I didn't initially think the holiday would spawn two blog posts, but there were a few noteworthy events since I wrote the one in August, so I decided to commit them to screen after all, prefaced by sub-headings for ease.
The model guest
This is my 11th stay in the village, and my 7th as a home owner. And my first as a host! For I finally took the plunge and had a guest to stay, an old tutor from my university days in Belfast, whose hospitality I have enjoyed on work trips on and off for 40 years, but to whom I have never returned the favour - until now.
He was a delight to have around, spontaneously doing food shopping and the washing up. We remarked on what a treat it is when you live alone (as we both do) to have someone to share the chores with. He had helpful suggestions on task lighting for the area which would be a kitchen if I had the full complement of relevant appliances, and also made the happy discovery that my fridge does in fact have a freezer compartment! On the practical front, he pointed out some crumbling areas of masonry that had escaped my eye, an earth cable outside that might benefit from a protective cover against the elements, and a patch of possibly recent woodworm. For the time being I have set a "tissue trap" over the affected area (the beetles will eat their way through it if they are still extant), and will address the "tissue issue" on my next visit.
My friend was also a mine of surprising food facts: for example, that if you eat even the tiniest bit of eggshell you might get appendicitis; that mashed bananas are okay to eat even after they go brown, and that eating carbs for breakfast is in fact the worst time of day. Wot, no croissants or pains aux raisins...? Why, in English they are even collectively called "morning goods". Clearly that one is never going to (Garibaldi) fly.
Most impressive of all, on the first day that I suggested we make an excursion to some local beauty spots in the Dordogne, he said he'd much rather go in search of a clothes airer for me, as there is nowhere to dry my laundry in the French house, assuming I had first figured out the coin-operated washing machine in the wall outside Carrefour. He would only agree to doing touristy things once we had scoured the aisles of a Leclerc hypermarket (in vain) in search of one.
Another endearing aspect of my friend was the fact that he understood the insecurities associated with aging, announcing brightly one morning that he was going to the bathroom "to try to make myself look a bit less like Cro-Magnon". So yes, he is welcome back anytime.
And he hadn't been gone five minutes when the orange and white cat (by now a daily visitor) annexed his bed.
Pass the pool tickets
Towards the end of the holiday - and the end of the swimming pool season - a French friend in the village handed me a clutch of swim tickets, which had in turn been given to her by a Dutch lady who had some spare. I kept a couple for myself, as there were only two days left before the annual closure, and I couldn't see myself going for a swim more than once a day, and passed three on to my English neighbours next door. When I went to settle a bill with the guy who troubleshot my gas hob in 2019 (things move very slowly in rural France, not least invoicing), I offloaded the remaining tickets onto him, as time was running out. He couldn't use them himself, as he was working, but was confident he could give them to a French friend with small children. Sure enough, when I went that afternoon, there was a lady of a similar age to him in the pool, children in tow, so I inferred (with some satisfaction, I can tell you ;) ) that the last tickets had found a home...
Of note too is that when you go for a swim, you have to present your vaccine passport, which in my case consisted of a letter in an NHS envelope. The lady on the door didn't even glance at it, saying: "I trust you." I was touched by this, though it did make me realise that I could have had the letter in there inviting me for my bone density scan - or arguably just a bank statement.
Covid regulation hoop-jumping
I am now well and truly blooded in all the requisite forms and procedures involved (currently!) in going to and coming back from France. One of these requirements is the pre-departure Covid test at a local laboratory, the precise timing of which you have to calculate with care, as it needs to be so many hours before you leave the country, plus you also need to be sure of receiving the results before you set off on your homeward journey. I guess you could assume a negative result and set off regardless, but in the event of a positive result you would need to be prepared to turn back and self-isolate where you had come from. The lab promised results within 24 hours, and I had factored in 26 before I really did need to leave. As it happens, they were through in less than 10, which was a jolly quick turnaround.
I nearly came a cropper though when I tried to pay for the lab test upfront with a 50 euro note. The girl on reception looked horrified, and gestured for me to remove the offending cash from the counter. "We can't accept that - it's microbial!"
Another aspect of the protocol to re-enter the country is a lengthy online form you must complete in the 48 hour window before arriving in the UK. (You need good maths for this caper, let me tell you.) I overheard two women talking about this outside the lab. I assumed they were frequent foreign travellers as they were already referring to said form by an acronym - "PLF". Move over, Palestine Liberation Front - the new acronym on the block is for the Passenger Locator Form!
Another yogurt implement incident
In 1978, aged 19, my friend Averil and I went backpacking round France and Italy. Rouen was an early stop in the trip and where we realised we had failed to pack any cutlery. After trying and failing with a comb, we managed to eat a yogurt with the end of a toothbrush. I am 62 now, and stopped in Rouen overnight on the journey back, where history repeated itself.
The ne plus ultra of customer service
Whilst on the ferry I wandered into the duty free - looking for a small edt bottle of Shalimar in fact, but no joy - and instead came out with a box of six assorted wines from a small producer in Aix-en-Provence which the manager said were better quality and value than the ones I had randomly picked out myself. This lady also arranged for her colleague - who looked like a female prison warder in navy trousers and sturdy steel-capped shoes, with a big bunch of keys in her hand - to open up the car deck specially for me, despite it being normally out of bounds to passengers during the crossing. To be fair I couldn't have handled the box of wine and my belongings when the ship docked, but it still felt like a big favour. The colleague proceeded to undo bolts and pull back levers on the heavy metal door with a dramatic flourish, as though she were opening up a bank vault to reveal a gleaming pile of ingots, not my 9 year old Ford Focus, fortuitously parked just behind it.
And my luck kept coming...the same manager of the duty free magically popped up on the till of the cafeteria moments after I returned from the wine stowing mission. She insisted I be given a second cup of machine-dispensed hot chocolate free, in a bigger paper cup, because I had accidentally used a small espresso one and some of my drink had run over the side!
Here is the wine (not all purchased on this trip, hehe). Even so, I think I may need to up my drinking...;)
The not so speedy supercar
On the long drive back from Newhaven, I got stuck in stop-start traffic on the M25 (as you do, even in a pandemic with sizeable numbers of people still supposedly working from home). Interestingly, the French for "stop-start" traffic is "circulation en accordéon" (accordion traffic - or perhaps, concertina, even), which is nicely graphic. At one point I got stuck behind the low slung head turning high performance beast that is a McClaren car, and thought how frustrated the driver must have been not to get above second gear till nearly the exit for the M40.
Now I am back I am already looking forward to my next visit to the house, even if it will be dominated by chasing up a joiner to do some much needed window repairs, pouring gravel down a hole under the stairs, and treating the woodworm as appropriate. And more hoovering and weeding and de-cobwebbing, obviously. Apparently the cat is still hanging around my house, doubtless puzzled that I still haven't opened the door to let him in...