This month I pen this column from both sides of the channel. At present we are frantically packing our things into the car, in order to head north for the winter, as usual. And, as usual, new house-sitters are arriving any minute, the house is getting its annual clean, and a year's worth of junk gets tidied away. This, of course, takes far longer than it should: because for 'junk' read 'things that we didn’t want to throwaway until we had studied them in more detail'. 3 days later, old photos, letters, brochures and tax bills have all found a place, primarily in the bin but it did make for an interesting time, apart from the tax bill which I had hidden from myself in an out sight, out of pocket, sort of way. And now, it's all panic stations.
Also causing minor stress-balls was a new mobile phone, after dropping mine in the toilet a few weeks back. This new spangly one actually came direct from China at a reasonable price, on recommendation from a friend. Except, it didn’t, as we got a message saying our package contained explosive goods or liquids such as, and I quote, a “lithium battery”. Hmm, yes, it's a phone, and they do. So, delivery re-routed via sea and land, it arrived, today. And now I need to set it up, which is a job for experts, not numpty technophobes such as I.
Another simple task which also needed undertaking prior to winter is the usual vermin control, despite us having a house full of useless cats. But this year, it appears the wee timorous beasties have taken it upon themselves to form a suicide pact, as my box of poison in the cupboard was completely empty. A tell-tale hole in the bottom led us to the fact that this stuff must be really really tasty, as they had actually helped themselves. Result!
Anyway, car loaded up with wine, dogs and wife, we are off, hoping to exit France before the militants takeover, enforcing road blocks throughout the country. The exact reason for this month’s solidarity is a little unclear, but word on the street is that it is in protest of the latest tax imposed on garlic and other basic French necessities. My my, UK thought it has problems with a few minor squabbles in its ranks of power? Incidentally, does anyone else find it quite uncanny that it was actually the prime minister who put the Gove in Government, and possibly the May in maybe we’re all f++ked?
So, an over night ferry later and we are back on mainland Britain again, just in time to board a another ferry, this time to the Isle of Wight in time for a fine lobster lunch. It has been thirty-odd years since I was last on this island and I have to admit it has changed somewhat. Gone is the quaint and ancientness of a by gone seafront era and, in its place, pure unadulterated shameless opulence, yacht optional.
The visit is only flying one, by sea, to catch up with some good buddies who have moved here from France to pursue their passion for sailing. Then its on the road again, this time to see yet another old friend, one who goes back much further. A few of you may remember the rotund figure of a young chap named Milo, as we frequented the Rock Cross and other establishments in our late teens. Our adventures back then were rarely without incident and often involved trips to casualty for one reason or another. I am not only going to reunite with my old school pal but with the school itself. 41 years have passed since I left Lucton boarding school for boys, aged just 15. My years there were not all happy ones but life improved a little when they – heaven forbid – allowed girls into the fray. They didn’t play rugger with us lads, obviously, but some of the pioneering ones did make games a bit more exciting. Now we are all more or less grown up, it will be great to review all those memories we all hold from way back when, if only to establish if they were factually correct. Did Milo really eat 100 pickled eggs and then throw up all over matron? Or one of the prefects run off with the French mistress 5 years his senior? A few stories have recently made the press, sadly involving my housemaster and despicable acts. And another declaring that one of my classmates was actually the son of Pablo Escabar, the worlds most notorious drug dealer. The only thing I can really guarantee as true is one spotty youth still has his initials carved on the sandstone archway by the main door in 1977.
Next up, yet more nostalgia, this time of a bovine source. Exactly 42 years ago I walked through the doors into Bingley Hall, Stafford, towing an unwieldy Friesian steer behind me. My father had phoned my headmaster suggesting that a couple of days at a cattle show would be marginally more beneficial to my education than double maths and getting the stuffing kicked out of me on the rugby pitch. And so it was, that night sleeping on a straw bed amongst those well groomed beasts, that set me off on a career in cattle and sheep showing that spanned over 3 decades. For much of that time I enjoyed the pinnacle of success, hauling in the silverware as well as meeting some clever and capable people, many of whom I still consider as friends. So after a 15 year absence it was nice to once again wander amongst the familiar surroundings, watching and chatting. The cattle seemed much the same, although some of the older handlers may have spent a bit too much time at the feed trough, this author included!