Diary Page 6
Touquet Page 2
10th July - 8th Aug
is nowhere to go. What you are looking for is right here. Open the clenched
fist of wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer - The Call
Initially I was concerned that I may be struggling for content - but the reality is so much has been happening the challenge is what to include and how. There is a fair bit of content on these nesxt 3 pages, the reason being I learned an awful lot in these first few weeks, that will probably be of value to me for the rest of my journey.
I have been meeting so many people and experiencing so many things I will try not to anaesthetize you with just a list of names and incidents - but just select a few which maybe encapsulate a flavour for what I have been experiencing and feeling along the way. So after many hours of labour I have picked out and recorded some of the dullest bits. So find a very comfortable cushion and perhaps a strong coffee.
For the first time, maybe in my whole adult life, but certainly as far back as I can remember, I had no agenda. No written quantifiable list, of short, medium and long term goals. The fact that I was sat in Northern France next to the Destiny Bus meant that any goals that previously had any value in my life had been ticked. The big one right at the end read 'Round the world trip'! This was first written in 1993. I undertook an extensive review of the goals at least once a year and made any necessary amendments by either adding removing or enhancing the objectives listed. My hope in '93 was for a 6 month trip, which over the years became extended to 12 months. The expected commencement date of said trip, if it actually became a reality, was not until some time after the age of 50. So with everything either ticked or removed as unimportant, I now found myself staring at my blank piece of paper. Whilst an unusual experience for me, it was surprisingly in no way uncomfortable. I have the strangest feeling that everything is under control and whatever will be will be. Even slightly more strangely, that maybe things are in some way mapped out.
So the only things that had crept onto my page during the first period were short term 'must do's'. 1) Clear 'my desk' of all the baggage I had brought with me from the UK. 2) Bring the web site up to date 3) Have more clarity as to what my next steps would be. 4) Work on learning to communicate in French. 5) To get the heart and lungs in better shape. I am by no means unfit, but I can't help reflecting on the energy I had as a young teenager, and that by design we are hunter-gatherers. No, I have neither a desire to be a teenager again nor do I want to start chasing dinosaurs. But if I need to chase one, I would like to be in good enough condition to be able do so as I don't know what lies ahead. So I don't see any reason why I can't re-capture some of those activity levels, before a comfortable lifestyle, cars and life in general, got to me. So my main means of getting around will be foot and bicycle and when possible the van will remain parked up.
I had decided that, only when the first 3 had been done, of course the 4th & 5th would be ongoing, would I then be ready to move on.
So first and foremost, I made it 'My Job' to learn French. The reason it was so important was not because I wanted to be fluent, I could spend years here and not achieve that, rather I wanted to know how to learn and get by in a language quickly. To know if it was something I was capable of, and hence not have to be concerned about for the future. Whilst, of course I understood it should be easier in French than in other languages, the basic principles should be the same. There is a model for everything, I just had to find one.
It was an interesting exercise. It naturally meant avoiding English-speaking people. As a start I walked up and down the streets asking the same questions, until firstly, I got the question right, and then I could understand the answer. Exciting days eh? From there I just spoke as much as possible and very rarely spoke English. So as you might imagine - there were some very very long quiet periods. I mixed with the French as much as possible, which usually meant the locals i.e. going to local cafes and bars as opposed to tourist spots. It was surprising how welcoming everybody was and how readily they accepted me; considering my limited language abilities. Hence, in no time at all I realised that my French speaking prowess was leaping on at an uncanny trundle! I stumbled on, oblivious to the path of destruction I left in my wake.
One of the bars I occasionally visited was a locals bar called 'The Fireman' I had got to know a few of the people there. One of the guys whom I got friendly with was Fred. We struck up a deal, he would speak in English, as he wanted to practice and I would speak in French. A friend of mine once said to me, "I hate these foreign bastards, they just want to practice their English on us". Which to an extent is true, but it also leads to many opportunities when you are also trying to learn a language. It wasn't long before we were speaking like this all night. To the extent that after only a week several people had commented to Fred that they couldn't believe how much my French had improved. It wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, but progress was being made. I believe there is an understanding that if you wish to learn a language find yourself what is known as a 'Sympathetic Native' whom, will not only tolerate your errors, but also correct you along the way which accelerates your learning immensely. Whilst this was not my intention, indirectly this was taking place. I seemed to meet people who were happy to communicate with the sad, lonely, bad speaking Englishman. Maybe they had no mates either. On one evening Bebir, the bar celebrity, even played the National anthem for me on the harmonica. Not something I ever expected to witness in a French bar!! Naturally, it subsequently cost me a drink, but many friends were made in the process. Money well spent.
