In this blogposting...
* All You Need Is A Plane Ticket...
* Le blog à Pépère
* AGM XXXVIIIProceed with caution...
ALL YOU NEED IS A PLANE TICKET, A SUITCASE AND A CAMERA...It's 0530 on a cold, damp and peculiarly dark Wednesday morning. I've been awake for an hour and have somehow found time to fortify myself before the journey with a steaming bowl of porridge, drizzled (luxuriously) with maple syrup. I regard this is an advance reward for the voyage that lies ahead...
There are no buses at this hour so, as an act of revenge, I trundle my suitcase noisily behind me as I walk down Westgate Road to Central Station - waking up the inhabitants of the tower blocks above Big Lamp.
I am followed down the hill by a man in one of those luminous yellow jackets. He's faster than me, though, and says 'Morning, marra!' as he overtakes me. It's a long time since I heard that word...
As I walk, I notice only one star in the sky and remember being told by someone that, if you can only see one star, it's not a star at all - it's Venus. That's the kind of thing you never forget.
I last made this selfsame journey two weeks ago and, on that occasion, the moon stood high behind the spire of the Roman Catholic Cathedral outside the station. When I looked a second time a few minutes later, it had moved - quite some distance. It shouldn't surprise me when this happens but it does.
As I walk into the station, I bid Venus 'Morning, marra!'
I get to the station at 0600 - needlessly early, as I always am. Gregg's is already open but I resist the temptation and buy a newspaper at WHSmith instead. I sit next to my suitcase and ponder the uniqueness of WHSmith - a business name that is never abbreviated to Smith's or the like. It is now, as it will always be, Double You Aitch Smith. Even the name above the door acknowledges this fact and is written as one word, as I wrote it above - WHSmith.
That's the kind of thing you think about at six o'clock in the morning as you wait for your train. It stops you thinking other thoughts - like 'Why me?'
As you can see, my suitcase is ettling to get on the train out of the cold. Nevertheless - and under the mistaken impression that it would look a lot more evocative than it does - I insist on taking this picture. As well as earning a rebuke from my suitcase, I also get a very funny look from the train driver.
I almost miss the train because of this picture.
It is a silver-grey jewel of a journey up the coast. Looking out over the North Sea at a brilliant, shocking pink, sunrise it occurrs to me that, being the creatures we are, we are much more used to admiring beautiful sunsets than sunrises because we are awake to see a lot more of them.
It really is lovely to see Holy Island floating on a high tide, the sea almost mauve around it, reflecting the changing sunrise colours of the sky.
The sun, as reluctant to get out of bed as I had been earlier, seems to pull the clouds over its head like blankets. 'Just five more minutes!' It isn't really fully light until we pass through Berwick, by which time the clouds have won. As we cross the border into Scotland, it starts to rain and the sea turns gun-metal grey.
As you can see, it's still raining at ten past eight, when the train arrives in Edinburgh. Which doesn't stop Edinburgh from being the most beautiful city in the world.
When it's finished, I'll be able to take a tram to the airport but until then, I have to rely on the special airport shuttle bus. It's normally a good service, but on this dreary and drizzly Wednesday morning, something goes wrong with the ticket machine. You can just about see the driver getting more and more exasperated with it while his putative passengers - me and my suitcase included - are getting wetter and wetter.
Eventually it defeats him and we have to wait for the next bus, which therefore departed chock-full of dripping and more-than-mildly irritated (and irritable) travellers.
A young woman next to me on the bus spends the entire 30-minute journey applying her make-up. When she got on, she was noticeable pretty. When she disembarked at the airport, she looked awful.
Naturally, it's still raining so I dash inside for a cup of coffee without admiring the view of the car park and the faceless airport hotel and 'business centre'.
