It’s goodbye from me

The only constant is change and the time has come, dear readers, to say goodbye from France and this will be the final Suffolk man abroad column.

It has been a pleasure to share with you my experiences over the last nine months and I hope I have provided a little insight into life across the channel.

Goodbye and farewell.

IT was billed as a gentle walk in the lush pastures of the majestic mountains.

So naturally, keen to sample the best France has to offer I said to my Australian friend Narelle, who enjoys creative writing, I’d come along. There was room in the car so I found myself heading south from Toulouse, where I have a flat with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high), towards the mysterious peaks of the Pyrenees.

It started well, it was down hill to begin with, but if I’ve learnt anything about mountains is that you’re never far away from going up a hill. And half an hour later I found myself climbing up a very steep ravine over rocky terrain.

The climb took about an hour and a half and, dear readers, I took to my task with gritty determination especially after three old men strolled past me with a non-breathless “Bonjour”.

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Not built for clilmbing and lacking the agility of a mountain goat I took my time. Indeed regular breaks were not so much a chance to enjoy the views as an absolute necessity in order to catch my breath which kept escaping me.

I said to Narelle: “I thought this was meant to be a gentle walk.”

“It is,” she replied, “I just forgot about this bit.” adding that once we’re past the treeline it gets easier.

When I dared to turn round and look at the scenery the views were quite stunning. Ancient cool forest stretched into the distance and, once the dizziness passed, I could spot little huts in the distance presumably used as a place to lie down. I looked but I didnt spot Heidi, goat Peter and that malingering one in a wheelchair who could walk all along but liked being pushed around.

And as I staggard to a friendly rock 1,694 metres (about 5,500ft) up near a small mountain lake for a sit down and an emergency KitKat, I noticed that the hills were alive with the sound of heavy breathing.

I wasn’t brave enough to go up to the next summit taking the view that if I were to tackle something that needed crampons I may well be getting ahead of myself.

As you can imagine, once I got down, a manoeuvre that took some time despite the assistance of gravity, I was in a self-congratulatory mood as the Englishman who went up a mountain and came down alive. It was only then that I was gently informed that we’d tackled the easy hike for children.

The French lessons are coming along well - at least I think so.

Lucie, she’s the teacher who’s recently finished painting her new flat and enjoys rugby, tells me she has noticed I have improved.

This week we studied how to turn direct speech into indirect speech, something I can’t even begin to explain in English let alone French. Yet despite this progress I’m still making errors, last week, as I was enjoying a lunch out, I happened to mention I had a temporary filling in one of my teeth. For some reason this innocuous comment reduced everyone to stop eating and indulge in some hysterical laughter for a reason I have yet to fathom. There really is nothing more disconcerting than cracking a joke without knowing it.

My plain-speaking-photographer-friend Lucy emailed me this week to tell me the Suffolk Show wasnt the same without me. It was an event we ususally worked together sampling the treats of the foodhall and usually inviting ourselves to someone’s tent for lunch. I have to admit it was, as a newspaper reporter, one of my more favourite assignments.

I rather missed it, it looked like a good one.

A recent letter from my friend Beverley, who enjoys tennis and lives in my home village of Icklingham in the west of the county, told me she often thinks of me in the shower.

Rather a strange thing to admit, but it is because I once bought her back some voilet soap from Toulouse. Violets, you see, and not just sausages, are somewhat of a local speciality. There are shops devoted to crystallised violets, voilet soap, voilet perfume, and other voilet smelly things. I have yet to quite understand why.