On this lightning trip to Brittany we’d signed the official documents, concluding the purchase of our property; received the keys; opened a French bank account and – as tradition demanded – met the mayor of our ‘commune’, (or parish). We’d explored our longere, discovering we’d bought more land than we’d realized. We’d dropped off a few items we’d brought with us to make it feel more like home, along with a camping stove and kettle, bottled water, cartons of UHT milk, tea bags and sugar in sealed containers – so that we could always make a hot drink, even if we arrived in the middle of the night. It had all gone so much more smoothly than we expected.
We motored back to the ferry port – our minds buzzing – making mental lists of what else we would need; exchanging half formed ideas and random thoughts, relieved that our giant leap of faith had – so far – worked out. Our mood remained high as we settled in the cafeteria of our homeward bound vessel. But, as I started to plan future trips with the aid of the forthcoming season’s brochure, my spirits plunged.
‘Am I reading this properly,’ I asked, ‘or has converting currency back and forth addled my brain? The fares can’t be going up that much, can they?’ Glancing through the timetable, The Artist confirmed that I had, indeed, got my sums right. ‘That means we can’t afford to come over as often as we thought we could. I can’t believe they’ve done this to us, right now. It’s not fair!’
In my defence I was exhausted from travel, excitement and having to speak, listen and think in a different language. Feeling hard done by and irritated that we would have to adjust our expectations, I flounced off to the counter for hot drinks and a plate of pommes frites, which – unlikely though it seems – always cures my sea-sickness.
‘There is a way we can stick to our plan and save money on fares,’ The Artist said, when I returned, ‘but we’d have to buy a motorcycle.
It turned out that he already had his eye on a suitable machine, for sale in the bike shop. He’d noticed it because it was so different from any of the other vehicles they had in stock – a 350cc single cylinder Enfield that would carry us both in relative comfort. It was also what I considered to be a ‘proper’ bike, like those I remembered from my childhood.
‘OK! Let’s go for it!’ I said, when we test rode it shortly after arriving home, ‘but you’ll have to tell Mum!’
Widowed in her mid-twenties as a result of a tragic accident, my mother had always impressed on me the dangers of motorcycling . She was adamant that I never, ever get on one – let alone have a boyfriend who rode one. Although I didn’t usually listen to her, I’d obeyed her on this – until The Artist came into my life. She knew that he’d been riding since he was seventeen – they’d swapped biker tales and photos. But he didn’t own a bike at the time – hadn’t for as long as she’d known him – his last two having been stolen from the back garden of our terraced cottage.
‘She’ll be fine about it,’ he said, with confidence.
And he was right. As soon as we bought ‘the Bullet’ we rode round to her house on it, presenting her with the deed done. To her credit, she stifled any pre-sentiments of doom that may have been crossing her mind, examining our new purchase with enthusiasm. As we were leaving The Artist hugged her.
‘Don’t worry,’ he reassured her (and me,)‘The object of the exercise is to stay on, not fall off. I’ve been riding for a long time and I’ll look after your daughter. She’s safe when she’s with me.’
I began to get used to riding pillion, The Artist teaching me everything I needed to know. And one of the first things I learned was that you can’t carry much on a bike. So, before we could make this our regular mode of cross-Chanel transport, we had to get organized.
We joined the ferry company’s ‘Property Owners’ Club’ and took advantage of offers on unpopular sailings to make two or three trips in my trusty Fiat Panda, jam-packed to the roof rack with anything we could safely leave in Brittany – small items of furniture; second-best cooking implements, old linen and convenience provisions. Pot Noodles, tins of beans, cans of Diet coke, towels, candles and matches – an emergency kit that would see us through until we could ride to the nearest supermarche.
The colleague who’d started all this by inviting us to stay at his Breton home, hitched a ride on one occasion. Strangely, after spending nearly two hours shoe-horned into the narrow gap between a mirror and a teetering pile of boxes, he never asked again! But it wouldn’t have done him much good if he had – once we’d got everything set up, the majority of our journeys were on two wheels and there was only room for one passenger – me!