New blog in residence

7 October 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of flapjacks.

Now that the memories of my holiday in Brittany are fading and thus my reminiscences of it are, thanks to the rose-tinted spectacles of hindsight, more of a lazy, hazy summer in Utopia than a week in the wind-swept and vomit-ridden infernal nether regions of Hades (Guilvinec branch), I fear that my Rule Bretagne blog has – at least until my inevitable return to the shores of north-western France like a perpetually disoriented homing pigeon – run its course. It is time for it to be put out to stud, beget some offspring and take a well-deserved, and hopefully more successful, holiday of its own.

However, in order to not disappoint my dedicated readership (hi Mum), I will be moving to a more general, all-purpose blog, the eponymous Toby Marshan’s Much Bloggage, where you can expect to see much the same crushing disappointment and confusion as I stumble aimlessly through the bewilderness.

It is therefore, with much sadness and regret, that I hereby leave this blog, along with all its works and chattels, as a constant reminder of the perfect foreign holiday. Until next time, Vive la France!

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Lessons Learned

20 September 2009

There were quite a few things that happened on holiday that didn’t warrant their own blog post. Some were cute, some embarrassing, and some just plain annoying, but all were worth noting for future reference.

  1. Firstly, do NOT go abroad and stay in a caravan mobile home if you’re planning on being ill for the duration. In fact, I would recommend that you not plan on being unwell at all; it’s not fun and it’s not clever, especially when the bathroom is only two yards and one door from the kitchen/living area and its window is next to the patio.
  2. Secondly, when you’re blogging your holiday experiences, do not assume that just because the site boasts of having free wi-fi that it is attached to broadband. You may have to make do with speeds so sluggish that you start reminiscing fondly about the heady days of  dial-up in the early 1990s. This made even the uploading of camera-phone photos an all-nighter, and you can forget about videos unless you’re booked in for a month.
  3. Also (and I’m looking at you here, mother-in-law!) it’s best to avoid trying to put a 3-year-old’s shoes on whilst he’s standing up and swaddled in a towel after swimming. He will invariably fall over and be unable to break his fall. Except with his nose. However, the potential fat lip might stop him wandering off again in the direction of the ‘go-karts for hire’ after dark saying “I need to talk to the man. I need lots of money”. At a scarcely believable €12 for an hour, perhaps he was thinking of enquiring about a part-time job to fund it.
  4. It is a good idea to explain to the kids before you go into a cathedral what the candles are for, so they don’t break the peace and tranquillity by asking “Whose birthday is it?” several times before giving up and singing “Happy Birthday to you” at the tomb of a Saint.
  5. The evenings are long and there’s not much to do after the kids go to bed, so it’s wise to take books and other forms of entertainment, otherwise your wife will stare longingly at the microwave oven in the desperate hope that it will spontaneously start displaying Ceefax.
  6. Check that your elder son has grasped the difference between ‘grande’ when asking for something big, and ‘grrrrrr’, if only to avoid his sounding like a camp, Gallic tiger in the local patisserie.
  7. Don’t believe anyone’s assertions that they won’t eat your chocolate brownie for the second French holiday in a row because they ‘”are too ill to even contemplate food,” or you will end up without a chocolate brownie for the second French holiday in a row.
  8. And in the same vein of being told what you want to hear, don’t believe any ship’s captain when he says the waters are only slightly choppy. All this means is that only those with phenomenal balance need attempt to remain vertical when trying walk to the man dishing out sick bags.
  9. And lastly, if you want to enjoy sunny days and balmy evenings during your summer holiday, make sure you book your holiday for the summer, not early autumn (so late was our holiday in fact, that by the time we got back home, one of the local shops already had its Christmas display up). Low temperatures, perishing strong winds coming in off the sea, torrential rain inland: maybe it’s best to feign illness and stay indoors after all.

The final day

9 September 2009

After much sweeping and wiping, mopping and cleaning, packing and swearing, followed again by more sweeping, we finally left Camping Village de la Plage late Saturday morning, en route to Brest for lunch.

