All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My Postillion has been Struck by Lightning

It had been arranged that mother would come to visit us in December and January, with the maelstrom from Belgium coinciding with the middle part of the visit.
The kitchen would be ready, beds would manifest themselves, mosquito nets would be purchased....all would be in hand.

Then nemesis in suede shoes, my mother's doctor, intervened.
He did not like the look of her leg (I wonder how he managed to phrase that to escape without injury), he did not like the look of her blood pressure (which would not have been improved by the news on the state of the leg) and, in short, he did not think she could make a long haul flight without undue risk.

On telephoning the surgery on receipt of the news the receptionist said that Doctor could make time to speak to me 'in the circumstances'  and when she put me through he confirmed that he was worried...worried enough, as he said, to brave the wrath of the matriarch, whose lungs and verbal dexterity were, he considered, standing up well to the burden of ninety six years.

So, instead of flying out to escort mother to Costa Rica I am flying out to visit her by way of a trip to France to see to the admin of Wuthering Heights - are you sure you don't want a house in France? - to upbraid the Post Office for losing my mail, visit the taxman, and encourage the Banque Postale to sell shares I told them to sell some months back.
I'm lucky enough to be staying with friends and will try to catch up on people I didn't manage to see last time....if I have time in view of the shopping list which is gaining on me faster than the tides of Mont St. Michel.

 I have to bring back some decent claret from the cellar....that's O.K. as l shall be at the house in any case picking up the books on antique furniture to supply the carpenter with models for chairs for the house in San Jose.

I have to look for shoes and galoshes in size 47...a size unknown to Costa Rica.

I have to look for elasticated waist trousers in pure cotton...not too heavy.

I have to go the supermarket with the ethnic section to pick up Turkish pimiento paste, both sweet and hot.

Goat cheese logs, Fournol, Maroilles, St.Agur...harissa...and would it be easier to get kippers in France or in England...better ring our supplier out in the Vendee....and dried mushrooms....
Oh, and those packs of plastic corks and corkscrew...and is there any epine left in the cellar...?

All very well...but on my success or failure in finding this lot depends my next leg of the journey which will be determined by the weight of my luggage.

Under twenty kilos and I shall fly by Ryanair....but need to prebook.
Over twenty kilos and it's Eurolines where I can take two suitcases for the price of my ticket.

I refuse, ever again, to cross Paris with suitcases and a carry on the train is out.

With or without the trousers and shoes it looks like two suitcases and Eurolines....but then I still have to pay for an extra suitcase flying back.
I have what I think is called an open jaw ticket - all too redolent of the sharks running the airline which I arrive in Paris and leave from London...and if the problems obtaining confirmation of my booking are any harbinger of what will happen when booking an extra suitcase then I will need a week's notice to sort it out.

I found the flight combination on Iberia's website...which promptly went down at irregular intervals so  that booking a ticket was rather like a ladies' excuse me, which followers of Freud might like to know was first typed as a ladies' excise me.

Finally, my reservation was confirmed...but not the purchase.

I have been here before; when my French bank has the interests of my honour an airline ticket booking as it is rather more than I spend in the supermarket once a week.

Why didn't you contact me, then?

We don't do that.

However, when I was in Costa Rica someone totally unknown to me to was able to buy one thousand Euros' worth of musical equipment in St. Jean de Luz on my account without any worries about my security at all.
It took me six months to get the money back and no explanation has been forthcoming to this day...

After a delay of over twelve hours I grew restive...and was lucky enough to be able to count on a good friend in France to pretend to be me when ringing the Banque Postale to see if they had authorised payment.
Telephoning from Costa Rica I find their choice of music not up to the cost of the call.

No, nothing from Iberia.

The local Iberia office not responding to calls I eventually found a well hidden reservations number on the website. Learning how to pronounce the Spanish alphabet paid off as I recited my reservation reference.

Tranquillo, Senora...we haven't processed it yet.....wait until the afternoon....
At least it wasn't the manana of the manana.....

Thanks to my friend alerting la Banque Postale, the payment went through....but the thought of paying for an extra suitcase gives me the willies already.
Oh for the days of clerks who could answer you there and then with the aid of a telephone.

