London was made up of various culinary feasts and friends put together by the fair hands of the brother in law with whom we stayed in Crouch End, and walks. In fact, it seems, wherever I go, feasts , friends and walks feature. I imagine, as one gets older, friends disappear, mobility becomes more of an issue, and life whittles itself down to only feasts. Still, if that is the case, I won’t complain too much…as long as lovely food is in my life, I’ll be relatively happy. Anyway, there has been little whittling down yet, though the long drive back to Ireland did seem to hasten the degradation of the hip!
Back to London, during our three days we had mushroom and lentil curry, fanned avocado salads with diced tomato and a minty vinaigrette, chicken curry, Tabouleh, rhubarb crumble and custard, Mexican spice burger, lashings of toast and lemon curd, and of course, muesli with fruit, and that gives just a brief flavour of the food we gobbled up.
I walked the Parkland Walk (along with a marathon of other dogs and walkers), Highgate Woods (a real sortie down memory lane), the streets of Piccadilly (I went to visit the Milton Avery exhibition at the RCA which I really enjoyed, particularly his peculiar perspective), and Stationers Park which used to be a playground where we took the kids. It is now sadly diminished and rather dilapidated, though still used by gaggles of North London parents shepherding young children. So, London did us proud, as did the brother in law, and I thank them. I love London, but I have to say, I love leaving it as well.
Particularly when there are the culinary delights of baking Irish bread and churning Irish butter with Manchan Mangan at the Cavan Town Hall to come back to, (not to mention the St Agur, Pyrenean, Epoisse, Pie D’Anglou, Camembert, Brie, Reblochon cheese etc that we hauled back from France).
Last night, at Cavan Town Hall, Manchan Mangan was wearing a very nice pair of tweed trousers while he was preparing to bake bread on tables with rather wonderful tree legs. He baked it in a pot which he put in a le creuset casserole dish and then put in the microwave. We all churned butter in a lovely old butter churner which he passed around the audience. We then spread our churned butter on the microwaved soda bread he had baked while chatting to us about the Irish Language and how Irish words have so many different meanings (32 words for a field). Of course, I suddenly realised, listening to him, that explains everything!
More culinary delights to come tonight, I hope, in the Oak Room restaurant, Cavan. We’re celebrating 34 years of marriage…whatever you say, say nothing.
Cloud, mist, fog, and rain darkened our door last week which was a bit sad as we had two friends visiting. They euro-starred here. To get to Calais from London, you have to catch the Eurostar to Lille and then get on another train to come back to Calais. It doesn’t make sense as the Eurostar actually rises from the ‘tunnel sous manche’ in Calais. Maybe the French want to force people to visit Lille, or to have the English make use of off their fancy TGV trains, but I suspect it may have more to do with thwarting the refugees.
All around the shuttle tunnel are miles and miles of ugly, forbidding barbed wire fences, presumably to keep out refugees. Last week, about 200 brown skinned young men, with small, neat backpacks were escorted across the heath opposite our house into town by armed gendarmes. Another day, as we drove along the road to go to Wissant market, groups of more dishevelled and tired looking refugees were sleeping on the side of the road. As we went to Calais Frethurn to collect my two friends, there were bands of refugees dotted around everywhere. Two Kurds were asking Jerry about buses. He was the worst person to ask, I don’t think he has ever caught a bus in his life, not in England, Ireland and certainly not in France. Anyhow, now refugees are much more in evidence. I wonder what the French did with them during the summer.
Despite the squally winds and mizzle, we got a few walks in with the friends. Just North of Wimereux , you can walk all along the cliff path from one pretty French village to another between the Cap Blanc du Rey and Cap Gris du Rey. So, after visiting Wimereux market and buying an enormous custard tart for the weekend, Jerry dropped us in Ambleteuse, and togged up in our coats and hats and we set off along the stony beach to Ardresseus. I have never seen such beautiful stones on a beach, full of colour: blues, greys, reds, browns, yellows. I got a few to bring home). I also loved the crunch and crackle under foot…like a marching along a massive bowl of rice krispies. We could have walked through the sand dunes which would have been much more romantic, but it’s hard on the hip and I would have had to chase Poppins chasing rabbits.
The next day, we took Ellen and Lesley (a different Lesley) to the Musee du Chateau in Boulogne which took us on an epic, very interesting and dry tour of Egyptian mummies, Grecian vases, Alaskan native masks Polynesian spears, and Italian renaissance paintings.
We had planned to go out to dinner, but it was too wet to venture into town, so we dashed across to the intermarch and got the wherewithal for salmon and prawn stirfry (I had bought fresh chilis and ginger in Paris) and beverages. The next night we braved the rain, and went to La Vie est Belle and shared a delicious tomato tart (yes, to those of you who know Jerry), various rillettes, un boucherie (Lesley wondered if it was horse because it was so very large), and a delicious chocolate mousse. The next night, after the friends had been taken to Calais Port to catch the boat home, we ate out in the Café de La Marie. I tried a french Andouillette sausage and that is certainly a delicacy I won’t be packing into the car.
Andouillette is a French coarse-grained sausage made from the intestine of pork, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. Andouillettes are generally made from the large intestine and are 7–10 cm in diameter. True andouillettes are rarely seen outside France and have a strong, distinctive odour coming from the colon. (from Wikipedia)
After the two women left, the wind and rain still howled around the roof and chucked the garden furniture about. However, it gave me the opportunity of a day’s rest as my body had totally tuned into the tempest and was I tossed with raucous coughs and swirling snot.
I soon recovered when we decided to visit the grand intermarche to buy stuff to take home. I had a very happy time filling the trolley with wine, petit beurre biscuits, cheeses, pate de compagne, madeleines, brioches, butter, flageolet, tinned cassoulets, canned saucisses aux lentilles etc. Mon Dieu I said at the Caisse as I looked at the thirty wine bottles cascading along the conveyer belt…as if I hadn’t put them there.
