From the Tarn to Edinburgh: the Provincial Lady sets off

Looking down a wynd from Royal Mile across to Princes Street

Millions of internet fans will doubtless have been scratching their heads over the untypical silence emanating from deepest Tarn over the last few weeks. A bout of dysphonia? A fit of the sulks? The delivery of the latest series of ‘Game of Thrones’ by an Amazonian drone?

I can now reassure them. The Maître de Maison and I have been on holiday.

The trip, however, did not start well.

First stop, Blagnac, the airport of Toulouse, la ville rose, capital of Occitania. This ever-expanding gigantic aeronautical hub (9 million passengers in 2017) has changed since I first saw it, but I’m still pretty familiar with the place. Its control tower holds no secrets: have I not, over the years, taught generations of its controllers and technicians to say ‘Roger Over and Out’ in an impeccable Yorkshire accent? Have I not driven back and forth 923 times, ferrying aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours, and other visiting dignitaries? Have I not flown in and out of it myself at least 482 of those 923 times, on one momentous occasion seated next to an ex-member of Wham? (Wake me up before you go-go. I have the T-shirt).

Blagnac airport. Photo copyright Michelle Feraud

In theory, I should be able to do the journey with eyes closed and, as they say locally, ze finger in ze nose. This is unnecessary, however, because the Maître de Maison has a top-notch hyper-smart GPS system in the car which, its finger in its nose, tells it exactly where to go. There’s just one problem: the seven dwarfs of Blagnac keep nipping out at night and moving parts of the infrastructure around without ringing the satellite and telling it. Old familiar bits get blocked off by giant pieces of LEGO; new, confusing bits get added on. And so it was that on a sunny April morning, the MDM and I, having waved goodbye to the farmhouse in the Tarn, swung on to yet another of the 372 roundabouts on the airport approach, preparatory to swinging off into one of the 101 car parks in plenty of time to park up, trudge 5 kilometres to the terminal, and catch our flight to the UK, destination Edinburgh.

The Reverend Robert Walker , minister of Canongate Kirk, having a skate.

Seconds later, guided by the trusty GPS, we found ourselves heading back to the Tarn, sucked into a mighty ocean of cars on the Toulouse Ring Road from Hell. Being one of the famous ‘Transport Strike’ days in my adoptive country, it all looked like the opening scene in ‘La La Land’. The only difference was nobody was dancing from bonnet to bonnet. As we were forced to crawl inch by inch back whence we had come, we contemplated with horror, across the solid concrete central reservation, the jam of hooting cars all trying to go the other way–that way being, of course, the one we had just left and needed to get back to in order to catch our plane. It was at this point that I started screaming hysterically that I would never get to Scotland to see the latest Great Nephew, born in January, never mind the Monet haystacks and the Reverend R. Walker in the Scottish National Gallery. (When we arrived, the Monets were on loan. Probably in France. )

The Gare Matabiau, railway station of la ville rose, was just hoving into sight when the MDM, who had been dreaming of haggis and single malts for weeks, wrenched the steering wheel violently to the left and in a daring Formula 1 manoeuvre (which I missed, having shut my eyes and stopped breathing) we veered across the Canal du Midi and several lanes of stalled lorries to find ourselves miraculously, if not moving, at least facing the right way.

Oh happy day. Two hours later we boarded our Flybe flight and let somebody else do the driving.

Looking down a graceful curve from the Royal Mile

Edinburgh. We had been there briefly, on flying visits. This time we had the leisure to get to know the place. First stop, Sainsbury’s, for a packet of chocolate digestives. We joined the checkout queue. No-one, alas, was wearing a kilt. But they were all wearing big smiles.

Checkout clerk: Good afternoon to you. Are you enjoying yourselves today?

Me: Good afternoon. Yes, thank you. We’ve just arrived.

Clerk: Where are you from?

Me: France.

Clerk: Really? I love France. Do you have any special plans for your visit?

Me: We’re going to visit Holyrood House.

The Abbey of Holyrood House

Clerk: That’s a grand place. You’ll enjoy it. Wish I was going with you.

Me: Ha ha. What time do you finish tonight?

By the time I’d paid for my packet of biscuits I’d learned the young man was a student at ‘Uni’, his exams were coming up, he was juggling bouts of revision with supermarket shifts, his girl-friend was called Mia, all his family had red hair, and life was grand and Edinburgh a fine place to live.

The queue of customers waiting behind wished us well as we departed.

View from the (very nice) café in John Lewis, Edinburgh

A similar scenario was repeated later at John Lewis where I was buying a pair of reading specs. This time it involved three assistants, one of whom gave the glasses a 15-minute polish while we exchanged life-histories and travel plans, then two others who scoured the place looking for different styles of glasses cases, whose relative merits were discussed for half an hour until we all reached a verdict on the red one and agreed how wonderful life was.

The next day the elderly gentleman queuing behind me for the toilets at The Royal Botanic Gardens informed me he was a regular visitor and wasn’t he lucky to live near such a marvel? Over the flushing of the loos we agreed the weather was perfect, not too cold, not too hot, just right, and the blossom trees were a wonder to behold, had I see the Japanese cherry by any chance?

Very small Great Nephew looking for squirrel in very tall tree. Royal Botanic Gardens

By now I had concluded that Edinburgh was the Mindfulness Capital of the world. Even the motorists just sigh and shake their heads gently when someone bumbles into their lane, doubtless distracted by the romantic skyline and the statue of Sir Walter Scott.

