Friday, 13 July 2012

Happiness is a Warm Donkey

It is pouring. Cagoule weather. Except, of course, I do not have a cagoule, or indeed any coat at all. My sister-in-law always laughs about this when we are on soggy holidays together (usually at Tetanus Manor, my father's health and safety challenged country seat). Despite a childhood of holidays spent ENTIRELY in boggy, windswept fields with nothing but a damp Milky Way between me and some kind of Dales-based Captain Oates scenario, a rebellious, wilfully blind streak prevents me from packing or dressing sensibly. This holiday has been no exception. I ended up on a (non-voluntary, of course) long walk yesterday in my slippers, because I had not thought that SHOES might be advisable.

(Incidentally, I should perhaps mention that this is not a real blogpost, merely a collection of photographs of donkeys. If you are OK with that, stick around.)

Before the deluge started (30 hours and counting), then, we FINALLY went to see the donkeys in trousers* (*the donkeys, not me. Well, I am always wearing trousers presently, due to the sunburn). The memory of it is keeping me going through the long, trying hours of watching the rain batter off the derelict garden furniture, playing 'Cockroach Poker' (of which more at another time), re-reading La Bête Humaine (cheery stuff) and saying "JUST KEEP AWAY FROM EACH OTHER" and "DON'T GET ME INVOLVED" and "Why don't you go and see if those German children are around, no it doesn't matter that you can't understand each other, just wave a ping pong ball at Johannes, he'll get the message?"

Worse still, we went on a desperation induced "trip" to the Ile de Ré lighthouse (pictured up top) this afternoon and walked up three hundred narrow vertiginous steps with many jolly, racing, laughing, cabin feverish children on all sides, to go and stand on the outside, scary bit in high winds. The good thing about the high winds was that no one could hear you whimpering. It was even less fun than visiting the Grace Darling museum, and that's saying something. Actually, scrupulous honesty requires me to disclose a massive, puffin-based longing to go back to the Farne Islands, even though my abiding memories of our field trip there are cagoules, exceptionally rough seas and being attacked by irate terns. Give me another couple of years and I will be viewing 23 hour car trips to go and sleep in a candle-lit bothy in a peat bog as an attractive recreational activity. When this happens I will be enlisting your assistance to shoot me like a rabid dog.

So: donkeys. This is Leonard, in his trousers. His nose was extremely, ethereally soft. Also, I have rarely encountered a creature this stoic.

"Trousers? Whatever". 

This is Galopin, who looked for all the world like a dehorned Highland Cow. Seriously, can you believe this thing is for real? Galopin? YOU ARE NOT REAL.

This is my eldest son removing burs from his (not real) prehistoric hairdo. And look at that sign! Only €2 for a donkey ride, which, and they don't even tell you this, is unaccompanied. Solo donkeys! I could have just taken Leonard and ridden for the hills (that might have taken a while since the highest point of the Ile de Ré is 20 metres above sea level and Leonard's natural gait was, well, stately going on funereal). Yesterday my eldest son also tried to smuggle two frogs onto the Ile de Ré in his pocket. The pocket you can see on that picture, except "I have filled it with water". I see, how resourceful. Now put the frogs back in the river, darling, eh?

These are Galopin's legs, pre-trouser. They are rather ... odd legs, aren't they? I think he looks a little like a person in a horse suit. Or a centaur. I keep going back to this photo and STARING.

I told you he wasn't real. 

My younger son's donkey, 'Dagobert', was not terribly inclined to stick to the signposted 'Chemin des Anes'. We had to try and remove him, again and again from a patch of long grass he had spotted in the middle of the park. He had little interest in listening to reason or gentle persuasion. Here he is, heading off again. 

M said, on seeing this "that is the happiest photo of you I have ever seen'. I was indeed very happy. I didn't expect to be allowed to actually SIT on a donkey. I thought it was a children only kind of thing. Perhaps it was, but they took pity on me. Leonard didn't seem to mind much. 

Oh, but I do like a donkey. Here I am again, liking a donkey.

Do you think he looks slightly nervous? Is there a sort of silent entreaty creeping across his usually impassive features? I'm not sure. It might be a trick of the light.

So: progress on Ark of the Covenant limited, but I think we have donkeys and frogs (x2) covered. Over to you.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

In which we are on holiday

Approximately seven people along a spectrum from mildly peeved to solicitous have asked what the fuck is going on with this blog, so here we are. Or rather, here I am, in the dusty basement of Belgian Waffle, half-heartedly poking a limp j-cloth at some suspicious smelling html which seems to have died in the corner. I imagine you have all buggered off to read one of those rather ferociously brilliant new women's websites I keep seeing and admiring.

Right now I am on holiday. Vive les vacances and all that. We are on the Ile de Ré, which is extremely picturesque, to the extent that there is a clearly imposed colour scheme for shutters (Farrow & Ball 'Workhouse Serge' or 'Penicillin' only) and the bins, of which there are exceptionally few, are constructed by Meilleur Artisans de France from dovetailed indigenous hardwoods. The Ile de Ré is notorious as a hang out for prominent French persons such as Oui Oui, Charles Aznavour, Jean Monnet who knitted the European Union out of the finest despair and tedium and Johnny Depp.

