Making the French connection…again



When we joined the queue at Dublin Port, Joe Duffy was dealing with the usual mix of callers – varying from reasonable and reasoned to mad as a box of frogs. (I’m not sure if it’s acceptable in these politically correct times to describe some Liveline callers thus; it may even be unfair on frogs).

  Dublin was basking in sunshine – we didn’t care. We were bailing out. After lapsing for a couple of years, we were off to France again for a camping holiday. Naturally, we had observed the unwritten rules for Irish people going abroad: (1) Bring too many clothes; (2) Squeeze in as much familiar food as possible, because, let’s face it, you can’t get that sort of stuff over there!

  In front of us was that familiar uplifting sight: several lanes of cars, camper vans and haulage trucks, all waiting to board the ferry to Cherbourg.

  There’s nothing quite like the beginning of a holiday; you suspend the real world, and embrace the escapism. Soon we were on the WB Yeats for the first time, leaving Joe Duffy to deal with unmuzzled dogs and unmuzzled conmen. The WB Yeats compares very favourably with the Oscar Wilde, the ship we know from previous trips. While it is an 18-hour sailing to Cherbourg, it’s comfort – in fact you could say luxury – all the way…with restaurants, a bar, cinema, kids’ play area, a shop, and of course cabins.

  Relaxing on board, we get talking briefly to two couples from Armagh. They introduce themselves as a Catholic couple and a Protestant couple. They hadn’t met before, but had linked up over a drink this evening, seduced by the holiday mood. When three of them disperse for a cigarette on the upper deck, the Protestant man – a haulier who traverses the whole island – tells us of the depressing shadow Brexit is casting. Later, one of the women matter of factly says that while both communities in the North are getting on much better than in the days of the Troubles, tensions remain. It will take time. Hopefully it will get time.

  Our first stop in France was in Normandy, at a park in Lisieux. After a rainy first night, the temperature settled into the late 20s, mercifully cooler than the record-breaking early 40s of a month before. Normandy has many great attractions. Most poignant and fascinating are the D-Day landing beaches.

  Le Mont-Saint-Michel, an island and mainland commune which is one of France’s biggest tourist attractions, is also well worth seeing.

  The Les Castels park has a majestic old house as its focal point, around which are dotted dozens of mobile homes, chalets and camper vans. Facilities for children are fantastic.

  After a relaxing week in Normandy, our drive south to our second destination coincided with a dramatic temperature rise. We drove for five and a half hours in searing 36 degrees’ heat. We weren’t really complaining. Mostly avoiding the busy motorways, we stuck to the ‘D’ roads, savouring the quaint, pretty, flower-adorned remote villages.

  We arrived at our new park, on the edge of the city of Nantes. Another really good site: restaurant/bar, swimming pool, takeaway, mini-golf, launderette, etc. Here, you can enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of ‘country living’ while being only a 12-minute tram journey from the city centre. Best of both worlds.

  It was our first time in Nantes, a historic city which we instantly liked. The vibrant city centre is brimming with youthfulness. We spent a few afternoons there in the glorious sunshine, enjoying the great late-summer atmosphere. On one walk, we encountered an Irish pub, where we had a very nice bite to eat, surrounded by photos of hurling and football teams from the ‘60s onwards, and by young French people who were not reared on Ring, Mackey, Shefflin, Keaveney or O’Shea.

  The tram service was great. And of course you see all types of people in such city environments. For the most part, the city was buzzing with millennials to-ing and fro-ing. There were people down on their luck too. As we waited for a tram, a man who looked like a very jaded version of the late actor Richard Harris wandered along the platform, bending down every few seconds to pick discarded cigarette butts off the ground. In a world of his own, he caressed each ‘new’ butt and placed it into a plastic bag…for later. A man forgotten by society.

  The French are appalled by Brexit, rolling their eyes at the very mention of it. Not that we converse much in French, not beyond the basics. Mostly, we keep to ourselves. We have always found ‘the locals’ to be friendly. The France we know is rural, friendly, relaxed, slow moving…in short, pretty magical. If any readers are looking to try a family holiday with a difference – particularly if you have small children – I very much recommend these campsites, with their excellent family-friendly facilities.

