Monday, August 8, 2011

We're all going on a summer holiday

.... well actually we've been but Sir Cliff hasn't conveniently sung a song about returning from your anuual sejourn in foreign climes.  Well I'm sure, dear Reader, you have been wondering at the reason for my cyber silence for over 2 weeks (what do you mean you hadn't even noticed?).  It was that time of the year when we decamp to France so The Girl can do her High Security Music Camp. It works like this. I pay 500 euros and she spends a week in France putting on a musical from scratch, sleeping in a dodgy tent, being fed on cheap food. But she loves it and I love her so I cough up.  It also gives us a chance to catch up with our lovely friends w1.hich is a definite plus even though they are now spread a bit further and wider than before.

People talk about the difference in culture between the French and the English, usually by comparing French High Society to Chavs but let's not go there, but for me, the difference was slightly more basic, lavatorial even.

1.  The toilets have no toilet seats. What in God's name happens to them all?  They start off with them but within weeks they are gone. It's as bigger mystery as the whereabouts of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Is there a Phantom Potty Seat Pincher?  Is it really true the French women don't get fat so the ones that appear to be just have a stolen toilet seat shoved up their dress?  If anyone has any ideas please do let me know

2.  The toilets have no toilet paper.  The schedule on the wall clearly shows that the toilets were cleaned half and hour ago so where has all the toilet paper gone?  The same way as the seats maybe?  All I know is there is nothing worse, when you are already suffering screaming thigh muscles from hoving above the seatless porcelain pan, to discover the toilet roll holder is empty and you now have to try and scrabble around in your bag for a suitable replacement, the bag which is of course on your knee because...

3.  The toilets have nowhere to hang up your bag.  I absolutely refuse to put my bag down on a toilet floor. Think about it.  It's not the cleanest of places, particularly in France (and some other countries to be fair) but with nowhere to hang your bag you put it down on the floor, then later at home, you put your bag down on the table, then you eat lunch and voila! E-coli

4.  The hand driers don't work.  If I had a euro for every time I've been in a French toilet and found the hand drier to be Hors Service, I'd be living in a mansion in the country.  I do have a sneaking suspicion that it's because post-lavatorial handwashing in France is an optional rather than a mandatory procedure. Just remember that when you go to the supermarket

5.  O.M.G! Shock... Horror.. sometimes you don't even have a toilet pan. Has somebody stolen that too?  The so-called Turkish Toilet (or squatty potty as I like to call it) is supposed to be more hygienic but that's not a theory that has been borne out by my own experiences.  I had the unpleasant experience of going into a toilet in Agen, a relatively bourgeoise town, to find the filthiest toilet I have ever seen.  I instantly lost the desire to pee and headed for the door. The handle was sticky. With what I can only guess. Never mind, I could always wash my hands.... except that I couldn't because there was no sink.

I could possibly be accused of having something of a fixation on Squatty Potties, having blogged about them before  but that's only because they are so universally awful.

But on to nicer things - well not the weather because that was awful for most of the time, I mean, 14 degrees in July? - it was lovely to see some of our dear friends, now all spread a bit far and wide sadly which meant we just couldn't fit everyone in.  It was less of a pleasure to run into the founder members of the local Coven of  Sour Old Hags at the village cafe.  They had already heard of my arrival  ("What? Daily Mail Wylye Girl". Sometimes don't you just wish for a little bit of dementia). They were huddled round a cauldron bubbling over with oeil de gecko and foie de grenouille or I suppose it could just have been a table, with faces like slapped culs - I am so bilingual!  There was an almost audible intake of breath at my audacity then they were desperately disappointed when Monsieur M, who for reasons known best to himself was sitting with them, leapt up to give me a kiss and have a long chat.  I wished them a cheery good morning. They glared at me with mouths turned down like so many dead trouts and stayed silent. No wonder their poor husbands were sitting inside nursing alcoholic drinks when the sun was barely over the yard arm.

We stayed with lovely friends who, bless them, had postponed leaving on their holidays for a day so we could spend time together. As ever the welcome was warm and the conversation lively. They let us have use of their house while they were away in return for catsitting the oldest Persian cat in France, at an impressive 21 years old, although as she has a UK passport the French were recognise her claim.  I won't lie and say I wasn't concerned that she might chose my watch to shuffle this mortal coil and on more than one occasion I stood over her to check she was still with us but I'm happy to say that she survived our tender loving care.  All I can say is I hope that I am that sprightly at 92+ (I can't give you her exact age because the Purina 'How Old is Your Cat' calculator only goes up to 19.

