|Salou, August 2014|
It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? When you think about it, I suppose it’s always “that time of year again”, no matter what the time actually happens to be. But I digress and, besides, you understand me perfectly, don’t you? That’s right, it’s nearly time for our annual summer holiday, a chance to get away from the stresses of the workplace for a couple of weeks and enjoy the delights of the coast and countryside in charming company. Traditionally, this means taking my mother-in-law to Salou for ten days, accompanied by one or two sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, and so on. Time and money permitting, this is usually followed by a lightning trip to England to visit the quieter side of our Anglo-Basque family and to drink some decent beer.
|Shrewsbury, August 2008|
This year, however, my wife and I have broken with tradition: we are escaping on our own! The idea is very simple: drive through France, visit Britanny, take the ferry to Plymouth, tour Devon and Cornwall (which we last visited 25 years ago in August 1990 on what was the closest thing we ever had to a honeymoon), visit family and friends, then head back home via Portsmouth, Cherbourg, etc.
|Beer, August 1990|
Well, there are worse plans, aren’t there? The downside, however, is that a trip like this is a) absurdly expensive – Have you seen the price of ferries and B&Bs in August?! – and, b) requires serious planning. Fortunately for me, I have a wife who is very serious about planning. On this occasion, we have divided the tasks as follows: my wife will be responsible for ‘stuff we don’t really need’ i.e. clothes, food, toiletries, sunhats and suncreams – When was the last time anybody ever needed to use suncream in France or England, for heaven’s sake?! – while, for my part, I will be in charge of ‘stuff we couldn’t be without’ i.e. cars, passports, ferry tickets, hotel bookings, pounds, euros, bank cards, cameras, mobile phones, ipads, travel guides, maps, Kindles, chargers, adapters, ... My list is endless and, needless to say, I drew the short straw. Not that I’m complaining, of course.
|Aretxabaleta, July 2015|
Many years ago, I made the mistake of boasting to my wife that I knew a little French. I thought it wise, therefore, to spend these last two months or so immersing myself in the beautiful French language so as not to be caught out when instructed to ask the shop assistant whether they had it in a smaller size, what time they would be closing, and how she recommended that we wash the garment. To this end, I downloaded 1400 Phrases to travel in France with confidence! by Frederic Bibard (eminently practical, but incredibly boring) and 1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke (thoroughly useless, but immensely entertaining). Did you know it was the British who invented champagne, for instance? I’m looking forward to slipping that little nugget into my first conversation once we cross the border.
If I survive the summer, I’ll report back here at the end of August. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and here’s wishing you a wonderful summer wherever you may be heading.
À bientôt J
‘The English say plane, but the French say avion to mean exactly the same thing. How can this be? If you think you know the answer, give me a ring on o double seven three four, o double seven three four; or, if you prefer, drop me a line at c raphead at looniversal learning dot com.’
Colin’s Conundrums had been Slapper’s idea …
‘I’ve decided to give you a radio show, Colin.’
‘Oh, thank you very much, Miss Slapper.’
‘This is the snappest I can go … Why me, anyway?’
‘A, because you’re full of rubbish; and B, because you’re dirt cheap.’
‘But we haven’t even discussed my fees yet.’
‘Fees? … Look, Colin, do you want to be a radio star or don’t you?’
‘In that case, shut up and listen …’
There then followed a lengthy Don’ts list:
‘Don’t upset anyone; don’t be rude to your listeners; don’t make any tasteless jokes; don’t make any snide remarks about your colleagues; don’t have a laugh at others’ expense; don’t enjoy yourself; … and, above all, don’t forget to plug Looniversal Learning every twenty seconds. Got that, Colin?’
‘Shall I run through that again for you?’
‘No need, Miss Slapper.’ (‘Run through what?’)
The phone rang and Colin nearly fell off his chair; he couldn’t remember the last time a listener had phoned in. He had often wondered whether there was anybody out there at all; except Slapper, of course, who recorded all the shows and regularly played back the most embarrassing bits at staff meetings.
dayrealing, chapter 4, “Human”