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