Towpath Tales [part 3]

We were down to our last two days of cycling before we’d need to trek back up to Caen for the ferry.

There was a convenient parking spot at Pont d’Oust, where a bend in the canal is host to a few houseboats, a picnic place and a mooring for leisure boats or smaller craft.


We lunched, squeezed into paddy-pants [essential cycling gear], applied sun block, applied insect repellent and set off towards Redon. It was a busier day on the cycle path, being a Sunday, especially in an area where the canal and river merge and there is a gorge with steep cliffs, popular with climbers, leisure boats, picnickers and the rest.


On our arrival to Redon we were treated to the surreal sight of a parade of amphibious vehicles around the town, followed by their launch [as we set off back] into the canal. We’ve seen collections of Citroen 2CVs and various other vehicles in France before but never a sight such as this.

The municipal site at Saint Martin d’Oust is immaculate, with sparkling new showers and a quiet, canal-side location. Better still, a busy, picturesque bar-restaurant by the flower adorned bridge serves delicious Breton cider. As often the case, reception was closed when we arrived but we followed the instructions to choose a pitch and pay later. We parked, made a meal and went for pre-dinner drinks.

Next morning, having visited the boulangerie, we left the site and breakfasted at the canal-side.


Then it was off back to Le Roc St Andre for our very last cycle of the trip, short, breezy and not too difficult.

We’d come to the end of our trip. When I reflected on it I realised that one of the aspects I’d enjoyed was seeing the numbers of entire families out on their bikes, carrying or pulling all their camping gear and cycling together; trailers with small children or a dog, paniers loaded, heaped up cycle carriers. Sometimes there were young children riding bikes piled high with sleeping bags and mats. They would arrive at a site, the parents unloading and putting up dinky tents and their children still with energy to burn, cartwheeling over the grass, racing to the play park or cycling round and round as if they’d only just risen from bed. The parents made meals using rudimentary cooking equipment, sitting at a site picnic table or setting up lightweight, fold-up chairs-or simply sitting on a blanket.

I was in awe of these parents, who were confident and competent to undertake travel this way with their kids.Those children made no complaints. They played, ate and slept. Next morning they were up, packing, ready for the new day. When they return to school they will have towpath tales of their own to tell-and memories to last them into adulthood.

The Vanished World of Faded Fifties Females

                If we’ve had a normal, reasonably happy childhood our memories of it tend towards the sentimental. This is well documented. The summers were always warm and sunny. We made sandcastles on the beach. Parties were the simple kind, with jelly and ice cream and musical chairs. We had beloved pets-seemingly for an implausible number of years; we wore leather sandals with a cut-out flower in the toe, walked to school along lanes where the tar bubbled under the sun’s heat. We had a rope swing under the apple tree, played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and watched ‘The Lone Ranger’ on tiny, black and white TV sets in huge, wooden cabinets.

                My memories of childhood, and in particular, childhood holidays are peopled with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and the friends of parents [who were also ‘aunts and uncles’] and especially that section of the family that no longer seems to exist-the maiden aunt.

                I had maiden aunts on both sides of the family. I loved them. They visited from other parts of the country, sometimes for weeks. I’d share my room with them, sometimes even a double bed, if expedient. One, my father’s unmarried sister, had been engaged to an RAF pilot who’d met his end during the war-a common reason for fifties spinsterhood, no doubt. So she stayed with us often-once, memorably getting snowed in for six weeks and unable to return home. She accompanied us on several holidays, providing useful babysitting services and assuaging some of her maternal urges by borrowing us, the children, for some of the time.

                We’d visit, too and be given huge spreads of ‘tea’, with bread and butter, scones, jam, slices of Victoria sponge, tea in bone china teacups from a large pot clothed in a hand-knitted cosy. There were even occasions when I stayed overnight and was able to explore the domain of this maiden lady, delve into the contents of her dressing table and ponder over the mysterious items it housed; delicate webs of hairnets, perfume atomisers, corn pads, monogrammed lace handkerchiefs, a tumbler of water containing pale pink and white dentures, like undersea coral. She loved entertaining children, relished the chance to instruct in gentle pastimes such as crochet or ‘patience’ [solitaire], or simply sorting the contents of a button box, laying out the contents as if it were a treasure chest.

