Monday, August 19, 2013

Lake Marie

August is the holiday month in France. But there's no lazing around on sunny beaches sipping pina coladas for neighbour Christian though. Instead, he spends the month log cutting, stacking and delivering to local villagers as we prepare for yet another freezing winter. Georgie and I have had four trailerfulls (or is it five?) of logs delivered so we've been busy stacking in, and to the side of, the garage. And it's hot work too, especially in the mid-day sun. When you're standing there wearing a soaking wet teeshirt with sweat dripping into your eyes, the temptation is to down gloves, go indoors and have a cool drink and shower, but that's not on; the trailer has to be emptied so Christian can collect it in the evening, refill it and deliver it back at sparrow's fart the following morning.

There was a day last week (Thursday?) that was particularly sunny and hot. A great day for going for a swim. But we couldn't because, yes you've guessed, another trailerfull had been delivered. So we spent the day stacking. Cleared the last log from the trailer at around 5.30pm, then collapsed in the kitchen, exhausted. The sun was still fairly high in the cloudless sky, so, after a quick drink and wash, we decided to drive to Lake Marie for a well-earned evening dip.

Lake Marie isn't its real name, but I call it that after the song 'Lake Marie' by John Prine (Google: John Prine Lake Marie and a YouTube version should come up). It's a great song and an interesting story. Well worth an ear'oling. In the song there are two twin lakes: Lake Elizabeth (the larger, prettier one) and Lake Marie (the smaller, hidden one). To me, these are mirrored by two local lakes that are fairly close together: Lac Vassivière (a large lake that's quite famous and very popular, but not exactly pretty) and Lac Somethingorother (the smaller, hidden one), hence Lake Marie. So there you go. Now you know.

Anyways..., we arrived at the lake and all was calm. Bright sunlight and still not a cloud in the sky. Ambled along the lakeside path towards our favourite little beach hoping that no-one was there. Luckily we had the place to ourselves. I suppose, by early evening, the few people that visit this spot had packed up and gone home. Can't beat an evening swim. And that evening it was absolutely perfect. Took a few snaps to look back on in the depths of winter when it's cold and dismal, just to remind ourselves of what was possibly the best evening of the summer.

Thanks Lake Marie.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Repsol Montesa

As mentioned in a previous posting, I'd decided to sell my Ariel trials bike and replace it with a modern steed, but I wasn't sure which one. Well, the Ariel sold and am pleased to say it's returned to England and is now owned by an enthusiast up in Kendal.

Spent the following week weighing up the pros and cons of various new trials bikes, eventually deciding that I rather fancied a 300 Cabestany Sherco. Trouble was, it cost more than the price of the Ariel and I didn't really want to delve into our meagre savings. But then, as is often the way, I spotted a great alternative: a mint 2012 Repsol Montesa on the Trials Central website which was up for grabs at about £500 less than the Ariel. Made him an offer and we agreed a deal. Thus I swapped bikes and pocketed about £625.

But..., I now had the problem of getting the Montesa from the UK to France. And that could be expensive - somewhere around £600 with a reputable courier. Bang goes my pocketed dosh. Or £300 with an 'iffy' courier. But that's risky, as my Ariel buyer will testify (he paid a cheap online courier who sub-contacted to a UK courier who had delivered a bike to Bordeaux and was able to fit in the Ariel job on his homeward trek, but then when the genuine courier phoned in to the online courier on arriving back in the UK there was no answer, turned out the online courier was a fraudster, so the genuine courier had an Ariel but no delivery address and no money for his troubles - when the Ariel didn't arrive, the buyer emailed me and I gave him the contact number of the genuine courier who then delivered and, understandably, charged for his journey, thus the Ariel buyer paid twice for delivery when initially thinking he'd got a good cheap deal).

So..., I wasn't too keen on the courier solution, and nor was the Montesa seller. He much preferred a face to face meeting where we could sign the V5C form and he could explain various technical aspects of the bike, such as oil and filter changes and starting procedure etc. I looked into the cost of driving to his home in Didcot and it worked out rather expensive - car with trailer on Eurotunnel at holiday season in August costs an arm, a leg and a few other dangly bits. Then the seller kindly offered to 'van' the bike to Calais where we could meet up and complete the sale providing I was willing to pay for his petrol and tunnel charges (about £130). Seemed a brilliant solution. Total cost about £350 if we kipped two nights in the car (or camped with our little tent), or about £425 if we dossed down at a couple of cheap hotels leaving Jock in the car, or about £500 if we booked Jock into kennels for a couple of nights while we stayed in hotels.