The following day we delivered The Daughter to High Security Summer Music Camp, where, for a significant sum of money, she stays in a municipal campsite in a dodgy plastic tent that resembles a Turkish Bath in the daytime and a fridge during the night, and puts on a musical from scratch, including props and scenery, in a week.  She loves it and we love her so we stump up the cash and off she goes.  It attract students from all around the world, many of whom are at drama school and the standards are high.  This year was the 10th Anniversary so they were putting on a cabaret, with songs from the last 10 years' productions and a gala dinner, but more of that later.

On Monday we went to Agen so I could buy some linen curtains. We stupidly thought we would get something to eat in the evening. In a reasonable sized French town, in the peak tourist season. You'd think wouldn't you.  But no. Apart from the Station Buffet as recommended, bizarrely, by Rick Stein, everywhere was closed. I keep thinking that there must be another buffet in another station because it's average at best and in the evening it is THE place to go to find a lady of the night. It's distinctly seedy.  After two hours of looking we had lost our appetites and in the end we went home for sausage sandwiches.

Next stop Albi. We jumped into our very nice Citroen C5, a free upgrade from Avis, thank you very much, and headed off to some other friends who live there.  They are guardians of a very lovely property which belongs to....we I couldn't possibly say but it's for sale if you've got 1.5 million euros stuffed down the back of your sofa.

We spent a day in Albi. I am in love with Albi. It's a well deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site. Go, go tomorrow.  The Cathedrale de Ste Cecile is wonderful, all Gothic austerity on the outside and serious frou-frou on the inside. And the Jardin de la Berbie behind the Musee Toulouse Lautrec is stunning in an very formal and anally retentive way. Photos... photos I hear you cry. Unfortunately they are all on The Husband's laptop which is in Bulgaria. But that's a story for another time.  Lunch was a steak which had been briefly shown the pan and which was a bit like sucking an open wound but at least the waiter opened our bottles of water between his thighs with great panache rarely seen outside of Thailand.

After three days of great food, conviviality and lots of Trivial Pursuit we headed back to try and fulfil the long shopping list of clothes The Girl suddenly needed and spend a night with some other friends who live among the vineyards of Cahors. Yet more conviviality and great food.  I was asked if I miss living in France. Despite the lovely setting we were in, the answer was still no. I don't miss it. Not one bit.

The following day was show time.  The Girl had had to learn 17 song and dance numbers. One of the choreographers had worked on Fame in the West End and had taught her enthusiastic bunch of amateurs the same routines.  The show was marvellous, the food less so. If you ever wanted proof that food in France can be complete rubbish, this was it.   The starter was tinned peaches stuffed with pate of some sort reposing on a deep bed of grated carrot, very deep.  The main course was Mystery Meat cooked with olives and peppers and watery rice.  Some thought the meat was pork, others lamb, some even tuna. Most didn't eat it. It had a curious smell of baby's nappies.  Hooray for the cheese course, which was at least edible and the tarte tatin, mass produced by still quite tasty.

The Girl was fabulous, making a wonderful Maria in The Sound of Music, a talent she no doubt gets from her mother. It was, no doubt, a very tiring week. The Girl came up to us at the end and promptly burst into tears, half of exhaustion, half of sadness that it was all over for another year. She decided she wanted to stay another night at the campsites so we headed off to our comfortable beds while she headed off to another night being knawed by mosquitos.  I've never really understood the French predilection for siting their campsites around lakes.

The following day was the big trek home. The Husband had been working in Manchester so he had flown out of Liverpool while we had flown out of Bristol. We were all flying back to Liverpool then driving back down to Wiltshire. The flights from Bordeaux leave from Le Billi, a poorly air conditioned metal box which is your punishment for flying with a low cost airline. All the flights were delayed. It was distinctly Third World. Eventually we were called for our flight. The departure gate had about 8 seats. We waited... and waited.... and waited some more. Eventually the Captain turned up, which is never a good sign.  He had noticed a nick in one of the tyres and needed to get an engineer to come and confirm that it was OK to fly.  Thank God it wasn't  lunchtime or we'd have had a 2 hour wait.  We all sat down on the floor. Within minutes, the two couples in front of us were swapping birth stories. Call me old fashioned but give me a good bit of Southern reserve any day.

Eventually, two hours late, we arrived in Liverpool.  You know you're in Liverpool when the woman at Border Control looks like a WAG. Down South they are generally paunchy middle aged men with the pallor of an uncooked sausage.  She was all beehived and eyelinered.

