France 3: amended copy for publication.

With friends and family one often shares stories of the ‘do you remember when’ variety - and nothing wrong with that: it’s pleasurable to return to special moments in common when we are perhaps reassured and comforted by all that is familiar ground... On cycle tour one meets folk with fresh stories.

An Australian: whom I’ll call Bruce (though it wasn’t his real name)... whose wife couldn’t understand why her hubby would want to cycle and camp in France. So he came over by himself - his bike was being flown over with him, but (and you couldn’t make it up) it had been reversed over at the airport by a 6 ton luggage truck. Flattened. On arriving in London he found a second-hand bike which he plans to donate to someone “who looks worthy” when he arrives at the end of his journey in Bordeaux.

Bruce texted his wife - not so much to find how his wife was one suspected, but more to check out his beloved cats whose photos he then showed me. The one cat was very unusual, with non-tabby striping. He explained it was a Bengal cat which had adopted him. “How come?” I asked. Second time you couldn’t make it up. “Well” he said “I live 5 mins from the beach. And I like to swim and I love cats. And this bunch of surfing lads had a very pretty kitten which they brought down to the beach each day. I chatted to the lads and to the cat. But after a while they didn’t pay it much attention. They were on too much dope. But I still chatted to the cat. Then I arrived home one day and heard something drop through his letterbox. It was this cat. It must have followed me home. It went in to the lounge, lay on the sofa, and stayed. And I thought who am I to argue with you? You’ve made a decision I can live with.” The letterbox has been the cat’s chosen cat flap for entering the house ever since. “My other cat would just get stuck” he said “but Bengal cats have fine bones. And they are totally one-person cats. And it chose me.”

Norman: I met cycle-touring Norman, a 75 year old, as fit as a fiddle and brown as a berry on the ferry coming over. But I didn’t know his name then. When Norman met my friend Moragh - who was cycling up the west coast of France as he was cycling down - he told her he’d met a woman on the ferry cycling with a dog. “That’ll be my pal Anne” she said. She told me when I met up with her that he looked as if he didn't believe her. So she showed him our photos: then he believed her. (And who just happened to be on the same ferry home as her? Norman.)

A Frenchman: lifted his smart-phone and started recording our conversation whilst we were both cycling just north of La Rochelle the other week - which I found rather surreal. “My wife adores dogs. She’ll just love seeing how you tour” he explained. Well, blow me down, hundreds of miles later I heard a holler from a chap passing me on the bicycle route into Moissac, and it was none other than the same chap who this time was visiting his mother who lives only 200 metres from where I was going to camp. “I’ve got to take your photo again to prove to my wife I’ve bumped into you a second time” he said before adding “I hope she doesn’t think I’m stalking you!” “Or even the other way round!” said I...