It’s 11.15am on Saturday 19th December. We’re a mile and a half from Dover docks, and due to check in at 11.45am. What can go wrong? Quite a lot, as it turned out. Snow has closed the port of Calais, and my smugness at having chosen to cross to Boulogne-sur-Mer is as short-lived as it is intense. With Calais closed, the army of 40-ton trucks has nowhere to go except to litter the approach road to the docks. That mile and a half takes us 4 hours. Our ferry is long gone, and the next one’s not until 6pm. It’s late, and we finally leave Dover at 7.45pm. Not exactly the start we’d hoped for! But even in these frustrating circumstances there’s much to be thankful for. My 89-year-old mum whose bladder does not know the meaning of discipline is able to seek relief in the long wait thanks to a wonderful St. John’s Ambulance crew. The booking we’d made for a hotel 200 miles south of Boulogne is cancelled, and I manage to find an alternative just outside the absurdly Christmassy town complete with 6 inches of snow, at which we arrive 2 hours later than I’d told them only 3 hours before. But they welcome us with a warming Calvados, and even warmer bonhomie.
The alert amongst you will have noticed the casual reference to an aged mother, and she’ll shine in a starring role in next week’s post. Thus I’ll not dwell on her particular contributions to the highs and lows account, save to say that her scoring in both goals was prolific. Once we’d arrived at our Limousin house the festive snow had all disappeared to be replaced by enough rain to make a monsoon season feel it was performing as it should. On Christmas Day itself we played host to an old, but now very frail, friend who is notable mostly for having lived in France for 20 years without being contaminated with a single word of the language. On the other hand, we exercised our tenuous grasp on Gallic fluency during a festive meal with our wonderful butcher (in the shop-keeping rather than the serial-killing sense) neighbours on one side, whilst our neighbour on the other side continued his single-handed efforts to lead us into alcoholism with midnight sessions of vin doux naturel cut with Champagne.
The final climax was a superb meal on New Year’s Eve which started at 8.30pm, and found us sipping our digestifs at 1.30am. And then a perfect ending on the way home in the most ridiculously picturesque hotel in a converted Norman water-mill, with frost covered trees and just the right amount of snow, a dog of Disney-esque friendliness and suitably blind in one eye; balanced in the scales with an en-suite shower so small that one could choose to have one’s bum in it, or the door closed, but not both, and a stunningly expensive breakfast with croissants at £4 a throw. France as only France can be – I love it.