Monday, 18 October 2010

Monday 11th October 2010: Ager to Zaragoza ESP.
We left Ager today to travel to Zaragoza. As tomorrow is a fiesta there, we thought it would be a good idea to get there a day earlier.


The parking places were too far away from where we wanted to stay, and so we opted for the city camping site. This way, we could use all of the facilities and it had wifi too, so that would be a bonus.

We parked up and went to catch a bus into the city centre. It was a 20 minute bus ride for 1 euro. When we arrived we followed the people who got off at our stop like sheep for a while, until we consulted the map. The map took us past a wonderful shop which made our eyes water. Here in this shop was Turron. Its a typically sweet spanish sweet which can either be hard of soft. Its made of almonds and nougat and is just wonderful. Usually we have the hard one at home, its the original, but here you could buy all the differnt varieties, and so we did - as presents of course! Ten boxes later and a bag of salted sunflower seeds, a a rucksack now buldging, we were ready to go and see the sights.

Passing an indoor market, we decided to have a look at the Spanish meats and hams. We passed a stall which had Bull meat for sale and two very round vacuumed packed spheres. I dont need to tell you what they were, but I told the Pilot that would be what his would look like if he wasnt good!

We arrived at the town centre and realised that everybody was here too. It was late in the afternoon and we arrived at the Basillica. It was huge! We wandered around for a bit and saw the statue of the Lady of Pillar before thinking of going to sit down for a beer. There was a queue going into a small chapel and I thought I would like to look inside it too. We were standing there for about 15 minutes moving very slowly, when the Pilot asked me what we were queuing for. As we were nearer the entrance, I could see people walking up to a man in the corner and then leaving with different coloured ribbons. We both looked at each other. We had queued in this queue for ages and now I wasnt quite sure what we would be getting at the end. Whilst the  Pilot held our place, I went to the back to ask what we were queing for. I was too embarressed to ask the people behind us! She said that we were queing for ribbons as a reminder of the fiesta. Im telling you, If we werent already so close, I would have left by now, but I did not want my time to be wasted. At least I would have a memory and a lesson learnt. Dont joing a queue unless you know what you are queuing for!!!

When we got there, I asked the man what the colours represented. He told me that they were the different colours of Our Lady's veil at different times of the year. I bought two, one for me and one for my mum, in the colours of the Spanish flag. The Pilot by now was well and truly tired, and so we went to have a drink and play some cards.

After eating most of the salted sunflowers, we went back to see the Basilica at night on our way back to the bus stop. It felt very Spanish to be out at this time and we arrived back at the campsite tired, but filled with the events of the day.
Sunday 10th October 2010: Ager ESP.
Rain again. It always come with the clouds. I hate them. We drove to the bar on the main road and sifted through the internet and caught up with emails. We spent some time inside, but then went out to the snail to use the Wifi inside. That is for a few hours because after a lady looked through the window at us, promptly cut off our wifi access. I suppose it was to be expected, you cant use the wifi if you dont buy anything. We drove off to have some supper and watch a movie.
Saturday 9th October 2010: Ager ESP.
Waking up in Spain was great and I decided to start my day by treading on sweet Spanish soil. I put on my running gear and started up the hill. Running through the countryside was amazing. There were little white flowers on my left and tall olive and almond trees to my right. The road I had chosen to run on was now showing me a slight incline and it was hard to continue at times. The only thing that kept me going was thinking how wonderful it would be to run down. And it was! My music was pounding through me and helped me to do what I had hoped to do.

Arriving back at the Snail, I saw the bakery was now open. After buying some bread I had a  quick look around the small village and managed to find some paragliding schools and make some contacts for the Pilot. Back at the snail we went off the meet the instructors at the local bar. With translations made, we drove up to the landing field where the Pilot fly twice and I tidyed up the Snail.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Friday 8th October 2010: Lourdes FR to Ager ESP.
I awoke with more questions than answers today and was no nearer to understanding the things that were to come. I walked back to the grotto in the morning and saw that there had already collected a few thousand people. There was to be a mass for the sick this morning, and people had collected toy celebrate mass together. I saw countless people in wheelchairs and countless people lying on wheeled beds. It was humbling to see all there people here hoping for a cure, hoing for some peace, hoping that they will get better. It was a bit too much for me. They receieved the sacramement for the sick, which involves administering some holy oil. I watched and sat on some cold steps to the left. I couldnt really see anything, but the people around me sang beautifully in French, whilst I hummed the tune as best I could to accompany them.

After the mass had ended I walked to the main gate. Last week in Trebes, I bought an old black and white postcard from 1909. It was of the gate and the statues behind it. Looking at the same view 100 years later, some things had changed, but they mostly remained the same. It was strange taking a photo of the same view and felt almost ghostly.

It was time to leave this beautiful place, and although I hadnt really found the peace I had hoped to find, it gave me time to think. Time to leave France and venture to Spain.


The drive over the Pyrannes wasnt as traumatic as I thought they would be and we arrived in Ager at night. Finding myself in a country where I could eventually communicate me was a great feeling, and because we stopped in front of a bar, I went in and ordered my favourite Spanish tipple. Its called Liqor 43 and it tastes very sweet and of vanilla. I have a picture of me at 3 years old holding the bottle to my lips, and the rest they say is history! t felt good to order something at the bar and have a chat with a few people. My words are understood here and its all I ever want.

Today's Pictures

A Day of contemplation

Thursday 7th October 2010: Lourdes FR. 
I always knew that today was going to be a special day for me, I just didnt realise how overwhelmed I would be by it all by the end of it.


Lourdes is a very special place for me, mostly for things that I cant really remember. The first time I came here was in 1980 with my parents and my then three year old little sister. I was about 6 years old and in my little life I was sick. No one could say what was wrong with me, I was just sick. My memories of that time are very sketchy and I can only remember certain moments. I remember going to school and not wanting to eat because it would make me ill. I remember being in infant school where the dinner lady would put a bucket next to me during the lunch hour. It was quite a traumatic experience to be than little and having to go through that experience. I also remember my mum having to come and watch me eat my sandwiches. It didnt matter, I knew I was going to be sick. I think thats why I cry as an adult when I am sick, deep down it triggers off something I cant explain. I also remember having a roast dinner one time at school and putting my fork into the potatoes and then putting the fork under the table and prising the food off onto the floor. I thought things were going well, until a little girl told on me, and I was sent to the serving hatch again to refill my plate. It was no good, all attempts to avoid food at school at this young age were in vain.

