Sunday, 14 August 2011

Please do not feed the animal

I am fat. Oh yes, fat. I know it's true. You know it's true. My entire life I've had a propensity to carrying extra weight (a family trait) and for years I've yo-yoed between 9 stone and 13 stone. Breaking point for me came in April 2007 when I looked at a photo of myself and just thought "Yuk". It was vile. Horrendous. Humongous.

A switch in my brain activated and I successfully lost nearly two stone in the next six months. I did it slowly and sensibly, with the help of nothing more than a free website ( and a daily one-hour walk along the seafront (and a lot of support from Andy). No stupid "you can't have this, you can't have that, potatoes are bad" diets, no pills, no quick fixes and no expensive gym membership!

So when I headed off to Spain I was a healthy 11st 2lbs and I managed (somehow!) to keep it off until I came back. Given the obscene amounts of alcohol and fried food I ate in Madrid, that's a miracle but nonetheless, it's true.

But now a lot of it has crept back on. That really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. I know exactly how it's happened. Far too much food, definitely far too much alcohol and pretty much no activity that could really come close to being considered exercise. I have excuse after excuse - my back/leg don't allow me to exercise properly; I like socialising; I really want a couple of glasses of wine every day when I get in from work. Blah blah blah. And it's all bollocks. I like food, I'm greedy and I have very little willpower. That's the upshot.

But this morning when I strained to see past my jiggly tummy to see what the scales said, that switch in brain was flicked again. I promised myself back in 2007 that I would never go back over a certain weight and I have. So it's back to the website, back to sensible portions of healthier food (whilst not actually cutting anything out altogether because I believe self-deprivation always backfires) and a determination to go for a walk every day, rain or shine, knackered from work or not. If it means I have to turn down a few drinks/meal invites for a little while while I retrain my brain, then so be it.

My friends and family are, as always, lovely and say "No, you're not fat, you're fine" etc etc. I'm not suggesting that they're lying or that they're just being nice but I know when I'm comfortable and happy and it's not now. Time for action.

Blue skies and the blues

After nearly three years, I finally made it back to lovely Magnac-Laval and Cathy's gorgeous holiday home (l'Etoile de Mer).

We set off from Hove at 7pm Friday evening, got the 9pm shuttle and commenced the long drive down to the Limousin. Despite my best efforts to stay awake, I'm ashamed to say I nodded off rather a lot and Cathy did the vast majority of the 7hr 45 min drive. I think I only took over for about the last 2 hours! Being the last weekend in July, the big holiday getaway had started for the French so what is normally a practically deserted overnight drive, was more like mid-afternoon on the M25!

But just as dawn broke at shortly before 6am we pulled up outside the little house in the silence of the village. We unpacked as quietly as we could and then hit the sack for about 5 hours. We couldn't bear to waste any more of the holiday asleep though and were up and about by midday.

We headed to the local supermarket to stock up on the essentials for the weekend - wine, beer, cheese, vegetables etc and then wandered back to grab croissants and a baguette for later.  Imagine our surprise to find the little boulangerie shut on a Saturday afternoon for the first time we'd ever known. Fortunately, when it's shut, the other one about ten yards away and with bread from the same baker is open and they were happy to fulfil our brunch order! We spent the afternoon wandering around the village, catching up on events. Cathy had been there in May but because I'd been away for so long, I was interested to see what had changed. Some of the streets have been newly cobbled - well, cobbled down each edge and tarmac in the middle. A couple of roads have been blocked to traffic giving the tabac the opportunity to put tables and chairs outside for the first time. The council have also put up lots of wooden structures full of beautiful flowers so the place is looking very pretty (or rather, prettier than it already did). There's definitely more of a buzz in the village than there used to be - a combination of the influx of holiday-home owners (mostly Brits) and the fact that the bars now organise more events in the evenings to pull in customers.

Saturday evening brought the main event of the weekend - music by blues guitarist/singer Dave Thomas at L'Escapade bar in the village square. He's been playing for over 40 years and is a very well-respected musician in the UK and the USA but I'm guessing barely heard of in France. A good friend of his, Collette, a South African lady who Cathy knows well, had organised an 8-date tour around the Limousin for him and Saturday was only the second night. A good crowd had turned out on a beautiful balmy evening. Food and wine were flowing and once Dave got started, there was no stopping him. He's a fantastic musician and whilst I won't pretend that blues is my favourite genre, he put on a great show with a mixture of his own songs and covers, interspersed with little stories from his years as an entertainer. Collette and her husband Ron came to join us at our table, along with Bonnie, Dave's partner, an absolutely lovely lady. The evening flew by in a whirlwind of chat, drinks and a lot of laughing (not at the music, I hasten to add). At about half past midnight, most people headed off but we went into the bar just to settle our bill, only to start chatting to two girls we'd never seen before, Mel from Dubai and Joanne who lives just round the corner from the bar! Mel had to head home but Joanne invited us back to hers where we met her disturbingly silent French ex-husband who was babysitting and we drank some Pineau. We finally rolled home at 2.20am, knackered!!!

