 80 kph maximum speed limit on single carriageway roads. I mean, I am known for my consistent adherence to limits … I have never been done for speeding you know. Not me. Mme Melling was once stopped and breathalysed fgs! Near Chaumont in the days of the XM motor. Only by luck had she had just the one Paris Goblet of rouge with her lunch… one of those lunches that took an age to get on the table…  spot check only of course … but I digress.

We did get a drink in a rather sleazy bar in Guingamp at long last (I thought it sleazy but it was probably more noisy than sleazy). We gave Adam a chance to look at the fortified bit of the town (and saw the worst sculpture seen in Fr this autumn – see below, head in the clouds sort of idea) and then drove off into a setting sun to arrive in Roscoff at dusk.

Our normal parting shot when shipping out from this bit of Fr is a moderate three courser at Le Surcouf, a restaurant that has never failed to please. But they were shut for three weeks. Holidays or some such. Mme Melling had an alternative in mind and a place she had wanted to try before now, but here's the thing, the son-and-heir still hasn't come to terms with fine fish cuisine and will only partake of soupe-de-poisson in fish restaurants; M's second choice venue didn't offer it so we went to another joint which did. But when it came to ordering we were addressed on the subject of the soup and of it being 'off', that is to say they hadn't any as chef no doubt had mislaid the tin opener. A certain gritting of the teeth took place. The meal was alright I suppose. Only alright. Personally I'd have preferred a filled baguette but decided at the time to refrain from pointing this out.

From there it was but a short drive to our ferry and the three berth cabin situated on deck 7. Amorique as usual, the crew greeted us on first name terms (not). Bye bye Roscoff see you in about four month's time…

The following morning France was behind us. The very last car out of the customs check. Someone has to be. We were already planning our return in spring by close of play on 19 November. All was as it should be back at Bullsmead Mansions… except… just-a-minute… What is this? bloody hell! 


…… seems I went 3kph over an 80kph speed limit way back in September just after we had arrived in Sablet when taking Terry to Grignan. Reputedly. Three kilometres per hour! Some blasted Fr parking geek in Saint Paul Les Trois-Chateaux or wherever, deciding to go to the trouble and state expense to try and snatch some shekels back from a fellow EU citizen who spends most of his surplus in his region anyway. Not to mention local taxes. The nerve of it! For a few fleeting moments I thought about saying stuff you, I am not paying up the €45 requested of me, but then I relaxed;  fair dos, I'll remember to take more care when driving around there next spring, of course I will. Damn it all though: me, getting a ticket for speeding. ME! A speed camera: must have had a fault, obvs. But you can't argue with these Fr can you? I can't, I blame my school. Huh. ( I feel better now, thank you for your concern).

Well that was a pipe dream wasn't it? Going back this spring and all that. Hah! Stuck here on the Bullsmead Estate, albeit in glorious sunshine, son-and-heir stuck in Bath, all with about as much chance of getting tired of that interminable hack across Brittany to get down to La Rochelle or Les Sables d'Olonne in 2020 (or vice-versa) as winning the top prize with the Premium Bonds. Self isolating! Pah!

We've even gone and bought a new Michelin Road Atlas for 2020. Before all this kicked off. Two in fact! The wiro bound one is already getting bumped while we have been doing all the planning for the Spring Jolly!

All in vain. Damned Corona. And us with only two BiBs to sustain us (and a few bottles of Côtes du Rhône, and some Touraine). We are fresh out of proper garlic! My summer open toeds are stuck in Sablet… merde merde merde!

Stuff happens.  And we both did win on the Premium Bonds aussi! No not the top prize exactly…


isolation: today we should have been

I cannot let today pass by without a reflection. 

