Sunday, 17 July 2011

John And Linda's Big French Adventure II

Wednesday 29 June

As is becoming commonplace immediately prior to a holiday in France, our religiously serviced and meticulously maintained Civic develops sudden and spontaneous maladies out of le bleu. This year it's a grinding sound from one of the wheels during forward motion, and a cacophanous monotone whining buzz when reversing. Both seem related to the offside rear disc brake (offside when it's in the UK, that is). Incidentally, why do we even have a phrase like "rear disc brake"? Surely that alone indicates a bug, a fatal and fundamental flaw in your design. Like "pilot light", or, dunno, maybe "exploding nipple ring". Give me rear drums, or give me... erm... well, multiple handbrakes, I suppose.

Thursday 30 June

Car Guy Noel says we're good to go, despite sounding like angle grinders driving, or a lovelorn wookie in reverse; repairs are necessary, but can't be organised with zero notice. I could fix it myself, assuming of course that brake pads haven't been replaced by multicore proprietary silicon since last I looked in there. But I'm bound by the same time constraints as Noel, vis-a-vis obtaining any necessary replacement parts. Either way, they'll have to await our return in une Quinzaine or so.

My heart's not in my work, and I've finished doing anything nearly productive by about 6:20pm. Still a good hour and a bit in credit, but not the 7pm finish I'd promised my long suffering colleagues. What can I say, there's nothing left in the tank guys, I feel as guilty as a newborn lamb. Off to collect Linda, get home, start packing.

7pm: collect Linda, go home, make dinner (sausages!), eat dinner (yuk.), collapse into bed too knackered to pack. Luckily, Linda's already got most of it done: like, from about a month ago.

Friday 1 July

7am: bounce out of bed and pack the car; finally depart about 12. Yes, seriously. What's the rush? All we have to do is reach Portsmouth sometime today. At 4pm there's a rumble in my psychic powers. I turn on the car radio, search MW for 5 live, and we're just in time to catch the first few points of Murray v Nadal. Andy wins the first set! Then loses pretty much every remaining point in the match.

Car continues to grind and buzz. Thanks to a 2 hour gridlock near Brum, we don't hit Victory until after 10pm. Unload suitcases into the Hilsea Travelodge, where the brasserie is already closed. Damn, that would have been ace, sitting outside on a night like this, getting wired into some big steak. Instead we're forced to chow down on local chip shop fare: sausages again (puke).

Besides the apologetic and mildly despairing "Smile" notice, there's a mysterious second door in our Travelodge bedroom. Solid varnished darkwood, it has no handle, and no keyhole. We try prising it open by squeezing our fingers into the frame gap. There is no movement. We settle down to a somewhat wary rest, fully expecting it to admit a headless intruder at some point during the night. When it does finally burst open at 4am, admitting an eight foot wall of torrenting blood, Linda sleeps through it all, apparently remembering nothing about it in the morning.

Now playing: Queen - Absolute Greatest... which reminds me, here's one I wrote earlier! For Harry Hill: Careful, Freddie! You've already broken two of those! What more do you want? Freddie Mercury: I want to break free...

samedi 2 juilliet

Travelodges have no phones, so the 6 o'clock alarm is a polite knock on the door, simultaneous with both of our mobiles going quite loopy. But we're already up, half washed, two-thirds dressed, three-quarters way to the ferry port by then. No worries, plenty time! With a full English breakfast at the self-service on board the beautiful MV Normandy (big fat 6-hour cruise ferries each way this year, none of that Express crossing nonsense), we wave goodbye to the last of our sterling.

We're On A Boat!

Exploring the extent of our freedom above deck, soon we decide it's a little breezy up here, and go visiting the various shops on board. Before long we take up a comfy table in the bar, silently participating in the quiz being run by entertainments crew. Can't believe that not a single entrant identified the voice of Groucho Marx - what on earth are we coming to? Oh shut up, Mr Grumpy.

A couple of hours later we realise France can be seen approaching, so we're back out on deck devouring its coastline with eyes and cameras. Next, in no time we're back in our cars; then it's an (almost) error-free afternoon drive to Paimpol, confidently following nothing but the intermediate road signs via St Malo, Dinard, and St Brieuc. The contrast with last year's refugee landing and midnight random drive now seems like chalk and, well, anti-chalk.

