21st to 29th: We drove down to Montpellier to see Emily off at the airport on the 20th, and then collected Luke about two hours later. He had done the journey from Gatwick and seemed typically unphased. As usual, I buy a copy of La Recherche magazine at the airport. The next day we drove up to our French friends C & J, taking the motorway to St Flour and then heading west along the Route des Cretes and finally reaching Banilles around 4 pm. Two nights and three days of excellent food, a memorable walk and happy conversation.
A striking and surprising aspect of our stay was the totally different attitude that C & J have about the Covid lockdowns. The French seems a lot less subservient than the Brits in this regard, and Christophe said he had been astonished by the extent to which people were willing to give up their personal liberty and to obey the diktats of the State. Apparently the looser response in Sweden was partly to do with their constitution, which doesn’t allow the state to assume such coercive powers.
After our stay at Banilles, we drove down to Tiny House in the Cevennes, via the River Lot and the Gorges du Tarn, stunning vistas from the narrow winding roads with remote villages hundreds of feet below. We stayed here till the 29th, doing little more than river swimming, walks in the hills around Charlotte’s place, and enjoying the view of the mountain above St Julien d’Arpaon in the evening.
Nothing much on this leg of the holiday that’s relevant to cycling, But planning my trips to Europe on the e-bike, I realised that I am woefully unprepared for an extended trip, and decided to experiment with sleeping options. My diary records, under the heading Martyrdom in a Hammock:
“Now that we have got to Balazeuegnes, I resolve to try a night under the stars in a hammock as a potential way to survive when I am easywheeling around Europe. It seems like it should not be any big deal”.
I had slung the hammock under two trees behind Tiny House, using the clips from Amazon to support it, and the felt pads to protect the bark of the tree. It felt comfortable enough. A light breeze made the hammock sway pleasantly from side to side, and I could imagine sipping a glass or two of wine and then slipping off to sleep as the stars rose and the night fell.
The reality was unfortunately more complicated. I settled in the hammock at around 10 pm with my torch, a notebook and pencil, and my mobile phone. At first, everything went more or less according to plan. I used the torch to scribble down a few lines of poetry about sleeping in a hammock, and then used the torch to guide me to the stone seat nearby, where I marvelled at the multitude of stars above. Cassiopeia was visible to the northwest, and you could see Vega blue and cold directly above. The only discombobulating ingredient was the satellites, that at one stage seemed to come by in droves, I am sure courtesy of Elon Musk, but reminding me of trains at Clapham Junction. I am not a fan of this messing around with nature.
Back in the hammock, however, things did not go so well. I had slipped off my shoes, and my feet were pointing upwards at about 60 degrees to the horizontal. This was uncomfortable in itself, but also meant that the thin blanket I had draped over my toes kept slipping down over my shins and would gather in a heap around my stomach. Meanwhile, at the other end of my body, my back was bent at an unnatural angle that became increasingly bothersome as the night went on. I had also decided to keep my torch and mobile phone with me, which meant that I could illuminate my way if I needed a nature break (inevitable after several glasses of wine) but which kept slipping down under by back so that any attempt to turn my body became immediately bothersome. I had also left my spectacles in the folds of my t-shirt, and whenever I nodded off to sleep, the fear of crushing these seemed to wake me up. Any lateral movement felt like it would tip me out of the hammock.
The garden seemed perfectly quiet during the day, but as the darkness drew down, more and more odd noises were audible, some of them close by. It didn’t feel unsafe, although everyone had told me stories about the danger of wild boar, and particularly those with piglets, but I felt a constant need to investigate the noises By midnight it was getting chilly, and I had got out of the hammock several times with my torch to try to identify what animals were making the rustling sounds, and also to re-arrange the contents of the hammock more comfortably. I could see the lights of cars winding around the mountains and the narrow roads that evidently existed near the house, even though they were unseen during the day.
By 1 am, I had turned on my mobile phone to see if reading about Python would help me sleep. It was cold, and the blanket was still lurking around my stomach, rather than covering my toes. I was feeling the need for a pillow, something that is essential for my sleep but which I had mysteriously omitted to take with me. Not far after that, I retired to our bedroom, sleeping peacefully despite the susurrations of people sleeping in the house.