The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].

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Soup or Poisson?

                So, then- the French. Vive la difference!-as they say. It is traditional, and commonplace for us Brits to display animosity, dislike and general displeasure to them…as it is for them to be contemptuous, dismissive and generally out of sorts with us. This is how it has been since time immemorial; since tiny, posturing Bonaparte and noble, one-eyed Nelson, since Agincourt, since the German Nazis were allowed in to run riot all over the place.

                We think them arrogant, uncouth and sexually immoral. They think us cold, frigid and unappealing. They think their cuisine superior. We think they are up themselves. Does all this hold true? Or are these attitudes as outdated as a beret and a string of onions? Myself I think they are mostly far of the mark but that there are vestiges of truth in some of them.

                Take the arrogance thing. Those who visit France regularly are familiar with the fact that one should try to speak the language when communicating verbally, rather than shouting ever more loudly in one’s own lingo. This is perfectly reasonable, however there has been an odd occasion when my own [imperfect but adequate] French has been rejected. A couple of years ago we entered a bar for the purposes of a post-meal glass of wine. If there is one phrase I have become accomplished at it is ‘verre de vin rouge’. The young man taking the order made a clear point of refusing to understand, whilst sporting a practised sneer. On the other hand we are almost always welcomed, greeted, helped and smiled at.

                France is vast. The country is littered with plots of land for sale and crumbling, vacant dwellings calling out for some TLC. ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ could have a bonanza in France, but no one here cares, because there is no shortage of land. Being such a big country has also caused it to become very travel-friendly. The French, amongst all Europeans, are the greatest lovers of ‘camping cars’. They are everywhere. Towns and villages are happy to provide free ‘aires’ where you can park up for the night-all provided by local businesses, often with toilets, water and waste facilities-sometimes with electricity. There are hundreds of small, cheap, clean, comfortable, ‘chain’ type hotels-not luxurious, but fine for overnight stops.

                And they are rightly proud of their villages, too. They are neat and tidy, litter-free, and planted with wonderful floral displays. Despite this the streets and pavements are often encrusted with dog excrement, somewhat tarnishing the overall effect. They are completely besotted by their dogs, and nowhere else have I seen so many pooches being variously carried-in bags, bike baskets, cycle trailers or baby prams, as if they’ve somehow lost the use of their paws.

                Women’s sensibilities are not expected to be offended by the sight of men’s backs as they urinate, so lavatorial facilities tend to be shared.

                The boulangerie is heaven in a shop-and best avoided for anyone wishing to retain a waistline.

                Wine is cheap as water.

                There is much more…but the sun is shining, it actually feels warm, and I sense a bike ride coming on. A bientot!