Absolute access to the wonderful abundance of Southern France.

Its hard to contain my excitement right now, as I am sitting in the kitchen of a little Gite (B&B) we have rented for ten days, located 3kms out of a sleepy little Southern French village called Violes. The site is located in a vineyard and overlooks the Les Dentelles des Montmirail range. All I can really say is that the place is perfect for us and we have absolute access to the wonderful and abundant local wineries in the Cote du Rhone region and also to some of the most varied rock climbing in the country.

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Our uninterrupted view for the next ten days…….Les Dentelles des Montmirail.
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When Mike said “We’ll hire a car”, I didn’t expect this!

Our first day here was spent in Avignon as the weather pushed us into tourist mode. The rains came down and came down hard unexpectedly, so we packed the car with our lovely friends Mike and Robyn from Australia and trundled into the beautiful and ancient walled city. We simply indulged in this town steeped in history, ogling the architecture from a by-gone era and taking in a new cultural experience as we wandered.

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Modern art meets ancient art…I love the contrast in Avignon………..truly liberating
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14th Century Church, full of ostantatious riches.

Pouring my coffee and staring out the back door, directly into the vines full of plump product is just amazing. Sometimes you just get a great opportunity and this is one. The wine produced here is very boutique. Small numbers and only available here or in the owners restaurant in Savoie. Fortunately they have given us three bottles to sample and they have all been very good.

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They do a very nice red where we are stayin’……..just sayin’.

Its great to be able to show mike and Robyn around this amazing part of the world and also to explore ourselves, as Karine and I are checking out villages and areas with a view to settling here in the South in the next 12 months or so. Sorry but we are not rushing into it at all, to much fun to be had just yet.

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Robyn, Mike and I just hanging out in the Place des Papes.
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Karine relaxing in the Parc de Avignon.

Day two we wandered out into the mountains near Gigondas and found one of the local climbing sectors and did a few routes to clear out the cobwebs and settle into the area a little more. Walking through the forest was wonderful and it really made me realise just how much I love what  do. I am very fortunate right now to say “I am a traveller and I rock climb”. I did not really ever expect to say this out loud, but I can and do now with a proud tone in my voice.

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The view from Gigondas village over the entire Gigondas region.

When I woke yesterday morning, I was welcomed by what is known as “The Mistrel”. This is the wind from the Mediterranean and it is strong and it is cold. It stops you in your tracks, even if you are super keen to get out on rock again. So, we jumped in the car and headed out on the tourist trail on the recommendation from Karine and a friend back home.

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Village Roussillon, Parc Naturel de Luberon.

The Parc Nautrel de Luberon is a stunning area that host a few of the most wonderful historical sites in France. Arriving in Roussillon known for its ochre quarry, this stunning hill top village was a buzz with tourists enjoying the summer holidays. Everyone in France seems to go south for the summer. We walked the Ochre Trail and the landscape that  has been “manufactured” by time and change. The trail is just beautiful.

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The Ochre Quarry and trail near Roussillon.

We followed up with a visit to Gordes. This is one of the most incredible villages in southern France and should be experienced by all who come to the South. Truly incredible and steeped in Roman history. Caverns, caves, cliffside living and a fortified chateau, all make this village quite the unique place indeed. Just outside Gordes there is a village that pre-dates Roman history and we could not stay away. We were off again.

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Village des Bories……..an amazing and unique view into ancient life.

Walking into the Bories Village was one of the most amazing sights I have seen in France. The village is now a museum and hosts a range of tools and articles from the past that are just remarkable. Speculation about the age of the village runs rife as some suspect it to have been built in the 15th Century, while others have stated clearly that the architecture is more 7th Century. either way it is a very stark and stunning view into village life hundreds of years ago.

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Pebble Wrestling on Ouessant and the Bull Frog Boulder

The days here seem to pass quickly and the weather has the consistency of the mountains. One minute it is beautiful, the next it is ominous and grey. Like the Peak District  in the UK, you have to brave the changes and the elements and just get out and enjoy the opportunities Ouessant presents.

