I get a lovely gift.

The 20th May ran seamlessly into the 21st as days tend to do. Normally I consider a day to be over when I go to sleep and a new one begins when I am awake again but, given my ridiculous sleep patterns, that seems a touch redundant as one day can easily run into three. Yes, I sometimes do not sleep for three days which is ludicrous but that is just the way it is.

If the reader has read my previous journal / blog entry here they will know that the 20th had been an utterly fascinating day hanging round the 3rd arrondissement of Lyon where I was staying and celebrating Cameroon’s national day in a Cameroonian bar amongst other little adventures. Eventually I made my short way back to the hostel without even getting lost despite the rather copious quantities of beer that had been consumed.

 

 

Back in the very comfortable common area / bar and there was time for another beer before bed. Let’s be honest, there is always time for another beer before bed and this is where my world took another sideways turn.

I had been considering turning in but, of course, my world never works quite like that. There was a young lady sitting there playing the house guitar “finger picking” style and with a repertoire of French songs of which I knew neither a word nor a note. I had to sit down and watch, beer in hand. After a few wonderful songs (she was very good) she offered me the guitar as protocol in such circumstances demands. I know that there are many in the world who think that “road bums” like us have no such concepts as protocol and manners but that is far from the truth. From my time in the Forces I know that communal living imposes certain demands on you and sharing is central to a lot of them. It simply does not work otherwise.

The guitar was passed to me and I kicked off into some song or another, although I have no recollection what it was now.  I have been in hostels with guitars before and they are normally things that I would not use as a plant pot and have not been re-strung since the day they were bought but this was not the case here. It was a half-decent box.  Certainly it was no Guild or Martin but it held the tuning well and stood up decently to my hammering of it. Like everything else in the hostel it was in prime condition and I suspect the staff restrung it regularly as the strings were very “bright” as we say and it was a joy to play.

The night wore on, as it does, and it ended up with the young French lady, myself and a young American lad sitting on and playing the plywoood box which does have a proper name which I don’t know but which serves as a percussion instrument. Somehow or another harmonies even made an appearance. I’ve played some reasonably big gigs and in front of some pretty decent crowds (I think about 5,000 is my best so far) but this was up there with all of them, it was truly magical and the reason I learned to play the guitar in the first place.  I was dragging songs out of the locker that I had not played for 30 years and thoroughly enjoying every one. I was constantly waiting for the night receptionist to tell us to shut up and go to bed but not a bit of it, he was positively encouraging it to the point of making requests which I did my best with if I knew them.

It was by no means a “straight ahead” gig and we were stopping between numbers for a drink and a chat and I discovered that the very talented young lady was called Elodie, an actress from Bretagne (a Province in Northwest France with a large Celtic heritage and a place I am very fond of) and was in Lyon for an acting course, that being her profession obviously. She was 29 years old which makes her easily young enough to be my daughter and yet that was not a problem at all.  The drummer was younger still.

I know that I was easily the oldest person staying in that hostel in the fair amount of time I was there and I include in that statement the teachers of the rather boisterous bunch of French schoolchildren that infested the place and created havoc for a couple of nights.

My age didn’t seem to bother anyone and the night wore on and on towards the dawn. Elodie did not speak more than a few words of English and so we were conversing in French but I was frankly running out of intersong conversation by about 0400 in the morning. I just had nothing left to say that I had the vocabulary for and, more as a conversational gambit than anything, I admired a rather unusual ring she was wearing. She did no more than remove it from her finger and offer it to me. Well, I could not accept that and thanked her politely for her kind offer but she insisted, eventually putting it on my little finger which was the only one it would fit on.

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I love this ring.

The attached image here will show that it is a pretty fanciful female piece of jewellery and I have not worn rings for over 30 years when I nearly ripped a finger off catching one in a Land Rover door in the Forces. A look at any of the images of me will show that I am a particularly hairy, tall male and yet I have worn this very effeminate ring every day since and will continue to do so. I am wearing it as I type this. It means so much on so many levels. It is a souvenir (to use a proper French word) of a great trip that did more for me than I might like to admit. It was a gift from a gorgeous young lady, given freely and very generously. I still think it looks effeminate as it looks far too “fancy” for a man but I love it and will continue to wear it and, in truth, the occasional comments I have had about it have all been positive. I know who and what I am and if I choose to wear this wonderful gift, I’ll wear it. I just need to remember to take it off going through airport security!

Update August 2018.

I am posting all this retrospectively in August 2018 and there is a lovely story attached to this ring which will feature in my account of Broadstairs Folk Week, another little project of mine here.

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After waking up pretty late (I think I got to bed about 0600) I went for my usual walk ending up in the La Savane cafe which I mentioned in the last entry and which I shall speak of again in a future entry.

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Yes, that was “parked” and not just waiting for traffic.

I did, however, manage to take an image of the utter carnage that is French driving and, more particularly, parking if it could even be called that.  It is merely a matter of abandoning your car wherever you like and going about your business. Heaven forbid that anyone in a wheelchair or with a pram should try to pass by.

Thus ended another day with a newly beringed Fergy still riding it for all it was worth and with no intention of going home.

Trust me, I really do get out of Lyon eventually so stay tuned and spread the word.

It could only happen to me.

