DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 37 2019
The grandeur of Gorge du Tarn unfolds before my wife, Marie and I today, as we drive from out base at Chateau Le Caze to St Enimie, where a fleet of British sports cars arrive at the same time, on this perfect day. It’s great to be alive. There is a Lotus parked beside us, as we head for lunch at a cafe/bar. Horses go by as we tuck into our baguettes. We drive to the start of the Gorge, at Ispagnac. Detour into Quezac, where the Gothic bridge is being repaired. Heading back, we walk along the river at St Chely-du-tarn before saying a prayer at an amazing little chapel. One drink at the Cascade Hotel where the beer and rose are warm – not what we wanted on a hot day.
Back at our Chateau, we have swim before dinner (beef fillet – moi – guinea fowl – Marie) on the balcony, while optometrist conference attendees occupy the main dining area. They are dressed like American bikies. Dining beside us are a couple from Liverpool in England and four Germans. Marie and I have post dinner drinks with the Chateau proprietor, Johnathan, who prefers rugby to football.
Back in Brisbane, Australia, Broncos’ chief executive, Paul White feels compelled to send a video message to members – my wife being one of them – following the team’s 58-0 capitulation to Parramatta in the NRL finals.
Aurillac, the capital of the rural Cantal region, will be our home for the next six nights. It is famous as an umbrella making centre, and is notorious for its cold winds. I don’t see how umbrella and wind go together! Heading out of the Gorge, we have to drive slowly behind firemen cycling for a cause – orphans. We are patient, and it is not a problem. But a madman driver in front of us, overtakes the cyclists on blind bends.
Our second-floor apartment in Aurillac, is owned by Claudie, a real estate employee who has no English. Drinks at Grand Cafe’s outdoor area, where there are a lots of kids smoking. Fish and chips dinner at La Brasserie D’Aurillac, is ordinary, and that is being kind.
Aurillac’s covered market has excellent produce, and we stock up on cheese, which is what the area is famous for. One of the butchers looks like former Balmain rugby league prop, Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach. There are beggars with dogs on every corner of the town, or so it seems. Afterwards we walk along the shallow River Jourdanne.
Drive to Murat, where we have picnic lunch in a park, where there is a monument to locals taken to a concentration camps during World War II. Marie is a bit nervous as we drive up Puy Mary, one of the many volcanic peaks in the area. There are lots of ‘old’ cyclists at the top. After our descent, we walk at Salers, a picture post card village, famous for a breed of cattle.
A lovely day, driving on narrow roads to the west of Aurillac, to Pleaux and Mauriac, before exploring the Dordogne Gorge, and returning via Champagnac.
SATURDAY. SEPTEMBER 21
Buy more produce from market. Marie looks around, while I have a one-Euro coffee from a van outside the market hall. A climate change protest march is going ahead, as we walk the old town, up to the castle, which is now a school. Similar rallies are being held all over the world. Police use tear gas in Paris, but nothing as drastic as that is needed here. Marie and I discover a local cheese market and buy Auvergne Bleu.
At Jondaryan, on Queensland’s Darling Downs, a reunion is held for the Queensland Residents rugby league side, which toured France in 1989. I covered the tour for ‘The Courier-Mail’ and was invited to the function by the host, Terry Cook, publican of the Jondaryan Hotel, and a member of that touring side. Steve Bella drove down from Sarina in North Queensland, in one go. Why am I not surprised!
Beautiful lunch at Hotel des Carmes, on a bleak day. Servings are big, particularly my desert, which is like a pavlova. It makes heads turn. Marie has duck for mains, while I tuck into the salmon.
Former Australian rugby league skipper, Greg ‘Oscar’ Veivers turns 70.
Our future son-in-law, Greg Mariotto turns 40 and celebrates with our daughter, Melanie at Hawkers Centre, in Singapore.
1 Gorge du Tarn
2 Chateau la Caze
3 Chateau proprietor, Johnathan, with Marie Ricketts
5 Aurillac is famous for umbrellas
6 Climate change protest in Aurillac
7 Who is that masked man?
8 Summit of Puy St Mary
9 Cantal region
10 sweets at Hotel de Carmes, Aurillac.