Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chyrsanthemums.. flowers of remembrance

One of the important things to remember, when living in France, is not to give as a gift to anyone, chrysanthemums.

As summer takes its leave and bids farewell to France, the trees turn to stunning shades of gold, red and yellow. Autumn takes hold, and chrysanthemums are often seen growing in local fields. These flowers, which are available in many warm shades, have been linked since the 19th century as the flower for La Toussaint, a two-day French festival, which dates back approximately to the 8th century. Families travel to spend time with each other, throughout France and to place a pot of chrysanthemums, a symbol of immortality, and often a candle, on the graves of the departed.

All Saints’ Day, yet another Bank Holiday in France, on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. is a time for French families to remember people who have passed away, whom they loved and admired. All Saints Day remembers all the Catholic Saints, whilst All Souls’ Day is for praying for the souls of those deceased.

I remember, as a child, at a French Catholic boarding school in England having a ‘day off’ on 1st November, when we could do as we wished, within limits!! whilst all other schools continued as normal.

In France, during the last week in October, every shop and local farmer seem to be selling chrysanthemums in pots of varying sizes. These aromatic autumn flowers, in stunning colours, are the subject of much discussion between family members who seem to spend ages discussing which pot of flowers for which relative; cars are then loaded with the plants whose musky scent fills the air, conjuring images of calm and peace.

I do not know what percentage of French families undertake this ritual, but from the numbers I have seen during the last few days carefully choosing their tributes, I am sure it is high, as family values and respect for elders is a way of life in most communes.

There is a local stall which is well known in this area. A British man (see pic above) arrived in this region about 30 years ago, and was probably the only Brit here at the time. He has built a successful market gardening business and at varying times of the year, he, along with his French wife and bi~lingual children will be found at the disused railway station, selling their produce

We went today, to buy a small pot of chrysanthemums for our much missed dog Harry, who died last December. M. Darling watched from afar, knowing I would pick a purple shade, the colour I associated with Harry, a beautiful Black Flat Coated Retriever, who always wore a purple collar. We will place this on his grave in our garden near the flowing Dordogne River, which he loved, on November 1st and light a candle in a storm lantern in the evening, which will burn through to November 2nd, as we did on the night of his burial.

The flower of remembrance and respect in France is a living flower, which will survive the frosts which creep through the night at this time of year. I have discussed with many French people the British symbol of remembrance, the poppy. They are interested in the message behind the red poppy, the essential funds their sale raises, and the association with the French fields of battle, they respect our tradition as we should respect theirs.

So, although it is acceptable to give chrysanthemums as a gift to someone in the UK, beware doing the same in France as not quite the done thing!

Scrumbles invades Normandy ~ To walk where Obama walked..

I have divided this into sections so you can disappear to yawn and come back if so inclined..

Packing up and off we go
Having lived in the current part of France for the last six years and had disappointments aplenty we have decided to move to the west coast of France~ish, to ease travel to Hampshire in the UK to visit the family.

Before marketing our house, we decided to take a short, 4-day grand tour to see what areas we liked. People on Twitter suggested places to visit, so we had an itinerary, immaculately produced by M. Darling. The AA Map was covered in yellow sticky post it notes. Only a patient soul such as he could make the trip such a military operation; that is until you figure me into the plan, no doubt all hell would break loose, on a frequent basis.

First shock to my system was up and doing at 8 am, double shock as it was a Monday morning. M. Darling was already organised and waiting patiently in the garden for me to finish faffing about. I showered, dressed, packed unnecessary stuff and even painted me toenails as venturing further than my field for a few days.

A scrummy friend, Sue, arrived to puppy sit for our three dogs and the cats. I reminded her how the televisions worked, where the wine store lived and other important things, oh, and how much grub to give the boys twice daily. After giving everyone a big huggle, M. Darling and I set off in the car at about 10 am. Not a bad start bearing in mind he had estimated departure time at 9.24.

