Road Trip from Cabourg to Quiberon

Last leg of our road trip along the north and north western coast of France. From the English Channel at Cabourg to the shores of he Atlantic on the Quiberon Peninsula – from Normandy to Britanny, via the Mont St Michel.

Month St Michel

On the tourist road to Quiberon, another vital stopover on the tourist trail – the standing stones at Carnac – miles of menhirs dating from 5000BC and no one knows what they are there, other than to attract tourists.

Standing Stones at Carnac

The Road to the Stones

Stone-spotting tourists

And on to Quiberon – a popular family holiday resort at he end of the Quiberon peninsula – who says peninsula also says one road in and the same road out – huge traffic jams and a lengthy wait for the delights of Quiberon

Quiberon

Black and Whire Quiberon

On the beach in Quiberon

And from Quiberon we head home to an empty fridge, empty bank account, utility bills and mountains o lessons to prepare before heading back to school. We’ll be back next year.

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Semi Circular

Driving cross London – the A406 – or North Circular Road – a three lane 1960’s built highway that cuts a swathe through the north east London suburbs. Residential streets crooned off from the road by walls or wire fences. This is the worst of suburbia – mad urbanization meets neglect. This for me is like some kind of parallel world. I wouldn’t believe that people could live in places like this, unless I saw it with my own eyes – we are not totally detached, jet semi detached – mile upon mile of that unique “English” housing format, built everywhere by private developers between the two World wars.

After the slaughter of the Western Front, the returning soldiers needed “Homes fit for Heroes”, built on they premise that an Engishmans’ Home is his castle – the result – small “cottage like” three bedroom houses. A unique and national but non imposed housing format – I’m not even sure that Soviet Russia could have achieved such uniformity.

A few photos of semi detached house on the North Circular Road, hence “Semi Circular”

 

 

Forgotten Soldier

It’s one of those  airless,  hot summer Sundays. The world is on holiday, deepest France is in full summer slumber – a perfect time for a country drive, on uncluttered winding roads – across the fields and through the forests. On a photo safari down to the village of Souesmes, sight of a major battle in 1944 between local resistance fighters and the Wehrmacht heading north to reinforce German forces fighting in Normandy. This is the centre of France, where, in July and August 1944 over a quarter of a million German troops  heading north to south and west to east, were stopped in their tracks by the local Resistance. There are hundreds of small roadside monuments commemorating such events and occasionally village war memorials inscribed with the names of the dead from World war Two and World War One – in many villages nowadays the names of the dead from both wars are greater than the number of current inhabitants. Here are some photos of an “unknown soldier” on a village war memorial. His face shows the suffering and scars of war and his state of decay shows the indifference of modern France where once the link between the nation’s army and its citizens was a true historical and moral bond. here is the forgotten soldier.

Road Movie Biker Wanderlust and Swedish Furniture

Unstructured ramblings on over 50’s wanderlust, Swedish furniture and sympathies for all you poor bastards with hybrid cars who accelerate at the speed of a dead snail. Enjoy

If life was a road movie at the moment, I’d be cruising sedately through those areas of commercial space known as “edge lands”, where the first ragged remnants of countryside, rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards meet the last drab dregs of urban sprawl – rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards

I’d be cruising along an endless highway, lined with supermarkets, DIY stores, car dealerships, fast food outlets and discount shops.

No 67 Chevrolet Impala convertible for me – I’d be driving a modest, white, four-door-family saloon ; possibly of Japanese manufacture with a hybrid petrol/electric motor.

On the radio, nothing as dangerous as Rock and Roll, but perhaps an adult « AOR » or «  easy listening » station with just a hint of Rod Stewart or Elton John wafting out the speakers

Nothing too dangerous in this road movie comfort zone and nothing magical, mysterious, subversive or even vaguely interesting about my destination – I’m probably just driving to a Swedish furniture store to pick up a beige sofa or a set of shelves. I’m not even going to get out the car and go in the shop to look, I’ve done a click and collect

I’m not looking for a Thelma and Louise Blues Brothers Fast and Furious Grand Theft Auto adventure – that’s all just a little too much. I think I’m like all those in-between late middle aged early retiree guys of my generation – I’ve got a kind of wanderlust but I don’t want to wander too far in case I miss my dinner and my favourite early evening TV shows.

It started on Sunday, when I nipped out to buy a newspaper. The lady at the counter handed me a « new » magazine for « young seniors » or « the active over-fifties » – the latter written in an exciting red typeface and screaming me at me from the front page.

