Je n’etais pas perdu en Rouen….

Saturday 31st July and Sunday 1st August

Despite my better judgement, I decided it would be wise to set off to France tonight, rather than wait until the morning. Jake had been pecking Steve’s head because he wanted to leave, and to be honest, I didn’t fancy a night of sleeping on the floor again. I threw as much as I could in the car… towels, duvet, remaining shoes (which Steve had mysteriously left in his house) cat and boy and set off after a full day of marking and work. I’d been up from half six, but what does a 14 hour drive count when you have a new home to get to?

I left the house in a complete state (sorry, Mum!) including a mouldy tea-pot and several festering cups. I left my couches, several chairs, my photographic enlarger, several boxes of my suits (seems I got practical in the last stages…) and loads of washing I hadn’t managed to do. My garden was a wreck and weeds were in abundance. I haven’t cancelled my TV licence or my mobile phone. Really, I should have stayed another week and sorted everything out (and finished my marking) but that was far too sensible.

Well, if I get a buyer, I’ll be back with a van. What more can I say??!

We had our final McDo and departed. Unfortunately, England decided to bless us with the best of traffic. I drove past the M6 Toll, thinking, “Shall I risk it? Shall I pay £2.50 for an empty road?” But I decided the free M6 would be clear – after all, 10 o’clock on a Saturday evening … how crowded could it be?

“Very” is the answer to that. We sat in traffic for a whole hour. Basil had been relegated to the back seat in his box, and he was starting to meow. All I could think was that it was going to be the journey from hell.

Still, once past Birmingham (and 3 hours after I set off) he quietened down. I stopped for Red Bull and the boy came in to the services with me. Unfortunately, some kind of ‘disco bus’ had stopped – unleashing an army of women dressed up, as Jake said, “Like Gene Simmons” – this really means in platforms and leather, with too much make-up. I’m sure they thought they looked like Playboy Bunnies. I hope they wouldn’t be too distressed that a 10 year old boy thinks they look like a 50 year old rock and roll singer who’s had a hard life. It was very surreal.

The boy had picked up a couple of energy drinks too, much to my horror – I couldn’t face a nowty Jake for the next 10 hours. But, after one sip, he was asleep. I drank them instead and by London I was hyped up beyond belief. I found some cheesy radio station playing stuff from the eighties and I sang all the way to Dover.

Both the boy and the Basil were asleep through Customs. Jake woke briefly when we got on to the train, but then he was back in the land of Nod.

I made it down to the Somme Valley services at Abbeville and decided I needed more hype, so I stopped off and ran about a bit in search of caffeine. Basil was awake so I let him out and he crawled onto Jake’s duvet and fell asleep. Remarkably, all my panics about how he’d cope with the journey seem to have been misplaced.

After Rouen (no getting lost for me…) I went cross-country. I love France cross-country. It’s so unlike England. I didn’t get stuck in any traffic. I watched the sun rise and sank into a bit of a slump once caffeine had reached its upper limits. About 8 o’clock I was flagging. Jake woke up and kept me alert after that. Plus, it’s not monotonous like the motorway. It did seem to be a very long way away indeed.

We got stuck in horrendous traffic at Tours, caused by, guess what, a toll booth over a bridge. Seems the French toll booth system works like Dartford. Then it was a long, long way from Tours to Poitiers and down to Les Ecures – we got there at 1:30, a full 16 hours after we’d set off.

It was great to be ‘home’, though I did nothing but collapse. I let Basil out of the car, thinking the courtyard is secure. It generally is. He sniffed about a bit, then disappeared into the dog chateau, from whence he escaped and then spent half an hour making me crawl through nettles to find him whilst he whined pitifully.

I’d just about coaxed him out of the bushes when Jake roared by on his new motorbike, followed by the Molly Dog. And Basil shot back to the safety of the bushes. It took another hour of coaxing before he came out again, then I transported him to the house, where he sat staring at the dog in disgust.