Today was like this. We headed out for a ride and decided to take the shoes and chalk with us. There are a plethora of large pebbles here to wrestle with and Karine and I felt it was time to enjoy the possibility of bouldering here. There is no information available about the boulders here other than they are granite and covered in lichen. So we only clean what we want to use as holds.

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The incredible coastline of Ouessant. Boulders everywhere………

We had already discussed not having crash pads and decided not to take any adverse risks or just simply be stupid about it. We wandered around the coastline taking in the vast beauty that surrounded us and spied some possibilities for a little vertical adventure. The formations here are really cool and I am enjoying just looking at the landscape.

The contrast here is remarkable. The granite towers in the sea are almost orange in colour and the deep blue and turquoise of the sea is offset by this and the exploding and colourful blotches of the fauna. Karine had walked around here the day before with Jean-Jacques and said she had found some good boulders.

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Karine standing on Bull Frog Boulder.

We dropped our gear at the base of what I affectionately called “Bull Frog Boulder”. To me thats what it looks like side on. Starting to get in close and have a look at the possibilities, I spotted a nice starting point for what turned out to be our first problem. Given the size of this boulder I thought the problem would be quite short, but it turned out to be a long and sustained route through steep and somewhat sloper filled terrain.

It took a couple or three attempts to string it all together, but it just simply felt great to be back on rock after a month hiatus. Karine tried it and successfully pulled through the first six moves, only to be over-powered by the need to keep her feet lower. I know she can climb it. So, I have named it “Et Elle Embrassait Le Beau Prince” V3 (F6a) or “And She Kissed the Handsome Prince”.

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Karine, first day on “Et Elle Embrassait Le Beau Prince” V3 (F6a) or “And She Kissed the Handsome Prince”.

A couple of days later we went back for the afternoon. The sun was shining on us this day and we just simply loved the location. There is nothing better than being out with your loved one and enjoying doing what you’re doing together. Its one of the great things about common ground and travelling together.

We warmed up and sat chatting about what we were going to do. Karine wanted a rematch with “Et Elle Embrassait Le Beau Prince” and I wanted to send this new route on the right hand side. I started to work my route and figure out the sequence through the bottom. It was harder than the first route by a grade point at least. I fell off regularly. Karine worked through the moves and climbed the route with one fall.

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B.A.L.A.N.C.E……….It all comes down to it.

Resting she got back on and tried again. As she rounded the nose, she started to feel a little desperate and fatigued, but I shouted “keep going……Finish it!” She pushed on through and sent her first Font 6a (V3) boulder problem. She stood up on the top of the boulder and threw her hands in the air celebrating mildly, as she does. So incredibly proud of her, she always tries super hard even when scared and pumped.

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The first ascent of Heel, Toe, Dosey Doe” V4 (F6a+).

I tried my boulder again and got it a couple of goes later. I was really excited to have pulled the moves, as it was a slopey, overhanging start with a heel hook, toe hook and core squeeze to get off the ground. I found it a little powerful until I found the solution. I named it “Heel, Toe, Dosey Doe” V4 (F6a+).

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Our view at the end of our day was spectacular.

We decided to head home before the chill of the evening kicked in. It gets a little cool here at night.

Ouessant……..It is savage and peaceful all at once.

Right now I am sitting in a small stone cottage writing my first blog article in about three weeks. It seems like a long time to me but, as I write I am thinking about all that has occurred and what I have done whilst writing the more than two hundred and fifty articles posted over the last two or more years. Great things have and are still occurring in this outrageously unexpected life of mine.

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This was home for eight days and nights in Ouessant………..recently renovated but 250 years old and cozy.

As I said, I am sitting in a stone cottage writing at an old cane table with a red and white checked plastic table cloth covering it. There is a little business around me as my friends Jean Jacques (JJ) and Vivian (Viv) discuss the preparation of tonights dinner. It’s currently about eleven in the morning, the sun is out and there is a cool breeze wafting through the cottage. The coffee has just announced it’s readiness and life is very relaxed right now.

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Viv putting on a show for us….while the coffee boils.

I think this is the most remote place I have ever spent time. We are twenty kilometres off the coast of the most western point in France on an island. It is arid and very rugged. Granite outcrops line the coast in pink and grey and the North Atlantic batters the shore in an unforgiving manner every single moment of the day. This is a different kind of wilderness.

