Half term and big plans for Mdme and myself are scuppered by vet’s bills; we do not have pet insurance. The flight money was done on spot pills for Otis, so we headed for Euro’s tunnel and a short drive for some champagne and pate forty minutes south of Reims. Fishing rods were in the hold as the Marne and Aube were on the doorstep and would provide an opportunity to chase some barbel and chub should the mood allow.
Bad weather was forecast and we swept south occasionally tacking into the wind to gain ground but in the words of Manilow, “we made it through the rain” pitching up in a one bedroom gite in a little village made up of a dozen producers of champagne, a church and a few farms, which was nice.
The Marne however wasn’t, making preliminary moves to flowing through the fields it was unfishable with the tackle that I had stowed away, the Aube was the same and having just chugged out a page of words for a magazine on how great the barbel fishing could be at this time of year “en France” sub surface schadenfreude bubbled to the top in my swim of first choice, so the rods were packed away and the target changed to shopping (not my choice) graves (I wrote gravy on my list but it was misread) food and vineyards.
The final few miles of our passage across the vast open spaces of the Ardenne had traced the denouement of the German advance in 1914. We were ensconced in Sezanne and a mile away a block of pink granite a hundred feet high had been put in place on top of a hill to mark the point at which The French General Foch and the British Expeditionary Force had halted the German advance setting in motion four years of stalemate that did for millions. It’s an odd looking monument, art deco in design, but en silhouette from down on the plain it comes over as a giant ostrich poking its head above the hill. The battlefield is superbly explained and the Commonwealth war graves in Sezanne mark men from all corners of England who cashed in their chips at the battle of the Marne, immaculately kept the two French men who tended the site were keen to provide us with any information we may require and a brief tour of what was what.
Having had a day doing the battlefields and graves we repaired to our billet for coq a vin before a fire ignited with wine corks soaked in petrol (recommended by our host) to take in the French version of “Bake Off” Paul Hollywood is very busy so the French opted for their own man, a middle aged cove with bouffant hair and immaculate indigo nail varnish, in the sub/dom relationship required for judging cakes a raddled Marie Berrie played the former. The baking didn’t look up to much, which was surprising, but the show has the potential to fill the Pan European game show void left by the demise of It’s a Knockout. Champions League Bake Off has potential, although I don’t think Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring will be up for hosting, it has to be Hollywood and Berry, although if Hannah Barbera pitch an animated version expect a call from an agent representing Ming the Merciless.
The next day we did Epernay, centre of champagne production and home to an avenue of elaborate champagne houses which was in complete contrast to the little white vans and small producers in the vineyards surrounding the village in which we were encamped. There are many miles of tunnels under the champagne houses where their bounty is produced and stored , but the bloke at the end of the road where we staying, who produced and stored his stuff on site and had no need of marketing or advertising to shift his stuff, kept it in a barn, we blundered around his vineyard one afternoon and had a bottle of his best pink bubbles which to our artisanal tastes was on a par with big name stuff that we have been fortunate enough to have tried in the past.
A visit to Reims confirmed that the Marne was not receding, so it was off to the cathedral, a magnificent structure that knocks Notre Dame de Paris into a cocked hat. On eyeing its structure I mused on the possibility of a smaller version of similar design by the river, built of steady oak and copper nails, it would serve as a second fishing hut, but cold water was splashed on my face and shops were visited. We had both left our glasses in the car, so after an hour food was taken on board at the most visible brasserie in town,
Details can be found here:
On the third day, a brief look at some tributaries of the Aube confirmed it was higher than the Marne, barbel fishing was off, so we went shopping for Wellingtons. In a remarkable twist in footwear development, the French currently lead the way in wellies, a boot that found it's genesis on the feet of Napoleon’s conqueror.
A trip to Gam Vert, (the French equivalent of SCATS who remain the finest retail experience in the south of England) saw the purchase of some wellies by the company who currently shoe the Duchess of Cambridge for off road duties. A steal at a third of UK prices, they are lined with the finest feathers and provide the confidence required to carry one’s own in royal company in a muddy environment, should the occasion arise.
While walking around the nearby town of Sezanne, we stumbled across a remarkable shop. Directly opposite the bread shop and two doors down from an iron monger stood New Angel Cyno Protect: purveyors of the latest female fashions for life in the country, machine guns, stab vests, security equipment and an extensive line in dog food and flea treatments. The shop seemed deserted but in the finest tradition of Mr Ben, as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared, a bottle blond siren clad completely in leather, high heels and sunglasses; a remarkable store for a small town in the middle of nowhere, and for the budding assassin with a dog to feed and a requirement for evening wear, a one stop shop. We left scratching our heads but I am sure the guys in the New Angel Cyno Protect marketing department have a plan.
Stung by criticism that I only watch films that feature submarines and read books in which a mandolin must play a prominent part, I purchased an audio book for our short stay away, a cross-over medium that I felt dealt swiftly with both. I chose an audio book that featured neither Submarines nor Mandolins. The title?
I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
Read by the man himself it provides a life lesson to us all. In the spirit of reconciliation, I may even send Richard Madeley a copy for Christmas
Champagne done, we returned home, across the Marne which was even higher, to a chalkstream that was not, but had been breached by several trees that had fallen over in my absence.
Child A completed the Great South Run in awful conditions in which Police warned on local radio for the public to keep away from the coast which was unfortunate as the three mile finish ran along the front at Southsea. Thanks to all who chucked money in the pot the final total is undisclosed but Child A's contribution to the BHF currently stands at many hundreds of pounds.
Well done Maisie, a record for the half marathon in this household, no one else in your immediate family has ever run that far