Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Pair of Idiots Abroad

20:54:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , 1 comment
When our children were small and we had very little spare money we used to pack the rusty old Sierra to the roof, squash the children in the back like sardines, between coolboxes, sleeping bags and frying pans, and set off for the long drive to the French Vendee. 

Sadly, this was never the pleasant, exciting journey I'd envisaged (the husband was always the realist, not to say pessimist).   As we set off in the middle of the night from Onslow Road and onto St Walburgas the arguments would begin.  These could be between any combination of passengers and driver, although mainly between three tired, over excited children or two exhausted, stressed adults. 

There were the usual, 'Are we nearly there yet?', 'What's to eat?' and, 'He/she is annoying/touching/speaking to me.'  These from the back, where Laurey always got to sit with her legs crushed by the coolbox and Dan was squashed in the middle with his knees up to his chin due to the hump in the floor.  Joe, meanwhile would be flicking Dan's ear or something equally annoying. In the front there would be the hissed disagreements about directions (the handy Satnav was yet to be invented, although, when it was, the husband, of course, knew better); or one of us, usually the husband, would explode about the kids' behaviour and the other (usually me) would surreptitiously slide a hand around behind the seat to find a leg to quietly grab or slap (difficult with the coolbox and the hump and the frying pan, despite plenty of practice), whilst calmly muttering, 'They're only kids, they're excited...'

Most years we were the idiots abroad and sadly have plenty of evidence to back that up.  One year we were the idiots before we'd even got out of Blackpool, although we didn't know it until we returned two weeks later.  A neighbour told us, with great pleasure, that we'd driven off and left the front door wide open.  Of course, the husband blamed me and I blamed him, but the truth was our brains had been frazzled by the planning, the packing and the children. 

As idiots abroad, we were the best.  Although I'd done A level French and my mastery of the language wasn't bad I resented being the only one out of at least nine of us (we went with another family, sometimes two) to do all the talking - all the asking about directions, the ordering of food, the bartering in markets, the buying of goods) and eventually persuaded the husband to at least have a go. 

I soon realised this was a big mistake. 

His first job was to get the bread. With dismay I heard him asking confidently in French (with a broad Accrington accent) for a dozen large baguettes. I leapt across the shop and quickly amended the order to the two that we needed. 

Then there was the petrol station where he greeted the attendant with a 'merci' and drove off with a 'bonjour' as I slid down in my seat and stared fixedly in the opposite direction. 

But by far the most idiotic and dangerous thing we were both responsible for was the day that we adults were so exhausted we allowed five children, aged from five to ten, to go off fishing. On their own. Unbelievable in this day and age. Anyway, off they went on their bikes, with a couple of fishing rods between them, while we settled down outside the tent, with a few luke warm bottles of beer (camping fridges were in their infancy and more likely to heat things up than keep them cool).  In due course, miraculously, all five children returned, albeit wet and rather subdued. There was not a fishing rod in sight and Joe, the eldest, was pushing his bike, rather than riding it. Laurey disappeared into the tent and lay on the bed, telling us in passing that she didn't feel too well.  

The Motley Crew


The adults, after rather half heartedly asking the children if they'd had a good time (there were subdued nods) carried on laughing, chatting and drinking the warm beer. 

Reading this now, it seems the whole arrangement was the height of irresponsibility. In our defence, thirty years ago, kids were given a lot more freedom than they would be today, but even by those standards we had acted like idiots. 

The full story didn't emerge till years later.  Apparently, all had started well. The little convoy had wound its way to the beach, Joe as the eldest, leading the way, Ben, the youngest bringing up the rear, pedalling as fast as his little legs would take him.  Then, at a bend in the dirt track, Joe's fishing rod which had been balanced precariously on his handlebars, somehow became entangled in the spokes of his front wheel and he was catapulted head first onto the ground, simultaneously grazing his face and knees and giving his wheel a nasty twist. 

Despite being somewhat shell shocked the little group gathered round the injured party, made sure he was still alive and carried on to the beach.  

And this was where things got seriously scary.  After a short while fishing with one shared rod between them and not a fish caught, Joe decided (probably in a show of bravado) that he would swim across the bay.  Against advice from some of the others, mainly his sister, he set off from the rocks and headed for the other side.  Halfway across he realised, with mounting panic, that it was further than he thought. Laurey, by this time, was crying hysterically, quite sure that she would be going home without one of her brothers.  Spotting a boat bobbing about a little way out, she managed to get the fisherman's attention and waved wildly towards Joe, who was still ploughing through the water in growing desperation.  

Of course there was happy ending. Joe was rescued, he managed to ride his bike in a somewhat wobbly fashion most of the way back to the campsite, followed by the motley crew, and if I remember rightly a rather drunken barbecue ensued. Laurey eventually emerged from the tent, still looking pale, and assured us she would feel better in the morning. 

I'd like to tell you that the holiday ran smoothly from then on, but two of the bikes were stolen the following day - by another idiot abroad.  But that's another story....

No time for a poem this week unless I add one tomorrow.

Thanks for reading     Jill

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1 comments:

Steve Rowland said...

Thanks Jill. A highly entertaining read, as ever. All's well that ends well ;-)