Monday, 30 October 2006

Chilly and chilli

Standing at my open study window, sipping a freshly-made espresso, I look out on a day turned grey. It's not cold, but the weathermen forecast a change tomorrow as fresher winds blow down from the north and the first frosts of autumn may arrive.

I've sorted out the duvets and decided the time has come to switch the 11.5 Tog for the 13.5 one. I've had friends stay for the weekend, and as I coped with washing the bedding today I took the opportunity to check what was on each bed and cull the spare duvets that fill one of the cupboards in my bedroom. I also need to sort through the bedding, for I seem to have piles of sheets and duvet covers that never get used, as well as a growing mountain of pillow cases.

This was not the case in France a couple of weeks ago. I carefully packed the bedding for the three of us, and it was only as we unpacked at the Gite that I discovered that I'd not taken any sheets. It was a quick trip to the local E. Leclerc hypermarket the next day to remedy the omission. Therefore I now have three more sheets in the airing cupboard! (And just what does the initial E stand for in the Leclerc name? We've had a tradition of some 20 years of calling him "Eddie Leclerc", but as good as it sounds it won't be right.)

The trip was relaxing, and an opportunity to revisit some sights and see new ones. I descended into the depths of the earth at the Gouffre de Padirac again, complete with its 450 or so steps down into the main cave, and then its boat trip across the underground lake. I trod the paths of Rocamadour once more, and found that the Chapel of the Black Madonna had been cleaned, and much of the candle soot removed. Unfortunately, along with the darkness has gone some of the atmosphere. I went into the church of St. Andre at Monflanquin to find it too had been cleaned, as had the Abbey at Fontrevaud where lie the tombs of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard Couer de Lion. I also managed to get into the Castle at Bonaguil which I have only observed before. This was the village where, many years ago, the local restaurant owner came over a chatted incessantly to us as we were eating. She wanted to practise her English, and we were the recipients. She asked us to return. We never did.

Now within a week of returning home the clocks have changed and the dusk rushes upon us. A fortnight ago the evenings were still reasonably light and we were walking around in shirtsleeves. Now I've changed the duvets and the fleece is out. So the world turns and the seasons change. Summer salad gives way to winter veg. Baked potato and chilli-con-carne was on the menu this last weekend for my guests. It was good, and there was enough left to put two tubs into the freezer. As the land cools down it will be a welcome supper.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Descent into hell

The holiday is over and it's back to reality. Not that France is imaginary, but a period of relaxation away from the routine is always somewhat unreal. The restrictions or constrictions of time and place are no longer there - the regular tasks are several hundred miles away, and this time my mobile phone refused to allow me to make any calls. Even though "roaming" was set up on it, as soon as I touched foreign soil it began to turn itself on and off like a yo-yo. Even when it found a French network and recognised it, as soon as a text arrived it shut down.

After a week of motoring on the blessedly empty roads of the Aquitaine, the return journey was a descent into the maelstrom. The ferry from St. Malo to Portsmouth was fine. Travelling the Channel in late October is very pleasant. The ships are not crowded, the weather can be exciting (though our sailings both out and back were like crossing a mill-pond), and the longer voyage allows you to read, watch a film, take a leisurely meal, and generally close-down the vacation in a civilised fashion.

Then it's back to the English road system and traffic.

At Guildford on the A3 we met the first traffic jam, caused by an accident up ahead. No information available, just queues of cars and lorries crawling up the hill and down the other side. That was an hour's delay.

Then there was the stop at a well-known restaurant chain for a break and light supper. The coffee was vile, the food cold, and the service laughable. I have put in a complaint to the Company and we'll see what their response is. Whatever, I shall now avoid those establishments in future.

And so to the M25, clockwise.

Delays were signposted for Junctions 10-13. We joined the motorway at Junction 10 and were immediately into the crawling queue. It would have been quicker to walk. It took almost an hour to reach Junction 11, where we speedily left and scurried our way through the Outer London suburbs of Staines and Windsor, passing over the M25 a couple of times to check on its progress. By Junction 15 it was clear, and we rejoined to make our way to the M11.

With two stops for a snooze, we arrived home at 3.00 a.m., the journey from Portsmouth taking a total of 8 hours! I could have travelled from St. Malo to the Aquitaine in that time.

At least our lanes here in the wilds of rural north-west Suffolk remain fairly empty. It's still a pleasure to drive around the villages, despite the occasional tractor or beer-delivery lorry.

Ah well, back to the real world. Perhaps I'll make myself a mug of French hot chocolate as compensation.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

The simple way

The Feast of St. Francis, and I find myself in a reflective mood, pondering the multitude of possessions I have and the simplicity of lifestyle espoused by the blessed son of Assisi. Where has it all come from? Every room in this four-bedroomed house is filled with furniture, oddments, pictures and the like. The cupboards are full with items I have held on to from years past, and every time I go out I come back with something else.

This last Monday I actually managed to throw away a piece of artwork I did back in 1972. I had never displayed the canvas, and the oil paint was beginning to chip, so I decided it was time for it to go. The picture showed a large cross with what was described at the time as "the white tornado" (from a TV advert for a cleaning product) spiralling up from the top. It was meant to signify the release of the Spirit at the moment of the physical death of Jesus, but it never really worked. I did display it at the Greenbelt Festival in the mid-1970's when they had an Art Tent, but since then it has languished in one cupboard after another. Now it has gone to the tip, and I'm not too bothered.

In the parish of Ilketshall St Lawrence another old painting has received a new lease of life, for we have had the old Coat of Arms restored. It arrived back today and I have yet to see it, but judging by the photographs of the work done to it, I shall not be disappointed. It was in a parlous state, with badly flaking paint and much of the design indecipherable. It shows the Royal Arms of George II, and carries a re-painting date of 1840. Presumeably the original fell apart and a replacement was commissioned. Now it enters its third incarnation, and will be proudly displayed for all to see for another hundred years or so.

Like my home, our churches amass belongings over the years. Bits of silver, holy pictures, huge leather-bound Prayer Books and Bibles .... I'm fairly good at culling the dross from our vestrys (vestries?) .... I really ought to do the same with my own hoard.