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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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

 

 

Four German Maidens, Burnt Toast and Burt Reynolds

Avant Propos

Yes, I have been away for a while, real life catching up with me, a touch of flu and a bout of writer’s block – and when a man (woman) is bored of writing, he (she) is bored with life. So, here I am, trying out some new writing ideas – just start writing and see where it goes. This post started with a visceral reaction to the annoying voice of a velvetine  DJ…Enjoy (I hope)

Rod Stewart, Burnt Toast and a Voice

Featuring

  • Atlantic Crossings
  • An annoying voice
  • Two slices of burnt toast
  • Burt Reynolds
  • David Hasselhoff

Time and place 

  • St Valentine’s Sunday morning in my kitchen.

The treacle-voiced, Sunday morning DJ oozing out my radio. A meliflous, soothing, safe and almost soporiphic, sweet Sabbath, FM breakfast lilt, with a transaltlantic twist. Easy listening and Atlantic Crossings as Rod Stewart’s classic track, « sailing » wofts its way out the radio and across my kitchen, lapping up like gentle waves on burned toast and yesterday’s coffee, reheated in the microwave.

The song soars like seagulls, surfing, gliding and riding the océan breeze. Rod’s grainy voice gives the effortless tune a hard but soulful edge. I feel like I’m alone, walking barefoot on a shingle beach, the small fragments of stones and shells gently rubbing and piercing the soles of my feet in a near gratifying sensation of gentle unpleasentness. All the while, I’m staring out to sea, yearning to be with the one I love.

Rod fades away like an écho on the breeze and the DJ is back with his dulcet dominical tones, reminding us in his deep throat velvetine voice, that it is Valentine’s day, and we, the listeners can ring the radio station and request a romantic song for the « one you love. »

AAAGH ! This putrid purring sliming across my kitchen like someone has poured a bucket of vomit on the worktops. I just want to plunge my hands into radio and wring this guy’s neck. His voice gnaws away at me like mild mild toothache and est me on edge like the high pitch whine of a dentist’s drill.

Chucking the burned toast in the dustbin, I’m trying to imagine what this guy looks like – some kind of seventies Burt Reynolds/David Hasslehoff crossover with a perm and a hairy chest – all polyester trouser suits, and suede jackets.

Why I have never been much of a Simon and Garfunkel Fan

Featuring

  • French peasants
  • Guitar-toting Hippies
  • Too many cigarettes
  • An Omelette

Time and Place 

  • Summers Drifting through France/Evening in a French café

As I flex my fingers and crack my knuckles ready to rip open the radio, the stream of spew fades into the opening chords of Homeward Bound – how I have always loathed Simon and Garfunkel, but that is down to my late teens and early twenties, drifting across France in the company of too many errant, guitar toting Dutch and German hippies. Evenings in village cafés, I’m at the bar, setting the world to with the locals in my fractured French with lashings of Pastis and thick clouds of Gitane in smoke. My hippy travelling companions are in the corner, looking fairly misérable because, apart from an omelette, their is no vegetarian option on the cafés very limited food menu. As the evening drags on, my bedraggled companions get out their guitars and massacre a few Simon and Garfunkel songs in the limited, linear tuetonic English.

German Maidens and Riviera Dreams

Featuring

  • A Spanish Travelling companion
  • Four German maidens ; Gudrun, Beata, Freide, Elise.
  • The Almighty
  • Cheap red wine
  • An Orange VW Combi
  • A Laughing Cow
  • Still too many cigarettes
  • No Sex
  • Simon and Garfunkel (again)
  • Looking for a public toilet in Scarborough

Time and Place 

  • Somewhere near the Pont du Gard in the summer of 1984
  • Scarborough (fair or not)

A Simon and Garfunkel story from the summer of 1984. In France, hitching from Lyons to the sea with a Spanish gent – a travelling companion of circumstance.

