You leave the coach-loads of over-confidence behind and search for a hotel, which soon presents itself, overlooking the estuary. The old wooden room and the placid grey view relax your fatigued body and mind, so that later you have energy enough to explore the town. The streets all return to the monumental water, and your steps drift, Somme-somnambulant, past the tree gardens of the houses facing the bay, to the point at the end of the quay come promenade where the setting grey sets most impressively. Turning, you find the steely frame of un cabinet téléphonique, and thinking to impress with what you can see and where you are, you crank open its door to ring home. But no-one’s in, and no-one but yourself can stop the familiar sound of home’s ringing tone.
The next morning, you are some way into a ten kilometre diversion before you realise you have forgotten, or have not been reminded, to return the Hôtel du Port’s room key. You worry the less about the curses the staff are undoubtedly sending after you for their having required that you hand over an extra unwrinkled note to cover what they call ‘taxe de voyage’. Unless St. Valery-sur-Somme has recently declared itself an independent state, you suspect this is more a directly pocketed tax on the English than a legitimate levy. The diversion reroutes you past a bird sanctuary; the reward for the extra strain on your legs is a sudden Red Arrow display, black and white birds glinting silver in the sun as they turn and airily rise.
After days both hot and cold, this one is lukewarm, and your knuckling-under body responds well, falling into a rhythm which allows your mind to run freely ahead, step sideways, glance behind. The road into Eu is a speedy, shaded hill descent, with the sun above the trees creating a brief maelstrom of backlit greens, marking your arrival in Seine-Maritime, and also your first taste of Normandie.
Beyond the town, gliding first along Roman avenues, then less rhythmically around the lanes encircling hilltops, you reach an intensity inexplicably arrived at, the first emphatic certainty of the rightness of what you have done and the way you will live. It is a kind of elemental joy you have only ever experienced alone, that used to send you charging along a London street, giddy with dumb pleasure; a happiness born of motion, or more accurately of self-generated speed, as well as real or imagined good fortune. Conversely it is an intensity which you meet in the most hapless situation, a carefree frenzy that comes upon you when stuck waiting on a slip road at a motorway junction with a minimal flow of traffic, alone and indulging in an act of faith, absolutely sure of the lift that’s soon to come. Whether it is arrival, or expectation, or attainment, here it is again. And it, in part, is what you came here for.
You hear the sounds of the books you read as a child in the wind that rustles the goldening greens of the fields. And just as you sang defiantly at any passing car while waiting at a junction, fragments of song now carry you along, your bones rattling over the stones, a poor little beggarman whom nobody owns / come on beautiful we’ll go sit on your front lawn, and watch the fireflies as the sun goes down / it joins the list of things I’ll miss like fencing foils and lovely girls I’ll never kiss / dream, dream what you like, you’ve lost me this time, and I know I won’t find you, I’m lost in your eyes / it’s a happy time inside my mind, when a melody does find a rhyme / I can feel time slipping away, so what does it matter which direction I’m pointed in?