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The arid beauty of this place….words fail me……
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The rugged coastline into the North Atlantic.

Ouessant (pronounced Wesson) is stunning, it is savage and peaceful all at once. It’s unexpected beauty is breathtaking and I feel very privileged to be able to experience this place. Karine and I are here with JJ and Viv for two weeks. It is les vacances d’ete (summer vacation) here in France now and we have been asked to join our friends here in this special place.

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Yesterday we spent the day cycling around the North Western most part of the island. We began our trip at  Le Phare du Creac’h (The Lighthouse of Creac’h) and wandered around staring at the moss and lichen covered rock that guards the shoreline. The beautiful summer flowers pattern the ground and it reminds me of my time in the Scottish Highlands walking through the heather.

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Le Phare de Creac’h on the western side of the island. This lighthouse is spectacular and one of the many situated around the isle.

We lunched in the garden with the sun on our backs and the breeze blowing gently. Viv made a beautiful light omelette and a salad of heirloom tomatoes from the local market. We simply soaked up our day one moment at a time and were just happy being.

Deciding to continue to explore after lunch, we headed a little further a field and searched for the pure Northern coastline. Three kilometres later we arrived at a grassy track and continued down to the edge of the cliff. We didn’t realise we were standing on the upper section of a cave entrance. When we moved to look further around, the surprise was very real. The roof of the cave entrance was not thin but enough to make us a little uncomfortable.

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Along the coastline the walking track are well trodden and the arid scrub is flowering with splashes of fuchsia everywhere. There are an incredible number of small flowers in a variety of colours blooming at the moment and thick moss covers the ground making walking a spongy experience at times.

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The hidden beauty is truly stunning.

Well, that was day one on the island and there are a few more to go. Its time to head out now for crepes and local cider!

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This is a Bretagne tradition and one to be experience. Saint Jacques (scallops) with sautéed leek and creme fraiche……And a local cider……….OMFG!!!!!!

Ouessant is a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage sight and has also been established as a bio-spheric reserve. It is situated in the d’Ouessant-Molene Archipelago.

Champagne!…….Sort of says it all really.

Hello again everyone!! Please accept my apologies for neglecting you all over the past couple of weeks. Things here in France have been a little busy with all the secret plans afoot. I have to tell you what we did a couple of weeks ago. Before we went to Kalymnos, Karine’s parents asked us if we would like to go to the Champagne Region with them for a day out. Well, as you be thinking…..We jumped at the opportunity.

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The heart of the Champagne Region.

Travelling out through the northern French countryside is truly a “vision splendid”. The wheat and sugar beet fields in stark contrast to the clear blue sky. Tiny hamlets and middle age villages dot the landscape with only an occasional steeple indicates signs of life from the motorway. The trip out takes us about an hour and a half.

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Millions of bottles a year are produce in this region. Here’s why.

Coming into the region is instant, the hills become more apparent and the cash crop is truly obvious. You can see nothing but vineyards forever. It looks lush and beautiful. Signs begin to appear for the multitude of venders selling their wares. Dom Perignon, Moet and Chandon and where we are headed J.M. Gobillard and Sons.

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Sort of says it all yeah?!
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My favourite producer. Just lovely full flavoured bubbles.

We arrive in a little village, where will have lunch before our organised tour begins. The restaurant is a distinctly modern affair with a large terrace covered in tables and accompanying umbrellas to keep the sun at bay. The food is ok and the mineral water the same……hahahaha…..saving ourselves for the tasting a little later in the day.

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The crop blossoming in the beautiful European Summer.

After a short drive we arrived at J.M. Gobillard and Sons. We re welcomed and directed to the bus. After a short drive back to where we came from we alight and begin our tour. Walking through the vines is a lovely experience. Karine lovingly translated a lot of the information being shared by our guide and we laughed along the way, enjoying being there.

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Baby Bubbles…….YAY!!!!

Seeing the different stages of growth and the ancient vines of Moet and Chandon was a real treat. I have tried a few of the “so called” high end Champagnes but I was not a huge fan until I tried J.M. Gobillard and Sons. It is really very nice and very reasonably priced. Our tour continued for about two kilometres through the old estate and village, where we met the bus to return to our starting point………….The tasting shed.

