Back in Ireland

(Passing gates, grass, hedges and ploughed fields on our way home…)

We did indeed have calm seas with just a bit of waving motion which I don’t like so I went back to bed until it passed.

When we finally arrived at home trick or treat was in full swing. It was pitch dark, children and adults were wandering on and off the paths. Fireworks were exploding and it took a bit of effort to negotiate the reversing of Ruby into her spot. The freezer had defrosted itself while we were away so that needed attention. Everything else was fine.

Now it’s the next morning and time to write a to do list, hug the washing machine and get the groceries. Oh and empty Ruby, we couldn’t face that in the dark last night.

I do have another project in mind and as you know, from past experience, I have to tell you about it in order to do it but I’m not ready yet… instead I’ll write to you in a week and bring you up to date.

For now: Thank you for reading. To those who emailed or texted or commented or bought my book I really, really appreciate the time and effort and expense you expended.

Thank you for joining us as we wandered this autumn around France in Ruby. Mairead and Denis.

(There we are in Greystones)

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , ,

Nice Calm Seas…

(That’s the door of the church)

We are (hopefully) on calm seas somewhere near the south-west coast of England if you are reading this on Thursday morning. There’s hardly a puff of wind and it’s very cosy onboard… but that’s tomorrow. Today, we are in Cherbourg in the camping car parking where we started six weeks ago. Remember? We had to empty the vinegar water from the fresh water tank. No such jobs today, instead we are waiting to board the ferry at 9pm.

(The back of the church)

On route from Bayeux this morning we stopped in Sainte Mère Église. It’s a town made famous by the old black and white movie called The Longest Day. The movie tells a story from 1944. You might remember yesterday I said Bayeux was the first town to be liberated by the allies? Well, Sainte Mère Église was the first village.

(Can you see the replica paratrooper hanging up there?)

It was late at night June 5th 1944, 14,000 paratroopers were dropped out of planes over the area. They were part of the D-Day invasion. By sunrise the German troops had left or were dead and an America flag was flying from the town hall. One of the paratroopers that night was John Steele. He was a bit unfortunate, his parachute got stuck on the church steeple as he floated into the square. He had a knife to cut himself down but he dropped it so the best he could do was play dead while the fighting was going on all around him. He was 32 years old at the time. Eventually one of the German soldiers holding the church cut the straps of his parachute and dragged him up onto a tiny balcony.

(Can you see the America flag?)

We’re in Sainte Mère Èglise because we need a boost of electricity, the grey days are causing havoc with our solar production. So while Denis got to work at the supermarket plugged into an hour of power for €2, I walked into the old village. It was buzzing. Villages in France are rarely buzzing on a Wednesday morning but this isn’t France.

(That’s a Roman road marker (that little cross on top was added later) the Romans did battle here too)

Well no, it is… but it’s also a tiny bit of America. Everywhere you go you hear American accents, you see American flags. This village is a kind of showcase of how great America was. They were the heroes, everyone was grateful to them. They saved the day. It must be lovely. It is lovely. But it’s also sad. Mainly because you can still imagine what happened here, what happened all over France, all over Europe during the Second World War and the First World War. What’s happening still, in war. You’d think we’d learn, we humans, I mean.

You’d think we’d be doing things differently now. Mairead.

(Here’s Sainte Mère Église)

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , ,

Here’s the story with the Bayeux Tapestry…

(This is where you will see the Bayeux Tapestry)

We’re in Bayeux, an absolutely beautiful town and home to the Bayeux Tapestry. A 70 meter long, 58 panel, linen craft piece housed in the dark in a big house in Bayeux. You cannot take pictures of the tapestry… but fortunately they have replicas and photos they took themselves so I have something to show you.

(This will give you some idea of the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, it goes round the corner in the distance and as long again on the other side)

First, a few things you need to know about the Tapestry – it’s not tapestry. No, it’s embroidery. Tapestry is weaving threads. Embroidery is sewing stitches on fabric and I love sewing and embroidery. I mean I love doing it, I love the simple stitches coming together to decorate a piece of fabric. I’m reticent to admit this but… I don’t love the Bayeux Tapestry… I do appreciate all the work and I LOVE that it’s a story (oh yes I forgot to tell you – it’s a story) but it’s mainly horses and soldiers and the colours are verging on dull. Sorry, Bayeux, I love colourful and hearts.

