Scribbles from Robin


WoW said good-bye to Robin Hicks back in November 2013, and the site has seen many significant changes since then – not least taking on a new name, Languedoc Living.

Last week, we reported on the origins of the website and the Cassan Christmas Fair as well as hearing about Robin’s decision to head back to the UK and particularly to his alma mater, Bristol.

This week, Robin explains some of his reflections on life in the Languedoc as well as the highlights of his, some might say, ridiculously dangerous journey back.

And then finally, for now, some observations about Robin and Sue’s new life in Bristol…

“So looking back it has been rather odd really – we came to retire but I founded the Midi Cricket Club, worked with Beziers airport to promote the early flights from Bristol and London, built up Blablablah, founded the WoW website and the Cassan Christmas Cracker Fair – all a bit strange for a bloke who came to the “Real” South of France to retire.

However I did start one more conventional pastime for a retired old gent and that was to take up golf – a game which continues to thwart my best intentions but has given me many happy hours with some super people.

Sue has made a major contribution – founding and running the Pézenas English/French reading group, teaching English to the French members of the twinning association with Market Drayton, working to help in a homework club, writing articles on French history from Street names and masterminding the hugely successful distribution of Blablablah.

Sue’s contribution to the life of Pézenas was recognised when she was made a “Confrère du Petit Pâté de Pézenas” an honour bestowed on me a couple of years later.

On the other hand I must admit – my carrots got root fly, the potatoes got blight, and the rabbits ate everything else – so the “living from the land” would have meant in my case “starving from the land”.

Suggests I didn’t learn all that much from my role as boss of the Royal Agricultural Show… 

Anyway, having decided to head back to Bristol, I realised that I just couldn’t do without my scooter. So, instead of putting it on a trailer, it occurred to me that the obvious thing to do was ride it back the 900 miles from Pézenas.

Obviously, I made it safe and sound as otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write these notes – or more like scribbles, really.

I did this mad thing because it was also a celebration to mark the end of the radio therapy – finished at noon on the Wednesday – and then I immediately took to the scooter and headed up onto the Larzac.

I should point out that my scooter is not one of the silly little things that French teenagers ride noisily around the villages or even the Vespas of my youth. No, my scooter has a 250 cc engine, twin disc brakes, a very quiet engine and is beautifully sprung with a pretty good seat. Such luxury!

In practical terms I took clothes which I really should have thrown away years ago – and at the end of the day I did just chuck them away. Good plan as it also left some room for me to carry back a little duty free Cognac.

There was one other reason for my motivation for this trip – the smells of France. The baking bread and the wood smoke can only be smelt on 2 wheels. Priceless memories.

I went on D and C roads all the way, taking 4 days or so.

I stayed in a lovely B&B in the countryside at Cieux – just a few kilometres from Oradour-sur-Glane.

The original population was wiped out on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company.

A new village was built after the war on a nearby site but on the orders of the then French president, Charles de Gaulle; the original has been maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.

It was intensely moving and affected every other visitor – there was a silence and sense of cold quiet horror as we visited and saw the pathetic remains of cherished belongings – some melted and deformed by the heat of the fire the soldiers had started.

It was a great time for the first couple of days – wonderful riding through the “stopped-in-time countryside” and the France profounde. As we had kept 5 Limousin cows in Devon – it was good to potter through their native country.

Sadly, all was rather spoilt on the last Sunday when I lost my map cards near Tours. The wind must have whipped them out of the pocket and it was much too dangerous to walk back on a fast moving autoroute to find them.

I also lost much of my log – so after that I decided on speed and really not exciting country and boring roads but then the countryside is pretty dull up there.

Luckily I managed to get on a night ferry at Caen with a cabin and awoke to see the Isle of Wight. Yes a pretty good return picture. I arrived at the flat just in time to meet Sue and help as the removal men arrived with our stuff.

After the expanse of the houses in Roujan and Pézenas, it is ever so small in the flat. There are just 2 bedrooms, but fantastic position, and sorting stuff out is making it look less like a struck film set.

Sue already has a course tomorrow – she would be that organised wouldn’t she?

Meanwhile I am going to get my bus pass and all that stuff, registering with a doctor, going to IKEA – all the usual things plus adapters to save having to re-plug every bit of electrical equipment to replace the slim elegant French plugs with the clunking ugly 13 amp plugs of yore – but I will not bore on about this!

Here on the dockside – yes of course it is raining a little but………………

On the balcony or from the sitting room we can see all the activity on the river – boats, birds and the ever changing reflections on water which can be a little disturbed or just like a mirror.

We can see the great city-scape of Bristol – Clifton on the hill (and ever so posh), the Cabot tower which flashes out Bristol in Morse code, Big Tom the University clock without a dial but with a very definitive toll every hour during daylight hours, Bristol Cathedral dating from the 12th century and St Mary Redcliffe the 14th century Gothic church which Queen Elizabeth I declared was “the finest parish Church in all England”.

All this from our sitting room or balcony.

Oh yes – and there is a passenger ferry across the harbour from the SS Great Britain, our neighbour, which puts us ashore for a 2 minute walk to the central library – guess who sussed that one out?

Pretty well car-free from there and takes you on to the Cathedral and Council house and the entertainments area. (I now have a ferry season ticket too).

Really nice neighbours – a street party last weekend and some super people who we have already met – plus the “old gang” who are welcoming us back with dinners and all that sort of things – just so lovely to be back with such lovely folk.

One thing I have noticed – everyone speaks on the ferry – never get that on a train or bus – I wonder why?

In summary it was great fun and a sort of celebration the radio therapy has finished – thank heavens – it will take a bit of time for the body to recover and to get stuff working again. The good news is this odd diet I have to keep to has caused me to lose 11 Kgs!!

Mind you, I would not recommend this as a diet – I’m sure there are nicer ways to lose weight.

Bye for now…”