We’ve just landed home from our epic car journey through France and Spain. 2,715 miles on the clock. The worst of those miles were those completed here in the UK.
I’m not being entirely fair. We had more than a few traffic-jam moments in Barcelona and Toulouse, but we’ve also enjoyed miles and miles of empty motorways and other roads, particularly in France, where driving was nothing but relaxing.
What really makes a difference though, are the motorway service areas. I’ve written before about France’s quiet uncommercial aires, which complement the ones with restaurants, shops and all the trimmings. Even these can be havens of peace though. Look at the Aire de la Porte de Corrèze. Yes, it’s got all the usual facilities. But it’s got space and peace too: a country path, a woodland walk, and a quiet pond.
Now look at the ‘Extra’ service area on the A1 M near Peterborough. Outside space is strictly for parking in. Land is scarce and ruinously expensive in the UK of course. But if only we could have stretched our legs and breathed a little fresh air as we took a break in our journey north. It would have made so much difference.
We’ve been on the move since my last post: firstly to friends near Laroque, then to Emily and Miquel in Barcelona. England – France – Spain – France and back to England again: passports required to get out of and back into England.
The trouble is, returning to England may prove tricky. No passports.
The first thing we did in Barcelona was to go and meet Emily and Miquel from their flight from Seville. I left Malcolm while I went to link up with them. A man wheeling a luggage trolley veered into the car, and so Malcolm jumped out to have words with him.
We were duped. As he did that, Luggage Trolley Man’s accomplice whipped my handbag out of the car. So …. no handbag, no purse, no credit cards, no camera with some 140 shots on it, some of which I wanted to share with you, no keys and NO PASSPORTS.
Thanks to Emily and Miquel, we’ve reported the whole thing to the Police, and since then we’ve applied online to the British Consulate for emergency travel documents. We’ve done every single piece of work towards getting these, and for a single-use piece of paper, we’ve been charged £100 each. New passports will be £75 each. Temporary migration for us was incredibly easy. Immigration – less so.
All the same, we’re having a high old time. We are neither political nor economic migrants. We need to keep things in perspective, and put it down to experience.
As we say goodbye to Corrèze for now, it seems fitting that the Ragtag word for today is ‘crepuscule‘. It means twilight, and I always thought of it as an evening word. But it can mean dawn as well. So was this photo, taken from Sharon and Andrew’s house, and home to us for a week, taken in the morning or the evening? What’s your guess?
I let myself off posting yesterday, Tuesday, because we were concluding a drive all the way from Yorkshire England, to the Limousin, France – all but 800 miles in two days. You’ll hear why in my next post. Just now, I’ll tell you about our Monday stop-over.
Les Hayons is a transport caff in Normandy, pure and simple. We love it. Truckers from all over this part of northern France aim to end their working day here. They’ll have a quick wash, a drink, then head for the restaurant – refectory style tables where they can sit down among old friends and new and talk over the events of their solitary day pounding along the motorway.
They’ll help themselves from a buffet-style first course, then there’s a choice of about a dozen home-cooked main courses – copious, traditional tasty food washed down with as much wine or cider as you want. After that, a cheese board – local unpasteurised cheeses from the farms down the road, and finally ice cream or some such for pud. The cheery noisy atmosphere, the decently cooked if simple feast puts us in holiday mood every time we eat there.
We stayed the night there too. Maybe that wasn’t quite such a good plan. The truckers stay in their well-appointed cabins built into their lorries. The days of their needing a trad. bed in a trad. simple hotel room are over. So, lacking a bed in a truck, we chose their former hotel instead. Which was fine. But though the truckers were all tucked up for 9.00 p.m. or 10.00 p.m. that was because they were ready for the off at 4.30 a.m. or 5.00 a.m.
Our alarm call was the sound of revving engines and heavy tyres crunching across gravel. We too were ready to roll at 6.30 a.m. And barely a truck was still there. Look at the scene the evening before. Scores of trucks, neatly lined up in auditorium sized parking lots, protected by the orange glow of sodium lighting.
And we shared breafast in the bar with men in orange: workmen ready to go on shift and face the rigours of the day in their hi-viz clothing. Life at our next destination is very different.
The RDP challenges for Tuesday and Wednesday this week were ‘orange’ and ‘feast’ respectivly. Two birds with one stone.
This Country Mouse, this bumpkin, loves a trip to London. I love visiting my family above all, especially William and little Zoë (who’s doing alright. She’s been moved from Intensive Care to High Dependency and back to Intensive Care: out of, and now back into an incubator. These set backs are not unexpected in such tiny babies, but the staff are confident that she’s basically doing well. Slowly she’s learning to breastfeed).
I love the neighbourhood shopping streets. They’re often, and depressingly, a bit grubby and litter-strewn. But they’re full of life. Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, Chinese and East Asian, English, Syrian, French, Ethiopian, Eastern European, Caribbean shops, take-aways and restaurants rub along together. There are barbers and hairdressers, some specialising in working with the tight curls of the local black population. They may not open early, but they’re busy until late. Markets sell fruit and veg. by the bowlful, and the fish stalls are an education in unfamiliar marine life. No pictures – sorry. When I take William to the park, I may find myself making common cause with grannies from Poland, France or Thailand.
