Thus spoke Narcissus.

Thus spoke Narcissus.

 

On Radio 4’s ‘Start the week’ recently, we heard from 3 key thinkers on environmentalism.

Wendell Berry: Farmer, Poet, Novelist, Essayist. Paul Bridgenorth: writer and environmentalist and Kate Raworth: ‘economist’.

Wendell Berry discussed his relationship to the land and the fundamental importance of life sustaining top soil. He spoke of love for the hill he gazes upon from his farmhouse. He prefers localised, non-intensive farming methods and argues that intensive industrial agriculture is damaging not only ecology but even our culture. His vision is about the land under our feet and our need to connect locally within community. Bridgnorth argues that what is required is similarly a return to the connection with nature while accepting that owning and running a small plot is not practical for all. He emphasised individual action against systemic degradation and destruction, as does Berry. Both however seem to accept that we are locked into current systems. Raworth outlined her ‘doughnut economics’ based on the planetary boundaries concept and a realisation that mainstream economics takes no account of nature except as an externality. She provides literally a new picture of the economy to shift consciousness towards this new paradigm of understanding our relationship to nature.

The relevance for health is of course based on our understanding of the wider determinants of health and the emerging domain of ‘Planetary Health’. The starting point is of course that we cannot survive without clean water, air and food that is sourced sustainably. Climate Stability, Biodiversity and Global Ecosystems are the foundations for wellbeing and health – not wealth, land ownership and fame.

Although each of them discussed a more positive vision for the future, there was nothing in the discussion that gave one pause for hope. The individual action advocated by Berry and Bridegnorth are of course vital. But neither provided any evidence or suggested that the big players  – agribusiness, the fossil fuel, or the extractive industries are listening. There was nothing in the discussion that positioned their philosophies as centre stage, indeed they still sound very marginal. Raworth’s doughnut economics is an acknowledgement of its marginality, hence the need for a new economic paradigm. Look in vain during the current 2017 electioneering for mainstream radical thinking about how the UK economy should be re- orientated. Instead we are treated to new versions of neoliberalism from the Tory party, like promising a cure to a cancer patient by the simple expedient of adopting mindfulness.

A critique of neoliberalism, the context in which these visions operate in the US and the UK, is that it has its blind spot that Raworth points out. On the natural environment it is silent rooted as it is in a vacuous theory oversimplifying human behaviour and need. It says nothing about the wider determinants of health or indeed that it values planetary boundaries. However, it has power and influence. But it is the power and influence of small minds who have large wallets. These moronic men of wealth buy idiot men of power. Their wealth provides an outward patina of competence and wisdom, as if an Armani suit bestowed vision.

As interesting and grounded in the Earth as the discussion was, the conclusion is that we are running headlong into a Nietzschian abyss. The ‘last men’ run the world, staring into an abyss but the abyss stares back. We look, but see ourselves reflected. We see into our own dark lifeless eyes leading down into vacuity. These eyes look good to us because we have seen no other.

We no longer look to the bright stars, instead we develop an endless stream of shiny bright things to dazzle us in our mediocrity. We mistake digitalisation for vision, financialisation for creativity and automation for transcendence. We travel faster, communicate faster, produce faster but we are in the slow lane leading into shit creek cul de sac. Art is a path to transcendence but our art is x factored commodified comfort. God is indeed dead but instead of striving for beauty and all that we could be, we fill the void with banality. We are content with ‘is’ and are blind to what ‘could be’. We consider that ‘what is’ should be the same as what ‘ought to be’. We are thus prey to demagogues and the mad because we have no thoughts of our own. Our thoughts have been bought, stripped of meaning and sold back to us wrapped in a superficial glittering package which is signifying nothing. They who sell, wander off into the abyss themselves, laughing as they go.

The world is black, because we have given up the light.

The Trump Card has been played

Fuck nationalism. fuck fascism and fuck off petty patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel, and the bastard son of xenophobia. For every narrative blaming the dispossessed, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the disabled on benefits, the unemployed, the old, the sick and mentally ill for their problems, fuck off. How many times does it need pointing out? Who crashed the financial system in 2008 leaving you to pick up the bill? Who decided to move your job to a foreign country because their labour is cheaper? Who turns a blind eye to off shore tax havens while simultaneously sipping champagne with asset strippers, amoral financiers and fancy Wall Street brokers? Who likes to import cheap labour? Who makes cuts to public Infrastructures, housing and education? Who spews lies on their front pages and on the sides of buses? Who is relaxed about the filthy rich because they are the filthy rich’s friends? Who sells arms to terrorists? Who owns media empires peddling a narrow narrative about spurious ‘market freedom’ while undermining the Rule of Law reminiscent of Nazi slurs? Who wants to sell off the NHS to private sector companies they have interests in? Who wants you duped, ‘baked off’ celebrity obsessed, focused on blaming each other? Who owns swathes of our cities, luxury yachts and gated properties with concierge doctors, private pilots and private armies just in case? Who is militarising the police to protect their assets from indigenous protest? Brexit sentiment riles at elites, but fails to grasp that British elites will still not give a fuck about your house, your job, your health or education. Who is it travelling first class, business class, private class while public transport slowly becomes an expensive farce? Who made a pact with Saudi Arabia to secure oil, and thereby provided refuge for the death cult that is Wahaabism not Islam? So, fuck off with your fascist inspired stories about people, yes human beings, many of whom literally bear scars from bombs and bullets made in the U.K., the USA, France and Russia. Take your first world middle England petty nationalism that has benefitted from two centuries of plunder, war and genocidal imperialism, wrap it in the Union Jack and stuff it up your arse.