On another occasion I had gone to the town of Etaple, to the Internet cafe. Afterwards, I sat reading my book outside a cafe. Patrick, a male nurse whom I had met briefly in the Fireman, approached the cafe said hello to all the other people there and when he spotted me came over and shook my hand. Which I was both surprised and uplifted by. Not only that, it gained a double take from the waiter, whom by then had put me in the category of 'to be ignored or at best patronized - tourist'. Little did he suspect I was a fully paid up vagrant. Patrick sat at the bar and I continued to read. As I was leaving I went over to say my goodbyes, at which point he offered to buy me a drink. To repay his gesture, I insisted and bought both him and myself a beer. As people came and went he introduced me to all the regulars and staff. He had warned me that a couple of them weren't too fond of the English, in particular Gerome, whom was a butcher. The delicate situation of the Beef industry between the 2 countries hadn't warmed him to all things English. Spookily, finding out I was a vegan didn't really seem to improve the situation either. How to win friends and influence people. Not that I told him. Patrick dropped it in in conversation - Cheers Patrick. These situations will always arise; However, if this kind of situation was likely to concern me, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing. So from initially intending to leave at about 8.30pm I finally left at about 12.30am. When I came to pay my bill the landlord Papa said that all my drinks had been bought including by himself and even Gerome, the friendly butcher.
So currently, this is my simple model for learning a language. Meet lots of people, make lots of effort and invariably, make lots of mistakes. As my belief is that if you haven't got a bloody nose then you haven't been in the ring long enough.
Le Touquet was the height of fashion in the 20's and 30's when a flight from Britain would land every 10 minutes. Until, as it became much simpler to travel, people began to go further a field. As a tourist spot however, it still attracts it's fair share of Brits; Often hopping across the channel in private aircraft. It will not be news to learn that the 'Brit abroad' dosen't necessarily have the best reputation. Even in this more upmarket location it is no different; unfortunately, at times, one can see why.
Although I tended not to mix with any British, there was one specific exception to this. I was sat quietly reading one afternoon, when I and everybody else in the area could hear a noise tumbling down the street. This noise was wearing an English accent. Not one that one might associate with 'Lager Louts' but maybe more accurately described as 'The Queens English'. Out of the noise emerged 3 couples, probably in their late thirties early forties, dressed as you may expect for a christening or a day at the races. They were clearly on a mission to annoy everyone in their path. Internally I groaned, and put my head well and truly between the pages of my book. All the time expecting the noise to just pass on by, as it was polluting a street full of excellent tourist cafes, restaurants and bars. But as it increased in volume, it slowed, hesitated until finally stopping at MY cafe, and then audibly made itself comfortable on the table next to me. I twisted into a position that Houdini would have been be proud of as I sunk ever deeper into my book, until one would only be able to see my sandals and dreadlocks protruding from the bottom. In the hope that it wouldn't notice that I was reading an English book. It continued it's deluge of abuse, now directing it's attention to the waitress's and staff of the cafe, and just the French in general. Throwing a football at passers by was a particular favourite. Unfortunately, it soon tired of the immediate prey. "So you are English?" as the noise bounced off the back of my book. I had nowhere to run to. I considered answering in French but didn't really believe I could carry it off. It's day took a sudden turn for the better once it became apparent I was wearing a North of England accent; The noise originating from the far superior South. This then led to a barrage of highly amusing over used lines, involving whippets, flat caps and 'have you got electricity yet?' gags. So I was dragged kicking and screaming into communicating. It wasn't long before we were chatting civilly, much to the relief of everybody north of Spain. I was learning to avoid trying to explain what I had embarked upon and the time scales of my journey mainly for 2 reasons. Firstly, because whilst I wait for it to evolve I still find it difficult to explain fully what I am doing, also that the reaction I receive usually ranges from acute envy to outright hostility. But this time I made an exception! The hostility I had already dealt with and I didn't think a quick coat of envy would do it any harm at all. Once they had all calmed down they were really quite charming. Amongst other topics, we talked of travel and languages. Mark was married in India as his family have a business there. We continued to chat until, having lost track of time, they realsied they had to get to the airport in a hurry as they had only flown in by private jet for the day. Being one of only maybe 2 occasions where I had direct contact with my compatriots, even though once I had got to know them they were very pleasant, these are not the kind of incidents that make you think fondly of your home nation.
