The Ballards - France Brittany


We visited Brittany several times during the 1990s to stay in an English friend's cottage. They had bought it several years previously as a wreck, and were slowly doing it up, furnishing it with cast-off furniture from their own home (brought over in a horse trailer) and paying French labourers to do the renovations.
It was in a tiny hamlet called Bron, about 45 minutes from the sea.

Summer in Bron was joyous, but Christmas with two small children in a house with no central heating, only a log-burner, was plain stupid. Snow on the beach at Concarneau made interesting walking, but people were sailing!
Mad, the lot of them.

Rural Brittany is like rural England used to be in the 60s: peaceful, very dark at night, untroubled by the smothering sameness emanating from the big cities.
A very pleasant place to be.

The French have an interesting attitude towards road safety. They drive small cars much faster than the designers ever intended, they only overtake when something is coming the other way (every manoeuvre fails the Oliphant Hope test), and they drink and drive.
A lot.
Especially the truckers.
That said, they drive very safely and sensibly on the autoroutes, always pulling back in to lane 1 when they have finished their overtaking manoeuvre (this is a lesson that needs hammering in to British drivers in a big way).
The traffic police operate sporadically, and only pick up foreign motorists when they are operating. I've been stopped for speeding many more times in France than in any other country. They are no more stringent in their policing of the law, nor do I speed any more or less when in France than anywhere else, they are just xenophobic.

So, when confronted with their (relatively) bad road deaths per annum record, their response is to vow to put up more speed cameras on the autoroutes. Huh? Talk about missing the point.
Perhaps if they were to re-educate their drivers out of the macho "but I've got to overtake here" attitude, give them cars with a bit of poke that can handle the speed, and clamp down hard on the booze (especially the truckers, who think nothing of putting away a bottle of red wine with their lunch, then driving off to spread mayhem....), things might change.
This is a classic misapplication of statistics: they look at the road deaths (but not where they occur: on blind bends on twisty A-roads, at the edges of towns, after the cafés have shut), and decide to clamp down on speeding on the autoroutes: the safest roads in the country to speed on.
Obviously John Prescott's been over there. "Eeh chaps, now what you want is some radar traps; our Gatso guys can sell you them; put them on't motorways, that'll solve t't problems....".
I spy a political Agenda here, mainly aimed at catching more speeding German, Dutch and English drivers on the Autoroutes to maximise their income.

Despite very strict hygiene rules laid down by the Government about having dogs in restaurant, they all take their ghastly little lap dogs (toy poodles and chihuahuas) in, and feed them at the tables.
Look chaps: proper dogs come up to above your knees and have long hair. Anything that doesn't meet both criteria is not a dog, but a rat.

The beaches are similarly affected: these little rats pooh anywhere and everywhere. But the beaches are well-tended and raked regularly, and very well-used. Interestingly the French have a larger "personal space" built-in (because they live in a less densely-populated country?) and don't camp so close to you on the beach as the English do.

In France, love of food is considered a central part of life: they have a carefully-groomed reputation as the world's gastronomic experts. But actually the food can be unadventurous: a lot of red meat and red wine: a hell of a lot of garlic and lots of French attitude.
They eat anything vaguely carnivorous so strange things do turn up, but on the whole I think English fare to be more adventurous because we feel our own cuisine to be so unworthy we are constantly borrowing from other cultures.

They do have good food. Wherever we go in the world Nessa has a simple attitude to choosing a restaurant to eat in (being a professional chef): we always eat where the locals eat.
We have eaten in some bizarre-looking places, but (almost) universally we have had excellent food wherever we have travelled. The most notable exception has to be a Vietnamese restaurant in Fulham, next to the Tube Station, where despite being full of Vietnamese clientelle, the food was simply inedible.

Unfortunately, many small French Auberges (where the best food and wine is to be had) don't take Visa. So we once got stranded in a small Auberge with a simply huge bill, and no cash. The patron shrugged his shoulders, opened a bottle of wine, kept our wives and children hostage, and pointed us at the nearest cash point. Obviously a well-practiced manoeuvre...

We visited several French chateaus, which are universally more interesting than English country houses. They tend to have been been used by the Gestapo in WWII, which adds a little frisson, and always have interesting architecture, history and grounds.
We visited one that had had a V-1 through the roof in 1944. They had on display a photo showing the hole: that was more interesting to me than 100 suits of armour or paintings.

Brittany has beautiful rivers, which run over weirs and dams. They are often bigger, France being the largest country in Europe and having a lot of area to drain, than equivalent rivers in Britain. Towpaths along these rivers are well maintained and may be cycled upon.

The French seem to enjoy their outdoors more than we do partly, I suspect, because they have a better climate and more room than we do.
They don't hide from their climate, like the Americans do. They embrace it, with outside cafés, outside restaurants, many more outside pursuits than we have, and generally a more joyous attitude towards Nature. And of course the women go topless on the beach which can be very attractive, but as often can be very unattractive....