Were I to fly into Stanstead I could catch up with our hardy Harley Davidson septuagenarians...if it's Eurolines I shall miss them and stay in Kensal Rise instead, whose gentrification I lay firmly at the door of the pet shop and the inflatable doggy sex toy in their window.
Where canine sex toys lead the organic butcher is not far behind, nor the soi disant yummy mummies occupying the coffee shop which used to be a quite decent caff.

Mother has a programme outlined..her unexpected Christmas shopping.... visits to the theatre....restaurants...

But in view of what we had first arranged, it is as if her postillion had been struck by lighting.



  1. You have such informative, fascinating posts. Thank you. I love goat cheese logs...and goat milk soap, too.

    1. Yes goat cheese logs are great...and my neighbour makes goat milk products which are superb from soap to cleanser via moisturiser.

  2. Oh how frustrating! I always have problems of some kind when booking flights. I stick with Turkish Airlines who aren't perfect but the best of the bunch.

    What a shame about your mother. From the way you talk about her, I'm sure she would have proved her doctor wrong. But I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.

    If I can find tomato and pepper salca in packaging other than tins or jars, I could send you some from here if you like. One less thing on your mammoth list!

    1. Don't joke!
      If you could source some then a friend is coming out in January who could add salca to her list...I'll e mail you!

  3. Ye gods! I was going to say visit me en route home...but AQIS would have 50 fits at the contents of your luggage!They were apoplectic at my Canadian cryo-vac salmon.

    1. That's why I send seeds to my brother in law under a badge on a card.....

  4. Replies
    1. Slippery lot these navy types....isn't a petty officer selling secrets to the Russians again...?

  5. Hello:
    We are, of course, most concerned to hear that your mother, clearly a woman of indomitable spirit, is prevented from flying out to join you for Christmas on the advice of her doctor who, probably, in the circumstances, does know best.

    But that, of course, leaves you with the journey to Europe, a trial in itself, but a trial aggravated with the whole performance of obtaining tickets for the various stages of the journey. How we hate all of that. We are though, sadly, well seasoned travellers when it comes to Eurolines which, in our experience, seldom lives up to the standards advertised in their safety video which is, on rare occasions, screened at the start of the journey. The 27 hour journey from Budapest to London, and return, we have done more times than we care to remember. But of course, as you point out, there is little in the way of luggage restriction.

    And now, later this week, we shall take the Eurolines to Venice [only 10 hours] and after that we shall make a flying visit, literally, to the UK and so, as a result, will be 'off air' for a while. But we shall catch up on our return.

    1. I would have come to escort her, so I suppose that all this would have had to have been fitted in either on my outward or return journey....but I cannot say I look forward to any of it...apart from seeing friends again.
      Mother used Eurolines once on coming to visit us in France and refused to use the loo on the bus on the grounds that the other passengers were Spaniards.
      Do enjioy Venice...I wish I had time for a side trip...but the family are coming....

  6. Goodness what a palaver! Customs are going to have a field day with the contents of your suitcases.

    I agree with you that crossing Paris on the RER is horrific. The last time I went they were working on line A (or D) and we couldn't go on our normal route from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord but had take line B and change somewhere. Once when I was feeling flush I took a taxi (on a quiet Sunday) and that felt so civilised.

    I've also used Eurolines and remember taking the cheaper night bus and still having to stop and get off every 2 hours. Good thing I didn't have a weapon of some sort because I would have used it at 3am!

    1. I rewmember the fuss about cut flowers coming out when I'd packed a suitcase full of ginger blossoms for mother and friends....
      The best bet is to have the luggage lost at Madrid...then, when it comes in eventually, the lost luggage man has already had it marked as passing customs and a man with a van delivers it...too long a delay, however, and the cheese might as well walk the suitcase here itself.

  7. Your shopping list sounds like mine when I go to Germany and France, except that we drive in a car with an extra large boot. Golly gumdrops, wine in a suitcase on an aeroplane?

    Have you factored in (horrible expression) potential presents from loved ones you may also have to transport to Costa Rica? I think a berth on a ship with several cabin trunks might be the answer. Actually, your mama might be able to travel by sea too. So much more civilised.

    I have to admit that I admire you, I’d chicken out with half the hassle.
    Good luck.

    1. We looked into sea travel....the age of the banana boat seems to be over, last, the age of those carrying passengers.

      Wine in a suitcase...properly packed it is not a problem unless going through the U.S. where the baggage handlers nick anything interesting as you have to leave your suitcase unlocked...which is another reason for flying via Madrid.