I should point out here that M. Darling is a big, kind, huggly bear kind of a man. He does not believe in speaking unless he has something to say; anyway he says he can never get a word in edgewise when I am about, so he tends to observe people and contribute when appropriate or possible.

He really is a patient and tolerant darling and very sympathetic to my condition of “only child syndrome”. He is well aware that a stamp of the foot or a toss of the hair indicates a tantrum of diva proportions is likely. Depending on the severity of the situation, he will either ignore or laugh at me.

The overall secret of our success is the fact we are complete opposites. He likes a neat structured life whilst I am more of a throw it in the air and see where it lands sort of person.

The only time we really squinny at each other is in the car. M. Darling is obsessed with complaining about French drivers, although he loves almost everything else French; I “tsk tsk” frequently at him, saying just because it is French plates, does not mean it is a French driver. Our car has French plates, point made.

The thought of being confined to a car for four days without cigarettes was beginning to make me tetchy, adding to my already unhinged behaviour patterns, which have exacerbated since the cessation of my love affair with Philip Morris, some two weeks earlier.

Lunch and a bit of philosophy
We arrived at Limoges at lunchtime and, armed with maps and ‘tom tom’, enjoyed a pleasant hour before the second leg of the journey to Rouen.

Whilst eating, I started eavesdropping on a conversation between two interesting Dutch people and a rather tasty young French gentleman discussing food. Nothing surprising there, until the Dutch lady explained how an English TV programme trying to change people’s dietary habits included analysis of their poo. She was not aware of the name of the nutritionist involved so I interjected with “Gillian McKeith”.

Great hilarity followed between all of us with focused toilet humour. I was surprised to find myself actually laughing in the company of jolly people for the first time in ages. This confirmed my need to move somewhere nearer the UK so I could spend the hysterical hours I enjoy with my four children, snuggling under a duvet, watching rom/com DVDs and blubbing and just being blatantly childish and stupid.

Travelling is a boring pastime on a motorway, the mind does somersaults; paranoia and obsessive thoughts linger, whilst glimmers of a brighter future peek through the clouds of disappointment and regret. I gave only the briefest of consideration to poor Joan as we passed Orleans, however I did wonder, in the unlikely event I ever became a martyr, what would be the preferred route to death. Didn’t much fancy crucifixion or disembowelling and eventually decided that burning was probably the best option as I could have a quick ciggie and then be overcome by fumes.

A night in the Bunkhouse
As I had no idea where we were going, as is normal in my life, I had booked room at the cheapest of the national chains of motels for the night at Rouen; what an experience that would turn out to be!

Our main problem was actually finding the place. Tom Tom told us to go completely the wrong way so I suggested to M. Darling we also put the address in the Toyota sat nav. Sooo funny: Totty Toyota was telling us stuff, followed seconds later by Tom Tom whom we decided to re-name dick head. In the end Toyota Totty won and got us to our destination seconds before Tom Tom-dick head.

The car park was filled with white vans...mmm suspicious.. and the reception area was swamped with muscular young building type chappies.

We eventually booked in and found our room. As mentioned previously I am a recent, not totally convinced it is for the rest of my life, non smoker, therefore I was slightly distraught, when to add insult to injury, there were no non smoking rooms left. I dramatically ‘tut tutted’ at the ashtray in our room, yet wondered if this was a sign to recommence my delectable habit. I placed it beneath the pile of leaflets advertising pizzas and kebabs.

The room was about the size of our laundry room. A double bed with a single top bunk type affair horizontally straddled across the head of the main bed. There was a small hand basin, and sort of dangerous barstool type seat, angled table and a television mounted on the wall.

The loos and showers were a few yards along the hallway and reminiscent of my days at a boarding establishment for young divas to be, which was run by strange ladies with long black dresses, and crosses around their neck.

We decided we needed to eat so discovered there was a restaurant recommended at a more expensive motel about a kilometre away. The food was reasonable, but I cannot remember what we ate. There was a wall-mounted television and I tried to see any comments on Michael Jackson’s funeral; neighbouring tables looked at me suspiciously as I squinted above their heads at the TV.

