I’m on the annual holiday in France at my parent’s house. This year, we decided to drive, and booked the 11pm ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. We didn’t book a cabin, thinking we could nap on a comfy chair. How wrong we were. People who travel on late night ferries work it all out advance. I’ve never seen such stealth and coordination, they must have all been German. The second they got out their cars and into the bar they started unrolling hidden sleeping bags, lowering themselves to the floor at the same time. Within two minutes every available chair or floor space was gone. Legs stuck out where tables should be. Some people even had inflatable mattresses.
I had momentary ownership of a blue chair, but when the husband left to get a drink, a family of French people came and stole it from me. They piled six children onto the two remaining chairs next to me. One of them crawled into my lap and looked as if it were going to sleep there. The mother looked at me like she’d won a game I didn’t know we were playing. I gave up the seat and kicked her drink over on my way.
I’m already preparing the kids and husband for how we will claim a space on the way back. We are going to exit the car in our sleeping bags and hop into the restaurant, where we will lunge onto the sofas.
France is the same as ever. Hot and slow. My mother and I queued in a local super market for forty minutes while the server kissed all her customers on both cheeks a hundred times, then remarked on every single item in their shopping basket.
The man in front of me had trolley that was empty save for two massive bags of dog food. “Your dogs will be hungry” I said, confident he wouldn’t understand me, and then I noticed he also had a supersize box of ‘super safe’ condoms and lube. “Oh, and you have condoms too” I went on “Good for you. I do hope they are not for the dog.”
Mother elbowed me, and we giggled, then he turned round and said, in perfect English ‘You can never be too safe, and no they are not for the dog.” Why oh why did the first person I’ve ever met in my parent’s village that speaks English have to be him?
Mother and I couldn’t stop snorting. The children demanded to know why. I said something about ‘willy hats’ and that set Mother off again. To be fair to the man/stud, he wasn’t at all embarrassed. I did notice that the checkout lady didn’t kiss him, or remark on his shopping though.
Back at their house we bask in the sun, listen to old music and squat flies. Bored with this already, the husband has hired us electric bikes and is pouring over maps of where we will go. I’m quite happy reading books by the pool and telling the children off for splashing me, but it’s his birthday so I suppose I’d better go along.
The children are feral beasts that hunt lizards by day and swim naked by night. They pile into my bed and we sleep in a sweaty tangle of limbs, waking in the morning, browner and more bitten, than we were the day before.
Today, rehearsals start for the annual family show which we put on during the second week. This year the kids have picked ‘The Greatest Showman.’ My dad has been cast as the bearded lady. The husband wants to be Hugh Jackman. I am playing the role of a small man with a deep voice, which is ridiculous because we all know how I squeak. For costumes, we use the bag of clothes my dad gets given by a friend who is much larger than him.
I think these kinds of holidays are important, a right of passage. Being crammed in a hot car with four other people on a thirteen-hour journey is character building. I like that nothing is ever open, and we have to find things to do. The eldest was so bored, she went to watch Mother dig up a cabbage for dinner from her vegetable plot.
It’s lovely to be offline and away from Brexit and Trump and English weather. I’m trying to only speak in French so I’m on a vow of silence, like a monk. Luckily, me and the husband can communicate with another via a single finger.
Tonight, I’ll beat my mother at Scrabble, lose to my husband at Blockbuster and eat far too many raspberry tarts under the light of the silvery moon. My dad will play Bob Dylan and we will be in a bubble that I’ll look back on as perfect.