One Wednesday afternoon, I had a bit of a wake up call. I had gone into Le Touquet it was about midday. I was sat outside a cafe having a coffee, when I noticed a guy in his 30's carrying some letters, walking in the direction of the Post Office. As he walked past the cafe, some friends, who had recently seated themselves, called out to him. He went over to their table, exchanged greetings, took a seat and proceeded to order a coffee. They chatted for about an hour before he went on his way. This led me to reflect on my life in the UK. On a working day, I would never have had, or better still, made the time to do what I had just witnessed. I would always be dashing somewhere, probably running late or at the very least tight for time as I always had the tendency to cram in too much 'stuff'. So if I had seen friends it may have been a quick 'Hello', followed by my apologies for having to be somewhere else. Hold on, perhaps the gent had a day off, and therefore had the time to sit and chat. Maybe so, but I can't even hang my shame on that excuse. As even on my 'days off' i.e. the weekend, the picture would have been the same. Is this a cultural thing or a Tony Day thing?
I realised that a fundamental part of my journey is to live my life differently. Previously, in areas, it had served me well, but I knew it was now time for a change. It was not going to be easy, as I had been driven all my life. The thing which I noticed to be the most difficult to deal with, whilst trying to change some of my habits and to adjust to a slower pace of life, was the immense feeling of guilt this created. It seemed to go to the core of me to be 'doing' constantly. Maybe some of this comes through from society, ingrained within our system, but a large part was owned by myself too. I had always been nothing or 100%, in all things I applied my myself to. Hence, whilst in Le Touquet I found myself getting caught up in wanting to be doing something constantly and when I recognised this, I then had to wrestle with the guilt. I found myself justifying why it was ok to take some time out. So I had to train myself; To do this I had to escape myself. So I would visit cafes, just to sit and read a book for several hours or take long walks. It also seemed to help me clear the clutter and think more clearly.
It has not been an easy process, and I have had to coerce myself along the way. However occasionally I have been able to draw on a frustrating experience I had some years earlier, whilst in the UK.
Before I left England, I was living at Sunderland Point, a tidal peninsular. I then moved to the barn, closer to the village of Overton than I had previously lived. Less than 1.5 miles from the edge. In addition there was now no tidal road to navigate, which made life simpler, as at certain times the only road to the houses would be flooded and therefore impassable. So life and newspaper delivery times had to be planned around the tide table. However, my local newsagent, in there ultimate wisdom, decided to discontinue delivering my Sunday newspaper on the grounds that I now lived too far from the village! Make sense of that one if you can. Apparently it had something to do with the postman? No amount of reasoning or pleading made any difference. Despite offering to pay extra for the considerable inconvenience, me moving closer to their shop had caused them. It all seemed completely unreasonable.
So began my quest to once again get my paper delivered. From putting up notices, speaking to the farmers, (They used to deliver to the farms but stopped - which I felt better about as my paranoia then subsided a tadge) contacting on-line supermarkets, the newspaper themselves, and the delivery company in the hope that the driver could drop one off on the way past. It even got to the stage when I thought I would strike a deal with the newspaper delivery girl/boy so I followed them around at 7 am one Sunday morning to see whose route I may be on. That would have been a tricky one to explain if I had been spotted. I realise of course that I could simply just go out and pick up a newspaper, but every time I did that, I also did 'other things' whilst I was out e.g. the trip to the Do It Yourself shop - for that pot of paint etc. As a result, the paper would get thrown down unread and that 'Sunday Morning' experience of lazily browsing through the paper, whilst drinking a large coffee, had been lost........It had been hijacked by the bandits at the newsagents! The quest continued for about 18 months. Then whilst taking a bath - Eureka!! I ordered a taxi for every Sunday morning and arranged with the taxi company for the driver to collect my newspaper and deliver it for me. I realise this may seem extreme, but after working such long hours all week, up to 16 hours a day, it was a life style thing. So their dastardly plot had been foiled and equilibrium was restored to the kingdom.
