Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another French Summer.....

My time in Brittany is drawing to a close for another summer. I hope to make it out for a few weekends before Mrs M comes back to the UK at the end of September, but work starts next week. Initially it's only a 6 week contract, in which case I'll be back here for the second half of September, but these things have a habit of extending themselves.

It's time, therefore, to reflect on the last couple of months, the things that'll stick in my mind, and, I hope, give a bit of flavour of what it's like out here. I'm going to have to work backwards....

Cycling: I seem to have fallen in love with it again. However, it is, I suspect, a holiday romance. Sure I've done some indoor training, but really, I've been riding on the best road surfaces in the world, with the drivers who are most courteous to cyclists, in always warm, and sometimes properly hot weather. It's mostly been in Brittany, but add in a week in the Pyrenees, including a day riding a Tour de France stage that went over the same ground 48 hours later, and really, what's not to love. All my bikes are here in France now, and while I'll be taking the best one home for some proper attention for the first time in a while, I don't think I'll be riding it in the UK; running beckons again.

Thrills and spills: the latest was just last Saturday. Pyrenean cycling buddy Mendip Rouleur was stung by a (we think) hornet. He suffered an anaphylactic reaction - most of his body was covered with hives and swelling. We were in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately his airway stayed open, so we managed to descend out of the mountains to a town, where the original plan was to find a pharmacy. The situation was beyond that by the time we arrived in Luzenac, so an ambulance had to be called, followed by a blue light run to hospital. Once the right drugs were inside him things were fine, but we definitely had 90 minutes or so of proper concern.

Earlier in the week I had incident that was over in not much more then 0.9 seconds rather than 90 minutes, but which was still pretty scary. Descending a mountain called Plateau de Beille (a 16km ascent at an average gradient of over 8%), I was approaching a corner at 65kmh, but hands on the brakes fortunately, when I car overtook a cyclist going up the hill on said corner. I had about 1 metre to miss the car; my back wheel locked up and drifted towards the side of the road, complete with 50 foot drop. I have no idea how I recovered it and missed both the car and the drop, but miraculously I did.

Nature: there's just so damn much of it here. Aside from the very happy event of peace breaking out between the cat and the dog, there's been all sorts. The dog sniffing out and chasing rabbits and hares across fields (without any success it has to be said). Many, many different species of butterflies on the track down to the stream - more than I knew existed. Red squirrels, birds of prey, the dead voles and shrews every morning that they've dropped, and last night, dozens of bats at our back door feasting on a plague of flying ants. [Talking of bats, there can't be many people who have to clear their 'gym' (exercise mat and ball, a few weights) of bat poo each time they go in to use it. That's what I have to do in the uninhabitable-but-still-ok-for-a-gym house next door.] Unfortunately we also had a less welcome wildlife visitor - Colorado beetles, which wiped out our potato harvest.

Harvest: to date (fruit) - raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries in modest quantities. Blackcurrants in vast quantities - upwards of 20 hours it took to pick them all. Vegetables - adequate amounts of red peas, ordinary peas, runner beans, red beans and chard; vast amounts of squashes and courgettes, with (hopefully) tomatoes, onions, okra, maize and chilli peppers still to come. Most culinary herbs are a permanent feature of the veg plot too. Keeping the weeds under control is a near-daily battle, but it's worth it.

Walking: the dog's slowing down a little at the grand old age of 5, but he's still got boundless energy. We walk a minimum of 4.5 miles a day with him; he must do double that as he charges across potato fields, corn fields, pasture and anywhere else where there's interesting sniffing to be done. So we've comfortably walked over 200 miles so far, and none of them flat.

A 'proper' summer: I've rarely worn long trousers in the last 8 weeks, and when I have, more often that not it's been due to a social occasion rather than the need for warmth. We've had about 3 rainy days, and even on those it's been fine for the most part to trundle around in T-shirt and shorts. [I'm writing this outside under the veranda by the back door as it drizzles a bit]. I have a decent tan. We've eaten outside as much as inside. The cat's voluntarily stopped using her litter tray in favour of the garden (though this is not a wholly good thing, as I found out when weeding one night). In short, it's felt like a summer of the sort they always seemed to be when you were a kid. Perhaps not to 1976 standards, but not far off.

I think that's about it. There's nothing particularly glamorous or high-rolling about life out here, but I wouldn't swap it for the world. The peace and quiet, the early morning dog walks, the constant chatter of birdsong, gentle labour in the garden, the (mostly) gentle hum of agriculture going on around us, and the rolling, bucolic bike rides combine to act as a sort of lifestyle Prozac - I'd defy anyone to spend a bit of time here at Le Millet and not go home in a better mental state. But as I said at the start, in a few days' time that's it for me for a while, but mercifully, I won't be returning to either Lloyds Bank or central London. Summer 2017 in France then - rather good I'd say.

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