Robert Walsh

Freelance writer from Cornwall

Leaving Le Mans

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The race is over, but the flags are still flying, the airhorns are blowing and the fans are cheering.. The crowd will drift back to the campsites soon, either heading back tonight on the ‘ferry dash’ or for one last night on the beer before it’s all over for another year. The winning drivers have popped the champagne, cried a few uncharacteristically non-macho tears and posed for the world’s press. The latest Le Mans 24 Hours is done and dusted.

Me? Right now I’m having one last look round at the crowds and taking one last breath. A breath of hot air, exhaust fumes, burnt rubber, cooked food, French cigarette smoke, sweat and human happiness. I’m sweating in the sweltering June afternoon, thoroughly shattered after more than a week under canvas. It’s 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon and I’ve been awake since 6am on the Saturday morning. I’m barely awake, barely able to stand up straight, barely able to think. I still have to get the 8pm TGV to Morlaix, travel three hours from the Western Loire into Brittany and doss down in Morlaix station until the 7am bus to Roscoff ferry terminal and then home. But, while I know what my body’s telling me, my emotions are everywhere at once.

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I don’t know what I’m feeling. What I’m supposed to feel. Only days ago I arrived on an almost-empty campsite and seen 300,000 people arrive, set up and party like we were all 18 again instead of the middle-aged, pot-bellied petrolheads that most of us really are. Part of me is glad I’ve only got one more night until my own bed, that I won’t have to queue for half an hour for 5 minutes under a tepid shower in a muddy cubicle, that I can have enough hot water for my first proper shave in over a week. That I can go home to my family.

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But part of me is sad. Sad that this year’s great adventure is over. Sad that it’ll be nearly a year before I pack and ship out to France again, to the sun, the people, the language, the food, the culture and the vibe of Le Mans. Sad that I’ve already been awake for 31 hours yet won’t see a bed until late-afternoon on Monday at the earliest and that I’ll be travelling or dossing down until then. Sad that I won’t hear the French language, that I won’t have French cigarettes that actually taste French, that it’s all over and it’s back to work and bills and washing dishes and the usual daily grind. Not that I really mind the daily grind, I just need one time in the year when I’m just having fun for a little while and leaving the day-to-day stuff to itself for a few days. I like my job. I like my life. I just need a change and a rest once a year.

So no, I don’t know what I’m feeling or how I’m meant to feel. Body and mind have fragmented to the point where simply sticking to my schedule on the way home, just putting one foot in front of the other, are going to be major challenges. My body’s been on the rack since I left home. My mind isn’t any better. But it’s worth it to me and I know, regardless of how spent and broken I feel right now, that I’ll be mad keen to come back months before I actually strap on a rucksack, make one last check of my tickets and passport and head off to the train.

It’s something I love.

It’s part of me.

And here comes the train to Morlaix…

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