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  • Debra Palmen

Tout Va Bien


Here we are in France. The ferry crossing was particularly nice this time. Crisp autumn air, a glorious blue sky and gentle white-capped waves – we couldn’t have asked for better. Doug vanished for a while to patrol the deck, as he always does when the crossing is fine. Actually he prowls around the deck even when the weather is appalling. He’s just a wriggle bum; always has been.

This time, just as we left the English port of Newhaven the young, suave French captain came strolling by, pausing at my table to welcome me on board and to hope I enjoyed my journey. He was gorgeous and had a verra sexy French accent. But after my initial squirm of delight I suddenly thought Hey, why aren’t you driving? Charming your lady passengers is all well and good, but I think I can speak for us all when I say we’d prefer to not crash into the side of the pier while the captain is mid-flirt.

But we briskly motored away from Newhaven without incident, backwards for the first few miles until we reached the deep channels that allow giant ferries to undertake 180 degree turns, and off we choofed to France. These days there are dozens of giant wind turbines in the Channel, providing a bit of interest on the trip besides the small fishing trawlers dotted about and the enormous freighters motoring up and down the sea lanes.

The white cliffs of Dover are justly famous for their beauty, as you can see from the top photo, but for some reason the alabaster coast of Dieppe doesn’t receive as much publicity, even though you can see here that it’s every bit as striking. These tall, craggy chalk cliffs frame the head of an estuary that was first settled by the Vikings in the 10th century, so the town has a long and interesting history. We like Dieppe a lot. The cliffs provide bracing, wind-swept country walks, there’s a medieval castle and churches to explore, and the old part of the town is largely pedestrianised so you can enjoy a carefree stroll as you decide what restaurant you’ll try and what charcuterie you’ll buy your supplies from.

Dieppe was the first seaside resort in France and every year its enormous grassed promenade (it’s 1500m long) and beach host a big kite flying competition, with the sky becoming a mass of colour and movement but somehow no-one becoming tangled with their neighbours. The local tourist authorities encourage visitors to take an invigorating dip in the ocean, although personally I would substitute ‘invigorating’ for ‘bloody cold’.

The beach is composed entirely of pebbles, making strolling at the water’s edge a near impossibility, and sitting on the beach must be done with extreme care unless you enjoy fishing pebbles out from spots where you don’t normally find pebbles. Doug especially suggests that you don’t sit on the beach if you have hiccups, so I suspect he’s had more of an unexpected-pebble problem than I have.

We often stay at the Grand Hotel right on the beach-front, where your room either provides a stunning view of the castle up on the headland or the ocean across the road. And does anyone remember the name of the rugby player on the French national team, who was often referred to as something like The Caveman or The Neanderthal? He had a beard and long flowing hair, and was particularly well-muscled. I swear he’s now the concierge/head bouncer at the casino of the Grand Hotel in Dieppe.

Oh la la, I whispered to Doug as I was fixed with a dazzling Caveman smile, raised eyebrow and a slow, throaty Ello, bonjour madam. Doug rolled his eyes, as he always does when French men flirt with me, so Doug rolls his eyes a lot when we’re in this country. See Woman = Must Flirt. It’s the French way, and I like it. Should be more of it. The world would be a better place with more gentle flirting. Everyone would smile more.

Not far along the beachside promenade is the Dieppe skate-park, which these days is mostly used by young men on scooters. You do still see the occasional skater dude, but scooters now rule in Dieppe. On a crisp but sunny autumn afternoon it’s nice to visit one of the many gelato vans on the promenade and then ensconce at the edge of the skate-park, legs dangling over the side, to watch the boys in action.

Some of these guys have obviously been honing their skills for a long time, and the tricks they can do are amazing. They seem to hover mid-air while they twist and flip their scooters multiple times, before landing perfectly and nonchalantly zooming off. If they crash the first thing they do is fix their hair – really! before a quick inspection for any unsightly blood stains, a haughty look at the spectators (see if you could do any better, peasants!) and the obligatory nonchalant zoom off. Some of the crashes are as spectacular as the tricks, and we peasants are appreciative of the entire show.

We always visit our favourite restaurant in Dieppe, Tout Va Bien, which translates as It’s All Good. I think that’s a fine motto for Dieppe as a whole. In fact, I think it’s a fine motto in general, and I shall adopt it from now on.

Doug samples the moules a la crème and frites every time, just to make sure they’re as good as they were last time. But this part of Normandy is also famous for its scallops, cooked so they’re a little crisp on the outside, plump and juicy on the inside, in a light and fragrant creamy sauce. Yum!

But after lots of strolling, eating a fine French meal, touring a variety of patisseries to find exactly the right dessert(s), there was still time to visit a few brocantes for a spot of shopping. This is a business trip, afterall. No, really, we’re working here. And to prove it I bought two itsy-bitsy old copper saucepans in excellent condition. The tiniest and the most giant saucepans are the hardest to source but the most popular with our customers. I might bring these ones home in my luggage, so I can offer them as soon as possible.

And okay I also bought a beautiful stoneware confit pot for myself, and Doug spotted a couple of small Art Deco frosted glass vases, exactly the sort of thing I like, which I also scooped up. For myself. Seeing how it’s officially my birthday for the entire trip, little bits and bobs joining my own collection is entirely reasonable, don’t you think? Doug says there’s no point being in this business if we don’t get to keep lovely things for ourselves, and he gets no argument from me on that front.

Now we’re venturing into the Normandy countryside, where I hope to do battle with a certain scrap metal yard I’ve been plundering for some years. It’s dirty and dangerous, with the chance of a metal avalanche engulfing you if you’re not careful enough as you tug out the bits you want. But I’ll be careful.


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