I dont remember too much about food at home. I do remember eating 'Ready-Brek' in front of a mirror, because I thought it give me an orange aura. There was an advert on the TV at that time which showed the children eating it and having this glow. And so, I would eat my breakfast in front of my dad's shaving mirror, trying to catch the glow. My Father would tell me that it was there on my ear and I tried to find it. He said, eat it quicker, and I did. It was actually quite an intimate father-child memory, but I would find myself ill a while later.

So in 1980, on the first trip to Spain to see family, we took a turn to Lourdes. Now, I have seen the old photographs, but I hvae no memory of being there. My Father is very passionate about telling me this story, but after they took me, I wasnt ill again. Coincidence? I dont know. All I know is that the little 6 year old girl I know was me, doesnt feel like it was me. I dont have the knowledge to be able to explain what happened. My Father tells me time and time again how special I am and how I was made better after that time. How can you explain that a 6 year old, who was sick all the time, suddenly wasnt sick anymore. He said that when we drove out of the Pyrannees into Spain, that I said I was hungry. Something obviously I would have never said before because he says that it struck him. Science will tell you that I have a dairy intolerance. As an adult, milk gives me a headache and a tummy ache. I know this as I have tried many, many times to pretend it isnt so, so perhaps that was to blame? Only that I continued to eat all the foods I had eaten before, including milk for many years to come without any effect. I dont really know what happened, and thinking about it makes me think it happened to another person. Anyway, there you go, and thats why this place is very special for me.

The shops outside the grotto are truly gruesome for me. I know that they have to make their money, but there are all sorts of 'souvenirs' to take with you. I am happy to buy a few bottles to take away the holy water, and maybe a postcard. But the rest of the stuff sold is just tacky. Mints, purses, key rings. Its almost like a side show. I get what I need and walk towards the gate.

There are thousands of people here today because today is a special feast day for Catholics. Its the Feast of the Rosary and many people have come here to celebrate this. I spend some time walking around and finally work my way to the grotto. I have been here since I was 6 years old. Once when I was 16 and finished school, another when I was 25 years old, and my parents managed to drive there for my birthday. The last time was with my parents in 2005. I have always come to this place with people and suddenly being by myself I felt very alone. Even though there were thousands here, they didnt know me, they didnt know my story, and so I did the only thing I thought would console me. I phoned my mum. She conforted my thoughts and retold the story. Although she calmed my thoughts, I needed a physical presence, and so I went back to the Snail and asked the Pilot to sit with me. I know it isnt really his thing, and I didnt want to ask him to do something he doesnt believe in, but he came with me and sat with me whilst I collected my many thoughts. It was hard to wrestle with them, and my understanding of them are still unresolved, but it was a quiet moment and I was very grateful for it.

I chose to stay there by myslef untill the night time procession. They took a statue of Mary around the paths and people, and myself, followed with candles. It was a very beautiful experience and I suppose because it was at night, it made it almost unworldly. It was a beautiful way to end a very stressful day, but the thoughts I had started to think would not leave me, and so I hoped to visit this place again the next day.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Time again to move on...

Wednesday 6th October 2010: Marseillette FR.
Its time for me to leave Marseillette, I have managed three days of writing, without sacrificing my outdoor adventures. It’s cold here today and the run this morning wasn’t as welcoming as it was yesterday, although I have gone further today and I still feel good. Day 3 off the sticks too. I just have to avoid all problems and confrontations and I should stay off them...eeep!


I spend the day tidying up the rooms I have used and wait for the Pilot to come and pick me up. He has a 6 hour journey before he gets here, and so I know I still have some time to do some things before he comes.

I know that as of tonight, I will be back to sleeping in a Snail instead of the King size bed I have been laying across like a starfish! I have missed the Snail, but I have been glad of the luxuries I have received here. It has been a good stop gap to give me time to think and time to be. It has been 10 weeks now and things have changed considerably. Not many things have stayed the same. We have about 10 weeks left, so I suppose we are halfway through -halfway through the adventures. I wonder what will happen next?


At about 3pm, I decide to cycle to Capendu. It looks really close on the map, so I suppose it will only take me 10 minutes. I look about a bit and realise that their is either nothing here, or I need to cycle a bit further in. I dont want to cycle for miles today and find nothing there like yesterday, so I hedge my bets for a bit and find a wee shop to buy some essentials.


The cycling away from the place you are staying always seems much better than the cycling back, it feels like an escape I suppose. But as I cycle back, there a a few steep hills. I get off my seat and cycle up them without stopping. I am proud of myself.


I get back and the Pilot sends me a message to say he will be here at midnight. Not quite what I had planned, but there you go. I spend the rest of the evening packing and cleaning the house as best I can.


I take a walk to the bins at about 7.30pm and realise how quiet the canal is. There is no one about, and Im rather sad that its my last night here. The night hasn't set in yet and the sunset has come and gone. I wonder whether this is twilight or dusk, but have no one to tell me. I head back as I know I have a few more things to do before I get picked up. Its been a good week and its time again to move from one place to the next. Spain here I come!

Turn right at the canal

Tuesday 5th October 2010: Marseillette FR. 
Ok, the preparation stages have been put in place, there is nothing left to do but start running again. I am a little excited as I get up from bed and find my running gear. I haven’t been running since the beginning of July and was wondering whether I was up to it with everything that I have been up to in the past few months. Putting my trainers on made me feel good and I went downstairs to start my run.

The start was easy, two downhill paths that set me off. Running along the canal wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I thought that after all the inflictions I have made to my body I would only be able to run for a few minutes, but 20 minutes later, I feel ok. There is not a soul around as I run up one side and back down the other. I know I will take my bike along this path later on today and think about the map I got yesterday.
I arrive back and have a good breakfast. It was a good start to a good day, and now, watching my washing blow on the line, I get back downstairs to finish some writing before planning the rest of my day.

