The Blue Beast Nine

Tuesday, 7 May 2002


Last night I checked into my lovely Ibis hotel in Perigueux. It has all mod cons i.e. bathroom not down the corridor and a phone in the room. I tried sending my daily bulletin when all hell broke loose inside my laptop. 

Don’t know what or why but the little men who control stuff like my address book weren’t talking to the men who squeeze the photos down the phone line. My attempts to solve it were hampered by my desire to keep all my email addresses to myself and not let you know who else has the enormous privilege of reading my daily rantings.

Ibis Perigueux

Rushed out to dinner last night and got lost in the little back streets that surround the cathedral. Eventually found Le Roi Bleu tucked up a narrow alley. 

Both Gault Millau and Michelin had recommended it so I got stuck into the menu dégustation, all seven courses plus wine recommended by the patron. Two cups of coffee and a carefully chosen Armagnac later I was £60 poorer and curiously light-headed.

Came out, couldn’t find the Beast and spent what seemed like ages wandering through dark passageways until I remembered that I had, in fact, walked to the restaurant. I then recalled that the Ibis was on the river and followed it round till I got to the car park by the hotel. The firework display celebrating the re-election of President Jacques Chirac was in full swing on the other side of the river from my hotel so I had a grandstand view. I sat on a low wall, gazing at the night sky feeling very content.

I felt I deserved a decent meal having been very abstemious during the day. My yellow Michelin map has green lines alongside those roads deemed pretty or interesting. Page 103, which covers south of Nantes, is utterly devoid of any green roads so I made the executive decision (because I can, it’s my bat and ball) to ignore the advice of my previous email and take the autoroute out of there.

What a surprise! In two hours I was 200 kms south near Cognac. I had hardly touched the brakes and the Beast purred along at a steady 110 kph. Fuel consumption went down and even the little light telling me to get the engine serviced soon went out. Every driver that overtook me screwed his neck around to have a second look and the big lorries tooted and flashed as I eased past. 

When I came to the péage, I calculated that the enormous amount of money saved on better fuel consumption just about covered the cost of the tolls.

As I drift through the villages and countryside, I keep an eye out for a little green plaque on village cemetery walls, placed there by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which indicate that a serviceman is buried there. I feel it only right to stop and visit the sad little spot, usually occupied by some 20-year-old airman or half a dozen bomber crew lost over France.

I saw a dozens of little crosses behind a high walled cemetery last evening and though I hadn’t seen the green plaque, decided to stop and investigate what tragedy had occurred here. They weren’t the Portland stone headstones one usually sees but simple cement crosses, each with two or three names on enamel plates attached. There must have been two hundred names. There hadn’t been any heavy fighting around here during the war. A massacre? Plane crash? 

Village cemetery

I looked closed and noticed that the names were all feminine. Every one. Nuns. From the local abbey. Hundreds of them, going back years and years. All lived to a ripe old age too.

Nuns no more

The village was called Chateau l’Evêque (the Bishop’s House) so I should have known.

Soon be with Leo and Annie in Condom.

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