Tuesday.. or as I was calling it ‘shopping day!’ It seems a bit daft that we go shopping on trips away but we live in la France profonde so we are not blessed with a huge variety of shops. Like many other people we order a lot of stuff online. The relais mondiale system makes returning disappointing goods easy, especially as we have an agent in the village. But nothing beats a city high street full of shops!
We have history regarding shopping in Brighton, a sentimental history. In the summer of 1966, the year we met, I was with a play that ran at the Theatre Royal for a week. I was in theatrical digs with my fellow ASM and a couple of contestants touring with Hughie Green’s ‘Opportunity Knocks’ show at the Dome. I remember one of them took my friend and me to the Brighton races one afternoon. Lou came down to see me on the Friday and we went to buy my engagement ring at the Sussex goldsmiths and silversmiths, in Castle Square, a shop long gone now. The following summer I was back at the same theatre with ‘Canaries sometimes sing’, a show that required a live bird on stage. It was my job to chat up a pet shop in each town we played to lend us a yellow budgie! This time Lou and I booked a holiday bedsit in Kemptown on one of those pretty roads that run down to Marine Parade. We took the opportunity to go back to the Sussex goldsmiths and buy my wedding ring as we were getting married at the end of that summer. During my down time we explored Brighton, discovering a Japanese shop in the lanes where we bought matching kimono style dressing gowns, a shell mobile and two coffee cups and saucers. The mobile has hung in every house we’ve lived in and the cups are hanging on the kitchen dresser. I think one of the dressing gowns is still in a drawer somewhere…see? Stuff!
At Christmas I tried explaining, somewhat inadequately, to my sister in law why I still buy j-cloths and gravy granules on UK trips. I’ve looked for alternatives locally but never found anything that is as good. For Mr McGregor it’s certain seeds that aren’t available in France eg purple sprouting broccoli.
And then there is his comfort food, baked beans, sold in small tins with reduced salt and sugar. Admittedly it’s me who prefers those lower additives. But the big bonus is Marks and Sparks. We can order online but it’s easier when you can try on the goods.
This trip I had my little blue blighty book as a reminder; new jeans were noted for himself while for me it was bras and pants, the traditional female middle (old!) age purchase. In addition, he was looking for sash line, as you do, and a winter jacket while I wanted to get lost in Waterstones as I had a book token burning a hole in my wallet. Also, one Brit friend was anxious to add to her UK biscuit reserves while a French friend loves English shortbread.
First we wrestled the bags of books up (!) to the charity shops. Oxfam, Shelter and British Heart Foundation had benefitted this trip and I only bought two novels in return and a pretty scarf. I can’t resist a pretty scarf. Once more, you can see how I acquire ‘stuff’. 😊
It was pleasing to see our board games already out on sale. We went our separate ways to save time, relying on text messages to reunite us later. Waterstones was wonderful, a shop full of books in English. I can read French novels but my first language will always be easier. I took photos of titles that looked interesting and hesitated over which one to buy. Had I read this one? That one?
I used the book token for a Helen Dunmore, merci bien, Monica!
Satisfied at last, I moved up to the children’s section and happily rummaged for something for petit fils. His bookshelf is already groaning, mainly thanks to me, let’s hope he doesn’t suffer from my inability to ditch the unwanted books later in life.
A couple of text messages and we met up again and had coffee in Waterstones. Then it was back to the outdoor shop and a lengthy debate about which jacket he should buy. I could hear a couple across the shop having a similar conversation about a rain jacket. I sighed for the other woman as I leaned on a wall, the recipient of several discarded items of clothing. Decision made at last it was off to M and S. Separating again, I headed for the lingerie. A very disappointing choice I felt but I managed find some things that would do and went off to enjoy the summer clothes on the ground floor.
Taking our haul back to the hotel we messaged Gav about any pubs in the vicinity for our lunch. He works from home and was doing a lunchtime mercy dash to his cousin with our present for his sister, my niece, who had just extended the family by giving birth to a baby girl. My family just keeps growing! He didn’t have time to join us but recommended a pub not too far away.
It was just what we wanted. A traditional pub with sarnies and chips on its menu. We sat in a sunny window and relaxed.
I revelled in a half pint of local cider, a rare treat.
The weather was warm and sunny despite the chilly wind. The afternoon was spent hitting the big Asian supermarket, Taj, and Waitrose for treats, notably hot cross buns. I’ve tried making my own but shop bought ones win out every time. Finally, each item was crossed off in my little blue book and so back to the hotel for tea and a snooze.