The 20th May was a Saturday and fortunately the extremely fickle weather had taken a turn for the better which was a blessing. I should mention at the outset of this entry that, yet again, there will be nothing in the way of museums, churches, art galleries or whatever and the reader may want to pass quickly on as I do not waste anyone’s time if that is what they are looking for.  Rather this is a personal recollection of a day that represents much of what I love about travelling and some of the strange things that happen to me on the road.

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A typical streetscene in my area.

Given the fact that I had done precious little else but sit around drinking, smoking, chatting and playing the guitar I really thought I should take advantage of the weather and so I resumed my morning rambles.

Nothing serious or touristy mind you, just another wander round the 3rd arrondissement which was the area I was staying in and which I was developing quite an affection for.  It was “edgy” although I never felt in the least threatened, it was just not a sanitised city centre location and it suited me down to the ground. I’d only planned to stay in Lyon a couple of days and it had gone a lot longer than that but this happens to me regularly.

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Ah, the power of advertising. I couldn’t resist a snap.
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A school for croupiers, whatever next?

Off I went and took a couple of images of nothing really important and inevitably it came to “beer o’clock” as it was quite warm and I was thirsty. To be honest, waking up makes me thirsty!  Having decided on a beer I resolved to go into the first bar I saw which happened to be the one you see.

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As you will notice from the image it looks like a typical French cafe and so in I went to find a completely empty bar, devoid of either staff or patrons. I took to watching the large screen TV which was showing some sort of procession of people in African traditional dress and so it did not really surprise me when (after a polite cough or two to alert someone to my presence) an African guy appeared. By now my conversational French was sufficient to order a beer and up it came – Heineken!  No problem and I took a chair to watch what was happening on the TV.

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The guy came over to sit with me and it was quickly clear that English was not on the menu. By now I was absolutely astounding myself on how much of my schoolboy French, which I had not used for 40 years, was coming back and we managed to converse pretty well. What happened then literally “blew my mind” to use an old hippy term. 20th May is Cameroon’s national day and this was the National Parade in the capital Yaoundé and mightily impressive it was too, there were literally tens of thousands parading and it seemed like the whole country was there. This was a Cameroonian establishment and he explained all about the parade to me before excusing himself and going out to the back (kitchen) to return with a plate of some sort of African “nibbles”. I wish I had thought to take an image.

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Now, tell me, what are the chances of that? I am in central France and just happen to wander into a Cameroonian bar to sit and drink Dutch beer and share African snacks whilst watching his national celebration on Cameroonian satellite TV with a Cameroonian guy and conversing in a language I barely speak. It was, shall we say, slightly odd but as several dear friends are never done saying to me, “It could only happen to you, Fergy” (hence the title of this piece) and I am actually beginning to believe it.  I don’t set out to do so but “things” just seem to happen to me. Fortunately, the huge majority of them are overwhelmingly positive and I had a great time. It was just another “road story” and I will never tire of them.

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Well, all that was great and I eventually dragged myself away, a very happy planxty, I just cannot get enough of that kind of situation. All this by itself would have been wonderful but the day was not nearly over yet and plenty more experiences to come.

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By this time I had my serious beer head on (frankly, that does not take much to do) and so I wandered not too far to another obviously hipster bar where I had a quick one as it was a bit trendy and not really Fergy country.

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In the interests of fair reporting, the beer was excellent.

Off again then and I stumbled on La Savane, one street away from the hostel which was a bonus had things got out of hand and at least there was a bit of a clue here in the signage that it was an African establishment (the image was taken much later on).

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Well, I was on that kind of run that afternoon and straight in I went.  Much as I love travelling, for some reason I have never had any desire to visit sub-Saharan Africa, much as that region undoubtedly has to offer but I am always up for new experinces and after my unplanned Cameroonian excursion earlier it seemed like a Hell of a plan.

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A cosy little bar with a charming lady behind the “jump” who looked initially a bit surprised and then beamed a huge smile at me with a cheery, “Bonjour, Monsieur”.  I wasn’t even going to bother trying English at this point, indeed why should I have the arrogance to think that the whole world speaks it, so a beer called for in French and quickly and cheerfully supplied. I took a seat to take in the surroundings. I find it is rarely a good idea to just launch into conversations as a stranger in what is obviously a locals bar as people get suspicious so I kept my own counsel until I sussed the place.

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There was no TV here but the entertainment was what I call “palm wine” music with that wonderful guitar sound that I really wish I could play but never will as I am not good enough. I shall speak more about this place in future entries here as I spent rather a lot of time there, I did rather like it.  From the map as shown in the image and the conversation, I gathered that it was owned and run by people from the Central African Republic.

After perhaps one or two too many beers I wended my merry way home to the hostel which must have taken all of about three minutes and undoubtedly had another couple as I just cannot resist an open bar. Yes, I’m a drunk.

This day was interesting for me although probably not for the reader who does not want to hear about my beer drinking exploits. At no point that day would I have been more than 500 yards from my bed and it reaffirmed to me that you don’t have to move too far to discover things. I learned things that I never knew before like a potted history of Cameroon, a country I knew little of except for their footballing adventures. I was getting happier by the day and that was the plan.  OK, the plan was originally for four days in the Netherlands but who cares?

Stay tuned and spread the word.