After 12pm and a sandwich, I look at the map, and plan to cycle along the canal in the opposite direction. I head towards a place called Puicheric and hope its about the same distance as Trebes was yesterday. I have more time today as I don’t have to be back for anything, and so I take it within my stride. I am going at a steady pace mind you, and stopping every now and then to collect acorns and pine cones. I told you…its for my collage!

I get to a lock and instead of going over it to the other side of the canal, I turn left to look at the vineyards which seem to go on forever. It is an amazing sight. I cycle for a while and with the sun on my face, it feels just wonderful.

I go back onto the path, and a few cycles pass me as well as many boats and I get to another lock which catches my eye. Along the lock, the lock keeper has made sculptures out of wood and iron. This is definitely something I want to see. I cross the bridge and say hello to him. I think he is having a break as the locks are shut for lunch, so I don’t disturb him too much. I ask him if I can take photos and he seems happy. I hoped I would buy one but they range from 20 to 300 euros. I have 3 euros on me. Not good!
She needs a bit of 'organising'


He has a naked woman on a bike and a man who pees into a toilet. There must be a sensor, because as I pass it, the woman starts cycling and he starts peeing. By the way, she needs to get organised by my reckoning. Bit too much ‘down there’. There is a crocodile made out of wood by the canal and one made our of bike chains at the top. I almost wish I could make something here too, but I know I have a ride in front of me so I leave.




I get to a small bridge and sit on a very old bench, which has been weathered by time. I sit on and wonder how many other people have chosen to rest here and see the view. It is a perfect place I feel to call my mum and dad. They are having soup for lunch and watching TV. As always it’s lovely to hear their voices.



















I cycle about 10 minutes into the village and follow the big tower which appears to be a church. After locking my bike in the kid’s playground, I walk up the steep hill to the top. When I try the door and find it is closed, I feel like I have cycled here for nothing. The village looks deserted and I wonder if anyone lives here. I walk to the local shop. It has boards up. I walk to the newsagent - closed as well. Im starting to feel thirsty now and am a bit ticked off I didn’t being anything to drink. I usually do, but being away from the snail, I don’t have the things I need to cater for my mini bike adventures. I try not to think about it, but I find I am getting thirstier. I wonder if I swallow continuously this with quench my thirst. It doesn’t. I ask an old lady if there is a bar in the village and she directs me. I get my bike and cycle there, now feeling quite parched. I am almost tempted to knock on someone’s door and ask them for a drink of water, but don’t. I get to the bar and see three women eating their lunch. I peer in through the door that says ‘open’ and ask them if they are. They say curtly. ‘No’. I ask them if I can have a drink, they say ‘No’. I signal to my throat that I am parched, but they say the same thing. I JUST WANT A BLOODY DRINK! They go inside and shut the door, which leaves me talking in the top of my voice about manners and a hundred things I can’t remember, but I said my point. So there I am, an hour’s cycle away, with nothing to drink here, and nothing to drink on the way. I wonder if I could suck some grapes and they would give me enough liquid to satisfy me. I think otherwise.
Then it occurs to me that with all this traffic at the canal, that’s what is needed, a bar at every lock. Why has no one thought of this, you could make a packet! I could then cycle and sip an orangina in the cool shade instead of cycling home with my throat as dry as a desert.

Walnuts inside, but if you touch them they
stain your hands brown for over a week!
I reach another lock and see lots of boats waiting and smell a very familiar smell. I look down and under my wheels are some walnut cases. I remember doing this in Slovenia in August and having stained brown hands for nearly 2 weeks. Today I have a bag, two bags actually. I crush them with my trainers and collect them in a bag. A French lady who is waiting to go through the locks asks me what I am doing and I tell her. She doesn’t think they are walnuts and goes to ask an old man who has also come to watch the boats pass through the locks. She tells me that he said they are Japanese Walnuts. They are walnuts all the same and I’m not getting stained fingers again!!

 I get back and drink two large glasses of water and hope that the water is ok to drink as I was given bottled water the other day. I don’t care and I sit out in the sun on the patio and read my book for a while.












Turn left at the canal

Monday 4th October 2010: Marseillette FR. 
Autumn is here
After a good nights sleep, I decided that an adventure on my bike was a good idea. This week I had planned to ‘get back to businesses, in other words, get back to eating well and doing things well, including my running. I needed a few days of preparation and after a good healthy breakfast, it gave me the incentive to continue. Taking the first step is always hard. Continuing it is easy because you have already started! So, after this, I took my bike and turned from Marseillette towards a town called Trebes.

Cycling along the canal path was blissful, especially as there was not a soul about. I remembered that it was Monday and contemplated on my previous Monday Mornings over the past few weeks. Looking around me the colours have definitely changed. The lush summer green has been replaced by an autumnal orangey-brown. This can only mean one thing. The passing of one moment to the next- I must remember summer!
As I continue along the path, I meet a few cyclists and people passing on their boats. I wave to the ones on the water and greet the ones who pass me with an enthusiastic ‘Bonjour’ as our paths cross. I pass three bridges, all very different the one before. They all seem to lead from the vineyard on my left to the owner’s home on my right over the canal. They look busy and I can only assume the grapes that have been picked are starting their transformation process from solid to liquid.

I continue further still, knowing that the journey is going to take me about 45 minutes if I don’t stop. I’m not really interested in the destination, although that is obviously I’m heading. I want to be able to cycle at my leisure and stop when I want to. I know this drives the Pilot mad, because he is the complete opposite. I know he is happy when I keep up with him and I like it when he keeps up with me.
I stop to take some photos of the tiniest mushrooms I have ever seen! They are in the middle of the path and are growing in small family clusters! I wonder how they haven’t been squashed already, but marvel at their intricate patterns.

After this, I can see that the lock is not far away and am happy that it is the three step one. I watch in awe as the boats are lifted by the rising water and then they are able to sail towards the next lock. I stop to watch all of these things happening whilst an elderly man, with bright white hair stops to talk to me.  He is smoking a cigarette and looking down my top every few seconds as we converse in French. I pretend not to notice, but continue talking to him; I suppose men never grow out of that…looking at a woman’s breasts!

I finally get to Trebes, and remember that things slow down and shut between 12pm and 2pm. Its gone 12pm! I wander around the streets looking at the fish restaurant and wondering how much it would cost to eat a crab in there. I cycle on and park up to explore the rest of the area on foot. I attempt to start at the tope of the town, but realising that the church is down a side road I abandon all thoughts of my mission. That is until I come across a sign which detains me for quite a while. It says ‘English Bookshop’. Well, what else could I do but go inside!

