In the last blog I spoke of our cheeky scurry through the front garden of a canal-side home. An empty house lay between ourselves and our desired campsite so, after knocking and finding it empty, we grabbed the canoe and dashed through the garden, keeping our heads low to avoid the eyes of the neighbours.
After a restful day we're back to the canal, of course, and we wheel our canoe, bags on backs, down the cobbled road. Returning to the scene of our crime we find the house very much occupied. Windows open and door ajar, letting in the early morning breeze. Tactfully Nathan puts down the canoe and says to me, "I'm going to go look for somewhere to reach the canal." Now I'm no fool and I know what's going on... He's saying, 'wait here and try and get back into that garden.'
It's not long before a woman appears at the window. As if in a movie, she is putting a pie on the window sill to cool. I kid you not, this woman's got an apple pie she's putting on the window sill, and through the waves of steam she spots me. The lonesome young traveller, bag on back, leaning against her wall to rest. I look at her with that trade-mark, heart melting smile and whisper a soft "bonjour". Her heart melts and she replies.
It's now or never. Almost a month in France and I'm pretty much fluent. "il y a access por la canal ici?" I ask, waving my hands around the general vicinity. Her reply is a tumble of French words but not one of then is "jardin". I apologise for my poor French and continue to try and get my point across. Suddenly I realise. Hidden below the wall on which I lean is the canoe, she can't even see it. "J'ai un canoeway!" I proclaim, lifting one end high for her to see. The dilemma is laid out for her in full: a young man, blistered from his travels, trying to get his only means of transport onto its vital source, the canal.
She speaks again, more French words that slip past my apparent fluency. I keep talking, i know what i'm looking for and i know i will get there. Again I say "canoeway" and look forlorn before I hear that special noun. Hidden in amongst a sentence I hear "jardin" and jump at the word. "Vous jardin! C'est possible?" I cry, the mere idea that her garden might provide access to the water had never occurred to me. I looked shocked and confused. Her garden links up to the canal! Surely not. "Oui" she replies and I wave to Nathan already returning. His reaction is not dissimilar. He looks at her, he looks at me, and he raises his eyebrows so high they are in danger of leaving his face. Arms in the air, he looks as happy as if he's won the lottery... he didn't even know the house had a garden!
Our early morning friend comes out and opens the gate pointing down the cobbled steps we know from a day previously to the end of the front lawn. We thank her several times, hold the canoe above our heads and march through the garden. In a purple dressing gown, she wanders in front guiding the way.
Perching the canoe on the wall Nathan begins a stride to the far corner of the lawn where he knows the gate lies. It is only two paces before he realises his error. Shaking his head, looking around, he grins and leaps over the wall. I quickly follow suit. Down by the canal we man handle the canoe as the woman calls out to us, pointing at the gate. With a look of total shock Nathan turns to me. "Jimmy there's a gate!" We laugh together. We jumped over the wall when there was a bloody gate! How crazy we are, my gosh, if only we'd known it was there.
Seconds later our friend has opened up the gate and we're back through the garden to collect our remaining gear, chatting to her as we go and commending her on the decision to install a gate. Perhaps we overdid it a bit, but we made it clear, we had never EVER seen that gate.
With a final flourish of our acting skills we make our way through the garden for the last time. I get slightly lost, turning the wrong way on the stepping stone path I know like the back of my hand, Nathan laughs with the woman about jumping over the wall when there was a gate. He's so crazy, jumping around the garden like that when the gate was just there. Like a crazy spring. Like a crazy jack-in-the-box. Just crazy.
Back by the bank, we load the canoe and climb aboard. From her house, our friend leans out the window and waves to us. "Bon voyage!" she calls as we start to paddle. How funny she thinks, a canoe going through my garden! Who'd have thought it.
Meanwhile, next door, her neighbour leaves his home. 'I must tell my friend about the strange men going through her garden with a canoe the other day', he thinks, 'She'd never believe it.'