Although both Edinburgh and Lyon airports are of the 'small and therefore less maddening' variety, I still end up wondering - as I always do when I'm in an airport of any size - why they are always the way they are. Bland, unfriendly - even hostile - places where people go to be herded and misdirected and stressed and annoyed. The grotesque 'muzak' and insincere, forced smiles of the staff seem always to increase stress levels. I wonder if there's such a thing as 'airport rage'.
Why don't they build them with high and graceful Gothic arches, intriguing passageways, towering steeples, open markets and bandstands? You'd want to go to a place like that.
There are problems at the Gate. One of the computer terminals isn't working. There are two recalcitrant Frenchmen who refuse to admit that their suitcases are too big for cabin baggage. And a rather sad old gent jumps the boarding queue and will not rejoin it. He tries to block the doorway, as if to say 'If I'm not getting on the plane right now, nobody is'. Security staff have to restrain him.
Airport rage. I don't blame him at all.
Because of the computer, the grumpy Frenchmen and the sad old gent, take-off is 30 minutes late. We finally leave the ground at ten past eleven.
I'm lucky to get my 'emergency-exit' seat - it has extra leg-room - even though it means I am sitting next to the most talkative French couple I've ever met. From the moment they fasten their seat-belts and start to complain about how stuffy it is till touchdown at Lyon, where they are still berating the (admittedly) insipid nature of easyJet coffee, they just don't shut up.
They talk - loudly - through the safety demonstration and all through the many announcements made by the crew and captain. They pass comment on the attributes of the crew and of any passengers that catch their eye. They spend a lot of time shrugging their Gallic shoulders at the inadequacies of the in-flight magazine. And they always agree with each other about everything.
It was terribly depressing.
Afterwards, Madame looks at me as if I am an eccentric English clown with a red nose, painted face, oversize red braces and a squirty buttonhole rose. Maybe next time...
Landing at Lyon is a blessed relief. As we disembark, Madame pushes in front of me and several other passengers. I bid her 'Bonne journee!' and then mutter something extremely crude under my breath - in English. The man standing behind me in the gangway congratulates me for having completed the flight without garotting her and her husband.
The fly-away building you can see here is much bigger even than it looks. And it's not even an aircraft terminal; it's Lyon airport's railway station. It's extraordinary; very grand, very big, very modern - and very empty. I reckon it must be one of the world's most underused structures. I've never seen more than a dozen or so people inside it.
It's still pretty stupendous, though, and - when you use it, as I have to today to catch the tram-train - it makes you feel as if you're somewhere, as if you've arrived.
I trundle my suitcase along the travolators, which seem to go on forever and move very slowly indeed. Three French soldiers, in full combat kit and armed to the teeth with what look like portable atomic weapons, are travelling in the opposite direction. As we pass, they smile suspiciously sweetly and say 'Bonjour Msieur'. On all my previous visits to France, this has never happened before and it immediately makes me feel as if I'm under surveillance.
I seriously start to wonder what it is about me that may have aroused their distrust. My beard? The glasses? My tie? The redness of my suitcase?
When I turn to look at them, they turn to look at me.
By now, I am so uncomfortable that the escalator down to the tram-train can't come soon enough.
My suitcase makes a pleasing match with the livery of the handsome Rhônexpress tram-train that takes you into the centre of Lyon. Systems like this are fairly new - and still quite rare. In the countryside, they behave like trains but, once inside the city, they run along the streets like trams. So you get the best of both worlds, as it were.
This one gets you to the heart of Lyon in 25 minutes and, being the fanatic that I unsahamedly am, I always enjoy travelling on it.
It's busy today, though, and the only seat I can find is occupied by a woman's handbag. Expectantly, I mutter 'Madame? Si vous plais?' but she looks at me as if I'm a baked English parsnip with a drink problem and leaves her handbag exactly where it is.
I formally ask her - in French - to move her bag. Again she ignores me. I'm starting to wonder if the soldiers were right; perhaps I look so totally beyond the pale that I should be treated no better than a plague-rat.
