Saturday, 27 June 2015

A l'avenir

Part of the reason I love the French language so much is that I don’t speak it. Now that might sound a bit dubious, but “avenir” is so much more pleasing that “future” when it’s not your native tongue – there’s even a bike race in France called the “Tour de l’Avenir” (the Tour of the Future), which features up-and-coming riders. Anyway, it was the 10th wedding anniversary this week of the good lady wife and I, and she consequently (and brilliantly) organised a couple of a days and a single night away from Chateau Kinsey, at Chateau Mont Dol in fact. Mont Dol is a small hump of land visible to the right just off the motorway as you pass by Mont St. Michel, and the Chateau is a privately-owned hotel, with superb garden rooms leading into an equally superb garden. I’ll come back to the time away; the point was that we were talking about the future, and our approaches to it.

Now I’m the kind of person who loves plans – not rigid ones, because they have a habit of going awry, but certainly outline ones as far as “the future” is concerned; where I’m going to be working and living, what I’m going to be doing with my spare time, athletic pursuits and otherwise. Mrs M on the other hand, doesn’t make plans, and even when she does, she tends to forget them. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening as far as she’s concerned. I pointed this out to her (the no plans bit, not the calendar thing). “Is that wrong?” she asked, in the tone of voice that makes the question a genuinely inquisitive one, rather than an accusatory one. I had to think, as the concept of not making plans was, momentarily, beyond my sphere of understanding. “No”, was my eventual answer, “as long as you take opportunities that present themselves along the way”. And in her case, and I like to think our case, we partly create those opportunities too. That’s probably why I bang on probably a bit too much about what we’re doing in France, because we partly created the opportunity, and we took it when it arose.

The result has not just been about acquiring a little land and a second small house, but about creating a different life. Other people might call it a lifestyle, but I hate that word – it’s too associated with pretentious magazines and sloppy journalism. It means we can be in France as much as we want to be subject to the rules about becoming a French tax resident (a big no-no), which effectively means up to 25 weeks a year. It means we can be there and still earn a bit of money from renting the original house. More importantly, it means that we get to meet new and interesting people who stay there. However, the best new thing as far as I’m concerned is the garden. We’ve not done that much with the productive part of it yet, but that hasn’t stopped the existing fruit bushes, and the blackcurrants in particular, from going wild. They’re laden. I could have spent a working day on the blackcurrants yesterday and not harvested them all. And they actually taste sweet, unlike the shop-bought things. The night before we had a salad which included beet leaves, lettuce and mint from out of the garden. These are small things that would mean nothing to many people, but they matter to me. Sure you can buy all of those things these days for a pathetically small proportion of your income, but wandering out of your back door, hearing nothing but the birds singing and maybe a distant dog barking, and picking them directly from the soil, reconnects you with things that matter.

Anyway, enough lyricism, you’d think we’d got it all cracked out there. We haven’t – despite a new bathroom, tidied up electrics and some decorating, there’s a long way to go inside and out at the new place. It’s habitable, but that’s about it. I’m feeling both frustrated and slightly guilty that I’m writing this on the ferry back to the UK to do a week's work– this coming week was the one single clear seven day period with no visitors or events, and I’d hoped to crack on with things further. However, for the sake of a week’s flexibility now, I've got a contract to do interesting work that lasts till the end of September, and I’ll have a further week off 10 days from now for Tour de France excitement. (Indeed, I think I may well set a new record for the number of cross-Channel ferries taken by a non-ferry company employee in the next month or so. I’ll be doing the Portsmouth to Caen crossing alone 3 times in 5 days next Friday to Tuesday).

That’s the frustration bit; the guilty part is that Mrs M is going to have to get on with stuff in my absence, and around her work. At least I’ll be there at weekends to mow the lawn, and next week, accompany her to another music festival, though not, thank the Lord, one that involves tents or overnight stays (see last blog post). However, she’ll be having to take carpet deliveries, paint bathrooms, clear up after paying guests, stain and varnish wooden floors, and so on, when I’m not around. I have no compensation or mitigation to offer, other than that by working now, she’ll see more of me between my 50th and 60th birthdays than would otherwise be the case. Though some might think that’s more of a punishment than a reward.

Two final things – the first goes back to our days and night away this week. We ate lunch on Wednesday at Cancale, a small Breton coastal town known for its seafood production and restaurants. In these heady days of Trip Advisor, we ate at the number one rated restaurant in the place, out of a formidable list of about 53. Just as well we consulted that particular oracle, because it was fairly unprepossessing from the outside. But the food – wow. We had a seafood platter for two that came on a boat-shaped polystyrene construction. Oysters, langoustines, large prawns, shrimps, two whole crabs of different variety, and things I only know the French names for all featured, and it was both fantastic and time-consuming – 2 hours it took us to get through the thing (plus a couple of carafes of rose wine). It was a wonderful protein overdose.
And the second final thing – in case you’re thinking I’m sounding too pleased with myself, I have this week, in no particular order:

-         -  Accidentally burned on a bonfire a very expensive pair of secateurs
-          - Crashed quite nastily on my bike only metres from home taking a corner stupidly quickly; I now have a stiff neck and a hole in my left leg
-          - Been shouted at by a French policeman for trying to teach him a lesson; don’t ignore a gendarme folks, even if he is a narcissistic prick

My battery runs low though my enthusiasm is still high. Enough.

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