The door was initially locked, but the lady inside; closely followed by her dog, let me in. After conversing for a while I got to the task of searching through the books. There were many I would have liked to buy, but I looked through each once carefully. I chose one about a lady who had given up her life in England to live in the French Pyrenees between France and Spain. I hoped that it would give me the inspiration to do something similar.

I then sifted through old postcards which ranged from 100 years ago to the 1980’s. I chose two black and white ones, one of Lourdes; I hope to compare the picture later on this week, and one of some Barracks. A brother had written to his sister at 1908, describing his trip in a ‘motor’. By the sounds of it, he was having a great time. I suppose men never stop wanting adventures do they? And women? I suppose they help their men achieve them. I wonder if their appreciate it?

I leave this bookshop after about an hour and try to find the church I had initially planned to see. Unfortunately, when I get there quite a wind has picked up and the door is locked until 2pm. I wonder whether there is a point in cycling to the supermarket beforehand, and chose to go. The supermarket is empty and it seems that all the workers are restocking the shelves. I get a few items, knowing that my rucksack is already heady and head with my tomato juice to the checkout.

I go outside to find that it has started to rain, which is not good. I know that I still have to make it up the hill to the top of the town, and the wind has started to pick up properly now. So, the wind and the rain smatter into me as I change the gears on the bike to ease my ride. I see a random jigsaw piece on the floor and start thinking about my own life. Wouldn't it be simple if you could find a piece like this and everything would be all right again. the missing piece to your jigsaw puzzle. My brain starts ticking over for another story!

Once at the church, I huddle at the doorway in order to shelter from the elements. It works for a while, and I look at my phone and see that it is 13.40. Still another 20 minutes to go! I resign myself to the wooden door behind me, and I hear the huge lock turn and a man open the door. My prayers have been answered! I am grateful to this early opening and go inside to spend some quiet time in contemplation. This church is quite homely and I am pleased that I waited to get inside.

I have yet to find a church that moves me. So far, I have only found two. The ‘Sacre Coeur’ in Paris and the ‘Basilica’ in Lourdes. The Basilica at Lichen in Poland was stunning though, with all those angels. I suppose, then I would have to add that to my list, but the countless others, and I have seen a fair few, they don’t have what I am looking for. What am I looking for? I’ll tell you when I find it. It is that indescribable feeling of beauty. No words are necessary.

I look around the church and find a statue of Mary holding Jesus as a baby. The statue is lovely and there is something quite reverent about it. The child in his mother’s arms is held carefully, and her fingers seem to cradle the baby with care and attention. It is in the hands that it depicts the love for me. I move along and after lighting a candle, I find my mum’s favourite saint. It is St Anthony of Padua, and I always rub his feet when I see him. I always remind me of my mum. It’s a different one than the ones I have seen before though. The infant Jesus he is carrying usually looks outwards, but this one is different. This one is more soul searching. This infant is gently touching the face of St Anthony as they look at one another. It is very intimate and you can see a special relationship there. It makes me cry, and then tears I have held in for so long pour out. I sit in the small chapel and think about all the things going around in my heart. I am searching for peace and I am searching for happiness and I wonder how long these things will take to arrive. I feel some solace sitting in that empty church, but I am aware that I am alone, and nothing will change that feeling.
I leave the church and walk back along the quiet streets back to the bike. It has now stopped raining, but the wind is still cold. I retrace my steps along the canal and I see that the autumnal colours lift my spirits somewhat.

I make a bacon and mushroom pie, topped with mashed potatoes after a quick snooze on the patio. I am tired this evening, and wonder if another early night will do me good. ‘One hour before midnight is worth two after’ apparently, I close my eyes after reading my new book and listen to the wind blowing outside.

Ferme

Sunday 3rd October 2010: Marseillette FR. 
After three alarms going of on my phone, I managed to wake up before 9.00am. I knew that today was Sunday, and I was hoping to get some divine intervention, so I prepared myself to walk to the village church.
As I asked an elderly lady who came out of her house where the church was, all she said was ‘Ferme’. ‘Closed?” I said back to her ‘Today? On a Sunday?’ ‘Ferme’ she repeated. I asked her for the directions anyway, I would sit inside and look around, that would have to be enough. I walked up the stairs to the church to find the door firmly locked. Disappointment set in. The weather was looking a bit cloudy and the wind was picking up. I looked at the notice board to see when the next ‘opening’ would be. Nothing this week at all, and nothing to tell me of next week either. In the next town along there would be something at 10.30am, but I knew that it was 45 minute cycle ride away and I wanted to make that journey tomorrow when the weather was better and I could cycle at my leisure and not get stuck in the rain.

I walked back slowly to the house and found the bread van. My pastry breakfast was eaten along the way and the chocolate felt sweet in my mouth as I ate the corners last. I resigned myself to reading my book and catching up on more writing, punctuated by a bit of painting in-between.

It was a long day and I managed to get a lot done in the space of a short time. By the end of the day I was just purely exhausted. Going to bed early was a good decision and I was able to finish my book in the warmth of the duvet.

A quiet day of catch up

Saturday 2nd October 2010: Marseillette FR. 
I don’t seem to respect my alarm clock anymore, even though I set two. Maybe I need to trigger off the snooze facility again. The best laid plans of mice and men…and girls by the sound of it!

I was warm under the duvet when I finally realised the consequences of the events from yesterday. It was quiet. There was no other breath or movement in the room. As much as I didn’t want it to, I was plunged into the same ache I had started to feel yesterday evening. I looked at the clock and was now cross with myself because it was 9.36am and I had set my alarms for 7.30am and 8.30am respectively so I could visit the bread van down the bottom of the hill. I had about 20 minutes before it would leave. I resolved myself to get dressed properly when I returned and pulled on what I had on yesterday before walking to get two large baguettes and two pain au chocolat.