We returned to our ‘cell’ at ‘The Bunkhouse’ at about 8.30, phew just before the gates were locked at 9pm. I was aware I was supposed to be up and moving at 7 am the next day so panicked slightly and decided I must sleep now. Young men, presumably the resident cowboys, were wandering up and down the corridors and bottles were clinking as they passed us by. I was pleased I had brought my own pillows with me, but it also dawned on me that I was becoming a fussy old biddy with all my pernickety needs. I had also, to my horror, packed a little bag with paracetamol, antiseptic creams, plasters and scissors. M. Darling informed me that I had been like this for a long time, and it was part of my unstable and eccentric personality.

Just as I was drifting off to sleep and M. Darling was reading his book, a dreadful thought suddenly occurred to me. The basin; surely men would not bother to go along the corridor to a loo when a suitable receptacle was available. I clambered out of bed, bemused as I was trying to sleep and as it was still broad daylight, and removed everything from the basin surround; I am sure I saw splash marks on the mirror....brr..... I returned to my pit, told myself to go to sleep as had to get up in a minute, and eventually I suppose I must have slept, as at around 7am I awoke to the same daylight I had left some hours before.

M. Darling set off to the showers (thank God I had brought towels with us as the only ones provided were the size of a tea towel). He returned a while later and said the shower was OK although he was amused by a hole in the wall through to the toilet side! We discussed the dimension of the hole and the possibilities for its use and I decided to investigate for myself.

The shower was big enough to contain at least four people and probably did on occasions. It was quite odd as the water was on a timer and had to be pressed at frequent intervals, rather like the timed light switches you get on staircases which requires a sudden bolt up the stairs to the next switch. Quite disconcerting when you are all lathered up with your Pantene Pro V and can’t find the thing to push.

Totally unphased by this experience, but determined not to repeat it, I wrapped myself in my bath towel and picking up my bathroom bits and jim-jams I walked boldly along the corridor, saying ‘bonjour’ to those who passed me by.

By now it was about 7.30 a.m. This is not, I hasten to add, a time I am familiar with; I prefer to greet the day when it is well aired, at approximately 10 am.

Breakfast was reasonable. Bread, croissants, cereals, yogurts, coffee, usual stuff and although my routine breakfast is a coffee and a packet of fags, I was determined to eat what I was paying for.

A lovely day at the Seaside

Car was loaded and we were off for Day 2. We went through Rouen to see what it was like. It was so exhilarating to be part of the real world again, 24-hour drive in McDonalds, every car dealership possible and a multitude of large stores. Bliss. However, it was also a large car park, not much moving traffic. This is now totally alien to us as we are so rural in our area, but it brought back memories of an hour each morning and evening on the M27 in Hampshire.

Seeing a reasonably priced petrol station, we stopped to fill up. We had no idea at that time that Tom Tom could tell us where petrol stations were. Whilst M. Darling fed the car, I had fun cleaning the windows of the car with the free squidgy soapy thing available on the forecourt. M. Darling said I should audition for a job at UK Traffic lights and get paid; the man is trying to pimp me on the streets, how ridiculous, he knows I long to be a TV weather girl, but not in the early mornings.

We finally found the road for Dieppe and were delighted to be in an area with the sound of sea birds howling anxiously. After a short stop for a coffee, we followed the road south and stopped at Fecamp for lunch. It was raining and very windy, but the ozone in our hair, well mine, he doesn’t have a lot, and the seagulls hovering around were a refreshing change from our current environment, which is filled with trees.

M. Darling had, I discovered, been very remiss in his pre-travel Health and Safety checks. The umbrella had one spoke poking out and untold damage could have been done to an innocent bystander.

Every restaurant was promoting moules with variations on a theme and we finally found a friendly looking place which also had other items on the lunch menu.

