17 April 2010

French fancy part 2

So where were we? Oh yes, tired, a little tetchy and the Thetford cassette giving us its ‘Closed for business’ orange light. Nothing for it but to venture out into the penumbral gloom and use the aire’s service point. Actually, service point makes it sound a very grand affair but the reality was that it was a tiny drain hole set into a concrete surround, not some capacious square sluice like we get over here. Now I’d read about these in a guide somewhere, and basically the advice was to be very, very careful in positioning the cassette and to take things very slowly, as otherwise you just end up with a ploptastic flood and unsavoury shoes – and it is so not the done thing to make a mess with your mess. So I was just about to open my mouth and offer some sage counsel to He Who Has To Obey when he slung the cassette in the general direction of the drain and hit the trigger. Despite the dark, my sixth sense told me I was right in the firing line so I jumped off the concrete base PDQ and started to proffer my advice…yes, yes, a bit late I know but…anyway, that merely elicited a reaction of ‘well if you know so much about it, you do it then’ before himself stomped off in a queeny strop.

Thankfully, none of this had been witnessed by any of our fellow campers and I set about trying to clean up the deluge. Despite my best efforts and my last 2 Euro piece, I couldn’t get the water dispenser to work so was reduced to using our jerry can water to help sluice things away. A was observing me with what I can only call a ‘poached egg’ expression and then started berating me for using up valuable drinking water. I countered that we could fill up from the dispenser in the morning (not confessing that I hadn’t been able to work it) so that was 1-1. I managed to eradicate most traces of our own ‘dark materials’ before retiring to the van to encourage egg-boy to come out and get a bit of dinner. The prospect of food lightened the mood but unfortunately a succession of ‘no, sorry, we’ve stopped serving’ responses from the town’s restaurants had us both stomping back to the van to cook up an emergency pizza. To be honest, it was just one of those evenings where the best thing is to go to bed and hide – everything will seem much better in the morning. And of course it did – the sun was shining, there was little evidence of our nocturnal spillage and I even worked out how to use the water dispenser. Now all we had to do was rendezvous with our host and make it to his villa…

I use the term ‘make it’ advisedly, readers. Having looked at a detailed Michelin map, we’d discovered that the little hamlet where the villa was located was reached by the dreaded thin, white roads. Now Michelin’s thin, white roads to a motorhomer mean only one thing – ‘you’re having a laugh’. So the first thing we’d done when planning the trip was to check with our host that it was possible to get a 25ft motorhome up to his house and he’d very carefully driven the route and reported back that he could only see one likely ‘pinch point’. Now the prospect of having driven over a 1000 miles only to be thwarted 200 yards from the front door was not exactly thrilling so it was with some trepidation that come Monday lunchtime we rendezvoused first and then set off in convoy. Well, the thin roads were bloody thin and the buildings started to press in from both sides and I found myself unaccountably breathing in as if that would help. And then we arrived at the pinch point – the 7’ 7” pinch point for a 7’6” wide van. Well, credit where credit is due – A manoeuvered with tremendous skill while I stood outside with my eyes ‘can’t bear to look’ shut (bit tricky that as I was supposed to be guiding him through the gap) and he made it without a scratch. Full of beans we set off on the last bit of the journey, turned right into the little track down to the house…and screech, bang, scrape, clang, we’d grounded the exhaust out on a treacherous hump. Well, we weren’t stopping now so A just kept going – bugger the brackets, we could fix those later.

Actually we forgot all about them in the week that followed, only to be reminded of our slight mechanical issue as we clanged around the first roundabout we came to on leaving the villa the following weekend. Oh yes, that was an unexpected bonus…we had a cracking couple of days with our hosts before they calmly announced that they had to leave for a prior engagement and would be away for a few weeks, and rather than moving onto a campsite would we like to stay on for a few days on our own? Now why would we want to do that? Why would anyone want to spend time working on a huge sunny terrace overlooking the forests and gorges of the Ardeche, with a Nespresso machine in the kitchen, a swimming pool in the garden and a wine cellar that had been put at one’s personal disposal? Come on, why would you? We grudgingly said that yes, maybe we could stay for a couple of days….in fact, the plan was to use those days (with wifi on tap) to get on top of our work, allowing us to have some leisurely touring later in the week. But it was such a gorgeous place to hang out that the daily mantra became ‘we’ll leave tomorrow – definitely’, and a whole week passed before we did succeed in tearing ourselves away. The dogs were in their element too snoozing in the sunshine and making free in the terrace garden. The only slight unnerving moment was when the goatherd, his goats and his dogs turned up in the field below the garden…we had been given prior warning but we’d just thought there’d be half a dozen or so. More like ten dozen. Well, you can imagine the scene…a marauding caprine force meets fearsome canine defenders..it put me in mind of Zulu with Monty in the Michael Caine role…Thank heaven for the strong fence.

So onto our departure…you couldn’t make this up, truly. Imagine the scene. A tiny French hamlet that had shown no signs of life all week. Having got the van up to the villa we weren’t too concerned about getting it down again but we both knew our nerves would be better once we were back on proper, yellow roads. However, looking on the bright side, at least we’d have an unimpeded passage back down because simply nothing happens here, does it? So Saturday morning comes, bright and early, and we’re ready to go. And so it seems is the man who lives opposite the track entrance – go as in move house. Move house as in hire a big truck. Move house as in enlist all the friends you can to help. The place was bedlam – cars, vans, trailers, furniture – all of which we somehow negotiated only to meet an old boy in his Twingo coming up the hill with his baguettes sticking through the sun roof – and would he get out of our way? No. We had nowhere to go, he had a large area which he could pull into, but no, he just sat there, gesticulating Gallically. Well, I don’t suppose it did much for the Entente Cordiale but I opted for some Anglo Saxon gestures of my own. Eventually, he realized his baguettes were getting stale so he pulled over and let us pass. Yellow roads, here we come. Oh hang on a sec, just better tighten those exhaust brackets first…A doesn’t need an excuse to whip out his tool…er..a spanner in this case, if memory serves.

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