Sunday started as all Sunday should - with croissants beurres from the correct boulangerie on the corner! Then we hit the road. First was a splendid plant nursery/teashop in a tiny village where we drank beautifully presented teas and coffees and heard all about the incredibly early crop of soft fruits in France and were presented with a gigantic bag of cooking pears for free, because the owner had a glut of them and couldn't bear to see them go to waste! Then we moved on to the Lac de Mondon, a regular haunt. It's either a reservoir or a man-made lake (I can never remember which) near Cromac. It has a large grassy area, perfect for lazing in the sun and eating a picnic of baguette and Emmenthal, with lashings of greasy foreign crisps (as they are always referred to). From there we headed to Jouac, where Dave Thomas was playing again during the afternoon. We arrived at about 4 and he'd been on for about 3 hours already but he didn't quit til 6pm! He was very well received again. Despite our over-indulgence the night before, I somehow managed to down a large beer at about 5pm (thanks for driving, Cathy!) We dragged ourselves away from the fun to head home to make chick pea stew and get ready for a firework display we'd seen advertised, due to start at 11pm in a nearby village. Dinner duly scoffed, off we went to Dompierre les Eglises where we've been many times before and have even seen fireworks there in the past. We arrived about 10.45pm to a completely deserted village, not a soul to be seen, the huge number of cars that usually accompanies such an event conspicuous in their absence. Baffled, we drove from one end of the village to the other but nothing. Somewhat confused, we thought that just maybe we'd got the wrong village as there's another with a rather similar name. We shot off to the other village and arrived just a few minutes before 11pm but if anything it was quieter than the first. Bum! There was nothing left to do but head home. We were, however, quite determined to find out if we'd imagined the whole thing and we could remember where we'd seen the poster advertising it - on the outdoor noticeboard of the local supermarket. So at 11.30pm there we were, in a deserted supermarket carpark, headlights on full, staring at the poster which did indeed say "Fireworks - 23h - Sunday - Dompierre les Eglises". So at least we hadn't made it up. Just as we were about to pull away, headlights appeared behind us. Uh-oh, THE FUZZ! Or rather, the young gendarmes. Oops. Cathy looked like a rabbit caught in, well, caught in the headlights and I got out of the car to face the music. They didn't actually say anything, just looked expectantly at me. "Alors, je peux expliquer" I began. But could I? In French which, I hasten to add, I hadn't really spoken for the best part of three years! About seven minutes later, they seemed slightly confused but placated - further confused no doubt by my having said "Nous avons cherché le, um, le poster pour les feu d'artifices y esta aqui". Yeah, great, Em. Bad French followed by pointless Spanish. Suffice to say, they probably couldn't face the paperwork of booking in two rather tired foreigners and let us go. Rather relieved but very amused, we drove home for a well-deserved cuppa and a sleep.

Monday morning dawned, yet again, bright and warm. We'd heard that the previous two weeks had been miserable and wet yet so far we'd been blessed with blazing sun and cloudless skies. A quick trip to the décheterie (the tip} to dump a few things but also to pick up a bit of free wood, was followed by a drive to Bellac, the nearest main town where we had a slow but tasty lunch at the Café Le Pont de la Pierre, a cute little bar/restaurant by the 13th century stone bridge at the bottom of the city. The British owners had taken on some new staff - a couple of French teenagers and one British girl. We got the impression that it was the first day for all of them as they were having serious teething problems. No-one came to our table for about 15 minutes and when the waitress did, we asked for a menu and she headed off never to be seen again! Still, all was well in the end and we commenced the very steep climb to the top of the town to deliver a large bag of cat food to the cat sanctuary. That makes it sound more formal than it is. It's a small piece of land with some handmade cat houses with bedding etc. There are no staff, no office, just a shed for the food. Having delivered the food, we descended again and finally managed a game of Poohsticks (which I won - hurrah)! We spent another lazy afternoon on the shores of a lake - this time it was Lac Freadour, part of the Lac St Pardoux area. We did some murder mystery plotting, a bit of snoozing and watched some people take a very refreshing dip in the lake. It made me wish I'd remembered my swimming costume! 

We headed back to the house late afternoon and attempted to have a little cycle round the village. Sadly, our attempts were scuppered by the fact that the one of the two bikes at the house is a men's bike. Not that I have a problem with a crossbar (!) but the saddle turned out to be jammed at a height that made it absolutely impossible for me to sit on the bike and reach the ground, even with only one leg. Cycling not being one of my best talents, we decided it was safer to walk! Our evening perambulate was followed by a trip over to Chez Chaumet, a tiny hamlet just past Dompierre Les Eglises where we visited the beautiful holiday home of Mel, the girl from Dubai we'd met on Saturday evening. She has the most amazing house with a glorious view - it's almost illegal that it's only used for 2 months every summer when she and her 3 kids come over to stay there from Dubai! We had a lovely evening chatting on the verandah (Cathy to Mel about owning property abroad and me to her 10 year old son about Star Wars Lego - go figure!) We headed home to a late dinner to use up the contents of the fridge and took a last look up at the stars from the roof terrace.

Tuesday had rolled around far too fast and it was time to pack up and leave. We met up one final time with Bonnie for a quick coffee in the local tabac while Dave was being interviewed for Radio Magnac Laval but the interview hadn't finished before it was time for us to leave so we didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Dave (or to Colette who was interpreting for him!) The seven-hour drive back to Calais was uneventful, though we did realise that on the way here we'd actually been on the inner peripherique instead of the outer (the equivalent of having been on the North Circular instead of the M25) which explains why we had actually driven through a part of Paris city centre on the way down! Still, after a ridiculous detour in the final stage of the journey, which added about 12 miles and nearly half an hour to our arrival at the Shuttle, we grabbed a case of ridiculously cheap wine each at Cité Europe and boarded the train.

As usual, I had a glorious time in a beautiful part of the world and with lovely company. Thanks Cathy and a la prochaine, l'Etoile de Mer.

The photos of our little trip can be found HERE