Before I leave Wimereux, I want to give the final French word to the Musee de Batterie. Formidable. All the time I have been coming or passing through the Pas de Calais, walking the cliffs, or along the beach, there are the ‘pill boxes’ and I have often tried to imagine the German soldiers stationed in there. The Batterie (there were fourteen of them along the coast) is like a giant pill box, a veritable hi tech killing machine. We saw tanks, shells, the anti aircraft artillery, Rommel’s asparagus (wooden poles used against sea invasion) the mines and guns used by the men in navy. On the last day of the war, it fired shells for three hours on Folkestone and Dover. The Musee de Batterie tells the story of the men who designed the guns, how they lived there and the weaponry they used. It was a chilling reminder of how mankind puts his progressive technology into practice.
We leave Wimereux tomorrow. Me and Poppins will miss the beaches. The next stop is London for a few days where I hope to visit family, the Tate , Victoria and Albert, and maybe even the RHA… then, finally, back to the Cavan forests and lakes to enjoy the final splendour of the autumn colours.
I’m also looking forward to facilitating a new poetry workshop back at home. The last workshop I did, we never had enough time to properly read the poems that I chose as prompts each week. I think there is great joy in reading poems together, so this time round, we will spend four weeks reading and discussing the poems alone, and then four weeks workshopping the poems they prompted!
So…from au revoir from the Pas de Calais. I have had the most wonderful time.
Mid week, after an interesting morning discussion with Roisin as she walked to work in Dublin about ‘what is the new Irish identity,’ ‘how we achieve social cohesion in Irish society,’ and ‘Ireland’s positive engagement with Europe’, we set off adventuring again.
On the Map, we identified a P (parking) near a tiny place called Croquet in another part of the Foret Domaniale de Boulogne, (last time there we were fording rivers and climbing ravines) The P was full of disability vans, so we parked up beside them and set off for a walk through the forest. This time we kept to the main path and enjoyed a lovely 5km walk through the trees and along the lanes of very pretty, rolling French countryside. Some of the houses we passed were gated and warned of surveillance. It was clearly the home of the petit bourgeoisie. There were very few cars and in the valley below, horses and farms decorated the landscape. Very pastoral.
On our return to the car, we checked out the buildings close by. It was a school/sheltered accommodation for people with disabilities. I would love to see Irish facilities as good. The place was set in lovely grounds, with accessible, light, airy classes and rooms. The surrounding village homes were as prim and proper as you’d ever see in Ireland. Pretty shuttered homes, lovely flower filled gardens, a shut Mairie with boxes of geraniums everywhere. Everything seemed pitch perfect except there was not a soul to be seen.
We drove on looking for somewhere to eat and fortunately immediately came across an auberge with a few local cars parked outside. We pulled in and joined the electricians and other local workers for the day’s ‘entrée’. We had a choice of pizza and veal. Satisfied Husband had pizza and I had the veal which was came swimming in wine, creamy juices with lentils, pureed spinach and smashed potato (out of a packet, I think). I even had a dessert, fromage blanc avec jus de fraise. Delicious, and all washed down with a glass of wine.
A snooze was called for after lunch, so we returned home, dozed, painted, read until aperitif time when we strolled into Wimereux for un cuir cassis and un verre de vin rouge. Well, I strolled down to the beach and husband drove. Back home for bread, pate and cheese and bed. A pretty perfect day.
Recent mornings, the tide has been in, and out of the window we have seen a grey, green blanket of flat sea. The strip of peninsula between us and Boulogne has been a silvery shimmer and the five turbines have been clear white markers on our horizon. The sky has been a play of blue, white and grey and the heath a lovely variety of greens. It’s a view, and which constantly changes with the weather. In the evening we have glorious sun sets. The massive blowsy clouds curl up in pink, and the sky shoots pink rays over us. Sleeping in the pitched attic is like sleeping in a tent. When the rain pelts, it feels as if an army is marching over you, when the sun shines, it feels as if you are walking through vapour, and one night the wind howled through every piece of the timber frame and red tiles.
I went to market in Wimereux this week which was exciting because the fridge was bare! I filled it with radishes, epoisse cheese which was gloriously soft and trying to escape its paper, reblochon, Pyrenean mountain cheese, olives farcie avec anchovies, artichoke tapenade, saladerie de tomato tapenade (a little disappointing), radishes, pate compagne (for me and Poppins). Then popped into Intermarche to get my daily bread and few bottles of Celliers de Dauphins, a cote de rhone I used to drink with my father, so now I am set up…for a few days.
I also meandered down to the French cimetaire one afternoon (this blog has a very strong current of death streaming through it). As mentioned before, the French do a good cemetery. They are always crowded, very pastiche, with very little space or green between one, just pockets of colour from the flowers arranged in tacky vases.
In this region, it seems, they often have a Commonwealth Grave cemetery attached for the commonwealth soldiers who died in the first world war (with a few unknown soldiers from the second thrown in). The majority of the three thousand graves I saw in Wimereux were named. They were fallen soldiers who had died in the hospitals hereabout. They came from Derby, Yorkshire, Enniskillen, Canada, Australia, India, London, Sussex, Dorset, Glasgow, the Borders…everywhere. They are beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. It was very moving and I felt discombobulated, an emotion further stirred up afterwards when we did a petit tour of the Prom. Our breath was stripped away by the wind, and the waves crashed wildly and smashed into white drops against the rocks. After that we needed profiteroles and wine in a café.
On Saturday, we decided to visit Le Touquet, the Paris Plage. As we drove into the town, we remarked how similar it was to Hardelot: except the surrounding roads are red, and somehow everything is grander. Again, there are lots of roundabouts, even bigger detached Hanzel and Gretel houses hidden away in trees. You could describe it as Hardelot Plage on steroids. The architecture is very much of the Belle Epoch period, timber frame houses with wooden turrets and towers, very startling. I love them, they are like fairy castles. The covered market was also fab, though it was shutting down as we arrived. We had lunch in the café Marche which was thronging with people (I had a delicious Fish Soup and Jerry had a welsh rarebit swimming in gooey yellow cheese). We then had a wander. There appeared to be four streets of shops and cafes (and the famous casino), rather like a noughts and crosses layout. All the shops were designer shops, and there were too many people, so we came home.
