Wednesday 15 August 2018

just because...

I am finding it quite a challenge to relax into life here in Brittany.

Correction, I am finding it quite a challenge not to feel guilty, as I relax into life here in Brittany. Even after fourteen months of being back. Even with health issues. Even when I should be eligible for a retirement pension, had the Tory govt not shafted me.

Let's not think about the last two.

So, I am here, living in my own home, in a small, supportive community of French and English people, and I am surrounded by lush green countryside, and there are beautiful beaches a mere 45 mins drive away.

Have I talked already about Trégasel?

And I am working as a freelance proofreader and teacher of English and French, although I have yet to start providing English lessons. I have improved one student's knowledge of French and, most importantly, passed on some of my enthusiasm for learning second, third and even, as is my plan, fourth languages.

So no corporate cage for me now. Been there, done that, got the cancer. 

And although I have a few issues with my roof - that wind from the west that brings Atlantic storms has always been troublesome - and even though people sometimes misbehave and cause trouble, yes, even those old enough to know better, especially those old enough to know better.

For goodness sake, live and let live!

And it is summer and the living is easy and we have not endured the heatwaves that have struck much of Europe, neither have we had long periods without rain, this is Brittany, we simply refuse to go for long periods without getting wet, and so the garden is growing nicely...

Especially the brambles and nettles and dandelions...

And I am able to eat fresh food from my garden daily: French beans, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, red cabbage, lettuces, raspberries, strawberries, and not fogetting the broccoli that I am happily sharing with a convoy of caterpillars who have taken up residence and are munching through the leaves leaving me the florets for my suppers. I discovered that if I cut a floret and leave the plant it grows three more to replace it...

I never knew that.

 My modest little potager has been prolific this summer. I am even being talked about round the village because I have grown a great many tomatoes outdoors. In the open air. Without chemicals. Without a greenhouse. Such talk could soon lead to my being considered a witch...

Won't be the first time.

And yet, this relaxing and being able to do as much, or as little, as I please, with no-one to whom I must be accountable, with no-one making demands on my time, with no-one harbouring any expectations of me...

It takes some getting used to.

Sunday 8 July 2018

With the tide...

High tide at Tregastel yesterday was around 2pm.

I'd been there the day before with a friend who hadn't swum for decades and whose worsening diabetes has made it hard to her to be active, which is, of course, a vicious circle. Anyway, we went and she tried to swim with the aid of a small board the Rags used when they were kids and then she settled for walking in the water with the aid of sticks.

I swam for 40 minutes but it wasn't relaxing with Tashi barking from the beach and me having to keep an eye on my friend...

Still, we had fun: we drank the flask of coffee I'd made and ate the marmalade and bacon sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs from her hens that she'd brought, and then we came home. Me, a little reluctantly, that sea was so tempting. 

Which is why I was back at Tregastel yesterday to enjoy a few hours by myself and with no-one to worry about, no friends, no dog, just me and the sea. And a venomous purple jelly fish. And a lot of large fish in the shallows. And several scuttling crabs among the strands of seaweed. And some fellow bathers, all French, all friendly but all respectful of each other's quiet time.

I ate a tuna salad that I bought at the Carrefour Express in Tregastel but I was impatient to be in the sea so I didn't wait for high tide, I went out to meet the incoming water. And I swam, and swam, and swam some more for three hours, with a couple of breaks for coffee...

I decided that I would like to be able to swim out to the pink castle at high tide.
That's my goal.
It is not just a physical, but also a mental challenge: to be brave enough to swim out of my depth, to trust myself to be able to do it. 

One day...

Meanwhile it was such a treat, such a pleasure. I hadn't realised just how much time and energy I devote to caring for and worrying about my friend. It was good to take time for myself.


Wednesday 13 June 2018

Something I've learned...

is to pay no attention to weather forecasts.

Today I needed to get out of the house. I've been stressing a little recently and have worked hard in the garden, harder than is good for me, too hard, to be honest. I've worn myself out.

