Places, Seasons, Writing and Books

240 – The Road to Auty

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I’m a resident of Auty, a village 80 kms north of Toulouse on the border of the Tarn et Garonne and Lot départements. I’m looking after a château and a cat for the winter with Elizabeth. Two weeks ago it was 24 degrees, now it’s 2. I’m sitting in the château writing and I can barely see the end of the drive because of the fog.

This is classic rural France in winter. Vintage in fact. To my right I can see the blue swimming pool that looks about as inviting as smashing my gonads together with bricks. I’ve swum in the sea in Cornwall in winter and in the upper reaches of the Ardeche in April. That was cold, I even got in three times to remind myself how cold it was. I take cold showers every morning, but I can’t bring myself to swim in the pool. And I don’t have much time left as it’s soon going to be covered up once I’ve finished fishing out all the leaves.

There are no pool duties here as such, we’re really just here for security. Watching out for intruders and for leaks and burst pipes. Making sure the mice and weasels don’t make off with the chocolate and biscuit supplies. Or gnaw through the cables and wires that will plunge this 17th château into darkness for days. Without the moon here at night, it’s one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. Like being in a cave where you can’t see your hand.

The scariest place is the boiler room, which is in the basement. Here you can still see the 12th century foundations on which the current château is built on. There’s a tunnel that leads down even further into the ground. I don’t know where it goes and I don’t intend to find out. I’m le gardien not Indiana Jones.

If you were reading this when I lived in Queaux on the farmhouse (see posts 114 through to 164), it’s a similar set-up, except that it’s like the Super Size option in a fast food joint. We’ve upgraded from House Sit Lite to the Super Deluxe. Instead of four bedrooms to sleep in, we’ve got a choice of fifteen. Before one kitchen to cook in, now we’ve got three. Two bathrooms to bathe in, now we’ve got eight. A small skylight to admire the surrounding countryside from, now we’ve got a turret. A small patio for barbecues, now we’ve got a terrace the size of a tennis court. And on and on.

If you’ve read Les Grandes Meaulnes by Alain Fournier that I talked about in Blogley 187 and 189, it’s like the Lost Estate described in the book. All my childhood memories are here: Woods, fires, chopping logs, foggy fields, cycling along deserted roads, cooking, long sleeps, hot chocolate, fresh air. No school. Perfect.

I’ve got some serious writing to do here. A project I started back in 2004 when I lived in Devon, in Starcross, a village near Exeter up the Exe estuary. I even called it The Road to Starcross. Since then it’s grown and I’m not sure what I’m going to call it now. I thought about The Road to Auty but that sounds ridiculous, so I need to think about it some more. I’ll keep you posted from the turret…

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Random, The French

239 – The Need for Bikes after Paris

I was going to write a blog today about my new bike. A 1985 gold Peugeot PK10 ‘Record Du Monde’ in almost perfect condition that I bought from a guy down the road for the princely sum of 50 sheets. But then I saw the attacks in Paris.

France is a great country. I’ve lived here for four years and continue to do so. I’ve never been scared to walk the streets and will continue not to be. However, I was in a cafe today in Montauban, a town 40 kms north of Toulouse, and for the first time in my life, felt that these things do not just happen to other people, they could actually happen to me.

‘This is real,’ I said to Elizabeth.

It’s unlikely to happen in Montauban, because Montauban, with all due respect to Montauban, is off the map, but if people can waltz into restaurants and concerts in Paris, they can do it here if they want to. Which is probably why I like living in the middle of nowhere. Just in case.

I’m not particularly political, but I do understand that the reasons for these problems go back many years and are the result of various actions by Western countries, including France. What’s to be done about it? I’ve no idea. Stop invading countries, stop being greedy, get on your bikes. Literally. (I said I wanted to write about bikes.)

Bikes don’t need much oil to operate them or make them, even less so if they are thirty years old. It would at least start to reduce our dependency on oil, which – unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past twenty years – is a big factor in this mess. And I doubt anybody, except Tony Blair and George Bush, would deny that.

Bikes won’t solve the world’s problems, but they’re fun, healthy, cheap, and don’t require foreign oil. And better than driving around in an air polluting VW Golf all day. And if you get one as sexy as this, you’ll look very cool indeed. Allez France!

PK 10

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