Finally, for this week, we went to Lille for the day. As you progress further North and East, the French place names get more Flemish, like Wormout , Diksmould,and Randscoot. They have great guttural sounds. In Lille, we aimed for the Parc du Citadel to walk Poppins and la Veille Ville to walk ourselves. Fortunately they were side by side, because Jerry, having taken to his bed with a cold for two days, was not keen on walking!
I have decided, I want a Citadel Park in Cavan! The Farnham Estate is all very nice, but this has is surrounded by a canal with café barges (one, according to the blackboard, that is run by a co-operative of workers. Jerry tried to get a coffee but, it was closed because they were having a meeting!). There was a pretty little zoo with monkeys and ‘exotic animaux’, there were gorgeous avenues of grand old Oak trees, there was a fair and a swimming park, and, typically French, a military base, in the middle of it. Yes, if I can’t be by the beach in Cavan, I definitely want a citadel Park. And a few of the gorgeous old buildings from the Veille Ville!
A Poppins palaver has dominated our past few days. On my return to Wimereux from Gay Paris, I found a Worried Husband and Sick Dog. Poppins stood stock still, giving me a long accusatory stare, burred tail between her legs, and slunk away to hide in a corner. It seems she had escaped the lead on the cliff tops while I was away and chased rabbits. With the scent of a rabbit, Poppins is loath to respond to commands of ‘Come Here’, even if all the letters are capitalised, so to speak! When she was eventually caught by Worried Husband, she was put in the bath. Poppins doesn’t like baths and despite Worried Husband’s best efforts, she escaped the tub too, spraying water everywhere, I imagine. We tried again together and did quite a good job at excavating aforementioned burrs. I held her tight, did some dog whispering, rubbed and picked away. The water afterwards looked like a Spanish armada of prickles and sticks. However, Poppins Dog wasn’t well. She wouldn’t eat. I went to Intermarche and bought Saucissons which she loves, fried them up and chopped up two for her delectation. During the night she was retching and vomiting, and one by one, each piece came back, undigested. Her Paddington bear stares continued. I kept a watchful vigil (keeping King Charles company) all night and next morning decided we had to visit the French Vet.
Poor Poppins screeched and snapped as I held her down while Pleasant Vet tried to take her temperature up her arse. ‘Je n’ai encore fait rien,’ she exclaimed. ‘I haven’t done anything yet’. I confess, having stayed up all night with Poppins, I was close to tears at this stage, and the temperature soared in the tiny room which was already high with three adults and Miserable Dog. I don’t like people who say, ‘I haven’t done anything yet ‘. The statement opens a cruelly imaginative door as to what is coming. The air thickened with intense stress and emotion. However, I took a deep breath, did my stiff upper lip thing, and managed to control myself. The vet took a minute too. And when she came back, the room was calmer and everything went a lot better. In fact, I would recommend this vet to anyone. I came back armed with a bottle of medicine, a syringe with which to feed her the medicine, more pills, and instructions to cook roast chicken and boiled rice to feed Poppins the next day (and a 100e lighter). Poppins wasn’t having a syringe anywhere near her, but she was happy to lick it off my little finger.
Exhausted by our dog ministrations, we left Poppins and her baleful eyes still cowering in the corner and went to Boulogne to visit the Musee du Chateau which is in the vieille Ville of Boulogne. Who knew there was a vieille Ville of Boulogne. I didn’t, despite being here so many times, thirty years ago. You can walk all around the veille Ville city walls which has fabulous views both into modern Boulogne and the old town. The chateau and the ramparts are beautifully restored! Lots of circular towers, circular cobbled stoned courtyards but sadly it was Tuesday and museums are shut. We petit toured around the beautifully maintained city wall, descended into the old town and found the Crypte de la Basiique du Notre Dame instead. What a spooky place! It was 4000 square metres of meandering around religious artefacts! There were ancient old painted walls painted with a series of 160 religious scenes, whitewashed in the 20th century and then restored. The vaults were adorned with arabesques or ornamental features, but apparently, the artists were never known. And the red brick work was exquisite. Still red, and perfectly synchronised. After poking around in there, we went for a delicious hot chocolate in the old town in the rain and came home to roast a chicken for Poppins.
Aside from the Poppins palaver (I think she’s on the mend), it has pretty much rained for two days. I don’t mind rainy days. It gave me time to try my post impressionist painting (not for show yet), pamper Poppins, and continue reading my Stephen King book, If It Bleeds, which is an easy read. It’s made up of three novellas about death/the end of the world so its not particularly life enhancing. I prefer it, however, to the Nuala O’Faolain memoir. Sadly, I found that book to be a badly written tirade of begrudgery and misery about a well lived life, which at the same time managed to name drop at least a hundred famous writers, apparently for no other purpose than she met them. I couldn’t really trace a cogent argument or rationale for the book, other than Nuala! Maybe that is the point of a memoir…but usually, I find memoirs more coherent.
As I mentioned before, the French seriously memorialise the two world wars. So, yesterday, to get away from rainy day activities, we went to an excellent Musee in Ambleteuse about the second world war which is privately run without any State support. Over the years, through literature, film, study and exhibitions, I have learned a lot about the world war. As events, I know about the German subs in the Atlantic, or the North Africa Campaign, or the bravery of the Normandy Landings, or the horror of the Polish invasion by Germany, but what this museum did was pull them all together and put them into context . They had young pretty male models modelling the uniforms from all the involved countries, (French, German, British, Italian, Japanese, American, Canadian, Arab, African etc, the none of the models were black), carrying the bags, the guns, smoking cigarettes, eating tinned meat, set in bunkers, on the field. There was all the general paraphernalia of war. It felt very real. I read about the Maginot line, the Vichy Government, all of which I had heard of, but this exhibition brought it all together displaying in detail the full horror, futility and appalling sadness of war.
Beauty, splendour, opulence, grief, obsession, and loneliness were the themes that rang through the glorious Musee Nissim de Camondo in Paris (8th arrondisement). It was originally the home of the wealthy Camondo family, but the house was redesigned and constructed in the late 19th century by Moise Camondo to assemble his eighteenth century collection of French paintings, furniture, carpets, tapestries, porcelain in the most perfect setting. https://madparis.fr/Musee-Nissim-de-Camondo-125. Do take a look at the photos on the website and if you get to Paris, do go and see it. Camondo left his house to the French State on condition that nothing was ever touched, moved or lent, so it’s set up exactly as it was lived in. I have never seen so many exquisite artefacts in one place. I discovered its existence after reading Edmund de Waal’s ‘Letters to Camondo’ which is a wonderful book and tells a very sad but true story. A highly recommended read too.