No way am I a young senior
Yes I’m over fifty

Yes I am active BUT I have a mental age of nineteen and I am a singer in a rock and roll band (with three other guys who are all over fifty) and that actually sounds pretty sad. I shouldn’t be out gigging of a night, I should be home wearing a tracksuit and slumped in a sofa with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other.

So, it was my Sunday morning newspaper buying mission and I declined that kind offer of a special offer on the new young/oldie magazine. As my eyes scanned the shlves in search or reading matter though, I was attracted by wo magazines that might just quench my wanderlust – a monthly review of camper vans (or recreational vehicles as our transatlantic readers refer to them) – second a motorbike magazine with a special supplement on « biker dads » – all those “adulescents” like me who wanted a motorbike and never had one – I’m flicking thought the pages and – I’d love a Suzuki Van Van – a 125cc dune bike, with thick tyres and youthful looks – and just oozing biker dad attitude. Safe but mildly subversive

I wanna buy a motorbike and have sedate easy rider Sundays in the country. I wanna cruise down the Swedish furniture store in my leather jacket and have saunter round before I do the click and collect. I just wanna hop on my bike and go places that aren’t so far that I can’t be back home in time for dinner.

Bikes though, dangerous things. What if I fall off or got too fast or … Camper vans far better. I love camper vans. I’m always amazed how van designers manage to cram a luxury bijoux residence into such a small space – all fold out Formica lifestyle. I need a van. I want to drive to the sea, park up by a long deserted sandy beach, brew up a strong cup of tea and then stare out across the ocean, wondering what lies beyond.

Bike, or van, or both. The wife can drive the van as I ride the bike, and when I get tired, I can strap the bike on the back of the van.

Here’s the dream, to use the above combination for a great Tour De France of all the places I’ve lived or visited since I ever started coming to France as a kid in the seventies. What wondrous wanderlust.

Dreaming is great, but instead of writing about great travel plans, I should start by getting on the web abd booking a summer holiday.

Be Kind, Random or Otherwise.

Everyday is a national or international day. Every lobby or interest group has its day. One American website (http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com) claims there are more than 1200 such days every year, a similar French website (http://www.journee-mondiale.com/les-journees-mondiales.htm) lists 459 – one thing you can be sure, there are only 365 days a year, so some of these « promotional days » or « awareness days are going to clash.

The world is just recovering, from the emotional and Financial strains of Valentine’s Day – but rather than the ritual and often forced celebration of love, wouldn’t you have rather celebrated National Ferris Wheel Day? So, this one didn’t figure on the French calendar of national days, meaning that depending were you live, all awareness days are different.

It seems that the Americans have far more national days than anyone. Take this last week as an example

13 February  National clean out your computer Day

14 February  National Ferris Wheel Day

15 February  National Gumdrop Day

16 February  National Do a Grouch a Favor Day

17 February   National Acts of Random Kindness day

18 February  National Drink Wine Day

19 February  National Chocolate Mint Day

Every lobby has its day and I for one will certainly be celebrating National Drink Wine Day, which in France is everyday – in fact there are none of these days I would not consider celebrating, but there also just too many days to celebrate.

Today, 17th February is officially International Acts of Random Kindness Day – so it was announced on this morning’s news. The journalist however failed to mention that, in the USA at least; it is also National Cabbage Day.

What exactly is an act of random kindness? (I would suggest that not serving your loved ones cabbage for dinner this evening is an act of kindness.) And how can kindness be random?

Take the journalist on the BBC this morning, standing outside a train station and offering cakes to total strangers. Already by having decided to offer up cakes was not a random, but rather a conscious and pre-planned act. Of course there were no takers, just bemused faces of passengers entering and leaving the station. A complete stranger offers you a cake in the street – my first thought « is it poisoned », secondly « what is the pay off? Nothing is free » and finally « just ignore this person, he or she is obviously mad and I just don’t want to get involved »

How do you decide what act of kindness to perform, on whom and when?

Why simply be kind today? Kindnesses can be performed everyday and in that context they are simply acts of common courtesy.

Holding a door open for the person behind you. Kindness, yes, but also common courtesy and common sense. I’m not just going to let go of the door and send it smashing into the face of the person behind me. We live in a litigation age, if I dent your nose with a closing door, you might just get one of those injury compensation lawyers on to me.