The weather forecast for the coast was not promising: Rain, cold winds, heavy cloud cover.
But I have my waterproof riding coat and spare trainers and, anyway, my skin is watertight so I packed a flask of coffee, a picnic for the dog, towels and my camera and we set off.

As we neared  Tregastel the sea was shrouded in mist and it began to rain but by the time we pulled in to the car park on the Sentier des Douaniers the mist was lifting and the sun was breaking through.  

So much so that I left my coat in the car and set off walking with my sweater tied round my waist.

Goodness, it was busy on the path.

But not too busy for this lady...
She reacted to my attention by turning tuwards me and raising her pincers.
I'd never seen a stag beetle in the flesh, as it were, and I was fascinated, albeit from a distance.

I love rock climbing. My knees are a little too stiff for me to risk it right now but I have plans...

It was hot on the path, we were quite relieved to see the lighthouse because that means we're close to Ploumanac'h and a food stop.

The manager of the restaurant where I'd hoped to eat was offhand with me, They were full, he said, ignoring the empty tables nearby, I could wait but he had no idea when I would eat. I chose not to be offended, or put off and five minutes later I was seated at my table and sipping a glass of Kir framboise.

It was as I was enjoying a turkey steak in a cream sauce and a salad and fries that I noticed the sign informing me that the restaurant does not accept bank cards. Merde! I was not flushed with cash so I declined the desert menu and a coffee.

Anyway, there was that flask back in the car.

Tashi and I set off back along the Sentier des Douaniers and it happened again. A couple stopped me and started to ask me for directions and advice on where to eat and where do I live and, excuse us asking, but you're not French, are you? Where are you from?

I advised them to try the restaurant where I'd just eaten, and then to head for Tregastel and the aquarium, to pop in to the nice shop near the Forum and then to make for the beach near the pink castle. They had not heard of the pink castle. How is that possible? They were from Rennes...

And no, I told them, I am not French.
I did not admit to being English, I was not in the mood for a serious discussion about Brexit.

I drove to my beach, OK, my favourite beach and listened to a radio play while I waited for the tide to rise high enough for a swim. There were a lot of people sitting gazing out to sea and I felt a little shy but, heck I thought, none of them know me. I stripped off to my swimsuit and waded in to the water.

And it was bliss.
Sheer bliss.

I was right to quit that toxic corporate cage and return to Brittany.
And to think, I wasn't sure I'd have the courage to come back!

Friday 8 June 2018

The Best Laid Plans...

That last boat trip I took  to les Sept Îles was lovely, but it was too early for the puffins so I invited another friend to come with me today.

H. loves the sea, she lived in Cornwall, had her own boat, surfed, rode horses, in fact I think her childhood was pretty much like a Famous Five adventure. Including the lashings of ginger beer.

Now she does not enjoy good health, the years take their toll on all of us, and that can be hard for someone who has always been active. Hard and frustrating. That's why I try to get her to join me for a little adventure whenever I can. I think that having fun, getting out and playing like kids, is good for us both.

Today she drove us to the coast, through Lannion, ignoring the signs to Trégastek, through Perros Guirec, ignoring the attractions there, and on to the beach at Trestraou.

I'd promied myself a cheese burger and fries: as with the kouign amann at Trégastel, I only eat cheese burger and fries at the restaurant at Trestraou, but the walk from the car was tough for H. and I became anxious and so we halted at the first restaurant.

It wasn't a good choice. Lesson learned. No shortcuts in future. 

While we ate, the beautiful blue skies and sunshine were wiped out, leaving a grey fog in their place.

Who stole the sea?

After lunch we set off for the boat.

The beach was busy, there were teenagers playing volleyball on a temporary court without a net...

and younger kids learning to sail, and kayak, and paddleboard and, well, all possible variations of things to do on the sea...