Meanwhile, the western media holds it breath waiting for ‘the’ result. When it comes, it will either be turd like, slithering out hell’s anus wearing a blond toupee made from the flaxen hair of Teutonic virgins pulled by force screaming from as yet otherwise unblemished pudenda, or it it will plop into our laps like our old flea bitten moggy mewing to distract us from the fact of the decapitation of your budgie with one swish of a razor sharp claw. The western media will pore over the significance of the win. If the puckered lips, which resemble a dockers ringpiece after a curry night in Mumbai wins, then stand by for all the cockroaches of bigotry, fear and petty nationalism to come crawling out from within the festering pus soaked sores they call home to crawl over to your baby’s crib and shit in it. If the old guard get their girl in, stand by for a wave of mysogyny to distract you from who is actually pulling the levers. Guns will be cocked as second amendment sympathies were given succour by a demagogue whose only success is ‘getting away with it’.

The real tragedy here is that many who lost their livelihoods, their prospects and their children’s future due to the strategic decisions of the greedy bastards, have turned to a Greedy Bastard to save them. It’s like suffering dry anal sex and then instead of reaching for the Vaseline one grabs a pineapple for another go at it in case that feels any better. Not since the Somme were so many led so badly. The western media will lap it up though also decrying the worse excesses as their bank balances improve. A weeping crocodile would have at least the good grace to look embarrassed at his lachrymous act if caught out. The western media will shake their bourgeois heads in disgust and then retire to bed in Uptown New York wondering how this genie was able to not only get out of the bottle but was able to call down a shower of shit. They will forget they rubbed the bottle with all the fervour of a masturbating schoolboy, whose weak grasp of the short term consequences of his action is in inverse proportion to the clutch of instant gratification. It will get messy….

Well, now we know.

The Dow plummets and the Futures market foresees gloom. The capitalist class executive have a momentary wobble as it seems “their girl” will not make it. The political power elite in the US have, despite and because of their best efforts, elected the wrong candidate. Not to worry, there is money to be made in construction, arms, civil surveillance, policing, health insurance and in ‘corrections’. The congruence of interest of the CCE has backfired momentarily as the men of media wealth have bought the (wrong) man of power. The ‘Greedy Bastards’ have miscalculated but they need not fear, the flaxen haired turd will not seriously alter the basic foundations upon which money can be made. They’ll merely have the inconvenience of switching their investments to less volatile markets and wait for the storm to settle. It will be a media storm at first, but not a lot will change. Police will still kick the crap out of native Americans, and drones will still kill civilians. IS will be pleased as punch, their caliphate one step closer in their eyes. Putin will welcome another nut job to the growing list of complete bastards that run countries. Big Oil rejoices as the Paris accord gets put back on the shelf. Big Pharma will sell even more antidepressants and Big Celebrity will go into overdrive to provide distraction and succour to an even more duped population. God Bless America.

Now, we’ve all had a bit of fun with both Brexit and Trump. Markets will get in a tizzy for a while because they don’t like uncertainty. The economic infrastructure will not change much as the capitalist class will readjust and will welcome someone in the White House who does not like to pay tax and is contemptuous of health, environmental and social regulations. They publicly abhor his redneck views on women, gays and non whites but these groups are only useful to Capital as reserve armies of labour. Their concerns are not Capital’s concerns. His chief crime is not being Ivy League or Oxbridge and thus speaks like an angry docker whose beer has been spilled. Their own noxious views are of course spoken with far more finesse in boardrooms and banks. Capital does not care who is in the White House as long as the structures remain. And they will. Capital looks with disdain on the culture wars on abortion, gun control, gay and women’s rights, as long as they don’t affect the bottom line. These culture wars are poor people’s wars and it suits Capital very nicely to keep the populace arguing over the cultural superstructure as important as it is for the living breathing individual who experiences the sharp end of bigotry. No, the end of the world as we know it has not arrived, it has morphed into a nastier bigoted version of itself. The nuclear option however….I do shudder to think of Trump in a room full of US hawks. Yet he may work with Putin in mutual backyard Empire building, leaving NATO out in the cold.

