Sunday, July 8, 2012

Scotland, The Brave ...

So I made it to Glasgow, anyway. Arrived in plenty of time at the airport, and thus - only myself to blame, I know - spent two hours faffing about in the bloody Geneva terminal before deciding that perhaps I really should look at going through security.

Where, even though I did remove watch, small change, keys, titanium implants and the delivered-confidentially-under-plain-brown-wrapper "Enhancer" (never know when you might strike it lucky, in foreign parts) and wotnot, I still beeped going through the gate, and was thus singled out for special, not to say intimate, attention by a friendly black giant who complained loudly (and, I hope, jokingly) that everyone that day seemed to want to show him their bums.

Not that he was bad, if a tad old for my tastes, but still a shame I didn't get to be frisked down by his hot blonde co-worker: I suppose she was reserved for the ladies. What is it with these immigration people? I thought same-sex stuff was bad?

Then it was passport control, where the guy was rather suspicious and I had to drag out drivers licence, French ID card and you name it before he was satisfied. In his defence, it is indeed true that the last stamp in my passport has me leaving France and never coming back, and so from his point of view I could hardly be leaving it again five years later.

And on arrival at Edinburgh I was immensely pleased to get a comfortable jolly guy at the desk rather than the enormous grumpy lady next to him. She had the air of someone who bit chickens' heads off for pleasure, maybe she was just having a bad day.

I must say that public transport in Scotland is a pleasure to use: the shuttle bus whisked me to Waverley Station where the ticket people were very helpful and only fifty minutes or so later I was hanging out in front of Queen Street Station, Glasgow, waiting for Malyon to come and find me. And good girl that she is, she'd picked up a couple of bottles of chilled Californian white and a baguette for her poor old father.

(Note: now know why they drink beer over there. A bottle I'd pay maybe €1.90 for, and maybe clean floors with the contents, they have to shell out £5 and pretend to enjoy it - but at that price you would, wouldn't you? And don't get me started on the price of cigars, it's enough to make you give up smoking.)

The baguette was a pretty poor approximation of the real thing, but what the hell: with enough cheese and butter stuffed inside it made a reasonable excuse for dinner. (Another note to self: decent cheddar is in fact bloody good. Unfortunately frikkin expensive in England, and virtually impossible to find in France, unless of course you make a habit of frequenting Laiterie Bayard in Grenoble, or one of the exclusive cheese shops in Paris.)

So the next day, up at the crack of dawn - sort of - to escort my daughter off to her seat of higher learning. God, I hate early rising. Still, oddly enough for Glasgow, it was actually fine and sunny (don't worry, it didn't last). And looking at her, all atypically tarted up, I have to say that it's not every day that you get to realise that your daughter - that small smelly lump that used to spill soggy rice bubbles down your front - is now a beautiful young woman. I suppose I shall have to get used to that.

They certainly do these things in style at Glasgow (est. 1541, if you can trust the sign on the tin): we got herded into the chapel with the high table set up for the great and good, and after half an hour of milling around the organist came out to try to put us all at ease, and teach us how to sing "Semper fidelis". Not, let it be admitted, a great success. Luckily it was in fact a mighty organ, squelched and bellowed enough to drown out our pitiful attempts at singing: too bad the organist was not a monkey. It would have seemed appropriate.

On the other hand, the reception afterwards was somewhat ratshit. Bonus points for the atmosphere - in the cloisters, rather than in the room where they dissect rats, or the stuffed animal chamber - but definite minus points for the fact that the only thing flowing into the glasses was orange juice. And NO NIBBLES! So sad.

Still, I got to meet some of Mal's mates, and Tony's family: Da, partner, and grand-dad. They didn't seem overtly hostile, and Mal even got a text later to say that I seemed to be quite a nice person, so I must have done something right for once.

Not that it takes much. Sometimes it's just the little things, like not sneezing in your beer. (Mind you, the rosé they sell in bars is pretty disgusting. Same colour as raspberry squash, and more or less the same taste. Blech!)

Mal decided to have a quiet night in (fair enough, it had started to persist down, as it so often does over there) which was probably just as well 'cos I was up early again to catch the train back to Edinburgh and the shuttle out to the airport - all under persistent drizzle. So I was kind of over-dressed for the 28°C that was waiting for me in Geneva.

Still, you know how, just before the plane lands, they always do the little bit about remaining seated until the seat-belt sign comes off, and you shouldn't even think about smoking because if you do you'll be digested by the thought police?

Well they did all that, and the plane was happily taxiing up to the terminal, and some-one - French, of course, what other species could it be - stood up and started trying to get his luggage out. From the end of the cabin: "Hello! Hello! What does the nice sign say? Do feel free to close the luggage locker." I swear to god I've rarely seen someone sit down with such alacrity.