                My mother had a maiden aunt herself, who visited-though never without her inseparable friend, Rose. They’d share my brothers’ twin-bedded room and I’d pay morning visits, enthralled by the sight of them in their lurid, floral patterned, winceyette pyjamas as they sat sipping their tea. They exhibited a mild, old fashioned humour and exasperated my mother by needing to add to their silver teaspoon collection whenever they were taken for a day out by car [none of the aunts drove].

                Now, of course it seems obvious that my mother’s aunt and her friend, Rose, were a gay couple, although I’ve no idea whether my parents realised and if they had it wouldn’t have been discussed except in the whispered confines of their own bedroom. The women certainly didn’t share a home so perhaps those summer holidays spent with my family were an opportunity for them to find happiness together? I like to think so.

                I never thought of them until now, as middle age morphs into older [elderly?], presumably because it is natural to become reflective, but what has replaced ‘maiden aunts’ in today’s world? Answers on a postcard…or the comments section?




Wandering around in the bagging area.

                I gather that ‘Morrisons’ is losing out in the supermarket race because they have no online shopping capacity. I understand very well that bookshops, electrical stores, music stores and, to a certain extent, clothing outlets might lose out to internet shopping, but not supermarkets. Why? Because the supermarket is always busy. The car park is always full, the shop is always heaving with people and the checkouts always boast queues. At weekends, particularly people like to make a family outing of it. Mothers, fathers and children will be there, arguing, shouting, crying, threatening, larking about, getting irritated. Why? Why do entire families go? Why do they not divide the tasks of childcare and shopping and save everyone from supermarket purgatory?

On the other hand, supermarket delivery vans are constantly buzzing around the streets so presumably someone is clicking away in the virtual food aisles-but who?

                I can see the appeal of online grocery shopping, and have attempted it myself, in a former life as a proper working person. I registered, got my puny brain round the method, selected my items, selected my favoured delivery slot and paid. Bingo! I could come straight home and collapse into my usual heap without the added stress of hunting down a parking space, flogging up and down the aisles with a trolley, queuing to pay, unloading it all onto the conveyor belt, packing it all into bags, trundling it to the car, unloading, getting home, unloading again and then stowing it-[of course that still had to be done]. I felt smug. The van came at the appointed time, the bags were brought in and the driver left. Lovely. I delved into my shopping.

It had not been a success. This must have been someone else’s order, I thought, as it was not recognisable as our familiar, monotonous food purchases. Somehow I’d managed to buy five large bags of pears, four, miniscule, wafer-thin slices of salami, three potatoes and a number of items I’d never heard of and had no clue what to do with. There was wrapped, sliced, white, blotting paper bread-the type we consider an abomination-and a packet of sliced, processed cheese. The pre-packed meats were clearly the packets that had been rejected by real, not virtual shoppers since they contained tawdry, fat and gristle encrusted scraps. Who had ordered these things? I rushed to the computer to find the answer: It was me.

Having ascertained that my knowledge of weights, measures, food descriptions and names was inadequate for such a quest I returned to manual shopping. Nowadays I am at liberty to undertake this task at whatever time of day suits me. Although a casual inquiry at the shop as to which times of day are the quietest will elicit the reply, ‘2.00am’, I find that by avoiding early evenings and weekends the mission can be accomplished without too much stress and I can trundle up and down whilst making a simultaneous, covert study of my fellow shoppers and their habits.

Of course it can be tricky in these straightened times, working out whether twenty washing capsules for £6.25 is cheaper than BOGOF of own brand, or if 89p per pound is a better deal than 60p per packet in point something of a kilo, and one thing we are all sure of is that the price of everything is never going to come down, but I still prefer to get inspiration from the shelves, to poke about, to select or reject-[but not on bank holiday weekends!].