Nadalek Lowen

In a feeble attempt to bring some festive cheer to you all, I shall start by using the most appropriate phrase: “Happy Christmas”, “Feliz Navidad”, “Nadalek Lowen” “Vesele Vianoce” “God Jul” and “Buon Natale”.   I acknowledge that my family and friends are all pretty much from a certain demographic and so there is no need to worry about ‘Equality and Diversity’ issues and thus fear of offence to those of all faiths and none. The majority of friends and family, as you will no doubt be aware, are fond of imbibulation rather than the bible or the qu’ran or the torah. The odd one or two feast at the nipples of the Goddess of Wu but that’s ok. No animals get harmed by Wu worship, although vegetables get a hard time. In any case, we have had the winter solstice, the year is turning and the sun is making its slow trek northwards. My antipodean cousins still have half the summer to enjoy, so hurrah!

 

It is now nearly 1300 on Christmas Eve, GMT. Richard, Karen and the girls are still abed in the far West in British Columbia, Sam is breakfasting in New York, Arantza and Pilar are an hour ahead in Asturias, as is Haden and Luby near Bratislava, Benedikt and Beatrice in Rome, May and Lars in Norway…it seems the whole of Europe is in the same time zone except the UK (insert Brexit reference here). For Lesley in Brisbane it is very nearly Christmas day and it already is for Trevor in Adelaide and for Roger and Liz, Dave and Lesley in New Zealand. I often think of you all spread right across the known world. To you all I wish that 2017 brings joy, laughter and Vaseline for those uncomfortable moments.

Dear George (4)

13th October 2016

 

 

Dear George,

 

How are you old chap? I’m sitting here, toes in the pool, and warming my bones in the jolly old Maldivian sun, and just as the second plop of the ice in the G and T settles, I think of dear old you.

 

I note that the “Torygraph”, I know I shouldn’t but I do still giggle at that, is putting it about that you’ve gone to ground, not been seen since, well you know, and that a sighting of you is as rare as an oiled up spanking in St Theresa’s inner office. So ‘whats’s up’ (as they say in Brixton).

 

Has ‘Madame La Garde’ offered you a post at the IMF, has the World Bank called? Did those nice chaps from Beijing come through with that ‘investment’? I bumped into Tony on my way here, sends his regards by the way, and among the commiserations on the result he slipped in a mention of that directorship if your still interested? Cherie gave him a hard stare at that but I know who wears the trousers in that relationship. So, give him a call, you’ve still got his number? If not, call my people, I’ll let them know its you. I’ve had to field any number of crank calls recently so use the password: ‘Brexit’.

 

I always chuckle at that.

 

Well, nearly always.

 

I can’t tell you what a relief its been to leave all the hurly burly behind in London. Sam’s much happier now that’s there’s no need to ‘meet and greet’ the great unwashed. Smiling in public was never her forte, never had a need to before I got the top job. At Smythson’s, her talent for luxury was well suited, never a need to kowtow to nobodies. It was in her genes of course, Charles 2nd being an ancestor and Daddy being the 8th baronet of somewhere probably northern. I did feel for her having to smile and nod politely at number 10 tea parties as some blatherer spouted on about the deficit (not you of course!) or the colour of monkeys. Mind you, I don’t mind telling you (no names, no pack drill) that all that pent up frustration was taken out rather positively on my downstairs department later.

 

So, what’s new? Well I can’t tell you how lovely the sunsets are here. Remember that bash we had with Pip Green on his boat offshore at Monaco? You know, the night Cliff was caught with his trousers down with one of Bill and Melinda’s valets? Just being a ‘bachelor boy on holiday’ was his excuse. Anyway, the two of us were up on top deck alone, watching the setting sun, softly singing “jolly boating weather” when all of a sudden the peace was broken suddenly and loudly by the sound of a bucket of vomit spilling into the swimming pool below. You bet me a tenner it was Prince Andrew who we’d last seen face down, clutching a bottle of fizz, in the lap of a rather exquisite ‘model’ behind the lifeboats. How we laughed when we saw it was actually old pip himself, buck naked skinny dipping, doing back stroke, his old todger in full view the size of rain soaked maggot, only smaller. No wonder Mrs Pip gets a decent bonus from the BHS business. I bet that’s the only way he can now satisfy her.

 

Oh, how we laughed.

 

How we laughed.

 

Back then.

 

Righto. Old chap must dash, the fizz doesn’t open itself and Sam is getting a bit, well y’know.

 

Happy days!

 

Pip pip,

 

Dave

 

ps Boris? She’s taking the piss.

The neoliberal revolution and Health

Neoliberalism has various meanings, but many commonalities (Hall, 2011). Nurses in the UK’s NHS, alongside their colleagues elsewhere, may not be familiar with the term but they will be familiar with its effects on service delivery, patient care and of course their own working conditions (Abramovitz & Zelnick, 2010; Gonçalves et al., 2015; Horton, 2007; Reiger & Lane, 2013; Wright, 2014).  Stuart Hall outlines the main ideas underpinning what he calls the ‘neoliberal revolution’ (Hall, 2011). This is useful for nurses in order to first understand and then to act.