The row of chimney pots from our hotel window fascinated me, tangible evidence of why pollution was such a problem in the days of coal fires in every room including bedrooms and the view indicative of the fascinating mix of old and new that is Brighton and Hove as evidenced by the new block of flats beyond and the remnants of former glories on Western road.
Later we wandered up (!) to Gav who took us to a nearby tropical sushi restaurant, a mix of Japanese and Latin American flavours, where the chopsticks came out again and we shared a platter of sushi and other delicious mouthfuls. We had certainly eaten around the world on this trip.
More big farewell hugs and home for our last night in our room with the sloping and creaky floor. I said it was an old building!
Wednesday was an early alarm call and I was greeted by a pink sky as I opened the curtains. Shepherd’s warning?
Everything stowed in the boot and off to Folkestone via the motorways. Fairly uneventful but a hiccup at Eurotunnel where big signs told us there were delays on all departures. My over active imagination went into catastrophe overdrive, of course. Facing a delay of ninety minutes we explored the terminal building. The usual outlets and a girl singing on a stage which seemed very odd at midday. I bought some duty paid perfume and a newspaper for its word games.
The coffee shops had long queues so we opted for cups from a machine and went back to the car. Once there we decided we may as well go through border controls to pass the time. That done we were waved into a separate lane for the later departure.
We were resigned to the wait and smiled at what appeared to be an adult seagull inducting a youngster into chip stealing! But soon found ourselves being waved forward to the next train. Result, we were going to leave at our reserved time after all. Out with the word puzzle book!
As you can see, the gps gets very confused when in the tunnel and we hoped it could find our hotel that evening, it being one we hadn’t used before. Clocks put forward, we were soon belting along the A16 heading for Paris. I drove some of it to a background of criticism from ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ who hates being a passenger and only gives in when he’s tired. As we entered the Paris suburbs, himself back at the wheel, we negotiated the tricky entry to the hotel in le Port, Marly le Roi. As expected it wasn’t straightforward but the carpark under the hotel was easy to access and very secure.
From our third floor, dirty, window we could see the Eiffel tower away in the distance. The guy at the desk told us the restaurants were across the road but there was a subway we could use gain the other side.
We promptly christened it ‘muggers alley’ despite it being completely empty. Passing a lovely old blue and white Michelin sign that indicated the riverside we walked towards a couple of restaurants I had seen on Google earth without much idea as to how far away they might actually be.
So when we came to a chic looking frontage I asked a girl closing the door if it was a restaurant. Well, it could have been a posh boutique?
She confirmed it was and ushered us in. As she took our coats we caught each other’s eye as we realised we were probably in for an expensive evening but a comfortable one.
Over aperos and delicious amuse bouches we chose our meal and giggled over the wine list that was more like a book. Happily, we found a choice of half bottles that wouldn’t break the bank.
We were looked after by a cheerful young waitress who told me she liked to learn idiomatic phrases in other languages when I complimented her on knowing puree de pomme des terre was mashed potato. Lou was delighted with his entree of fruits de mer served elegantly on a bed of ice while I had a tartare of sea bass in herby creme fraiche.
Offered the chef’s special of calves liver I said yes, imagining thin slices served in a balsamic jus. What arrived was a huge lump of meat smothered in onions, not at all what the elegant entrees had suggested. I struggled despite it being delicious.
We passed on desserts, settling for coffee as we surreptitiously people watched. Outside again, we crossed the road and took a look at the riverside which must look very pretty in daylight, the walkway lined with trees and plants. There seemed to be houseboats moored up too.
Walking back to the hotel past elegant apartment blocks to our muggers alley, the contrast between the two sides of the big main road seemed hard to equate.
Back up on the third floor we could see the Eiffel tower spotlight sweeping across the horizon.
The rest of the journey home was not the best. In the early hours I woke up feeling as if I had a very heavy cold and couldn’t get back to sleep until himself kindly made me a comforting cup of tea around 5am. Unable to help him with the driving, I slumped in my seat alternatively coughing and nodding off while he heroically got us back to Gagnac in one piece. Convinced it was the fault of that chilly wind off the sea in Brighton it wasn’t until the Saturday that the possibility of doom virus occurred to me and it’s presence was subsequently confirmed by a test.
Twentyfour hours later and we were both positive. At Christmas when several family members were ill we’d dodged it, but not this trip. The joys of travel, post covid!
But it had been a brilliant trip… 😊