When we reached the reception area for the boat trip the news was not promising...
We would have to wait to see if the sea mist lifted before the boat captain would decide whether it was worth sailing to the islands. After an hour our trip was called off. Never mind, I told H. We don't want to go out with such limited visibility, we wouldn't see the pink granite coastline, we wouldn't see the pink castle, we should try again next week...

So, back to the car with several stops to rest and to admire the sailboats that we could just see through the mist. And, and this I found very moving, to witness someone in an electric wheelchair, completely wrapped and with an oxygen cylinder strapped on the back and a drip and line disappearing under the covers, accompanied by three attendants, slowly trundling along the path by the sea.

I told H. that I'd like to be able to do that when I am nearing the end of my life: have the Rags drive me to Tregastel for a last 'walk' along the beach and a last swim in the sea. Well, maybe not a swim but they could sit me on a rock so that I could dip my toes in the water. 

So we did not see the puffins. Not this time.

We drove to Trégastel where even the pink castle was shrouded in mist.

I walked as far as I could, I climbed over the rocks and I still couldn't see it.

So I walked the length of the beach and collected all of the plastic rubbish that I could find: lengths of blue plastic string, a couple of empty nappy bags, some fishing net, odds and ends, all of which take around 400 years to break down and which will, eventually, end up in the stomachs and gills and meat of sea creatures. Which is why I collect it and dispose of all that I find on the beach.


And then home.

I don't know about H, but I am exhausted. In a very good way.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Significant numbers...

I am not superstitious, not really, but I have found that significant things happen to me on certain dates. Sometimes happy events, such as The Ragazza being born (14 days after her due date) on the birthday of my brother, my cousin's husband and my brother-in-law, and then my having left work to take maternity leave on the same date that I was, ten years later, offered my first job back in IT after the career break..

That kind of thing.

Sometimes they are not happy events.

June 6th was the date on which we buried my father and on that same day my mother-in-law died, and three years ago it was the date on which I had my first chemotherapy.

I started my day feeling sad, remembering my Dad and Millie, my crazy, lovely mother-in-law. And a little spooked because, well, once you've had cancer you can never really relax. So I decided to get out of the house. I made a flask of coffee, packed a towel and my swimsuit and some food for the dog, made sure my camera and pocket money were in my little bag, and set off for my No 1 Playground, Trégastel. 

First, a coffee and kouign amann, no guilt at the salted caramel topping because I only eat these pastries at Trégastel and this was lunch...   

And I was planning to head for my favourite swimming pool.
Or  rather, the beach by the pink castle.

People, the sea was cold. The air temperature was cold. And there was a cold breeze, as you can see by the outfits other people were wearing as they walked past.

But I had come to honour my Dad who would never have passed on the opportunity to do something fun, and so I changed into my swimsuit and headed to the water.

It wasn't as cold as my first wild swim of the year last month, but it was still cold. I told myself, 'Come on! Think of winter in Lapland and how cold that was' and I swam. And swam. And swam some more. It was exhilarating and relaxing, and it made me laugh as I splashed on my back, and then did a few 'lengths' between the rocks.

I swam for 30 minutes and as I walked out of the sea the water actually felt warm.

So, wrapped in an old bathrobe (perfect for warming after a cold swim, I sipped my coffee while Tashi (released from the car where he must wait because he gets very worried when I disappear under the waves) enjoyed a drink and a picnic of dried dog food...     

And I gazed at my favourite view, that pink castle...

And then I dried and dressed and we set off to drive to the Sentier des Douaniers for a brisk walk.

It was very busy, Many other people were enjoying the pink granite coast.
I must have looked like a local: several people asked me for directions, a couple wanted to know where they could find a restaurant, someone asked me to look at her map and explain where she was.

And one couple praised my accent, told me they assumed me to be Swedish, laughed when I told them I am a Brit and wished my countrymen good luck with Brexit, they are going to need it.   

There were a lot of flowers...

Tashi doesn't care about the flowers, he prefers to be snuffling in the sand.

And then it was time to turn round and head back to the car.