As far as I could tell from the small part we saw, Brest seemed a nice, fairly modern but attractive city, notwithstanding the docks which were as ugly and unwelcoming here as they are in any town. Apart from those without docks. They could have been mostly avoided, other than by not building them in the first place, had the tour bus’s navigational traditionalists – ignoring the satnav’s earlier exemplary work in getting us through Quimper and instead preferring to use intuition and blind optimism – stopped arguing with it at literally every turn. Nevertheless, the electronic navigator stood firm, safe in the knowledge that it knew far more about Breton roads than anyone else, and delivered us to our Brest feeding just after midday.

A small but decent meal at the first available crêperie allowed my in-lawesses ample time to mooch around a toy shop on the pretext of looking for educational toys to improve the kids’ embryonic French language skills. (This ambition would later lead to a low point on the journey; the playing of badly sung French nursery rhymes over the tour bus’s CD player.) Just as welcome, for me anyway, was the chance for what would prove to be just the first of many ‘comfort breaks’. Food poisoning, even if mild compared to my previous experience, was a pain in the backside.

Three further hours split between driving and comfort breaking saw us to St. Malo, looking, rather unsurprisingly, more colourful in the evening sun than it had in the dark of night the previous week. After some driving around and a few more  exchanges of opinions we found a car-park so as to pass the hour before check-in. The Marshans and Grampa walked around the town’s curtain wall along the seafront to take in the view and ponder on the town’s long and illustrious history, and the in-lawesses sought out Brittany’s last remaining unvisited patisserie.

We reconvened and quickly stumbled upon the ferry terminal, where we barely moved an inch for two and a half hours as the boat was again late – this time by 90 minutes. This at least gave plenty of time to negotiate the frankly revolting excuse for a public convenience. It was barely more than a porcelain-lined cess-pit, but even more disappointing was the coffee kiosk, which didn’t sell flapjacks.

We were the third-last car to be invited on to the Condor Vitesse, but as they may have thought the three hundred-weight of éclairs was a potential sinking hazard, you can’t blame them for being cautious. I was just grateful that NCP hadn’t been given their contract, or we might have ended up on the observation deck. We had not even reached our seats (which were nowhere near their stated location) before we felt the gentle rumble that meant we were on the move – although my wife had reached the queue for the refreshments. Outstanding work.

The waters north of Jersey were quite choppy, so everyone tried to sleep through the inevitable nausea and it was a relief when we finally docked at Poole some time after 1:30am BST. As good Karma for being last on the boat, we were just about first off and, after a brief worry about running out of diesel, scooted home in record (but entirely legal, officer) time. We were all in bed (different ones) by 4:00am (although it was 5:00am for those of us still on French time) and with only three more cases of food poisoning to go.

All in all a very successful holiday for me, other than the two days lost with the migraine. And the four with food poisoning. And the strong, cold coastal winds. And getting trench-foot in Quimper. Roll on next year, when we will be camping in Baghdad…

Sick note

4 September 2009

You may have noticed that there haven’t been many updates forthcoming recently. This is due to yet more ill health brought on entirely by food poisoning and (and I admit I have absolutely no basis in fact for this accusation) the weather.

Two days ago, Wednesday, we decided that as rain was forecast, we would go and visit the nearest large town, Quimper (pronounced Camper), even if only so I could write about the local wine in a blog post  called ‘Quimper Vin’.

Having made my driving-on-the-right lifetime debut on Tuesday afternoon when we visited the local fishing village of Guilvinec, I decided that having ‘been there, done that, bought the incomprehensibly arty French tee-shirt’ I would resume my role as chief navigator.

We got to the town in good time – a little over half an hour – but then managed to spend a similar amount of time looking for a parking space, an endeavour that caused us to cross and re-cross the river Odet several times and, bizarrely, end up in the forecourt of the local Post Office (amidst much cackling from the three witches in the middle seats of the tour bus, as that particular left turn had been the first independent decision made by the driver all day!). Literally two minutes after finally finding a space and disembarking the heavens opened, causing the local market to close for the day and drive off. It was heavy and it was an omen.

As the kids went with Grampa on ‘Le Petit Train’, snaking from the impressive cathedral through the narrow backstreets of the medieval town, my wife and I decided to explore. We gallantly but foolishly left the only two umbrellas we had with her mother and sister, who then thanked us for our generosity by spending the rest of the day inside a nice, dry shop. Unsurprisingly, we got totally soaked.

