There’s something so exciting about discovery. Imagine having the chance to find the source of the Nile or even America. Of course there were Africans and Native Indians who used to wander about such places on their way to work every day. I guess they didn’t know that anyone wanted to know about where they were. Nowadays, in the car at least I have Sat Naff. Huge satellites orbit the Earth some 12,000 miles away and they know where the source of everything is. Nevertheless today I got out my bike and set out to discover my own personal equivalent of the Northwest Passage. My aims were slightly more modest and amounted to finding a route from St Savinien to Taillebourg, not using the normal road. It was almost like stepping back into history as I encountered the little hamlet of Coulogné-Sur-Charente. I only have a couple of full days left here in France before I head back north for the madness of it all in the traffic with my bus. As I sit in the queues and bad tempered road ragers blare horns and shake fists I will re-live my moments of slightly woodsmoked air and the whizz of my bike as I opened the South East passage of my own little world. If you are looking for a holiday in Europe and you don’t want the tourist trample come to Charente Maritime.
I do wish the Brits would stop belly-aching about Europe. OK – there are problems but all this “We want the trade and the advantages but we don’t want to join in” is getting tedious. I do not want to go on about politics but if you look at the World Atlas you will see Great Britain (The Disunited Kingdom) a few miles to the north of France. That’s where we are guys. Prime minister Cameron is sitting on a very sharp fence that threatens to slice right into his leadership regions. John Major called the anti European faction “The Bastards”. Oddly enough that was more or less what the French called William the Conqueror.
If you are in France Leclerc supermarkets have some great prices for whole sides of French pork. They are also well priced for Boeuf Bourginon and other casserole beef cuts.
Emma thinx: United we stand, but only because there are no seats.
Do you ever wonder what you would go through to get to what you wanted? I seem to remember a game show on Japanese TV where you could win prizes by eating maggots or being drowned. If you Yanks haven’t seen this stuff check out Endurance here. This type of entertainment came to mind as I endured a night crossing on a Brittany Ferry between Portsmouth (UK) and St Malo (France). I cannot seriously fault the staff of Brittany Ferries. They are hard working and courteous. However, these night crossings are an ordeal. Because our vehicle had a roof box we were loaded last and so when we got to the restaurant there was a huge queue. Since many of the would-be diners were French, the word queue did not apply. Probably best to imagine the French Revolution and the mobs at the barricades. Since it was half term, loads of English were also on board and I’m guessing that the ship was at full capacity. We attempted to storm the self service barricades for about half an hour but gave up and headed for the posh restaurant. No tables of course. We headed for the bar. We grabbed a table and dear old Gilles went off and got pizza from a kinda cafe place. He was back in half an hour. And do you know what? Not a single guy asked me if I was on my own/would like a drink/fancied a shag. There’s nothing more pleasing to me than being fancied and offended. I was a bit miffed to be frank but that’s how life is these days for the pre-menopausal bus driver. We gobbled the food and a singer did a Tom Jones, Englebert, Sammy Davis, Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Bobby Darin medley. It was all a bit D.I.Y. so I suppose you could call it the Flat Pack. The guy was good and we all had a good old sing-along. Just imagine having to entertain folks on these ferries. The audience don’t want to be there and they’re more worried about little Wayne having run off and jumping overboard than your rendition of “Born Free”. To all the staff and entertainers of Brittany Ferries “Chapeau”. (I take my hat off to you). I’m not cross really, but these boats at peak times are just unable to cope at any acceptable level of comfort. And you pay premium fares!
After the pizza, the Flat Pack and the beer we strolled to the outer deck. There was darkness, not as an absence of light, but as a presence and a offer of anonymity. The white wake of the ship spread out in that bridal train fashion behind us. Ahead of us lay our home and I saw my man under the stars against the backdrop of the ocean. And then we kissed. Two creatures of flesh in a moment that took in the randomness of the moment and the pure pleasure of another body. If you were a passenger on that boat and saw completely inappropriate snogging by two old folk I hope it didn’t spoil your evening.
Emma thinx: If you wanna get to heaven – go out and kiss under it.