      I often wonder what happened to the person who nicked my husband's tablets which seemed to interact unpleasantly with just about everything.

      I shall travel out with one suitcase inside the other.....and watch both fill inexorably to the 23 kilo limit....and then see what I can stuff into the hand luggage...

  8. Sorry you're mum couldn't make it…sounds like she's going to exhaust you anyway though! I'm in the midst of packing stuff to take to the U.S. as well. And also in the midst of another brouhaha with Assurance Maladie. It amazes me that anything works around here at all considering nobody seems to give information to anybody else. It's like starting all over again each time. Isn't this why we have computers…and files…and…oh god, I can't even talk about it. Sounds like France is not the sole proprietor of inefficiency!

    1. After France Costa Rica is a model of efficiency!
      No wonder I'm so relaxed these days!

      It is a pity mother can't travel and it's lucky she has friends with whom to spend Christmas as I have to return before then to deal with the house party....but, as you say, she'll exhaust me...I'll sleep well on the 'plane home!

  9. Sometimes the preparation required to travel makes the trip itself less desirable. Hopefully you'll have a smooth journey. And I hope your mother's health improves.

    1,000 Euros of musical instruments? Horrible. I imagine that was a nightmare to sort through.

    1. Thank you...once on the plane I can relax - until I catch up with mother.

      The 100 euros business was a saga.
      I saw it on my statement, and rang the post office bank.
      Oh, said the young man. I needed to write to them.
      I wrote. Silence.
      I rang again.
      Had I written?
      They were assured that I had. Silence
      I rang again.
      Ah,they couldn't deal with it as I hadn't reported the theft of my card to the gendarmerie.
      My card had not been stolen..... Silence.
      By then I was back in Europe and visited my local post office.
      I explained the problem to the postmaster, he rang up a friend in the banking branch and my money was back in the account.

    2. It's all about who you know, I guess.

    3. Usually is....otherwise my account would still be a thousand down...

  10. Given your shopping list, might it not be easier and cheaper to hire a shipping container?

    1. At some point I will have to when we finally empty the house....but I have my doubts about the cheese lasting the voyage...

  11. My dear friend, one cannot visit France and not return with the following cheeses. Pont l'Evèque, Bleu d'Auvergne, Chèvre, Bleu de Sassenage and of course my personal favourite Comté vieux. Of course then you will need suitable wines to suit!

    Have fun.

    1. I'd stand more chance of Bleu de Sassenage in London than I would in our benighted area....with you on the Comte, though and might be able to dig it up and have just remembered not to forget Fleur d'Aunis....

      I'll have fun all right, if it kills me!

  12. All pointless of course as Ryanair will certainly lose your luggage with the goodies stashed as sure as eggs are eggs.

  13. Poor mother and poor you,Fly! I do hope her leg improves soon, for her doctor's sake.

    I'm very used to travelling around quite a lot but rarely with weight restrictions, so the thought of doing the advanced mathematics you outline fills me with horror. Bon voyage et bonne chance.

    Oh, and I rather like Bleu de Bresse. :-)

    1. I suspect she has been overdoing the walking...but experience teaches me not to raise the subject!

      Experience also teaches me that the list will be expanded by remote control from Costa Rica as I go along....

      Yes, Bleu de Bresse is good too....
      I have to buy cheese under ripe as it has to last another two weeks in the U.K. before oozing its way home...

  14. A saga, indeed!

    For me the cheeses would include Cantal, St Nectaire and Bleu d'Auvergne.

    I'm sre you'll enjoy your visit - however hectic, although I don't envy you the travel or the dealings with the bank!

    Bon courage...

    1. It's usually easier face to face with the bank...I'm between the counsellor and the door.....and I will enjoy seeing friends again.
      And now you've reminded me of Salers...and I think it's the season for a tomme to make aligot...

  15. Oh dear. I am not sure which is worse visiting mother or having her visit you. I wish you luck.

  16. You know I think 2 suitcases is rather modest given the list you have will no doubt secretly multiply during the coming days!
    I'm with Gaynor on the St Nectaire and definitely Tomme for aligot! Don't forget the little plastic zip-lock bags to encase it all in! Own brand SuperU do well.

    1. Yes, the zip lock bags are on the is greaseproof paper....unobtainable in Costa Rica unless unbleached, organic and at a price to bring tears to the eyes...