Marge in France 2015 – Part 1: Before the holiday…..

So things did not go exactly to plan since the last blog, as this draft (I didn’t publish at the time) describes:

August 2015: Stressed is not the word – work stress, finance stress, family secrets stress and stress caused by the impending bereavement of Bruces  Mum, Sue.  No matter how I tried I could not get rid of the constant anxious knot in my chest and, as a fat smoker in her forties. I was a prime candidate for a heart attack, something had to change and after our holiday it did.

Home had become work and it was not unusual for me to spend 12+ hours chained to a laptop with no escape.  The “family secret” was one I had to keep until my then son felt comfortable  to come out as transgender.  I now have a beautiful daughter of whom I am very proud but at the time I was full of anxiety about how our close extended family, including her grandparents, father, brother and step siblings, would take the news.  They took it in their stride and all of my fears were completely unfounded but the disclosure wasn’t made until we returned and I held it all in as we bumbled around France.  Financial stress is a constant companion but all of that paled into insignificance as we learned there was nothing more that the hospital could do for Bruces Mum and she had weeks to live; the journeys to France began as she lived in the Vendee in France.

Weekend 1: Left Leicester for Kent and took my work with me.  Picked up Bruce, who now lives in Kent Monday to Friday with his sister as he is working away from home.  Sat waiting for eurotrain thing for ages and then drove through the night to the west coast.  Unfortunately Sue had slipped into a coma, a brief moment when she acknowledged Bruce’s presence but nothing more.  It was very sad and surreal, we left Monday morning as I needed to get back to work but we should have stayed, some things are more important.  We got the call back in Kent Tuesday Morning, she had passed away.

The following Friday:

Weekend 2: Left Leicester for Kent and took work with me, silly me,  my brain was a thick fog of fuddleness.  Eventually I thought “sod that”, forgot about work and left for France for a funeral, picking up some passengers, a tent and other belongings along the way.  Arrived in the Vendee in the evening and set up the tent in the garden of the gite for the rest of the families arrival by minibus in the early hours of the morning.  The weekend followed with a beautiful funeral service, a very special wake at their local bar and celebrations of Sue’s life until the early hours of the morning. Laughter and tears to celebrate the life of the hostess with the mostess, she will be missed so much by so many.  We made our way home on August Bank Holiday Monday to prepare for our holiday in France starting on Friday.

The following Friday:

Weekend 3: Needless to say we were both knackered and the normal holiday excitement was lacking.

When I collected Marge the Hymer I thought I’d never make it round the M25 to Kent, let alone around France.  The left hand drive didn’t bother me, in my other life I had a left hand drive coach built Hymer.  What was difficult was the clutch was miles away; so much so that when I pressed the clutch to go into 5th gear, my left foot was at full stretch as was my right hand and I disappeared below the dash board!  It was noisy and the extra width took some getting used to.  Driving the Hymer was like a fully body work out for me, not a bad thing as I could do with it but it wasn’t the easy drive I expected! The accommodation bit was fab and I loved the drop down bed but it was soon apparent we probably wouldn’t make it down to the South Coast and I checked the weather for the best alternative – The Loire and the Dordogne had big sunshine symbols and were chosen as we needed to be west to collect some things from Bruces Mums home in the Vendee on the way back to the UK.

I collected Bruce, tired and exhausted from work and we went to catch the train across the channel. He pulled out a beer and put his feet up and  after a few hours driving in France (me driving not Bruce with his beer!) we pulled into an Aire and slept like babies!  How wonderful to just pull up and fall into bed.

 

marge

Marge The Hymer

 

 

 

Wild Times at Wild Duck Norfolk – July 2013


It’s been a while since I last posted and I have no excuses at all.  Last year we all set off for Wild Duck Holiday Park near Caistor. I shall clarify all: myself, Bruce, 3 teens (the oldest teen having gone on holiday in the Lake District with his mates) plus my brother, his wife 935067_10151667450039130_2034901642_nand their two sons.  We had booked the Holiday using Sun (newspaper) holiday vouchers and after much trawling through and umming and aaaring decided on this park as it was inland a bit, spacious, had swimming pools, a David Bellamy Conservation Award and of course ducks. We arrived in 30 degree sunshine and as the caravans weren’t ready we headed for the bar.  The park has a kind of centre parks feel about it, except with caravans instead of villas.  The bar and restaurant have a fabulous terrace with sofa and coffee tables made from felled trees and we were soon all spread out applying sun cream and sipping a cool drink.

