Mon dieu! Such shocking language, monsieur!: (Nantes-Brest canal - Rennes) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

April 25, 2012

Mon dieu! Such shocking language, monsieur!: (Nantes-Brest canal - Rennes)

Off again along the canal after a night of rain
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THE BAR WAS real rural France. The floor was wood, there was a fire on, and chairs were scattered wherever they had finished the previous evening. A short, motherly woman with sensibly cut hair and a meek manner brought me my cup of coffee with the mandatory Speculoos biscuit. And then, after she'd noticed the loaded bike leaning against her wall, she arrived back at my side, tapped me on the shoulder and handed me another biscuit with the instruction 'Tenez!'

As a gift, it wasn't much; as a symbol it was enormous because she wanted to acknowledge that I had pedalled there on a morning when nobody else would have bothered. Because, once more, the weather was foul. Hence the fire burning on the grill.

There were three other customers, local men dressed as country men dress when they have cows to milk and tractors to repair. One, the oldest, was sitting silently with a green mint drink and what looked like the day's horse-racing prospects. The second, shorter and with grey hair, was running through the short but wonderfully explosive repertoire of French swear words.

Oh, putain... ça casse les couilles, oh espèce de merde

The object of this heated dismay was a mobile phone asked to do more than make phone calls and failing to. Again. The third man, calmer, round-faced, watched silently in the fascinated way of someone watching a distant train accident.

The rain stopped and the wind rose still further as I left the bar. The second man, calmer now and propelled by wine fumes, came across the bar to tell me that he used to have a girlfriend in West Bromwich. Perfectly entitled to, of course, but gleefully improbable given that West Brom is a deservedly little known town in the English west Midlands.

One of many things I like about France is that the pleasure of simple, uncomplicated entertainment means travelling circuses still set up on village greens
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The rain had fallen all night. It drummed on the taut fabric of my tent and forced me to push in ear plugs. It was still raining in the morning, which broke a 12-year record. For never in more than a decade had I had to take down my tent in rain, despite crossing continents and countries in summer and winter.

I set off along the sodden and puddle path of compressed gravel beside the canal. An otter swam the other way, leaving elegant perivanes on the wind-rippled water. Only its nose was above water. It was a lot less concerned about the weather than I was. Rain fell from the sky and dripped from trees. For an hour I played zigzag with the wind. A hiker tramped resentfully the other way, he and his pack covered by a dark blue cape. As we crossed, he poked a brown, bearded and deeply lined face out of a hole the size of a letter box and retreated again after a mumbled Bonjour.

I thought it was bad enough for me but he had the worst forcing itself straight at him. He was walking the Voie Romaine. I gathered that not then but a little later, from a sign that explained little but that did say the road was there before the Romans had arrived but that they had somehow claimed the credit.

The radio news last night said it had been blowing at 85kmh in Brittany. Today it seemed still stronger. I found later that on the coast it had risen to 127kmh. A wind that powerful ought to be unalloyed good news, coming from behind me, but once again it proved overpowering. And on winding descents it was dangerous, sending me hunting hungrily but unpredictably into oncoming traffic.

I was paying the bill, too, for a week of hard riding without a break. I called it a day when fresh rain crashed down on the outskirts of Rennes. I found a hotel and dripped through the doors.

'Would you like one of our luxury rooms,' the bamboo-thin receptionist asked.

I looked at her for a moment.

'You know,' I said, 'I rather think I would.'

Today's ride: 105 km (65 miles)
Total: 560 km (348 miles)

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