Dippy menopausal single mum travels across France

I’m a dippy, menopausal single mum with her head all over the place most of the time so why on earth would I consider driving around France? Driving on the wrong side of the road, getting into a pickle with poor attempts at speaking the language. By the way I scrapped through French at school with a grade 5 in CSE. Yes that’s the worst grade you could get, in case you’re wondering.

Thankfully I have a great sat-nav. That’s all you need these days to travel anywhere, and a teenager keen to learn the lingo. Or so I thought but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

We (myself and two daughters, 21 and 13) set off from our home in Sussex in plenty of time to catch the ferry. I pull away from the kerb chastising myself for not getting the wheels balanced. I know there’s a problem but I tell myself I’m just imagining it. A mile from the ferry the car rumbles along as if we’re off road. My daughters scream ‘stop mother, just stop.’ ‘No, we’ll limp to the ferry, sort it out in France.’ Did I really reach 52 to be this crazy I wonder? We thunder to a halt conveniently beside a tyre company but it’s closed. The tyre is flat. I jump up and down like a wild beast, screeching and hysterical. Fight or flight in a crisis. It’s flight for me. ‘Just get a grip mother. You’re acting like a complete baby,’ screams my 21 year old. She runs off to look for someone to help. I pull out my phone – hyperventilating by this time – to call the RAC, but before I do so I get my priorities right by updating my Facebook status first. ‘About to catch ferry, flat tyre. Will have to miss holiday.’ Nice and dramatic. Should gain me 30 likes if I’m lucky, boost  my fragile ego and help the overall situation in a roundabout sort of way.

The RAC keep me on hold for ages while they check my membership then I give up, lean against the car and bang my head against the hard metal. My daughter, who has spent an hour before we left making herself up and looks glamorous and beautiful and model like returns with a tasty man in tow. I beam. That’ll teach me for criticising her make up routine. It’s certainly paid off this time. While he yanks the tyre off, replacing it with the spare she stares at me. ‘Really mother, why don’t you know how to change a tyre? This is ridiculous it’s so easy.’

The man doesn’t want any money but I insist on him taking £20. He’s saved the day. On the ferry I bump into a friend from Lindfield. The catch up passes the time but I’m not impressed with the coffee machine. I’m given one token which means one cup only. Suddenly I’m missing the generosity of Ikea. Soon we’re in our car again with a postcode to the nearest garage in Dieppe. I get out of the car, painfully aware that car mechanics won’t speak English, or maybe that’s me being a snob assuming that they are all uneducated. But I turn out to be right and the smart receptionist can’t speak any either. I make whirling hand movements like a comedian on stage blended with the odd word in French. I say the odd word, actually it’s mainly please and thankyou in French. The reality is that politeness, while being a good thing doesn’t actually get you very far. When the whirling hand movements are understood I then have to explain balancing with different hand gestures while my daughter is googling what to say.

We wander round Dieppe for a couple of hours and it begins to sink in that this is going to be a very expensive holiday. In fact I end up spending more on this trip that on a trip to the States two years ago. Thanks to the crash in sterling due to the Brexit effect everything is soooo expensive and we’re hungry. I didn’t believe it when my sister, who lives in France warned me. ‘Don’t come over chick. You’ll find it too expensive.’ I went to Vienna several months back and didn’t find that particularly expensive but I have to say it’s expensive for Brits in France right now, so if you’re thinking of going I’d hold fire for now.

Two tyres are fitted; quite why they’ve fitted two I don’t know but the buggers have got away with ripping me off. I’m £264 lighter and the car is running very smoothly on its new Michelin tyres. I would never buy Michelin. It’s always budget tyres for me.

The sat-nav leads us onward to our first Airbnb, just outside Paris in one of the Disney villages, Place de Toscana. Airbnb are becoming a very popular and inexpensive form of accommodation and I highly recommend them. The apartments and houses are always tastefully decorated, furnished and equipped with everything you need.

As we drive we marvel at how smooth the roads are. It’s like driving along a kitchen worktop. Not a pot hole or a seam zigzagging across the road. Clearly there’s no austerity here. What a delight it is. But then the traffic slows and I see why the roads are so well maintained. Looming ahead is a set of tolls. I’d forgotten about their toll system. Of course. The cheeky blighters, expecting to come to our country; not paying a penny to use our roads and charging us through the nose to use their roads. Huh! Instantly I’m pissed off. My daughter feeds the machine with the correct amount, about 3.70 in Euros but the barrier doesn’t go up. ‘What the hell,’ she protests. A lady pops out of the booth and rambles on in French. We realise that we must put a card in, not cash but this wasn’t made clear. Card inserted, out, barrier up we drive on but I’m seriously wound up. The meal in Dieppe, a pizza between three of us – having to share because of the price, and now 3.70 euros down the drain.

