Some eccentric crisps transport us to France

Trip Start Sep 25, 2012
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Trip End Oct 16, 2012


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Flag of France  , Provence,
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We were propelled from the suburbs of London to the French Rivera by a packet of crisps. Annie discovered Tyrrells crisps at Sainsbury's, and umm, umm are they good!  Like most British crisps (what we would call potato chips in America), they are notably crunchy, and actually have intrinsic taste apart from the grease they are cooked in.  And charmingly, in most cases the actual variety of potato (Hermes, Saturna, Lady Rosetta) is indicated on the package. Of interest, if you poke around the British Potato Council website, you’ll find that there are literally hundreds of British potato varieties, at least 80 of which are grown commercially. (Just for fun I downloaded the "Potato Database" from the site—it came in at a whopping 346 pages of potato facts and figures!).

There’s no doubt that the Brits are obsessed with their crisps: on the lawn in front of our flat, the most common form of trash is discarded crisp packets. To put a number on it, my research found that the Brits consume an astounding 6 billion packets of crisps a year, which comes to just under 100 packets per person!

In addition to their sublime taste, one of the most endearing things about our crisps was the idiosyncratic package itself--see the photo of me ecstatically ingesting them while tenderly holding the packet at the Kent House station. If you click on the close up of the back side (below), you can read about the Tyrrells “alternative five-a-day plan,” culminating with the recommendation to “eat a proper English crisp or 10.”  Wise advice indeed. 

And on another part of the back of the package there’s more: “Whether it’s the great uncle who organised dinner parties for dogs, or the grandmother who lived in an underground mansion filled with wigs—we love an English eccentric.  Do you have a friend or relative with habits that are, how shall we say, a little unconventional?  If so, regale us with a story about them and if it’s suitably gigglesome, we’ll publish it on our fully-digital internet site and furnish you with some freebies.  Just saunter over to our web site....”

Well, though undoubtedly riveting, this disquisition on British spuds isn’t getting us any closer to Provence.  So back to the station.  As we sat on the empty platform awaiting the train to Beckenham Junction, where we would transfer to the tram to East Croydon, where we would hop on a train to Gatwick airport, we (well, at least I) realized how hungry I was.  Fortunately, the far-seeing Annie had packed the Tyrrells.  The plan was to have them on the plane as part of our lunch.  But by the time the train to BJ arrived, they were gone. However, they had been put to good use—I was energized all the way to Nice.

The easyJet (aka squeezyJet, aka sleezyJet) flight was an easy two hours, that was, counterintuitively, almost due south. Yes, the great bulk of France is directly south of England, not east as I used to think.  The transformation from the cool, eccentric north to the suave sunny south couldn’t have been more striking: as we approached Côte d’Azur Airport--a thumb sticking out into the sparkling Mediterranean--we saw white sails, sandy beaches, and waving palm trees, right out of a corny tourist brochure.  Waiting for the appearance of cousin Carole, Manfred, and doggie Tuffet, we sat outside, drinking espresso and absorbing the sublime, fragrant air and the intense colors.  And like a tidal wave, all the reasons why we loved our time in France came flooding back.  

After a joyful reunion with C, M, and T we headed into Vence to have dinner with our old friend, Angie.  Angie is from Germany, lives in France, and speaks excellent English with a Scottish accent, the latter a result of her having lived in Glasgow for years.  Getting to her house was quite challenging for Manfred’s on-board GPS—there was a big fat accident on the Autoroute, construction on some secondary roads, and newly imposed one-way traffic.  Amazingly, though we were in France the GPS spoke German.  But Manfred seemed to understand it pretty well.  Despite numerous misdirections in German, with Manfred’s ingenuity, Annie’s and my somewhat vague memory of directions from when we lived there nine years ago, and Carole's eagle eye for street numbers we finally made it.  Angie welcomed us graciously to a lovely dinner, and showed us where the hidden key was: she was off to Berlin in the morning but had invited us to stay at her apartment for the last two days of our time in France. 

After dinner and fond farewells we drove down the mountain to the Autoroute, then west to Les Bertrands.
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