So having arrived back around 14:00 Wednesday and spent until 22:00 or so trying to clean up some FTP problems for Fabrice of Cla-Val, Thursday we headed off to the Aveyron for four days. The quickest way - which Margo finally persuaded the GPS to show us - involves going down to Orange, heading west along la Languedocienne autoroute to Montpellier and then north through Millau, where there's that lovely new viaduct.

It's also where, as I was trying to take photos of said viaduct, I discovered that the zoom had died, as the focussing motors went clunk clunk clunk and you can't even focus manually because the focus ring just sends commands to the motors ... of course I hadn't thought to bring the other zoom, just the macro. Still, at least it's just the lens, and not the actual camera.

Whatever, from Millau you just keep on heading in what I can only call directions (various) and if you're lucky or your GPS is smart you will - eventually - arrive at la Capelle-Bleys, where Margo's friends Mijo & Alain live in a comfortable big old house with a lovely garden and a sheltered terrace with an awning, under which it is, as it turns out, very pleasant to take breakfast in the morning. Or, come to that, any other meal of the day.

Be that as it may, and having time to kill before bed, Margo and I wandered a bit and, as one inevitably will, wound up at the cemetery. Some of the names seem a bit odd these days: "Euphrasie Deleris (1876)", "Seraphine", "Euphrosine", then "Zephyrin" and "Firmin" (both male, incidentally). And I must have been a bit tired, because at first glance I thought that the big cross in the middle had been erected by the "lesbien faiteurs" of the parish, until I realised that I'd misplaced a space.

Incidentally, the Deleris (Tremens) family is still going strong, although I doubt that there are many Euphrasies these days.

The next day, as Margo tried herding cats for her dyeing course (what I'm trying to say here is that a group of womencan only be organised with some difficulty), I thought I might as well do at least a bit of tourism, that being mainly what I'd come for, and headed off to Albi, the city of the arch-bishops. It's a lovely place, all in red brick and half-timbered houses above the Tarn. But it was a true ciel de plomb, as the French say: gray sky, stifling hot and humid: I'm sure a lot of people must have been sniggering at the crazy foreigner  who walked deliberately and repeatedly through the fountains outside the Préfecture, trying to cool off.

And while I was there, it seemed a shame not to take in the musée Toulouse-Lautrec. For some uneducated country bumpkin such as myself, who'd only ever seen the cabaret posters and such that he did to make a living, it was quite a revelation. Never realised he was such a skilled portraitist. Chalk one up to experience.

Whatever; the palace and the cathedral are marvellous. Overpowering symbols of temporal power, like the  bishops weren"t too happy with just the spiritual bit. They certainly seem to breathe something along the lines of "make my day, punk". So if ever you get a chance, go to Albi. Worth a detour, you won't regret it.

At this point  I should probably point out that Alain is also M. le maire of this tiny communr in the backblocks, and it's a full-time job. He invited me out for a walk Saturday morning - just to get my appetite up for lunch - around the various sentiers just to make sure that there weren"t too many brambles or nettles to snag unwary tourists.

So even three or four km away he knows everyone, have to stop with news of this or that building permit that's been turned down (well, that'll put an end to one festering feud) or a goat that's got better, or old Mrs Thingie whose arthritis has cleared up, say hello to the daughter that's turned up from Paris ... small-town mayor is not a job I'd want. He likes it, I can see why, but I don't think it's for me. Fortunately; I'm not eligible.

Whatver, after two hours under the beating sun we were both ready for some rosé: followed, as it turned out, by lentilles, steaks de jambon and salad. And bottles of cool red wine, which were definitely welcome.

As if that wasn't enough, the next day I thought I'd head off to Najac, which is punted as some sort of old village, very touristy. As it turned out to be.

Now for some strange reason, the village itself is on the top of a valley (OK, ravine): the actual chateau is at the same level, but on a spur of rock that is only accesible by going down about 400m, then up again. Which, foolishly, I did, in the baking 35° heat, arriving at 13:50 to find out that the chateau opened its doors at 14:30. The choices were pretty stark: I could hang around there with no shade, or I could just say "It"s another bloody chateau" and head back down to find a bar that would sell me a glass of rosé. Guess which option I went for, no prizes to the winner.

And when I finally got back to the car I stripped off, ignoring the bleats of dismay from the Dutch tourists, spritzed myself all over and drove off, swearing that I"d never again go some place that didn't have showers. Mediaeval is all very well ...

I should probably tell you about the surprisingly excellent lunch at the airport at Gaillac, and the houses we looked at, but that can wait for next time. Knackered, going to bed.

1 comment:

  1. They didn't seem overtly hostile, and Mal even got a text later to say that I seemed to be quite a nice person,

    Which is ever so much better than the reception any young man attached to me or Ruth used to get...