 

The main ideas according to Hall (2011) are:

  1. It is grounded in the idea of the ‘free, possessive, individual’; a concept understood in classical economics as ‘homo economicus’ – the rational actor in a market weighing up costs and benefits of consuming decisions according to price signals. Therefore:
  2. The State must not govern society or dictate to individuals how to dispose of their private property.
  3. The State must not regulate the free market.
  4. The State must not interfere with ‘God Given’ rights to make profits or to amass personal wealth.
  5. The State is tyrannical and oppressive.

 

In the health service it means:

 

  • The State should not really be running hospitals. Instead private sector companies, and health care professionals should offer their services for a fee. These providers should compete in a market
  • Patients are not really patients but consumers of health care services and so should decide what they want, when they want it and where they want it.
  • The State should not tax the public to pay for health services, instead there should be private health insurance or provision by family, charity and friends.
  • The NHS gets in the way pf private sector companies money making services by distorting the market.
  • There should not be any national pay and conditions for service providers, that should be decided by the market, so where demand outstrips supply the price (wages) should go up.

 

 

 

Abramovitz, M. & Zelnick, J. (2010) ‘Double jeopardy: the impact of neoliberalism on care workers in the United States and South Africa’. International journal of health services : planning, administration, evaluation, 40 (1). pp 97.

 

Gonçalves, F., Oliviera-Souza, S., Gollner-Zeitoune, R., Leite-Adame, G. & Pereira do Nascomento, S. (2015) ‘Impacts of neoliberalism on hospital nursing work’. Texto contexto – enferm., 24 (3). pp 646-653.

 

Hall, S. (2011) ‘The neoliberal revolution’. Cultural Studies, 25 (6).

 

Horton, E. (2007) ‘Neoliberalism and the Australian Healthcare System (factory)’. Proceedings 2007 Conference of the Philsophy of Education Society of Australasia. Wellington. Available at: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/14444/1/14444.pdf (Accessed: 7th December 2015).

 

Reiger, K. & Lane, K. (2013) ”How can we go on caring when nobody here cares about us?’ Australian public maternity units as contested care sites.(Report)’. Women and Birth, 26 (2). pp 133.

 

Wright, S. (2014) ‘Cash v compassion: underpaid care workers expose the battle between the profit and the service ethos, says Stephen Wright.(Reflections)’. Nursing Standard, 29 (1). pp 26.

 

Asturias

Asturias

Never heard of it.

Thats because you are busy jetting much further south to the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava to burn your back, lose your wallet, dignity or virginity in the mediterranean sun.

Asturias is the northern region of Spain and can be found between Gallicia to the west and Cantabria to the East. Cantabria is home to Santander, the ferry destination and home of the eponymous bank, a seller of debt and false hope. This northern stretch is the Costa Verde, the ‘green coast’ running east west from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic. Its name is a give away. It rains here. A lot. It is also home to the the Picos mountains which rise up much less than an hours drive from the coast. In fact, they are visible from the coastal town of Gijon, shimmering blue in the late summer sun. The town has an alternative spelling; Xixon. Reading both gives you no clue as to its pronunciation. The first G is done by trying to clear your throat while also drawing up saliva onto the back of your tongue. Next, keep that saliva where it is, do not let it fly across the room as you proceed to the i, this is pronounced ‘hee’ and yes with a harsh ‘h’. The j is just to confuse you when in fact it should be another ‘h’. So far you should have a ball of spit at the back of your tongue as you expel a harsh ‘hee’ then a ‘hon’ with emphasis on the second syllable. The last ‘n’ is a soft n. Think of taking the piss out of the french accent by going ‘on he on hee on’, donkey like and you are nearly there. Saying ‘Santander’ is a piece of piss by comparison, and is the reason Brittany Ferries built a ferry port in Cantabria rather than Asturias. If you still have saliva in your throat “you may now swallow it” (as the Bishop said….).

The landscape is ‘undulating’, a bit like Devon and Cornwall but with menaces.The airport sits right on the coast, on top of a cliff, in a similar fashion to Newquay. This is because this is probably the only bit of flat land they could find. This is farming country, make no mistake about it, and very proud they are too of their produce. I’m in Asturias to do some teaching for the University of Oviedo, the main city in the region. Oviedo sits in a wide valley, upon hills, but between high mountains to the north and south. It takes about 50 minutes by bus, being 44 kms from the coast and right on the edge of where the geography begins to get really serious. A clue is that the few rail and major roads there are, hog the coastal stretch west to east and the odd valley north – south. The bus route takes an ‘autovia’, a two lane quiet motorway across river valleys on viaducts and through deep hillside cuttings. One minute you will be looking up at the fields, the next looking down to a tiny village in a valley. There is no rail link from the airport to Oviedo. You either take a taxi (mortgaging your wife first), blag a lift, steal a donkey or take the hourly bus which runs straight into the city. However, once in Oviedo, the railway happily skips back out to the coast to end at Gijon (pass the tissues).