All shorts and flip-flpos, we had spent ou day padding along quiet country roads, our heads awash with Riviera dreams, but no car in sight. As day drew to a close our dreams ebbed away in a flow of despair ; low on supplies (one warm bottle of beer aand only one cigarette between us) and the slow réalisation that we actually had nowhere to spend the night because we were in the middle of nowhere. Not prone to prayers, we thought about saying a few, when in an answer to our unprayed implorings to the Almighty, an orange VW Combi van homed into view. (Advice : never take to the road with an emotional lapsed Spanish Catholic.)

We raise our arms in a gesture of distress and the combi miraculously stops right in front of us. The side door slides open with a massive and reassuring Germanic clunk to reveal four very reassuringly blonde, athletic Germanic maidens.

« You want to come with us ? Ja ??? » ventures a maiden in stereotypic Germanic English.

« Oh yes, come all the way and go all the way » I reply, having briefly studied the contents of the heaven-sent van.

In we climbed and off we sped.

We spun then girls our tales of hitch hiking woe.

« Oh yes, it is not easy to get picked up on this road, » says Beata.

« Oh you poor boys » laments Friede offering us a bottle of cheap red wine and a packet of Marlboro.

And as my Spanish companion and I drink and smoke, Beata and Elise stroke our hair and massage our tired muscles, (but not the muscle that you are dreaming of.)

With strong red wine and tuetonic titillation, all Riviera dreams have been banished as my mate and I size up the Combi for the very real prospect of an Anglo Hispanic Germanic gang bang.

We camped for the night, somewhere near the Pont du Gard on the banks of the river Gardon. We lit a small fire, then all sat round eating Vache Qui Rit cheese on a rock hard baguette and drinking vast quantities of more cheap red wine. As the flames of the fire started to flicker weakly down to embers , my travelling companion and I tried our hands at some serious European bonding – this had been, after all the year of the European Parliamentary Elections. However, rather than forging seme serious physical links, our four maidens opted for the policy, of European harmony, when Gudrun appeared from the van clutching a guitar.

« Let us all sing together around the fire … is good ? Ja ? » ventured Gudrun with quizical enthusiasm.

Oh, dashed hopes and dark thoughts. «Jawohl mein leibling. Eine kleine nachtmusik » I whispered to myself. (in mispelt German.)

Gudrun sat herslf down, cross legged in front of the fire, she brushed back ger cascading blonde locks and launched into a monotone renditon of …

Bloody Simon and bloody Garfunkel and bloody Scarborough bloody fair. Had Simon and Garfunkel ever been to Scarborough ?

Scarborough, that austere Yorksire seaside resort , lashed by driving rain and battered by chill North Sea winds – and that is in the heart of summer. As a kid I once went a daytrip to Scarborough during a brief summer family holiday in Yokshire. We spent most of the day sitting in the car staring at the sea and only dared to venture out and brave the éléments, when my incontinent grandmother need a toilet. Off we went round Scarborough in the driving rain, looking for a public loo for Gran.

Homeward Bound

Featuring

  • My love who lies waiting silently for me
  • Burnt toast
  • Breakfast in bed

Time and place

Back in my kitchen on St Valentine’s Day

After Scarborough Fair (which it isn’t), Gudrun started strumming Homeward Bound – one of the few S&G songs which I actually like. Back in my kitchen 30 or more years later, the real Homeward Bound is still playing and I’m even singing along, feeling less now like ripping open my radio to throttle the DJ. I shall now try and do, what I wanted to do before digressing : make a Valentine’s Day breakfast and take it to my love who lies silently waiting/sleeping, in the bedroom. Of course, I will firdst have to makje some decent unburnt toast, a task that seems beyond our présent toaster. I would try and fix the toaster, but I know from expérience that this would be a very bad idea. All I would say, is, never buy a cheap toaster on the grounds that it is cheap and, anyway we only use it a few minutes a day for making toast.

Coming Soon

  • The Death of a toaster
  • Toasters and marital relations
  • Toasters as part of anger management therapy

Unfinished Doctor’s Office Magazine Thoughts

Might finish this one day, and I might even tell you why I went to the doctor’s; A few common observations on the reading matter on offer down the doctor’s.