Breakfast was a quiet affair. No one to wait for me or I for them. I hated it, and knew that it would be only the first of many. I took the book which I have started to read outside and sat on the patio to eat the first meal of the day. The book at least allows me to escape into another world for a brief moment before returning to mine. Its called ‘The Glass Painters Daughter’ by Rachel Hore. I am up to Chapter 15 and it is all about a woman who returns back to her Father’s Home because he had suffered a stroke, someone she hasn’t seen in 12 years. She has been away travelling and playing in Orchestra’s in different places. She returns to discover that fragments of a  stained glass window that was destroyed in WW2 has been found, that together with a journal, she is starting to piece together their lives as well as that of her own. Im about half way through and it is quite good. It is helping me with the structure of my own book I can see that there are teasing references of something that the author knows, but is not letting on to the reader. The author leads you to read more by giving you a clue and then providing you with another before you can grasp the first one. It’s a bit like having berries enticing you along a path so you get nearer and nearer until….well, you’ll either be captured, or you’ll find the treasure at last. A huge metaphor for me at the moment!!

So, after catching a quick shut eye on the sofa I have moved to, I am reminded by my friend that I can’t spend all day sleeping and so I resolve myself to wade through the month of no writing and try and piece together each day from the last month. It is a momentous task, and I wonder if it is going to allow me to see things from a different light. Like stained glass windows which shine differently at different times of day, I wonder if things that have come to pass will too look differently. I plunge into my writing, hoping to find answers to the incessant questions I ask.

I spend the rest of the day writing and by the time 18.00 comes, I have caught up on a weeks writing. Only three more weeks to catch up writing about and then I will be there.I do not want to wade through this much stuff again. The problem is that when I have this much stuff to write about about, I'm just telling you what I did, rather than asking you to listen to me while I share the experience. For me it is a pointless task telling you. I want you to imagine you're there with me! And I can only do that if I write about it the same day when my memory and feelings are freshly experienced!

My friend returns from working and I try my hand at making an omelette and it goes well for supper with chips. Watch a bit of TV to wind down and then its time for bed.

I sit in bed ready to continue reading my book and I find that the light above it needs moving to a different angle. Warning: Never touch a red hot halogen bulb. I’m lucky it wasn’t my right writing hand! As I attempted to twist the light into a different direction, I took hold of the glass part with my thumb, and I swear it has melted my thumb print off. If I was cross going to bed, then this made me feel even more pissed off. After running it under a cold tap for a few minutes, and going back to move the light with the plastic end, I continued my escape in my book until sleep took over.

The Pain of Separation

Friday 1st October 2010: Marseillette FR. 
I didn’t know when I woke up this morning that I would be ending it by myself. If I did, I would have done things differently, but knowing me, I would have probably done them all the same. Today is the first of the month and it has been two months now since we left the UK to follow the good weather. The nights are starting to draw in which means we will have to start our grand exit into Spain. It makes me feel a little sad, because I know that Spain means that we are at the last country.

I have learnt so much in these past 9 weeks, mostly about myself. I never thought that a trip like this could wring out your very emotions. Or maybe that is just my experience of it all. I wonder what paths I could have taken if only I had reacted differently, or if things had been said to me differently. I will never know. The paths I have taken cannot be retaken. It can only help me build upon my future paths.


After lazily reading my book on my friend’s sofa, I decided to have a shower. The warm water rushing over me is always a sigh of relief. Although the Snail has a shower, we have to use the water frugally. No standing underneath it whilst the water runs away. Switch it off when you’re washing your hair etc. But this, this is just bliss.

After getting ready, the Pilot suggests we take a walk around the canal. It is music to my heart and ears, and after a small lunch of bread from the bread van this morning, and our figs foraged a few days ago, we set off.
The jackets we both brought were not needed and we ended up carrying them all along the way. The silent, methodical walk, arm in arm seemed to correspond to the beating of my heart. Which each step that we took along the path, each beat put right a thousand woes. I knew that we were to be parted for a week after this day, and although I wanted to savour the moment, it was all I could think about.
We walked for about an hour, gazing at the wonders that were adorned along the canal side. We saw countless tiny lizards dart from left to right before disappearing into a hidey-hole. We saw a multitude on ants, all busy doing something, climbing from this strand of grass to that, even falling of to drop on the ground. They were brilliant to watch, until we saw some trying to explore the Pilots leg and so we moved on our way.
By now, we had approached a lock and a boat was already in the inside. It was waiting for the water level to drop sufficiently and then it would pass through. I made a mental note to see if I could cycle this path over the coming week when the wind would be in my hair and the sun on my back. We watched curiously as the boat left and another one came, this time, the process would be reversed, they would have to wait until the water level rose inside the lock. It was an age old process that I had experienced for the first time. We watched as the second barge resumed its journey and we resumed ours.

We continued to walk once more, and stopping only a few times to pick two figs and look at the water pump for the boats. Each footstep that brought us closer to home filled my heart with pain. I knew that once we were there, the inevitable steps would be taken that would lead to our separation. Even though it would only be for a week and it would both allow us to catch up on my writing and his flying. It took all of my efforts not to tell him to take me with him. I would have to cope with the pain of separation, in the knowledge that when reunited it would strengthen us. Strengthening is a hard process. You have to go through many levels before it can be achieved. And we have been through many levels so far. I wonder how many more are left to endure?
After a dinner of the fish he had caught at the Gorges, and some chips, we said our goodbyes and parted. The ache that ran through my body after just a minute of parting told me that this was going to be a long week. Memories filled my thoughts and I felt the photo inside my jacket that I had borrowed from the Snail. It was taken last New Years Eve in Poland. That night danced in my heart, and still does. I went back inside subdued, both wanting to be by myself and wanting to be in company. The mindless occupation of the TV in my mind helped to pass the hours ahead, but I knew that I would not go to sleep before I knew he was safe. 6 more hours of driving and he could rest, and then so would I.

I visited the balcony on various occasions to look at the bright stars in the black filled night. They sparkled, but never shot out. It’s the one thing I look at upon a starry night, to see a shooting star, but as yet, the one Im looking for hasn’t appeared. I know it will. I have hope in that one.

I prepared for sleep after knowing that The Pilot had arrived safely, and wandered off into my dreams once more that would not make sense when I would eventually awake.


Need more practise!