Eventually we were allocated our caravan – a small 3 bedroomed static van which was perfectly adequate. Fortunately the statics are not laid out in military precision rows which I find totally soul destroying, they are ‘scattered’ among the trees and small lake which is right up my street, I like a bit of scattering and non-conformity.

999698_10151667450554130_764429634_nOnce unpacked we got the disposable barbies out and rustled up a little feast, of 998540_10151667461729130_1807661417_ncourse with the heat and the laid back feel of the place it’s hard to keep a track on just how many wines/beer/cider one has drank – until one feels just a bit brahms and list.  Anyhow, the children came back eventually and we all turned in for the night.  This was the start of a few nights of drink and one especially memorable night saw my sister in law getting stuck in a kiddies ride and showing her pants off!  She did spend the next day in sun glasses with a glass of water and a packet of paracetemol next to her.

 

The next few days were spent in glorious sunshine, it was fab spending time with my brother and his family on an idyllic family sea 556995_10151667459939130_818558374_nside holiday.  One day was spent canoeing the broads, my son had a Sevylor inflatable canoe for his birthday and my bro hired a canoe and off they went.  Several hours were passed playing in the outdoor (and indoor) swimming pools although I had to be sneaky taking photos as you are not allowed to take photos in the pool area, I got told off once and then it just became a challenge and I eventually managed to take this one of our kids playing ball in the pool.  Shocking!969745_10151667451974130_2061475538_n

 

 

 

 

 

No seaside holiday is complete without a trip to the beach.  I’m not usually a big fan of UK beaches an account of them being windy, cold and inhospitable places however Gorleston Beach is a lovely sweep of sand and the sky was blue (although the sea was that browny, uninviting sludge colour).  It is years since I lay on a UK 942389_10151667455289130_71444370_nbeach and it was very pleasant indeed.  We ate ice-creams, chips and candy floss, drank far too much, partied on with the cheesy entertainment at night, laughed, talked and relaxed.  I couldnt have asked for a better holiday and all too soon it was over.  There’s always next year……..1016151_10151667450544130_1086130427_n64615_10151667457954130_1964500613_n1069798_10151667460814130_1376552022_n1011981_10151667455199130_892725791_n

Day 4 – Shipwrecks, Cider & Seals………..

So where do you take 3 teenage boys and 1 almost teenage girl on a rainy day in Cornwall that costs next to nowt?  I scoured the tourist info brochures concentrating purely on the price, not looking at what the actual attraction was, which is why we nearly ended up at Billy Bears Fun House and Ball Pool! Sadly indoor play area days are long gone but I was attracted to the Shipwreck museum in Charlestown, surely that would capture a little interest in a teenage soul?  With the rain still beating down we arrived at the Museum, it cost a little over £20 for all 6 of us using a combination of discount vouchers, student union card and a small white lie.  Ollie and Bets posed on a lifeboat with as much enthusiasm as they could muster and we walked through the underground tunnels to the main museum.  Bruce and I found it fascinating and could have wandered round looking at the displays for a good few hours but the teenage mutant lot whizzed round and hung out by the exit, although I couldn’t see them I knew they were there, I could feel their “I’m bored” hormones permeating the thick stone walls between us and them.  I blame myself, I’d promised them a visit to a Cider Farm and the prospect of an illicit drink of Cornwalls best scrumpy was a far more attractive proposition to them.

On to Healey’s Cornish Cyder Farm for a taste of their finest.  To be honest there isn’t a lot to see here unless you take the distillery tour which is about £5.00 per adult but it does have a nice cafe, shop and some big shire horses.  Despite it being free admission we spent a small fortune having a pasty in the cafe (8/10 better than yesterday was the verdict) and buying scrumpy.  George bought some mustard (don’t ask) with his spending money and declared he’d very much enjoyed the cyder farm.  Just being in an alcoholic environment was enough to lift the spirits of even the most disinterested teen but they could only stand and watch as Bruce and I sampled the delights of Healey’s finest at the tasting table (I had to stop after 3 tasters as I was driving and I’m a lightweight when it comes to drinking).  We hiccupped our way back to Fugly The Car and set off for Newquay.

