Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
There was something unnerving about the way he straddled his bike. He couldn’t stand still, shifting his weight from pedal to pedal, and spinning them with the end of his shoe. My mother had told me to be wary of strangers, and this was a prime stranger to be wary of. Where did all his energy come from? He claimed to be exhausted from his morning of cycling, but he looked like he was ready to run a marathon.
First things first; no, we are not Hollanders, Dutch, or from anywhere near the Netherlands. We should have had t-shirts printed, because it is the question of choice if you ever decide to ride a touring bike across Europe. This time it was being asked by the man ready to self-combust, totally at odds with the quiet bridge he was standing on in rural France. He told us he thought we were crazy to be cycling with dogs, more with excitement than as a put down, as if he had found some new like-minded friends to play with.
“Would you like to come back to my place for some eggs?” he beamed. I looked to Zoa nervously, both of us waiting for the other person to break the awkward silence. ‘What kind of an invitation is that?’ I said to her with my eyes. Still, it was getting to that time of day when our bellies were rumbling for second breakfast (a mandatory part of life for both the hobbit and the cycle tourist). “Sure, we’d love some coffee.” Zoa finally decided. “OK, I was inviting you for eggs” he replied, “but you can have coffee too.”
We followed him back to a crumbling stone farmhouse that has been his family’s for many generations, but had more recently become his own bachelor pad, complete with a customized ping pong arena. We were greeted by his housemates, two laidback and tiny little dogs, ‘Titov’ and ‘Roxanne’. “Half the weight is twice the fun” I said to Zoa nudging her, trying to think of the French words for ‘dog swap?’ She shot me a bemused look as our host Dominique set to adding a few extra kilograms of food into our dog’s bellies.
We were amongst the weed covered veggie garden beds harvesting handfuls of fresh potatoes, carrots and tomatoes when we heard the sounds of our dog Paco yelping. Crazy Paco had found his way out of a gate, and was finally enjoying his chance to be the hunting dog his namby-pamby vegetarian owners so fervently tried to repress. By the time we had caught him he had terrorised cages full of bunnies and had the chicken yard in uproar. Body count: 1 chicken.
Our embarrassed apologies were brushed aside as our host Dominique seemed more intent on creating his ‘English breakfast’. We watched him go to work like a mad professor, or a circus clown on speed, with ideas bouncing around his head like a pinball machine. Somewhere amid masterfully preparing breakfast and his pressure cooked dinner the pinball bounced from his love of the English words ‘po..ta..toes’, ‘Margaret Thatcher’ and ‘full-stop’, to the difference in English and French vowels (drawing them with his fingers on the tiled wall and sounding out the letters for us), before he laid out a map to provide a full commentary of Europe (all of eastern Europe bad, Russia bad, Switzerland no, Turkey very bad. Italy and Spain OK, France the best).
The chances are if someone invites you for eggs, they are going to be damn good eggs. The ‘English breakfast’ was like nothing we’ve ever eaten in our time in England. Fresh eggs straight from the unsettled chicken yard, poached in the juice of fried onions and tomatoes, and flavoured with home-made vinaigrette. Served with an avocado and tomato salad it was one of the most delicious meals we have ever eaten. He told us he had to head out for the afternoon and offered us to relax and put a ‘full-stop’ to our day, making the sound of a deflated balloon, leaving four grateful strangers with the run of his house.
Dinner was an extravaganza featuring 4 different animals (cow, pig, salmon and of course chicken), 3 different cheeses, garden fresh vegetables and red wine. Nobody was as happy as our big dog Jack whose bottomless appetite was tested by our generous host. Dinner finished at 11pm and made way for the main event of the night: ping pong. More wine, smoking, cards, and music followed and for the first time in months we slept in a bed.
Over breakfast we were invited for another full-stop. We politely declined more offers of ping pong and petanque (bowling on gravel), so Dominique moved on to explaining how he was going carve up and cook a rabbit after marinating it in its own blood. We said our goodbyes and au revoirs, completely overwhelmed by the generosity of a stranger on a bridge. As we cycled away he sharpened his axe with a devilish grin, leaving us wondering what exactly he did for a job. We never did find out.