JOURNAL : July / Juillet 2004
Following my trip to Prague in June, I finished up the project work at Scottish Widows (great to work with Catherine again, as well as Jim, Garry and the rest of the team) .... but that was definitely the end of working for the forseeable future. Honest ....!
Received wonderful news on 16th June with the safe arrival of Lucy Bentley, the first baby for cousin Anne and her husband Paul. (Kate & Simon's "bump" still a few weeks away).
On 28th June, I went down south for a week to do a bit more work on the Family Tree (it was great to meet relatives Robert & Enid Rousell, and Ralph & Glenda Cousins), and I even included a day in Dorset and Somerset wandering round various churchyards (non-genealogists perhaps might find this a bit of a strange thing to do).
Also spent a lovely evening in Slinfold with friends Charles and Prue. Then back to Edinburgh to do more sorting out before the big trip, and packed my suitcase for France. Good job I'm not working now, as I wouldn't be able to find the time !
Taxi arrived on time to take me to the airport - the roads were really quiet - well they would be at 4.15 in the morning ! Good job I don't mind early starts. No problems with the easyJet flight to Stansted. A few hours then to kill before getting my connecting flight to Poitiers. Must remember to write to RyanAir. It took ages for the number of the check-in desk to appear on the airport information screens, and then having queued for over half an hour with no staff at the check-in desk, someone from RyanAir stated that they weren't expecting a flight to Poitiers today ! Bizarre, bearing in mind it's a daily flight. (Turned out that there are two separate divisions of RyanAir - clearly they don't communicate with each other). Still, you get what you pay for !
Not much to say about Poitiers Airport ('tis not very big, yet surprisingly, it still took over half an hour for the luggage to arrive at the carousel, especially when you bear in mind that the RyanAir flight was the only main flight of the day). Picked up the hire car, remembered to get in the left hand side, and remembered to drive on the right all the way down the N10 to Ruffec, where I turned off to go across to Saveille.
Saveille is a little hamlet just outside Paizay Naudouin, in the Charente departement. Sunflowers growing everywhere - not just single ones (like we used to grow for height competitions), but fields and fields of them. They're grown for the oil, which I'm told is also converted to fuel to run the buses.
I was pleased with myself, as I managed to find Saveille (and Mike and Helen's house) without needing the map. I had visited briefly in September 2002, and had clearly remembered my way around.
Helen was in the garden when I arrived - I would be spending many hours in the garden in the sunshine in the days ahead.
Got unpacked, and then Helen and I drove back across to Ruffec, where we were going to spend the evening at a wine tasting. This was being hosted by friend JaJa (pronounced ZsaZsa, as in Gabor) - no relation of that annoying Binks character in the 1st Star Wars prequel ! I was going to meet JaJa quite a few times during my two weeks in France - a fabulous lady. Mike had been at work, and had gone direct to the wine tasting, so this was the first opportunity I had to catch up with him. Can't believe it's two years since Mike retired, and he doesn't look a day older ....
Great selection of wines to taste, with (as you would expect in France) some super food. Met many new faces, including John and Treena, as well as Christophe (ex-Lloyds TSB) and his wife Jo. I was introduced to many others, but names escape me - sorry ! I accidentally trod on a dog, causing it to yelp out, but I couldn't tell whether it spoke French. I said "pardon" just in case it didn't understand "sorry". Not sure who owned it, but I guess it wasn't just gatecrashing. It just shouldn't have got under my foot !
What a great way to start the holiday.
Bastille Day - just like most other days, except we had a cannon going off at the chateau in Saveille. Still, it made a nice change from the cockerels.
It was neighbour Carl's birthday - a good excuse for a celebration (lunch in his garden) - and this was before the Bastille Day celebrations that evening in the Village Hall (Salle des Fetes) in Paizay Naudouin (PN). Grateful for the siesta in between !
Walked down to PN, for the dinner and dance. During the whole event, music was played along with video pictures on the wall of dancers from a completely different party. C'est France !
I think we left just after two in the morning, for the walk home. (Pete/Mark - it was definitely another one of those "look at all the stars above" moments). Could even make out the Milky Way ... and it didn't even ruin my appetite.
Thursday 15/07/04 - Sunday 18/07/04
A good lesson for my big trip - remember at the end of each day to write down what you've done ! Hence why I have grouped these days together. Oops.