In the doctor’s waiting room: the usual age-old, well-thumbed magazines stacked any-old-how high in a ready-to-fall anarchic pile. Magazines always on a how low can you go, plastic coffee-table, in the geographic centre of the room – too close to actually reach with one stride but always too far away to just lean over and pick up a magazine.

Those tired old magazines full of dead news, dead ideas, dead TV listings, dead trends, dead book reviews – Our family doctor is a bit of a motoring nut, so I have elected to read a car magazine – exclusive sneak preview of the stars at the up and coming 2014 Paris Motor Show – how many of those hot wheels are now sitting on the forecourts at second hand car dealers?

Waiting room magazines, repositories of germs and recent history.

The legions of « sickies » who have read these magazines over the years. I am alone in the waiting room, so I take time to burrow down to the precarious foundations of the magazine pile – at the root, a news magazine dating from 2012. On the front page it hails the victory of the newly elected President Sarcoxie. How many « sickies » have pored over the pages of this publication ? What is the incubation and extinction period for germs? I should be reading this magazine wearing surgical gloves and turning the pages with tweezers. Oh dear, I feel contaminated, defiled, where is the user-friendly antiseptic hand wash dispenser? Oh yes, there are yellowing posters adorning the walls telling me to wash my hands, yet, there is no discrete little wall mounted device whereby I can squirt a dollop of antiseptic gel on my hands for a good decontamination.

So, we read the magazines and, there are even those who steal articles. The gardening pages of many magazines have half and quarter pages missing. Gardening is timeless and many a bored patient has carefully ripped a gardening article from a magazine. It is only natural – you are sitting there, just a few knocks away from death’s door, when suddenly you happen upon an article telling you how to grow the perfect tomato. So, you carefully put the magazine to one side and then, when you are the only human in the waiting room, you tear out the article.

I will admit that I have actually stolen magazines from waiting rooms. On time for my appointment, I wait for hours while the wheezy woman in front sits in the doctor’s office retelling her life story. I get « embedded » in some obscure history magazine reading a particularly well researched article on medieval France, and just as the wheezy woman has given in her urine sample and finished telling her life story, it is time for me to pass into the realms of consultation, so, making sure that no one is looking, I roll up the magazine as if it were my own and thrust it deep into my bag. No one will know that I am stealing this magazine, and who will care?

Students of contemporary history, writing a thesis on the happenings in early 21st century France, do not bother with the Internet, do not spend weeks days or hours consulting the nation’s press archives looking for reference material, just spend the afternoon in the waiting room at your local doctor’s surgery.

To be continued (or not).

Thoughts on Holidays in the Vendée or Sitting In An Aquarium as the Good Lord Mocketh

After crossing a creative desert, an encouter with the Messiah in a traffic jam during a deluge has provided some inspiration.

Thoughts on Holidays in the Vendée or Sitting In An Aquarium as the Good Lord Mocketh

A slug slow, snaking slur of traffic, crawling its way into the small French Atlantic coastal resort of Jards sur Mer – Stuck in an almighty traffic jam. In traffic terms we are at virtual gridlock. In jam terms, we are thick set, almost solid like someone has just added a little too much gelatine to the original recipe.

At least I am in the comfort of my own car. Oh pity the poor cyclists who are pedaling hard along the cycleway that runs parallel to the main road; battling the elements: storm force winds and rain that thunders down in Biblical proportions from never-ending leaden skies. Grey, dark grey, almost black as far as the eye can see, though sitting here, as the rain hammers down on the car, I can hardly see the car in front even with my windscreen wipers whizzing wildly at full speed – they just can’t clear the water quick enough – this is perhaps the closest I will ever come to sitting in an aquarium.

After an eternity, the line of traffic miraculously advances a couple of hundred yards, just enough to make it up to the roundabout marking the entrance to town. There, in the middle of the roundabout stands a huge statue of Jesus. Huge? This is the cast in Stalinist proportions. All in flowing robes with «manicured» hair and the benevolent smile of an insurance salesman; the Good Lord has his arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome.

