We left Pont de Seriege on 19th May after a leisurely start to the day and slogged 17kms to Ventenac-en-Minervois (ok, it took all of 2 ½ hours). There was nowhere to moor in the town but just a short distance past the port was a long line of the now familiar heavy wooden stakes, knocked into the ground to accommodate passing and not so passing vessels.
We chose our spot and walked back to the village to see if there was anything to see. Well, not a lot, actually, but there was a nice-looking restaurant with outside seating on the canal bank and as it was Sunday we decided to have lunch. Not long after we sat down, and I had ordered half a “poulet avec frites”, we noticed that there were several chickens wandering around among the tables being fed by the clientele. What a great business strategy. Get the customers to fatten them up, then cull and cook them for profit – ingenious!
Of course, the boys were with us and after the initial pandemonium when they spotted our feathered dinner guests they finally settled down with one eye closed and one eye on the enemy – just in case they got close enough to have a go at.
Having got back to the boat we got a call from our friends, Sheila and Alan, “where are you?”. We explained our location and ½ hour later they turned up with Sheila’s brother, Gordon, their house-guest for the week. We had a lovely evening catching up since we’d last seen them in the Canal du Centre, when a competitive game of petanque ended with none of us really knowing who had won, only that we’d managed to consume a good deal of wine in the process!
Clearly, this night would be no different and they stayed late into the evening as we swapped boaty stories and caught up on all the gossip. It was really lovely.
In the morning we moved on to the head of the lock at Argens for a semi-wild moor (more wooden stakes but no other facilities) and were delighted to discover that the lock keeper was a collector of lost and lonely fenders. He had a perfect black ball fender for Thirza and at just €15 it was a bargain! He also had various wines, local conserves, fresh fruit and ice-creams. Two Magnum’s please!
The following day we made the final passage to Homps, where we planned to stay for a week or two. As we came under the road bridge into the harbour Alan was pointing us to an empty mooring and came to help us with our lines. It was a good job really; I’d had a dreadful day of rope throwing – as the saying goes, I couldn’t hit a cow on the arse with a shovel!! Anyway, safely in and tied up he invited us to join him, Sheila and friends of theirs for lunch. Don’t mind if we do!
Another Alan and a lovely lady called Beate were the friends and they proceeded to tell us of all the injuries Alan (Beate’s Alan) had sustained and the antics he’d got up to following, or during, boozy nights. He is currently sporting a substantial wrist support from his last attempt at flight whilst tanked up and proudly announced he had over $20,000 worth of titanium in his arm. “So, if you’re ever robbed they should forget your wallet and cut your arm off at the elbow” I quipped and new friends were instantly established!
When he told the story of how he ended up in a bush having ridden his bike home drunk as a sack I chimed in and said to Frank “oh, you did that once”. “Only once!” came Alan’s reply “you bloody amateur!!” It was a raucous and enjoyable lunch. Hello Homps!
After lunch we visited the Capitanerie and were told we couldn’t stay where we were for more than a couple of days because it was someone’s permanent berth, so we checked out the spaces along the quay as we headed back to the boat. And we met the Aussies. Now, I have to say at this point that we love the Aussies. We have had nothing but good experiences of them during our lifetime afloat and certainly never encountered grumpy ones. Until now. We moved to the tight gap behind their boat and asked if they could just move forward a tad into the gaping chasm between them and the boat in front of them and the answer was “nah, I get a signal for the wifi here and I’m working”.
Ok, no problem, we could get in but the stern on the boat was overhanging the corner a bit and it made getting the scooter off a bit perilous, but we managed it. Several attempted conversations with the occupants of the boat were all met with grunts and one-word answers. Ok then, stuff ya mate!
The following day we were invited to Sheila and Alan’s for an afternoon/evening soiree and we met more friends in Jacqui and Gordon, with their daughter Lisa and her partner Holly and Stephen and Lyn from Australia.
We had a lovely evening playing party and drinking games and needless to say we all had more than our fair share of the local wine!
The following day Gordon took Sheila and Alan to lunch as a thank you for his stay with them and invited us along. Poor Gordon had taken a tumble after we’d left the previous evening and was sporting a fetching plaster on his head! In any case, we had a very nice meal in En Bonne Compagnie in Homps.
Friday we all headed off to Alan and Beate’s for an afternoon/evening soiree with them. Again, we had a lovely evening but the thing that thrilled me most was the mare and foul that are currently occupying their garden (several acres) and cutting the lawn while Alan’s titanium wrist is in recovery. They came right up to the terrace where we were enjoying Aparo’s (whilst looking over the foothills of the Pyrenees up to the majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance) and they ate apples out of our hands. Wonderful!
Saturday we kept our heads down. We both felt like we’d been drinking heavily for days…….oh, we had! We took time to catch up on some shopping, seeing a bit of the area and avoiding eye contact with anyone who looked like they were in the mood for a party!
Sunday, we had invited Sheila and Alan, and Alan and Beate to lunch. Two chickens full of homemade stuffing, served with my Yorkshire puds and the obligatory roast potatoes seemed to be enjoyed by all. Beate had brought a wonderful crumble pie and custard with her and we had another enjoyable evening.
Monday (27th May) I noticed there was something wrong with Bosun. He wasn’t himself – he was whimpering, crouching down and not happy. We took him to the nearest vet on the scooter – him in my arms as Frank drove – and waited until someone was available to see us. The vet diagnosed pain in his lower back and gave him an anti-inflammatory injection and a course of pills for the next 5 days, with rest for 15 days. He settled down and thankfully now seems to be fine.
Then Tuesday Frank woke up feeling dreadful. He has been battling a cough for some time now and we had got him some medication from the pharmacy in Capestang, which had no effect. He was now not only coughing but his temperature and blood pressure were up. A message to Sheila and Alan brought about an appointment with their GP that evening and after he confirmed the very high blood pressure and heart-rate, along with increased temperature he said he wanted to see Frank again the next day. We stayed with Sheila and Alan that night and Frank deteriorated. The next morning the doc took some blood samples and prescribed anti-biotics and pills to lower the blood pressure.
Thankfully the bloods were all ok but he remains concerned that the cough is not improving. So, Frank has more drugs and a referral from the doc to go to radiology to get his lungs checked out if the cough doesn’t go after this latest course of anti-biotics.
In between Frank feeling unwell and having better days, we have fitted the new bimini cover to the coach-roof in front of Thirza’s wheelhouse. The difference it’s made is incredible – lovely shade for us and the boys outside but it also has the effect of keeping inside a bit cooler too.
This is a lovely place to walk, with a huge lake not too far away where you can sail and kite surf, if you have the energy, and it is great for the boys to swim in.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance but not too much else to this small village – apart from 25,000 bumper boats……I exaggerate, a bit! They mostly provide entertainment as they zig-zag down the canal but the fender has been out a few times to ward off an out-of-control vessel or two. Frank has been heard to call out, more than once, “you can get ones that go in straight lines, you know!”
To add to the excitement in Homps, the local supermarket sells PG Tips, Colemans Mustard, Marmite (Frank loves it; I hate it!) Bourbon and Digestif biscuits and………..wait for it, wait for it…………..popadoms!
As Another Aside
We have now seen beautiful Azure-winged Magpies, colourful Hoopoes and have the pleasure of listening to a Scops Owl most nights. It is a very distinct noise that is not unlike a submarine sonar ping. Apparently the owl itself is only the size of a starling but without night-vision binoculars we are very unlikely to see one in the feathers, so to speak.