I am not a bitter man, but I do consider that waiting in an unmoving queue in a Paris airport for a hire car for a longer period of time than it took us to get from Barcelona to Paris is deeply wrong. The only thing that kept us sane was a self-assured and chatty American in front of us who regaled us with his city hopping career and his grandiose plans for the future in Singapore.
The essential problem with the hire car (apart from the moronically slow client throughput) was the credit card; which we did not have. At least not the right sort of credit card. Our cards did have the magic “VISA” inscribed on them but, alas, it was insufficient to allow the keys of the Skoda (!) to be released into our charge. For a moment it looked as if, after all our waiting we would have to find another way of getting from Paris to Normandy.
Of course, with the luck that normally aids me in these circumstances things were eventually worked out – although it did necessitate taking out the “full” insurance packet and the payment, in cash, of large amounts of extra money. But all the panic did allow me to use the line, “But I have to be in Normandy by early evening!” which has a sort of ring to it.
The transition from hybrid automatic to Skoda geared car was a little traumatic and no doubt by the end of the holiday when I return to Castelldefels I will have adjusted myself completely to a geared car and my right hand will be waving futilely for the non existent gear stick for a few days.
It took bloody hours to get to the Normandy coast with the last umpteen kilometres being through narrow winding lanes barely separating the ostentatiously bourgeoning vegetation being consumed by quite unnecessarily pushy cows which are characteristics of this part of the world.
Irene’s keen eye spotted a florist shop in some small village through which we were passing and so I was able to purchase a suitably ostentatious and predominantly “modern” arrangement of blooms to present to the birthday girl when we finally arrived to a hysterical welcome in which people made heroic attempts to try and make me feel not like a tedious supporting act to the arrival of the start of the evening – Irene.
The house in which we are saying has a narrow view through two houses of the sea. Which is tidal – a real treat after the obstinately sluggish Med!
The house was filled and continued to be filled further with the close cropped, chunky friends of the Birthday Girl who, god bless them, were able to provide us with life sustaining cups of Tetley’s tea. Every imprecation that we had made against this benighted nation based on the treatment meted out to us in Paris airport was banished with the first reviving sip of that sacred nectar.
A quick shower (quickish in Irene’s case) and we were ready for the fray.
All of my French has deserted me and all I come out with are mildly incoherent mumblings of a melange of French and Spanish which is of use to no man. Irene, of course, is making intimidatingly heroic attempts to speak the language and is even using verbs, in the right tenses! I am thoroughly dispirited and will attempt to pass myself off as a novice Trappist in an attempt to evade conversation!
The celebrations were held in a parish hall like affair on the coast. We walked to this venue after a long and involved conversation about where the place was and how long it would take and how many policemen there would be around at the end of the day. The end result was that two half empty cars set off while we were accompanied by a friend of the birthday girl as we walked there.
A long “U” shaped arrangement of tables for over fifty people were set out and the room filled up with other friends and relations to whom Irene was excitedly introduced. She has not been back to this town for 17 years and I could see here eyes glazing over as she attempted (unsuccessfully) to work out who might have been who.
I drifted away from this enforced sharing and was engaged in conversation with a large bespectacled man bemoaning the lack of available guys on whom to pounce! His true nature was revealed when he got his hands on a radio mike and became the life and soul of the gathering.
The whole gathering was an enjoyable cliché. It looked and sounded like every French family having a bit of a do that you have seen on film with cavorting uncles, rampaging children, ancients in wheelchairs and assorted supporting cast members.
There was a floorshow presented by Ladies of a Certain Persuasion who at one point appeared and did their own version of The Singing Nun’s song “Dominique” – which I have not heard for eons and gave me a jolt as I had a Proustian moment sending me spilling back to my youth!
We did dance – though it was in the dark and I am sure that the strobe and laser made it appear more sophisticated than the disjointed spasmodic gyrations which are my usual response to music I have never heard before.
Irene and I admitted defeat at some late point in the evening and cadged a key to our house and, unsteadily, made out way home in almost total blackness. Amazingly we achieved the front door and I fell, fully clothed onto the bed and resorted to the old “coma” technique for power resting.
At some point in existence I woke, far from refreshed and went to bed properly and felt that I could possible face the world in a few hours time. Always a good moment!
And now, in the absence of the host, we face a new day in which our first task is to find something to eat as there is bugger-all in the house at the moment!
Onward into France!