Places

40 – Bristol

I arrived back from my highly entertaining holiday in Bristol to soft clouds, a warm breeze and the smell of hot pastries. Being away for two weeks made me appreciate being back. Wandering down Rue Mazanod from the bus station I noticed the restaurant I went in on my first afternoon here. Sadly, it had now closed down.

We have a new president and according to my first student of the week, ‘France is fucked’. Which is a nice thing to hear on your homecoming. ‘Eventually’, he continued, ‘the French way of life is going to have to end. Which,’ he concluded, ‘will be like trying to drive wooden nails into an iron coffin.’

The long lunches, the lengthy holidays, the early retirement, the generous pensions are all going to have to stop. But he knows as well as I know (and I’ve only been here for nine months), that won’t happen. They would rather force feed their own livers than do a full day’s work. But who cares? They’ll always have great cheese, bread and wine, so perhaps we’ll all simply have to get drunk and fat while singing La Marseillaise loudly over and over again until the sands of time wash over our Beaufort bloated bodies.

I returned from my holiday to a thankfully spotless flat (your foresight improves with age – I was 38 last week) and an empty fridge, except for a two-week-old can of Gruenberg, which I hastily drank to take the edge off missing my friends and family. It also tranquilised my thoughts of the flight in which we lost sixty feet in a second at one stage. My brother, who flies these damn contraptions, told me they’re perfectly safe, but added later after wine that accidents do happen.

So my deathly visions of an aluminium tube falling to earth in a deadly fireball is probably perfectly justified. Although I do feel sorry for the poor woman sitting next to me who needed orthopaedic surgery on her hand afterwards and a towel, due to the crushing, vicelike grip of my right hand and my over perspiring body.

I saw my dear friends on my trip and enjoyed a birthday with my family, despite having to stare at my mum’s grave for part of it. But a huge plate of Yorkshire fish and chips cheered me up and for the first time in ages, I felt full. It took me back to those long lost days when my father used to buy a round of them every Saturday at lunchtime and we all used to eat as a family. Grandparents, aunts, cousins, the lot.

My first week back though has been a dream. It’s Thursday, yet it feels like a Saturday. The glory of the French bank holidays – 15 in total. I’m going camping tomorrow to Pilat. It will rain, but it will be good to revisit the feeling of the great trip me and my great friend Richard had a few weeks ago along the epic Cornish coast. St. Ives to Penzance. OK, so we only made it as far as Sennan, but it reminded me that you don’t have to go far to marvel beauty.

I’ve travelled well. The coast of Venezuela was pretty exhilarating, the Alpine pastures of Slovenia were spellbinding, and the barren, desolate coast of Western Australia was certainly Phil Ogley country if ever it existed. But looking out over Gurnard’s Head with a million wild flowers blooming in unison, with a sea as cobalt blue as you’re ever likely to see, and the rare English sun blazing down on you, a good friend and a good bottle of claret, is quite simply, as good as it gets.

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