So that was it, another year, another trip to France. Next year I fancy Barbados. France was much as I found it last time. It's a shame to see two local boulangeries have now become franchises and the prices are horrendous.   We bought a kilo of sausages and a cote de porc in the market and it came to 30 euros! And petrol was far more expensive that I pay here in Wiltshire.  I certainly couldn't afford to live there.

Next week we head off to Devon for a  holiday with my extended family. We've never done it before and it will either be a huge success or a terrible disaster. Either way, it should provide some good blogging material!


the fly in the web said...

There's some sinister force at work...
You got to France and blog about loos on your return...
I go to France and blog about loos on my return...
I wonder who else is in the conspiracy?

Any chance of a picture of the coven...or did they crack the lens...or whatever it is that cameras now have...

Steve said...

Sounds great... except for the toilets and, being English, that's high up on my list of priorities. I have to have a proper bog. Clean and properly furnished with all good toilet accoutrements.

Think I'll consider going to Turkey instead...

Sarah said...

Good luck with the extended family holiday. I hope it will be a huge success and that you have a lovely time.

Having been on holiday with my family for a few years now, finances obliged, I found that the ability to turn a blind eye, hold my breath before speaking and not make a fuss when fuss was panting to break out of every pore were essential survival techniques.

Wylye Girl said...

Fly, well definitely BishBashBosh. He was even talking about a restaurant we'd very nearly gone into. Spooky!

Steve, I think that's what it comes down to. Being English. No-one else seems to worry about the state of the loos!

Sarah, do you offer counselling by any chance? I'm really worried about your list of holiday essentials and I don't think I possess any of those. Neither does my sister. No wonder The Husband refused to go from the outset and even found himself a job in Bulgaria to make sure he couldn't waver at the last minute

Sarah said...

To be honest, I can't say I blame your husband! All should go well if everyone can enter into the spirit of sharing and participating in chores as well as the fun bits (sitting around drinking and eating).
And probably take time out to do things on your own or with just your own kids for a breather.

Holidaying in a group is not for the faint-hearted so good luck, fingers crossed and don't forget the gin.

PS my dearly beloved is in a group holiday at the moment and doesn't know if he can survive the last 6 days of the hol... I bowed out of that one too - I know my limits! :)

The Return of the Native ... sort of. said...

Oh - French loos. Definitely something I don't miss in France. Why are they so terrible? My trick is to use the loos in McDonalds - I hate their food but just order a coffee and use the loo - they are normally much better than the ones in bars and streets ahead of les toilettes publiques! I knew there was a reason why McDonalds existed!

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I can already hear those French enthusiasts from last time, shuffling around, gnashing their teeth, trying to find your new blog so they can get violently scornful. :)

Incidentally, that peach dish sounded vile. It

Good luck with the family holiday thing though. Take plenty of the following: Earphones. Alcohol.

Wylye Girl said...

Sarah, see, you do do counselling!

RoTN, that is the one good thing about McDos, homogenised food and homogenised toilets.

Veggie, Oh God, I don't drink. Should I start?

Elaine said...

Welcome back - you were missed.

French loos - yuck. I thought the Turkish style was long gone now, as I haven't come across one since I was skiing about 15 years ago in Montgenevre. That was when I realised that one piece ski suits for children are not a good idea - too much bunched up suit hovering too near the porcelain!

Mac n' Janet said...

And here I thought it was just us Americans who were obsessed about toilets.

Wylye Girl said...

Elaine, thank you. Sadly they are still in evidence, I could send you a map of some of my local ones if you like? No? Are you sure?

Mac n'Janet, trust me, for anyone who spends as much time as I do in public toilets, it's a necessary obsession!

Sarah said...

A blogger I read has just been on holiday with her extended family, to Spain.

Have a read of this which conjures up the family holiday rather exquisitely

Elaine said...

Thanks for the kind offer of a map of your local 'squatty potties' - as you guessed, I think I'll pass on that one!

Another thing I've just remembered about French toilets is that they are often unisex - which came as a bit of a surprise to me the first time I walked in and thought I had gone into the Gents by mistake!

Iota said...

My family has always called a squatty potty "giant's footsteps".

Iota said...

You won't believe this, but the word verification for my comment was LEWDECT. Do you think it saw "squatty potty" and instantly thought "lewd act"?

Wylye Girl said...

Iota, I like giant's footsteps very much and as for the word verification, I'm with it all the way!

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

I'm reading these blog posts in reverse order, it seems, having been away too. No matter, still great stuff: highly entertaining.
The toilets in France are shite...literally.

Wylye Girl said...

Trish, it amazes me that in a country like France, they can't get their toilets up to a reasonable standard

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