I had a delightful warm salmony pate with a parsley sauce and M. Darling had moules (gives in too easily!) for starters, very nice too. For the main course, M. Darling had fish and stuff and I had ham in a port and cream sauce. Pud was the best time for M. Darling as he had chocolate mousse, although he had ordered crème brulee, and I had ice cream with a cigar shaped wafer biscuit, which I smoked with great satisfaction. A great lunch for only €12. each, can’t be bad.

Time to move on again and we headed south, stopping at Etretat, which we liked very much but could not dally too long as aiming to stay at Bayeaux that night.

Crossing to Le Havre was terrifying, an enormous bridge that in the distance looked like a hoopy rainbow. I do not like heights. Despite having bravely climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, and nearly dying in the process, I avoid them when possible; so, as this bridge loomed I decided to change the CD. I think M. Darling was pleased my Annie Lennox impersonation had ended, but he looked a little concerned when it was a toss up between Michael Jackson No.1s or Streisand; Streisand won!

After crossing the bridge, which cost €5. we tried to park in Honfleur €3 an hour!! However, it was totally impossible to find a space, so we headed off and found another small village for a cuppa and a pancake with citron. Well, I reckon at least three lemons were poured over the pancakes, and I am sure we both made faces similar to a small baby who tastes something for the first time. They were so bitter, impossible to eat without a pound of sugar added, yuk, disgusting.

I had been totally fascinated for hours by the beautiful green grass, not the weedy variety prevalent further south. It was lovely to see real cows (e.g. black and white variety) but it was odd that I had still not seen a cat. Why I noticed the lack of puss-cats I do not know, but it became a bit of an obsession for the rest of the grand tour.

Following the Footsteps of World War 2

We passed across Pegasus Bridge and noticed the local bars that no doubt capitalise on this famous part of the history of World War 2, where brave men were killed.

Continuing on the route to Bayeux we noticed a “Drive Thru-Tattoo Parlour” and had a great discussion on how the area to be tattooed would be presented through the car window.

Arriving in Bayeux, we found a Hotel in the main town and we were lucky to get the last room available. It started an interesting debate on what is a Hotel and what is a B&B. This place, called itself a Hotel, however it looked more like a gold mine to me.

The entrance was a small corridor, alongside a shop, to a reception desk. Behind the reception desk was a conservatory, which, we were told, was the place where breakfast was served. On the three floors above were eight bedrooms. The bedroom had a very good ensuite shower room and a television. We climbed the three floors to our room, incidentally there was the push button system for the lighting, dumped our stuff and had a wonder around the town. Quite busy and much like any other French town.

We discovered at breakfast the next morning that the Hotel also owned the property above the shop next door, providing another eight bedrooms.

I am of the opinion that a hotel has other facilities, not just a bedroom and breakfast room. Surely, there must be seating places, possibly a bar and a restaurant, at least more than just a reception desk?

Breakfast was €6 extra (room was €50) and we were given a small basket with three croissants, a couple of slices of baguette, some butter and jam.oh and a jug of orange juice and coffee or tea.

So, working on the gold mines potential we have 16 rooms x €50 a night is €800. + say 30 breakfasts at €6. = €180. so about €1000 gross a night. The place is run by the husband and wife. I asked Madame if they closed in the year and she said for a week at Christmas and a week in February. She said business was good all year as various nationalities arrive at different times of the year. They are making a lot of money, despite charges, taxes etc, which I, as a business owner in France know are high, they are making a fortune. It only takes a few to pay in cash, and the black market potential of this business is amazing. Maybe that is where so many Brits in France are going wrong… Oh and we decided this was a B&B not a Hotel.

British War Graves
Due to time restrictions, we decided not to gawp at the Bayeux tapestry but felt it was inappropriate to pass by the War graves.

As we drove into the car park for the British graves and the war museum two delightfully smiley nuns were driving out and waved at us; a shudder from my former monastic life appeared, but I realised I was now nearly a grown up and should not be scared of these ladies, so I smiled and waved back.