(Here’s the basic ingredients – linen fabric with design drawn on and thread for the stitches)

Leaving aside my crafting preferences it is well worth a visit. They don’t exactly known who made it or where it was made (possibly England) but it was definitely handmade and definitely not long after 1066. Because it tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It used to be displayed in the cathedral of Bayeux for two weeks every year in order to tell the story of local history. As most people at the time were illiterate, the Bayeux Tapestry was like a picture book story.

So here’s the story…

(Like I said, horses and soldiers)

In 1064 King Edward the Confessor (king of England) sent Harold the Severe to visit his cousin William (he was at this point called William the Bastard…) in Normandy. He wanted Harold to pass on a message that William was his choice for king after he himself (Edward) died. Harold passed on the message and even fought a few battles with William while he was in Normandy. Then he went home but before he did he made a solemn oath to William to support him when he became king of England.

(This bit is Mont St Michel, do you see a green hill with some arches on top?)

Then Edward the Confessor died. Harold, who seemed like such a nice guy until then, decided he wanted to be king and reneged on his promise. He was crowned king of England. Word got back to France and to William in Normandy. He was, as you can imagine, furious. What about the solemn pact? William could not stand idly by. He waited for good winds in the right direction and set off from St. Valery to the coast of England with a huge fleet of boats and soldiers.

(More horses and soldiers fighting)

Harold the Severe heard the news from way up in Yorkshire, 400 miles away. At the time he was fighting off a different enemy but when he won that battle he raced down to Hastings (near the south coast) to sort out William. It took 58 panels to tell the story and the ending was not good for Harold. He was killed with an arrow through the eye. Willian was the new king of England and they changed his name to William the Conquerer (fortunately). I think he was also king of Normandy.(Here’s a lovely silver brooch all the way from County Wicklow! It was in the museum area to explain some of the brooches seen on the soldier’s clothing)

Anyway, there’s a postscript to this story. Nearly 900 years later, Bayeux was the first town freed in 1944 by the Allies and there’s a huge British graveyard here. On the Bayeux Memorial across the road from the graveyard there’s an inscription in Latin: Nos A Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus. It means, We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.

Forgiving and Remembering. Mairead.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , ,

I might be hallucinating…

(We found another amazing Beautiful Village of France)

It’s a wee bit dreary today. I’d love to sit by the fire eating some scones just out of the oven. I suppose it had to happen, I’m suffering from scone-sickness. Croissants, even the ones with almonds can only do so much but when it’s cold and wet and the skies are grey there’s nothing like a hot scone.

(This is a classy village)

There’s nothing like a scone in France either. They have no idea what a scone is. That’s probably the reason the French have such amazing pastries, they are searching for the perfection of… the scone. It’s the one recipe I remember all the ingredients for. In fact I could tell you now, sitting here in the bed in my two winter fleeces and my hat, how to make scones.

(Isn’t it gorgeous? It’s called Saint Céneri Le Gérei)

First you’ll need a pound of self raising flour. That is not a metric measurement and I’m sorry about that but it’s how I learned to make scones and it’s part of the mystic place the scone has in my heart. Also, self raising flour might be just in Ireland… sorry about that. Then you’ll need some butter, 2 ounces is perfect. Also, 2 ounces of sugar. Then one or two eggs and enough milk (doesn’t have to be cows milk, almond’s milk or rice’s milk will work too) to bring the eggs up to a mug full. No I don’t know the size of the mug. It’s my favourite mug, if that helps?

(Full of pretty houses)

Now, before you start, feel your feet on the ground and muster up a good strong grateful feeling in your belly because this opportunity to be as one with some scones has arrived in your life. Then… begin. Weigh out the ingredients and break the eggs into your mug and add the milk or milk variant to them. Chop the butter up into little lumps. It would be great if you had one of those old fawn coloured ceramic mixing bowls from the 1960’s but if not any big bowl will do. You’ll also need an oven tray.

I nearly forgot, turn on the oven to very hot, 200 degrees C or whatever that is in your oven.

(And streets…)

Sieve the flour into the big bowl, pour in the sugar, then add the butter. Rub the butter in with your fingers. Now, take your time, this bit is not to be rushed, this is the best bit. You have to take up flour and a bit of butter reverently in each hand, hold your hands over the bowl and rub your thumb against your fingers so the flour and butter can get mixed. Repeat until the mixture in the bowl looks a bit like breadcrumbs.

(Pretty church)

You might need to wash your hands now, although you should have washed your hands in the beginning, to be honest the rubbing gets your nails lovely and clean… Now it’s time to add the egg/milk mixture. Pour half of the egg/milk mixture into the flour/sugar/butter mixture and using a blunt knife mix the liquid into the dry. Add more liquid until the moment when everything seems to gel. There’s no separation, no bits of flour or butter on the edge, instead there’s one big lump of dough.