Asturias is ‘famous’ (in Asturias) for cider, ‘fabada’ and rain. The King of Spain was the Prince of Asturias before acceding to the throne. Therefore it can be assumed that the rest of Spain has heard of the region. The Prince of Asturias title is akin to the UK’s ‘Prince of Wales’ but without the rabid overtones of English Imperialism snuffing out nascent Welsh independence through the vicious application of royal marriages. So, apart from Royalty we are left with booze and beans, for such is ‘fabada’.

The Cornish love a pasty and will duel to the death the right to establish who makes the best: ‘little Philps in Foundry’ or Rowes. Likewise, the Asturian fondness for fabada rivals the energy used by the most fanatical follower of Islamic State for zeal, single mindedness and sheer bloody loyalty to the cause. Take belly pork and cut it into chunks, likewise ‘morcilla’, i.e. spanish black sausage, and then some chopped chorizo and cook in a casserole with big white ‘fava’ beans stewing in a stock of cider. Serve with rustic crusty bread and more lashings of cider. Tiz simple, tiz filling, and makes you fart till your heart stops. They kill for it here. It is on every menu usually as ‘Fabada Asturiana’, just to remind you what region was responsible for letting you slip into farting orchestrations that would rival the brass sections, especially the trombones, of several colliery bands. The chorizo is spicely superlative, the morcilla a dark, black, devil’s penis of a sausage and the pork follows up the main act with the quiet confidence of a second chance virgin who knows how to tickle a scrotum. The beans have been wallowing in all of that meat and cider stock and have taken on the strength of a cuckolded dwarf at a piss up. What they lack in size they make up for in punch. This is not a dish for those of a nervous disposition. If you like your food to be robust, this little stew will stick around and kick your sorry arse until you faint. In short, it is bloody wonderful. The cider that goes with it is a Laurel to fabada’s Hardy. Cloudy and scrumpy in nature, this has the taste of…well, apples, what else? With a 6.5% alcohol rating, you need to be sat down, preferably near a wooden beer stained bucket, or an ambulance, just in case.

Food does not get any tastier than this.

This sums up Asturias in many ways. Rustic, simple, and warming. A comforting place to be, foreign but not strange, different but exactly the same. It is still Spain, but not as you know it. If you’d like a break and have a mind to try a different Spain, come and enjoy.

Day 13 Vannes to Rosporden

Some people like numbers. Take the number 10 for example, very useful indeed for common arithmetic especially in the decimal system for which it is a necessity. 0 and 1 of course are the foundations of current developed societies across the globe. Human life is now probably unlivable without the 0 and 1 binary system. Some like to live their lives in binary with simple yes/no alternatives to questions being suffice. These people are usually men. It would be rude to call number lovers geeks, but that has never held me back. So, for all the geeks out there today’s numbers:

68 miles, 106 kms, 5 hours 8 mins in the saddle time, 0 punctures or broken spokes, average speed 12 mph, 2 ham and cheese baguettes, 4 coffees, 2 crepes, about 6-7 litres of water, 1 ice tea, 1 lemonade, 8 Breton biscuits, 2 bananas, 1 2CV, 25 degrees, and now 2 cold beers.

For the geographers: towns ridden through: Aurey, Hennebont, Quimperle and now Rosporden.

Quimperle seems especially pretty as it sits in the valley of the confluence of two rivers. Today is the Fete De l’Eau in which bunting and flowers decorate the riverside walks, market stalls abound, the cafes are thronged and an air of jollity and nonsense infuses everyone with…of course, ‘bonhomie’, a word we english have to borrow because our basic misanthropy prevents us from developing it. There is a tug of war, with canoes, on the water and music from the 1970’s. The two are not necessarily related. All of this of course in glorious sunshine. Women are wearing straw hats and smiles, the men are in the bars looking at the women in straw hats and smiling. Children are amusing themselves with ice cream and crepes. We’ve stopped at a bar to watch the riverside scene while stuffing our faces, one could sit here all day and let nothing happen. The French seem quite good at letting nothing happen, bar eating and drinking in the sunshine. They are bit like the Cornish in this regard who have let nothing happen for a few decades now. I encourage you to let nothing happen for a while, you might quite like it. Achievement is over rated and best left to Londoners, the insane and Germans.

The hotel is right beside the railway station which for me is heaven. I think it might be the TGV lline from Paris-Nantes-Brest. I could spend the evening just watching out for trains, but this might be anti social, a bit like picking your nose as you say “I Do” at the alter. As today is Sunday the hotel restaurant is closed. This happens here quite a lot. Sunday that is, about once a week and results in hotels closing their restaurants. So we will have to walk into ‘town’, a word I use loosely to describe this particular collection of houses. I’m not sure yet if this is the wild west of Brittany where they shoot your hat and eat your horse.

