Tuesday 23rd March 2010, Exeter
Our last report was over a month ago as we travelled back up through France along the west coast. Since then we have been pre-occupied with other matters and we are now back in Exeter where we have been for the past week.
We will set off again with Modestine in a few days time, but before that there is time to briefly report on the end of our winter travels in France.
When we last wrote we were parked on a chilly exposed promontory of low-lying land in the Vendée. We had been unable to find a campsite open, night was falling and we chanced upon an area for camping cars with electricity. (A few days after this, torrential rains, a tempest and the highest tides of the year combined to flood this vulnerable area, claiming 63 lives, destroying houses and sweeping away caravans, parked vehicles and camper vans. Fate took good care of us. We had brought our return forward by several days so had reached the safety of Caen before disaster struck the Charente/Vendée area.)
The following morning we continued northwards away from the soaking marshlands cut across by hundreds of tiny canals and drainage ditches, camping for our final night at Evron in the Mayenne region.
Next day we were invited to lunch in nearby Laval with Stephane, Catherine and their two children Gladwys and Donatien. Stephane comes from Brittany and he is the elder son of Joël and my late friend Danielle. It was a real pleasure to see them again and to be given a guided tour around their home by the children, particularly eager to show us their bedrooms where they gave us gifts of crayon drawings and a string of blue beads specially made into a necklace for me by Gladwys. It was a wonderful but too brief opportunity to catch up on news of the family. Merci beaucoup à vous tous.
During the afternoon we continued to Caen where we spent a few days with Geneviève, now returned to her house after the fire. She'd only been back a week herself and we had arrived earlier than intended as we were returning to England to attend my uncle's funeral.
Outside, the house looks much the same, but within it is completely new and different. It has been given what the French call a "relooking" - painted in new, light colours, the woodwork everywhere has been stripped and restored, parquet flooring has been laid and new curtains hung. Everywhere looked very bare however, as the cleaned and restored books and pictures waited to be unpacked.
Following the usual pleasure in being together again we set to work, each day bringing changes to the house as we selected the pictures to rehang, unpacked boxes of books, laid rugs and chose new lamps. By the time we left, there was still much to do but the home was emerging, phoenix like from the ashes of last September.
Although the cause of the fire had not been proven, as the kitchen was so badly burned and melted, we all felt convinced it had been caused by the fridge/freezer. Even so, we were astonished when a "product recall" letter arrived from Indesit stating Geneviève's freezer was one of a faulty batch liable to overheat with the risk of fire! The letter complained the company had been trying to make contact by phone without success. No wonder - the house had been burned down! It was a little late in the day for such a warning but perhaps there will be the possibility now of reclaiming some of the additional expenses incurred that were not covered by the insurance.
As usual our time in Caen passed with lightening speed and on 4th March we took the ferry to Portsmouth and made our way to South London to join relatives attending the funeral and celebration of the life of my uncle. He died following many years of stoically endured suffering from Parkinsons disease. We could not have wished him to suffer longer but he will be sorely missed by all of us. An adventurous world-wide traveller in his youth and mentally alert and lively to the last, he was probably the prime inspiration for us producing these blogs which were read to him as they arrived. He selected his own music for his funeral. We made our way into the crematorium to the sound of Elgar's Nimrod and left to the Chris Barber jazz band.
Since then we have been visiting friends and family across southern England and, once arrived back in Exeter have been occupied in planting out the vegetable patch, sorting the garden and getting Modestine MOT'd, cleaned and repacked.
Steve has cared for our house as if it were his own. What more could we ask for? It has been a delight to sleep in our own bed for a few nights, stuff the washing machine with accumulated towels and duvet covers, use our own bathroom and slump in front of the television to catch-up with the news. Actually, we are discovering that missing the news for three months doesn't matter. We left to one round of Labour sleaze allegations and return to find the Party embroiled in yet another!
At the weekend Neil, Jeev and Deyvi came down and despite the rain, we managed a walk down to the sea at Budleigh Salterton across the wet heathland. On Saturday evening we were joined by Kate and Matt for a late celebration of Christmas. Nine of us went down to a riverside pub for supper followed by Christmas crackers, paper hats and silly jokes back home while we ate Christmas pudding and mince pies.
If you've stuck with us throughout these past few wintery months, please stay around. Warmer weather is coming and we'd love you to keep us company as we make our way further east in Europe. We'd planned on Romania but I have developed painful arthritic knees so driving so far could be a problem. We may opt for Sardinia or Croatia instead. Whatever we decide to do we plan on returning by mid-July. We have no definite plans to continue these European travels in the same way after that so hope to see far more of friends here in Britain.