Sunshine, at last. Everywhere, it seems. I know that, as I seem to have been ‘everywhere’ this month. When I last wrote, we were heading from Scotland to Croatia for some down-time, which was very relaxing, apart from my taking to the high seas in a speedboat. Well, I wasn’t to know how an anchor worked, was I? As we dropped it down in a secluded cove of impossibly blue water and dived in for a swim, one really assumed that the vessel would still be there when I returned, not half way round the coast. Maybe I should have read the manual? Well, we caught up with it eventually, after some frantic doggy-paddling, as it drifted merrily along on the current, dragging its somewhat ineffective piece of metal and rope along the sea bed.
Anyway, back home in France, the sheep are thriving, vegetables in the ground and surviving, lawns and hedges under control and pool almost warm enough for a morning dip. So after a couple of weeks, we took to the road in the camper, on a ‘dry run’ as it had been in mothballs all winter. In the main this was successful as we spent a night by a lake, our dogs disturbing the fishermen, near the town of (giggles) Condom. With a sirloin on the barbie, camp-fire to ward off the mozzies, yet more peace was had. Then, on the way home, we spent the night in the well-known wine region of Buzet (pronounced Boozy). And it was!
With the wheels barely stilled, a trip to the Midlands was next, to attend to urgent family matters. After a for-once on-time Flybe hop, we found ourselves in the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden, staying in a quaint pub for a couple of nights and what delight it was. Compared to the stark bars in Europe, and the lager culture in Scotland, a pint and a pie was very much a novelty I almost forgot existed. And one thing I had forgotten had ever been, was suddenly back and calling my thirst. Yes, of course, I am talking about Brew XI. Many of you won’t even remember this weak golden ale, and those that do may wrinkle up a top-lip, but it was the stuff I was weaned on, many years ago. Marketed as a beer for ‘The Men of the Midlands’, back then to a spotty 15 year-old, after a few pints I really believed I was one of them. Maybe I still am, in spirit anyway. Anyway, it’s back! Get some in yer!
I also encountered something else new – well new to me - in this village: an ORGANIC hairdressers. What in hells name is one of those, you may ask? Unfortunately it was closed so I couldn’t go and get a reasonable explanation. Having considered a few theories, including one from the Italian barber across the road who suggested that maybe they just set fire to your dead hair instead of sending it to be re-cycled, I drew an absolute blank on this one. ‘Has the world gone mad?’ is a phrase I frequently use in this column. I fear this time I am surely right?
And then it’s off to Spain for a weekend of rugby. It is a long time since I was in Bilbao but I am sure, back then, I never realised what a wonderful city it is. The narrow streets of the old town oozed with bars and the craic, as the Irish were in town to take on the French on neutral territory in the European finals. A few jars were had, as well as pickings of tapas, at prices that would embarrass even the poorest nation, let alone the extortions of the UK. After the Dublin team prevailed, securing their umpteenth title in the event, we revelled into the small hours on what felt like small change. Unlike France, who have lights-out at 10pm, the city stayed so vibrant it felt almost rude to go to bed before 2am. Needless to say, a shabby morning followed but eventually we wended our way back north, taking in a night in Biarritz, parking the camper by the Bay of Biscay during one of its frequent storms. As they say, ‘the caravan was a-rockin’ that night!
Sadly the weather back home had taken a downturn, just as the lawn had taken an upturn, but a mere 15 hours there saw me rush around doing my best to contain nature, including blight control, worm control (for the sheep), pruning, tying-up and sweeping down before the now familiar mobile home was once again loaded up with flagons, as we continued north back towards the channel and my mother beyond. With passports stamped, the dogs in the rather lush cabin (not allowed to stay in the vehicle on this boat), I can just about hear Louis barking as I end this story from the bar on a fairly meagre Brittany ferry. I say all our passports stamped, but actually we are also harbouring a few stowaways who hitched a ride from somewhere in Spain, headed for the spoils of England. No, these are not of the human trafficking kind but a colony of 6-legged creatures who have built a nest somewhere in the overhead bed of our camper. One could possibly refer to them as illegal immigr-ANTS!
After requesting an extended deadline from the editor to add to this piece, I have to regretfully announce that my mother passed away, just hours before our arrival back in the midlands. Her end was peaceful and she appeared ready to go. Val brought a lot of fun to the village of Rock and far beyond during her 88 years, and I am sure she will be missed by many.