Snaking round the Messiah, I’m not so sure that his smile is so benevolent; there’s a hint of irony . On the opposite side of the road, a huge hoarding screams «Vive léte» in enormous gaudy fluorescent pink orange and yellow letters. «Long Live Summer» in this biblcal deluge that the TV weathermen qualified as «isolated heavy showers». The whole of the Western coast of France is being battered by winds and dreched by rains, that might even give Noah himself second thoughts about casting off – and every summer it is the same story on the Atlantic Coast; one or two reasonable days of sunshine, when the winds blowing across the beach abate just enough that you don’t have to be physically anchored to the sand for fear of blowing away, and, when there is just enough sun to remind you that it is summmer, and, the sea is just warm enough to venture a «swim» without having to dress up like a deep sea diver. Oh Lord, why did we come here?

So, sitting here in the deluge, I sneak a glance back at our Lord’s benevolent smile. Perhaps it is the optical effect of the rain I swear the Messiah’s smile has changed from benevolent, to ironic, to almost mocking. Surely the good Lord isn’t taking the piss as it pisses down outside?

The deluge seems to have done little though to dampen the determination of holiday makers to imbibe of the holiday spirit down to the very last drop. When we should be wearing oilskins and sowesters synonymous with those rugged fishermen of old, as they braved the harsh North Atlantic storms, we holiday makers are running around in shorts and T shirts and flimsy summer shoes. Of course we are. This is summer. I am on holiday and even if the outside temperature feels like late Autumn, I will still wear my summer attire. We are all mad and I suppose you have to be a little mad to come here on holiday.

The Lost Post

A few lost thoughts

Lost is

Not knowing where you are: having gone astray or bewildered as to your whereabouts.

Or

Knowing that you are in the wrong place in relation to that place where you should be and having little or no idea of how to get from the former to the latter. This is perhaps the strangest thing about being lost: we know where we are; it is quite simply where we do not want to be. (This begs the question though – do you really want to be where you are going? This depends on where you are going, why you are going there and whom or what is at journey’s end.)

If you are obliged to go somewhere unpleasant or spend time with people you don’t entirely appreciate, getting lost is a far better option than finding one’s way.

Of course, nowadays getting truly lost either by error or intention is quite difficult and nigh impossible thanks to those neat little SatNav systems that seem to equip all our cars

You take a wrong turning whilst driving somewhere. Just wait a while and the GPS or Satnav will have you back on the right road in a few minutes. Let’s face it, getting lost to explain your late arrival or total failure to show up, is no longer a credible excuse.

I suppose you could always deliberately type in the wrong destination so you don’t end up where you really don’t want to be. Consciously type in a variant of the address, to end up in the wrong place, which will probably be the right place for you, seeing as you didn’t want to go where you were supposed to be going.

So, we have the technology to set us back on the straight and narrow when we err from our predestined path. Take away the technology though and we are all instantly exposed to those feelings of helplessness, panic, frustration and anger that come with being truly lost.

Think back to when you were a small kid. You’re out shopping with mum; you might get bored and wander off, you might just simply lose sight of her – as you try to get back to mum and can’t find her you are suddenly engulfed by a huge wave of panic. The realisation that you are lost and the thought that you may never see your mum again.

As adults the panic is perhaps replaced by anger and frustration. Pure and absolute blind rage at being lost. We are fully grown, intelligent adults, how can we be lost? It would be so easy to ask someone, but, that would be too easy and asking your way – though a common sense resolution to being lost, it is (from a male perspective anyway) an admission of defeat.

So, ask your way: of course, you have to understand and memorise the directions – a challenge for someone like me who has no sense of direction and still has trouble distinguishing between left and right.

« Excuse me, could you tell me the way to …. »

« Sure ; You go over the next set of lights, then first left, second right and right again until you get to… »

I got lost at the first set of lights – please, just get in the car and show me the way.

