Wow, it’s been over three months since our last blog post. Time certainly moves on quickly when you fill your days. We decided that this blog would be better suited for the recording of our exploratory travels in Benny, and that intermittent updates of our daily grind working on house projects were deemed not interesting enough to post about. Instead, we have gathered together a few of our highlights of 2019 so far, to help capture a smattering of the interesting, noteworthy places we have passed through and a few events we have recently attended.
Angôuleme International Comic Festival (January)
Each year Angôuleme hosts one of the largest international Comic Festivals in the world. Despite Nicky not being a particular fan of the genre, after some gentle persuading she was keen to visit and see what the festival could offer. We thought of staying over, but decided to make it a day trip as the city is only an hour from our base. The town itself was quite beautiful, set on a steep-sided hill dominated by a cathedral, and absolutely thronged with people. There were many main exhibition venues spread out around the city, with free buses carting the crowds between each. The breadth and scale of each exhibition hall was incredible. No longer the sole domain of superheroes, the comic genre reflects every conceivable topic; suicide to pornography, biting political commentary to historic tales, incestuous abuse to supernatural thrillers. Every topic is described in detail, in a multitude of styles, the lined black inks of noir whodunnits through photo-realistic renderings of fantasy creatures to the large-eyed cartoon dramas of angst-ridden Manga teenagers. We watched skilled artists personalise purchases of their novels by adding requested character artwork and personalised messages to any blank pages, and long lines queuing patiently for such a prize. It was a great day out, fascinating to learn more about the process and the artwork and see a few of the big names behind the comics. The only downside was the that almost all displayed comics were in French; I had held hopes that at a large international festival there would have been more availability of popular comics in English.
Chartres, cathedral city (February)
Heading home for our annual visit, check-ups and servicing dates, we stopped off just short of Chartres in Marboué, leaving our city visit until the next morning. Here I had a hilly 10km training run around the nearby villages. The next morning we found easy parking on the south of Chartres at a long gravel car-park that doubled as an aire, then walked along the gently meandering river an easy thirty minutes to reach the celebrated Cathedral quarter. The city was quiet and still in the early morning, the sky a solid undisturbed blue, and only a few other walkers and joggers were around. We walked slowly through the historic streets and enjoyed a visit inside the cathedral, marvelling at the intricacy of the carvings.
Trip back to the UK (February-March)
After Chartres, we competed the road north to park at Saint-Nicolas d’Aliermont, our usual pre-ferry stopover. Here we went for another 10km run that proved much hillier than we’d expected, before crossing early the following morning. Once back in Blighty our days were packed with appointments with dentists, opticians, MOTs, Benny servicing, and more. We fitted in bouts of visiting friends, hopping from High Wycombe to central London to Northampton to Thaxted, before catching a flight from Stansted to Belfast. There were more family visits around Lisburn, Ballinderry & Portadown, interspersed with lough shore runs, an American football game (more below) and a trip to my nephew’s student digs in Whiteabbey.
Craigavon Cowboys – our First American football game (March)
It was a freezing day with a bitter north wind on a playing field in the People’s Park, Portadown. My nephew David was playing his recently discovered new sport with his local team, the Craigavon Cowboys. We were there to support. It was a little confusing at the start, not having realised that they only had one goal set up, effectively playing on a shortened pitch, so each change of possession required a direction and position change, with the team in possession always playing towards the one end-zone. It was never fully clear what would happen in event of an interception, but I’m sure the black and white striped professional-looking officials had it all worked out. With player shortages, my nephew played in both offense and defence sets, enjoying lots of game time. The cold wind and less players to swap ensured less standing around time between plays, allowing the game to flow quicker than normal, to be constantly moving and action-packed. We enjoyed the spectacle of it all.
After our return flight to England, we stayed with Nicky’s dad in Downham Market before reaching Nicky’s mum near Louth. Here we had a few days of relative quiet, several long runs, a spot of tree surgery, and several days of opening and checking through the remainder of our packed possessions to see what could return with us to our French house. We had a great night of comedy at Louth theatre, even if we had front row seats, an instant involvement in the show, and became the soft targets of several witty one-liners. Then too soon again we were off, spending nights with friends in Market Harborough, Northampton and St Albans before finally reaching the south coast at Peacehaven to await our ferry. We saw a monument marking the southern-most point of the Greenwich Meridian on UK soil and enjoyed our last fish and chips before returning (on an earlier 1am-5am ferry as our morning sailing was cancelled due to high winds) to France.
Nantes & its mechanical menagerie (March)
After our late ferry switch and a wild, rough crossing, we were missing a night’s sleep but a day ahead of schedule. We paused at Fougères to catch up on sleep, then checked into a campsite in the centre of Nantes as a birthday treat. Here we watched the exciting finale of the Six Nations, then the next morning caught a tram to the centre to explore the sights. The Île des Machines, our main target, did not open until 2pm, so we had plenty of time to see the historic centre. There was a race on, a pink charity event, with many thousands dressed up, and we wished we’d known and could have participated. Instead we became spectators, seeing the crowds of happy runners from all angles as we wandered the city.
After lunch we made our way to the Île des Machines and queued to enter the venue, seeing the mechanical spider, sloth, crane and giant ant, amongst many others. We climbed in one prototype branch of a giant tree, the next extension to the park, due to be completed in 2020. But the main event for us was the wandering Elephant, strutting and spraying at tourists on its slow trundle around the grounds. A grand spectacle.
Marathon de Cheverny (April)
We drove to Cheverny on a slow Friday afternoon, leaving us time to find the designated free aire by the cemetery and settle in before the racing began. Nicky was running the 10km on Saturday afternoon, and I was running my first marathon on the Sunday. Each race was to begin in the grounds of the Château de Cheverny, an impressive house famous now for being the inspiration for Tintin’s ancestral home in Hergé’s comics. Nicky ran well, beating her expectations to finish in 48 minutes, a new post-back operation PB. The pressure was on for me to meet my target.
The day began with a blanket of chilling cloud, dropping the temperature to 4 degs, before warming up slowly through the morning. All my long training runs were through cold winter months, and a hot sunny day would have rendered them for naught as I wilt badly in heat. Unfortunately, my mind failed early -I knew exactly what not to do, yet did it anyhow. I began much too fast, still feeling I was going slow and backwards as many were wildly rushing past me. It was only at the 10k point that I realised I was under 50 mins, far ahead of my projected pace schedule. I reined it in, but it was too late. I was closer to my schedule on halfway, at 1hr 48 mins, but by 25k I was done. My legs were lead, refusing to turn over properly. I had never felt this level of fatigue on long training runs, so put it down to the over-fast start. I paid dearly for it, struggling through the next 12k, then with 5k to go I ran hard again, forgetting the pain and pushing through to make it end. I just made it in under my 4hr target, at 3hr 56mins.
We were running to support a charity – WalktheWalk – as Nicky’s friend Emma was recently diagnosed and currently undergoing treatment. Our Justgiving page is still open should any kind readers wish to donate. Many thanks.
So, that’s a few of our recent highlights. In between, we have been catching up with friends ( Hi to Dave & Kate, and Chris & Peter ) reading, writing, painting, sketching, playing music, watching movies and completing DIY projects. And running, lots and lots of running. Our swim training will start again soon, with the warmer weather and water. Our wetsuits are certainly well rested, having gone unused since last September, and our bikes have been left unpedalled throughout autumn and winter. With my marathon completed our running will likely taper back to only a couple of times a week, leaving time for more cycling and swimming. This week we have a garden to cut back, dig over and plant out and then bathroom to tile, then we’re off to explore the Costa Brava for a few weeks. Phew!