So why am I telling you all this? Because, for the first time, it became fundamental in my reasoning when I found myself at a cafe one afternoon. Since then, I have been able to make use of this in the ongoing battle against my 'axis of guilt!' As I passed a cafe, one wonderfully sunny afternoon, I was going through the familiar loop deciding whether to pull up a chair at a table, and taking some heavy losses in the process. When suddenly I realised that it was a Sunday. Ahhhh, I thought. This will make up for years of lost Sundays I was cheated out of.
So now I was having a top Sunday. I sat in the sun with an acceptable glass of red, and lazily read my book. I had been there a couple of hours when to cap it all what looked like a folk group began to set up in the street just next to the tables. As I am passionate, bordering fanatical about all types of music I thought 'fantastic it doesn't get any better than this!' All at once the feelings of guilt had been run out of town by smug. To my horror, however, it was not as it appeared. The best way to describe them was Frances' answer to Chas n Dave! I was devastated. They were simply impossible to ignore as they massacred one track after another. So after the equivalent of 10 versions of 'Snooker Loopy' I could take no more. I waved the white flag of surrender and retreated severely wounded. As I shuffled off, by way of a last act of defiance I threw them my best scowl. But to add insult to injury they responded with their best 'cheeky chappy' nod and a wink!........... Bandits! They had robbed me of my top Sunday in the same way as those other bandits in the newsagents had done.
For the benefit of those of you who are not familiar with Chas and Dave, the scratch on your new car, the cigarette burn in your new outfit, or even the wasp that has embedded itself into your ice cream that is not gonna give up without a fight - is Chas n Dave.
A quick word of warning to anybody planning to drive to France. The way the French view their cars in general seems different than in the UK and I suspect other European countries also. Two elderly gents arrived back at what appeared to be a relatively new car. Only to find that cars to the front and rear had parked bumper to bumper, and so in effect they were blocked in. However, I was highly impressed when both of them climbed into the car as I thought the passenger would have needed to guide the driver out. After only 6-10 skilful movements using the other cars bumpers as his buffers they emerged from the space. He bounced from one car to the other shunting them both forward and back to create enough space. I have witnessed this creative style of exit many times since. So a tip, if you do take a car over to France make sure you park in plenty of space or as a friend told me, don't put your handbrake on.
When I got to the point where my first two 'must does' were done, for the first time a feeling of restlessness or even anxiety crept in. 'So what now? You can't just sit here for 10 years!' Inexplicably I felt a fraud. Throughout the previous year, since I had first begun planning this trip, at no point had it mattered how I would be spending the time. I just knew I had to go. Suddenly it seemed to matter, at least in the short term. The feeling intensified each day until by the 3rd day when I was talking with a German lady at the campsite she asked had I been to the beach yet. I told her I hadn't as I wasn't really here to be lying around on beaches, but that I had seen it and it was beautiful. From that moment I had an overwhelming urge to go down to the beach. It was about 6pm but with a good 3 hours plus of daylight left, still very hot. So I walked along the beach for 2 hours or more, after which I sat and watched the sun go down. By the time I returned to my van I had my 3rd 'must do' sorted out.
I realised that as there was nowhere I wanted to go, or anything I particularly wanted to do whilst in France. The only additional things I wished to spend my time on were to do some work with the Mother Teresa order and continue my meditation. So that meant tracking down the "Missionaries of Charity" in France.
Once I had made my decision there was no point in waiting. I knew they had a base in Paris and I managed to find an address and telephone number for them. When I called, it was an answering machine so I left a message. Although I wasn't too optimistic of a return call; The voice on the message being male, didn't exactly fill me with confidence. So when I received no response I decided the only thing I could do was go to Paris and try and find them, leaving the 'Destiny Bus' behind, as I wasn't quite ready for the thought of driving the van around Paris, lost.
I sat outside the train station in Etaples, having just bought my train ticket for Paris. I was leaving the following morning, hoping I had got all the journey details correct and the right ticket. I had tried to reserve accommodation by ringing some hostels, but although I didn't fully understand why, I knew that it wasn't possible. The travel books I had read had said that as it was backpacking season, not to arrive in Paris without a reservation. So, I was abandoning my van in Le Touquet and travelling 200 miles; I had no accommodation; I was going to try and track down the Mother Teresa order, suspecting the information I had was inaccurate; Whilst not knowing what I would be able to do should I find them; All that I knew was that I felt strongly I should go.
The thought occurred to me -
'Today is more frightening than yesterday and tomorrow will be more frightening than today. Which fills me with a sense of excitement.'