I had a wonderful time in Paris! I love the city’s boulevards and avenues, the bustle of the rues, the Seine, the parks, the ‘places’, the boulangeries, epiceries and patisseries, and the metro, not to mention the wine and food! Of course, the company was great too. I was travelling with Lesley Courcouf who had come to spend a few lovely days with us in Wimereux and on Thursday night after we TGV’d up to Paris, we met up with good friends of hers, Peter and Alison Kahn to celebrate Peter’s 75th birthday. I vaguely knew Peter 40 years ago (he was a councillor while I was worked at the Association of London Authorities back in the early 80s) but I had not heard of him since. However, as soon as I met them both, I felt a wonderful sense of ease and familiarity. I fitted in as neat as a puzzle piece into the conversation which ranged around politics, family, the state of the world etc. It was the day the queen (sadly) died. We raised a glass to the future of republicanism (not American, I hasten to add), and proceeded to eat scallops, tuna, swordfish and turbot in celebration of life. Delicious. Unfortunately, Lesley and I got a tad lost on a wildly busy Rue St Denis at midnight trying to get home, but eventually an Uber came to our rescue.
Talking of Queenie dying…she could do worse than to be buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery, an oddly glorious and extremely moving place. Wandering around the Pas de Calais and Paris, I’m struck by how much the French honour the dead of both of the world wars. In Pere Lachaise there is an avenue which marks all nineteen (I think) concentration camps built by the Nazis with amazing sculptures and monuments to memorialise the people who died in them. The wall of the cemetery lists the names of those who fought and died in the first world war, year by year. It is at least a kilometre long. I photographed the name Petitjean who were killed in action as that was the name of my French grandmother from Paris.
But life goes on, and the next morning, over coffee and croissant, we watched a wedding spill out of the Mairie where we were staying in the 18th arrondisment. A glamorous French bride, surrounded by excited children, and stylishly dressed grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends poured in and around the café in the weak sunshine. They illustrated perfectly the buzz and excitement of a Saturday morning in a ‘place’ de Paris and would have been a perfect subject for Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissaro, Seurat, Van Gough whom we went to see next at the Musee D’Orsay. Those paintings make my tummy twirl and I’m determined to try the post impressionist style with the oils I brought with me. Maybe there will be a pixilated painting of the view as I sit here (back in Wimereux) in the next rendition of this blog! You may hope not!
After Lesley flew off to Corsica on Sunday morning, I wandered around Montmartre in glorious sunshine, and had tartine and coffee. I thought about getting another Montmarte artist’s impression of me. I had one done ten years ago with Roisin, my daughter, which, rather delightfully, made me look younger than her! But, on reflection, I thought I didn’t want to see the comparison between now and then!
I wandered slowly down to the Gare de Nord, buying chilis and ginger en route as the local Intermarche in Wimereux never seems to have heard of fresh chilis and ginger. The station has been tarted up. I remembered it as a rather seedy, rundown area. I guess the arrival of the Eurostar prompted renovations. It’s light, airy and totally unthreatening now and it doesn’t have all the tacky commerce and glitz of the St Pancras, thank God. So, I clambered into the top floor of the TGV, and watched the French fields waltz by in the sunshine. Back to Jerry and Poppins…the latter who had been chasing rabbits and would you believe, is covered in burrs, again! She won’t let me touch her this time, and sadly is rather poorly. I think we have to find a vet. I hope my french is up to it!
On the first morning, I woke up in our wooden attic bedroom to sunlight squeezing its way through the veloux blind. I threw back the covers and stumbled downstairs. The house is full of light, sea, sky and rippling cloud. The working day had started; traffic was streaming up and down the boulevard Francois Mitterand outside. Across the road, not a large one is a small hilly, heath, is perfect for walking Pops last thing at night. My morning walk is across the (tiny) heath, and down to the beach while the tide is out.
I am trying to develop a routine to help me work. Most mornings, I do a little bit of writing with my tea sitting at the table with this fantastic view of the town and the sea, seeking inspiration from my Russian Earl Grey (I left my Barry’s somewhere en route). I sit…for a while, key in a few words and usually decide to have a shower instead and walk the dog.
The surrounding region is similar terrain to South England, but the cliff’s aren’t white, and there is a definite frenchinezzz about the place. There’s a cliff walk, full of grasses, sea, and rather large bottomed people walking with poles. Poppins is interested in the rabbit burrows, one in particular which seemed to have a very large family as Poppins was able to get halfway down, her deburred tail shaking with excitement. On that walk it’s better to keep her on the lead. Twelve kms away, on the far head, the small town of Ambleteuse is perched in the bay, its red and whites houses glistening in the sun. A visit for another day.
On our first day, after our first fresh baguette dipped in a bowl of coffee, we went to peruse Le Portel where the ma and pa had a little apartment back in the day when we lived in England, to which I often came. It’s an ordinary sort of town, not particularly pretty but with a lovely beach. They got it a little cheaper back then because between Le Portel and Boulogne was a factory which every so often belched out grim looking yellow smoke. That has gone now and wind turbines have been put up instead. The town has been gentrified a little. The cafes are no longer dingy bars, dark and smelling of a cross between wine and urine and the beach seems much more yellow and glossy than it ever used to be.
Then we continued to the Magic Forest which is still one of my most favourite places in the world. It turns out it is actually called the Foret d’Ecault but it is still magical: full of pines, and beeches, oaks, birches, sandy paths, cones, dunes, glittering shade, wonderful shaped trees, hillocks, just how I remembered it.
The tomatoes here are to die for. We have a ‘contact’ Intermarche right opposite which is a daily must visit for me. My first purchases were tomatoes, melon, anchovies, mustard, peaches, butter, nectarines, cheese, cornichons. I had to go back half an hour later for kitchen towel, toilet paper, milk, washing machine tabs. Supper was pate on petit pain grille which I gorged on while I cooked an onion, tomato and anchovy sauce with pasta. I had a couple of glasses of the most delicious Gerwertstraminer.
