Here’s a small story from Villiers-sur-Yonne. Vanessa went for a walk through the village, this is one of the many villages we’ve passed through that has no bakery, corner shop or (shockingly), a bar. Vee got talking to an octogenarian lady about anything and everything, the conversation turned to how the lady copes living in a village that doesn’t have any amenities, the woman said that it gets harder, she used to catch the bus into Clamecy and do a weekly shop, it was easy, but then the bus company said that it wasn’t economical to stop in Villiers, but still the lady went to the bus stop and the driver very kindly stopped and picked her up. This went on for a while before something happened and the driver had to tell her that he wasn’t allowed to stop for her any more, even though the bus still runs through the village?¿! So now she has to walk the seven kilometres, (4.2 miles), do her shop, then walk back, it takes her all day, and the summer days in that region are debilitating. Vee asked if there isn’t a neighbour who could take her, or maybe even pick her shopping up, the lady replied that she is deemed “uneconomical”, she has nothing to offer in return so no one will help her. When I was a kid in junior school, every September/October there was a “harvest” celebration wherein we kids would bring in tins and packets (with long expiry dates), of food to share out to the people that could use a helping hand, (mine used to go to a grumpy old codger called Percy Watts, a tin of peaches seemed to brighten his world). I don’t know, France is a very strange country, in Spain this (the thing with the lady), just wouldn’t happen, the bus may stop but someone else would step in, and this isn’t a far away country, it’s right next door. So the lady is trying to sell her house so that she can move into a place with closer amenities, with the current house market in France, I wish her the best. Apparently, if you are a pensioner living in a village with no shops you’re supposed to receive a loaf of bread and a bottle of water each day, but no one knows who does what. The thing is, when she moved to this village there probably was a bakery or small grocers, everywhere we go we see closed up shops, I’m thinking no one can compete with the larger supermarkets or internet, I hate to admit I’m not helping, when my guitar strings (for instance), are 30€ in a shop but 18€ on Amazon, of course I’ll get them from Amazon.
The Canal du Nivernais is behind us now, the scenery was beautiful, some of the loveliest lock houses and gardens, (not always owned by the VNF, they sold many off), and the lock keepers that took us through the Sardy lock staircase were brilliant, if a little fast, though if we’d been on our own we could probably have slowed them down a little, (the hire boat we were behind controlled the pace, and being a hire boat…). Unfortunately, I think that most of the other lockies should be bussed down to the Canal du Centre and shown how its done by the professionals that work there. The guys on the CdCentre let us know when there was oncoming boats, on the Nivernais there’re a couple of very narrow stretches, only wide enough for one boat, luckily an oncoming boat had *just* come out of these areas as we encountered them on two occasions, a little heads up would’ve been wonderful, and they do know, they’re always in touch with the locks either side of them, they know exactly where all traffic is at all times. Am I being picky? maybe, but meeting a hire boat in a narrow stretch with shallow banks fills me with dread, I don’t want to think about all the things that could go wrong in that scenario. I mentioned this a while back, barely anyone wears their VNF uniform, believe me I hate uniforms (although the red polo shirt from the Tudor Tavern in St. Albans was quite snazzy), so I maybe shouldn’t comment on this. But. One time I went back to ask the lock keeper if he would ring ahead to book us through the next lock for the morning, a guy got out of a car, dressed in civvies (you think I’m a scruffy herbert?), I must’ve had a puzzled expression wondering who this guy is as he gestured to the lock and said he is the lock keeper, just a t-shirt or a cap is all I ask.
The kids are very happy here in the park at Auxerre, they come out with me (and my coffee) at half six, Squeaky chases about, Lara walks about and Heidi lays about. Then, about half seven, once the weirdos start running by in earnest, (I have tried jogging several times, it seems weird to me to make a lovely walk go by so much quicker and sweatier, and nowadays they have electrickery strapped to their arm and their phones in hand, checking their time, heart rate, global position? The other day, Heidi got spooked and ran in front of a weirdo jogger phone in hand person, he faltered with surprise – “ugh, un shat” – and then he actually checked his phone, I presume that Heidi had knocked valuable milliseconds off his time, or the butterfly effect had made his pension dip, who knows), they go in and sleep until dusk, when they come out again and do what they do. Sometimes Squeaky gets off the boat early afternoon and gets deep into the plants nearby, she’ll be there for hours watching the world go by, (and possibly having a catnap too), and dogs seem to be oblivious to her presence, maybe the scent of the plants covers her?