Thursday 30th September 2010: Marseillette FR. 
It was cold again waking up in the Snail. We have got to start moving south where the mornings are much better and we don’t have to worry about turning the heater on. I can’t actually believe that it is the end of September already; it has certainly left a mark in places never walked upon. I have travelled far, but I still have a great deal to learn, and a great deal of things that I have learnt to practise.

The Pilot was supposed to go off for a few days flying today, but he wind has changed. It’s much stronger than originally forecasted and because he doesn’t know the terrain or the landing and take off’s too well, he has decided against it. Its one of the things I admire about him, as passionate as he is about flying, he does not throw all caution to the wind and just goes off unprepared. He is careful and methodical in his thinking, he will sit on the computer getting ‘organised’ (although not my meaning of being organised as you know!!). He will study maps and weather forecasts. He will look at previous flights from here to there. He thinks I don’t know what he has to do, but I do. Probably not to the extent of what he knows, but I know it takes time to prepare a flight. That’s why when he hurts himself it makes me feel worried. Seeing his wounds heal now from a few weeks ago, still make me wince. I hope they are the only ones he will receive.

We leave to make the hours journey back to Marseillette, stopping at McDonald’s first for the free wifi and then to a Petrol Station to finally fill the gas bottle with LPG after days of searching for both a pump and an adapter to fit the Snail.

Upon arrival, the clouds have changed and things once again are much colder. They seemed to have turn at a moments notice, and now I have to ride it out. I go and sit by the canal on a metal bench which hugs my resting place. In front of me, I see just water, before a huge boat spoils my peace, or so it had seemed. I spy the people on board and listen to their American accents. I will try and speak to them, I think to myself if they come on dry land, which they do and I do. We exchange basic histories and purposes of both our trips. Whereas they have three weeks, I have another 11 in front of me. Even with more time in front than behind, I suddenly feel that time is getting shorter and I must remember to make the most of it, just in case this is the only trip. I hope it won’t be, but the clouds can change so quickly and where once you were warm, you now feel a chilly wind. Although the hope that I cling to is that after that, there will always be the sun again.
I watch as my four new neighbours ride along the path to explore what is here. Not knowing the place too well myself, I share what knowledge I have, in the hope that they will stay awhile, and see the place. I take to my writing once more hoping to find inspiration from the people and the water, only my hands are now cold and I am desperate for the toilet. I have sat on this bench now for nearly two hours and with the cold, its all I can think about.

My American neighbours return after their exploration and decide that they are going to travel on further along the river. I chat for a little while with one of the ladies. She has a kind face and warm eyes. She talks lovingly about her life and family at home and about their trip. She asks searching questions and I volunteer them. Its funny how you can share some information with strangers, but the ones who know the most about you, you are the most guarded. Maybe it’s because they know too much from you. Maybe it’s because of a hundred and one reasons. But strangers seem to extract a plethora of information from you, some even information you had guarded from yourself.

They soon leave, after we have said our goodbyes and wished each other well for the trips. I watch a lady take a photo of me from under my glasses surreptitiously, and I wonder what that would look like – a woman writing on a bench, in front of a canal, with the cemetery behind her. I am pleased that somewhere in the future, I will play a part in the recounting of a moment in time where people met. A bit like my story: ‘Oh yes, this is…. We met them at…..they came from …’

I look at the lovers passing by hand in hand and I am happy for them. I hope that their walk is filled with love and laughter before returning to my thoughts. The clouds clear unexpectantly, which makes me turn for home. It gives me hope that the sun will eventually, with patience, come through the clouds.

I return to my friend’s house and chat to her before thinking about making dinner. I have in my mind to make Spanish omelette, or Tortilla as we call it. It hasn’t been made for a while now, and the more I think about it, the more I decide to make it. We are probably chatting for about an hour before we hear a knock at the downstairs apartment. He says that dinner is ready, and I wonder what he has made. When I climb the steps, I see a circular yellow and golden potato cake in front of me. He had made the one thing I was going to make. It was almost unbelievable, but also very real. A silent meaningful squeeze from his hand to mine, were all the words I needed to hear.

The rest of the evening played out as they did. The Pilot had his things to do on the computer, on so I spent the rest of the evening with my friend in her downstairs apartment. My friend and I are two of three. The three of friends met each other in the same place where we all lived about 20 years ago. We are all very different, we all do and say different things. But the love I have for them spans the 20 years. Whilst we were talking that evening about many, many topics and over many, many glasses of red wine and biscuits and eventually marmite on toast, we came to many conclusions and no solutions. She reminded me that people are different. When faced with a brick wall in front of them, people do different things. She said that if she had a brick wall in front of her, she would smash through it. Our other friend would create an intricate ladder system to get over it, and me? Well, I would look at it and start crying. And then I would probably either draw it, or write about it so I couldn’t understand it better. How amazingly clear is that! Now I wonder whether any of our processes are wrong? Or whether it is with a combined effort of using the combined ideas that things actually work? I shall have to ponder about this a bit more I think! The evening I had with her was just great. We both talked from the heart and it left me feeling very close to her. Two people who are miles apart in their thinking were joined by their thoughts that night. I loved it.

I went to bed listening to the regular breathing and searching for the many things I had misplaced in my life. They are now within my reach, if only I would be brave enough to extend out my hand and grasp for it. 