In the end we just shoved Jock in the car along with sleeping bags, small tent, cooler box and various other odds'n'sods'n'bits'n'bobs, connected up the bike trailer and headed north, departing at around mid-day on an epic 500 mile journey (well, 1000 miles there and back). Rendez-vous time was mid-day the next day which, I hoped, gave us plenty of time to get there.

At around 5pm we were roughly halfway across the boring flatlands of central France. Thought it was about time we gave Jock a bit of a walk and then get stuck into our Thermos of tea and home-made ham sarnies. Drove off the main road and stopped just outside a farming village beside some cornfields (or maybe they were wheatfields) where combine harvesters and tractors were doing their thing. A very pleasant interlude. Then we hit the road again.

About four or five hours later we were somewhere between Chartres and Rouen just to the west of Paris. If we were to camp for the night, now was the time to do it, but finding a campsite and putting up a tent didn't appeal to moi, especially as the weather had deteriorated, so we kept right on trucking. Eventually stopped at a rainy service station north of Rouen where we spent the night in the car, parked up alongside lorries and campers. I think I managed about three hours kip. Georgie didn't get any. Said she just couldn't get to sleep, so she just snoozed.

Hit the road again at around 7ish after a brekkie of yesterday's sarnies and tranny caff coffee. We now had five hours to do about 120 miles which was plenty of time. Stopped off about an hour later at a brilliant service station somewhere around Montreuil (I think) where we watched ducks and huge fish cavorting in the man-made lake next to the café verandah. Back on the road, Georgie suggested we take a slight detour to visit a seaside town (Wimreux?) that she'd once read about. Apparently it's famous for 'Twenties architecture and is well worth a visit. I immediately had visions of ending up in some back street cul-de-sac where I'd face the nightmare of reversing out with a difficult to see trailer. But we went there anyway and there wasn't a problem. Well, only a slight one inasmuch as we didn't properly get to see the sea due to Georgie worrying about me having a fit if we went off the high street road.

Anyways, we eventually arrived at the designated Calais car park rendez-vous spot an hour early. Turned out the car park was alongside the animal check-in centre so we nipped in there for a bit of info about taking dogs across the channel. Apparently some of the old rules have been changed and pets no longer have to be pumped full of drugs on either side of the channel which is a darned good thing. Killed a bit more time walking Jock then, on the dot of mid-day, the seller and his twin brother turned up in their rather swish van with the bike in the back. Did the paperwork, had the lecture about servicing hints etc., paid for the bumper pack of teabags which Paul and Andy had kindly brought over for us, thanked them for their much appreciated efforts in getting the bike here (they really were a smashing couple of chaps) and then hit the homeward trail.

Pulling a three-bike trailer and bike is no great problem for an average car, but it's quite a strain for a little runaround dogwagon powered by a tiddly 1.4 litre moped engine. Fine going downhill and almost fine on a flat road with a tail wind, but power limitations immediately become apparent going uphill or into a headwind. Consequently we found ourselves being overtaken at frequent intervals by giant lorries that normally hog the slow lane, rusty old Citroen 2CVs and even the odd caravan. Suffering the gross indignity of being Captain Slow, I found myself seriously considering swapping our little Citroen for the V8 4.4 litre BMW 540i that I recently saw being advertised on the Leboncoin site, if and when we eventually get back home. To make matters worse, we missed a detour sign outside Rouen and ended up in the city evening rush hour traffic. Hauling a trailer through a badly signposted city centre with streets packed with traffic is no laughing matter. Led to a bit of stress between moi and my map-reading navigator, but, somehow, we finally managed to escape the bedlam and hit the right road south. Miracle.

Despite our lack of speed and unplanned detour, we made relatively good progress and eventually stopped for the night at a service station just north of Vierzon where we parked up in the lorry park alongside some huge trucks. This time Georgie figured out how to put her seat back into a near horizontal position which resulted in a good night's kip. I too slept pretty soundly in spite of having a faceful of steering wheel and feet cramped by pedals.

Woke at around sixish to the sound of rumbling as the big lorries started their engines ready for another hard day's trucking. Had a splendid brekkie of three freshly baked croissants and three cups of strong, black coffee in the excellent service station. Caffeined up, we then hit the road again. However, about a minute later, just as we'd hit top gear on the three lane autoroute, Georgie said "now this is serious". Something was clearly wrong. I thought maybe she'd left her handbag behind. Or maybe Jock. But it turned out that she'd lost the autoroute ticket that we collected last night and which had to be presented at the toll gates in about ten miles time. To cut a long story short, I eventually found someone in the deserted toll gate area who let us through after we'd paid the 11 euro toll. Close shave though. We could have been stuck there for hours. Maybe forever.

