Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dieppe Autumn 2011

I have written a lot about Dieppe in this blog. I write once more because of the changes there since we last visited this delightful French port more than a year ago.
It is, as usual, our favourite “abroad” place for a few days of complete change, gastronomic delights (mainly fish) and a source for acquiring good wine at a reasonable price. The saving on our car-full of wine pays for our break. Could one ask for more?
I have pretty well squeezed everything I wanted from a few drawings on postcards made at the International Kite Festival there in 2008. These will appear, in bright pastel form, in A4 and A1 size, in due course. The only kite flying during our visit this time was in the shape of an octopus. It was of no interest to me as kites like it, and many other exotic ones, had already reached my canvasses.
My kites are compositions of shape and colour, set in simple landscape. I doubt if any would actually fly. But pictorial representation is not what I am about in art.
I had never noticed before, and certainly not remarked upon, that the ground floors of at least two large shops in Dieppe undulated. To shop there entailed walking gently up and down hill. Floors are usually flat.
Shops change in Dieppe with some regularity. Those that do are mostly clothes shops. Department stores, food and vegetable shops stay the same - as does the smaller twice-weekly market and the large one on Saturdays. A shop where we once bought wine equipment and Pro-Ven-Di soap (soap on a chromium stick, bolted to the wall above a basin) was closed. But we had already managed (in England) to buy that soap, from France, through the Internet.
We discovered this time that it is best to shop early at the large out-of-town supermarket. There are then assistants available to help, and empty wine boxes to use. “Early”, in Dieppe, is before 10 o’clock, when shops open. Around 9.30 appeared to be an ideal time to visit the supermarket, when shelves were being re-stocked and those empty wine boxes available. We need the boxes to make the best use of space when filling the back of our car – to the brim.
A film was being made at the yachting harbour quay. Just whether one of the car ferries was involved we did not discover. But it left the inner port, wandered around off-shore, and came back to moor all night and brightly lit where vessels generally offload sand and gravel for the building industry.
Margreet estimated that the cost of food and goods had risen by 30% in just over a year. But we know where we can still eat lunch splendidly and cheaply, with unlimited red wine and cider. We sit with workmen (no women there), which does give us a direct link with France and the French. I can usually make myself understood, but Margreet, with her command of languages, has to translate the replies to me.
For the first time we were short changed (£5) after eating at the popular Tout Va Bien brasserie, where the harbour stops and the main street starts. The brasserie was under new management. Margreet soon sorted that matter out. The waiter knew exactly what he had done.
A most horrible bronze sculpture, forming part of a roundabout outside the brasserie has been dispensed with. But it had been replaced by another that was almost as offensive.
Dog mess, always a hazard in Dieppe in the past, has been considerably reduced – thank havens. One can now look forward and upward when walking – well, most of the time.
But for me the greatest and most welcome change in Dieppe has been one of convenience. It is that having virtually abolished the pissoire in France, Dieppe, most sensibly, has re-installed them – two, one in the main square and market place, and another near to where fresh fish is sold from stalls by the yachting harbour. Hooray for good sense – and less pollution.
The car ferry is underused out of season, and makes the less than four hour crossing more pleasant. And queuing through the system does give one a chance to talk with strangers. One man supplied organic vegetables to major supermarkets, which is a multi million pound operation. And a motorcycle enthusiast’s BMW fell over in the Austrian Alps, which cost the manufacturer a great deal of money in lodgings, replacement and repair, as it was still under warranty.
He was about to take one of his old bikes on a rally of vintage machinery in northern Spain. We once travelled back by ship from there with the same group of enthusiasts. So we asked if he would give our regards to someone who helped us out with a starting problem. This man could hardly be missed as he rode a bike with his wife in the sidecar. But what was more unique was the fact that he had adapted the bike so that he could manage to ride it one-handed – having lost an arm in an accident.
By talking to people you can make an otherwise boring trip quite good fun.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Village Life

