Monday, September 04, 2006

What We Did on Our Holidays

It is now September and somehow the whole of August has disappeared. How did that happen?

My sister in law has an old house in a village in the Charente region where we had an extended-family holiday: sister and brother-in-law, their daughter, my wife and younger daughter, later joined by my elder daughter and her boyfriend. Although that sounds like a recipe for tensions, we all get along pretty well and the whole time was relaxed. In particular my youngest and her cousin are only separated by 15 months and are more like twins, very giggly twins at that, so there was always a lot of laughter.


The village is in an undulating agricultural area. The main crops are sunflowers and vines but there is a wide range of arable crops. (Although there are local vines, most of the grapes are grown for Cognac, or the local speciality, pineau). All my running (such as it was) was on the roads but they were so quiet I almost felt I had the whole place to myself. It is a perfect place to train - big vistas, different things to look at, settlement every couple of miles, to act as markers and break things up, and enough variation in elevation to make you work but no killer hills to turn your legs to jelly.

If I had been dedicated I could have used the holiday for a serious running base but instead I did enough to keep ticking over, about 3 runs a week all easy paced. I designed routes to looped round a nearby village that had a baker, where I bought the bread for breakfast - it's always a good to feel that you have earned your breakfast.

When I go on holiday I try to run, at least a few times as it adds to the sense of place as somehow you feel closer to the landscape and pay attention to the way it changes. I run for that reason not as part of a training regime - eating, drinking and visiting and relaxing have to take precedence.


In the heart of France but all around are the English. In the village there are a number of people who have bought dilapidated old houses, for very little money, and are in the process of renovating them. It is all very gradual because most are limited by the amount of time they can spend in their holiday home but it provides a social focus because everyone visits each others house to see the progress. My brother-in-law is one of the stars of this community because he is one of the most practical people I know and is never happier than when making or doing. Another one of the stars is a Belgian who loves carpentry. He had just completed converting the attic into one of those elegant bedrooms that are all space and beams, sparsely furnished with a bed and a wardrobe. To do this he built a staircase out of oak. The secret of this was not only his skill but time. As a civil servant, over the age of fifty, in Belgium, he is able to take three months leave a year. He spends this time in France renovating his house.

Now I am not a jealous man but……….


These houses, with their modern kitchens, large rooms, and clean exposed stonework are very attractive. However it is quite chastening to realise that before the conversions seven people might have lived in one room, with no internal sanitation in the house. It seems that without all the incomers renovating their holiday homes the village would have crumbled as the locals have moved out to find more modern homes.

One of the features uncovered by the renovations was a cavity, topped by a ledge, next to the fireplace. At night it was filled with the embers from the fire and a stew was put on the ledge fro slow cooking overnight. Looking round at the new kitchens with all their devices I wonder whether we will have to rediscover some of those thrifty methods, if we are going to cut down on greenhouse gases.


It is no great secret that one of the highlights of a French holiday is the food. You go there to remind yourself what a great pleasure it can be. In all aspects there is a delight from the crops in the fields to the markets with the profusion of colour, shapes and smells that tempt you and make you want to try things, to the meal and wine served in the restaurants.

If there is one thing that defines me as a soft core runner it is my attitude to food. I cannot see it just as fuel, something that has to be ingested to keep the body going. Serious runners have that sort of attitude because they want to carry as little fat as possible and favour small regular snacks to keep the blood sugar level stable. I am beyond worrying about that, I only want to savour what should be one of the fundamental pleasures.

My body tends to show this a little bit but with soft core running, the running has to fit the lifestyle and body shape, not the other way around. You get as good as you can within your own, self defined, boundaries.

The holiday in France reminded me of that


beanz said...

what a great holiday postcard

must go back to France!

Adele Prince said...

Ah, your talk of the lovely food makes me smile. I was amazed and delighted by the simplicity of everything and just how delicious a piece of bread can helps to be sitting outside smelling the sea air though!

Happy holiday memories.

womble said...

That sounds so calm, peaceful and enjoyable. What a wonderful break away from 'everything'. I relaxed just reading it :-)

b-z said...

Utterly with you on the food front
it is one of lifes great pleasures