I have never been to Newquay before so when we stumbled upon the Harbour pictured above, with the sun now shining and blue sky starting to dominate the sky, I knew I had found a favourite place.  We entered the harbour a slightly unconventional way by steep stone steps and across rocks, whereupon the kids found a cave and we suggested they go and explore it whilst we explored the prospects of a coffee overlooking the harbour.  We found The Boathouse, a restaurant right on the harbour beach, and with the vain hope that it may be a couple of hours before we needed to call Cave Rescue we settled down to a peaceful, relaxing cup of coffee at a reasonable price in the sunshine watching the boats a bobbing.  It wasn’t long before the peace was shattered, cave explored, the teen tribe had decided to dig holes in the sand (fast becoming a favourite past-time on this holiday) right below where we were drinking coffee, they had a whole beach but no, they needed an audience for their hole digging and we were the chosen two.  We tried to ignore them, refused to “look after” jumpers, cameras, phones, mustard and a pair of socks but eventually we were surrounded by a jumble sale of belongings.  I tried not to look or engage with them but I was soon laughing at their exploits and clicking away with the camera.  They are a totally bizarre bunch but I do love em all. And as for the seal referred to in the title, we met him on our wander around the harbour walls following a boat in hoping for a fish.

Day 3- On the trail of Doc Martin……….

I admit I’m a big fan of Doc Martin and couldn’t resist the temptation.  After a pastie (pastie was rated 7/10 by Bruce) in Rock we headed for Port Issac where the series is partly filmed.  As advised we parked at the top of the hill and were greeted by a parking attendant who I’m sure is straight from the series, you know the type, fingers in lots of pies, little earners going on here and there.  You could almost see the pound signs ring up in his eyes as he took our £3.00 and in true Cornish style, with few words, pointed to a stretch of overgrown grass and hedge where we were to park. We then began the hike down the hill and realised we could have parked anywhere for free on the side roads but hey ho!

Port Issacc is nestled on a steep hill going down to a small working harbour and is everything you’d expect of a small Cornish fishing village; nets and baskets, boats and cottages, crab sandwiches, ice-creams and lots of tourists!  I got out the camera and started to exercise my creative side, the best of which are below.  Left to my own devices I could have stayed for hours, people watching, taking pics and drinking coffee or even a few beers.  But I was not left to my own devices, 4 teens moodily stomped around said quaint village, decided it was “alright” then were ready to move on to the next.  They did agree to pose for photo on the steps which I think clearly illustrates their disinterest levels.  I didn’t even get as far as seeing Doc Martins house.

Aviemore with Mum & Dad

Every year Mum and Dad travel to their lodge on the Hilton Hotel Estate for a weeks R & R and this year I decided I would go with them for a few days – just me, me Mum & Dad (lucky parents of mine!). I was a bit apprehensive about leaving everyone and spending a few days away but I needn’t have been, it was blissful!

I travelled up with them and their 2 greyhounds on a cold Saturday morning, outrunning the snow as we went and eventually arriving in a slightly milder Aviemore over 400 miles later at around 6pm. The lodge is delightful and thankfully very warm and we were soon unpacked and enjoying a curry and an evenings TV – no kids, no phone, no laptop. It did seem a bit strange at first and as I heard the weather forecast for the Midlands I did wonder if everyone was OK. Eventually, at 11.30pm I rang son the elder and he sounded elated “we’re out on the field with the dog taking pictures, it’s brilliant” he informed me. He also informed me Bruce was at a gig and may have to sleep the night in his van and that his Dad, who was traveling back from skiing in Europe, had been diverted to Cardiff Airport as Birmingham was closed! I listened to this while looking out of the window on a moonlit but totally snowless night, slightly ironic that I was in Scotland with no snow and they were in the Midlands with snow up to their arm pits. I decided not to call again, with one parent in Scotland, one in Wales and one holed up in a transit van in England it was best I didn’t hear any more.

