Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Birds

There will be some who try to tell you that Bill Blunt has far more holidays than he deserves. My advice – for what it’s worth – is not to listen to those gainsayers.

After a lifetime at the peak of provincial journalism, a man deserves to slow the pace a little. Retirement can too often feel like being turned out to grass, unless it’s leavened with a little travelling.

It’s a fine line, of course, between work and leisure. There aren’t many who would choose to spend their ‘holidays’ mowing lawns, chopping wood and learning the finer points of artisan bread-making, French-style.

That’s how I came to find myself, once more, in the delightful town of Bergerac. Yes, the doubters and the critics will put it about that I spend half my life there. I can’t worry about that, at my age. Under the watchful tutelage of Jean-Philipe, I spent a happy morning moulding and shaping bread dough into all manner of shapes and designs. So much enjoyment did I have that I realised how, if I hadn’t been seduced at an early age by the smell of printer’s ink, I could have slipped easily into a career as a local baker.

Jean-Philipe makes old-fashioned bread using quality, organic ingredients. It’s a slow, thoughtful process, dependent on a fine eye for the state of the weather and the ambient temperature during the mixing of the dough. Real bread, strong enough to last a week, not the insipid, plastic rubbish that predominates in the shops in England today. Crofty would have loved it.

On my current trip, I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr and Mrs Dixie, part of the powerhouse that err…fuels Fuel My Blog. They live in La Rochelle, of course, but reasons of economy meant this was my point of entry into France, despite the three hour journey it entailed down to Bergerac. And a very lovely couple they are, too.

La Rochelle’s a fine city, which my flying visit for a coffee with Kevin and Sylvie couldn’t do justice to. Perhaps that’s why fate – and a few stray birds on the run-way at La Rochelle that managed to mangle themselves in the engine - conspired to hand me a free afternoon in the place on my return to the UK. Either that, or it was some terrible curse cast upon me by Mystic Veg, in repayment of the delays I had forced him to endure in June.

If Easyjet had been a tad more honest about the reasons for the delayed departure of their 1.15pm flight EZY5034 to Gatwick, I might even have had much longer. At first they admitted it would take four hours to fly out an engineer to check for damage, which at least meant I could leave the airport and hop a bus into town. Having been in a few airports in my time, I can tell you that La Rochelle’s doesn’t have much to hold your attention for much more than twenty minutes, so when balanced against the prospect of a bowl of moules et frites in a pleasant bar overlooking the harbour, it was what the younger set might call a ‘no brainer’.

Returning to the airport at 5pm after my modest repas, I was delighted to discover that Kevin and Sylvie were also going there, so they were able to offer me a lift. Their flight with Ryanair had, we discovered, also been afflicted by the kamikaze birds of La Rochelle.

Once the engineer had done his stuff (about 6pm) we were informed that the plane now needed a new pilot – who was similarly being flown in and – yes - it would be another (this time unspecified) delay. I suppose it was too much to expect that whoever was working on the logistics of this problem at Easyjet could have factored this matter into the equation when working out what to do about the birds in the engine, and sorting out an engineer. But that would have been too simple. Instead, we awaited hourly announcements that finally culminated in the plane taking off at 23.15pm, a full 10 hours after schedule.

To rub salt into already very sore wounds, the less than merry band of passengers we had become as the day wore on were informed that there were no refreshments available on the plane, other than a glass of water. For a group of people who had become increasingly annoyed by the surly manner of the chap who runs the bar at La Rochelle airport (where food and smiles had run out quickly) this was the final straw. By now, of course, we might have been a cowed and whimpering lot, denied our Easyjet sandwiches and Pringles, but too worn-down to complain. Or maybe (and this is what I’d prefer to think) we were strengthened in our resolve and determination not to let this last tribulation break our spirits. Our stiff upper lips prevailed.

The fate of the Ryanair passengers was furthermost from our minds, although I heard they departed shortly after us, and landed safely at Stansted. Perhaps they fared better when it came to the sarnies.

It’s a brave man who says Bill Blunt is easily put off enjoying his holiday by a simple matter like a 10 hour delay in the return journey. I’ll be back to learn a little more about bread-making in Bergerac, and I’m more than certain there’s another bowl of moules waiting for me on a table outside a harbour bar in La Rochelle with my name stamped on it.


Daddy Papersurfer said...

I would never say you have too many holidays Mr Blunt ..... well, I might whisper it under my breath I suppose.

I recognise Mr Dixie of course, but I had no idea that Mrs Dixie was so .... masculine. I also notice that Kevin crooks his little finger beautifully - I'm reassessing their relationship completely now ...

Glad you arrived safely and got some mileage from the delay ....

sylvie d said...

hehe, what a journey it was!
Let us know next time you are in town Mr Blunt, ignore the old git he is just jealous of your young looks :)

Daddy Papersurfer said...

Oh that's Mr Blunt is it? I dooo apologise ....... handsome b****r ain't he?

Bill Blunt said...

*blushing* All I can say is that Sylvie is one helluva photographer, and her use of Photoshop can take years off a man. As for Kevin crooking his finger - well, he's just a naturally refined individual. Either that or he has never quite recovered from that hammer incident.

Gail said...

If only Easyjet could be convinced "honesty is the best policy," they wouldn't have so much dissent from irate passengers. On our return from Rhodes we were inexplicably held up for hours - but at least we were given some refreshments.

Theresa H. Hall said...

Bread making with a French Chef, in Bergerac ... I can only find this entirely exciting. SOmeday I hope to bake bread in France. Glad you had such a good time.