(Pretty doors…)

Now, hold your horses, just because this is dough doesn’t mean you have to be rough with it. That’s only for bread and pizza. Scone dough is precious, you continue as you started by treating it with reverence. Take a handful of flour from the bag and shake it over the table (or counter) then place the scone dough, gently onto the bed of flour.

(Here’s the end of the 30km speed limit just in time for the narrow bridge…)

The plan here is to gently shape the dough into a ball and then gently flatten the ball so it’s about two inches high. Then you need to cut the dough into squares with a sharp knife or if you have a scone cutter, into circles. When that’s done, get your oven tray and shake a little flour from the bag onto it and then place the dough scones on the tray. Leave some room between each scone because if you’re lucky your scones will get bigger as they cook.

(Where two roads meet in the village)

Now put them into the hot oven, close the door and set a timer for 16 minutes. When the timer goes off, open the door, turn the tray so that the scones near the front are now near the back and the ones near the back are near the front. Close the door again and leave for 5 minutes, they might be done or you might have to leave them for another 10 minutes. No one knows… that’s part of the mystery of the scone. When they look absolutely gorgeous, they’re done. Take them out.

(There’s even some lovely lichen)

Put them on a cooling tray and take a picture, send me the picture. (No, wait… don’t send me the picture, it would be too upsetting.) Now, slice the scone in half, spread butter and jam on each half and eat it… slowly.

I can almost taste them, Mairead.

(There it is, Saint Céneri Le Gérei)

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Lovely Gentleman of La Flèche

(That’s the gate of the military school on the right and the spire of the church with the ashes to the left)

We spent three nights in La Flèche, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere this trip. On Saturday I went to the tourist office and got a booklet with a walking tour of the town. Then I took a seat outside a cafe, had a cup of green tea and started reading.

(This old shop used to be a haberdashery, selling buttons, sewing supplies and material, sigh)

I hadn’t got very far in my reading when a gentleman who had been sitting outside also, approached me nodding at the booklet and saying something in French. I think he was saying are you enjoying your holidays? but he suddenly stopped when he saw the cover and said, oh you are English! I said, oh yes I’m Irish.

(This is France)

He knew loads about his town and was very interesting. He told me how I could get into the military school if I had a ID card with me. Just be brave and knock on the door and say you want to see the church! He proceeded to tell me that the hearts of the King Henry IV and his wife are in there. Well, not their entire hearts… there’s a story.

(Another little laneway)

The King had always said he wanted his heart buried in the church but that may have just been his way of saying he loved the place. Anyway whoever was in charge of such things took him at his word and when he died they put his heart (or the ashes from his heart, maybe) into an urn in the church. Then when his wife died her heart went into the urn too. Then something they hadn’t anticipated happened – the French Revolution.

(Vintage travel)

In the heel of the hunt the poor king and queen’s urn was taken out into the streets and burned. All was not lost though, some kind gentleman swept up as much of the ashes as he could and kept them safe. These ashes, of the ashes, are in the military church. My new friend was in a hurry to go off and meet his wife so we parted company and I went down to knock on the door of the military school with my Irish driver’s license.

(Another one of the old signs)

I could still be there knocking, for all the good it did me. French schools are on mid-term just like Irish schools. There was no one around. But at least I was brave enough to knock. One other interesting thing he told me was about the river. I’ll tell you tomorrow but in the meantime see if you can guess, there’s a hint in the following photo…

The kindness of strangers. Mairead.

(La Flèche on the Loir)

And here’s La Flèche on the map…

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , ,

Do I look stupid in this?

(Duck!)

Well, hello you! Here we both are (you and me) in the last week… of France, of the daily blogging, of the travelling, of the waking up in a new place every morning. Now what? What will we do next week? What will I spend my daily budget for writing on? What will you be reading with your morning coffee?

(Flowers in the park in La Flèche)

Will we try something different? Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo? Well if you haven’t you might like to google it or hang on, listen, I’ll give you a synopsis: It’s 20 years old and began with a few people challenging themselves to write 50,000 words of a novel for November in 1999. The novel doesn’t have to be finished. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be 50,000 words. (Yep, I know, that’s a lot.) It’s a way to build the habit of writing every day for the month of November. It’s like a kickstart to your next book. Do you want to write a book? Ah go on, you do!