Good things about being on holiday:

- The apparent Charente-Maritime preoccupation with adding salted butter/salted caramel to everything. I salute you with buttery fingers, Oh Diabetes Kings of France. Latest sighting of salted caramel liqueur may push me over the edge of the oh-so-fine line between grotesque, gluttonous over-enthusiasm and disgust, but let us not pre-empt matters.

- Striped breton tops available cheaply in every corner shop. Number of striped breton tops I have brought with me: 4. Number I intend to come back with: at least 4 more. Amount I am middle aged and predictable: 400000%.

- Significant population of Poitou Mules in nearby fields. I first met a Poitou Mule at the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris some years ago and assumed it was an elaborate municipal joke, because they look like this:

But no, apparently not, because here, they are actually out IN THE WILD. Not only that, but they wear trousers. No, really they do. "Donkeys in Pants", one website is called. "The trousers keep the flies off in the marshy island climate" lies the website. No, they don't. You just like to make your rasta donkeys look extra ridiculous, don't you. Admit it, there's no shame in it. Well, not much.

- There is a town called Ars en Ré. Hahaha. I can see why they fortified the island against the English and our highly sophisticated sense of humour in the seventeenth century. Keep out the barbarians, eh.

- Admiring my children's greatly superior ability to be on holiday. Fingers spent most of the day lying motionless on a heap of sand he had created and slowly swimming around in circles to no apparent purpose. Lashes spent it half in bed reading, half chasing crabs with a piece of bacon on a string. See? They know how to do this. I could learn a lot from them.

- Having time to finish Graham Robb's Parisians. What a very fine book indeed. I had a proper weep at the end this afternoon at the bits about the transmission and transformation of traditions of solidarity and civil disobedience in Clichy, but that might have been rosé induced (it wasn't. It's beautiful and moving whilst still being scholarly).

Bad things about being on holiday:

- Large numbers of angry Parisians on bicycles, nonnonnonpleasedonothurtme I will just cower in this verge tugging my forelock until you have swished past me with your elegant, stick thin bronzed legs peddling angrily in their Aigle deck shoes, as your carré Hermés dances in the light breeze. I come in peace. We have kept our filthy British invader hands off your island since 1627 and it will remain that way, I promise. I just swerved because I was unwisely admiring a cow, see the next point which is:

- Bicycles, generally, with their inadequate number of wheels and general unpredictability and requirement that one occasionally does frankly suicidal things like TAKE A HAND OFF THE HANDLEBARS TO SIGNAL and LOOK BACKWARDS. This way death lies. Thus spake one who failed her cycling proficiency at the advanced age of 13, falling off into a rose bush during the part where I was supposed to look backwards at the large capital letter Mr Robinson the maths teacher was holding.

- Sand. I have no more to say on this subject, but beaches should be carpeted.

- The worst sunburn since Bali aged 14 when I was young and stupid and probably coated myself in coconut oil and lay out for 12 hours. Here, I barely showed my feeble, SPF50 smeared, Scottish epidermis to some moderate cloud cover and the back of my knees have been reduced to a weeping, Biafine drenched flayed atrocity. My legs looks like an angry, oversized side of ham. I am stuck in trousers for the remainder of this fortnight. This would be more problematic if it were not for:

- Persistent heavy cloud cover and highs of 20°C, making this indistinguishable meteorologically from all my holidays in North Yorkshire/Lake District/Highlands. No, that's an exaggeration. No one has speculated on whether they are suffering from second phase hypothermia yet, as my brother once did halfway up Whernside (a big, boggy fuck off hill) in July.

- Inability to switch off/relax despite the fact that chasteningly few (indeed, let's be honest, no) people are desperately pleading with me to return/offering me work/requiring my urgent services. There are indeed few things in life more chastening than returning to your phone after a half day of twitchy abstinence and sweatily prodding the buttons only to discover that the only emails you have received number seven Groupon offers for fondue sets and electrolysis, and a picture of a coatimundi in a Santa hat your friend B has photoshopped for you (it was a great coatimundi, B. Thank you. I am not knocking the coatimundi).

- The desperate, derelict, deserted amusement arcade across the street which is straight out of Scooby Doo Spooky Arcade central casting.  I keep expecting one of the toothless scarecrows of indeterminate gender who sit in the semi-darkness of the table hockey hut to rip off their latex face and reveal themselves to be the evil, yet superficially jovial, property developer trying to build a hotel on the site. Yesterday we tried to go on the dodgems, but a woman lurched out from behind the David Hasselhof era Baywatch slot machine and told us it was "shut. They've gone for dinner" then turned out all the lights. I don't know, this might be a positive. I will report back further with photographs when I have stopped, well, twitching. Usually this happens the day before we are due to return home. There is still a while to go.

There are not many negatives really. It is rather lovely. All is well. The fiery furnace behind my knees will die down eventually, I imagine.

How are you at holidays?