Talking of cutting a long story short, I'd better get to the end. We finally arrived home at about 1pm, totally shattered but with mission accomplished. Jock especially was relieved to be home after being locked up in the car for hours on end. Probably had the sound of an engine ringing in his ears for days after. Bike's now parked in the indoor shed. Keep popping in there for a quick look. Really is a beauty. Lucky moi.



Our local town Felletin is famous (well, slightly famous) for its international dance festival. This is an annual event held over a week in August when teams of dancers descend on the town and do their stuff. As well as providing an exciting spectacle, these dancers also provide a much needed boost for tourism which, of course, is good for local businesses.

Georgie and I nipped down there a few days ago and the place was packed. Luckily we found a parking place so it was only a short walk to the main square where we watched a long procession of colourful dance troupes being welcomed by a massed crowd. Each dance team did a five minute turn accompanied by their native musicians who knocked out a variety of sounds from drums, penny whistles, wood instruments and various other thingies. Most of the teams were naturally athletic and youngish which contrasted deliciously with our local participants representing the Creuse region. This clog-wearing team of gnarled geriatrics dressed in clothing from a bygone age danced their way across the square accompanied by noises from accordians, hurdy-gurdys and creaking bones together with rousing cheers from the home crowd. Excellent stuff from les Maurice danceurs.

Went down there again a couple of days later. The sun had brought out even bigger crowds. A Latvian, Lithuanian or Slav team (Moldavian, according to Georgie) were entertaining the masses in a street off the main square. Being somewhat vertically challenged, I couldn't really see their spirited moves but I could certainly hear their footstomping, olés and musical accompaniment. By the time I'd perched myself on a vacant bollard to get an excellent view, the show was over. Typical.

Caught up with them a bit later in the school playground next to the church where they'd linked up with the South Korean troupe. Kids joined in with a sort of international hokey-cokey while the appreciative crowd munched ice creams and swilled Coca-Cola as the aroma of chips wafted over from the busy cookhouse tents. A memorable occasion and a fitting finale to another enjoyable dance week. Hope next year's is just as good.




Georgie's ex-boyfriend from her teenage days paid us a visit last week. Drove over from Switzerland (Lausanne, I think) where he now lives and works. Warned him in advance that our humble abode is virtually uninhabitable so he'd be prepared for the shock of entering. Although it probably wasn't obvious, we'd spent a couple of days tidying up in preparation for his visit. Shoved him in the loft room where he stood a good chance of survival. Luckily the sun shone for the whole three days he was here so we were able to spend most of the time outdoors. Wining and dining out in the garden made a pleasant change and provided an enjoyable alternative to squeezing three people around the kitchen table. Maybe one day we'll have a proper dining room to entertain guests. Or maybe not.

Being a lazy good for nothing hermit recluse, I never know what to do in order to keep guests occupied. But Georgie's different. She's always full of ideas. So, after a little trip to Felletin where we slobbed out in the sunshine at an outside table at the town café, idly chatting and downing coffees, we set off for nearby Crocq to visit the excellent boucherie (it wins prizes and is held in high esteem by the locals). Here Julian bought a big hunk of paté and three steaks - he'd kindly offered to cook for us that evening. Interestingly, he remarked that the cost would have been about four times higher back in Switzerland. Apparently everything's expensive over there.

On the way back home we detoured for a quick visit to St. Georges-Nigremont which is a little hilltop village with a splendid view, an impressive church, a new café/diner and an old café run by an elderly lady - basically it consists of a table outside her front door, and when it's a bit cold, guests are invited indoors to sit at her kitchen table (charmingly olde-worlde French). Well worth a visit if you're ever down this way.

Can't really remember what else we did. Lots of chatting of course, and quite a few leisurely dogwalks. And one fine evening we drove off to Lake Marie (not its real name) for a swim. It's about a 40 minute drive away but well worth the effort. It's very near to the famous Lake Vassiviere which tends to get overcrowded with campers and visitors, but because that lake gets all the attention, Lake Marie remains unspoilt and sort of undiscovered by the masses. It's another place that's well worth a visit if you're ever down this way. But its whereabouts remains a secret!

The slow pace of life around these here parts contrasted somewhat with Julian's busy lifestyle and I think he quite enjoyed unwinding. Then all too soon he had to pack his bags and drive off back across the border. I think he survived the ordeal of visiting without any ill effects and we certainly enjoyed having him to stay. As a footnote, I think it's absolutely splendid that he's stayed in touch with Georgie after all these years. They're obviously friends for life. Good stuff.