The following day I woke up at my leisure, showered with no interruptions and read the paper and drank a whole cup of tea. At around 10.30 am my cousin, his wife and their two gorgeous daughters arrived for a big breakfast. They live in Inverness and have visited Mum & Dad on several occasions but I realised I’d last seen them at their wedding 7 years ago. They bought with them all the paraphernalia needed for a day out with an 18 month old and a 4 year old – nappies, bags, change of clothes, pushchair, toys etc. I’d forgotten how much ‘stuff’ is needed for little ones but they are so worth it, both girls were adorable busying themselves with toys and hiding games. Eventually we went for a walk into Aviemore and with prompting and bribery (hot chocolate with all the trimmings) the 4 year old walked all the way there and back, just over 2 miles. She loved holding the dogs on a lead, feeling very important with her new responsibility and needed very little encouragement.

The following day we walked through the forest, frozen in time with gnarled and twisted trees in stark relief against a clear blue sky. There was a kind of magic in the air, as if walking through an enchanted forest but mostly the magic came from walking with my lovely Mum and Dad in one of the most beautiful areas of the UK. We came to a small loch, partly frozen and truly stunning, I’d almost forgotten how liberating it is to be out in the wilds (sort of) and the stresses and strains of everyday life seemed to ebb away. We returned to the Lodge with 2 fully exercised dogs and found hats, scarfs and gloves ready for our trip to the Cairngorm ski slopes, I was just a tad excited about this bit of my brief visit to Aviemore.

I’ve never skied in my life and had no intention of ever doing so (mostly on account of being confused with the Michelin man when wearing the full ski get up). I still have no great desire to ski but when we arrived, by the funicular railway, at the restaurant and ski slopes I did have a moment when I considered getting out there on a pair of skis. This moment passed as I watched the lumberings, awkwardness and stumblings of the beginners on the nursery slopes. Needless to say there is no place I’d rather be than on top of a mountain covered in snow with the sun shining brightly, apparently we were very lucky as it is often misty, wet, cold and windy up there. After some warm soup and a drink in the restaurant we boarded the funicular railway, celebrating its 50th anniversary, and descended the mountain. I found the friendliness and easy manner of all of the staff, from the people in the ticket office to the driver of the train very refreshing. It’s not often you go to a tourist hotspot and find such genuinely friendly staff so well done to all staff that work so hard and still manage to be pleasant.

To finish the day we visited Loch an Eilen as the sun was going down and walked briefly around the shore before making our way home, via Aviemore charity shops for a bit of retail therapy. I bought Dad a couple of very old folding road maps for £1.00 each and a couple of books. A trip to tesco was then inevitable and as Dad and I scratched the numbers off of our winning scratch cards (no such luck) Mum shopped for tea and we all returned back to the warmth of the lodge and another phone, lap top, interruption free evening of TV, reading and a lovely tea.

The following day it was time for me to go home, leaving Mum and Dad to enjoy the rest of their holiday child free (OK so at 44 I’m a bit more than a child but I’ll always be their child). As my Easyjet plane took off from Inverness Airport in a clear blue sky and banked so that I could clearly see Loch Ness and beyond, I felt a little bit emotional – it had been such a special time with my parents and one I will treasure always. Thanks Mum and Dad.

Day 11 Millau – Gorges Du Tarn – Camping Saint Lambert

I woke up early this morning due to the air bed deflating and Bruce and I went in search of croissants.  We found a bar  tabac, boulengerie and Lydl on the outskirts of town and then returned to see if our pitch by the toilets was free as we were due to move today.  Sure enough the pitch was free and we returned to camp to find the kids and start Operation Up Sticks.  First the kids cycled round to the new pitch with all of the bikes while Bruce and I bungled all sleeping bags and pillows inside the car.  Next we bungeed the airbed and camp beds on top of the trailer and slowly drove round to our new pitch.  I may have mentioned that there are a lot of Dutch campers at this site and some seemed very tidy, organised and pedantic and not the least bit impressed with our moving mayhem, especially the weird chap camped opposite our new pitch.  I say weird because he and his family hardly spoke to each other, never smiled and spent the day sitting outside their caravan staring at us.  We gave them something to stare at when we went back to collect our tent and carried it round, fully erected, a person on each pole and plonked it on our pitch.  Pegs in, airbeds unbungeed, sleeping bags in et voila, job done – decamped and recamped in under an hour.