Around the cemetery museum there were many memorial plaques in French and English which told the world that the soldiers had “fallen in the fields of honour in France” “fallen for the cause of freedom” and “God called them blessed”.

Although, like many others of my generation, my only knowledge of the war is from my father’s anecdotes, television and history at school, I was intensely moved by the calm atmosphere which pervaded, interspersed with the occasional rumbling of a car across the cobble stones in the road at the entrance to the cemetery. As we entered M. Darling and I automatically went our separate ways. This was a personal experience.

It was a cool day. Although I felt a quiet chill as I saw lines of headstones fanning into the distance, placed with such precision no deviation could be seen along the horizon it also seemed peaceful to me. Each one seemed to belong to young men around 18 – 24 years. I do not know the average age of those buried there, but it must be early twenties. There are 3935 Brits buried there along with other nationalities.

Between and around the graves rose bushes were blooming and people I assumed to be employed there silently tended the graves ensuring these brave young people are cared for and appreciated for their ultimate sacrifice to ensure freedom for Europe. We could not visit all the graves but we were moved by the many messages we did see.

One headstone stated simply “Soldier of the second world war, known unto God”

Another declared “Boys became men overnight”

For me, the most poignant was from the parents of a 19-year-old boy, who sadly recorded his passing with “Only son, until we meet again”

We left the cemetery and walked to the car in silence, reflecting on what could have been the result of the war in Europe had it not been for men like these.

The next obvious place to visit was the beaches where the invasion of Normandy took place.

We went past the Arromanche beaches and M. Darling commented it was only having looked at the beaches that he could appreciate the scale of the challenge to build the floating harbours. It is incredible that they lay now, at peace on the seashore, the underpinning structures, which facilitated the whole of the landing strategy.

All the villages and hamlets seemed to fly the Union Jack; the last time I saw so many was probably at one of the milestones of the Queen’s reign.

Commercialism for the many tourists was prolific and we noticed signs for Speed Food, whatever that may be. A local bar had wonderful cartoons painted on their windows. One depicted a typical French man with a beret pouring wine for a British Tommy and saying “thank you”; another had a girl in a headscarf waving at parachutists as they were about to land in the fields.

I was also slightly annoyed, no doubt during a cigarette craving moment, to notice that so many places advertised sandwichs. I suppose in French le sandwich is masculine, so an ‘s’ not ‘es’ is appropriate. but a tad tedious.

American War Graves

I decided, as I had not been controversial in the strategic travel plan for sometime that I had to visit the American cemetery. I wanted to stand where Obama had stood a few weeks previously. I told M. Darling this was a need, not a want he said “he would take me to where Obama stood” although this was accompanied by a quizzical, bemused look

As we wound our way along the lanes, I wondered how the infrastructure coped with the excessive demands by tourists to visit this legendary area and then somehow remembered that I still had not seen any cats. I did however see a stunning white cow looking at me, curled up in a field, not just lying down, but curled up like a giant Golden Labrador. I had to stop and take a photograph of this grand bovine. M. Darling, who was driving, asked if it was really necessary to stop; was I taking a picture of a dog or a cow and did I not know the difference?

Omaha Beach, or Obama Beach as one news commentator called it during the recent commemoration in June, was down a windy lane. On the lampposts, there were black and white pictures of GIs, looking stunningly handsome and reminiscent of many of the films made about World War 2.

When we arrived at the parking area, the whole place was packed. Not since I was in New York City have I been surrounded by so many Americans of all ages.

The atmosphere at this cemetery was not as calm and tranquil as the British cemetery, probably due to the number of people visiting. There were signs reminding people of respectful behaviour and on the walk towards the grave area, there was a sign requesting silence and respect. I believe there are in the region of 9000 graves.

It was quite spooky as the hordes of us marched silently toward the graves, the haunting sound of ‘Taps’ was being played by an unseen bugler. This was so unexpected and thought provoking. I checked the time, it was 11.34, so why was this being played? We never did find out.