I might have alluded to, or made reference, to the relationship between Brittany, or Briezh, and the rest of France being like that between Cornwall and England. Many of you will know of Breton culture and language and its celtic fringe nature. Both Cornwall and Briezh have a black and white flag, a language, a ‘Lands End/Finisterre’, stick out into the Atlantic, cider, colonised by the neighbouring country, a crushed rebellion, sea food, and ‘attitude’. Their road sign are in two languages and they have a rivalry with a neighboring county. And cows. Lots of them. Differences include a very very fast train from the far west, Brest, to the capital and a motorway going both east and south. Perhaps the Cornish should try and burn down Paddington to make a point? The sunshine here can be very liquid as well but is currently of the ‘hot variety’. They of course do not have decent ale or pasties. I think there is a an opportunity to sell the French both of these items. I know these would be as well received by the French as a free brothel on Sundays.

Tomorrow is the last long day of 88 miles to Landernau. It will be warm, it will be hilly. There will be beer at the end of it.

A Bientot.

Day 10 Saumur to Chamtoceaux

We are still following the Loire as it slowly flows towards the Atlantic. It is a wide shallow river flowing over many gravel banks of yellow and white chalk or sandstone. We joined it at Orleans 3 days and 270 miles away. Sunshine all the way, in our faces, as has been the wind. It has been a steady headwind of about 20 miles an hour. French weather forecasts put it at 50 kph. Try pointing a hairdryer at your face for three days, while also getting the ambient air temperature up to between 30 and 43 degrees. We have forgotten what a tail wind feels like. The good news is that in this wind a cyclist’s fart reaches Paris way to the east long before the sound of it reaches the cyclist’s ears.

From Saumur there are small roads that hug the riverbank which we follow for about 10 miles. The river flows almost exactly from East to West and is flanked on its southern bank by rocky escarpments all the way. Vantage points allow a view across the the flat north bank while the rock on the south provide for many caves for storing wine. This is of course wine country, the many vineyards sitting on the southern hill and slopes. At one point we pass a cave called La Herpiniere selling sauvignon blanc. I know this because Ann and I visited here a few years ago. We still have the wine glasses. The wine itself is long gone. Whites predominate but we also pass through Anjou where a half decent rose can be found.

We make steady progress towards lunchtime exchanging the occasional bonjour with passing cyclists. The day is getting hotter, we are drinking plenty of fluids but need to stop for food. The small towns seem uninterested in playing any role as a victualing station as time after time we find whole streets closed. With blood sugars getting low we reach a road that starts winding up a hill more than usual. The D751 from Saumur uses the southern bank and thus hits the escarpment from east to west. The result is a series of undulations and mini hills through the villages and towns. Very scenic, quite tiring. At a panoramic viewpoint we decide the stop and eat what remains of this morning’s baguette. It is hot, we sit in the open air under a baking sun. The view across the northern bank extends for miles as we are high above the river. Time came to move on to try and find some food. The road continues to climb and bend. We’d got no further than a few meters when we saw a restaurant with an ‘open’ sign. So, all the while when we’d been eating a bit of bread and cheese in the heat, just above us on the road was a terrace restaurant complete with sunshade. On seeing the sign we both burst out laughing, if only we had kept going just a few more meters.The sting however was that chef had just stopped cooking and so no more food orders were being taken. Instead of a decent meal, we sipped ice cold coke in the shade while the staff had their freshly cooked lunch.

We cycle for another 16 kms until we reach a town that is open, sort of. Bar Tabacs might not serve food but they will allow you to eat what you bring. We find a boulangerie, buy the necessaries and sit in the shade at the Bar Tabac on the main street in Challones sur Loire. There are a few french loiterers, but otherwise any noises people might make are drowned by the tumble weed blowing down the street. Rural France is never open it seems, it is peace, heaven, unless you want something to eat apart from a baguette from a boulangerie.

We’ve been on the road for 10 days and covered at least 1000 kms. It is a challenge, make no mistake and personally the biggest problem is chalfonts. It is a constant battle to prevent a full blown crisis down there. Yesterday’s taxi was result of losing the battle temporarily. If you ever think of long distance cycling and even think about chalfonts being a problem then just get them sorted. Creams, a blow torch, pliers, it does not matter what you apply, just make it affective.

The last 30 miles was through the heat of the day, sapping energy and judgement. The views continue to be stunning. We finally reach our destination but at mile 70 the road decides to go into a series of uphill hairpins. We discover why later at the hotel. The town is an ancient fortress and thus is built at the top of a big hill overlooking the river and surrounding environs. There is a viewpoint just a few meters from the hotel. The Loire is silver in the evening sun which is setting while casting pinks, reds and oranges up to the clouds above. the viewpoint is atop a rocky escarpment probably 400 feet up. Way down in the valley on the northern bank runs the TGV to Nantes. words fail. we’ve just had dinner and a half bottle of Muscadet sur Lie and a nightcap of proper malt whisky. It could only get better if Ann were here.