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The happiest hardware ever!!

Walking to the bar and seeing all of those beautiful bottles of bubbly was just so cool. We sampled a few of the vintages and the varietals we all divine. What more can be said other than if you don’t go to Champagne for a day, you will miss out on a big part of the French experience.

A much greater adventure than imagined……Verdon (Part2)

We woke in the morning with a definite plan. Our plan was to conquer “Une Valse pour Manon” 6b+ (20) in the Paroi du Duc Sector of the gorge. 6 pitches of beautiful limestone all the way to the top of the wall. It was going to be a real adventure with long walk-ins, a tyrollean river crossing, one hundred and eighty odd metres of climbing and then four long abseils back to the base of the route.

After a brief breakfast of croissants and coffee we headed into the gorge and parked the car in the same place as the day before. Its good to have rituals. It keeps you focussed and creates a good level of comfort. Maurice, Karine and I discussed safety procedures and non-verbal communications for our pending escapade.

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The red line is our route…..the yellow line….the abseil.

We racked up, I grabbed the rope and walked ahead on the approach to the tyrollean. Our host Olivier had told us to be aware that if they open the flood gates, the river could be raging…….It was moving a lot faster then the day before and it was higher. I clipped in and zipped across the river in about six movements. Karine and Maurice followed quickly and we were off up to the base of the route.

Once we located the base of the route we chatted briefly about the day ahead and finalised any issues or doubts in our minds about what we were embarking on. It all sounds a little serious and to be honest it is, but its also a lot of fun to. Helmets on, knots tied and checked and on belay. I was off leading the first pitch. It was not hard at all but, I was climbing in the Verdon Gorge and this is a place of legend.

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Karine gettin’ it done across the Verdon River.
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Maus on the final approach to the route…..and the river was high.

I clipped the first anchors and my partners followed on easily. We were using a one hundred metre rope and Maus and K were simul-climbing. It was a first for me, however I understood the process well enough. They reached the anchor and we were all “in hard” (sort of safe). We continued up the second pitch. The climbing on this pitch was sensational at the grade. It was technical, runout and a little heady to say the least.

Maus took the next two pitches, the first short and technical with a serious “heel hook and mantle” to the anchor. The next was a long technical 6b+ pitch. Maus climbed it well considering the sun was beginning to make the climbing very sweaty and a little desperate. Karine followed and met Maus at the anchors. I began to climb with the rock in full sun. It was 33 degrees in the shade and I was baking…..so were my buddies thirty metres above me at the anchor.

As I approached the anchors Maus confirmed there was an abseil anchor there. We all agreed we should get out of the sun and not risk serious sunburn and possibly heatstroke. There was one pitch to complete but the heat was unbearable and we had to make a decision. Thus began the rappelling section of our day.

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Over the edge and down the mountain side……..

Two hundred and fifty metres above the river stood three people looking down and all thinking…..Jesus thats a long way to the bottom! I put my hand up and took first abseil duties. We sorted out the rope and I was off, heading down, not knowing where the next rap rings were and feeling a little anxious. I reached the anchors rather quickly. I settled “in hard” and the others followed. We laughed a little when we were standing on the “ledge”.

Off I went again, this time fifty metres to the next anchors. I tell you there wasn’t much rope left when I go there either. We were glad our safety protocols were all solid and the knots in the end of the rope weren’t required, but I was happy to see them when I got there. That was the biggest single abseil I had ever done.

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Snagged rope on the last ledge of the great wall.

Karine and Maus joined me and we were off to the bottom of the route. I happily touched down and was really stoked with what I had done. Karine joined me a few minutes later and was absolutely exhausted. It was an epic experience for her. She sat in the shade while Maus began his ascent to join us. Glad to be out of the sun Maus took his shoes off and I began to pull the rope through. The wind was a little up and I carefully pulled the rope. As it fell over the second last ledge, I thought we’re good……Oh god was I so wrong!!