Another woman comes to my rescue. She pleads on my behalf. I am, she says, 'a tourist - and quite old'. This makes Madame Stoneface relent and I pass the rest of the journey into Lyon sitting next to her, feeling very touristy and very, very old.
The tram-train deposits me at Part-Dieu, which is not where I want to be at all. My local train for St Georges de Reneins leaves from Perrache - which is another city-centre tram ride away.
Time for Irritating French Lady Number Three.
Before you board a Lyon tram, you have to have a ticket. The machines provided for the purpose at every tram-stop are of admirable simplicty. They even 'walk you through' the process in English, if that's what will part you from your euros.
But the old lady struggling with the ticket machine at Part-Dieu is utterly defeated by it. She turns and, in desperation, asks me if I can help her. This surprises me because, although the screen-language on show at the time is Italian, she aske me for assistance in French.
In situations like this, life has a tendency to get needlessly complicated. I wonder if she is asking me in French because, although she herself is Italian, she has assumed, quite reasonably, that I am French.
I decide to determine her nationality - equally reasonably, given the situation - by asking (in French) if she is Italian.
I think Madame must have had a turbulent relationship with an Italian at some point in her life because she stares at me with a combination of bile and rage that would stop a charging bull. I may as well have offered her cash for sex.
'Nonnnnnnn!' she exclaims. I apologise as profusely as my increasing fatigue allows and try to explain to her that I thought she may be Italian because the ticket-machine screen was in Italian. So again - I get the treatment. 'Italienne??? NON!'
It is at roughly this point that I realise how glad I am that I do not have a firearm of some description about my person. My interminable conversation with this obsessive Italophobe has already made me miss two trams because, of course, I haven't managed to buy a ticket myself yet.
With an exasperated assertiveness that took even me by surprise, I hijack her transaction. I press a few buttons and twiddle a few knobs. I buy her ticket for her - not out of sympathy or magnanimity but out of pure frustration.
I'm not, of course, sure that it is the ticket she wants. For all I know, some tram or other has deposited her in an utterly unfamiliar part of Lyon, where she is still wandering like an undead wraith and assuring anyone who will listen that she is NOT Italian.
Eventually, I catch a tram. I lap up the ten-minute trip through the narrow streets of central Lyon and - as always - audibly gasp as this narrow tightness suddenly opens out into a grand riverscape. Stately public buildings, the broad, fast-flowing Rhône and the hill of Fourviere dominating the skyline.
I can't linger, though. There's only one more train to St Georges de Reneins and me and my suitcase must be on it...
It was almost half-past five now, and starting to get dark. The train rumbled through Vaise, St Germain du Mont d'Or ('of the golden hill'), Anse and Villefranche-sur-Saône.
And, at six o'clock, it drew into St Georges de Reneins.
Sunrise to sunset. Twelve hours of movement, with still a 30-minute walk along unlit country lanes to the house.
But I am way past caring by now. Yes, it's a long way to go to be where you want to be. But it's worth it.
My suitcase almost sighs as I walk into the house of warmth and light...
LE BLOG À PÉPÈRE
When you've got a minute, take a look at Serge's latest blogposting - number 147. It includes two videos he made himself in his garden. The first shows a 'roller' - a rare visitor to Beaujolais and, as far as I know, unkown in England.
The second is a real charmer. A pair of coal-tits nested in an ornamental urn in Serge's garden and successfully raised a brood of 11 chicks. Watch what happens when one of the parents arrives with some food...
To access the blog, click on Serge's picture on this page, then click on his blog's name.
Or try going direct to http://spepere.blogspot.fr/
You may have seen in the last posting's Comments box that Vivienne has issued one of her ultimatums (ultimata?) If I wish to see her on 4 December, our AGM will have to take place at Gibside. Except for the entrance fee involved, this isn't a bad idea.
What do you think?
(If we do hold our AGM there, we will all, of course, mention to everyone we meet that we are very close and intimate friends of Vivienne and that she has promised, on the National Trust's behalf, to provide us with free coffee and cake.)
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