The magnificent sculpture, which was the focus and backdrop of the recent visit by Obama, has a circle of words at its feet. “My Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of The Coming Of The Lord”.

Such is my obsession with Obama and my belief he will have a profoundly positive influence on the future of the world, I found it awesome, in the literal sense, to be able to stand, on the same spot, where he had so recently given another of his profound speeches. Lovin Obeeee, as always.

As we walked thoughtfully away from the graves, we followed the continuing crowds. It was particularly touching to see an elderly American gentleman talking to his granddaughter aged about 15 years. His face showed great sorrow and he told her he would meet her at the car. She ran off saying “OK Grandpa”.

He continued walking, slowly, as would be expected from a man of his years, paying homage and probably remembering, maybe with some degree of guilt that he had lived on, young friends who had not survived the landings; many would have been just a few years older than his young granddaughter. A double tragedy as they had not lived to raise families of their own. I like to think, that as the memories flooded into his mind, his long gone pals, resembling the Hollywood glamour boys on the lamp-posts in the lanes, were with him in spirit, arms around his stooping shoulders, guiding him gently back to his grand daughter in the car park.

As we walked back to the car I was brought back to the 21st century with a bump when I saw an American tourist with a small spray bottle of hand antiseptic attached to her bag.

The Territories of the Allies

Throughout the towns were flags of the Allies and I found it a little odd to see German flags flying. Was this appropriate? I am still not sure whether there is a dark side of remembrance in displaying this flag, or if it is a symbol of moving on. A difficult balance for those involved to remember and move on, I am sure. HOWEVER, at the reckoning, was there any alternative to the invasion and resulting deaths of so many young heroes?

Driving on, God, we had spent days in this confined space on wheels, we noticed the grass was losing that crisp green colour and thickness that we had enjoyed so much in Upper Normandy. We stopped at St-Lo for lunch, and found a reasonable place to eat, a massive salad with salmon for €7.50 each. Obviously a forward thinking bar/restaurant as there was a covered area for smokers to indulge their habit whilst enjoying a cheeky beer.

The town was very active and deceptively large with fabulous floral displays. I was however somewhat surprised at signs above the American Flags which declared “Welcome and Thank You to Our Liberators”. I am not being picky and maybe there is a reason for this, but there were no other flags of the Allies. Big town, big flags but still no cats.

As we left St-Lo, it became obvious why there was this American homage. A large French/US Memorial Hospital on the outskirts of the town. Maybe there is more to this link so I will make a point of researching the history of this town.

We headed back towards the coast and stopped at for more petrol at the Intermarche near Grenville. This store was given the Cleanest Loo of the Trip Award, clean, comfy, nice music and one of those little pff aerosol spray things on the wall, similar to the one at “Paul’s house” no doubt (God I hate that ghastly child in the advert, why can’t he poo in his own house?).

A Religeous Interlude

On the way to Mont St Michel, which has its first cousin St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, we stopped, as there was a wind turbine on the edge of a field. Wow, what powerful machines, the whooshy whoosh sound is hypnotique. For once in my life, I felt quite small and insignificant as we stood beneath this awesome and monstrous beast. I wondered why some people find them ugly. I think they are tres elegant!

Upon arrival at Mont St Michel, the road closed except for essential traffic. Although a little annoyed I was not classed as essential, we drove as near as possible. I was surprised to see it was in fact an Island with houses. Why was I surprised, what did I expect? A religious monument I suppose. We turned round and drove back through the town, which was full of touristy stuff. It reminded me of Rocamadour, another commercially religious place; same produce, different names, but no cats.

Pretty Places which clinch the decision to move

Next port of call was Dinan. A large, busy, pretty town with lots of seabirds. We saw signs commemorating 23rd May 1943. Despite a Google search, I have not been able to determine the significance of this date.

Another thing I had noticed, apart from the lack of cats, which was still a concern, was my delight that we had not seen any people kissing in any of the towns we had visited. How refreshing.