The rope was stuck on something we couldn’t see, nor could we release it with some solid jiggling and throwing from below. I tied in and headed up the first pitch to the fourth bolt and traversed through the shrubs to the ledge. Sitting there beautifully wrapped around an old piton was our rope. I quickly released it and headed back across and down to the team. What a fantastic day out with two much loved and very “good humans”.

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First route in the gorge……DONE!

We finished our day with a well deserved swim, a great meal and some beer and wine. Life doesn’t get much better and we all really enjoyed the experience. Tired and well fed, we headed back to our accommodation and settled in for the night.

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Happy days and looking forward to a beer……..

Day two in Gorge de Verdon proved to be a much greater adventure than imagined, with a far greater reward.

You’ll never never know, if you never never go. 🙂

No place for the faint-hearted…………Welcome to Gorge du Verdon.

My jaw dropped and my eyes widened as the car veered around yet another tight corner on an ever increasingly narrowing road. The guide rail appeared to be getting closer and closer with each turn and then it all went black…………………………..we were in a bloody tunnel and the there was the faint glow of light at the end of it. As we emerged from the tiny black hole that had seemingly eaten us whole, my eyes widened even further, my jaw dropped again and tears filled my eyes. I was staring at Gorge du Verdon!!!

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Welcome to Verdon………..

Oh my GOD!!!!! It is spectacular, that’s the word that came to mind….SPECTACULAR!!! I was in Alpes du Haute Provence looking at one of the most majestic sights I have ever seen. I have been emotionally moved by a few of the places I have seen, but this was at least equal to standing on top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park in Utah U.S.A. The Verdon is so incredibly picturesque.  No matter where you stand you are looking at pure beauty.

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If a picture paints a thousand words……..

The canyon is so shear and the walls are so incredibly tall. They look blank and intimidating and they also look absolutely stunning. Staring at the place was bringing up huge excitement and a serious amount of nervousness as we had come here to climb. I had seen the photos, I had read and heard a little about peoples experiences here and I knew the climbing was technical too. It is no place for the faint-hearted or the unmotivated.

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The beach was just awesome……

We had arrived early and decided to do a 4 pitch route called “Que Justice Soit Fête” 6b (19/20) that required a little bit of adventuring. We racked up and started down into the gorge to the river or so we thought. We followed the instruction diligently. We had to walk through a 200 metre mine tunnel to a view point called Baume aux Pigeons, climb over the guard rail and on to the cliff edge. Locating the fixed rope and hidden Via Ferrata we clipped in and made our way down to the rivers edge.

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The smile hides a deeper emotional state……..

Here we were…….Maurice, Karine and I standing on the edge of a fast flowing river looking up at this enormous buttress. I was thinking “holy shit this is so out of my depth and I am scared as hell”, but fortune favours the brave and it was time to suck it up as the next step was the tyrollean line across the river to a huge boulder and then jumping across to another boulder and on to the far bank of the Verdon.

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Just keep pulling………
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And pulling…….

We all did this with relative ease, however it was a first for Karine and I. Karine found pulling her body weight across a river a little taxing and still feels it in her biceps now. I on the other hand loved it! We headed up the right hand trail for about the next ten minutes slowly but surely making our way up higher and higher. We reached the end of the trail and started looking for indication of our route. We found nothing…..absolutely no bolts, no name on the rock, no belay area or station…..nothing.

We headed backdown and crossed the river a little disappointed and dejected but, in all seriousness it was a good little insight into the difficulty that may lay ahead when climbing here on a regular basis. Maurice and I talked about where the route might start and we walked around a little to get a different view of the landscape. I finally found where the photo of the route was taken. I shouted out to Maus and K and pointed up. We had come across the river at the wrong spot. The guide was in fact incorrect and we had followed it perfectly.

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The reason we found nothing is because we were so far below the the start we needed a helicopter to get to it………..

Maus and I decided to have a swim and freshen up a little as it was a scorching hot day and it was hot even in the gorge. We stripped down and wandered tentatively into the flowing water. As soon as the water hit my body I knew it was now and never and I dived in………I had to fight to breath. Oh my God it was cold…..but so so good. This was part of the fun of adventuring in places. Whilst being a “cool” tourist spot, it is also a very adventure orientated place.

