Thursday, 16 August 2007

Summer and the living is easy.....

And so this summer continues in its very own fashion, not really a summer at all.

We have been away, down to France (Ile d'Oleron) and had a lovely family holiday. I have been set my homework and being an obliging sort, here it is:

We travelled late on a Friday with a flurry of activity. Normally we take the overnight ferry and have a shorter drive at the other end but this year did the short crossing. This meant two hotels on the way down, one in poor grubby Calais, and one in the pretty town of Avrille just outside Angers. This hotel is a converted windmill and has our family essentials, a pool and a creperie. So the first afternoon of our holiday was spent by the pool sipping drinks watching the children 'perform'. The weather was lovely, not too hot but incredibly pleasant after the rotten weather we have had at home.

The next day we visited the beautiful chateau at Angers before reaching the campsite in time for a repeat: the kids in the pool but this time us unpacking the car and sorting out the tent, cooking the first meal and generally relaxing. For the first time ever we took the bikes and this was a good decision, although more hassle on the way down, it meant that the kids could cycle around the campsite, Tim could go for a bike ride while we had a lie in (he misses his early morning walk with the dog) and pick up supplies from the covered market and they could all go off for a ride to the beach. The campsite we had picked almost by chance we found to be perfect for us - lots of Dutch and French families and with very few pitches (they built the site and then applied for a licence and got permission for only 63 pitches when they'd built for 200). It was pure bliss - quiet and family oriented.

Another first was that because of the bikes we hardly used the car - we certainly never left the island and mainly headed out for the little towns and their markets: both covered and 'nocturnals'. The kids love the marche nocturnals almost as much as we hate them. Hate is probably too strong a word but while we do like to mooch around the food markets picking out fruit, veg and fish the tat on sale nowadays at the night markets is pretty much the same tat as you might find anywhere in the world. The exception was the market at Boyardville where we went several times to allow the kids to walk around by themselves and spend 'their own money' while we sat at a cafe having a coffee or drink (in truth we could see them the whole time but no need for them to know that). They bought endless 'bargains' and I bought a lovely ring and also a secret Christmas present for the eldest. We ate caramelised nuts and 'chi chi' (does anybody else know this stuff - it is like the churros found in Spain but long thin strips of doughnut deep fried and sprinkled with sugar. Our kids ask for nutella and they wander along dipping them in the gooey chocolate and getting themselves and anybody else near covered in sticky sauce!) The setting in the little port town was beautiful: bright and shining and relaxed and happy.

The pattern for the holiday was much the same as always. We slept late (except for Tim who wakes at 6.30 every day of his life) and read our books (two kids on Harry Potter, one on Secret Garden and Tim on the God Delusion while I read lots: John Irving's Widow for a Year and (of course) We were the Mulvaneys), cycled, ate salads and grilled fish, played boules somewhat lethally (MJ got sent off for bad behaviour), pingpong and swum. Even I got in the pool one day when the temperature reached 38 degrees. Everyone got brown (either that or their bottoms have got whiter) even MJ with his fair skin and red hair and one day we all burnt in the deceptive cloud cover.

We ate two meals out and nearly fainted at the cost: once because it was so cheap and once because it was so expensive. After that we decreed meals at home and puddings out: glaces or ci chi only. One night we tried sorbets from a little shop and the cassis sorbet I had transported me back over 20 years to Berthillons on Ille St Louis in Paris. We used to queue outside even in February freezing half to death to have sorbets or ice cream and then go to the salon de the around the corner and have chocolate cake and brandy to warm ourselves up. Misspent youth indeed! Can't wait to take the kids.

We tried to find a place to go landsailing but failed miserably but luckily the eldest's keen observation skills found us the most successful day out: parc des arbres, which was one of those tree top zip wire death defying kind of things which all the kids loved. MJ got sent off for dangerous behaviour but only right at the very end. I was ridiculed endlessly for shouting 'ma files est stuck dans la rouge top' very loudly when he froze, couldn't go up, couldn't go down. Yes, I do know he's a boy and I probably do know that stuck isn't french. I panicked.....he got down, of course.

And on the way home to the UK we visited Futuroscope. Too much to do and the queues are too long but it was fun especially watching me (vertiginous) attempting to get to my seat on the glass floored cinema for the 360 degree film. The night show was amazing and we all stayed up far too late resulting in an awful last day of the holiday but hey, who cared? On the very last night we went to a hotel which was really grotty, found online through Logis de France and deeply disappointing. We picked up the day though by finding a cycle track and the kids and their dad rode along the banks of the Seine past Victor Hugo's house and lovely gardens. A 'tasting' menu at a good local restaurant saved the evening and the kids were most impressed by the amusee bouches (and the whole thing cost a fraction of the crap hotel).

So what did we get out the holiday? Time together as a family. Three lovely 'the best/worst thing about my holiday' essays written by the children. A wonderful Q&A session from the two youngest who found our condoms and wanted to know if we were 'breeding' and had a list of queries they had obviously always wanted to ask (the eldest covering her ears repeating 'this isn't happening'). Laughter. Being beaten at swingball. Watching the kids playing wordlessly with the dutch children next door, complete with a full blown water fight and a game of 'it'. A determination to learn French properly. A desire to buy a place in that part of France maybe to retire but preferably earlier than that. Memories for the store. Happiness.