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( I wonder if a puncture is a bicycle’s way of getting you to go down on your knee’s beside it, to kiss it and make it better?).

‘A puncture’, according to my well thumbed Oxford English dictionary, is defined as ‘A small hole caused by a sharp object’

Interestingly the third word given above puncture is ‘Punctual’ which I feel is very apt. For getting a puncture may well be the cause of you being un-punctual.

But let me put aside (for the moment) my pondering over Punctures and return to the tales of my travels which involved quite a few.

If I received a penny for every puncture I got on my cycle across France I’d have made twelve pence!

That wouldn’t make me rich I know, but it would have given me enough knowledge to start a puncture repair business when I got home….which might!

My first puncture occurred on a day that started out rather oddly..

I had stayed in an old watermill for the night. but had to leave really early as the couple who owned it (both physiotherapists)were due in work at 7 am…..

So after a lovely breakfast( for which I felt guilty having, as my hostess must have had to get up even earlier than her normal work time hour to prepare) I said my goodbyes and stumbled with the yellow bicycle across the pumpkin field in the dark and back through the gap in the hedge and onto the road.

Although the stars were out, I couldn’t see far enough ahead to cycle yet (for some reason I hadn’t thought to bring a bicycle lamp with me).

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I have a fear of falling into ditches. so I walked waiting for the sky to brightened.

Whatever was causing rustling in the hedges didn’t make its appearance. …Wild pigs maybe? but at one point the boxy shape of an owl flew ahead of me down the road…I had never seen an owl in flight so needless to say, as soon as I reached a cross roads with an old railway house and had the use of its outside light , I stopped to jot the the owl sighting in my diary.

A man came grumpily out of the house and and looked at me suspiciously..

‘I’m waiting for the daylight’ I explained ,indicating to the now lightening sky in case he didn’t understand my poor french.

He shrugged his shoulders and ‘hmmmmfed’ neither interested nor impressed by what appeared to be a mad woman lurking with a bike under a light outside his house at six in the morning.

He disappeared around the side and seconds later I heard an engine starting up and a very old Citroen deux chevaux reversed noisily out onto the road.

I quickly added this second rare sighting beside the word’s  ‘owl in flight’ into my diary…

The Citroen jerked for a few meters down the road and stopped to pick up another man who was wearing clogs and a black beret. Excitedly I added ‘clogs and traditional black beret’ to my list.

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By this time earths natural light was giving me what my missing bike lamp should have and I could easily make out late sunflowers along the roadside.

I hopped on my bike and started pedaling.

The birds were singing vigorously now and somewhere nearby a cockerel crowed. Whenever I slowed down, I could hear crickets sing too.

Every now and again there was a ‘thud’, most likely an apple falling. It was Autumn after all.

I had a happy thought…..I was in no rush that day…I didn’t have to be anywhere at any given time. I could cycle fast or I could cycle slow, I could just sit in the ditch if I so pleased. The day lay blissfully and freely ahead of me….. or so I thought

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I was passing vineyards now and got off the bike, first to have a ‘pee’ between the vines(sorry all you Bordeaux drinkers). Then, feeling along under the leaves until my hand felt the cool roundness of a bunch of black grapes( I had seen french cyclists doing this the previous day), I helped myself un-guiltily.

I munched merrily as I pedaled, my handlebars becoming sticky with grape juice…

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But Bacchus would have his revenge.

A ‘thhrrrrrr’ sound and my handle bars vibrated furiously…..A dreaded Puncture.

Was I perturbed ? not yet…

I may have forgotten my lamp but I had included, among my camera, painting materials, drawing books ,a small tin box enclosing a puncture repair outfit.

I stood in the dawning day surrounded by the increasing bird song , which I now successfully drowned out with the noisy rummaging in my saddle bags.

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After much cursing. I gave up . Maybe I had forgotten to pack it after all.

Interferon is an immunotherapy treatment and the use of it in large doses has proved successful in the treatment of those mischievous cancers that refuse to succumb to chemotherapy.

The downside is, because the doses are so large, it does odd things to one’s brain.

Yes, besides giving you headaches, thirst, depression, extreme tiredness and a constant feeling of unwellness, It makes you(or at least it made me) very, VERY forgetful.

Therefore, the fact that I had just finished a years treatment of it, may well have meant I had indeed forgotten to include that small but important tin box in my luggage.

There is a good side to Interferon too though…Once you finish it your body bounces back like an enthusiastic rubber ball and you are so very, VERY happy to have managed the course without killing yourself…..

(The incidences of depression and suicide whilst on these large doses are high. and you ARE advised to take antidepressants, which being stubborn I refused. I do remember thinking if I had to stay on it for the rest of my life I would rather be dead.)