We went to my dad’s, Steve made tea and then I prepared myself for a night of snoring.

Fact: when I’m very tired, I snore like a bastard.

Steve said he held my nose, pushed me, shoved me, shouted at me, and nothing was having any effect. Basil lay next to me all night, Steve on the other side, and the Moll at the foot of the bed. Tranquility chez nous.

Monday 2nd August.

It has begun to sink in that we’re here for good, with no return date. I spent the first part of the day doing what I’ve become accustomed to doing: racing about and trying to do as much as possible before realising I don’t have to fit it in to a two-week stay. I finished my papers, went to the supermarket, found Lidl – which, as a cheap Aldi knock-off, will suffice. Not sure it’s the same as Bury Aldi, but it does the trick. Lots of bargains. I have to say I was quite surprised to realise Steve hadn’t found it in the extra month he’d been out here – he can smell a bargain. He’s like a discount-supermarket gold-detector.

I did think I’d try and sort out broadband and post everything off and sort out a bank account, but in the end, I gave in to common sense and left it ‘À demain’

After this, I spent much of the day ferreting around the garden seeing what crops were salvageable. Hollyhocks 10 feet tall have taken over. The polytunnel is a seething mass of green that’s totally impregnable. Somewhere in there are some valuable crops, I know. Still… I need a hacksaw before I’m getting in there, as well as a drop in temperature.

Tuesday 3rd August

I managed, I think, to buy all the things we need to set up an internet connection, send my remaining papers back home and get some gas bottles. Steve set up the gas bottles and thus we have a working cooker, complete with our first meal chez nous – pork in a peppercorn and mustard sauce. It’s all good. He struggled a bit with the shower, so I departed to my dad’s to get washed, but other than that, it feels a bit more self-sufficient around here. Jake built a robot, then spent the rest of the day pottering about on his motorbike. He’s content to go up and down, round and round within the garden.

Wednesday 4th August

A rainy one. Woke up to drizzle and it got worse as the day went on, finally hammering it down about 1:00 for a couple of hours. Still, with a cooker and warm water, I spent the day making plum-related products. Turns out, there isn’t very much you can do with plums, other than stewing or baking them. Plum jam. Plum jelly. Plums with cinnamon. Plums with mixed spice. Baked plums. Plums in Galliano. And what’s worse is that I’ve still got a fridge-full left. After that, I moved on to redcurrant jelly and blackcurrant jam, both of which are delicious. The blackcurrants were the tail-end of the crop, so that’s our lot, as with the redcurrants. Steve will have to manage them next year!

La Molly chienne

The boy made some mint sauce for his dad, and then we used my Christmas present ice-cream maker to make some blackcurrant ripple ice-cream. Seeing as it’s the first time I’ve used this this year, it was really exciting. In fact, a lot of this move has made it like Christmas over again. I spend a lot of the time uncovering treasures I thought lost, though I still haven’t found my cutlery and we’re living by using a set of steak knives, three forks and two plastic teaspoons. Could be worse. Each thing I unpack is exciting. You feel the shape, try to work out what it is you’ve packed up, and then unearth a kitchen knife you’ve been wishing you had, or a soup ladle. It’s fantastic. I might pack stuff up just to unpack it again, because it’s like a little mini Christmas.

I have noticed, though, that Steve is much further on with his unpacking. Grrr. He’s also claimed all the available shelving and cupboard space – highly irritating!

Basil has settled down, though he’s wary of Molly. He’s more wary of Steve. He’s always been the alpha male (sorry to all of my exes who thought they were the dominant male in the pack – Basil really was head Alpha here) and he’s a bit disheartened to find another alpha male in the house. He’s been relegated to the edge of the pack, forced to depend on the female pack leader to fight for his position in the tribe. Molly Dog and I have a bond to keep all the males from scrapping. She is absolutely loving it here, spending all her time out in the garden chomping up apples and eating pine cones. She’s found several very large sticks including several huge pieces of bamboo.

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