Resolved to buy some local bread, cheese and Bordeaux to mark our arrival, we are lucky enough to reach Paimpol's Carriefour just before its 8pm closing. As we wait in the checkout queue, Linda tells me she's noticed our landlord M. Koffe standing in another line. When I investigate I'm unconvinced it's the right guy, and return to tell her this. Didn't you ask if it was him? Well no, curiously not; call me a big fat feartie, but I decided not to approach some random Frenchman with the salutation "Monsieur Koffe!" on the sole basis that he was black...

It's about two minutes after closing time when Linda tries to get someone to show her where to find un adaptateur. That person's insincerity, unhelpfulness and feigned ignorance are a blot on the whole nation's image and reputation! Luckily this will be our last cause for complaint about the locals this year.


Departing for Ploubazlanec, I'm suddenly aware that we were supposed to phone ahead if arriving after 8pm local time, and of course when we get to the gîte at 8:15 there's no sign of life. Linda asks if I'm going to go round to see the neighbour, Emily, who was keyholder last year. And this part is true, and Linda is my witness: for no reason I can discern or imagine, I tell her, "Sure, but I don't think she'll be there. I think there might just be a man, doing some work upstairs in her house." She looks at me a little askance, and I don't blame her.

There's a note with two telephone numbers on the door, but we can't get through on either; a recorded French voice just keeps telling us, Orange. Blablah, blablah, blablah. The note says in English, "We are at Paimpol with friends," and so we go back there, thinking the problem might be nothing more than poor mobile reception; perhaps we can just pick up the key from them in town. But none of that is the case. I do however succeed in leaving a message on their home answering service, the longest French monologue I've ever attempted or achieved in my life, ending with "Au secours! C'est tout! Au revoir! A très bientôt!" But their home being in Nantes, 250 kilometres away, I don't expect much to come of that.

We return to Ploubazlanec looking for our Plan B. I take a walk round to Emily's house and ring the bell, but she's not there. Instead, a disembodied male voice from behind and above me demands, "Qui est là?"

"Où êtes-vous?" I ask, looking and turning around in a circle. I move into the middle of the driveway and there, poking out of a high attic window, I spot a rather distinguished looking, grey haired and bespectacled gentleman, holding a hammer.

Il Arrive!

I manage to explain our plight in broken French phrases, ending with my animated headshaking impression of the recorded voice, Orange. Blablah, blablah, blablah. "Etes-vous anglais?" - "Nous sommes écossaise" - "Attendre là," he offers, chuckling "C'est une distinction très importante!" and disappearing. I do a little jig, waiting for him to reappear in the doorway. Which he does. With a phone! Now we're communicating. I pass him the note from the door and he phones M. Koffe, announcing after a minute's conversation, "Il arrive!" - "Fantastique!" I opine, thanking him très beaucoup...

Returning to Linda, I tell her how my odd little prediction has just come true. She makes one of her own: there will be a bottle of cider in the fridge. Naturally enough, once M. & Mme Koffe arrive, full of welcomes and apologies, allow us in, waive the deposit, and then depart, this prediction too proves correct.

dimanche 3 juilliet

Just look at all that beautiful Breton countryside! After croissants, raspberry jam and coffee, Linda can't wait to walk the 100m or so downhill to la plage. I stay behind, clean up in the kitchen and try to get my mobile working by swapping SIMs and topping up. Once that's done I test it by phoning Linda, and my goodness gracious me, wasn't it just as well that I did! The poor wee darling is stranded on the margin, with sunstroke and unsocked heels and toes blistered from her brand new holiday shoes. I ride gladly to the rescue.

Her iPod now charging nicely, my clever wife arranges for lunch alfresco - or should that be en plein air? - under the parasol, with gourmet pork and Camembert. All this from last night's leftovers! Even the Diet Coke tastes ten times better here. After yesterday's early rise, six hour cruise, four hour drive and access crisis, today's theme is a day of rest. I start reading my holiday book, The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, a thousand-page hardback edition I'd bought some weeks earlier and saved for Brittany. Later we venture to our favourite restaurant for our favourite Sunday dinners - moules à la crème, and filet de bœuf à la béarnaise. Now we're really here!

lundi 4 juilliet

Early morning trip to la boulangerie for bread, strawberry jam, etc. Get the maps out. Plan an excursion. Go to the seaside!

Evening meal: Président Camembert on baguette, with duck, pork, salad, etc. Check one box on my holiday list. That just leaves "barbecue"...

mardi 5 juilliet

Merde! J'ai oublié mes médicaments!

(to be continued)

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