Sunday, 21 January 2018

Sunday walking in France

Love this house in Pontaillac

Due to lack of interest on behalf of my husband and son, who were involved in DIY and planning a trip to Thailand, respectively, I set off to Royan for a walk along the coast on my own.  I like walking on my own, especially by the sea, but I don’t do it often enough. 

Just after 11.00 am and no one about on the coastal path.  Blue skies, sunshine and stepping out in comfortable shoes and kagoule (apparently there are four different spellings of kagoule) in case it rains.

I am hit immediately by an amazing thought – that the brain is like a musical instrument.  It can be played, plucked, strummed.  As I proceed at an even pace contemplating the metaphor (which I know to be flawed) I am aware of several competing ‘tracks’ vying for space, with the rhythmic backing of the sea rushing like wind through trees. After a minute or two of appalling self indulgence, I return to more practical musings…I can often get above myself.

Practical musings generally mean how to progress with my current work in progress.  I hear you yawn.  

With my current novel near completion, safe and fully absorbed inside my brain, my mind turns to what comes next?  I have two choices: a half-written manuscript, literary in genre, about a woman who travels to Turkey and Greece, recounting tales of her experiences (mostly to her daughter) when she returns out of the blue – she left years ago to run away with her soul mate, Sebastian Love.  I’ve called it Joanna Love’s Stories.

Or, there is the thriller without a title that’s been going round in my head involving a rather stiff solicitor, his promiscuous wife, and a young girl he sees from his office window, who fascinates him in ways he cannot understand.  It’s a story of class, trickery and betrayal. There will be at least one murder and just the right number of red herrings.

I play around with points of view, clever twists, intriguing plots, knowing that this is perhaps the most enjoyable phase of writing – when the creative process is still fluid, before anything is written in stone.

With the sea rushing and the the waves lifting against the rocks, anything seems possible and, all at once, I become conscious that I may be grinning like a maniac.

waves crashing onto rocks - how tame they seem here

After a lunch of warm quiche and less warm coffee in Pontaillac I wander around the backstreets, looking at mostly closed up houses, muttering to myself in an abstract kind of way, and then descend onto the beach, choosing a line of surf debris to follow.  In the past, I've found a two-euro coin and a tiny silver ring.  Today the treasures are buried too deeply.

I stop midway to watch the surfers.  I wish I were one of them and imagine going into the surf school office to enquire about lessons.  Why not? I tell myself.  I may not be in my twenties, but I'm still game.  The sea heaves in slow motion, rising humps fall and crash in white foamy fractals.  Some of the surfers catch the right moment and ride in, others float on their stomachs watching and waiting.

I continue on my way – there’s a man staring out to sea while his small son draws circles in the sand with a stick.  A little way off a couple with a toddler staggering and squealing kiss, the man pushing back a strand of his wife’s hair.  People gather in their bubbles of happiness and reflection and I feel a surge of empathy, just another soul out to feed her eyes and treat her brain to a bit of beauty and peace.

On and up the steps, round the cliffs, past the grassy bunkers and exercise machines where families take turns, for fun.  Round another corner and there’s Royan.  My Smartwatch beeps to tell me I’ve done 10,000 steps, my daily target.  But I’m not finished yet.

An experiment to amuse myself.  How many people will smile back at me if I smile first?  There are crowds now, after lunch strolling.  Couples, parents, children.  A couple younger than me come towards me, their children on skate boards in the road.  I think ‘liberal’ I think ‘joyous’ I think ‘irresponsible’.  The man gives me an enormous grin and the woman, knowing somehow that I am a mother too, smiles with her whole being, shepherding her children to keep them in her sight.  She will watch over them and keep them safe.  Next there is a woman wearing garish lipstick, her skin weather beaten, her eyes narrowed against the sunshine.  She rewards me with a beautifully all encompassing smile – she knows the stage I’m going through – your birds have flown the nest and you’re looking forward whilst still looking back – her expression seems a comfort and also wry with secrets.  Now a family group advances, blocking the pavement, the matriarch in her eighties or nineties, on her daughter’s arm.  Gathered around them, a quiet husband and two bright teenage girls, grandchildren doing their duty.  No smiles for me – they are a closed unit, stopping suddenly en masse for the daughter to wrap a scarf around her mother’s neck.  I wonder what it feels like to be old and to be guided along, having lost the ability or the will, or both, to stride out independently as I do now.  I get an aura of acceptance edged with tedium – but I might be surmising too boldly.  I try to catch the old lady’s eye, but she doesn’t want me to – perhaps, to her, I am insignificant – just another passer by. Of course I am.

And then I think: how do I look to others?  I’d like to know.  Dressed as I am for winter on a sunny January day in south west France, removing layers as the afternoon warms up.  I carry my gloves and scarf inside my bobble hat, using it like a bag.  Inside my bulging grey windproof jacket, I have my purse, my phone, half a salmon and leek quiche, a pack of tissues, car keys and a Murray mint.  I wear the black trousers I use for gardening and the blue and white trainers I bought for running last year.  I have on odd socks, but no one can see them.  My face is scrubbed clean, my hair, too long for my age (so says my mother), flies out in the breeze.  And I’m smiling outwardly as well as inwardly, greeting all who pass with empathy and optimism.  What do they see?

In kindly mood I arrive at Royan beach where dogs on leads pull their owners along, and the scene makes me think of a painting, comical and full of fun.  The crowds are dispersed along the endless sand, all out for an afternoon by the sea, thinking, like me perhaps, how wonderful it is to be out in the world on such a day.

I walk still, reluctant to turn back towards the town but eventually making for steps to the promenade where more organised strolling is in evidence.  Couples, some with their sons and daughters, or grandchildren, each belonging to the other in different ways and yet each looking out through eyes that feed an individual mind. 

people on the beach at Royan - I must get a better camera

I arrive back at my car and remove my coat.  Throw my things on the back seat.  Get in and notice what it feels like to be stationary.  I drive home in placid contentment.  I’ve had a perfect day, watching others equally glad to have come to the winding coast and, just for a while, leave their daily lives behind.

Happy days!

No comments:

Post a Comment