Tomorrow is another 70 miles north to Rennes.

You just have to love France.

a bientot!

Day 3 Beauvoir to Mayenne

Day 3

Morning sneaks in the back door quietly, no fanfare, no red sky in the morning as the sun hides behind cloud. Breakfast calls and we are greeted with more than a faint whiff of marijuana in the bud. The owner looks like an old hippy from the 60’s and it seems he is keeping up old habits. Just to make sure he is in touch with his roots, he is wearing an orange flowery tie dye shirt.

Across the road from the hotel is a handy boulangerie where we stock up on quiche and baguette. This is not very adventurous of us, and lacks imagination, but we are on bikes and after the first 20 miles this is just what we will want. And so we set off under grey but dry skies. The road to Louvigne is again cycling paradise. We stop here for food, coffee and a couple of pictures.

We stop outside a cafe and I reach into the bar bag for my wallet and see that it is not there. It is always there, it should always be there. That is its place. Nowhere else. This is because I don’t want to spend time looking for it and also because I often leave things behind. But it is not there. I stare at the place where it should be, willing it to appear but it does not. The map is there, the iphone is there, the wallet is not. Adrelanine shoots through me as I consider that the wallet is in the Boulangerie in Beauvoir. Perhaps a taxi back? Will it still be there? Has a Frenchman eaten it (don’t laugh, they eat everything here). In just a few seconds I go through my options: Taxi or muddle through without it. Thats it, thats my options. I’m just a tad below the panic setting. Where is the nearest British Consulate? Am I insured. Am I about to sh*t myself? Do I want to cycle two hours the way we just came? The answer to the last three are yes, nearly and f*ck off.

Boulangerie? Where I bought the quiche? Where is the quiche? Thats not in the bar bag either. Now we are going to starve. No wallet, no quiche. Things are getting worse. Sean just stands there saying nothing. This is exactly the correct thing to do. No ‘helpful’ comments like “where did you last see it?”. I guess he intuitively knows that things could get rough very soon.

Quiche? Maybe it is in one of the panniers? It is!! On top of the wallet!! The adrenaline surging around my system has now resulted in hunger pains that would put childbirth in the shade for discomfort levels. I’d rather catch my scrotum in a revolving door than go through that again. So, without any more fuss, we slip into the cafe for food.

At the next table is sat another cyclist as it turns out. He is not on his bike today, just popped in for lunch. We learn that he has cycled all three routes up Mont Ventoux in one day. Chapeau! As we leave, he comes outside to see the bikes, and shows real interest. As he wanders back up to his car, I can’t help but notice he is built like a whippet rather than the British Bulldog I resemble. Perhaps I should put that croissant down.

The panniers on the bike weigh about 16 pounds. Thats a small dog or three bags of potatoes, or a large Philps pasty. The extra weight is just dandy going downhill although braking too quickly induces a bit of a wobble. Going up hill is different. Today on our way to Mayenne, we meet one or two slopes which in Cornwall would count as a hill, or ‘les montees’ as they call them here. I call them something else.

We stop again at a town called Garron for coffee and quiche. Upon parking the bikes, Sean looks for his wallet. However, it is not in the bar bag where it should be. It is always in my bar bag for all the reasons mentioned above. This time it is not there. Taxi? Two hours cycling back? I say nothing because that is the correct thing to do. No helpful comments like “where did you last see it?” I value keeping my scrotum where it is rather then being nailed to the nearby church door.
We pop inside and make our order, then I have to unload the handlebar bag again. A portly older frenchman is admiring the bike and panniers, his verdict? They are ‘impermeable’. As I rummage around in them, another younger more wiry, and bald, chap is smoking a cigarette, turns to me and says “Shitty weather for it” in what sounded like a Yorkshire accent. It is and he says he lives here. “Quiet” he says. This is a description not a command. the shittiness referred to is the rain that has started. ‘Just a shower’ I think and pop inside for coffee.

Garron is about 22 kms from Mayenne. No problem. The ‘shower’ thinks its no problem as well and follows us all the way. The ‘shower’ looks and feels like ‘rain’ to me. The road kicks up spray from passing cars, which are thankfully few in number. The tyres are as grippy as baby’s hand in butter and only half as predictable. Brakes, well they would be nice to have available. In this weather 22 kms might as well be 22 light years. We finally get to Mayenne alive. And wet.

Food.

