Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A week in Provence.... part 1

Travel is a good thing. A brilliant, inspiring, heart-filling, head expanding, great thing. Almost everyone is better off for it, both the visitor and the visited. More fear and unhappiness in this world comes from insularity and closed doors than by openness and crowds. The greatest inventions of the age are jet engines and international airports. Except if you’re me. I don’t do travel - more specifically I won’t fly - so I should say, I will travel - but only on the surface. Of course I’m aware that the sand is running through the glass and the road still stretches ahead. So many places, so many people - and I won’t get to see most of it. And somewhere, over the horizon, my days will stop and I wonder if my final regret, with shrunken shank, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything, won’t be not enough sex or caviar, or fine wine, it won’t be not enough cheese or laughter - it will be that I didn’t get to see The Northern Lights or Timbukto or The Taj Mahal, that I haven’t been to the Atacama desert or met the Nagas of Nagaland, I never saw the monkey puzzle forests of Chile. It might be places that I regret.

And so it was that Kate and I set off, in the car, loaded to the gunwales, or, more relevantly, the upper edges of the rear windows. No surprise that it was raining, tipping down in fact as we made our way down the M1. I felt sorry for the bikes anchored on the back, I'd spent a day fettling and polishing, it seemed a waste. We went over the Dartford Bridge and the sky brightened - yes it actually stopped raining. By the time we reached Folkestone it was sunny but blowing a gale. Folkestone is a strange place, a synonym for passing souls and disregarded things, it’s a never-never land of inanimate objects. Lost sunglasses, the lens cap you can never find, your mother’s pashmina, the girl you stood up on a blind date — they’re all in Folkestone. Our hotel for the night nestled alongside a small shabby retail park, which in turn nestled against a small shabby industrial park. The hotel receptionist was one of the best I've every met. Friendly, smiley, possibly gay and totally concerned about our journey and making our stay as pleasant as possible. The room was good enough, muted tones and contemporary prints like the boardroom of a provincial accountants. We adjourned to the pub next door. It was packed, we struggled to find a seat and when we did the queue at the bar was at least 20 minutes. But no matter - this was it, we were on holiday, heading for the south of France, Provence, sun... wine.... truffles.... lavender... cheese.... and the great grey daddy of all mountains, Mont Ventoux.

Then Gary and Val arrived - he has opted to carry his bikes on a Thule roof-rack system, three bikes sitting on top of his car gives it the look of a team vehicle in a stage race. He got parked and quickly joined us for something to eat in the pub. John and Jane arrived at about 8.30 - John used his disabled badge to full effect, abandoning his car just outside the pub door - just as well, last orders for food was looming up.

Today was Thursday, we planned to tackle the mountain ride on Sunday, get it over with so that we can relax a bit. But at this stage the last thing on my mind as I drifted, fitfully, to sleep was what it would be like going up there into the heavens.

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