I wanted you all to be the first to know. I’m going home for the week.The photo is of one of my views. Can you believe it? I just can’t tell you how lovely St. Savinien is. Away from the urban madness I will live properly again. I’m just so lucky. It’s half term in the UK so I’m free from the bus. Gilles works for an Anglo/French company and he’s convinced them that the corporate thrust needs to be applied over there for a few days. Poor old geezer should retire really but I don’t think they do retirement any more. Soon there will be a mass army of unemployed young people who’s only work will be as coffin bearers as all the old folk work themselves to death at all the jobs the young should be learning and taking on. I might write a book about it called “For whom the bell doles”. For the benefit of non natives the word “dole” means unemployment pay. Ooh I’m a cynical old cow.
Quiet day on the bus. At the tower block, intercom mom told me that her lad was “not really up to it today.” I asked if he had been kind to her. “Ee’s been a right little darlin’ Emma,” she said with a genuine smile in her voice. Somewhere in the concrete sky above me was a little warm sense of love. Ah – made me feel quite motherly smotherly.
Gotta get stuff in the car and calm myself. Much will be forgotten I’m sure. This time tomorrow I’ll be home, gabbling to friends in French, wondering about dinner…..and the possibility of cassoulet du lapin. I love my man and this is the only proof he ever asks. Can a woman deny her man a nice bit of hot furry game?
Emma thinx: Don’t just sit there. – Boo something. Be a fan not a spectator.
I wait at the end of a block of lock up garages. The usual lad is not there. Above us is a concrete village in the sky of about 8 storeys. I watch a woman of close to my own age dragging herself on crutches down some steps towards me. She hauls herself breathlessly up to my window. I notice she has two lip rings.
“Ee’s not comin’ today – ee’s got an ‘eadache. I would ‘ave phoned but me credit’s gone,” she says.
I thank her and reverse the bus as she struggles back up the concrete steps to the sky village. The radio plays “It’s all about tonight” by a young electro-warblesse called Pixie Lott. The pumped out pop culture kinda overlays the grey inarticulate desperation of so many lives. This is the way we are – a proletariat of tinsel, piercings and tattoos, climbing the stairs of manipulated individualism towards a nirvana of that lottery win, that Friday night out, that romance like what they does in them trash books.
Well, that cheered you all up didn’t it. My home seems far away this week as I watch the fallen leaves begin to swirl more and more in the Autumn gusts. In France the socialists slug it out to see who will challenge Sarko for the presidency. The departure of DSK from the picture threw everything into disorder. Last night I watched Martine Aubry speaking on the French News. From the distance of the UK I find myself warming to her. She may or may not have had a few problems in the past (it is a job to tell when there are so many dirty tricks). But, if she has had a few issues then she knows about struggle and humanity. She answers questions patiently and has an air of being a neighbour to whom you could chat. She also has kind eyes. Martine – I would vote for you if I had a vote. As it is I’ll just tell Gilles to vote for you. The poor old boy slogs up and down to London directing his branch of the corporate world. He wants to go home. I’m gonna cook him some moules tonight. A couple of weeks ago he saw a rabbit running across the sports field. He glanced at me with a grin. I know what he was thinking. Oh yes I do!
Everyday is a school day. This morning I learned about a style of architecture called “Brutalism”. Essentially it means that 60’s concrete slab style. When I was young it was thought to be modern and artistic. There’s a big debate over whether or not to demolish Preston Bus Station. There’s some folk who want to keep it as a monument. I can see both sides to this. Speaking as a bus driver it looks as if there is plenty of shunt room. Take a look at the picture and let me know. Comments from fellow bus drivers very welcome.
Emma thinx: Room to manoeuvre – get your guy to tidy the lounge.
The boy done good! Mark Cavendish won the World road race cycling championship with a fantastic sprint. He is always the first to acknowledge his team who pull him in their collective slipstreams to the finish. I wonder how they feel having exhausted themselves to see one man take the plaudits. Very often I hear of people who have climbed Everest. In the old days you used to get a knighthood or at least some imperial gong. Sadly there are now so many Everestians that you might get a column filler photo slot in your local free newspaper and a free pack of budget sausages from a smiling local shopkeeper. Anyway, my point is that there are hundreds of porters and sherpas who seem to do most of the work. Sherpa Tenzing who climbed with SIR Edmund Hilary was himself named by time Magazine as one of the most influential men of the 20th Century. Since then I’m afraid the poor old guides and labourers have fallen back into the shadows. In the case of the cycling I think all those rouleurs who bash out the miles protecting their sprinters should be known as sherpas. In fact I hereby declare the Emma Calin Sherpa knighthood is awarded to the Sherpas: Wiggins, Froome, Stannard, Thomas, Cummings, Hunt and Millar. They are entitled to a free copy of “Knockout” and of course may use the title for the rest of their lives. Arise Sherpas.
