Stuff Happens. What We Did On Our Hols. 1/3

Friday 5 September
Leaving aside the minor irritation that, due to an overcorrection at the salon, my hair colour is vintage Elvis, the holiday does not get off to a good start. The day before we are due to depart Ma, Tom and I go to visit Auntie Joanie hanging on in there despite being given only days to live. On our way we learn that Uncle Sid (he of the Cutty Sark fame, husband of Auntie Joanie) is himself very ill. Auntie Joanie is not looking too bad in the circumstances and we leave feeling quite reassured about her at least.

I’m just about to get out of the car to follow Ma into her flat when I get a call to say that my Uncle Billy in Australia has died. I rush in after Ma before she can pick up her answer phone messages and break the news to her. Ma folds up with grief but won’t cry and shrugs me off when I try to hug her. It’s her way of coping.

Saturday 6 September
2pm. Arrive Portsmouth in pouring rain. Normandy Express not due to board until 3pm but we are in pole position.
3pm. Normandy Express is delayed by an hour due to bad weather.
4pm. Board Normandy Express and note alarming absence of sick bags and pervasive scent of vomit and disinfectant.
5pm. Depart Portsmouth. Beyond the Solent fast cat meets whopping seas. Unnaturally cheerful steward reassures us that, ‘This is good boat.’ Just as well because the wind speed is now force 7 gusting 9. Feel the need of a medicinal Scotch.
12pm. Arrive at freezing holiday home with only black tea and cake to sustain us since we have missed the shops. Open kitchen drawers looking for instructions to heating/domestic appliances/anything vaguely helpful and it becomes apparent that the last occupants simply put their dirty plates, pots and pans back where they found them. Lovely. In addition the downstairs loo is very grim indeed and there is a liberal coating of dust and cobwebs everywhere else.

Discover that the description in the brochure is far from adequate; there is a warning about the steep stairs to the second floor, where Tom and I plan to sleep but nothing about the perilous ancient steps to the first floor which are open-tread, uneven and present an Everest-like challenge to Ma. The good news is there is an en suite to Ma’s room. The bad news is it doesn’t have a loo – you’d think they would mention a little thing like that, wouldn’t you? Ma puts on a brave face but I’m infuriated about her having to negotiate tricky stairs in the night. We retire to bed shell-shocked and knackered. The beds, thank goodness, are clean and dry but creaky as hell and the floor/ceiling arrangement means I can hear Ma breathing in the bedroom below… not exactly conducive to romance.

Sunday 8 September
Break fast with black tea and cake whilst comparing tales of ancient creaking house. Ma spooked out by enormous old fireplace in her room and fears that something will come down it. Assure her that the only thing likely to come down it is Tom clumping over fragile floor/ceiling. Head off in search of supermarket. All shut. Have to make do with hellishly dear ‘8-8’ shop. Back at the house Ma is wearing three jumpers and a fleece.

Monday 9 September
Replenish at U-Marche. Le soleil is actually brilling so we head off to ‘Jardin des Argences’ which is tres charming. Le soleil still brilles so we sit outside in the sunshine for nearly two hours. Smugness rudely interrupted by guest at the adjoining holiday home. We torture ourselves with thoughts of how much nicer their accommodation probably is than ours. Bastards.

Tuesday 9 September
a.m. My first French run; 5m to Sartilly. Set off feeling nervous as I always do on a new run in a strange area. Road safer than I anticipate and French drivers more considerate. Manage a few bonjours with appreciative cyclists, get heckled by a French wag with a cry of ‘Plus vite!’ and exchange a few words about how chaud it is with an old man and a dog.

p.m. The accommodation is a real bummer and doesn’t help the tension that naturally arises when three people have three different ideas of what makes a holiday. Ma likes to shop, Tom likes to watch the sea and I like to explore. My solution is to study all the tourist information trying to come up with suggestions that all of us can bear.

Set off to Musee D’art Moderne Richard Anacreon at Granville. Have now mastered ‘Y a-til une reduction pour les personnes de plus de soixante-cinq ans?’. Better than jabbing my finger at Ma and saying ‘vieux person’. No wonder the girl behind the desk at the jardin looked amused. Wrong on so many levels!

The walk through the old town is beautiful; tall houses, window boxes, little cafes and exotic bars but Ma is finding it very hard to put one foot in front of the other. She pretends that her back isn’t hurting but it’s obvious that she’s in lots of pain. It makes me sad for her and for myself.

‘What we did on our hols’ continues tomorrow.

Painting is 'Bad Moon Rising' by Tom Tomos


Lane said…
Oh Chris, I'm sorry your accommodation was so bad and your Ma's back was bad, not to mention the awful news before you went away. You poor things.

I lol, lol, lol when I got to vieux person though and I'm still 'lol'ing:-)
Milla said…
what a pummer and what a truly ghastly sounding holiday. Come to think of it, have you yet had a good time, ever, leaving your house?? Stay at home, change your phone number, admit no guests. Can't wait for next installment.
Debs said…
How dreadful for you all to arrive after that trip (after any trip) and find your accommodation so awful.

Sorry to hear about your uncle too.

I adore that painting and if I ever get some money (inspiration to keep writing) I shall have to buy one. Dx
Grouse said…
Sounds very like the first 24hrs of our last french holiday (your franglais plus franglier than mine)but ours DID improve........trying not to laugh.......
LittleBrownDog said…
Oh, Chris - truly sympathise over accommodation. Just what you need after delayed channel crossing gusting force 9 and a frail old lady. Not. Am crossing my fingers here and fervently hoping things don't get any worse. Surely they can't.

(By the way - why is the moon of Tom's painting, "bad"? I rather like it.)

Zinnia Cyclamen said…
Eek, that seems a bit ominous. I think a serious complaint about the accommodation is in order (I'm such a fan of complaints these days!!).
Elizabethd said…
So sorry to hear you were so let down with accommodation. Was it a gite de France? They are usually good.
Frances said…
Hey Chris, I do agree with Elizd, that whoever got you all booked into the accomodation that really was not, should have some answers for you.

Still hoping that the second installment will show how the sun burst forth in glory.

(Last week as our financial world begain to spin out of control, I became a bit more happy that I had not booked any sort of travel plans for my time off next month. This week, the financial news gets worse, and the political responses are scary, so ... I am going to be happy staying at home.)

Before signing off, I do want to praise your writing. I will be back to see what happened next.

(Also want to send condolences to your family, and hope that you won't think my putting this last is disrespectful.)

elizabethm said…
Aargh this is awful (and very self centredly makes me want to say, bring your ma to stay with us, it is not horrid).
I was about to say that my mother would also want to hold herself back from a hug when I realised with a start that just sometimes I might do the same.
I hope the next instalment is not too grim and I don't believe that your mother was not pleased to be with you.
sorry about weird 3.15 posting time. Couldn't sleep after nightmare train journey.
Flowerpot said…
what a holiday Chris!
ChrisH said…
Thanks very much for your condolences, all. Much appreciated.
BT said…
As I seem to have somehow read your posts backwards, I'm glad it does get a little better!! I'm not a huge holiday fan, we always seem to fall out. Maybe the expectations are too high. Have just had 4 days in Milan which I really did enjoy, but that's about as long as I like!
BT said…
I forgot to mention I want that painting. Love your Tom's work. Fabulous.

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