Apparently we’re in for a heatwave for the next three days, (though if Vee got this info off of her Accuweather™ app, it means it’s probably going to snow), so with only shade over the boat late afternoon, I’ll be building teepees on the bank for the kids to relax and hopefully sleep in, (the fibreglass boat does get incredibly hot at times), if it is going to be *that* hot, hopefully the dog walkers will rethink their trip to the park.
Things we’ve seen on our trip. (This is only off the top of my head before I post this mañana, I’m sure Vee will remind me of loads more).
- A dad, mum and son all dressed in leathers out on their bikes, only their bikes were push bikes mocked up like Harleys. They tooted their oogah horn and Vanessa tooted ours. I wish I’d taken a photo.
- Again a dad, mum and son at a picnic bench, this time the child trying to not be bored while his parents were in a world of their own on their phones.
- In Genélard, an under ten year old fishing day, only the word “competition” had been used to promote the day. This meant the dads were in serious competition against the other dads and the kids didn’t get a look in. At one point I watched as one boy wanted to hold the rod, only to have his father bark at him, tears and sulks and an unhappy afternoon on what could have been a great family day out.
- Many times small children trying to approach our cats to pet them (hopefully), the cats not wanting anything to do with these strange small human beings and bolting to the safety of the boat.
- Loads of people taking snaps of our boat, if it’s not of the cats lounging around the deck then of the smiley face on our front fender, (which brought a smile to a lot of the lock keepers too).
- A croissant bought in Auxerre for 80¢ that was easily twice the size of some we’ve paid a €uro for. (I snuck that in didn’t I).
- Lara jumping cartoon-like and wide-eyed three feet straight up as something crawled (or slithered) by her in the long grass.
- Three large wooden sheds joined together and put onto a boat hull making a floating pub that is rented out for parties.
- While moored near to an airfield, we watched plane after plane of people jumping out doing parachute jumps, skydiving and at one point, ten or so people with those flight suits on and “flying” for a good minute and a half before opening their ‘chutes. (Vee said it was flying, I think it was more falling fast, but with style).
- Yellowing and soft and basically inedible broccoli at 2.90€ (And that).
- A 1.5 litre bottle of la Chouffe Belgian beer, apparently it was for parties, pah, too good to share but 1.5 litres? You’re gonna feel that if you see the next day.
- An incredibly skilled bargemaster place his 20 metre barge in a 23 metre gap between two boats with no back and forward shuffle, he just plonked it in there.
- An obnoxious man in Beaulon who insisted on showing the cats to his dog every time he passed our boat. And then last night a man who let his dog *off* the lead when he saw our three kids, I don’t know what he was expecting to happen, but either the dog was too stupid to see the three cats hunkered down and glowering at it on the deck or it just didn’t fancy its chances.
- A hire boat with bow thruster totally miss the gap in a bridge and opting for the brickwork instead. (Since beginning this adventure we’ve got heaps better at navigating and feel that we can now have a chuckle at this sort of thing).
- In the beginning stage of the cruise, being around a string of venues that a Johnny Halliday impersonator/tribute act we know from St-Jean de Losne was playing, but never being in the right place at the right time to watch him perform.
- Having gone to bed safe in the knowledge our cats are safely onboard, I see a cat outside wearing exactly the same collar, thinking it’s ours I nearly let our cats out while trying to bring a stranger in. (Bring the bairns in, BRING THE BAIRNS IN).
- Three unicyclists on a unicycling holiday.
- An ordinary pair of reefs for 99€
- More of an observation this one. We lived in Spain and were taking notice when the Spanish team won the World Cup, and again two years later when they won the Euro Cup. In France we again were taking notice when they got to the Euro Cup final and then this year when they won the World Cup. My point is that if any low-cost-of-living countries are reading this, (Thailand springs to mind, or maybe Vietnam), and you want two real-life good luck charms to help you get into a big international sporting tournament just by being in your country, leave us a message here on this blog, all expenses paid relocation for us and the kitties, and of course a boat and/or a tree house thrown in, ta very muchly.