After years of navigational anguish, I no longer say that I am lost. I am not lost. I am simply where I should not be at an appointed time or everyone else is lost – I haven’t lost them, they have lost me. A far wiser approach than flying into helpless rage, tearing up the map and shouting at the wife. I just wonder how many couples have cited lousy navigational skills as a reason for divorce?

Being lost and feeling lost.

If I haven’t already lost you with this lost diatribe it is because today I am feeling lost.

Consider

Lost in summer

And

Lost, in summer

In the first case we have abandoned ourselves to seasonal mindset. We have succumbed to summer. We are in summer torpor, perhaps in holiday mood.

As opposed to the latter, where we are just lost, trying to run to our usual routine whilst the entire world is in a summer frame of mind.

Saturday August 1st – on any normal Saturday, the centre of town should be buzzing with shoppers. The local weekly market should be heaving with basket brandishing types in search of fresh produce. This morning though … downtown is dead, most shops have shut up for their annual summer holiday, there are a few tourists milling around the meagre collection of stall in the market – everyone is on holiday. The great annual summer shutdown is in full swing and town will be like a ghost town until late August. There are a few other lost souls in town, and thank heavens for those national chain stores – some shops are actually open –

I’m trying to think of the advantages of living in a summer ghost town. I can get a parking space right in the centre of town; I don’t have to stand in line for ages at the checkout in the local supermarket; staff in shops seem more relaxed, less hassled, they have time to smile and exchange a few pleasantries; there are actually sales staff available to answer product queries.

I am though lost in small-town summer boredom. There’s nothing going on, because everyone is away on holiday.

Yes, I have always had problems with the great French summer shutdown. From late July to late August, the entire nation shuts down and heads off on holiday. It is possibly worse in the nation’s major cities. How many times have I heard Parisians complaining that they can’t get their daily bread because every single baker’s in the capital seems to have closed down for the summer?

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I live in a country where holidays are still sacred. French workers still get five to six weeks of annual paid leave. Offices and factories will actually close two to three weeks for their annual summer break – compare this to other countries, where even a public holiday too many is seen as a reason for economic suicide.

Yes there are those who complain that the holidays are too long. There are parents who would like to see their kids back at school in mid-August. There are employers who moan about annual leave being far too generous. When France shuts down for the summer they are losing valuable business.

Lost, in summer, I should just lose myself to summer.

Finally, in this lost post

In France, this is the biggest getaway weekend of the summer. Road conditions are not just red, they are black, meaning the nation’s main holiday routes are pretty much at gridlock – France is at best a slow moving mass of vehicles and at worst a gigantic car park. This is the weekend when those who have taken their holidays in July head home and those who take their vacation in August all head for the beach. So, no danger of getting lost, just head to the end of your road point you car in the right direction and join the long line of cars crawling to the sea.

 

 

Home

Back from my vacation. A few thoughts on driving back to that place we call home – or simply an excuse to post some photos.

DSC_0428

The beach parasols all cleaned and neatly folded. The last sandcastle awaits its inévitable destruction by the incoming tide : the last walk along the prom – a few final breaths of bracing sea air before climbing in the car and heading to those places we call home. Crossing the void from holiday destination, to that place where we live and are glad to live when we see what pther places are like on our long journey home from the sea.

DSC_0443

DSC_0420

Crossing those flat nowhere places where only wheat and wind turbines seem to grow. The flat agricultural tundra where small clusters of cottages and agricultural buildings pompously pass themselves off as villages ; pretentions as poles of civilization in the vast flat lands of industrially farmed fields. Occasionally a signpost tells you that you’re not derinig on a simulator – you are moving, you are getting somewhere, even if the endless plains of nothing give you feeling that you have ground to a halt.

Heading home, wondering what to have for dinner. You’ve emptied the fridge, and in this middle of nowhere there is no sign of a supermarket, not even a shop in those places that claim to be villages. Salvation ! Up ahead, on the horizon – a building that looks like it might actually be something. Alas, it is no more that a metal carcass – an effort to build a factory or a warehouse in the middle of nowhere in the hope that someone might want to invest here.

DSC_0454

This is the journey home – crossing all those places you could never call home.