It turns out the Mairie Café in town is a nice spot for our aperitif, and being retired local government workers, it seems appropriate. We can wander down and back across the heath. It’s a bit of a climb back up, but builds the appetite for supper and I enjoy a Pastis or a beer and watching people. It turns out, the climb is too much and Jerry prefers to drive. Actually, it’s me who drives even though I prefer to walk because the choice is between Jerry driving and me, and I feel happier with me every time!!
Yesterday, we headed to Ambleteuse where Google had told us there was a market. French markets are my most favourite things in the world. After circling the pretty, tiny, village through the various one way system lanes, we came upon it under the church. Three tables, one cheese, one veg and one meat. Mon Dieu! What has the world come to. We bought an admittedly very delicious Pyrenean cheese and had a coffee to temper our disappointment and came back for Poppins to take her to the beach at the next town of Wissant. Driving in we came across a lovely, winding, traditional, market that took up all the streets at the top of the town. Joy of joys. But dogs were not allowed so I took a quick meander through the stalls while Jerry stayed outside with pops and put it in the diary for next week. I noticed some lovely angora wool jumpers.
What is the sport called which involves paraglides and boards and gorgeous, generally young, men streaking out on the wind, jumping waves to surf the sea and occasionally take off in the air? After the market and a windy walk on the beach which Poppins didn’t really seem to enjoy, we went to a café on the rocks and watched them paraglide, leap, sail, and crash. The tide was roaring in and so they came closer and closer (not, however, too much distraction from my big pot of moules frites which were totally delicious). Wissant is a lovely little town. There was an old mill, a mill pond with lots of quacky ducks, a gorgeous shady mill stream down to the beach, and it was a place frequented by artists in the 19th century. We will return.
I was exhausted after that and stretched out on the green deck chair in the backyard reading my Isabel Allende book, Ripper, which is quite bizarre. It seems to be a murder thriller set in California wrapped in magical fantasy. Kinda works for me at the moment.
And now, off for my morning walk across the heath and down to the beach with Pops. Today, the objective is to find a librarie de presse to buy an ordonnance survey map.
And we did that thing…and who knew…thirty kms away is a wetland area, full of narrow streams, big lakes, rolling forests. Funnily enough, driving around what seem to be long, dusty white roads, surrounded by squares and rectangles of harvested fields, you wouldn’t have thought there was a drop of water in sight, certainly never imagined that it was home to a very extensive wetlands.
The region is very Flemish looking, pointed red tiled roofs, very clean, tidy, and everything in its place. There are very few modern buildings, particularly in the countryside and each village is very discrete with its own name and character. There is no leaching from one village to the next. The region feels full of secrets. You can drive around these very pretty villages, along lanes running along pretty streams, but not see anything else. According to the map, there are lakes in the wetlands area, but you don’t see them. Jerry (he likes to keep his face buried in maps) kept saying, I think there’s a big lake behind these houses. They were tiny, pointy roofed homes with jolies gardens, climbing roses, cockleshells, and dwarfs…maybe that is it, I never trust a garden with dwarfs! No, there’s definitely something a little reticent about this region. It feels like it’s holding back. Maybe it’s something to do with crushed and smashed German pill boxes on the rocks.
In the end, we found a lovely, short, walk along a board walk around a steamy pond with bull rushes, olive trees, herons so we were happy. And changing the subject completely, we had our aperitif on the prom yesterday to watch the sun set instead of in the Mairie.
I’m still enjoying the Pyrenean cheese and the lovely fresh garden lettuce, anchovies, cornichons, tomatoes. We added a hard boiled egg into the mix last night. Maybe we’ll eat out tonight. Now, me and pops must be off. We’re checking out Wimereux market this morning and going to the woods South of Boulougne. The ordinance survey map shows a million of them!
Market was perfect! I got lovely raisins (tiny black grapes) plums, nectarines, smashing big scallions, more cheese…and, and, and…
We also had an adventure in the Foret de Boulogne. In advance of leaving, we identified the Parking on the map where we were to stop, find a walk and explore. Outings can be the cause of much marital anxst in our family, so it is important we try to agree in advance…though, of course, I am prone to sudden changes of mind mid route if I see something else!
Anyhow, we found the P, parked, noted the green route and set off, me and my 72 year old hubby who is not a great walker. There will be arrows all the way around, I assured him. At one junction, where there was a division of paths, we agreed we take the trail, (it looked like it was going in the direction of the car). Unfortunately, the trail disappeared into a track, and the track disappeared into woods, and the woods disappeared into a gorge, and the gorge disappeared into a raging river (they call it un ruisseau here) at the bottom of a steep ravine full of brambles and thorns. Like any mighty leader wanting to maintain troop morale, I confidently moved forth, identifying possible paths, and like any Scouts Brown Owl, would say loudly ‘This is Fun’ every so often. I think a more appropriate illustration would be the Pooh Bear story where Rabbit loses the expedition, except we lacked a piglet in Poppins who seemed to have no more idea of how to get back to the car than we did. Then I remembered the maps app on my phone and, like a magician, (forgive my mixed metaphors, I was very excited) pulled it triumphantly from my pocket.
‘This will show us how to get to where we parked the car.’
‘how do you know where we parked the car’
‘I’m pretty sure its here’
‘and why do you know that this way is the correct direction?’
‘those flares point to it. Come on we are very close.’
He looked down at the deep gorge, ravine and rushing river (ruisseau) further up from the same one we had just crossed.
‘We could turn back,’ He suggested
‘I could never find the way back. We’d be like that girl in the Netflix series Keep Breathing we watched who went round and round in circles, unless you’ve been scattering crumbs.’
He shook his head, and together we went forth, sharing my walking stick, stumbling, sliding and eventually arrived victorious, weary, proud back at the car.
We decided we deserved dinner out and found a very nice restaurant, Le Carnot, on the main st. At 7pm it was shut and 7.02 it was full! Lucky we were looking through the window at 7.01. I had delicious soupe de poisson and rumpsteak and Jerry had more salad! I will return to try the Tuna Cru.