We then had the rest of the day to enjoy canoeing  (without oars as we had left them in the car park at Salles) and swimming in the river.  The campsite has a riverside beach and plenty of shallows to play in.  It’s also fun to watch those in hired canoes navigate the mini rapids caused by kids daming the river in various places.  After a day resting, swimming and being stared at we lit the barbie and enjoyed a lovely family meal.  Afterward we listened to a few tunes on the car stereo (not loudly), George played guitar and Bruce and I even had a dance around the pitch.  Being stared at.  At 10pm the music went off and we tidied around ready to strike camp the following day.  We were right next to the

This is NOT miserable, staring man but he looked very similar!

toilet block which was noisy with washer uppers and kids larking about with the water but it didn’t bother us, our neighbours were playing a film, kids were playing around and we all sat and played a game of “How many cars can you name beginning with the letter R”  – that is until Weird Staring man got up from his chair in the dark, left his very quiet family around the table and came over and asked us to keep our voices down! He didn’t ask our neighbours to turn off their film (complete with loud dramatic music) or his Dutch neighbours to stop playing cards and arguing, nor did he ask the screaming kids to quieten down or the washer uppers to stop clanking their pots.  Just the English (who are not all English anyway) family sitting down altogether and playing a game, I have never experienced prejudice before but I can tell you it isn’t nice. So we just put on our best shell suits and in true football hooligan style told him to F*** OFF!  Only joking, we actually wished him a lovely evening and completely ignored his request.  I can’t stand insular, intolerant bigots and it really hacked me off.  Luckily his Dutch neighbours were fantastic, chilled and laid back with a really cool bell tent and they completely restored my faith in the Dutch camper.

Despite Weird Staring man I would return to this campsite as it’s location by the river is fab and it is comparatively cheap – 62 euro for 2 nights for 6 with electricity in high season.  We were paying nearly that per night at La Barque and that was cheap for the Med coast.  The toilets are clean but not quite 4 star luxury, the owners are friendly and the bar is fairly priced.  It is generally quite laid back and friendly with the odd exception!  If I were to book I would ask for a riverside pitch, although the river might be a bit noisy for some!

 

Day 8 – Le Dramont

  Le Dramont is situated near Agay on the otherside of St Raphael from St Aygulf.  I have camped here a few times and decided today was the day we’d all go down to the beach there and spend the day snorkelling and clambering over the rocks.

Just before the Campeole campsite is a free public car park leading to the public beach.  The beach has toilets, a snack shack and life guards.  You can set up camp in the shade of the trees on the grassy bit or pitch your sun shade on the sandy strip of beach or just camp out on the pebbles and rocks.  We went first to a rocky bit of beach and later moved to the shade under the trees.  I like this beach because it’s a bit more interesting than some, there is a small island and boats are often moored up in the shelter of the cove; snorkelling is good fun around the rocks as is a spot of rockpooling.  The kids all put on their sea shoes and started clambering around the rocks and snorkelling.  Later in the day Ollie and Beta spotted a few jelly fish ad spent the next hour or so tracking them in the sea, Ollie even managed to avoid getting stung which is a first.

We spent a pleasant few hours on the beach, about Bruces limit and then returned to camp.  I wanted to go into the village but some occupants of the car were being miserable so I just took the least two miserable beings with me and dropped the others off at camp.  We then went into St Aygulf and sat at a beachside bar eating ice-cream and watching the world go by.  We had decided that we would eat out tonight as a treat so I looked at the prices in the restaurants on the way back to the car, I found one considerably cheaper on the main road between the beachside and the main village, unfortunately I’ve forgotten what it was called.

We all returned later and enjoyed a main course, drinks and wine for 6 of us for 83 euro, which wasn’t too bad a price but a little bit reckless considering our money was fast running out.  Of course no day goes by without a little bit of drama in our family and today was no exception.  As we sat eating our meal a Golden Labrador  that we had seen earlier came sniffing by.  It was obvious she had just had pups but she looked neglected, hungry and lost.  This is where the drama begins because a few members of our party wanted to take her home!! The restaurant gave us the number of the police, who were completely useless and gave me a telephone number so quickly that I hadn’t time to write it down, then they hung up.  We fed her some biscuits and cheese we had in the car and gave her some water and then I turned into the wicked witch of the north and made a decision – we couldn’t take her back to camp or home in case she was suckling puppies, she seemed to know the area and the local people and police were best placed to help her, she looked thin but not emaciated so I said we had to leave her.  I stand by my decision but may have lost a million brownie points – I hope she’s OK.