Dave Williams’s Gallic Adventures


Recent events in French electoral politics have revealed a sombre reality: namely, that in a republic famed for the tumultuous leftism of 1793, 1871 and 1968, nearly eight million citizens are inclined in the current century to cast their vote in favour of a fascist president. That said candidate of the far right fell at the final hurdle, permitting an investment banker of deepest corporate hue to cross the finishing line, is meagre comfort indeed. In the Gallic context, populist revulsion at neoliberalism has assumed a sadly reactionary aspect. We have arrived, then, at a juncture that warrants a backward glance to somewhat happier times in France. In the summer of 2015, in the company of others from local mental health project Growthpoint, Pathways member Dave Williams travelled to the country on holiday, in what turned out to be an agreeable and occasionally eventful vacation. The following is Dave’s account of his escapades, much condensed by the present writer, Mark Conlon, from a handwritten travelogue of sprawling – I’m tempted to say Proustian – dimensions. Notwithstanding the fact that circumstances make this a not unfitting date for publication, apologies to Dave for the considerable lag between his conception and my realization. Mieux vaut tard que jamais!


Travelling in a people carrier, our eight-person group drove to Dover, and then on to our holiday destination in the Ardeche region of south-central France. The journey took two days in total, including a stopover in Paris during which we rode on the metro, took photographs of the Eiffel Tower, and toured the city on a bus equipped with headphones that supplied passengers with information about the city’s historic landmarks. The Arc de Triomphe was a particularly eye-catching sight. The capital was bustling with crowds, including one milling about at the base of the Tower, and the Parisian traffic was more than a little chaotic.

I had no clue what to expect when we reached the end of our drive, as this was my first holiday away from Britain. Arriving at our villa, I discovered it to have an amazing view, with surrounding mountains and a nearby river. It was quite isolated, with just a few other buildings dotted around. On closer inspection, the river in certain places could be waded across, and its water was extremely clear, enabling you to see fish moving beneath the surface. Once you’d got over an initial shock of coldness, it was warm enough for swimming. The temperature overall was very high, more so than I’d felt in my life up to that point. In the daytime heat, crickets could be heard chirping, though they became quiet at night.

One memorable day was spent kayaking, another novel activity for me. Each kayak was designed to hold two occupants. Early on, when we were still learning the correct technique, we hit some rapids, and both I and my fellow kayaker were tipped out into the swirling waters. Buoyed up by our lifejackets, we each grabbed onto a rock, but were instructed to let go by a guide who was positioned at that hazardous part of the river, and floated downstream to a pebble beach where we were able to get back into the boat. With the sun beating down on your back, sometimes it became too hot to continue and you had to take a cooling break. At the conclusion of the day I was sunburnt. However, we had no option but to paddle on to the finish, since there were high cliffs to either side of the stretch of river we were navigating.

The remainder of the holiday, by contrast, was highly relaxing. At times the others may have suspected I was sleeping, but really I was just taking in the peaceful atmosphere, the sound of crickets and gently coursing water, and the sort of sweltering weather I’d never encountered before. Even on the hottest of English days, I’ll never complain again about the temperatures we have in the UK! On one occasion I did go for a lengthy swim in the river, but was careful to take things at a measured pace.

Due to a convoy of cars heading for London, we missed our intended return ferry to England, and ended up having a look around the town of Dunkirk while we waited for the next one. I was fairly exhausted when I arrived home, but thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip: a good experience with good friends, and captivating French scenery that will stay in my mind for a long time.



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