  Two weeks having sped by, we drove back to Cherbourg with the resignation of the holiday-makers who have been caught by time.

  Back on the WB Yeats, an elderly woman chats animatedly to the Latvian barmaid (“ah, I have a friend in Riga!”) before venturing to her travelling companion “I expect the poor girl is on the minimum wage”.

  The barmaid collected glasses nearby. Above her, the quote on the wall read: ‘Tread softy because you tread on my dreams’.

  Across the way, a very dapper man walked arm in warm with a very dapper woman, as though auditioning for parts in the Downton Abbey movie.

  Five boozy men from Northern Ireland insisted on calling the patient barman ‘Ian Paisley’. It’s time for us to catch up with a movie in the ship’s cinema. 

  Next morning, after a good night’s sleep and a calm sailing, we were reunited with our car and preparing to drive off the WB Yeats. First, a rueful look at the French people who were beginning their holiday in Ireland. Wonder what they’ll make of Joe Duffy?


You can’t win with these…politicians!


Do the politicians think we’re stupid?

  You can’t really win with these guys – because they play tricks with language, and frequently defy logic! Often, it’s quite insulting.

  On Prime Time the other night, Miriam O’Callaghan pressed Minister David Stanton about the ‘asylum seekers for Oughterard’ controversy.

  “You don’t communicate with the locals in these instances” was the gist of Miriam’s charge. (Cue much nodding at TV screens in Rooskey).

  We do communicate with locals, replied  Minister Stanton disingenuously, adding that the ‘communication’ starts AFTER a deal has been struck with the accommodation provider!

 Precisely. The Department does a deal with an accommodation provider, THEN that information trickles out, and THEN the Department pays lip service to the issue of ‘services’ in the given area.

  Leo’s at it too, I see. He’s taken a leaf out of Richard Bruton’s book. Remember when the scandal over the costs’ overrun regarding the Children’s Hospital was at its peak…Bruton (and colleagues) tried to turn the outcry on its head by pretty much saying ‘Do you really want us to abandon it after all these years?’

  Now the Taoiseach is employing the same tactics. Amidst ongoing concerns about aspects of the mooted National Broadband Plan – not least the likely cost – Mr. Varadkar glibly says: “Rural Ireland does not have a future in the 21st century” unless fibre broadband is delivered to every home.

  So that’s it, Leo. No more questions. No more scrutiny. No more accountability. Just a little pathetic!


Man minds net, then tidies up…


All over Ireland at the weekend, goalkeepers – in Gaelic Football, hurling and soccer, at varying levels – did the usual mundane stuff at the final whistle in their respective matches. Same as it ever was. Almost the forgotten man. Unlike those outfield ‘heroes’, you have some tidying up to do, some housekeeping. Maybe a spare sliothar or hurl to pick up. A bottle or two of water. A pair of gloves to be untangled from the net and perhaps tucked under your armpit. ‘Let them off back to the dressing room, the rest of them, I’ll pick up my stuff here and trudge back in my own good time’…

  All over Ireland it happened again last weekend, on lumpy, bumpy pitches, the goalkeeper alone with his or her thoughts…wrapping up, even as the handful of diehards who watched the game were impatiently pressing the button to remotely unlock their cars.

  A familiar routine then…none of which explains the sight, last Saturday…of Stephen Cluxton doing his version of this goalkeepers’ routine at the final whistle. This ought to have been just a little different to the scenes that unfold each weekend all over the country. But it wasn’t. At the final whistle in a game played at Croke Park on Saturday, Cluxton – with a pretty vacant expression on his face – did his tidying up duties. How can this be? His Dublin team had just won a historic five-in-a-row! And Stephen was the captain! (Later, on social media, footage of him…sweeping up the dressing room!).

  What a man. What a goalkeeper. What a legend.