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Some of the roots of this trip in my personal history are summer camping trips to France from I think aged 8 to, well, in changing shape, about 16.  My mother was a French teacher and my father had French relations by marriage in Brittany and many years we would visit the French relatives and also head off elsewhere, taking in places of historical interest.  I loved this and I don’t remember my sisters complaining.  I’m sure that actually we all moaned from time to time but the memories have lost that, though I do remember tension infecting things with problems with the cars.  I remember a daffodil yellow Triumph Herald estate and then a light blue Renault 16.  I was rather proud of both as the estate was a bit different and having a French car was a bit unusual.  Did the two do all those years?  Bizarrely, I even remember the registration number of the Triumph: 312 CDU.

OK, rambling, back to the point.  Lots of French main roads are ramrod straight.  Are all of them based on Roman stones or are there later ones that reflect a different geography can history allowing later road builders to carve their routes with such rectitude?  Of course, some of them go up and down and a number of times on the trip so far I’ve found myself on such roads.  The rolling ups and downs are more of a challenge on the bike than in a car, I don’t suppose a modern car would even have to change gear for most of them while I’m going through about half my gear range.  (Ah, I’ll come back to that: gears!)

When I hit such wonderful rolling lines ahead I still find myself saying to myself “slides for cars!”  This was a family saying that we’d sing out as we topped the first such rise and saw the vista of direct ups and downs ahead.  I think it was one of the things that whiled away the hours in the car.  Back then (hm, 1965 to 1973 if I’ve got things right) playground and park slides for kids were all dead straight and shiny so these roads really did seem like “slides for cars” and I think we thought we were sharing some fun with the car, or was it the driver?

On the bike I try to avoid the bigger direct roads as they’re not always comfortable with cars and particularly lorries rushing past.  However, here, from yesterday, is a photo of the sort of view that triggers this memory.

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That’s hopeless really but trust me, that light line spearing off to the horizon is the same road (and yes, I went beyond that horizon!)  The trouble with ‘photos like this is that the sun was so bright that I couldn’t see at all what I was catchin on the ‘phone.  These two, in the same spot, catch the “whoosh, whoosh” of the cars, though this wasn’t too busy and French drivers seem very generous to cyclists, passing way over in the road unless there’s a continuous line in the middle of the road (which they obey as if there were CCTV everywhere, which there isn’t).

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And here is what was just to my right:

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These start a bit north of the Loire as you get hot enough to need the irrigation and already, as time passes and I get further south, more and more are like this one, standing waiting for next year I guess.  There are all manner of magestic spraying systems and very occasionally, only once so far for me, you may want to time your way through a bit of road to avoid or perhaps catch, a shower.  However, generally the farmers seem able to get them to hit just up to the verge and not the road.

I like the funny ways in which I think we’re all partly made up of memories and often of geographically located memories.  Exploring such things seemed useful as as medical student and a doctor (when there was time) even before I found myself in psychiatry and psychology.  Hearing people talk about drinking with Dylan Thomas, and fairly precisely where in London, or others talk about war experiences, their own childhoods, whatever, often seemed to help build a working alliance when they were facing tough things (and I often trying to work out what on earth I had to offer beyond a pair of eyes and ears).  That’s the first time I’ve come close to one of things that I thought would have bubbled up much more so far in my ramblings: mourning and giving respect to 32 years of mental health clinical work, and six years before that of medicine, if I count clinical medical student years.  I think that stuff is bubbling up a bit and will come in more in days to come.  About three weeks to go.  If I’m going to make it, I’d better get on now as most things are packed and tent has had a nice blast of morning sun to air it and bake any condensation or dew out of it.

    1 Comment

  1. Just found out about your journey and am grateful that you are sharing it with all of us. Chris, you are in a wonderful place, in that you can take this time to find the part of yourself that was stolen from you as you sought to help the wounded in British institutions. You might infer from this message that I respect you, and that would be an accurate interpretation!

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