Archangel Feast

Wednesday 29th September 2010: Marseillette FR.
If I was back in the UK, still working at the school, today would have been a very busy day - the Feast Day of St Michael, Raphael and Gabriel - The archangels. I wonder what they are doing today. But I am not there and things go on regardless in my absence. You remember the first time when things are different, the next time you don’t have that memory, until there are only a few times when someone will say ‘Do you remember when…’ I know, I said it many times. I suppose when you work in a place like that for many years you are bought to make an impact on things. I know that ultimately I did and I did make my mark. But leave I had to, to make my mark on aspects of my life I had, up until now, only ever dreamt of. It’s like my writing. Having gone to creative writing classes for a year, I had the confidence to say that I was good at what I was doing. It took me time to share mind you. It was only in the safe nest of my writing buddies, and our teacher that I grew enough to take those first tentative steps. It was a good time.So am I a writer? I write, so therefore I suppose I am a writer. Have I published anything or received any money for my writing? No, so does that make me any less of a writer. I know I was a teacher because I did it and I got paid.  I know I am a runner because I can put on my gear and start running and have run in a few races. If you do something, then does that mean that you are it? Maybe it is the length of time you spend at something. I am not a builder, even if I spend a day cutting up wood, but over time, if I practise my craft, then I shall be one. So I suppose I am a writer, and for now, my dreams are to write whilst looking over a lake, the white curtains swaying in the gentle evening breeze as my laptop keys are pressed rhythmically, or listening to the water lap at my toes whilst my pencil scribbles furiously with an idea that is all consuming.
Today, we left the warmth of the apartment of Marseillette to drive an hour away to Peyrolles, to see some beautiful Gorges of Galamus http://www.perillos.com/galamus.html and have a picnic for lunch and a BBQ for supper. We arrived, with our friend and her boyfriend to the vast mountainous range after another hour of curving along the French villages and towns. The view was truly amazing, and the Snail could only take us so far because of the width and height of the road ahead. After parking up and enjoying our picnic, we set off for the sunlit afternoon walk. The view was incredible, although a little scary. Every now and then the Pilot would take me by the hand and lead me to the edge where the sheer drop was intense. I held onto my hat and sunglasses for fear that they would drop down to be lost forever in the valley below us. The road curved around and we saw cars driving tightly against the mountain side and pass other cars in the opposite direction with care. I have a fear of driving along roads like this. I remember a few weeks ago being petrified as we drove from Italy to Saint Andre les Alpes. With every car that approached up, I imagined skidding and plunging over the cliff to our deaths. Cheery though isn’t it? When you have to think about this at every curve, and there are about a million, it is enough to turn my legs to jelly and I would rather walk than be subjected to this trauma. But endure it I do, with the occasional stroke of the hand and kind word from the Pilot, I can get through to the other side.

We continue along this road for a while longer, walking and stopping to admire the view. My friend then tells me that she has a secret for me, and although I try to persuade her to tell me, she doesn’t. We split up from the boys and she takes me to steps which seem to descend underground. I relish the fact that this adventurous act will bring me somewhere wondrous. It does.

At the bottom of the stairs is a tiny chapel dedicated to St Antoine. I look about me and see my favourite lady, my namesake, and see St Bernadette kneeling before her. The kneeling girl has cobwebs nestled in her face and hands and I wipe them away carefully before planting a kiss on her head. I wonder if this will continue to protect me, but I do this regardless of the outcome. There is also another statue of a woman gazing into a mirror with a blindfold on, and I wonder who this is and what the sculpture represents. Before long, I am lead into the chapel and spend some time in quiet contemplation. I leave and rub the foot of St Anthony of Padua. It’s a thing I always do as I think of my mum when I do this. We leave by the same steps because it is closing time and the man in charge holds a 2 ft key in his hand and I think he is eager to get home.

As we approach the Snail, The Pilot spies some fish and wonders how easy they would be to catch. They are just sitting in the pool and not really moving about. He takes his fishing gear and bite we bought on Monday to see how successful he can be. After catching one, the rest of them continue to look at him and his rod, don’t really move away, but are not really enticed. Maybe they wanted a different worm? Anyway, with our one fish for supper, and the thought that night is slowly approaching, we travel back through back to Peyrolles.




We are told that we are passing Rennes-les-bains, and that there is a hot spring that falls there. It is slowly approaching night and we walk to the spa in the night whilst avoiding bats displaying their flying overhead. I keep moving after listening to a story about how one person was hit in the back by a flying bat, obviously their radar system failed them at the crucial moment. We are led to the place to bath, and the Pilot, who had already changed into his swimming gear steps from rock to rock before stripping off and bathing himself in the hot waters.  Knowing that I am still getting over my cold, I am reluctant to enter the bath fully, so decide that my feet will receive the spa treatment instead. The water was deliciously warm in the cold night air. I watched as the Pilot placed his head under the flowing hot water and how it splashed around his shoulders and chest. It was a glorious sight, I can tell you. I’m sure it didn’t take me a couple of seconds to pull out my camera and capture this memory. I am only sad that the battery ran out as he was getting dressed and I only managed to get a back view. But it was enough! It made my night! Who wouldn’t want their man frolicking half naked in the moonlight? He told me that he would have done exactly the same thing if I had been in the water, so I suppose we both have that in common! Anyway, enough of that!

We drove back to Peyrolles, where we shared a most wonderful BBQ together. We had roasted leg of lamb which had been seasoned and marinated. It tasted wonderful and with the roast potatoes, vegetables and sauce that went with it, it was sublime. I was stuffed, but managed to fit more in. So much for reaching the end of my belt, I think it will all go back on again after this meal!

All in all, it was an angelic end to an angelic feast day. And feast we did!


Playing at the seaside and finding crabs

Sunday 26th September 2010: Carnon, Nr Montpellier FR. 
Saying sorry is hard. Accepting it is hard. Moving on is hard. But what else is there? When I listen to my heart, I know that there is only one thing to do in these situations. That’s just move on. ‘Siempre para adelante’ ‘Always move forward.

After breakfast, we decided to see how far away we were from the beach. It was a hot day already, and we were on foot. I wondered how far it could be, but I was glad to be holding his hand, his fingers entwined in mine. We passed boats of the marina which looked very expensive, as we approached further into the Marina, each one looked even more ostentatious as the first.

We got to a parade of shops and found that the first one was a little fishing one. The Pilot bought a box of bait whilst I stood well back. We would have to carry this around with us now! There were a variety of shops, but being Sunday and nearly 12pm, I was wondering how long they would stay open for and if they would be back at 2pm.