I love the happenstance of walking the backstreets almost anywhere in central London. When I have to get to King’s Cross Station, I often get off the tube at some station beforehand and complete my journey on foot. That’s how I found myself in Smithfield Market, England’s largest wholesale meat market, trading in meat sales as it has been for over 800 years. Then nearby is the church of Saint Bartholomew the Great. It ought to be twinned with Fountains Abbey. One was founded in 1123, the other in 1132.
Summer in the countryside is show time. Here in Yorkshire, Harrogate kicks it off in July with The Great Yorkshire Show. Then week after week until the end of September, villages, towns and whole Dales follow on with theirs.
This is when farmers, breeders, stock men, makers of agricultural machinery and equipment and The Great British Public all get together to celebrate all things rural, and in the case of farmers, normally so isolated in their day-to-day working lives, simply to meet and have a chin-wag.
Emily wanted to take City Boy Miquel to a proper country fair. So the Wensleydale Show in Leyburn it was. He saw more sheep and cattle in a single day than he’s probably seen in a lifetime.
We began with the sheep dog trials. One expert dog, guided by the whistles and calls of its master, has to encourage a small group of sheep down the hill, through a gate, up the hill again and through another gate, round and back again to finish up closeted in a small wooden pen. Those dogs and their shepherds were pretty good. But from the sheep’s point of view, why go through a gate which has no fence on either side of it? Why not just go round? And certainly, why go into a small pen when there’s all that hillside to enjoy? Fun was had by all but the frustrated shepherds, none of whom completed the course with a full scorecard. But that didn’t stop them being pretty damn’ good.
One big field, and one small pen …..
Gotcha! Sheep contained.
Off to inspect the sheep themselves. Some had dense clouds of thick warm wool, others rangy dreadlocks. Some had squat round faces, others magisterial aquiline profiles. Miquel was astonished to find that sheep weren’t simply, well, sheep.
…. wool ….
…. and more wool.
Poultry. Large hens and ducks, small hens and ducks, sleek hens and ducks, messily-feathered hens and ducks, long scaly legs, short feather-trousered legs. White eggs, brown eggs, blue eggs, speckled eggs …..
Cattle with beautiful hides, and bulls looking unusually complacent in this showground setting.
Best in show.
Best of all, a heavy working horse, a Suffolk Punch, just the one, a reminder of what crop farming and ploughing used to involve. This splendid beast was traditionally tricked up in her party clothes, reminding me of Whit Mondays when I was a child, when the shire horses employed for delivering beer and ale to pubs were dressed in all their finery for this one special day of the year.
And in among, we watched displays in the show ring, sampled local cheeses and pies, bought decadent and wholly nontraditional treats like gooey chocolate brownies, and generally enjoyed All the Fun of the Fair.
‘Yarn bombing is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk. It is also called yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting.’Wikipedia
Thirsk has adopted yarn bombing in a big way. It’s the town where I first came across it, at Remembrance tide two years ago. St. Mary’s church was festooned – drowned almost – in a sea of poppies knitted by keen volunteers from miles around. It was a arresting, beautiful, and had the effect they were seeking. As we paused to look and admire, we did indeed remember the fallen of the two World Wars.
This year, Thirsk asks us to remember the NHS (National Health Service), now 70 years old. Various knitted offerings are clustered in the Market Square. It’s witty, charming, and reminds us all how much almost every one of us is grateful for the NHS and all who work in it.
If you saw my post at the weekend, you’ll know my head and my heart are just in one place: thinking of little Zoë, one week old today and doing well: her mum has been allowed home, so that’s one milestone. Luckily the hospital is a walkable distance from the family home, so that’s all good.
The Ragtag Challenge word today is ‘blue’. So this gives me a chance to show you William visiting his new little sister as she experiences life under an UV lamp: all good for clearing up the jaundice that many little babies seem to experience shortly after birth.
And here’s the blue knitted octopus that the nurses gave her to clutch at, as she waves those little arms about.
She’s doing well, so far. 29 weeks in the making, and she even has some hair.
Diaphanous sugar-pink wraiths trailing long floating tendrils pulsated gently round their royal blue tank: hypnotic: mesmerising. They neither paused nor hurried. They simply oscillated, surged, ebbed, flowed. These ethereal creatures didn’t merit their prosaic name of Black Star Northern Sea Nettle. Who dreamed that one up?
When we finally left them to it, we discovered we hadn’t finished with pulsing creatures. Here was a Blue Spotted Ribbon-Tail Ray. He gently wove round the tank, his flat body slowly rippling to the rhythm of his inner pulse.
Then there were the frogs. Look at these two Amazon Milk Frogs. They had nothing to do but regard us without interest, as their chests swelled and deflated – pulse, pulse.
One of the minor pleasures of being in London is seeing its architecture and street life reflected in its many and varied plate glass windows.
The journey from Kings Cross to William-and-parents’-house starts as I take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Lewisham. I pass the busy financial area of Canary Wharf with its skyscrapers and waterside plazas and docklands. Here are reflections a-plenty: even, as we travel through a tunnel, the passengers in our own carriage reflected in the window of the next.
The skyscrapers of Canary Wharf as spotted from the station.
Office buildings along the DLR route.
On my way home, I might pass through the City of London, as I did the other day when visiting the Mithraeum. I didn’t call into St. Stephen Walbrook this time. I confined myself to admiring its exterior as reflected in the new office buildings which surround it.