Belfast Telegraph

Troubles seem so far away ...

Walter Ellis reports from Brittany

That's it. Another sodden summer has come and gone and America beckons. I have just been on the terrace of our house in Brittany, sweeping the night's rain from the surface of the table and chairs. If I'd any sense, I'd have put the summer furniture back in the cellar long ago. But I couldn't do it. It would have been like an admission of defeat.

But, honestly, I've never experienced a summer like it. Yesterday, with my son Jamie over from London, we went up the spire of the church at Bulat-Pestivien. It's one of the highest spires in Brittany, affording views for miles and miles around. But it was so cold and windy up there that, having snapped the occasion on his digital phone, Jamie begged that we head straight back down.

Everything is back to front. It's darkness at noon. A red sky at night has become a shepherd's warning. The leaves were already falling from the trees at the end of July. Cows in the fields huddle together like refugees, trying to keep warm.

My neighbours, Alexis and Jean-Francois, tell me that by going back to New York now I could well be missing the best two months of the year: September and October. They may be right, but I'm not holding my breath, which right now streams out in front of me like ectoplasm at a Victorian séance.

Yes, but there must have been some good things. Well, of course there were. Alexis has been in much better form this year. He is livelier and more optimistic. And he has a new cat, Minette, who, at the age of three months, has already caught five mice. Jean-Francois competed in the region's premier bike ride, the Pierre le Bigaud, dressed as a Scotsman, complete with kilt. His son, Antony, came to visit from St Brieuc, looking like Dartagnan. Dedé, one of the regulars at Les Fous, turned 59, still repeating everything he says, twice. He will retire next June and plans to spend the rest of his life in the pub.

We also had the Fous' beer festival, which drew a large crowd from both sections of the community, Breton and English. The English won the skittles competition with the last throw of the game, which helped offset the fact that Les Bleus edged the day's encounter with England at Twickenham. Don and Trisha's excellent new range of traditional brews (referred to by Dedé as "raylayle" ) proved a big hit with the Anglais. The locals stuck with their traditional tipple, Amstel, believing it, I suspect, to be part of their much-vaunted French patrimony.

My wife and I had our teeth seen to by Francoise, our local dentist in Callac, who did an excellent job for a modest fee.

Dr Tison, from the superb district medical centre, dealt with a friend's stomach ailment for the sum of €22, throwing in a scan at the local hospital in Guingamp for the cost of a decent lunch. A nurse even came to her house to take a blood sample (€6. 60cents), with the result available two days later at the village pharmacy.

In the same week, Dr Tison " dropped in" on Alexis at his cottage to see how he was and stopped with him for 10 minutes, just to chat.

Now, that's what I call a national health service.

Did I mention Jamie? My son, you may recall, plays lead guitar in a band called Battle ( They've had a tough year for one reason and another, but their debut album, Break the Banks, comes out on September 3 on the Transgressive label. Paper Street, a single from the album, is released next Monday, loaded with melody.

During the summer, as the band hit the comeback trail, I was able to listen to three live sessions they did, on Radios I and 2 and XFM. And this coming weekend, they will be playing at the Leeds and Reading festivals before going off on tour with fast-rising indie band Kubichek. Wish them luck - and no illegal downloads, please!

Which only leaves la Rentrée. I may have mentioned this before, but it is odd how distant America becomes once you leave its shores. Issues and trends that seem enormous and unmissable when you're staring out across the East River are rendered tiny, almost invisible, when seen from Brittany.

But I know the truth. The Bush Administration has begun rubbishing the Brits and belittling their performance in Basra. This can only mean one thing: an American pullout has already been decided. It is only a matter of time before the US ambassador is helicoptered off the roof of his embassy in Baghdad and a new era of home-induced horror replaces that presided over by Washington.

So adieu, my friends, adieu. Let's see what tomorrow brings.


From Belfast Telegraph