I get incensed when Brits insist on kissing me all the time. OK if the French feel they wish to include me in their customs, I will comply. But why do Brits, who often decry French cultures and customs, want to adopt this practice? It is usually the creepy old man type of Brit (without mac, or, beret) who wants to kiss everyone; this ain’t in any sense cultural. Yuk. However I will say we have about four close Brit friends where the kissing business does occur, for those interested, just the two, one on each cheek.

One of the things that struck us continually was how lively France appears to be when you get out of our region. Happy people, busy shops, restaurants, and so many flowers everywhere. .
The Limousin, allegedly, has the highest suicide rate, probably due to the high percentage of agricultural workers. I can’t say I am surprised, the doom and gloom on everyone’s faces is incredible. They don’t smile much, probably because a large percentage has no teeth.

The gloom and doom extends to a small minority of ex pats too; they combine this with boredom and idle hands, so it is no wonder there is so much mischief making near our hometown by these sad people. It is tragic that allegedly intelligent people, approaching middle age, maybe reflecting on the lack of success in their own lives, feel it is necessary to invade and pollute the lives of others around them to gain some sort of satisfaction. The Gendarmes and the locals must think all Brits are vindictive and viscous people. No wonder Brits in France get a bad press when a small minority behaves in such an unacceptable, unjust and unnecessary manner.

Anyway, we were not in ‘sad people’s department’ we were having fun. We were exhausted by all the travelling and I had no idea where I was, except we were aiming next for Rennes for our final night of the grand tour.

The Last night on the road

On the outskirts of Rennes at about 8pm, we found another national chain of motels, slightly more salubrious that the first night. I rushed into reception to ‘cherche une chambre’ and was told there was none left. Oh dear.. I asked the lovely French man to check as I was a desperate woman and he finally relented. I liked to think this was due to my charm, but it was probably due to sheer fear, that he eventually he gave me the room of someone who had booked, but not arrived. At this point, I produced M. Darling with the bags and off we trotted to a comfy room with our own shower and loo.

We had a meal at a nearby restaurant and aimed to leave at about 7 am for the final haul back to the Correze. For the first time ever, I was the first to awaken and it was 8.55 am. Oh blimey; rushing through the shower we galloped down for breakfast. It was amazing, scrambled eggs, bacon, cereals, yogurts, toast, croissants WOW.

There were four other people in the dining area and Phil Collins singing “Groovy kinda love” on the sound system. A young, rather tasty, frenchy blokey started to sing-along so of course I had to join in. M. Darling bowed his head in shame as we duetted about when we were feeling blue etc.. moreover, I must say was an excellent start to the day.

We were now running late on the itinery, which stated we should be somewhere else, two hours further away, We decided to throw our bonnets in the air, live dangerously and drive through Rennes. It was delightful, strange tho’, no cats.

Lunch in a Port

Next port of call, and out of the originally planned route home, was La Rochelle for lunch, followed by a visit to people who had left our area about a year ago. It would be good to visit the family and check up on the renovations of their new property.

We arrived at La Rochelle and found it surprisingly easy to park. We wandered along to the lines of restaurants and found a good place for a wonderful sea food lunch. We saw another date plaque, which I have been unable to acknowledge, for 19th March 1962.

After the lunch we ambled around the stalls and saw with horror a fascinated audience watching some tiny dogs being dressed in clothes and performing for the amused spectators. How disgraceful that these poor wee animals were subjected to such degradation. I am not sure if this would still be allowed in England; the last time I saw something like this was as a child, at a circus.

There was an amazing ‘silver man’ who was a painted statute. The children appeared cautious of him and ran for their lives when he walked amongst the crowd. It was amusing and is an interesting art form.

Visiting Friends and a Proper Cup of Tea

I telephoned our pals who live about an hour away from La Rochelle and gave them an estimated time of arrival.

Tom Tom was charged up with the address that would take about one and a half hours.

