Rob Ennals > Travel > Simon and Rob Invade and Conquer France

Day 15: The Little Man with the Big Knife

Montpellier -> Nimes

Not wishing to miss our chance to exploit local hospitality, we arrived on time at the door of the tomato lady's farm. We rung the doorbell, and were somewhat worried when it was opened by a short, strange looking man who definitely wasn't the tomato lady. Even more worrying was the fact that he was carrying an enormous knife. Simon told him we would like some breakfast.

The tomato lady soon appeared, and told us that we should definitely have some breakfast. She directed us to a table next to her animal pen, and sat us down in some comfy chairs. The strange little man stood behind us and swung his big knife around, using it to cut bits off some kind of vegetable, which he then threw to the miscellaneous animals in the pen. I decided to keep him in my peripheral vision, just in case.

Breakfast was a proper, full on, fried breakfast, with the focal status held by eggs produced by the farm's own chickens. These chickens were very much free range, and were ranging their freedom all around us, together with their chicks. The tomato lady noticed my appreciation of the chicks, and placed one in my hands. It was far cuter than anything which is going to become a chicken has any right to be, and had lovely soft fur which wasn't remotely featherlike. I concluded that chicks were still outranked by kittens and ducklings, but stood well above puppies.

At around 11, we decided that we should probably cycle somewhere, thanked the tomato lady for her hospitality, and set off.

The mission of the day was to reach Nimes, which we had now concluded would be our final destination. This was to be via the Petit Camargue, which Simon had assured me would consist of marshland so picturesque that he was planning a whole separate holiday to allow him to fully experience it. I decided to reserve judgement, and we lunged forwards into a baking hot headwind.

Simon had decided that it was too hot to wear a helmet, and so was wearing a peaked sunhat instead. Not being hip enough to wear it backwards, he was wearing it the conventional way. A few miles later, we discovered why professional riders always wear their sunhats backwards. Fortunately, collecting the hat from the road provided a good excuse for rest breaks. I didn't particularly like the Petit Camargue. It had a wind that went in the wrong direction, it was too hot, it had too little shade, and, compared to the scenery to which we had become accustomed, it was very very dull. Simon commented that the Petit Camargue was about as marshy as his arse. I replied with the obvious response, and wondered if I could have said something cleverer.

[Simon - the Petit Camargue is a very rural area famed for its bulls, bred for fighting, and an abundance of rare birdlife. The showpiece fights take place in Nime's ancient arena (more below), making it perhaps the venue in longest use ever? Alistair Maclean wrote an evocative description of the area in his inimitable style in "Caravan to Vaccares", long a favourite of mine. As well as the marshes and the bulls, he describes a persistent wind beloved of GCSE geography, pub quizzes and boatbuilders, the Mistral. We sure enough found this wind, but we didn't spot the bulls, and the only marshes were really dykes for the salt mines that dominated the landscape.]

My panniers having been fixed, the "broken panniers" role in our trip was taken on by Simon's panniers. Inspection revealed that, throughout our trip, Simon's panniers had been furtively bending their way towards his back wheel, and that they had now succeeded in reaching it. Coaxing and wiggling failed to fix the problem, so we decided to ignore it for the time being, and keep a look out for pannier-shaped pieces of metal.

Soon, the road signs started telling us that we were close to Nimes. Once again, Simon's magical campsite detector found the campsite implausibly quickly, and we repeated our traditional campsite routine. A few minutes of failed French revealed that the lady running the campsite was from Newcastle. Reverting to English, we asked her where we could find a DIY shop.

This done, we left our panniers in the campsite and set off for Nimes, unladen. We had two missions: The first was to obtain train information from the station, and the second was to find a DIY shop that sold PVC. On reaching the station, Simon decided that we could kill two birds with one stone. The walls of the station were decorated with huge plastic banners advertising the new high speed TGV link. Simon suggested that we steal one of them, and use it to wrap up our bikes. I reminded Simon that we were planning to wrap our bikes up on the station concourse so as to minimise the distance we had to carry our bundle, and that this would make our crime slightly too obvious. Simon thought about this for a while, and started to formulate a plan involving us stealing it, but carrying it separately. I decided that I needed to get Simon away from the banner's malevolent influence, and persuaded him that we should go and find a DIY shop.

A DIY shop soon presented itself to us and agreed to sell us a tarpaulin for bike-wrapping. A quick search revealed that they didn't sell souvenir French toilets, despite them being a "regional object". They did however sell Ducktape and scissors. We loitered inside the DIY store for a while so as to make use of its air conditioning, and then began our return - with the tarpaulin strapped to my bike.

Simon said he would like to take the ride-back slowly due to being tired. I said that I too would go slowly... once I had seen how fast I could go up the next bridge. On reaching the top of the bridge I stopped peddling, and waited for Simon to rejoin me. Simon, however had decided that it was time for a race, and buzzed past me as fast as he could. Thus began what came to be known as "the race".

On returning to the campsite, we both realised that we were completely trashed, and so went to the campsite cafe in search of beer. The cafe had bull-fighting on the TV, allowing us to almost achieve Simon's goal to "see a bull fight". It also had extremely bendy plastic furniture, which I exploited to its full effect.