Thursday, 2 May 2013

Gather ye rosebuds..

Every so often we make an effort to treat ourselves taking advantage of discount fares on the trains (senior railcards), sales, last minute offers and bus passes. We have become accustomed to discovering like minded ageing enthusiasts on these adventures.

Having scrounged a lift to the train station from friends (the bus timing didn't fit) it was no surprise to find the train south only partially full. Inevitably we had hit the carriage with our compatriots - in this case a rambling group heading, we guessed, for Welsh hills - judging by the profusion of anoraks, heavy sensible walking boots, walking poles, small rucksacks and safety equipment. No-one purchased from the refreshments trolley. No-one had a lap-top - and no-one seemed preoccupied with updating status on Facebook.

Amazingly, these people were talking to each other - a trait of the older generation perhaps. In the next carriage a younger generation of thirty somethings was staring fixedly at ipads/ipods; used, it appeared, for playing computer games or watching videos, with earphones as a must.There seemed to be obligatory coffee cartons everywhere.

Great excitement - a change of trains at Birmingham - which has been recently refurbished. Needing to find a vital platform I came across a wall-mounted touch screen offering all the information I could want about arrivals,departures delays and so on. I rapidly worked out the next stage in a tenth of the time it had taken my wife to buy one cup of coffee from a coffee stall, fully equipped with coffee, cups and machines, but run by a teenager faced with the stress of 2 people in the queue.

On to the connecting train, having run a gauntlet of "eager-to please" rail staff all very concerned to make sure their new station arrangements were not too taxing or confusing. There was brief moment as I held up a queue of passengers, wondering why an intervening door would not open for me despite my hand gestures across the door sensor. For information - if the door is already open - then the door will not respond as expected. So much for the "senior moment".

Lunch involved pre-prepared sandwiches wrapped in foil (needless to say) with sensible fruit to follow . Three half-completed suduko puzzles later, we arrived at a station ready for a final change of train/company/personnel. This last train actually contained a ticket inspector who gave our tickets and travel cards the merest of glimpses - clearly fearing yet another unwanted long conversation with a pair 60 somethings that would involve questions he couldn't answer and simply delay his progress through the carriage.(I would have thought the chance to share thoughts about the weather; expected arrival times; behaviour of other passengers and the length of his shift would have been seized upon.)

We arrived early at Portsmouth and tried to guess the way to the port, dragging a suitcase. No luck with an immediate route, but fortunately a Morrison's supermarket gave chance for a shared cup of tea and use of customer facilities. A cunning plan emerged. A £1 coin was needed for a large trolley - and subversive loading of the trolley with suitcase and bags took place. To our delight we then discovered that the trolley would fit inside a wooden "cupboard" for use of another £1 coin. As luck would have it, I found a £1 coin left by the previous user (probably a stressed young mum trying to deal with shopping trolley and frantic children). So having solved a "where do we leave the luggage" problem we set off to research routes, buses and other attractions unhampered.

We can recommend a trip to the Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth - there is a fascinating variety of ships; a modern retail outlet (including one of those Marks and Spencer Places where unwanted lines are sold off cheap), and a magnificent new tower called the "Spinnaker".Clearly it was sufficiently photogenic to attract an Australian film crew making a documentary about a character who had been shipped to Australia in the late 19th Century. There only seemed to be one spoken line in the "take" - but a succession of ships horns; delivery vans; refuse removal and interested onlookers was enough for the scene to take 20 minutes. They were obviously aware of our presence (suppressed giggling probably gave us away), so much so that the presenter and producer made a beeline for us after filming to see how we rated the set-up!

Back to Morrison's and several enthusiastic questions from a youth asking "Are you alright there?" as we tried to smuggle the suitcases out of the cupboard having retrieved the invested £1 coins. Guilt overtook us so we decided to share a pot of tea and toasted sandwich bought at the youth's cafe counter. On, via bus (free bus pass) to the port; through the customs (where, unsurprisingly we were not chosen for luggage inspection) and onto the magnificent Britanny Ferries car ferry. We had taken advantage of a discounted 2  night "gourmet cruise" to St Malo - inclusive of cabin on successive night crossings, 4 course dinner; 4 star lunch in St Malo at a highly rated restaurant, with continental breakfast on return.

The dinner was overwhelming in quality. Inevitably by the end our stomachs were filled to capacity. Probably  our senses had also been slightly dulled by the bottle of wine. Cabin bunk beds proved more than a slight challenge! Early next morning as the ship's announcements boomed into the subconscious, we realised that French time was 1 hour ahead of  English time. Rising at 6.30 am was a work habit, long since abandoned.

So in what for us was the early morning, we found ourselves walking the walls of the fine ancient pirate city of St Malo, dodging the early morning joggers and enjoying the clear fresh air. The tide was in, streets were sparsely populated and the main tourists appeared to be English couples of a certain age moving slowly through the streets in search of a cafe or places of interest. The French have a certain style about them - a refreshing support for family life; distinctive style of dress and great flair with their food. Lunch in a gourmet restaurant was therefore an enjoyable time as we tried oysters; cockerel, gravelax, creme brulee and splendid ice-creams. But the real icing on the cake was the conversation flowing around the tables of  the restaurant. 

Good for the pirates we thought. What a splendid place to have founded. Just perfect for those of us who have the time and energy to go harvesting the roses. Sometimes we find what we were looking for; often we have unexpected bonuses along the way - it makes the effort of getting out of the house worthwhile.

Views mentioned in the account - can you place them?

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