Yesterday, we visited Hardelot Plage. I remembered it as a rather bizarre place but in the twenty five years since I’ve been here its matured into what could be described as a film set perfect for a horror zombie murder mystery. You slowly drive towards the centre (there is no centre) through wide boulevards or avenues with wide, white painted, cycle lanes past vast detached, wealthy, old fashioned homes stand on very green lawns behind luscious old oak trees. Every kilometre there is a roundabout and directions towards la plage, ou tennis, ou les chevals ou les jeux d’infants, ou l’hotel four star. It is how I imagine The Hamptons in America’s East Coast to look. Then finally we arrived at a silver and concrete strip of eight storey residences, which shimmered in the sun across a million miles of concrete and beach. It was deserted apart from an old woman and a café. We had coffee and left.
We decided to go and walk in the Massif du Mont St Frieux but the route was barred so we ended up on the beach by a rather moving war memorial to the aviators who were killed in WWII. Somehow, in the vast emptiness of sand and sea it was very easy to imagine the battles in the skies and the spinning plumes of smoke as the planes were shot down. The monument was a simple curved V shape with the quote from Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to so few. I found it rather moving.
So, the French odyssey began this day with the boat to Blighty on our way to Boulougne via London, and Deal but firstly Leeds. Six days of travel and visiting friends and family before a month in France.
I woke up to the familiar clangs of the Irish Water Board doing whatever they do weekly across the road at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. In my stomach, colly wobbles pattered about my stomach about travelling, but my head sported a sombrero of calm (I could see it, black, broad, intimidating) because these days I have had so much time to be organised! I used to feel excited about change or travel but with age has come a more sang-froid approach to everything, which might seem good but it’s a little boring!
However, despite the organised calm, I woke up to find a thousand thoughts spinning about inside my brain …will I remember how to drive on the English motorways? Are they going to let Poppins in (I didn’t mention her to Stenaline)? Will she be alright in the car alone on the ferry? Will I find somewhere to stop and walk her? Should I take my favourite tea? I don’t have enough time with my best friends, Ruth and Maria. Have I forgotten anything? I haven’t done enough about the Friday picnic in Finsbury Park. Am I going to be too tired driving now because I am awake too early and thinking these thoughts? Will I take my pillow? What about my duvet? I keep making decisions, like no, I won’t take my duvet, but whatever I decide, the same thought pops back up again. Oh dear, despite the calm, these days, I find few answers, and generally only half arsed solutions that don’t satisfy.
Sunday 28th August DEAL
As you probably guessed, I did remember how to drive and manage the motorways but that was more because, while the motorways point the same way and look as they did, they no longer resemble high speed, four laned madness. As it turned out bollards, accidents, variable speed limits, low emission zones, and traffic jams are the new dangers of motorway driving. Why have motorways, I wonder, when they don’t work? The North Wales shore lines and mountain tops looked pretty spectacular (they seemed to have got rid of the long line of caravan parks that marred the view) as we dashed (if you can dash at 40mph) through Anglesea on the start of our long motorway whizz drive to Leeds where we eventually landed up, thanks to Mrs Google guiding us through the back roads and by routes of Yorkshire avoiding various collisions, junctions, and breakdowns.
Mags and Joe, brother and sister in law, welcomed us with open arms, wine and array of cheeses. A perfect reception, if I may say so. Next morning, Mags and I were making bread, preparing salads, walking Pops and catching up on the perils of old age, retirement and the general lack of world leadership while walking through the lovely local park full of forests, lakes and cricket pitches. We were joined in these discussions later in the garden by other brothers and sisters in law who came to pay homage to the Irish contingency of Fitzpatrick’s, including the latest addition to the family, Matilda of ten months…our first family grandchild, possibly the next world leader!
After lots of hugs and farewells, we made our way along the M1 accompanied by thunder, lightening and lashing rain, floods, more variable speed limits and low emission zones (no locusts). At this stage we were hoping that our Irish number plates would provide some protection from these unknown and rather alarming warnings and announcements. Again, thanks to Mrs Google, we got to our destination where Maria welcomed us with delights from Waitrose. Over the weekend, we had a lovely picnic for the friends and Family in Finsbury Park (thank you, Maria and Waitrose), and there, while we continued the debate on poor leadership, trans issues, and outdoor swimming opportunities, Pops chased squirrels and rats through bushes and burrs so that she became more burrdog that collie! The next morning, I had to spray her with coconut, vegan kitchen oil, and spend three hours picking them out to release her tail back to its former glory.
So here we are at the water’s edge, looking across to France doing the last of the visitations. This time staying with my brother who has banned any discussion on the decline of the West. Not a bad idea. We went to visit Margate and a rather wonderful Ingrid Pollard exhibition the Turner Art Gallery (do google her), and the eccentric but wonderful Walpole Hotel which does perfect cream teas and sports a wonderful exhibition of ‘stuff’ from the last 200 years. Lovely soft bed linen at Marc’s and a perfectly cooked Pot au Feu of which Poppins had the bone!
The visitations have been a fabulous start to the month. Thank you, everyone. Just half an hour on Le Shuttle today and we will be in France for a month!
After watching the Tory leadership candidates’ debate, I can see why Boris got selected back in 2019. There seem to be few members of the Tory party that have charisma, energy, commitment as well as integrity.
I thought the most interesting person on last nights hustings was Kemi in her bright yellow outfit but, from what I read or have heard of her, I find her political views, particularly on immigration and abolishing the court of human rights, most abhorrent. She reminded me of the ‘bold’ girl at school, always ready with a retort. Tom reminded me of the traditional neat and tidy headmaster who lives in a mock Tudor executive home in Surrey, Richie seemed like the arrogant school prig whose parents drive a Bentley and an Armstrong Sidley, Liz floundered on being asked to stand up and recite her times tables and Penny was definitely Head Girl.
The wavering audience were a motley looking crew too and, in the end, it didn’t seem that the famous five above did much for them either.
I think it is time to recruit our politicians differently. What other profession allows individuals to rock up to the front door and offer themselves up for the top dog position without any suitable qualifications or skills, and then snigger gleefully, all the way to the bank.
