Saturday, April 28, 2007

A bientot Paris!


In the Mayenne countryside, Friday 27 April.

I’m here. Of which more anon.

However, I have since my last communication had the first and only so far hiccough in my plans and voyage.
In England, I bought a return ticket on the Eurostar for something like 150 pounds. I asked for an ‘open return’, and was given a ticket with a dummy return date on it. To be exchanged in Paris when my return date was decided upon. Straightforward. Should be.
The young lady at the Gare du Montparnasse bent double to help us (Chris had, fortunately, taken charge of the event), but without joy. Everything was wrong. The fare was a ‘special’ one, and thus couldn’t be used on this and that train. It would be 40 euros extra to travel on the day I wanted. I got out my debit card. But… to no avail.
I had, not unnaturally, got rid of the used ‘outward’ half of the ticket, and this apparently made my return half totally invalid (nothing of this kind was ever said, nor written on the ticket). This apparently because, ticket-sellers being considered by their employers as having no brains, everything has to be done by machine. And the machine needed to eat one of the umpteen reference numbers off half one (why is it not also on half two, please?). So, no exchange. There were of course no refunds either.
I offered to buy a single, Paris-London. The price was over 200 euros. Since return tickets at 60 euros are advertised all round the place, this was simply nonsense.
Finally, I discarded the useless ‘return’ ticket, and Christophe has undertaken to find me a ‘cheap return’ (of which I will again discard the ‘return’ half) to get me to London.
There will be an empty seat on the Eurostar of 27 July 2007.
Seems to me that the whole system of fares and ticket sales is thoroughly ridiculous, ought to be illegal, and that the European Parliament or someone else of the kind needs to regulate the railways of its member countries severely.

My train to Laval, on the other hand, couldn’t have been better.
Jack and I met up at the pre-arranged platform, at the pre-arranged time, to board the pre-arranged 14.05 to Laval. It arrived on time, left on time, was extremely comfortable and clean and quiet, had reserved seats … everything that one could wish for in a train. And when, after an hour and something of a very pleasant cruise through the green fields of the Mayenne, with its pretty grey villages and occasional cement quarry, we arrived at Laval, I decided – especially in view of what had just happened -- that now was perhaps a good time to purchase my ticket for the trip back to Paris. On 2 May. And, with a little trepidation, I approached a charming young clerk…
Well! What a difference! We had a little mishap owing to my unclear pronunciation of ‘deux Mai’, which she heard as ‘demain’, but otherwise… I got my ticket for exactly the time I wanted, reserved seat, and … forty percent off because I am over sixty! Goodness, I’d forgotten about that. The reductions that France does, I mean, not being over sixty.

I am writing this bulletin in the living room of La Grande Métairie. The Grande Métairie is not actually ‘at’ anywhere. The best one can say is that the nearest village isa roman remain called Jublains which is about 5 minutes away. Laval, the closest town of size is at 25 minutes.
La Grande Metairie is the home of Jack Dowie and his wife, Hilary Claire, he a Professor Emeritus of London University, she an author and teacher, and variously ‘from’ New Zealand (Jack), South Africa (Hilary) and England (both)., My connection with the Dowies is, of course, equine, as you will have understood from my Enghien bulletin.
Jack, I have ‘known’ for a good few years on the air, and in person for a few less, thanks to his TrotBritain and familial visits to Christchurch, to Sefton and to Gerolstein in recent years. Hilary is the latest addition to the long list of new friends whom I have met on my voyaging.

La Grande Métairie is exactly what its name says – an ancient share-cropper’s farm. It has, in more recent times, been divided up, with the original and not very large share-cropper’s house (‘Le Logis’) being left with a portion of the land, while the outbuildings, including two large barns, have been transformed into the living quarters on the land which now belongs to Jack and Hilary.
I’m an expert on barn conversions. I’ve seen them hundreds of times on programmes like ‘A Place in the Sun’. I always think that 9 times out of ten they are not a success. They don’t have the homely feel. Well, this one does. Probably because whoever originally did the transformation hasn’t attempted to do too much. The vast main barn has been divided (not physically) in half, and just one of the halves has been made into the ‘house’, the other half remaining as an enormous machine and tool barn. Enough to hold all of Christophe and Pierre’s books several times over, not to mention the workings of an entire trotting establishment.
And so, the ‘home’ part is indeed cosy and welcoming, not to say mildly spectacular with its view out over the gently flowing green fields of the Mayenne countryside. Although there are two other habitations, one sees neither from where I am sitting, but one does see the home paddock, swathed in buttercups, where Nicole des Baux (who didn’t make it as a racehorse) and Green des Baux (who did, who won, and is now retired) spend their days in almost perpetual, lazy motion (he leads, she follows) from one corner of their field to the other.

I won’t go into vast details on the Dowie home and horses, as you can see details and pictures of both one and the other displayed in all their glory on Jack’s blog at

During the previous owners’ time here, they began to transform the second huge barn on the property into an ‘artistic retreat’. The idea was going to be that amateur painters would come and stay (and pay) for easel-and-canvas holidays. Thus the downstairs was turned into a huge open-plan living-dining-kitchen, and the upstairs into a number of bedrooms-with-bathroom. The most enormous of these is where I am installed. After my tiny room in the Hotel Plaisance, it is like moving from a dinghy to an ocean liner!
The whitewashed, black-beamed ceiling looms high above, the walls are stone and a good half metre and more thick, the deeply encased windows look out over grand fields for sheep … you can imagine that I am very much at home! It is a room that would be a writer’s dream live-and-work place. Something like this, somewhere in France, with the necessary boulanger and bistro at hand .. yes, I can see me doing that, can’t you?

Our first evening was an idyllic one. We dined al fresco on roast duck and trimmings .. and ventured into the Époisses when cheese time came, also into Pierre’s splendid bottle of Bourgignon (between the apértif and the Chablis).
Ah, yes, Jack and Hilary have certainly got life sussed.
I am taking notes busily.

Yesterday, I devoted much of the day to becoming a blogger.
Under Jack’s instruction, I set myself up a google blog, on which from now on I shall be able to post all these bulletins, instead of sending them laboriously to you all – one by one – via webmail.
I have now entered the twelve ‘so far’ bulletins from March and April – from Jersey to Mayenne – thereon, along with a selection of pictures and intend to elaborate it further in days or weeks to come. If, that is, the Mayenne Internet acess (which is decidedly friable) decides to settle down and let us all in.

To access the blog of ‘Kurt of Gerolstein’ – which will now replace the Bulletins -- you go to

Yesterday also, the oppressively hot weather we have been having broke, and for much of the afternoon and evening, curled comfortably before the TV with the Enghien steeplechases and the Vincennes trots (at which Maryon Hue won with his only starter, Querido des Baux. at 65-1 after a top notch drive) we were able to watch great gouttes of water pounding down outside the windows while the lightning sheeted in the distance in a way I haven’t seen since we were in St Paul, and the Mediterranean storms came regularly to crash against the Bayous.

Blogging, it eventuates, is better in smaller slices than Bulletins, so without more ado, I shall post this along with a couple of happy snaps taken here in Mayenne before the storm struck..

Until soon

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