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Bunking Off (Reprise)

One last continental fling before the clocks change, a ride half done before daylight. Guiding the girl on her way to Paris from Oxford to the Avenue Verte by the lakes. As our routes part company we wish her luck and disappear into the valley, into the silence of the darkness. Stopping, we search for constellations. Orion hunts in the early morning as a plane passes the full moon, a contrail lit silver against the blackness of space. Sirius sits low in the sky shining brighter than the blinking lights of the aeroplane. The handle of the Plough dips over the hillside behind us. The moonlight, bright and clean, exposes the soft curves of the hills ahead. We trace a line though the lanes in a bubble of light, not with the familiarity of home roads but the gentle comfort of vague recognition and remembrance. Out of the valley and into the forest, beech nut cases crackle under wheels, a sound not unlike that of distant fireworks. The glow of light from the baker’s day starting whilst the village sleeps attracts four hungry cyclists. We sit on a wall and eat warm pastries from paper bags. Setting off again the topology subtly shifts as the darkness slowly dissolves into day. The twists and dips of the valley and forest roads soften into the gentle curves and undulations of the farmed plateau. Things straighten and flatten further and we enter a land of lines; neatly drilled fields, pylons and wind turbines, straight narrow lanes and wide horizons. Wave hello to the farmer in the tractor etching more lines into the landscape with a plough. Corn rows and the steady rhythm of the beets. We return to the sea and lose ourselves looking for coffee in a maze of quiet streets of the coastal resort out of season. A pretty box of pastries is bought from next door and unwrapped at the table outside the bar. We climb over the cliff and follow the coast road, dipping in and out of closed down seaside villages, hibernating, lying dormant until spring. The last switchback before Dieppe, a rainbow over the sea. A few minutes later the rain catches up with us and drenches us within minutes. We sit dripping in a restaurant and order steak and frites times four. Comfortable seats are then found in a warm bar and we while away the time until we can fall asleep on the ferry back home.

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