So here is my person spec for a Member of Parliament. I’m sure its missing key ingredients but its open to consultation. Please give constructive comments.
We are looking for someone who lives or is from the local area to represent us in Parliament. They must have a good knowledge and understanding of the region, its social history, its key industries, be an excellent good communicator and highly motivated.
To demonstrate a commitment to change and improve people’s economic and social lives.
To provide evidence of past engagements which demonstrate integrity and energy
To have extensive experience of team working and community development
To display a good grasp of the social and economic context of the region.
To have strong communication skills, both oral and technological
To demonstrate an ability to network effectively to improve the life of constituents
To have a strong understanding of governance at local, national and international level
To provide evidence of excellent time management skills
Sunshine, islands, spider fish, sucking sands and huge waves were key features of my stay in Olhao. The spider fish were filleted and battered but despite this, I suspect they were the reason for my waking up in the hot Portuguese night unable to open my eyes. Stumbling to the bathroom, through a crack in my lids, I saw the underneath of my eyes and my eye lids in full puffy, blossom. Not a pretty sight. Apparently, according to Google, this could be known as surfer’s eye. I considered that possibility as, earlier that afternoon, I had sort of been surfing. After enjoying myself rolling around and floating on the swoop of the waves, on trying to exit the sea, the sands beneath my feet disappeared, the water swept in, the surf submerged me and literally tossed me around like a rag doll. Salt and sand filled my mouth. I managed to surface briefly, hurl a scream, crawl on to my knees, and burst out laughing at the experience, before being smashed against the sliding sands again, the roar and water silencing me again. I threw out my arms to be saved, but my son, Joe, was unable to maintain contact as once again the waves took control and tossed me, scornfully, on the sand, only to claim me back again, as I struggled to get up before the next surge forward. Eventually, I emerged, not laughing, breathless, swimsuit torn from my boobs, hillocks of sand in the most unlikely places, dripping seaweed…but alive. This morning, peering into the mirror, I wondered, could this be ‘surfer’s eye’? Hum, I thought, more likely to be spider fish poisoning, or maybe it was the after-effects of two jugs of delicious watermelon sangria.
We discovered the joy of watermelon sangria on the third night of our holiday. We were celebrating being on holiday, as one does, but spending the evening in a café rather than going back to the Casa we had rented because of the alarming creature we had encountered the previous night on our roof terrace. I will explain. On our first day, Joe and I had spent the morning walking around the coastal Rio Formosa national park, through the salt and fresh water marshes, inhaling the pines, admiring the white, red and purple of the oleander trees, blue skies, and, on the way there, the orange and white sign of the Intermarche shopping store. So, that afternoon we had returned and splashed out in Intermarche, buying foods of interest for a picnic on our terrace. At 9.30pm, we had returned from our aperitif, laid the terrace table with tomato salad, flageolets, anchovies, cheese, gherkins, bread, curried hot dogs (joe’s choice), cornbeef, pates, green glace cherries and flan and were just digging in, when a very blonde, angry, slim, half naked small man appeared on his side of the terrace wall. He proceeded to speak very fast, accented English about noise, where he slept, the bang of doors, feet on the stairs, and the fucking motherfuckerness of the owner. All this time he was wildly gesticulating and being very aggressive. Sadly, as a result, we spent much of our time outside the Casa in cafes…which explains the two jugs of sangria, and the possible symptoms of ‘surfers eye’. Anyhow, whatever the reason, the eyes got better, and we got more familiar with the cafes on the prom.
On the fourth day, having promenaded enough in Olhao, we hired a car and skedaddled to Seville in Spain, 150 miles up the motorway. What a gorgeous city it is. It was vaguely on my bucket list and is now one of my planned features for a city break next year. It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in. I loved the narrow streets, the small squares, the river and canal. The Real Alcazar, a Spanish palace of Moor and Christian architecture was spell bounding. The tiles, the intricacies of the plastering, the colours, the symmetry, the gardens were astounding, it was a truly magical place. The Casa de Pilates was similar, though it didn’t have the amazing gardens. However, the acoustics in its music room was gorgeous. The Plaza d’Espagna also took my breath away. Sadly, the actual plaza building which was built in the 1920 in a mix of baroque, Moor and romanticism styles, was being set up for a big event, so the view was somewhat ruined, and, anyway, we were running out of leg muscle power (I think we walked over 20kms in scorching heat in Seville) and time. We wanted to sit down, and eat Paella still before leaving Spain and heading back to to return the hire car and the delights of watermelon sangria.
In fact, they didn’t want the hire car back, said we could keep it until we drove it back to the airport! Joe was just about to park it outside our Casa when a local slipped in and nabbed our space. That night we returned from a delicious meal of grilled tuna and final jug of watermelon sangria, to find flashing blue lights, the politizi and all the neighbourhood hanging about outside our Casa! There was a lot of heated discussion going on. They were staring at the parked car outside our house. A massive transporter, with orange flashing lights, arrived, edged its way down the narrow lane, and picked up a stray vehicle that it seemed had drunkenly sliced its way down the narrow street grazing all the parked cars. There, but for the grace of God…we left early next morning, returning an unscratched citroen, sun sated and full of the joys of Olhao.
BTW, PM me if you want the recipe to the watermelon sangria!
I have just come back from a little holiday to Vienna and Bratislava in Slovakia. In short, Vienna was not as beautiful as I had imagined, and Bratislava was poorer and more touristy, though both were full of glorious sunshine, marble, churches, trams and stags. I think, to use modern parlance, my takeaway from my five day break is that to counteract our world of pandemics, war, social isolation, and corruption, more people must be turning to each other, getting married and finding solace and escape in stag parties.
On arrival in Vienna, dismissing taxis, we launched ourselves into public transport, boarded a double level train, alighted at an underground station and dragged our Ryanair cabin bags into daylight, along streets lined with high rise buildings that seemed to have no destination. Following Google, Joe found our Airbnb studio on the noisy outer ring road which encircled a canal with a lovely towpath full of outdoor cafes, beaches, people pedalling, walking, running.
