Amongst the messages of support from all, I have two special people guiding me through, raising my moral and keeping me on track: Hermoinie the Kitty and Lewi the Legend. They’re long distance skaters too and armed with a wealth of experience I am privileged to be able to tap into. Not only are they doing a great job of keeping me pushing but Lewi has an uncle in Rennes and he suggested that I pop in for a shower and the security of camping in the back garden, kiddie style. After my night of terrifying camping by Rennes airport, an offer that I used every bit of newly acquired leg muscle to hurl myself towards.
Situated about 16k on the other side of the city, I skated hard to make it on time for the proposed midday door knock and, staying true to my professional rituals, I arrive bang on time to assure that the first introduction doesn’t start with a glance of a wrist watch. The door was open. I don’t mean that in a physical sense but as a matter of principle. Greeted by a group of party revellers exiting the stunning county style, wood framed building, I’ve arrived the day after the daughters (Rose) 17th birthday and immediately feel a completely unnecessary sense of “shit, I hope I’m not intruding”. I mean, who wants unexpected visitors when you have a raging hangover?
I expected nothing more than a good scrub up and a flat price of grassland to pitch my tent and catch up on some of the previous evenings lost sleep – merely the opportunity of some respite and a chin wag with a familiar sounding accent.
Uncle David is an artist originally hailing from Wigan and his, and his lovely wife Mari-Pols’, hospitality immediately surpassed my expectations. Cold, refreshing glass of OJ in hand, I was shown to the shower, offered a clean towel and told to relax and make myself at home. PERFECT! But it seems I’ve arrived on a rather special weekend – David and Mari-Pol are part of a local art collective and were preparing for a gallery viewing that evening which they kindly invited me to. Not sure wether or not I was going to impose by accepting or offend by rejecting, a slice of French culture was a tempting offer that I decided to take up. Left in the capable hands of their son Will (a pleasant young man easy to envisage as your average teenager glued to a tablet device and only contactable via a tap on the shoulder due to the Sony headphones which I believe he might have actually been born with), the couple left for a few hours and informed me that they’d return to escort me to the venue later that evening. Overtly aware that blood stained and ripped cargo shorts and a smelly running top is hardly the attire for a posh art gallery, I did my best to present myself, got stuck into a book and enjoyed some peace in a sunny back garden with farm animals and a rather mental fox terrier occasionally and pleasantly breaking my attention. Time passes quickly thanks to the incredibly witty pen skills of Hugh Laurie and, what seems like only a matter of minutes later, I am beckoned to join the group. So, I thought I was heading into the town centre to some ritzy venue hired out for the evening to push some new up’n’coming young artist and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The event was a social gathering of creative minds which they organise twice yearly. An excuse to keep close ties with good friends and, on this particular occasion, a celebration of the life’s works of the highly acclaimed artist Jacques Pasquier, the guest of honour – this is no hired venue but a beautifully artistic private residence. Oh shit, what am I doing here? I cannot ever muster a complete sentence of French and have no knowledge of this famous artist, even with my creative background and studies in the arts. Stepping inside I immediately think about staying for an hour, making my excuses and heading back to the non-comfort of my tent.
I make a concerted effort to try and understand and appreciate Jaques works, a task as difficult as trying to understand why I don’t like sending several days with out a decent wash – his work is amazing, spans several decades and conforms to nothing. His works are only as he chooses. Everything from eerie ceramic sculptures, acrylic paintings on linen, lithographics… whatever he wants, influenced seemingly by nothing apart from his own experiences – a traditional artist of the proper kind (or the other way round if you wish).
Lost in a crossfire of language that I can only recognise the occasional word of, I try hard to stay presentable and pleasant, delivering a smile and posture that the years of PR have blessed me with and try hard not to go cross eyed with befuddlement as to how I have arrived in this situation given my position only a matter of hours earlier. But hey, I’m on a mission to take myself out of my comfort zone and I recognise this as the perfect scenario. But that didn’t last…
Yes, I was hardly in a normal everyday environment but my concerns about my intrusion and were very quickly put to rest by a wonderful group of characters that made a real effort to include me in the fold. This wasn’t a gallery viewing for the passing street footfall in anyway whatsoever. It was an evening for the appreciation of a fascinating individual with the finest continental food I’ve ever tasted and a never ending glass of delicious organic French red wine. The courses arrived like waves – rabbit pate, Swedish fish dishes, home recipe quiches, hummus… the list goes on. The individuals I broke bread with that evening were simple beautiful people, happy to share the evening and welcomed me with open arms and, of course, the obligatory two cheek introductions.
I hadn’t checked my non-existent watch to see if “that hour” had passed. The wine kept on flowing and the interest in my adventure buzzed throughout the events creative patrons almost as if they viewed it as a work of art in its own right. My only disappointment of the evening was when time was called at around 11pm.
Ushered back to this stunning French countryside property, I was then offered one more glass of red before being shown a comfortable bed, a soft pillow! After a decent nights kip, I woke to fresh coffee on a sun drenched terrace whilst uncle David and auntie Mari-Pol hit the local market to pick up the lunch menu for the day… which just so happened to be my absolute favourite of all dishes, paella. I tried my hardest to earn my keep whilst they were gone by stacking wood and offering any amount of gratuitous labour. Guests from the previous evening arrived and, you guessed it, more wine flowed.
During my 30hrs with this amazing family I consumed more calories than I had in the previous 6 days and drank more wine than I have done in my 35yrs on this planet combined.
My hysterically uncontrollable smile that was harnessed from the depths of frozen despair on the previous evening was cemented to my face like a hideous Botox reaction.
Their generosity extended me another evenings stay but, through a feeling of not wanting to, well, for want of a better phrase that I simply cannot locate, take the complete piss, even more than my desire to get back on the board and make progress on my journey, I decided it was time to get back to un-reality, somehow demonstrate the mountain of love I had for them and head off once again into the unknown.
Back in the Sunday calm of the city of Rennes I decide to ditch the idea of a 65km, 3 day walk down the gravelly pathway of the canal to Redon (my only option if I was to steer clear of the 90kmph “rural” d roads I had found myself on during my rough night by the airport) and jump a train (once a’bloody’gain) to Redon.
Arriving before I could get even a fraction of my smile down on paper, a quick satellite image of the area delivered more great news that a suitable and secluded campsite for the evening was bound to be only a short distance skate and, importantly, a heck of a lot warmer!
This blog post was finalised by a beautiful canal, swans, kingfishers, my first sighting of a wild otter, a juicy orange, a busting belly and a smile sourced from the depths of my heart.