It was mid-morning and I was drinking a hot chocolate at one of my favourite cafes. The sun was stronger than usual, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the waitress had just begun to set the tables for lunch. Locally known as Chez Marie-Cath – it has no name sign outside – the café sits on a little hillock at the southern end of the bay of Pors Carn with its sandy beach and calm waters. At the bay’s northern end is a rocky promontory – La Torche – an archeological site that juts 300 metres into the sea. With its simple and friendly atmosphere, its views and its ancient setting – across the bay, La Torche; on the grass behind, umpteen standing stones – Chez Mari-Cath invites daydreams.
When staying in Brittany I am a regular customer. My wife, Rohan loves swimming. In London, she goes to the local pool; in Brittany, tides and weather permitting, she swims in the sea. I don’t get closely involved in her London swims but, at the seaside, circumstances are different. The currents at our local Tréguennec beach can be treacherous, the waves large, and there are the infamous baïnes – hollowed out areas in the sand that produce whirlpools that draw swimmers under. To feel secure, I occasionally swim with her, but more often go along to be there in case help is needed.
At Tréguennec I can forgo my surveillance duties if Rohan swims with friends or if the lifeguards are on duty. However, oversight is easier if she swims in the safer waters of Pors Carn where I can also indulge in my hot chocolate. I look out to sea to check that there are no problems and, once reassured, dip back again into a book, my laptop or my drink.
I don’t take recreational drugs – I never have – but for ten minutes that morning I had feelings that I imagine drug takers would die for. I was not high, just relaxed and happy, with a mind free to wander. Thanks to the bright light, the view across to the promontory was clearer than ever and the sand on the beach more golden. And, to top it all, the beach, La Torche and even the sea were peppered with Bronze Age people – mainly men – walking, working, relaxing; indeed going about their everyday business. Although most were some way off I could make out their long dark hair and their brown clothing, probably leather. Somehow I felt that chatting with them was a possibility. They ignored me completely, for them it was as though I didn’t exist.
Although the café has been slowly growing for almost forty years it still has the feel of a makeshift hut. At the back, drinks are served from what I suppose is the open side of the original parked van and the food is prepared in attached trailers. There are some twenty tables, a decking floor with sand between the slats, a surrounding glass windbreak and several sturdy parasols to keep off the sun and rain. At the front, where the tables look down to the sea, there is a gap in the windbreak and there a pot plant – more a bush – normally sits. No one table offers a perfect view and I move from chair to chair till I am happy.
I have sat in the same spot with essentially the same view a hundred times, but daydreaming like this was a new experience, and it soon became clear what had inspired my escape from reality on that particular day. That morning I had arrived early and sat in a front seat from where the view was most unusual – the panorama was exceptionally wide and everything in it appeared in focus. The sun lit up La Torche beautifully, just as it would have done for its community 7000 years ago. With the same warmth, an abundance of fish and land full of berries and the like, summers then must have been a paradise for them too. The view that morning was inspirational.
But then my waitress broke the spell. Having laid the tables she went to the gap in the windbreak and, with a struggle, righted a mighty flower pot in front of me. Immediately my special view was destroyed and the whole space darkened. Indeed, it was back to normal. With the bush blown down over the previous night, my morning’s initial view had offered an unprecedented and unimpeded vista which meant that everything looked different. Vistas are always magical and this one conjured up a daydream as they usually do.
It is not for the first time that people from the past have appeared in my daydreams. I have rubbed shoulders with kings, queens and celebrated painters (Space Odyssey, October 16, 2017), and seen Second World War German soldiers walking along Brittany roads (Don’t Mention the … September 17, 2012). Seeing, and meeting Bronze Age neighbours was a delight and brought history home. Surely anyone sitting at Chez Marie-Cath with that bush removed would dream the same.
Sadly, the clarity of the illustration which shows the view of the bay and La Torche from the café, does not do my daydream justice.