There was just one rub: we had been looking forward to making people mad with jealousy by posting on social media the 300 photos taken on the MDM’s brand-new, top-notch hyper-smart smart phone, bought specially to take superb photos liable to make people jealous. But the phone wouldn’t let us. Something about the ‘wrong codes’. The ‘right codes’, obviously, were back in the Tarn, on a post-it.

Still, at least the thing didn’t explode in mid-air on the flight back, so I can now share some of them on this blog.

Have a lovely day, wherever you may be, and don’t forget to take the time to look at the cherry trees.

PS The newest great nephew was adorable, just like his big three-year-old brother. Aw.


16 thoughts on “From the Tarn to Edinburgh: the Provincial Lady sets off”

  1. This made me laugh. Not because you ran into traffic, but because I’ve had my fair share of travel dilemmas. Love the story and the pictures. It’s so nice that you chatted with so many people. It adds to the experience. Your Great Nephew is adorable.

    In 2011, we traveled to Edinburgh in November. They were hit with a winter storm the day we were leaving. By the time we made it to the airport (on unplowed roads), we learned our flight had been canceled. We rebooked, rented a car and drove (well, my dear husband drove) from Edinburgh to Gatwick airport, about 730 km. Right when we sat down at the gate in Gatwick, our flight was canceled due to snow storms in Germany. We rebooked for early the next morning and EasyJet put us up in a hotel room with dinner. We finally made it back.

    Hope that makes you feel better.

    1. It does, Denise, it does, I cringed at the thought of your husband driving all the way to Gatwick, presumably on the awful A1?? But as you say we can have a laugh once it’s over – good dinner party stories, aren’t they? Yes, our day with the squirrels was great fun, the eldest GN is just at that enchanting age, youngest only 3 months so not doing much except eating sleeping (and the rest). Lovely to hear from you chère amie, I have been neglecting your blog but will remedy that now I’m back!xx

    1. Hi Catherine, so you think it’s mainly a contrast thing, with France? I certainly found the pace much slower in Edinburgh even in comparison with my native Yorkshire, which is pretty laid-back. No experience of Australia, though! But there’s something about France, isn’t there, I certainly couldn’ t imagine living anywhere else. Do you think you might return permanently some day? (Readers: Catherine’s book ‘But You are in France, Madame’ is about life in Savoie with her husband and three children.) Thanks for dropping by 😉

      1. I agree with Catherine on the “shock” of returning to the US after five years in France and finding people so friendly and willing to talk to strangers. I remember being in a bookstore and a woman striking up a conversation with me over a particular author whose books were in front of us. I thought at the time how this would never have happened in France. Sometimes the instant rapport and subsequent revelations were a bit over-the-top too–even by American standards–as in the time a car rental clerk told me her entire romantic history as we were waiting for the rental car to be readied. Now I must go have a look at Catherine’s book–sounds like it’s right up my alley!

        1. Ah, riding the waves of culture as they say! A fascinating subject. But surely Nancy you find differences locally within the US? Texans are…Californians are… as for New Yorkers, well, I’m a Woody Allen fan, so biased. Glad to have facilitated a link-up with Catherine, that’s what blogs are all about. Catherine, I’m sure you’d love Nancy’s blog, let’s hear it for the carin’ and sharin’ 😉

  2. Hmmmm….From your report here, Laurette, I think I should consider the countryside around Edinburgh as a place to relocate to in order to escape the current mad man-child presiding over the US. How wonderful to have encountered so many pleasant souls who seemed to have become instant friends, even if only for the few moments of your encounters with them. Quite a contrast to similar everyday encounters with strangers I recall from my years in France.

    And that wild ride to the airport–or getting into the airport complex once you had arrived. Definitely an “Oh Dear Gussie!” experience, and especially the way you told it. Fun reading, but I know it was anything but that at the time it was happening. So glad you made it!

    1. Merci chère Patou, yes, it was a great trip, nice change, and as you say such a pleasure to see the family. Good to hear things are looking brighter in Loveland, may it continue…. Bises à tout le mondexxx

  3. So glad you enjoyed the “Athens of the North”. I spent the first 8 years of my childhood in Edinburgh, my father having moved our family from Hull, where I was born, to escape the terrible bombing. ( We are talking 1942 here, the pinnacle of WW2. ) So, although a proud Yorkshire girl by birth and subsequent upbringing, Edinburgh holds a special place in my heart.

    1. Oh yes, I remember you talking about your ‘Scottish period’, can you remember where you lived? And did you return to Yorkshire with a Scottish accent? xxx

      1. We lived in Dalmeny, actually just outside Edinburgh in a house overlooking the Firth of Forth. The house was originally built for the chief engineer of the iconic Forth Bridge but when we lived there it was owned by the railway company LNER for which my father worked. Interestingly it had been divided in to two houses by then. We lived in the one called Forth View East and I have always assumed that the other half must have been called Forth View West! And yes, I did come back to England with a Scottish accent. Having learnt the Scottish side of the long history between the English and the Scots and then being exposed to the English viewpoint, I quickly realised that there was no absolute truth in events, it all depends which side you are on! This was a fact I genuinely appreciated by the age of 9 or 10 and it still resonates with me today.

        1. Very interesting stuff. And a great life lesson you learnt at such a tender age – I’m sure it has served you well over the years. I KNOW it has served you well over the years. Voltaire would have approved 😉

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