As we continued south, we were surprised to see a change of architecture and we wondered if we had gone to Spain by mistake. Haciendas were everywhere and the landscape was flat, with scorched grass. Such a change from the day before when lush green fields and black and white cows were prolific.

I was so excited to see the fields of sunflowers. There were literally hundreds of thousands of them, blowing in the breeze and nodding a ‘Bonjour’ as we passed. I waved nervously back in awe of such splendour and said ‘Bonjour Little Weed’

Then horror of horrors, I saw a machinery type thing beheading some of them; I could not look, but a quick peek revealed the plants still standing straight and in defiance, prepared to meet their fate, minus their heads. I think I shall start a campaign to ban sunflower oil; it was a wholesale massacre of one of nature’s beauties who turn their heads to the sun, hence their French name Tournesol (turn in the sun).

There were also many fields of wheat and I was amazed to see Kingsmill bread in its original form. How amazing that wheat can become flour which becomes bread! that is so clever, I wondered who invented the first loaf and how?

Tom Tom suddenly awakened from his afternoon slumber and started dictating his directions. We followed dutifully and suddenly he told us to turn left then left again. The first left was on a small road, the next left a track between fields of sunflowers, with houses in the distance. ‘You have reached your destination’ we were advised.

Well I know Kate and co like the outdoor life but felt this was a bit much, so whilst looking for Bill and Ben amongst the horizon of sunflowers we spotted some houses in the distance. Deciding they had to be there somewhere we trundled on and suddenly mad waving, as only the Brits can perform was spotted and we thankfully pulled into their drive.

The first thing to be discussed was a cup of tea and the joy of being out of the car. The three dogs greeted us and in the house, I saw a cat, yeah, but that did not count, as was a house cat, not a normally wandering moggie.

We intended to stay less than an hour, but put a couple of chatterers like Kate and me together, no chance.

It was obvious to see the whole family was enjoying a peaceful if busy life in their new home, within a small clutch of properties. They told stories of the neighbours and their peculiarosities, yet it was evident they fitted into the community very well and the children were happy in their schools.

The work they had done on the house was amazing, with original and thoughtful renovation.

The last leg of the journey home

We eventually left after three hours, putting our estimated time of arrival home at just after midnight.

Kate had suggested a route which included the vineyards and chateaux in the region. We saw some stunning buildings and even a chateau producing wine with a Polish sounding name.

Tom Tom chatted away aimlessly but I spotted a sign for MacDonald’s and as I had not had one for many weeks decided it was an ideal supper stop. Yum, was lovely, the McDonalds double latte has to be the best coffee in France.

Whilst munching a pile of God knows what, Sue, remember the puppy sitter? Rang to see where we were. I told her somewhere near Bordeaux and should be home in about two hours. She was concerned as she had left the dogs about 4 hours previously and wondered if she should go back to keep them company. I told her not to worry, they did not have watches so would not know the time, and were probably sleeping sweetly without Big Brother assaulting their ears.

Eventually, having reassured Sue the boys were fine, we set off for the final part of the journey home. Still no cats.

As it was about 10pm, it was wonderful to see a bright red sun setting behind us. It was bizarre as straight ahead it was dark, whereas behind us there was still light as the sun sank to greet another hemisphere for their busy day.

The remainder of the journey was in the dark. It was a good time for us both to reflect on what we had seen on our whirlwind tour. The most memorable was of course visiting the war graves.

It is so tragic and ironic that young men and women of similar ages are still giving their lives for the sake of freedom, albeit from a different and possibly potentially far more lethal adversary. Will lessons never be learned and will peace ever reign. Sadly, I doubt it.

We are still undecided about our final region to do a house search; probably department 35; however, I am drawn to the Normandy beach areas for some reason, and I do believe it is important to listen to your intuition and your future home will choose you.

We arrived home and crept in to avoid disturbing the dogs, however they were delighted to see us; good job they did not look for presents from our trip. What bad parents we are!

Incidentally, the first cat we saw was about 2 kilometres from our house.