 

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Refreshing to say the least…………..
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I always did go against the flow………

We identified where we needed to be to access the route but decided to call it a day. After drying off we decided to call it a day and head out of the gorge. We were hungry and in need of a place to stay for the next few days. So we headed up to the car all sweaty and horrible. We packed the car again and headed to La Palud, found some food and a gite (B&B) for the next couple of nights. Maurice kindly took us out for a fabulous dinner in the incredibly beautiful village of Moustiers near Lake Sainte Croix.

Tomorrow is another day and the adventure will continue. 🙂

You can’t do it all in a day………Gorge du Blavet………

Maurice and I relaxed into the morning with a tasty simple breakfast and a few coffee’s to kick start the heart. Our lovely ladies were in the process of getting ready for two hours of yoga and we were preparing our minds for a day of vertical enthusiasm. I was excited about climbing today although my head was a little pre-occupied and I was feeling anxious and tentative about a few things outside of the sport. This did not deter us from our goal and its important even when feeling pangs of fear….“Do It Anyway”!

We quickly packed and headed out into the unusual June heat. It was ridiculously warm for this time of the year but we were going and thats all that mattered. We loved climbing together and Maurice was keen to show me one of the more unique local crags. Actually it was his “local crag”. A short forty minute drive away.

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I would love to get on this line……..would need a month or more I think LOL……..7c (27)……just awe-inspiring.

We arrived at about midday and the sun was belting out its intense rays as we walked into the crag. It was truly beautiful and when I stopped long enough to look, I was staring at the most stunning pink and orange rock I had seen since being in Enchanted Rock in Texas. The geologic was type: Ignatius……It is volcanic and created with rapid cooling of molten magma.

I was now really excited to have the opportunity to climb on yet another rock type. This is the stuff that improves you and humbles you all at once. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be out of your comfort zone…….On a regular basis I have become quite used to experiencing life this way. I hope I continue to grow and learn like this…….It’s tiring but totally worth it!

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Maus……happy in his local forest.

We warmed up on a simple link-up that traversed the majority of the first cliff and rather than have a bad time cleaning the route I seconded it to make it easier for all involved. Then we launched up a 6a+ (18/19) that had a bouldery start and was stunning to the anchors. The rock felt like granite, but not quite. I was feeling a little heady and knew I needed to take a whipper but that was not going to happen right now.

Maurice suggested we do this 6c+ (22) he had tried a few times and I said “Sure…..Why not!” So off we walked up into the forest a little further. Maurice pointed at the wall and I looked up and what I saw was a stunning line. Diverse in style, technical in nature and truly aesthetic. I was excited and nervous all at once. As I said previously my head was not good and clear. However I go on anyway.

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The beautiful and unique geology of Gorge du Blavet…

Maurice put the draws on and got ridiculously pumped on the way through the first section and then proceeded to finish the route. I tied in and started to climb up through the dihedral section and found it really out of style for me. I got nervous and sat on the rope to get my head calm. I continued on up to just below the crux and sat again. I tried the crux and BOOM!!! Off I came, squealing as I fell. I was scared for the first time in a long time and Maurice said he heard fear in my voice that he had never previously encountered.

I got back on and completed the route. I was pleased that I fell, pleased that I got back on and really pleased I pulled the crux and finished the route easily. My head felt clear and my body was more relaxed. Before lowering off I took some time to breath and took a photo of the Gorge du Blavet. Oh yeah, thats where we are climbing by the way…….Gorge du Blavet.

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Sitting atop the 6c+ breathing and taking in the vista…..stunning.

Maurice tied back in and executed the route flawlessly, finally ticking off his project and being very happy about it “indeed”! I was very happy for him as he is really motivated and loves our sport with great passion. I decided not to get back on as I was feeling very fatigued and wanted to just chill. We didn’t really climb a lot, but we had a great day hanging out in the gorge and catching up on a lot of the “going’s on” of life. I do enjoy Maus’s company greatly………”Good Human”.

I will return to this place very soon with some good friends from “the land downunder” and try more of the routes here. They are vertical, technical and require a little “cha cha cha” to execute them well. About this…………I am truly excited.

They’ll just smile and give me a Vegemite sandwich.