We dropped off our bags and set off to get our bearings. It seems this is best done by sitting at a canal café, in glorious sunshine, drinking Weisstephan beer (known as dusty beer) and pinching and swiping google maps. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore google maps, and I would have seriously been lost without it and Joe who seems to be able to walk and map read at the same time. However, I do like to see and hold a paper map which gives some sort of perspective. But, really, these days, it is not cool to be seen on a corner with a map looking confused.
Anyway, that afternoon we walked along the canal, getting our bearings, which I have to say I promptly lost as we stopped for sun drenched drinks, and soaked up the vibe of the city.
In Vienna, there are thousands of grand, old, beautiful buildings, galleries, museums, and gothic, Gaudi looking church spires, and blue and gold tiled domes in the sky, but they were all surrounded by a conglomeration of high speed avenues, traffic, and noisy intersections. It felt like a wedding cake of a city which had exploded and its beautiful detritus had landed willy nilly.
The next day, the first place we visited was Karls Kirche (a church) which was a little too opulent for my taste. There were a lot of friezes and statues in gold and marble, and cherubs and angels cavorting about. We went up an internal scaffold in a rickety lift to see the painted dome and my stomach turned, sadly not with delight. There was too much glory, gold, and crosses for my liking.
The highlight of Vienna for me was the Natural History Museum which was full of wonderful glittering minerals, dinosaurs, and very interactive so that I found myself cavorting back in the day with my ape friends. Then we sauntered off to the Sigmund Freud museum which was set in the apartment that the family lived in before escaping the Nazis in 1938 and moving to London. It was interesting to see how people lived.
Actually, the real highlight was the Bloody Mary’s that night in the First Floor Jazz Club. Spanish students were trying to waltz to jazz music. Well, let me tell you, after the fourth Bloody Mary, Joe and I soon put pay to that and cleared the floor!
Or maybe my highlight was the next morning, admittedly bleary and weary, we visited the Hundertwasser Museum before leaving for Bratislava. We had a lovely breakfast in a gorgeous outdoor café which replenished our spirits and provided sustenance for the museum…which was fab.
Hundertwasser was a surrealist artist and built the museum on the values of water, wind, tree and colour. It was wobbly (not so practical with a hangover), full of psychedelic circles and airy fairy, spiritual wonder. I loved it. I loved his designs for incinerators, housing developments, churches: colourful, curvaceous, and he had a wonderful eye for the glory of beauty. He was marvellously mad and I wished he’d had more luck in his lobbying of politicians. However, he was successful in his seduction of me and I bought a wonderful hat which I’m sure will go down well in the streets of Cavan.
(Funnily enough, we found a similar exhibition in Bratislava the next day by an artist, Peter Bartos, who drew a million sketches of a wonderfully bright future with buildings that took account of nature, people, animals, trees, weather. I particularly liked them because looked rather like my own paintings.
Anyway, after buying the hat, we took our leave of Vienna, and after a train journey across a rather boring plain, we landed in Bratislava and Joe guided us through more noisy, sweaty, sun drenched main roads towards our accommodation. After a fifteen minute hurried walk, I was relieved to follow him under an arch, down a cobbled street into the old town which was lovely: turreted church towers, charming squares all painted pale pinks, lemons, blues and lined with outdoor cafes enticing us to come and eat traditional Slovak food: dumplings with sheep’s cheese, cabbage soup with calves tongue, garlic soup served in a role, and spicy sausages. To get to our lovely pad, we had to go through large wooden doors, into a courtyard, up a circular staircase to the fourth floor. There, we dropped our bags and stepped out to …get our bearings.
After refreshing ourselves with beer, hummus and olives, we set off around the square, up the cobbled side streets, through the courtyards, along the Danube, past the statues, in and out of the vintage shops, popping into a lovely water colour gallery, and finally found a resting place with wine, trout soaked in bread, and a plate of spicy meat and cheese.
After ten minutes, it started to rain. Fortunately, we were under an awning, so we stayed put. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier and it began to thunder massive claps and bangs. The black sky lit up with silver cracks, flashing venom and anger. Literal rivers cascaded down the marble floor so we had to keep our feet lifted off the street. The rain drummed and flayed the canvas umbrellas. People scattered, holding plates of salmon, pasta and goulash close to their chest. Lights went out. It was very exciting. When it finished, we sniffed the fresh air and ended up in Baudelaire’s putting the world to rights. I was drinking rum garnished with gingerbread sticks. Delicious! Does anyone know where to get gingerbread sticks?
The next day was a little cloudy, so we decided to hit the art galleries. Entering the Central City Art Gallery and Natural History museum was rather like stepping back into a tawdry seventies affair with badly curated exhibitions. Poor Marie Therese, the first Austro Hungarian Queen (1740 – 1780) during whose reign Bratislava reached its pinnacle of glory, was the subject of a paltry exhibition set on shiny red, wonky exhibition stands stuffed into a delipidated bare room. On another floor we threw plastic balls at a video of passing dinosaurs, who if our aim was good enough, collapsed dead and disappeared. On the top floor were three exhibits that had been donated to the gallery by the artists, along with a sign that highlighted that this was all that was really available in terms of art as the gallery was so underfunded. However, I did like the three posters of the workers smiling on the second floor as they forged Stalin’s five year plan.
At midnight, having again put the world to rights with more cocktails, I headed up to bed to toss away the hours of the techno/house music rocking the walls of the studio apartment. Joe was more sensible…he went to the disco and danced into dawn with a Bratislavian beauty.
Our last day was a tad more gentle. We visited the 13th century castle perched on the top of the hill with baroque gardens and views across to the Czech Republic and Hungary and then came back down and again wandered around the square, watching and commenting on the waves of determined octogenarian tourists hanging onto their sticks and each other. They perambulated in the mornings and filled the cafes at lunch but then disappeared (presumably for afternoon naps) and were replaced in the afternoon by traditional, four wheeled hooded prams pushed by mummies with small children darting between legs and Dads who trudged behind. They then all disappeared as the sun set and were replaced by groups of rowdy Irish, English, German stags who told bad jokes and laughed raucously til dawn.
Some were still there, collapsed in corners and doorways as we made our way across the square at 4.30am to get a taxi to the airport to fly back to Ireland. It was a great break.