(Look at that lovely sky)

Will we do it? Are you even remotely interested? If you have even a smidgen of interest, could you consider making a commitment? Even to tell one other person? Could you tell me? I won’t tell anyone… unless you want me to.

(And this lovely lane)

What’s stopping you? If you start this November you could have your novel published by next year and then you’ll be able to start your second book, it all starts with this first one. Don’t let anything stop you this year.

(That’s the military college in La Flèche)

Can I tell you a story about what stopped me for so long? Yes? Ok. Once upon a time, I had ginormous fears about what might happen if anyone else saw my writing (let’s be honest I still do…) Or if I told anyone I wanted to write. Or, god forbid, I wrote a book and someone thought it was awful. I would shudder just thinking about how terrible it would be if I made a show of myself. That might be an Irishism, I mean I had ginormous fears about doing something that would make me look stupid.

(Walk towards the light…)

That was enough to stop me doing something that felt very exciting. Something that made me smile just thinking about it. Something creative. Something that was just me expressing me in the world. Looking stupid is not terminal. Stopping myself expressing myself could be.

(Very old gate)

A weird thing happened when I finished Everyday Fearless… nothing. Yes, nothing bad happened when I finished writing, finished publishing and finished sharing my writing. Nothing. To be clear, when I risked looking small and stupid, nothing happened. In spite of it not being perfect, the writing police did not prosecute me. I’m sure some people think it is awful but the big gang of people I imagined laughing at me, didn’t show up either. On the other hand they’re all still out there or more accurately in here but now I know the thing that lowers the volume on their laughter or their criticism, is expression. My expression. Expressing myself. Express yourself. Writing. Or painting. Or drawing. Or whatever creative pursuit excites you.

(Attic windows, red brick chimneys, the church spire and a blue sky – happy day)

Will you take a chance? We could make a show of ourselves. Don’t think too long about this, it’s nearly November. You and I have writing to do. Are you ready?

Making a show of yourself is not terminal, Mairead.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Living the Dream

(Beautiful trees in the campsite)

As I write I’m in the laundry room of the campsite in La Flèche standing guard. This is a lovely campsite with hot water in the showers and toilet paper in the toilets – it’s the little things. They also have washing machines – two and a tumble drier – one.

(Instructions for the washing machine)

I was very excited when we checked in yesterday and spotted the laundry room. So this morning after coffee I gathered all the dirty washing including sheets, pillowcases, towels and tea towels into two pillowcases and hobbled over to buy the tokens and some powder. But when I got to the washing machines they were full of someone else’s clothes. Never mind, I can wait.

(Twenty six minutes left)

There’s one very handy thing about paid washing machines (and driers) they always tell you how long until the load is finished. There was just ten minutes left. So I waited 10 minutes and the machines stopped. And then I waited for another 10 minutes. I waited and waited for the owners to turn up. They didn’t turn up.

(Instructions for the compost bin)

I took out the clothes from one of the machines and put them on top and put one pillowcase full of mine in. Then I went to remake the bed. I retuned 10 minutes later but they still hadn’t arrived. I kept coming back, no sign of them. My first laundry had finished, I put it in the drier and then put the second laundry in the washing machine. I sorted the recycling, learned how to use the compost bin, studied the terrorist leaflet (!) and went back again.

(What to do if there’s a territory attack)

Now, my first set of clothes were dry but… there was still 36 minutes left on the drier and 37 minutes left on the second washing. Having some time to spare I began figuring out how this might work… Does the drier wait with my 36 minutes until I put more clothes in? Or does it just tick down to 0 and I lose my 36 minutes? Or what if the person who’s laundry I’ve been waiting on puts his/her laundry into the dryer with my 36 minutes? Before I had convinced myself to go door to door around the campsite I took a moment to notice it was probably 50 cent worth of dryer time. I went off to think about some project ideas.

(Not my laundry)

Then I came back to find my laundry almost finished but you’ll never guess… you have guessed, haven’t you? Are you still there? The other person’s laundry was tumbling around in the dryer… in my 36 minutes of dryer time!! So now I’m standing here with my wet clothes waiting for the dryer and if past experience is anything to go by the owners of the clothes in the dryer won’t be getting back anytime soon!

(My view for the past hour)

Oh, you’ll never guess this – the dryer just opened by itself! Should I just pop the clothes out? And pop mine in? But what if they’re not dry? Moral decisions and dilemmas… this is my life now.

Before you go to bed tonight hug your washing machine, Mairead.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , ,