miscellany

26 june 2018


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           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin

AND THESE

METZ AND GÉRARDMER


South of France near the Spanish border. We used to camp there a lot. The site was right on the beach, there was a takeaway which sold chips, salade niçoise etc. and the girls could go to the disco. Argéles-sur-Mer. A couple of times we went by motorail, overnight. Youth hostelling on the railway. Daughter was asked by a temporary sleeping car friend "Are you going to breathe?" Nonplussed daughter agreed that that would be quite a good idea, considering. Friend had said Brèves.

But for many years we'd drive down through France, stopping at a couple of towns on the way south where we could dine out and daughters could pretend they weren't with us by sitting at another distant table. That all changed of course when the bill arrived.

One hotel had tongue on the menu. The waitress, surprised at our order, nudged the other waitress and winked. The plate came with a whole tongue on it. Strange how slices would have been accepted, but a whole one, with grass and buttercups on it? In Bergerac, the hotel had a menu wih just three items - Chicken, Duck then the gourmet option - Chicken AND Duck.

As we drove south, the climate improved and the temperature became stiflingly hot. On arrival, we changed into shorts and T shirt, opened the bottle of wine and hid the car keys, never to use them again till it was time to leave. "Have you seen the car keys?"

On the way to the beach I decided, for a change, to vary the route and go through the trees. As we suddenly met, we froze. There was eye-to-eye contact and we didn't warm to each other. Neither of us knew what to do next. Luckily the huge snake made its mind up the right way and slithered quickly off the path and into the undergrowth. We had its much smaller cousin in the tent once but were able to persuade it out with a broom.

The circus was in town and had set up right next to the campsite. I used to wander down and watch what was going on, like every trainspotter and model aeroplane builder would to this day. The elephants had been dressed in their red and gold leather headdresses, the band was playing their entrance music, and they were hyper. They had their front feet on raised stools and their heads were rocking from side to side. One of them caught my eye and whispered "We're on next. Been waiting all day for this and now we're within 20 seconds of being able to cover the sawdust with elephant dung. Doesn't get much better than this, does it." At least that's what I think he said. Whatever it was, he'll never forget it, or me . . .

On a trip to Céret (Pyréenées-Orientales) one day, where they grow cherries hence the name, they were holding a festival with dancing. A typical dance was the Sardanes, accompanied by music featuring the flabiol, a very short flute, and other instruments. They hold festivals at the slightest excuse. We should do the same.










Another favourite was Collioure just down the coast with its iconic church, harbour and many restaurants.

Daughters had a great time and the campsite disco featured a lot. So did a French lad who lived in Metz, North East France. He came to see us in Gloucestershire and daughter visited him in France. After a decent interval she went to live in Metz, and was sponsored by the Metz handball team - don't ask, and started a University course. And that was the reason for our many subsequent visits to Metz, and the start of sundry exciting French adventures.

A lady in the RAC office in Gloucester booked ferry tickets and got to know us very well. There was no internet in those days. We'd just phone up, say what dates we wanted and back in the post would come Dover to Calais tickets complete with names, car registration details, have a good trip and see you next time, with RAC cover thrown in and several good-for-business kisses. I became expert at sticking on headlight beam adjusters and painting lenses yellow and could do it in 5 minutes in the dark! After a few trips the car learnt to do it itself.

If you set off from Gloucestershire just after midnight you could get round London on the M25 and hit the motorway to Dover as it was getting light. Breakfast at the Little Chef just before the hill down to Dover set you up for the crossing. Normally it was simple queuing but once there was a storm and ferries were delayed and couldn't dock. We waited all day then they finally decided to risk it. The ferry was going up and down and you had to time it right. The ramp cycled through uphill to downhill and repeated. You had to race towards it to cross just as it was horizontal! We arrived very late that day.

A short crossing and before you knew it you were disembarking in Calais and, on autopilot, joining the Autoroute through Reims (jackdaw said "Hello" and flew off with my wristwatch) towards Strasbourg. It was only 300 miles! The occasional payment of tolls helped keep you awake, as did the sculptures and other art installations by the side of the road. Every hour or so a stop at a pull-in would provide toilets and a safe place to stretch your legs, especially if the stop involved crouching over a hole in the ground. Also there was a chance to change the tape from Tanita Tikaram to Sinead O'Connor and back again. Nothing compares to that!

Once, having pushed it too far, I forced my eyes to stay open and started hallucinating that sheep were in the field on the right, being chased by a fox. There were no sheep, nor fox. There wasn't a field either. Luckily there was an autoroute and I was still on it.

The route into Metz became automatic too. Lots of one way streets and avoidance of city centre, famous Cathedral and ex-German Railway Station and a very tired but satisfying arrival at Allée de l'Artilleur de Metz. We had occasional meals out and sometimes in, with the boyfriend's family. Remember the 'tongue' story? Well this time it was snails, accompanied by a look which said "If you come here, you have to eat what we eat, and we've specially chosen to eat what we know you don't". For fun probably. One snail eyed us up, crawled across the plate and ate all the butter. It took ages, but we were happy to wait.

On one trip we decided to make it part of our holiday and maybe drive south towards Italy. We set off through Nancy and Epinal on quiet roads. We saw storks nested on chimney pots, only ever having read about that and not believing it could be true. On some higher heathland we saw old women with their bottoms in the air.They were picking bilberries. Then someone selling home made goats cheese from a barrow by the side of the road. Wife decided it would be a romantic thing to buy, despite my misgivings. We eventually found a campsite by the lake at Gérardmer and decided to stop there for the night.  

There was a restaurant across the road by the lake side and that saved us cooking an evening meal. Some farmer's cheese to finish maybe? Not for me thanks. Don't trust it.

The next day the wife was nowhere to be seen. Then I glimpsed a figure lying on the grass by the toilet block, clutching a toilet roll. Yes, the cheese had done its work and there wasn't time to get back to the tent before it did its work again . . . .

So we stayed in Gérardmer for a day or two. Lots of others did. It was pleasant and saved having to drive. Some Dutch women in the toilet block were sorting their unruly children out. The language was different but you could tell that the sentiments were the same. We walked round the lake, an enjoyable hour or two's stroll which we repeated several times during our stay.

Back at the campsite a few tough looking guys had arrived and were making a nuisance of themselves. They weren't young yobs but somewhat older and thought it fun to block people's way to the toilet, little realising that they may have some cleaning up to do. After a few complaints, they were turfed off the site. Suddenly lots of police appeared out of parked vans. They were carrying guns and surrounded the rough guys, handcuffed them and took them away. Evidently the police had been watching this group for a while and seized their chance right in front of us. We never did find out why. Organised grime probably.

As an antidote to dodgy goat's cheese, Judith had taken to heading down to the water's edge for breakfast, taking a hardboiled egg in her trouser pocket and half a baguette in her hand. One morning she proudly wore a newly purchased track suit. It was unusual and multi-coloured and was a favourite. Er Ian? Yes? I think we need to go back NOW. She'd chosen a raw egg and it was slowly running down her leg . . .

We didn't move on to Italy, or anywhere else for that matter. A day trip to Colmar was interesting and we took some raw eggs to Strasbourg, just in case we met Nigel Farage. Knowing our luck they were probably hard boiled. As is he.

Then back to Metz, goodbye to daughter, strangely all the roadside art had been reversed just to confuse me, retook wrist watch from angry jackdaw, Calais, Dover, no Little Chef - ugh filthy English food - and Home to Gloucestershire. Another Grand Few Days Out to remember. Managed to remember a lot of it. Sorry.