We managed to find our way to the beach with a map, and it was just fantastic. I removed my flip flops to feel the hot sand under my feet. This looked like a good sunbathing place. We headed off to the rocks to see what we could see. We climbed over them and made our way to the side where we found lots of mussels. Dinner I thought! We then went to the side to try and see what kind of mussels were there, bigger I had hoped, although they were covered with a beard of seaweed! I placed my foot in the water and started searching for some crabs I thought I had seen. All of a sudden, I felt something tugging at my foot. When I looked down I screamed! It was a pink and brown octopus, its head about the size of my fist. The Pilot came to my aid and grabbed the sick he had been carried and it wrapped itself around it like a snake. I managed to get the plastic bag out just in time to try and get it in, but it slipped off and was now trying to get away. Quickly I tried to pick it up with my hand, but the slippery aliveness of it just made me squeal even more. Both of us squealed at each other to ‘PICK IT UP, PICK IT UP’ But both of us were too squeamish, and the octopus was just trying to get away by this point. The Pilot took the bag and covered the octopus and sealed the bag as quick as he could. We were both laughing at the excitement of it all. We could have been two 8 year old children excited over the past few minute’s events. Now, if we had had a bucket at this point, the next thing wouldn’t have happened! We watched as the octopus poked a leg through the plastic bag and then inserted a second, and with that, his HUGE bulbous body was emerging and he dived onto the rocks and plopped into the water. We both stared at each other with wide eyes and even wider mouths whilst we both continued to squeal even more. We weren’t even making sense to each other anymore. We just kept saying how creepy it was and just laughing. It was gross, but it was brilliant!

The rocks that we had been walking on in bare feet were just crucifying them. Every step was painful and by now, my feet were throbbing. I should have brought my crocs!

It was then, we had a plan. Go back to the Snail. Get what we need, bikini, shorts, a bucket and catching stuff equipment. We would spend the day catching crabs, mussels and trying to find the Octopus that had grossed us out as much! We walked back as quickly as we could back to the Snail and got as prepared as we could do. We packed a bag with crab catching equipment, which consisted of our skewers and a huge bowl. We cycled back to the shop hoping to buy a bucket and the snorkel set I had seen in the window, but the shop had now closed for the rest of the day. We would have to make do with the basic equipment we had.

Back on the rocks, we collected a bag full of mussels before preceding the crab catching. Between us we made a good team. We would call to each other if we found one and try to prise it out of its hidey place. We spent a few minutes limpetting ourselves the rocks as the waves crashed around us. And then I heard him call. He had found one, but he couldn’t get it out. Between us we pushed sticks, and a washed up log to manoeuvre it out. For about 15 minutes this continued until it was out. And what a monster! We placed it in our bowl and covered it feeling pleased for ourselves, before we went off again. We managed to catch another one before the day was out. We were glad to have something under our feet to protect us from the sharp jagged rocks.

We tried to look in the same place for the rogue escapee octopus, but it obviously had better sense and had long gone. I kept checking down at my feet though, just in case it tried to catch me!!
When we had finished and our backs and limbs were sore from the day’s events, I wanted to just relax by the waters edge and collect shells. I don’t know what it is about collecting shells. It’s a very childlike quality that I have, but you can never seem to collect enough. There is always another one that outshines the first, and before I knew it, my pockets and hands were filled. ‘For the nature shelf’ I would say to myself which would eventually lead to the ‘collage’ I’m going to make with everything I have collected.

The Pilot was reluctant to go with me, which upset me a bit and so I left, to wander the beach alone. I got to the other end of the water’s edge and looked at the people on the rocks. Here were many fishermen who were obviously trying their luck at a fishy supper. I saw people together and was sad that I was alone to witness this and had no one to share it with. I cursed myself at not bringing my yellow crocs so that I could climb the rocks and see what was there. I looked up and could see a familiar shape through the sun in my eyes. There, dangling in the palm of his hands were my crocs. He had walked over to where I was and I suddenly felt very important. Not in my eyes, but in his. It’s all that I want. It’s all that I ever wanted. Who doesn’t? To feel loved and to feel important in the eyes of the person you love.

It was time to go, and although I could have been there until night time, I was appreciative for the extra time the Pilot had given me in order to stay a bit longer. So, we cycled back with our two crabs, our bag of mussels and planned to have a sausage BBQ with some homemade chips. Yummy!

On arrival back to the Snail, I realised that in order to eat the crabs, we would have to cook them, and to cook them we would have to kill them. Suddenly I wasn’t too happy about this. I boiled the water ashamedly and when the water was hot enough. I watched the Pilot put the crabs in the water, the whole time I was telling them ‘sorry’. They turned pink almost at once which surprised me. We abandoned the idea of mussels after the ‘seaweed beard’ that they had were almost impossible to remove from the shells and so we resigned ourselves to just eating the crabs as a starter. The next 20 minutes were filled with the most ‘mmming’ and ‘ohhhh’ that you can imagine without the lights off! We both stood by the cooker as we ate those crabs with the most gusto you can imagine. They were just delicious! The only time we had tasted something that good was about 6 months ago in Wales, when we had Welsh lamb from the BBQ. ‘AHHHH’, we would both say with a twinkle in our eyes if we mention that Welsh lamb to each other. Now it will be that and French 
Crab.

We ended the evening eating the chips first, as I had cooked them out of sequence of the BBQ, then eating the BBQ. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day after a hard week. 

Relaxing and taking stock

Tuesday 28th September 2010: Marseillette FR. 
It was lovely to wake up in a real bed this morning. Not that we don’t have a bed in the Snail, but this bed was just glorious. That, and the prospect of having a shower was almost too exciting this morning!

The Pilot’s daily obsession with buying morning bread was fulfilled as he came back to the house with the daily bread. I have to confess I do like it, I just don’t tell him. I know that I have got into the habit of buying too much bread just in case we can’t find a bakery tomorrow, but it doesn’t taste the same after a day. Sshh don’t tell him or it will be all that I hear from now on.

After a day of relaxing and taking stock of things on the computer, we were driven to Peryaic, where my friend has bought a derelict house to redo. She really is amazing, she left the UK, and after many years of being on boats she settled in France to do up a house she bought 5 years ago. She can really build. I think she can do anything! She’s fitting a kitchen in a week and is doing some work with wood and saws over the other side of the road. Wow, what a woman. Anyway, this house that she had bought goes way back from the road inside and has copious amount of rooms and levels and nooks and crannies. I could see the Pilot’s brain ticking away as we walked from room to room with torches and hoped that he was thinking what I was thinking. A house by the lake for me to write and close enough for him to fly around, a place we could do up together, a place we could live in and love in and have a family in. They were my thoughts anyway.

 On the way home we drove past villages lanes to collect figs and almonds to add to the list of ‘free food’ that we are foraging. To date we have collected: walnuts, apples, blackberries, fishes and crabs.

We ended our packed day chatting as we finished off yesterdays lasagne with hot garlic buttered bread. It was a good day.