I've been back in Brittany for almost a year. When I first walked this path twelve months ago I struggled a little, both with the distance and with the impact on my arthritic knees. Today I almost skipped back to the car. Almost. give me another few wild swims and fun walks and I will be skipping. 

I like to think my dad and mother-in-law were with me in spirit today.

I know they would have approved of the adventure. 

Sunday 27 May 2018

Stirring Up the Hornet's Nests...

Or, more precisely, Asian hornets:

Scientific classificatione
Species:V. velutina
Binomial name
Vespa velutina
Lepeletier, 1836

(Wikipedia, May 2018)

Asian hornets arrived in France in a container of pottery from China and have now become a serious menace, not least to bee-keepers because they can destroy a whole hive within hours.

I like bees.
In fact, I love bees, so much so that I planted a bee-friendly garden, installed bee nesting boxes and refuse to use pesticides that harm bees. And I have ornamental bees on the trellis in my courtyard.

I also run a bee clinic on chilly mornings when bumblebees are too cold and hungry to fly when they are gently moved to a source of sugar water and left in the sun to recover which, happily, they do. 

I am even considering naming my house La Ruche.

Last year several Asian hornets appeared in my garden, especially during late evenings when the outside light was on in the courtyard. We duly trapped them and a friend killed them. I couldn't kill them, they are huge and make a horrible crunchy noise when they are squashed. No, Benoit is my hornet assassin.  

In the autumn a friend and I went to a nearby village to watch a film about bees, Lovely film, very informative and eco-minded. And the musical score was ... I digress. At the end of the film a man stood up to lecture us on the threat posed to bees by Asian hornets, showed us a (dead) nest and urged us to make traps to catch and kill them.

I was an instant convert.

So far this year I have caught five Asian hornets, one of them a queen, which means no nest for that particular royal lady!

This morning it was time to refill the traps... 

1/3 beer (to dissuade bees from entering the trap)
1/3 white wine
1/3 grenadine syrup

et voilà...

The mixture goes into an empty water bottle, the cap fits on top to protect it from the rain and to enable it to be hung from a branch, and here it is in the back garden. This one catches the most hornets so I am quite fond of it. I also have one in the courtyard. Belts and braces, that's me.

A friend, over here for the weekend, emailed this morning that she fears she has a hornet nest in her roof. Would I give her the recipe for the traps? But she is leaving in a few minutes to return to the UK so they will have to wait until July. OK?

Not OK. I told her that if she has a nest she should not wait until July. I suggested she drop off her key and I will arrange with that local bee-keeper to go round and kill the nest. And put up a few traps to make sure it's not replaced before her return.

Fingers crossed she takes me up on the offer because otherwise these are the hornets she may find swarming around her little house when she returns...


Monday 21 May 2018

Sunday lunch at Le Yaudet...

One of my Tribe does not enjoy good health, and it worries and frustrates me but, as I keep reminding myself, it is up to her to look after herself, no point me trying to drag her to the pool/beach/lake/forest. 

But I do try to persuade her to come out with me to play at least once a fortnight, once a week in summer, and yesterday she agreed to come to Le Yaudet, by the easier route, none of those steep hills and sharp bends in my little car, thank you very much. 

Perhaps I should explain that my father, in his wisdom, taught me to drive in the Lake District and so my first experiences of a hill start involved me clutching the steering wheel and screraming in terror as his old Fiat rolled backwards down a 1:4 slope towards a flock of curious sheep.

Hence my lifelong fear of steep hills.

Especially in a car with a 1.2 engine and two passengers.

So, I collected her at midday and we set off to the coast via Lannion.
And so engrossed in chatting were we, and so accustomed to driving to Trégastel am I, that we took the wrong turning and found ourselves taking the 'scenic route' through the quieter streets which are, I noticed, quite worth exploring on foot at a later date.

Finding the river, we drove along and again took a wrong turn up the wrong hill. This time we turned round and retraced our route because Le Yaudet is tricky to find even when I am on the right road, on the wrong road, well, we could have ended up in St Malo.