Mayenne is closed. There is a lovely river in the middle of town. There are no cafes, bars, restaurants or anything at all beside the river. There are no tourists, no entertainment and what looks like no hope. There is a duck, who incidentally is loving the weather. It could be pretty here. Every second shop is for sale or boarded up. Those that remain should be boarded up. There are no immigrants to blame it on either. This is what is known to economists as ‘creative destruction’, when capitalism realises there is no money to be made and moves on leaving businesses to crumble and bonhomie to dust. Except it is too damp for dust. So, just ‘crud’ really. Redruth by comparison is a thriving metropolis of merriment; filled with peace, love, pasties and harmony.

I might have just gone overboard with that last comment.

We do find a good place to eat and to reinforce the feeling of isolation from tourism and its money, there is no menu in English, or anyone who can (or is willing) to speak it. This is not a problem as I can get by. I engage the waitress in not only ordering, but in discussing the finer points of french history, art and literature. I impress her with knowledge regarding ‘Les philosophes’, Jean Jacques Rousseau and the artists of the ‘rive gauche’. Then I wake up and order chips.

Not really. I order a tartin de foie de volialles followed by Gros Pommes ‘La Paysanne’. Sean goes for ‘trois saumon’ and an escalope de veau a la carbonara. In other words, chicken liver pate, potatoes in a creamy sauce with lardons and chicken; salmon and calf meat and pasta. But it sounds and tastes so much better in French. It really does. It is really really good.

Unlike the rain which is still falling. It is July?

Tomorrow is a rest day of 37 miles to Alencon.

bon nuits mes enfants.

Roscoff to St Brieuc Day 1

Everywhere is grim in the rain. I suspect ‘Sun City’ and its wall to wall blue skies would resemble Grimsby on a wet winter night in February in the rain. I wager even Las Vegas would lose a little of its lustre, Antibes its joie de vivre and Malaga would be misery incarnate. Roscoff offers grey stone walls and seagulls in three part disharmony in the early morning drizzle. I thought Fort William laid claim to wettest town in Northern Europe. It has a serious rival this morning in France. That all being said, we are used to this and shrug off the damp quicker than a Scotsman forgets his wallet in a restaurant.

We set off against a headwind towards Morlaix. We are wearing the high viz jackets that were nearly left at the Copthorne in Plymouth. Sean had bought lights and now had to fit them because the light was as dull as bowl of gruel and only half as useful. Light like this merely hangs around in damp patches, cloying, dismal and unapologetically surly. We have nearly 80 miles of this to go and so, with stiff uppers hardly quivering, we tweaked the nose of adversity. It could be worse. Possibly.

it is 20 miles to Morlaix, and the road bends and sweeps through the Brittany countryside to then meet the Morlaix estuary. As we enter the town I try to take a drink from the bottle, but while trying to replace it back in its cage it slips out of my fingers, bounces against the frame and into the road. This induces mild panic because I’d rather lose my virginity to a rum soaked docker than lose a vital piece of equipment. Thus spooked, I stop at the side of the road whereupon the panniers decide to shift their centre of gravity in such a manner as to induce what is known as an ‘unplanned dismount’. There is blood. Just a tiny bit on the end of a finger. There is a muttered expletive which rhymes with ‘punt’.

This being Sunday, and as as you know in France when out cycling every day seems like Sunday in the countryside, we wisely stop at a boulangerie to buy quiche and ham and cheese baguettes, served by a very pretty shop assistant (says Sean) for later on the road. We also need lunch. Morlaix thinks otherwise and is closed save for this one Boulangerie. And yet, the God of cycling smiles as we find a super little cafe. A portion of frites and Tunisian style quiche later we are happy bunnies. Even happier still is Sean who is taken with the doe eyed pretty madame who makes the quiche while we wait.

We leave Morlaix while trying to follow the Garmin’s directions. As all you computer buffs know there is a maxim that says ‘shit in, shit out’ meaning that even the best technology in the world is open to abuse from f*ckwit human input and interpretation. So climbing a hill which cobbled, slippery and very very steep, we realise we have come the wrong way and so have to descend. This could have been an ‘issue’, but again adversity gets its nose punched and we continue towards Giungamp and St Brieuc. We have to stop in a very pretty riverside village called Belle Isle sur Terre for coffee and quiche. We stop again in Guingamp for baguette. Cycling makes you bleddy hungry, I could eat three pasties on the road.

Thankfully the weather clears up in the afternoon and we are treated to blue skies and warm sunshine. I’m so happy I could dance barefoot in freshly laid cow pats. After 120 kms (we are in France) we arrive in St Brieuc (you don’t pronounce the ‘c’ we learn, to my mind why put it there then?). Still hungry we find the only restaurant open, really this is not an exaggeration. This France, this is Sunday. I kill the cow myself, clean it’s bottom and garnish its entrails in garlic. The beer disappears faster than car saleman’s promise. Sleep, perchance to dream. Tomorrow is another 120 kms to Mont St Michel.

I hear its quite nice.

Facebook does not like video uploads in France for some reason, and so we wrestle with technicalities. Ho Hum.