The kind lady at reception gave us a map for an 8.5 km circular walk or cycle to the nearest town and back. She thought it might be too far for us! Hah! We thought about lifting the bikes off the rack but decided it wasn’t worth the effort for less than 6 miles so we put the dogs’ leads on and off we all trotted.
It got hotter and considerably windier as we made our way down the quiet country road. Before long we became aware of a strange pelting sound reminiscent of a massive hailstorm. Then, as we walked under the trees we realized we were being bombarded by thousands of acorns. There was a carpet of them on the road and on the verge so that our footsteps were popping and crunching as we walked. Every now and again Poppy picked one up and carried it in her mouth for a bit but she obviously didn’t like the taste and spat it out scornfully. Picking things up and carrying them is her thing. It makes her feel useful according to people that know about dogs.
The map gave the impression that there was a short cut through between two fields but it was lying. Anyway, halfway across it Shirley thought she saw a snake, then another one – wisely she said nothing until we were back on the road. It would have ruined my day (said with a hint of Yorkshire understatement).
We arrived in the town in that magical time between noon and three when all of southern Europe goes to sleep. I needed the loo so followed the sign to the public ones, only to find they were the holes in the ground type. I didn’t even try. I have this horrible fear of either peeing down my trouser leg or falling backwards into something unspeakably horrible. I began to mentally prepare myself for finding a bush on the way back and checking carefully for snakes before doing the deed when round a corner we came across a bar that was open. It even had outside tables and chairs. Quel relief!
Shirley went in to order a beer for herself and a coffee for me and I tied the dogs leads to my plastic chair, praying fervently that a cat didn’t run by. They might be little but the pair of them could easily turf me off it if they made a truly concerted effort.
Moments later the waitress came out and invited us in to the bar. “Bring the dogs! It’s cold out here.” And yes we could understand every word; thank you David from the French Institute in Edinburgh. Your efforts were not wasted. We even managed a little small talk in French as we settled ourselves down in the cute little bar where the two staff made an enormous fuss of the dogs. Poppy smothered them in kisses and cute looks. Boo took on a Gallic air of snootiness and stood to one side.
“Il est plus calme”, said the man. Actually he’s just snooty but we don’t know the French for that.
Shirley has got involved …
Boo here. What can I say? Back in the land of my ancestors I am embarrassed by that leetle mongrel Poppy. In French they call mongrels mélanges – same thing, just sounds a leetle classier. Ma accent is changing by the day, barking in a French accent but ma vocabulaire is not so good. Back to the “incident” at le Tabac. Poppy has not learned the French way of greeting – a leetle kiss on each cheek. Mon Dieu! Before we knew it she had leecked the woman’s face, removed most of her make-up and one of her earrings. “Plus calme”, that generous homme had said of me. Et, moi? Je suis mortified! Alors, onwards. She weel learn.
I was ridiculously grateful to find they had a proper toilet and after taking advantage of it and enjoying our drinks and more friendly chat where they attempted to speak English and we attempted to speak French and we all laughed a lot, we were ready to leave.
At the last minute another customer came in. The first thing we noticed was that the woman behind the bar hid her face, clearly not pleased to see him. He ordered a drink, made a fuss of the dogs and asked how old they were. As soon as I answered he said, “Ah, you are British.”
I said “Nous sommes Ecossaises” (we are Scottish – I know but I have lived there for 37 years) and he did that peculiar French thing that involves a shrug and a sound like pfff and said, “Ah oui, vive l”Ecosse” and turned away with a distinct air of something not so friendly. In a rush of national pride I called out, “Oui! Vive l”Ecosse!” and the woman behind the bar laughed and gave us a cheery farewell.
I found myself reflecting on two things as we walked up the road:
- How a simple human encounter with friendly people really warms your heart, especially when you are travelling in another country
- How some people can turn the friendliest encounters into something else with a touch of negative energy.
Thankfully it couldn’t take away the warmth we’d received from the staff of the Tabac/Bar in Aubigny and we resolved again to try to be a positive influence in the world.