Simple acts of daily courtesy can make all the difference

There’s the lady behind me in the supermarket queue, she’s only buying one item and I have a whole cart load of shopping – hey just let her through – common courtesy – I often do this and sometimes live to regret it – the day I let an old lady pass through and she called up her husband who appeared with huge bags of shopping. I protested. « But you let me in front» she protested back and it all finished with me jostling back in front of the old dear.

Courtesy on the road to help traffic flow. Let the car out the side street, slow don and let the guy changing lanes to get in … perhaps he’s having a rotten day, perhaps he’s in a hurry. I’ve just made his life a little easier.

I’m a great believer in that old phrase « what goes around comes around » which I suppose is anther way of saying « you reap what you sow ». Enough acts of daily common courtesy and you’ll find that when you need to change lanes or jump the supermarket queue, it will happen. Kindness always happens and perhaps where you least expect it or when you most need it.

So, National Drink Wine day on 18th February in the USA, whilst in France we will be marking the International Right to Strike Day – that’s very French, my only question, why does it fall on a Saturday and not a working day?

I guess some of these national and international days are a bit frivolous. February 19th (according to my French website) is International Whale Awareness day whilst in the USA it is National Mint Chocolate Day, when the US National Confectioners Association will have you all guzzling … mint flavoured chocolate (is that different to chocolate flavoured mints?). My favourite up and coming day is February 21st when Americans will be marking National Sticky Bun Day. Perhaps as an act of Random Kindness I’ll stand in the street on that day and offer up sticky buns to bemused passers-by.

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rak-week

Up through the vines

Blue skies, brilliant sunshine, crisp and invigorating cold, a hint of frost on the ground – a perfect day for a drive – Off again on my ramblings round my corner of rural France. Up through the vines to Sancerre, down to the might Loire at at St Satur and then home across field and forest. There is a hint of Christmas in the air. Even in the smallest villages, the lights are up. As day turns to dusk, there is a slight mist and a tinge of woodsmoke in the air – I love this time of year – the vines laid bare by winter, the golden autumn forest is now skeletal – all is minimalist, but not barren. I love driving cross country on such days and coming home really does feel like a homecoming.

Sancerre in the vines

Sancerre rising from the vines

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

Running parallel to the Loire for quite a part of its length is the Loire canal – a fully functioning commercial waterway and part of the vast European canal. Given time and patience, it is possible to navigate from here on the Loire down on to the Canal du Midi, or even head north to Holland, Belgium and Germany. There are a fair number of Dutch boats at local canal ports. Even the occasional British narrow boat.

Canal basin at St Satur

Narrow boat at St Satur

English narrow boat

A fully functioning commercial canal, complete with grain silos.

Grain silos

Home through the fields – a conference of cows

Conference of cows

Skeletal sunset in the woods. Something evil this way comes??? I hope not.

Sunset

 

 

A Shark’s Gotta Make a Living

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« Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living, » I didn’t meet the fish guy, but this is probably what he would have said, that short, shoulder shrugging phrase for all those who make their money in unchartered waters.

The fish man (as I call him) towing round eight semi trailers filled with 25000 litres of sea water, towing round sharks, sea lions and pirhannas.

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How do you end up towing an aquarium around provincial France ? This is Sea World on wheels. Eight or ten ISO containers full of fish – Salty the Sea lion, Jaws and a few pirhanas on the back of a lorry.

From town-to-town on the provincial circuit, bringing aquatic thrills and spills to the folks back home.

So, the posters went a couple of weeks ago – Giant Aquarium, Sharks, sea lion shows and a few pirhanas thrown in for good measure – a daily sea lion show by Rio and Fanny plus a live shark in a big fish tank on the back of a lorry.

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This is hard-pressed, cash dry small town France – if you can’t get to the sea, the sea will come to you. Lorry fulls of marine mamals going through fish-fed antics for the pleasure of the locals.

This will never work. Well it does. When the sea lions are performing (two shows on weekdays and three at the weekends’ the car park is full and the punters are standing in huge long lines outside in the thin autumn rain.

This is cruel – the punters don’t think so, they are coming out the show wearing big happy smiles. The kids are clutching their acquatic souvenirs – rubber sharks, sea lion T shirts, and masks …

I mean this is cruel to the animals – sharks are meant to be swimming round in the sea, not flailing round in a small fish tank in the back of a lorry.

« Hey, a shark’s gotta make a living. »