Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (42) A Break from Work… (2)
So we set ourselves to rights, thanked our helpful fellow travellers for their kindness, and sat for some minutes on the bike, wondering whether we could still do this. I was still anxious about the remaining petrol in the tank even with a reserve, but we decided we were safer under power for as long as it lasted. So, tentatively, we set off once again. The hairpins began to turn into shallow curves, and eventually we were on high country roads, not understanding much of the roadside signs, and anxiously hoping for a village to appear.
We stopped for petrol in Sant Julia de Loria, and were grateful the attendant spoke some English, and understood the need for two-stroke without being told. I took another look at Jan’s leg, and we fossicked in the case for some Panadol. Then while the petrol was filling I took another look over the bike; surprised there was so little damage. We organised some soft drinks, and some chocolate and were on our way, heading for just north of Barcelona 200kms away.
At La Seu d’Urgelle we turned onto what is now N-260 toward the East, on the southern side of the Pyrénées. The road still had twists and turns, and the most glorious views, but by the time we got to Bagá in Catalonia we were beginning to leave the mountains behind. And our little bike was behaving very well considering. I knew Jan was tired, and probably still suffering some shock from our near disaster, but we still had afternoon left, and I wanted to push to get us to Coast, and find a camp site where we could rest and recover for a couple of days. We had about 100Kms to go, and she hung onto my back, arms wrapped tightly around me.
In late afternoon, we found a campsite close to Calella, set up our little tent, walked with some difficulty down to the beach, and then found an evening meal and crashed. After 1400Kms on a Vespa, we were in Spain and had found our beach.
We woke somewhat worse for wear, with aches and pains and a sense of tension as if we had lost something. From my point of view, I realised I had nearly killed the one I love. That may sound dramatic; histrionic perhaps. But it was very real, and I beat myself up inside for being so naïve and not thinking through the risks. I supported Jan to hobble to the beach the next day, and watched her wince when she put her foot into the sea. It really was totally my fault, and I was gutted. Over the next couple of days, there was a silence between us with Jan telling me she was OK (with a rueful smile), but in that private, guarded way she has sometimes. We swam, we sunbaked in the mornings, we found sardines at a fish market, and breads and grapes at a general market. We zipped up the tent, and took the bike north looking at the Mediterranean glitter. We regained balance, muscles improved, and my mood lifted; Jan’s ankle seemed to be healing well.
Total strangers can be so kind. I am not sure how we met them. I suspect we had gone to a restaurant to find paella to supplement our meagre diet. But George and Bobby seemed to take to us, were bemused by our journey and amused by our newlywed behaviours. They had permanent flat on the Costa del Sol, and obviously loved Spain, spending weeks there each summer. We were a little bedazzled as we got taken under their wing. We later learned that George was an inventor who had worked for the Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts Company inventing the machinery that sorted the various shapes into boxes. He was very much a Cockney who had made good, but remained understated, ordinary, and very funny. Bobby seemed to come from an upper crust family, and had been to private schools. He called her ‘Duchess’, and they seemed to get on famously. Just because she spoke ‘proper’ did not stop her being delightful company.
They invited us to join them on a trip into Barcelona. We were bowled over, but accepted quickly; I suspect the thought of travelling in a car had attractions. They took enormous pride in showing us the sights, and found lunch in a café they frequented. Then we were off to Montserrat, about 50Kms up into the mountains of Catalan. A beautiful drive punctuated by chatty conversation and bits of history about the region. The town was extraordinary place with red-roofed houses apparently built into the cliff face. Despite our total ignorance the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, like so many places in Spain, had a rich religious history mingled with political activism and provision of sanctuary to artists and rebels. A most extraordinary and totally unexpected day. We pledged to stay in touch, and visit when back in England (which we did on several occasions).
We were exhausted and slept late, but then packed up to continue our journey. The romanticized plan was to get as far as we could towards the Italian border over the next few days. I guess I had fantasies of meeting someone famous in St. Tropez, which we had seen in a film starring Brigitte Bardot. Well, sometimes you get lucky.
