Tantrum, Tears and Tramps

Cynthia annoyed me. She said something offensive like, “Would you like a hot drink?” “Can I make you a sandwich?” or “Is there anything I can do to make your life more comfortable?” I can’t remember the specific comment which enraged me. All I know is that I needed to get out and spend some time on my own.

Living in a twenty-five by eight feet open plan box with a significant other and two large dogs all day and every single day of the year can be a bit of a challenge especially if, like me, you are a little antisocial at times.

So I stormed out of our six-wheeled home straight onto the rocky and windswept shore of Leucate’s Étang, tripped over a boulder, swore at the world in general and stomped into the hills along a rough and deserted track.

Hiking in wild places is a useful form of meditation for me. Walking calms me, which is just as well. I wasn’t very calm when I started.

Leucate’s coast is a strange place. The water is bordered by hundreds of closely packed and laboriously constructed dry stone walls. Their number and purpose are bewildering. There’s no livestock in the area to contain, so why were they built at all?

Just as puzzling are endless rows of wall enclosed gardens. Most are empty apart from an odd ornamental shrub or decorative cactus and maybe a rustic stone barbecue or stone hut. I can only assume that this barren shore is alive with water-loving Frenchies during the summer months.

I stopped briefly to shelter from the biting wind on a bench seat in front of a single room stone beach hut. Small wooden pallets levelled the bare earthen floor. A white ceramic sink adorned one partially plastered wall. A wood framed and unglazed window dimly lit the room and provided a stunning view out onto the lagoon and a flock of twenty pink flamingoes.

The wind was too cold to stop for long, so I marched onwards along the shore towards Leucate village. I hoped to meet Fabrice. Cynthia and I have seen him several times now. He’s a Leucate institution. Fabrice has been living rough on the village streets for many years. The community tries to help him. They provided him with a home. He filled it with junk and returned to the streets. They give him money. He uses it to buy whiskey.

It’s hard to help a man who doesn’t want to help himself.

Despite his circumstances, he’s been polite, friendly, even cheerful, during our brief meetings. However, we had only seen him on days when both the weather and his mood were bright.

As darkness fell, I trudged along the main road through Leucate’s quiet village centre. I passed a bus shelter next to the Gendarmerie Municipal, Leucate’s small police station. Fabrice sat on the shelter’s solitary bench hunched over the two loves in his desperate life, an old battery-powered radio and a whiskey bottle.

Despite wearing a high tech goose down jacket and walking briskly for over an hour, I could feel the evening’s bitter cold. Fabrice’s blue hands shook as he pulled the edges of his threadbare jacket together. The air temperature was 41°F (5°C). With a 20-knot wind blowing from the Arctic, the night felt much cooler. The thermometer will drop to 26°F (-3°F) tonight. The village streets will be scoured by a similarly powerful and frigid wind. It’s no place to sleep exposed to the elements.

We have a thick wool blanket gathering dust in one of the Hymer’s cavernous storage lockers. I think we’ll find a new home for it today. I hope the gift will make Fabrice’s cold nights more bearable, and help remind me what a blessed life I lead.

Fabrice - Leucate's most prominent celebrity, celebrating a warmer night thanks to his new red blanket

Fabrice – Leucate’s most prominent celebrity, celebrating a warmer night thanks to his new red blanket

Two beach huts separated by a single poorly constructed stone wall

Two beach huts separated by a single poorly constructed stone wall

Spartan accommodation, but what a view!

Spartan accommodation, but what a view!

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 4 comments
Pete - February 26, 2018

Would it not have been a good idea to get a narrowboat and have it taken to France / Belgium and use that on there canals ?

    Paul Smith - February 27, 2018

    The problem with narrowboats is that they are designed for the shallow, narrow and benign English inland waterways. The waterways of Europe are much bigger and more challenging. A narrowboat is flat bottomed so doesn’t fare well in strong currents or winds. The heating systems aren’t ideal either. Of the hundreds of thousands of boats plying the waterways in the Netherlands, only a handful have solid fuel stoves. Consequently, solid fuel is difficult and very expensive to source. One final point; moorings are designed for shorter and fatter boats than narrowboat and are charged based on length. Our Linssen cruiser is half the length of my old narrowboat but has nearly as much internal living space. Mooring fees average €1.00 per metre per night. My narrowboat would cost €20 a night to moor… if I could find a space long enough to fit it in.

Chris Smith - February 27, 2018

Hi Paul, really enjoyed reading this on Kindle!

    Paul Smith - February 27, 2018

    I’m a little confused Chris. I haven’t compiled the blog posts into a Kindle format yet. How did you read it on a Kindle?


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