By the time we left Quimper and walked around a hypermarket at Pont L’Abbe for an hour and a half (“the experience of a lifetime” according to my mother-in-law, but “just like Shoreham Tesco” according to me), trench-foot had set in and I was becoming even more thoroughly miserable than is customary. Amusing though, in a more-than-slightly-embarrassing way, was the sight of my mother-in-law wrenching my wife’s card from the Chip’n’Pin gizmo after physically pushing her away from the till, so she could herself insist on paying. Goodness alone knows what the natives thought of such a display.

However, as is always the case in such scenarios, just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, things got worse, as the food poisoning from the previous night’s very tasty, but overpriced and now-quite-obviously-lethal pizza kicked in. Feeling as weak as a kitten and as cold as ice I haven’t left the campsite since and have only twice ventured outside the caravan. Everyone else has enjoyed swimming, go-karting, visits to the beach and copious quantities of food and drink and I have enjoyed reading a Bill Bryson book I borrowed from the Canvas Holidays reps and managing to not throw up.

Holidays are SO relaxing.

Wintery Games

1 September 2009

The weather has, so far at any rate, been better than forecast. That is not to say it’s been great, but it has at least stayed dry. And whilst rain might keep people off the beach, the current gale force winds are as nothing to this bunch of Scots. I am always making up excuses as to why I would be more gainfully employed back in the mobile home; “who will keep the burglars away?”, “I have a blog post to write” and “that floor won’t sweep itself, you know!” but I know they’ll only buy me half an hour at most.

This morning I had a throwing competition with my 6 year old boy. Being the fair but competitive Dad I am, I gave him all the encouragement in the world, only to annihilate his best throw with my first effort. However, Karma not being far away, a particularly strong gust of wind blew the hat off my head and 150 yards down the beach into the sand dunes. I swore loudly and apologised to passers-by for my poor French. Gales of laughter haunted my every step as I trudged after it, never seeming to gain on it.

Later on, everyone walked along the sand about half a mile from our base with its stash of bags and shoes. I carried the bag to the new location, at which point my mother-in-law insisted she carry it back. Within 10 seconds she also decided to carry my younger son, despite the fact that she was in deeper water than him. She put the bag down and the next wave duly picked it up – digital camera and purse inside – and started dragging it out to sea. Only the cat-like response of my wife, who chased after it, averted an even funnier anecdote.

Anyway, I’ve done the sweeping, everything worth stealing is safely locked in the car and this blog post is just about finished… I guess there’s nothing for it but to go to the beach. I think I’ll leave my hat here this time, I can’t stand the humiliation.

I Don’t Like Mondays

1 September 2009

There literally wasn’t much to write home about yesterday. I awoke late and with a dizzy headache following Sunday night’s migraine to find everyone else on their way to the beach. I followed an hour later once I had regained some semblance of balance (and grabbed a brief nap), but only stayed 20 minutes before deciding I’d had enough sea air for one spell. Despite the brevity of my appearance I still found time to throw a foam missile at my eldest son from 30 yards and land it on his head. Luckily,  he saw the funny side, although I’m glad I didn’t test my mother-in-law’s sense of humour when I threw it to her later.

After another brief nap at lunchtime the sea beckoned once more, and yet again I was some distance behind the rest. By the time I arrived a huge sandcastle in the style of Mordor had been created – by my sister-in-law. My sons were jumping the waves at the water’s edge.

A fine barbeque finished the day and, with some ill-advised chocolate for pudding, ensured I went to bed feeling just as queasy as when I arose 12 long hours earlier.

Audio Blog

31 August 2009

The story so far

30 August 2009

Sat 29-Aug-09 19:00 BST
I write this whilst docked in St. Helier, which is somewhat of a surprise as I didn’t realise we were going via Jersey. There has been a massive exchange of passengers, with lots of Brits alighting and just as many French boarding.

Despite being an hour late departing from Poole, the journey thus far has been relatively straightforward. The Condor Vitesse is a nice, modern boat (ship?) with a reasonably-priced cafe not 10 feet from my chair. We have had fairly smooth seas so I don’t know if my travel sickness tablets have worked their magic, but as long as I stay seated I should be fine.