Clearly I was beginning to chill out. Lazy mornings, lunch, lazy afternoons, lazy evenings. Fantastique. Just what the docteur ordered. Very glad that Mike and Helen had installed a swimming pool in the garden, as it was a refreshing contrast to the heat of the sun. Managed to finish reading my first holiday book - "Join Me" by Danny Wallace - appealed to my sense of humour. (Danny is a chum of comedian Dave Gorman - his "Googlewhack Adventure" show at last year's Edinburgh Fringe was a great success). Worthwhile getting a copy : £9.99 Ebury Press ! "Join Me" is the true story of a man who started a cult by accident - people didn't know what they were joining, they didn't know why they were joining, but joining they were. It's proof that whilst some people were born to lead, others really haven't got a clue. (Well, that's what is says on the cover!)
Two things particularly come to mind during this four day period. Firstly, JaJa coming into her element at the local TroisM (3MMM) shop, trying to sort out the extra wood that Helen and Mike needed to complete their garden decking. The other thing was a visit to Francis and Yvette's to collect two rabbits - it wasn't 'til Helen and I got to their house that we realised that Francis hadn't yet killed them. He breeds them for meat. Let's just say that Helen refused to take the heads ("the best bit" according to Yvette, although she used the French words), and I will have the vision of two rabbit skins with ears dangling, hanging over the top of the garden shed, in my mind for many months to come. Still, they were absolutely delicious, thanks to Helen's culinary skills !
"Down this road, on a summer day in 1944, the soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, a community which had lived for a thousand years was dead. This is Oradour sur Glane."
The above words are from the opening of the WWII epic TV series "The World at War", made by Thames Television in 1980. I know the series very well, owning the set of videos, and I was thinking of the words as I walked around this site.
The whole village has been set aside as a national monument, in memory of the 700 men, women and children, who were massacred by German forces on 10 June 1944.
The exhibition at the entrance to the site provides details of the horror that went on - I won't even start to try and provide more information here, as I know that I can't properly convey to you what happened. This area will never be rebuilt, and will remain as a permanent reminder of an inexplicable and cruel deed.
Sometimes, even on holiday, it doesn't hurt to think of what some people have endured in the continuing fight for peace and freedom.
Mike had to work again today, so Helen and I popped over to the town of Cognac - famous for the production of, .... yes, you're right .... cognac ! On the way back home, we visited the distillery shop of Guy Bonnaud, who provides the cognac for Hennessey's. Madame Bonnaud greeted us when we arrived. Helen told me afterwards of the shock on her face as I kissed her. Apparently, she normally only allows people to kiss her after the fifth meeting (and sometimes never !). Oh well, never mind. It tasted good (the cognac, I mean).
Another town to visit today - St.Jean-d'Angely. Arrived just in time for lunch, which ended up lasting about three hours, as we sheltered from a thunderstorm (even though we were sitting outside, on the whole we stayed dry).
In the evening, Mike and Helen's niece Charis arrived for a week's holiday. And more visitors were due to arrive tomorrow ....
Spent Jeudi at home - I was already a few days into my new book ("Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong" - explaining what makes the French so French), so was grateful for time sitting and relaxing.
Early afternoon, Alain and Birgit Laurent arrived from St.Omer. They were on their way to a family wedding further south, and were going to stay the night with us. Lots of news shared, and Helen produced a lovely meal (she admitted afterwards that she is always nervous cooking for Alain, bearing in mind his own culinary skills).
I think there's an opportunity here for an advert !
Hotel Saint-Louis, 25 Rue d'Arras, St.Omer, Phone 0321383521, www.hotel-saintlouis.com
All are guaranteed a friendly welcome (just mention this website !)
Friday saw three of us (Helen, Charis and me) heading for the historic town of Angouleme. Mike had to work again, and Alain & Birgit had headed off early in the direction of Bordeaux.
Walked up to the Cathedral, and down through the streets where we all met up again for a Crepes lunch.
Got home and found a message on my mobile that cousin Simon and Kate's baby had arrived at around lunchtime, and was named Isabelle Grace. Mother and baby well. Isabelle is the 6th great-grandchild of my Grandma.
The next two days were going to be tough. 2 big lunches to "cope" with !