See: I have no sense of direction.

Back up the right hill we then got hopelessly lost and took another scenic route which involved some steep hills and some white-knuckles on my part, and then we were approaching the village and breathing sighs of relief.

"It's always an adventure with you Julia!" my friend commented.
I just smiled and tried to unclench my jaws.

We drove to the car park where, on the last visit, I had left my new camera on the roof of the car and merrily driven almost all the way home before wondering at the metallic clunking sound it made as it fell off and into a ditch, never to be seen again.

The car park was full. Of camper vans (very popular here) and motorbikes and families parked up and picknicking in that typical French way, as in, seated at a table with a cloth on it and laid as if for lunch with royalty. They take eating seriously in France. Even al fresco.

We found a spot in the shade of two camper vans and set off to find lunch.

Past this, my favourite house in the village and one which I promise myself I will try to buy when I win the lottery...  

Over the narrow bridge where, minutes before, a camper van going one way had encountered an SUV going the other and neither party had seemed keen to reverse.

The view is spectacular, over the river estuary which river, incidentally, has its source near my village and one of its streams runs through my friend's little wooded valley.

And to the restaurant.

Where I ordered a Kir for myself and the owner brought a carafe of water for Tashi.

His life is so much larger here. Back in the UK there would be thrice daily walks round the green and down to the church, sometimes a longer outing, most often he would be at home while I was stuck in the office. Even at weekends. The company was very mean with their salaries and weekend working was a necessity to pay the high rent and property taxes that are part of life in the UK.

Now he has a wonderful life.
and he deserves every day of it.

Bah! Enough of That Time...

My friend's galette, salmon and seasonal vegetables in a cream sauce.
Mine was the usual with Breton sausage, potatoes and red onions.

While we were eating I thought I spied Terry Pratchett approaching.
But no, as he drew near I could see it was not.
Still, I smiled at him as he passed by.    

"Are you going to have a crèpe?" my friend asked me.
Well, I did not drive all round Lannion and up several wrong hills not to indulge. Besides which, as with the kouign amann at Trégastel, I only ever eat indulgent deserts at Le Yaudet. So of course I was going to have one.

With a salted caramel sauce, caramelised apples, a crunch topping and salted caramel ice cream.
And a Breton flag.
I forgot to slip that in my bag.
I was too overcome with the deliciousness.

The restaurant has B&B rooms.
I think my next weekend away may be to Le Yaudet...

We drank coffee and sat contentedly watching the swifts dipping and diving overhead.

And then we set off back towards the church. Pausing to admire this garden belonging to a house on the other side of the bridge. Quite a view from those little terraces where, in summer, the lady who owns it sits and sips her coffee and I try not to gawp as I walk past.

Past the pretty stone houses...

Heading for the church.

Where I introduced my friend to the Sleeping Madonna who slumbers peacefully over the altar, tucked up in bed with a baby Jesus...

And, Le Yaudet being a port, to the ships that sail in the air above the worhsippers.

The Bretons love their sea...

And they love their ships...

And often hang them from the beams in the church...

Tashi is a Tibetan and quite given to meditative moments...

And he likes churches. Especially cool churches on hot Sundays.

My friend lit a candle.
I did my own spiritual thing.

When we left we spotted two baby blue tits on the path outside the church, One was dead, the other was alive and in distress. I convinced my friend to walk away a little to see if the mother was nearby, often if left to themselves the parents will sort out the youngster.

It was soon apparent that she couldn't.

We returned and inspected the church wall near the dead baby bird, There was a hole and it looked like a nest inside it. Well, that path was soon going to be busy when the other visitors to the church left, and that baby bird was not going anywhere safe so I scooped it up and, standing on tiptoes because I am quite tiny, I managed to get it close enough to the nest for it to hop back in.

There was nothing else we could have done. Fingers crossed it was the right decision.