Back into Oxford-

We’re undertaking a rain spattered bus tour of Oxford, sharing the top deck with a couple from Sidney. This typical British weather won’t be what they’re used to and I’m sad for them- or perhaps it’s a novelty and renders their experience more authentically British?

Our bouncy, enthusiastic guide, Catherine keeps us interested with plenty of anecdotes and by making references to our respective home locations. She knows plenty about everywhere, seemingly and hails from Somerset, herself. As we make our soggy way through the streets and past the individual colleges she provides us with a ‘who’s where’ of writers, artists, politicians, artists and otherwise famous people who attended them. There’s a comical moment when she mentions Boris Johnson and Husband interjects with ‘BOO!’ causing much hilarity from the Australian couple.

We’re not tempted to ‘hop-on-hop-off’, or certainly not to hop off, although the Australian pair alight when we pull into the bus station, taking their wheeled cases with them and off to Scotland, as the woman tells me.

It’s day 2 of our mini stay at the club site just on the outskirts of the city of Oxford and the morning arrives with much improved weather. After our previous day’s soggy walkabout we dined in the local pub- a perfectly acceptable pub meal- and all is well.

For this next day we’re meeting family members at the park and ride and heading back into city for a closer look at some of the colleges and historic buildings. After meeting up we clamber on to a double-decker bus and up the stairs to the top. The front seats are empty! In our dotage, we’ve all regressed to childhood in our delight in sitting on top at the front for the bus ride, enjoying a wonderful sense of almost-vertigo as the tall vehicle rounds corners, lurching like a galleon on the sea, and we’re able to peer down into peoples’ gardens or into top floor windows.

We alight in the city centre. Husband, who has a map, becomes the navigator. As usual I’m having to run to catch up most of the time due to photographing things [Husband has never been one to pause for photographical activities]. We get to look at a lot of things we passed on the ‘open-top’ and viewed through rain-streaked windows but this time the sun is out and even warm.

Today we can take ourselves to a restaurant and enjoy a long, leisurley lunch and we opt for a French bistro down a little side street, It’s great food in a rustic space that feels comfortable and intimate- ideal for catch-up chats.

There’s more wandering after lunch, although nobody feels like a long hike, or clambering up the ‘motte’ of the old castle which is surrounded by paths and also flanked by the historic jail.

Eventually we’re back at Queen’s College and the little old coffee shop, feeling it would be churlish not to stop for tea and cake before we amble to the bus stop for another lurching, swaying ride back to the park and ride. There’s more tea at the van and we bid our goodbyes. Home tomorrow…

Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [ and The Year of Familiar Strangers [ Visit my writer Facebook page [ or my website:

Mangez comme les Francais!


One aspect of life the French have perfected is the art of dining out. And anyone who wishes to observe the French at this only needs to visit a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon to understand how seriously mealtimes are treated. Every bistro, brasserie and café is packed.

But restaurants are not the sole venues for the French penchant for large, family gatherings to share food and company. Any park, aire, picnic area, seaside bench, canal side or car park will be packed with groups of friends or family sharing a meal.

And this Sunday meal will not be some hastily wrapped cheese and pickle sandwich, a packet of Golden Wonder crisps and bottle of coke. Oh no. This will be a proper full-on, sit-at-a-table, cloth, knife and fork, wine and glasses, side salad, napkins, several courses kind of meal. During a cycle ride from Jard sur Mer to La Tranche sur Mer we passed a large family party seated at two tables [one for adults, one for children] made up of all manner of picnic tables. Everyone had a seat and a laid-up place-and all under the trees in the woods by the beach.

So how, then did the French acquire their reputation for sylph-like, uber-cool, modelly bodies? It is my theory that they [the women, especially] chain-smoked their way to skeletal skinny-ness. In any case the same cannot be said these days, for the French are no longer slender wraiths like Coco Chanel and Francoise Hardy but have become as chubby as every other nation.

Their haughty, sniffy attitudes to cuisine have taken a slight tumble, too since they embraced MacDonalds and took to fast food. Yes-you’d still be hard-pushed to find a better cooked steak than in France, but along every street there is a pizza joint, a burger bar, a kebab shop, ice creams galore and the inevitable chi-chis, galettes, crepes and doughnuts.

And what is more-the French are not averse to strolling along with a bag of chi-chis [for the uninitiated these are strips of fried dough rolled in sugar-sometimes dipped in melted chocolate] munching as they go.

Pockets of resistance do exist, though. A mayor on Isle d’Oleron, Gregory Gendre is fighting to keep MacDonalds off the island [ ]

Most days we endeavour to choose and buy fresh produce and prepare meals in the van, [see last week’s post for the shopping experience]. We like to make the most of such delicious items as the huge, luscious tomatoes, sweet, juicy melons, smooth, creamy cheeses and salty Toulouse sausages, sometimes using the deli counter to buy slices of thick quiche or pork cutlets.

But when in France it would be sacrilege not to dine out on occasion so every few days we do. I indulge in my very favourite French menu: oysters/steak/crème brulee, and very delicious it almost always is.