Today we headed for the home of Christophe and Jo (who, if you have been reading this journal correctly, you will recall that I met them at JaJa's wine tasting on my first night). Christophe works with Mike - well, they sort of job share, so rarely work together. Made to feel very welcome. We're joined by JaJa, as well as another colleague of Christophe and Mike's, Stephanie, for a wonderful barbecue lunch. Helen then opts for a little siesta in the hammock - decision made to purchase one as soon as possible for Mike and Helen's own garden.
Two swims today, one in the morning and one in the evening. Good job too, bearing in mind the size of the lunch ! We were joining about 80 villagers in Embourie, sat at 3 large tables in what I would describe as the middle of a wood (well, really quite near the edge, but that would sound as though we were sat right at the side of the road !).
It seems that the Mayor and Mayoress host this lunch each year - and clearly, it's very successful. A great atmosphere. I was sat next to Jacque - a Catalan from Spain, but had lived in France most of his life. At the head of the table was Yvette (of the rabbits fame). A good mix of characters, ensuring a wide variety of conversations.
An apperitif of Sangria kicked things off, followed by Melon with Pineau. Pork with rice and veg was the main course. We were then served a plate of cheese with side salad. Fruit Salad (with more Pineau) and Charente Shortbread was next. Then, we were all given an ice cream. This was followed by coffee, and then all finished off with cognac and cassis. And all the time, copious amounts of red and rose wine were being served. The whole event lasted about five hours - amazing.
Needless to say we didn't have any supper that evening !
Hard to believe, but today (Monday) was going to be my last full day. And what a day it turned out to be. We decided to go across to La Rochelle on the coast - a lovely town, with a beautiful harbour area.
We sat overlooking the boats whilst we had lunch - we then decided on trying the boat trip. One was on offer for 1hr45mins at a reasonable price (only 12.5 Euros), and we all thought we would just be sedately sailing up and down the coast.
Well, as soon as we got clear of the whole harbour area, the throttle was opened up and we found ourselves on a hydrofoil-type boat ! When we got on the boat, most passengers were sitting in the uncovered area in order to benefit from the sunshine. Needless to say, the area cleared pretty swiftly as the water started to spray heavily over the boat. A few youngsters decided to stick with it, but even they gave up for the dryness of the sheltered part of the boat.
First landmark to be reached was Fort Boyard - originally a military fort, and then a prison, and apparently now owned by a television company. (We think they might've been filming there, as we did spot one or two people walking about on the roof).
We then stopped at Ile d'Aix (to allow passengers to get on or off) - this was where Napoleon spent his final years on French soil before being exiled in St.Helena.
We then whizzed back to town, again making sure we avoided the worst of the spray. After a further walk around town (where Mike and Helen found and bought a hammock), we headed for Chatelaillon-Plage - just a short drive down the coast, and where Mike and Helen now have an apartment (currently rented out). On the way there, we stopped off at Carrefour supermarket to buy a table and chairs for the apartment balcony.
Lots of people mingling around, and still (at 6.30) many people on the beach, still warm with the sun, with fantastic views across to the Ile d'Oleron.
Decided to have a meal at the Casino restaurant - yet again, the food was superb. We were sat under cover to protect from the wind that was slowly building, but we maintained the view across the bay. We also had free entertainment, from a saxophonist and glorified karaoke singer. (He started to sing some Beatles and John Lennon numbers when one of the waiters told him he had English/Scottish customers - "Imagine all ze peoples"....)
It took about an hour and a half to drive home (mostly taking a countryside route) - by which time it was dark. Listening to the Nostalgia radio channel on the way home, all singing along to various songs, including a French arrangement of "My Way".
Whilst glad to get home, I was really pleased that the last day had (like all the others) been really enjoyable. Didn't get chance for a swim, but the boat ride made up for that.
The two weeks had flown by, but it was time for me to fly home. Said my goodbyes to Mike, Helen and Charis, and drove back to Poitiers. Flight from Poitiers was uneventful, as was the flight back to Edinburgh, except for a delay, which (due to a fault with the PA system at Stansted) was poorly updated/communicated. Oh well, c'est la vie ! Finally got home, through my front door, just on 9pm.
I feel very lucky to have Mike and Helen as friends, and am extremely grateful as always for their kindness and hospitality. Merci beaucoup.
Now got just 3 days back in Edinburgh before heading off to Belgium ...
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014