I can only put it down to the peace and quiet of the place but everyone seemed to be taking things easier by the end of the week and even Molly was sleeping longer and she didn’t wake me up this morning until almost eight o’clock. This was still earlier than all of the others however and it was well past nine before we sat down for breakfast and some time past ten when we had finished clearing up.
This didn’t matter because we were in no particular rush today and planned an easy itinerary with a return visit to the beach at Berck.
We spent most of the morning in the garden, Molly and I played ball, Richard checked the wasp trap and chose his logs for tonight’s fire, Sally read her book, Rachel had a nap and we did some washing, some items for the second time this week, and it was almost midday when we finally set off for the short journey to the coast.
We drove past Montreuil and along the clear roads towards Berck but close to the town the traffic became heavy and we spent some time in a crawling traffic jam making only slow progress. Eventually we broke through the bottleneck and arrived in Berck. We tried to get closer to the town this time but this proved difficult and after I had driven down a road on the wrong side and frightened a poor French motorist half to death we decided it was safer to simply return to the same beach next to the crumbling convalescence hospital.
The hotel is there because Berck, a former fishing village, took on a therapeutic role in the treatment of tuberculosis during the Second Empire. The Maritime hospital was inaugurated in 1869 by Empress Eugenie and other hospitals and benevolent institutes were soon created to cater for the sick and those in need of rest and recuperation.
We were a bit earlier today so the tide wasn’t as far out and there wasn’t so much beach to choose from so we selected a spot in the soft sand just above the high tide mark and it turned out to be a good job that we did because although we didn’t know it the tide was coming in. Molly enjoyed the sand and the lagoons again and was even a bit more adventurous about going further into the sea. Actually the sea was surprisingly warm and Richard and I both stripped down to our bathing costumes (garish yellow Hawaiian style for Richard and Speedos for me) and we went swimming in the sea and this was the first time that I had been fully submerged in the waters of the English Channel since at least 1975.
As the sea came steadily towards us and covered the beach, more and more people started to arrive and the sand was starting to get a bit crowded. One surprising thing was the amount of overweight people on the beach because France has always prided itself on being slim and healthy with a belief that there is something in the French lifestyle that protects them against obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
This is called the ‘French Paradox’ and is now being exposed as a myth because they are straying from the very dietary habits that made them the envy of the world: eating small portions, eating lots of vegetables, drinking in moderation, and limited snacking. It seems that the French are exercising less, eating more fast food, and are employed in more service jobs where time is spent sitting at a desk rather than driving a tractor or working an assembly line. Overall six and a half million French, that’s 14.5% of the population, are now classified as obese and it is worse in the north (around 20%) because of the rich heavy food of the region.
To illustrate this shift we can look at the example of McDonalds. Even though the French will maintain that they despise the fast food chain and the concept an awful lot of people do eat there. Across France there are nearly nine hundred restaurants and in Paris there are almost seventy restaurants under golden arches, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the people. McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret. Since 2007 the chain’s French revenues increased have by 11 per cent to €3 billion. That’s more than it generates in Britain and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself. It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.
There were some really heavy specimens on the beach at Berck today (they may not all of been French of course) and even worse there were more and more dogs arriving and running about the sand. I have explained many times that I am not a lover of dogs so I started to feel uncomfortable about this and I was almost pleased when the clouds started to move in and blotted out the sun and everyone agreed that this was a good time to leave.
On the way back we stopped briefly in Montreuil for some final supplies and extra beers but in the late afternoon a lot of the town was closed and the bars weren’t open and the place lacked atmosphere so we abandoned the plans for a drink and went back to the cottage instead.
Molly and I went for a long walk towards the next village in search of a field of cows but they were a long way a way so we had to count tractors instead and then sit and watch a combine harvester working in a field of corn and reducing the flowing clouds of golden stems to a carpet of brown stubble. On the way back we had to pass Camille’s house and when he spotted us he came out to greet us and Molly asked to see his rabbit and he was only too happy to oblige.
This evening, like all of them, passed surprisingly quickly as we played in the garden and waited for Molly to tire herself out and Richard prepared the barbeque. We were enjoying the al fresco dining and once again after we had finished we sat around the fire but Richard kept the poker well out of my reach.