I was born and lived my early years in an English country village. I was happy, despite the sibling difficulties that children are subjected to. There is a lot to be said for rural village life, which usually comes with appreciation of nature and fresh, home-produced food. But, by gosh, there are limitations to country village life.
These limitations are to do with class, snobbery, power, money, sociability and religion.
There is a strong element of “them” and “us” in country village life (I got into real trouble as a child by fishing for newts with village boys).
To fit in, you almost have to entertain and be entertained.
It soon becomes apparent on starting out in a village that there will be people with whom you “gel” and those with whom you don’t. But it is best to get on with every one if you can manage it, as gossip takes a major part in village life and you certainly don’t want enemies.
To be accepted takes time, and is best when not rushed. It was considered, when I was a boy, that it took 25 years to be properly accepted. So juggling with the social side of country living does take time. Be that as it may, for pleasure and ease of life you must fit in.
Weekenders, however they may try, are seldom a real part of village life. Their village is a weekend village. And everyone, except possibly themselves, knows it.
But they do provide impetus to village life, and often contribute to it in monetary terms.
If you are lucky, there is another kind of village life. It is town village life.
Before WW2 we had moved to London.
During that war there was little time for socialising. It was a time for survival. And it was a time that I knew only when on leave from my flying activities in the RAF, when entertainment meant night clubs, where one's bottle of spirits was marked and kept until your next visit (if you ever returned).
Since the war I have lived in London on several occasions.
The first was with young. And it was with them (like having dogs) that you meet up with people with whom you would not have done otherwise. So, living nearby to school and other parents makes you part of a town village and leads to friendships.
Or you may be very lucky and find yourself living in a town community where friendships are strong, and there is a residents association, and church.
Those who go to church have even stronger bonds in a village community, meeting each other on most Sundays with a meeting of minds.
But this religious bond in town, nowadays, is not nearly as strong as it was when I was a boy in the country, when everyone of standing – and some without – went to church, almost regardless of their beliefs.
The great advantage of village life in town is that you can be friendly and acknowledge every acquaintance in the street – friend or otherwise – and don’t have to entertain them, as you would almost have to have done in the country.
In my present town community there is an established form of getting together socially. It is 6 o’clock drinks. We offer, or are offered, wine and a “bite” or two (I now favour a cheese pancake, served hot and cut into small pieces). Start time is usually 6 or sometimes 6.30, and by 7.30, or 8 at the latest, we part for our evening meal. It is a time for talk in general, a little gossip perhaps, and an exchange of information concerning matters of neighbourhood interest. An hour or two is just enough – just the right time.
Yes, it’s the town village life for me – any day.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Travel. Age considerations and the internet

When you are young you want to travel. It is part of one’s self-education. You are brave – indestructible. And having travelled, sometimes dangerously, you are able, in later life, to hold your own in the company of those who have also travelled.
When you have been to a lot of places on the globe and become older, travel becomes more taxing. There are currencies and languages to contend with, beds and pillows that are quite different from those that you are used to, and with creatures and insects that annoy.
Many, of all ages, go away from the UK for sunshine, for the feeling of wellbeing – on land, sea and sand. This is understandable travel.
We once went away for foreign food. Now those foods are available in markets or on the internet. All can be enjoyed in restaurants or prepared at home – and generally cheaper.
For years I have had lists of things to buy in other countries (mainly France or Holland) that have been unavailable at home. Now most of the items on my shopping lists are obtainable near to home, or are traceable.
And even before taking into account the cost of hotels and food abroad, there is the ever-increasing price of car, ship, air travel and insurance to consider.
We have taken holidays-at-home. These have been periods of time when we have been self-indulgent with our relaxing time, wine choice, sightseeing and interesting restaurants. We have enjoyed these breaks immensely. And our entertainment has been convenient to our home.
So why do we leave for a few days in Dieppe once or twice a year? We go for “change”. Moreover, we return with wine, the savings on which virtually pay for our holiday. Short journeys abroad can still be viable.
But now, with almost all our pleasures abroad obtainable here, and the shops and internet able to provide the things that we used to go abroad to buy, I’m beginning to wonder if it is not the better bet to take all our holidays-at-home instead. We then have our own bed to sleep in, exotic food ingredients available in shops and markets, restaurants of every description around the corner, and a wonderful choice of theatres and galleries at hand.
So is foreign travel nowadays really worth it? Or is it just that I’m getting old? I suspect the latter.