The highlight of the day though, by some margin, is finding a make of flapjack I long believed to be extinct on  sale at the cafe at Poole Harbour. I bought all four and look forward to devouring them once we make dry land.

Sat 29-Aug-09 23:30 CET
We made it to our caravan in St. Cast just after 22:00 local time in good spirits, despite my wife and her sister singing I Know Him So Well. My eldest is very pleased to be sleeping in a bunk – we might have trouble getting him out of it tomorrow morning, although a visit to the local patisserie should help.

Sun 30-Aug-09 19:45 CET
The drive from St. Cast to our final destination was as eventful as it was sunny; not very. The only excitement was caused by our continued failure to find anywhere to shop (hypermarkets all seem to be closed on Sundays) or eat until we reached the delightful medieval town of Quimper, just 25km short of our holiday home in Guilvinec. Once there we had the choice of dozens of cafes and restaurants, but were all so ravenous that we stopped at the first place we found, a creperie in a lovely, old square just north of the river.

Our 8-berth immobile home is small but functional, surrounded on all sides by similar homes and fir trees. We are only a two minute walk from a very sandy beach and, contrary to all the scare stories, it is completely algae free.

And still no-one has stolen my flapjacks! A good day all round, really.

Vomity in Cromarty

28 August 2009

Usually, when the The Ashes commentary is interrupted by the shipping forecast, it is my cue to leave the room to make a cuppa. I never knew nor cared where Dogger, Fastnet or German Bight were and I worried not how the weather was affecting those seafarers foolish enough to be on the waters.

However, the time is fast approaching when the state of the seas will have a direct impact on me and my stomach, and I should start taking notice. Unfortunately, Test Match Special was the sole programme on Radio 4 that I listened to live and now the series against the old enemy has finished, the only broadcasts I hear are in the shape of podcasts – and shipping forecasts not included. Even if they were, shipping forecasts are, by their very nature, very much of the moment; they aren’t produced days in advance nor are they useful long after they are sent over the airwaves.

This means I have a very small window of opportunity to catch one. The 00:48 broadcast is too far in advance of the time we sail and the 05:20 one is at a very silly time indeed. This leaves the 12:01, by which time we should be either very nearly on the boat, or very actually on the boat.

Of course, even if I hear the prediction “Wight, Portland, Plymouth. Southwest gale 8 to storm 10, backing west” I still won’t be any the wiser but, technically at least, I’ll have been forewarned. It might just be simpler to go and ask the Captain about the weather conditions – a man wearing an Aran sweater and a huge white beard while selling fish fingers should be very easy to spot. Unless they forecast fog.

Brittany Fears

21 August 2009

Typical. It’s just over a week before we go to Brittany and it gets invaded. Twice. Not by body-snatchers, nor by hordes of like-minded British holiday-makers who can’t quite cope with the idea of ‘staycationing’ in Britain. Not even by the combined military forces of the United Nations, although  this is presumably because there are no oil fields in north-western France. No, this twin-pronged pincer movement is by algae and Chinese hornets.

The algae has been around for about a decade, minding its own business, but has mushroomed this summer (insofar as algae can ‘mushroom’). Not only does it spoil the look of the sweeping, sandy beaches and rocky outcrops of the Breton peninsula, but when it decays it smells like rotten eggs. Not a problem for my anosmic wife, but quite unpleasant for the rest of us. More worrying though are the reports that a horse and two dogs have already died after walking through the green mass and been overcome by the noxious fumes.

The hornets (which are basically wasps with better PR) might be just as irritating, especially if their ability to seek me out and attack is anything like as advanced as their native cousins. However, I presume they are just as likely to die when hit by a rolled-up copy of Le Monde.

The potential disasters that await us are the holiday equivalent of getting to the front of the queue in a busy McDonalds only be be told they just have Filet O Fish left; a few weeks of increasingly exciting anticipation ending in crushing disappointment.

Nevertheless, so long as I can find room in the car to stow a packet of clothes-pegs, a fly-swat and an industrial sized can of Raid we will enjoy ourselves, even if it kills us.