…that nothing, not even being out in the middle of nowhere with a puncture and no repair kit, could faze me.

I stuffed all back into my saddle bags , ate another grape and started to walk ..I may even have whistled.

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Sauveterre de Guyenne is a small pretty town near Bordeaux .

And it’s through it’s walled archway I pushed my bike in the mid day sun.

Built in 1282 its honey colored stone buildings are very beautiful and I wandered its narrow streets in search of a bike shop.

I was in no hurry and dawdled along looking in shop windows. I had no idea what time it was and unfortunately wasn’t yet fully aware of the french lunch time tradition or the repercussions of not respecting it.

So when I finally did find one ,The very handsome young man smiled apologetically and explained that as it was now 12 o clock he was going for lunch and no,  there was no point in waiting because he wouldn’t be open again until two pm…

Two pm! My day seem to shorten dramatically…Seeing my face fall he kindly offered to take my bike in and fix the repair after lunch.

‘If you return at two thirty pm’  He informed me, ‘I will have it ready for you’.

Seeing that I still looked miserable, and as if reading my mind as to how I would entertain my self while waiting, He pointed across the square to a restaurant where a waiter was dragging out tables into the autumn sunlight and fluttering pristine white table cloths over them and setting out plates, glasses and cutlery.

Suddenly my breakfast at the watermill seemed a long time ago and I wandered over.

As though out of nowhere, people started to gather and pull out seats for themselves .

I ran across and was lucky to get a table for two with the sun warming my back, and even then the waiter, seeing I was on my own, took the empty chair away and squeezed it in at an already crowded table, which a large man, hardly pausing as he reached for the menu, settled his backside onto….

Laughter and chat, the clinking of wine glasses and the smell of gauloise cigarettes filled the air.

The waiter was joined by others in black trousers and crisp white aprons. As though performing a ballet, these waiters dipped and swayed and pirouetted between the tables, pouring water and pulling corks out of bottles with satisfying popping sounds.

I watched fascinated and sighed happily, as the waiter hurried away with my order for food and drink.

I was truly in France…..In a real french restaurant, surrounded by real french people AND dining alone too. A thing I would normally be too shy to do at home but here had been forced into by what initially appeared to be ill luck.

The Buddha(which one I’m not sure ) once said ‘ that sometimes things not going quite your way may actually be the greatest stroke of luck’

And I felt, as I tucked into my warm goats cheese salad and sipped my cold sancerre , that he had a point.

An elderly couple were seated at the table next to mine.

She was very glamorous,her hair beautifully coiffed, a string of expensive looking pearls at her throat and matching ones in her earlobes and He was dapper with a well trimmed mustache and beautifully ironed trousers which he adjusted over his knee’s showing off a gold wristwatch as he did so.

They were feasting on Moules marniere .

Every now and again the woman would bend down and slip a mussel to the small dog sitting daintily at her feet.

She smiled at me when she caught me looking and professed a sadness that I was ‘tout seul’ (all alone)adding that they were celebrating His birthday and insisting on pouring me some of their delicious wine.

I raised my glass and toasted his birthday (I admit to being a tad tipsy at this stage) and on the confidence of that I also added a toast to the obvious wonderfulness of their happy marriage…

‘Mais non non!’ He nearly choked on his wine ‘We are not married’ ‘Oh non! non! non! We are, how do you say in English ? loverrrrs’ and he smiled happily over at her and took her hand as she lowered her eye’s demurely.

This is what life should be all about I thought, Lunching, drinking good wine and chatting to strangers who lead risque lives , cycling my yellow bike across France and getting handsome young men to mend my punctures.

People were beginning to wipe their lips on the crisp serviettes and my newly found friends did like wise, she leaving a slash of red lipstick on hers before leaning over to kiss me on both cheek’s ‘

‘Au revoir’ They waved their goodbyes.

‘Bon chance’ I called back, not having any real reason to wish them good luck, but more because it sounded very French to do so.

Turning at the edge of the restaurant she called back in English.

‘We hope you find a lover soon’,

He nodded smiling in agreement as I red faced, rooted in my bag for my purse hoping no one had heard..

But i need not have worried.

The other diners were too busy kissing their goodbyes and heading off in pair’s…probably all lovers and not a married couple between them I thought somewhat enviously.

Back at the bike shop Mr Handsome french man had my bike ready. He hadn’t mended my puncture but had instead replaced the tube and all for the princely sum of six euro’s.

I was tempted to decline his offer of a puncture repair set(also six euro’s) in the hopes that number one… This would be the one and only puncture I would get on my trip.                                                                                 Or number two… If I did get another one I would spend another equally lovely and enjoyable day getting it.

But I handed him the extra six euro and He handed me the box.

Common sense had prevailed.

TO BE CONTINUED…………….

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