Doubtless this will be my last post before I go to Paris this weekend.
I am meeting up with my two most excellent chums as Paris is a conveniently exotic half-way point between our respective homes in Surrey, Aberdeen and Strasbourg. We are celebrating 21 years since we met. Any comparisons to Sex in the City will be met with derision.
I haven’t been to Paris before but I have been to France. This next story will tell you the story of how I went to France.
The story breaks down into four notable points of interest, which I'll summarise for you now:
- We packed seven people into an Audi 80 and whinged them across the UK, France and the Pyrenees.
- Excuse me, has Mum only put one cassette tape in the car for this two day journey?
- We all nearly die through misadventure.
- We all nearly die again. But my mum predicts it, so we're OK.
So the story concerns our first family holiday abroad. My mum and dad had rented a villa in St Jean de Luz, the first town in France after crossing the Spanish border. Or if you are a Basque separatist, one of the towns in the Basque Country.
Cast and location
Cast and location
We were to go by ferry and car as planes weren't invented yet. The von Schneider Family as we were known, were five individuals: Mama von Schneider, Papa von Schneider, RedBellyButtonBoy, Misssy M and CheekyMonkey.
How to pack seven people into an Audi 80 and whing them across the Pyrenees.We had a green Audi 80, as befitting our Germanic heritage and were destined for France, also befitting our Germanic heritage.
Oh, and did I mention Aunt R and Uncle T were being shoehorned in too? So, imagining a Sesame Street counting animation, let's count! 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 people in a family saloon.
This all took place in the days before people-carriers, but funnily enough not in the days before 7 people legally should have been split between two cars.
So now let’s look at what was involved in this journey with two adults in the front, two in the back and three children sat wherever they could get purchase.
- Aberdeen to Plymouth: 14 hours
- Overnight stay in car waiting for ferry to leave: 6 hours (yes, we all slept in the car!!! I know!!!)
- Ferry crossing to Santander (thankfully outwith the confines of the car): 12 hours
- Santander to St Jean de Luz (over the Pyrenees): 5 hours*
Total time in car: 25 hours
Should I call Guiness?
A quick footnote on the Santander-St Jean de Luz stretch. You know that bit at the end of the italian job with the truck hanging over the side of mountain…that’s the kind of thing that is par for the course on that stretch of road.
O.M.G has Mum only put one cassette tape in the carSo we’ve got everything stuffed in the Audi. Miraculously we’ve managed to fit enough luggage to serve four adults and three kids for two weeks into the car. There was probably a roof rack, there might have even been one us kids strapped to it at one point. So have we got everything, then?
for this 2 day journey and two week holiday?
for this 2 day journey and two week holiday?
No. It’s not long before we realise that we’ve only one cassette tape in the car. It is a homemade tape. Worse; it’s one of Mum’s.
Side One: The Long Run by the Eagles
Side Two (and this is going to hurt): Rock and Roll Juvenile by Cliff Richard
To this day, each of us three kids would be able to sing along perfectly to either of those albums without one single lyrical mistake. We're not proud of this.
The tape just got played and played and played. If I go to hell, that same tape will be playing in the purgatorial waiting room. And the Devil will look like Cliff Richard circa 1979.
We all nearly dieWell two of us do. I’m jumping past the whole holiday and back to the return ferry journey.
My parents, Aunt R. and Uncle T. take my five year old sister, CheekyMonkey, to arrange our ferry tickets, leaving me and my brother Red BellyButtonBoy* in the car alone (alone except for Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Cliff). Their biggest mistake here, is thinking that CheekyMonkey is the root of all trouble.
As soon as they are out of sight, we jump into the front seat and start messing about with the car controls, and generally arsing about.
It's important for you to know at this point, that the car is parked facing the water at the quayside of St. Malo harbour. There is a chain across the quayside but this is merely for decoration, as it is not high enough to stop anyone falling in. It merely signifies the end of the quay and makes the place look finished.
Whose idea was it to start the car up whilst it was in gear? Accounts vary. But let’s just say, for argument’s sake that it was RedBellyButtonBoy in case my parents are reading. This close to going in the Channel, we were. THIS close.
My parents only remark on the terrible smell inside the car on their return.
We really could have nearly diedThe reason we're in St Malo is that the original return ferry was cancelled in Santander due to mechanical failure. The ferry company offered us an alternative route.
They would fly mothers and children home, leaving Dads to drive their car back across the Pyrenees and across the whole of France to Northern port, St Malo. My dad, Aunt and Uncle looked forward to the Cliff and Eagle-filled two day trip with no kids on knees. But one thing stood in their way. My Mum.
My Mum didn’t want to fly on her own with us kids. Maybe it’s not surprising given that we were the kind of kids that would drive a car over a quayside like in this road-sign which was designed after us.
I really don’t know why she didn’t want to go on that flight, but something made her nervous. That "something" is now confirmation of my mother'soothsayer status. Six hundred years ago in France she'd have been thrown on a bonfire alongside Joan D'Arc for that kind of stuff.
That plane had to crashland in Kent. Actual fact.
Mechanical failure, apparently. Some engines stopped working or something, much like what happened in Heathrow the other day. No one was hurt. But my God, can you imagine? You'd never board a plane again.
I look forward to a speedy and uneventful two hour flight to Paris on Friday.
(And blogging about Paris on my return)
*When you are 9 and your brother gets a mosquito bite slap bang in his bellybutton, the nickname is inevitable. What we didn't realise was that it would stick for the next thirty years.