Stuff Happens 2/3

Wednesday 10 September
Begin with a local and very small market at Hayes Pesnel. ‘Rubbish!’ sniffs Ma. An open church is more rewarding with wonderful contrasts between huge mosaics of biblical scenes and amazing modern abstract stained glass. The long roll of honour to the war dead shows the loss to this small town made even more poignant by a stained glass window dedicated to some of the deceased, their faces forever young.

In Avranches Ma buys postcards but the tabac doesn’t have enough stamps so I queue in the post office along with half of Avranches. My schoolgirl French is pushed to the limit when my neighbour in the queue strikes up a rather one-sided conversation with me. From there to the Scriptorial D’Avranches, home of the Mont St-Michel manuscripts and, more importantly so far as I’m concerned, an exhibition of work by Marc Chagall.

Far from being an appetiser for the main course, the manuscript themselves are dramatically displayed and utterly breathtaking. The sense of connection with the scribe of each work is immediate and moving. The Chagall exhibition is a massive delight, spread over a series of rooms and comprising paintings, ceramics, lithographs, studies and the original copper plates. I amuse myself by trying to pick out what, if given the opportunity, I would take home with me (fat chance!). Decide that if I could not have the warm and erotic ‘Song of Song’ series of paintings then I would be quite happy with a very touching print of David watching Bathesheba bathing. Absolutely beautiful.

Thursday 11 September
My second French run. Pouring down with rain which I quite like – feels rather life-affirming. Return to find it’s Pick Holes In Chris Day, so far as Ma is concerned. Apparently my hair is too dark (yes, Ma, I know that Elvis is alive and well and sitting in a Normandy kitchen but it will wash out!), I drink too much and have a beer gut (I have narrowly exceeded my 14 units a week but I am on holiday! And yes, compared to Victoria Beckham I do have a stomach but I wear size 10 jeans – I’m hardly Jimmy Five Bellies) and I was much too strict with my daughters when they were little (yes, and look how disastrously you turned out, Lily and Rose). Later it transpires that Ma is feeling very distressed about her brother Billy, whose funeral is taking place today in Australia and that’s why she’s taking a pop at me.

Friday 12 September
More rain. Our neighbours in the adjoining holiday house go home. Lucky buggers. We visit the Faiencerie de La Baie Du Mont Saint-Michel where Ma orders a number tile for her house, or rather I do it for her and nearly collapse with the strain.

Our next jaunt is to La Baleine, where they ‘faire l’andouille’, a smoked tripe sausage (yes, I’m desperately finding stuff to amuse everyone). Alas, there are no tours today but we see quite enough of the manufacturing process through the open doors of the Andouillerie to satisfy our curiosity. The reality of seeing women in wellies standing in pools of water pushing armfuls of tripe up miles of intestine is almost too much for my digestive system. Tom, brave soul that he is buys a chunk of sausage and some smoked ham. The car stinks of smoke all the way home.

Saturday 13 September.
I get a surprise on my morning run when I hear loud splashes and, peering over the side of the road to the stream below see three strange animals staring up at me. What are they? They are about the size of a Jack Russell with beaver faces… coypu, perhaps?

The sky remains grey so we set off with a vague plan to drive towards Mont Saint-Michel. It soon becomes apparent the whole of France is also heading to Mont Saint-Michel. Decide that the ethereal beauty of the place might disappear on closer inspection – especially when swarming with tourists so we turn back through the back roads towards Avranches and, through overgrown vegetation, catch glimpses of the most beautiful faded fairy tale chateau adorned with slender round towers. All very ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

At Avranches the clothes and shoe warehouse Ma has been eyeing is open at last. Ma flies into a spending frenzy emerging with one pair of boots, a pair of trainers, slippers and three pairs of socks. Amazingly the sun is still shining when we get home so we sit outside and soak it up for an hour.

Sunday 14 September
Ma and I go off on a beaver/coypu hunt and surprise two of them. In the afternoon we brave the beach at Saint Jean Le Thomas. Whilst it’s not especially warm we have a great time observing the French at play.

Three generations of various families come to the beach equipped with pails to gather shellfish; little girls dressed like children not Britney Spears call to ‘Grandmere’ or ‘Papa’ and instead of being told to ‘F*ck off’ there are sweet responses of ‘Cherie?’. A gaggle of middle-aged walkers of both sexes – thirty to forty of them – arrive, heralded by whoops of laughter to use the two toilettes. By the time the last has been the first want to go again – they bang on the wooden doors, joke at each other and gather for endless group photographs. Six riders make their way along the beach, stopping so the horses can investigate the rock pools and bonjouring us as they pass.

And then there are the dogs, dozens of them. In the main they are small, rough-haired and scruffy but, my, how the French aime them. A tiny, tufty, tawny specimen crouches a few feet from us and craps mightily before bounding off with great leaps into the air. ‘Well that’s put a spring in its step,’ Ma observes reducing me to hysterics. ‘Must be feeling a lot lighter after getting rid of that lot.’


Flowerpot said…
I know just what you mean by those Have a Go At days. I cringed when I read that. But most impressed that you only just exceeded your 14 units on holiday! I shan't tell you what my units would be!! Lovely picture of the dogs, too and loved your ma's comment!
Elizabethd said…
Andouilles.....noooooo! How brave of you.
Pat Posner said…
I'm so enjoying reading the ups and downs of your holiday, Chrish.
Edward said…
Sounds a lovely holiday; well, it reads like one! I've never seen a coypu on my runs - what have I been missing, though I don't much care for dogs on beaches!
Debs said…
Loving reading your holiday diary and wishing that I could fit into size 12 jeans, never mind 10.

Love your Ma's comment about the dog and the others on the beach.
Milla said…
great stuff. Loved the idea of La Toute France being wherever you are (PO, driving etc) and loved the moppets on the beach being called "Cherie?" But you;re in danger of sounding as if finally you enjoyed yourself...
Pondside said…
Why don't they make Reality TV that's half as entertaining as this? I hope you've submitted these two posts to a travel magazine - they are brilliant!
Frances said…
Chris, I do recognize your voice. You'll never be anonymous with me ... unless you use your considerable writing skill to adopt another voice!

Cait O'Connor said…
That was wonderful Chris, it had art, French life, humour, everything really.
I always go round exhibitions picking in my mind my favourite to take home
LittleBrownDog said…
Mothers, eh? I simply do not believe you have anything approaching a beer gut with all that running you do, Chris! And 14 units a week - in France and on holiday - is nothing short of abstemious in my book.

Sounds very like my own mum - tell you what, how about next time we get together and leave the two old birds in the shoe shop while we go off and do Chagall by way of a nice little hostellerie where we can work on perfecting our joint beer guts together? Deal?

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