The Amiens car pound

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d not seen the small printed edict tied to the lamp-post when I parked the evening before, and so I learned a new French word – la fourriere – the car pound. The gendarme in the police station gave me the address on the outskirts of the town. I rang, did they have an English van there? “Oui, Madame.”

Taxis were invisible that rainy Amiens Sunday. On a deserted outer boulevard at a closed-up travelling fair, a thin man was sweeping the puddles from the dodgem ride. Can you tell me where the railway station is, I asked, thinking I’d surely find a taxi there. He shook his head, “Je ne suis pas d’ici.” – I am not from here. Eventually I stepped into the small office at the car pound. Three officers in zip-up navy blue uniforms sat at desks behind piles of beige cardboard dossiers, one of them for Sylvie. Papers were shown, documents signed and stamped. They were in fact most charming. One officer tried a little English on me, and a flush crept up his cheeks as his colleagues teased him. The normal fine did not apply today as it was the Rederie – and 35 euros wasn’t as bad as it might have been. “You must buy a special stamp from a Tabac, put it on this document and post it back to us. Et voila!

Two vital hours of prime buying time had been lost and, of course, back in town there was not a parking space to be had. After much rigmarole and wasted time getting past police barriers, in the rain, to pick up the heavy garden table, the carved oak balustrades, and my big trolley that I had left with this dealer, at last I found a good spot to park back near where I’d started many hours before.

Right! Back to work. At 4am Amiens had been intimate and mysterious, with dealers setting up their stalls beneath the the empty windows of the ruined Grey Sisters convent. Now the sun was out and crowds were strolling in the warm afternoon. There were still interesting finds, but I was sorry to think of everything I’d missed. After several OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAjourneys back and forth with garden chairs, 18th century oak doors, oil paintings, a Michelin advertising panel, small round wooden tables, boxes of glasses and my trolley loaded with jars, tins, curiosities, shell buttons and carvings, Sylvie was loaded. I walked on tired feet to the cathedral for a moment or two of quiet contemplation in the exquisite stone interior, gilded decoration catching shafts of sunlight, votif candles flickering. Scrutinising the colours of old stone, of gilt angel heads, of painted altars.

Then north-west along back roads, following the Somme river for a while, with tall poplars, chalet houses and small riverside towns, then up across high plains, fields of vivid yellow, hills and forests on the horizon, and bright skies piled up with “Michelangelo clouds”, as Joni Mitchell called them.

Back in Dieppe before catching the ferry, I parked along the route of a cycle race that had taken place earlier in the day, and was wryly amused to see the very obvious road signs stating that up until 20h that day this too had been a tow away zone! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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