Last night (15 May) we three should have fetched up in Rochefort and today (16 May) even as I tap this out, we SHOULD HAVE BEEN proceeding via various coastal excursions and deviations to Lorient. Why, I even published the plan, didn't I?  — ever ready to assuage the thirst my public experience as they try to catch up with the machinations of the Melling-Smith consortium. No? Oh well, as I forgot this was what we planned to do on our way back to Blightey:

But you won't need me to point out that this progression has not been fulfilled in any way whatsoever, as you, dear reader are, no doubt, in what has come to be styled as social isolation, as the Coronavirus ravages the land. As of this morning, the official death toll in this country alone got to well over 34 000 (put in today's number here, I can't keep pace with it) — while the true figure is likely to be much higher. There is no comfort to be had in the confusion and ineptitude of the government which is almost entirely without the wit or skill to meet the challenge this pandemic presents, so that the motherland is second only to the USA in lives wasted, lost and thrown away. And they have Trump. It is a very dark time both here and across the world. The UK got it very wrong, it did not have to be this way (Hong Kong fatalities? 4. That's four). One need look no further than the buffoon running the show and his evil puppet-master, to see we was screwed from the off. But enough of that. What about The Mellin-Sniffs?

What has replaced our now almost usual spring expedition to Sablet might be represented as very much of a 'best of a bad job scenario'. But it has been a rather unchallenging and not at all unpleasant experience from a personal point of view. Tempered of course by the ongoing and increasingly stressful lack of access to the son-and-heir, offset though it is by the wonder of the age, Facetime, upon which we exchange news opinion and quite a lot of jokes. We were in the habit of doing this weekly but it has been positive for us all to up the contact by 100%. Also, our calm and satisfaction are inevitably tainted by the distressing national news coverage and our shouts and oaths aimed notionally at either television or radio, when we have the stamina to update on the epic that has replaced just about every other situation in the world.

Mme Melling and self, used to self-isolation as an inevitable norm here at Bullsmead Towers, have just tightened up our act. We have secured supermarket deliveries by dint of having once asked for a delivery to Helford Passage or somewhere else when taking a holiday down there in Cornwall (supermarkets have long memories) and being also considered to be in what HM Govt. has decided is a vulnerable group (because of our longevity, vintage, sell-by-date).

So that was sorted. Add in the local butcher being prepared to put himself out on our behalf (as well as the other handful of Cheldon inmates) and deliver, ditto the local Post Office and stores. All this means we have not had to go and get anything whatsoever. We've been able to concentrate on getting the garden straight, decorating the living room, under blue clear skies striding across the empty fields (until the stock came to graze it), basking in the atypically warm and dry April, eating well, mostly sleeping well, enjoying our diminishing wine stock . . . and so on. We've not been here to see the garden take on the new season's look for a few years, so it has been a particular pleasure. The bluebells! Superb apple blossom. And add in the return of the migrants, the warblers et al. Peace. Calm. Quiet. Dawn chorus.

Confirmation from our Irish compatriots, up at Terrace Towers for the duration, that all is well at 1RdeFB also has helped to assure us that any worry about what is going on at the neglected Sablet residence is unnecessary (and pointless), as all is pretty much as it should be. They've been in, checked around . . . bless 'em. E mails from the homeowners uphill of the Sablet gaff also report all is well and offer us a watching brief. Good neighbours!

Our only excursions outside the estate then (excepting the potters round the uphill field edges) have been to The Grove at Kings Nympton —closed of course as a public house— but offering takeaway fish and chips, provided under rigorous sanitary precautions and by appointment only.
A pleasurable excursion: easy to achieve when one is retired and in receipt of a modest but adequate pension (we are amongst the least demanding of folk, our expectations are modest, our realisations similar… good job!). We are conscious of our good fortune and positive situation.

Oh yes. Let me not forget the 'we-are-all-in-this-together' front lawn jolly of a week ago when the core of Cheldon, all twelve of us, safe distanced from one another on the lawns in front of The Barton for a protracted chat with drinks (self supplying).

Could do with haircuts, mind. The motors both need servicing (and this will be our first foray proper back into the outside world -- to get one done next week).

Need some liquorice toffee. Maybe a little more gin?

Need to see in person the son-and-heir. This last, badly. Mme Melling is noting the saga as it plays out for us in a blog with a strictly limited circulation. The F&C snap is her work, I was too busy applying the malt V. and sodium chloride, to my portion.

Nothing more to say then, really. So far, for all three of us, so good. Son-and-heir in Bath, us here. Not the account of our discoveries and bons petits déjeuners I had expected to be rolling out. Still getting good breakfasts here at the homestead, of course . . .

bacon… eggs… sausages… mm
mushrooms… tomatoes… mmmm
not everyday FGS! Just on occasion… Quite a lot of pancakes, aussi.