How do you feel about deep fat fryers? Do you think that they are an abomination? Do you have one in your kitchen? Are they the last true demarcation of social class? I have 2 view points: 1) They produce delicious food. 2) They should not be allowed in the house.
Last night I cooked dinner for friends. We opened with Breton Duck pâté with asparagus and figs. We moved on to Moules et Frites – that classic dish of France. (Well, Northern France and Belgium). Now, Frites require a deep fat fryer and so it was that Gilles returned from ASDA (That’s Walmart for the rest of the world) with a DFF. (I told him not to say the word in case the neighbourhood watch committee found out what we had. Arriving in the lorry was bad enough). He also got some Maris Piper potatoes which we finely sliced. The whole evening got a bit Gallic with aperos going on far too late. Then under cover of darkness Gilles went to the garage and operated the shameful machine. Les frites were delicieuses. The mussels were huge – about twice the flesh of the French ones although the shells were the same size. Oh by the way we decided to try a local British wine. Now, our French wine in Saintonge is reckoned to be a bit plain. The British stuff was plain awful. It was expensive, snobby and sour. Never again.
Emma thinx: You are what you tweet.
So we cruised up towards the coast.The names of towns had lived their growing signposts of fame, then slipped away behind like rejected talent show hopefuls: Poitiers, Tours, Le Mans. It’s really quite alarming to realise that there actually is a weather line at the River Loire. The temperature steadily reduced by about 8 degrees Centigrade as we neared the coast. About a mile from the port there is a Mcdonalds and I could tell that Gilles was getting a bit excited. You see I have the zeal of the convert and see myself as une Francaise , une maitresse de moules, une femme de fromage. All in all too posh to nosh. Not so my Gallic gourmet -“Zay ave zee Big Tasty.” He told me. The place was crowded. (The French are lovin’it – but don’t tell anyone). We queued behind 4 chavs – baseball hats backwards, bits of bling, a few tattoos. Somewhere in their lives would be a hot hatch with an exaggerated exhaust pipe. I wanted coffee with my Big Tasty meal. “Impossible!” Snapped the serveuse.
“It is not part of the Big Tasty menu.” Mumbled the rude child in an exasperated tone. She was the kind of person who would be rejected by Somali pirates. I ordered 2 Big tasty meals and a separate coffee. I could tell she despised my tactical manoeuvre. We munched – or rather licked and absorbed our soggy baps. I felt like an amoeba slithering my body around the outside of some unspeakable nutrient mass. Gilles pretended to be enjoying himself but I know that deep down he is a flame grilled whopper guy.
We pulled away. In the distance were the lights of the port. Now -have you ever seen a horse galloping in the lead towards the last fence of the Grand National. Suddenly the animal looks at the fence and says “Nah!- I’ve had enough.” Yes- the car saw those lights and stopped – more or less dead. She did not want to leave France. She could read my pain. The thought of driving on the left had stopped her heart. Gilles started to make unrepeatable remarks about having given le garagiste 1,600 Euros. All that cholesterol and anger at his age could be dangerous. We needed some exercise. The push was only about a mile. We huffed and puffed up to the check in and just about let it roll up to the cabin. I was worried that they might not let us in pushing the car. No one noticed. We were directed to follow a Monsieur red vest. We shrugged and looked helpless. We had our boarding cards. We could ask for Asylum.
There were many shrugs, smiles and “C’est la vie”sentiments. A large lorry appeared driven by a cheerful docker. We explained the story of the newly repaired car. The guy shrugged. “In Charentes they only think of beaches and the sun…this is no surprise.”
He towed us on board. He shook our hands. As France slipped away behind us we made for the bar. The beer was French, the tricolore trailed out stiffly behind the ship. I was still a little bit at home.
Emma thinx: Disappointed? But deep down you were right weren’t you.