The sad thing in life is that you don’t know much about your own family history when young. I was only to find a meaningful if tenuous family connection to the south of France much later in life as I grew into the family archivist under the tutelage of my Uncle John Martin. The story is that my grandmother’s aunt Hephzibah Reynolds (who was known as Elizabeth) had become a personal maid to Queen Victoria. She travelled with the Queen on many occasions, including to Nice, a resort much beloved by Victoria, who stayed at the Grand Hotel. Sadly, Elizabeth cut her finger while in Nice, and it became infected leading to septicaemia (in April 1891). It is recorded that Her Majesty was so upset at Elizabeth’s death that she went to the cemetery of St. Brigitte at Grasse and personally chose a spot for the grave of her maid, providing money for upkeep. After the funeral, she visited the grave to lay flowers on four occasions before returning later to England.
Grasse could have been on our itinerary. The ‘now me’ would have liked my younger self to have seen the grave of my nearly famous ancestor and laid some flowers in remembrance. As it happens we only managed to get as far as St. Tropez (93Kms short of Grasse). And we did not bump into anyone famous. Otherwise it was everything we had expected as we spent the day down by the sea watching the people, and the fishing boats come and go; even if our fantasized posh villa was only an overnight two-person tent. Time was getting short, and we decided to turn for home, heading for Aix en Provence.
We did not get very far. As the road wound up into low hills, it began to rain, and this got worse and worse. The bike was doing well, but we were getting saturated. At one point we considered turning back, but Jan thought it would not change much so we might as well keep going. We got as far as a village called Le Luc, and were filled with relief. We could not have stayed outdoors, so for the only time on our journey we sought a guesthouse. The Maman took us in, and guided us to a room. We began to unpack sodden clothes and sleeping bags, and were told to hang these out on the front balcony now the rain had stopped. We asked for a shower, something of rarity on our travels, and although it cost a whole Franc, it was bliss. Recovered, and in almost dry clothes we later joined other guests at dinner – the most exquisite home cooking we had come across in two weeks. Back in the room, we festooned bits from the balcony over furniture to finish the frying process. We slept well. The night (and the shower) ate into our funds; but it had been very special.
Packed up and back on the bike we were happy. We bypassed Aix and headed for Avignon (about 180Kms) where we did the tour of the 14th century Papal Palace. Later we had an outdoor café style early dinner in the cobbled square before finding our campsite down near the Rhone and the Pont d’Avignon. We were back to having fun.
When thinking about our trip we had joked about visiting Montelimar where they made nougat. So here we were the net morning visiting a factory in this very ancient town, and then purchasing a bare minimum block to be treasured all the way home. To be honest, we realized we were running out of money, and wondered how we could resolve the problem. No cheque books of course and, in those days, no plastic cards. So it seemed to we had to head for the single Lloyds Bank in Paris, apparently the only branch from which we could access our own Lloyds bank in England. We had 600Kms to get to Paris, and it was Wednesday (with banks closing over the weekend of course). There was a sense of urgency, so we drove until late afternoon, bypassing Lyons and finding a municipal campsite close to the river Saône at Mâcon. Having set up house, we broke into the Complan for the first time.
The following morning, we headed north with 400Kms to go. The traffic was building up the closer we got, and eventually tired, but mostly hungry, we found a Relais Routiers and stopped for an early dinner. I have never been one for eating offal, though Jan is very happy to eat most things. The set menu was simple; devilled kidneys on a bed of white rice. I did my best, but probably did better with the red wine, and later with the coffee.
On Friday we set off a little late having filled up with petrol, and we stopped only briefly for some Complan about lunchtime. I knew that once we got to Paris we might find it difficult to find the single Lloyd’s Bank, and then negotiate our way through afternoon traffic. I was right, but we did manage to arrive about 30 minutes before the bank closed.
We had no way to verify our account, not having a chequebook with us. Eventually, after some ‘discutation’, we were shown into the Manager’s Office, red carpet and all. The manager felt that he had to telephone our English Lloyds to verify that these two decidedly scruffy and dirty young people with crash helmets indeed had an account and one in which there was some money. Would we be prepared to pay for the telephone call? Of course. A telephone call was made, and we had to provide Jan’s parents’ names, given they had accounts at the same bank. Eventually we got the nod, and were told that we could have the equivalent of £10 (minus the telephone call, and a transaction fee, of course). We were solvent. We breathed a combined sigh of relief; panic over. We could afford dinner, and petrol for the next day’s journey to Calais.