Wednesday, 17 August 2011

So, where was I?

'France' is the short answer to that, although I have to confess that was only for the last ten days or so and doesn't quite justify my absence from the blog for almost a month. I always struggle to keep up during the school holidays (with the blog as well as much else, like ironing and getting dressed before 3pm) but this year I've been slacker than ever. (Hmm. Am tempted to pretend I've been languishing in a wi-fi-less house on the other side of the Channel all summer, rather than merely for the last week.)

Cleverly I put myself ICO venue-finding this year, hoping that no-one would detect my cunningly hidden agenda of combining family holiday with sneaky research trip for the book I'm trying to write, which is partly set in WW1. The house I found (or rather, two houses as we forced the same friends as last year to come with us again) was a couple of miles outside Montreuil, which is where Field Marshal Haig was based during the war but (rather tellingly) a pretty long way from the front line, which ensured my obsession wasn't allowed to dominate too much. It was also gorgeous. Last year we holidayed boy-scout style, in tents which, despite my best efforts with bunting and solar-powered fairy lights remained more Slumdog Millionaire than Out of Africa. This year I was determined to aim higher in the Gracious Living stakes - to the extent of a proper bed at least - and achieve a week of proper relaxation.

The research part of the week involved a day around Arras, the scene of much action in April 1917, and a trip to Vimy Ridge. There you can walk along reconstructed Canadian and German trenches only 25 metres apart and see the grassed-over scars of old trenches and craters and shell holes, as well as the magnificent monument to the 11000 Canadian missing...


We were pretty close to √Čtaples, site of the enormous British transit camp and field hospital during the war, but there's little there to see now. Bearing in mind the 'summer holiday' aspect of the trip I'd made a resolution not to drag everyone round endless cemeteries and cast a pall of solemnity over the whole week, but we could hardly drive past the Military Cemetery, with its crazy-beautiful Lutyens arches and steps, now could we? It was just after lunchtime when we stopped, but the sun was casting long shadows behind each headstone by the time we reluctantly left.



The rest of the week was spent lazing about in or beside the bathwater-warm swimming pool, eating bread, playing the odd, incompetent game of tennis (me, not the athletic-ace kids), drinking insanely cheap Muscadet and eating more bread. We did manage trips to Agincourt and the beach, but the wind was fierce at the coast and the sea considerably colder than the pool back at base-camp, where swimming could go on late into the night...


All in all a fabulous week, right up until the moment when Daughter #3 woke me up with the words 'I feel sick' and reality came crashing back in. On the upside, it was very clever of her to leave it until the last day of the holiday, and there's no doubt that a poorly child is a whole lot easier to look after in a house stuffed with comfortable beds, sofas and en suite bathrooms than a tent, but there was no putting off the journey home the following day. We stopped for one last time in Montreuil to buy a bucket and raced up to Calais. Probably best to draw a veil over the rest of the trip home. We were, however, so relieved to get back that it distracted us from the contrast with the immaculate and stylish house we'd left in France and the one we returned to, with the overgrown, jungly garden strewn with windfall apples and the rancid yogurt in the fridge.

Later, with Poorly Daughter safe and sleeping in her own bed and the washing machine on, we collapsed on the sofa and turned on the TV. Pictures of riots and looting - news that had escaped us in our technology-free French idyll - filled the screen. Switched it off quickly, dug bottle of Muscadet out of its swaddling in a bag of washing and retreated gratefully into twilit apple-scented jungle garden to talk wistfully about ditching TV and internet permanently, and moving to France.

11 comments:

scarlet wilson said...

Holiday looks fab India, glad you enjoyed it. The WW book sounds really interesting.
First day back at school in Scotland today, WHOOPPEEE!!!!!

Rachel Lyndhurst said...

Ah,France looked wonderful, darling,but it's nice to have you back.
I'm liking the sound of this new book too ...

XX

ros said...

I was just up the road from Montreuil last year! I stayed in Hesdin, just a couple of miles from Agincourt, and visited Montreuil - which was completely beautiful. Sorry your holiday was spoiled by sickness, though. Miserable for everyone.

India said...

Hey Scarlet, lovely to see you - thanks for dropping in! Can't decide whether I'm envious that your kids are back at school already or not... On the one hand, I couldn't be sitting here in my pyjamas contemplating a day of utter sloth if mine were, but on the other I could be fully dressed and contemplating a day of Writing...
Enjoy your freedom!

Rach, it's only an idea for a book at the moment - whether it'll ever see the light of day remains to be seen! Am having to be very strict with a couple of naughty characters who are in my head, demanding to be put in a M&B story VERY soon. There aren't enough hours in the day!

Oooh, Ros - and we talked about your France trip when we met, but I had no idea how close you were to where we went! Drove through Hesdin on the way to Arras - there's a beautiful chateau just on the outskirts. It's an area I'd love to go back to.

ros said...

I stayed in the chateau! In the turret apartment. Which was much less grand than it sounds - the actual turret was used as a broom cupboard! But still, it was fun.

Jane said...

Hello India,
I'm so jealous. I'm guess you enjoyed the amazing food in France.

Kate Walker said...

Welcome home - glad you had such a great time. Hope to see you very soon to catch up

Kate - whose word verification is Catish . .. . hmmmm

Brigitte said...

Yes, yes, move to France... Please????
Think wine and fresh baguette right out of the oven...

Hope your weather wasn't too bad. We had the worst summer EVER over here; July and beginning of August were rainy and cold in the northern half. Now we're roasting...30°C today;
School only starts on September 5th, so don't need to get up early yet, but....have to cook lunch every day, sigh.

Poor youngest, at least she got to enjoy all her holiday but the last day.

India said...

Wow Ros - I don't really care what the apartment was like, I'd have willingly slept in the broom cupboard just for the joy of strolling up that exquisite drive! Will be pestering you for photos next time we meet.

Jane, how well you know me! This year I was mostly fixated on the boulangerie/patisserie, rather than all things garlicky. Haven't dared to get on the scales since we got home, but it won't be pretty.

Hey, Catish Kate! (but only in the NICEST possible way) Am now cruising through the last little bit of holidays and already looking forward to our London meet up in September. Hope we'll have a chance to catch up properly then xx

Brigitte, that's just typical that the sun comes out when we go home! The weather wasn't great - it was warm enough, but really windy which made going to the beach feel like some extreme survival exercise! As always, just being in France made me think of you and I was shopping for food I was wondering how you'd cook all the wonderful things we saw in the boucherie and at all the fish stalls. I definitely need to up my game by next year!

Trenda said...

Ooh! I can't wait to hear more about your WW1 book! So glad you had a delicious time in France. Hope Daughter #3 is feeling all better.

xx Trenda

India said...

Thanks Trenda - all better after a very long sleep in her own bed. Just waiting for them all to go back to school now so I can get on with writing the book...!