I shall get my money back. I swerve the car. Get out. A man in the car behind shouts in English ‘get yourself together lady.’ I feel like screaming at him but instead I dash between several lines of traffic to get back to the lady in the booth. She comes out of the booth, a look of horror across her face and screams at me; something in French, probably ordering me back to my car; it’s dangerous and waves her hand at me to go away. I’m in front of her screeching for her to give me my money back. Heck, why am I doing this? It’s only three euros. It isn’t worth it, but then I forgive myself for I’m menopausal woman and I have an excuse and my behaviour is outside of my control. ‘Just give me my money back’ I scream. Even I’m embarrassed by my dreadful behaviour. I’m dreading returning to the car to suffer the comments of my waiting daughters. ‘Non compendi’ the woman screams back and continues to wave her hands. I give up, nearly get killed by a car speeding off. ‘Oh well,’ I tell the girls. ‘It was only E3.70. Could have been worse.’

We drive for miles and I begin to think actually E3.70 to cover so many miles is quite a fair deal but then another set of tolls appears like a mirage on the landscape. And this time it isn’t a mere E3.70. It’s E19.70. I’m completely disgusted, furious even. These tolls are eating into my daily budget allowance of £60 a day. At this rate we won’t be able to afford to breath in France. ‘It’s definitely cash this time mother,’ daughter says and it seems that she’s right. She fumbles for my purse, gathers the money, feeds the machine but the barrier doesn’t budge. ‘Oh my God, it’s card only.’ Jeez ……

More on my French antics very soon!

I am the author of ‘Holiday’ which is currently running high in the Amazon charts and is only 99p. Yes, I don’t believe in ripping people off!

Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/HOLIDAY-Laugh-out-loud-romantic-Joanna-Warrington-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/


Prague blog written by English lady

Don’t be bashful visit the sex machine museum

The astronomical clock, Old Town, a stunning piece of architecture

A friend of mine wrote this fantastic blog about her holiday to Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech republic this Summer. I’ve long considered Prague to be a great destination for a short break but never got round to going. Maybe one day! And so when her eloquent and funny blog plopped onto my Facebook screen I begged her to let me reproduce it here, for my readers to enjoy.

Here’s what Helene has to say about Prague:

First of all her neat little disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER… re: “THINGS ABOUT PRAGUE” posts. It should be noted the author is having a fabulous time in this truly remarkable city. Any suggestions, in said author’s attention seeking posts, to the contrary, should be taken in the context of feeble attempts at humour! Love from Helene.

THINGS ABOUT PRAGUE… No. 1 it’s really fairly cheap to fly here and stay here…. it’s really hideously expensive to eat and shop here. Top tip (1) take large handbag into the breakfast buffet and fill with a day long hamper of sandwiches, cakes and fruit. Top tip (2) Beer is cheaper than water… put aside your distaste for beer and it’s bloating effects, shake out the bubbles and go for it. Top tip (3) cigarettes are also cheaper £4 packet, load up and substitute food for a fag whenever necessary (also keeps mosquitos away)

THINGS ABOUT PRAGUE No. 2. It is beautiful.. no messing… full of history, style and all manner of European nonsense. Top tip (1) visit the Sex Machine Museum.. it is educational, air conditioned and possibly the only museum where you won’t find yourself saying “my grandmother had one of those!” (Though interestingly, my mother did!). Top Tip (2) when taking a boat trip do your research and do not choose merely on the basis that the staff have the cutest outfits. Or you may well find yourself cruising around a single bridge at 3 knots for 45 minutes, cooking slowly and listening intently to the commentary in Italian! (3) after an exhaustingly hot day on foot, treat yourself to a Thai massage where a beautiful Thai woman who looks as though she would not have the strength to lift a tea cup to her lips manipulates, squeezes and thumps you into abject submission for 30 delicious (if you like that sort of thing!) minutes! (4) when booking an excursion to Kutna Hora, be sure to check the departure time and do not arrive panting thinking you are 5 minutes late, when in actual fact you are 55 minutes early, just saying!

THINGS ABOUT PRAGUE No 3. “BEADY EYE SYNDROME”.. this is a thing! The perfect storm of geographical location, atmospheric pressure, cultural over stimulation and drinking beer instead of water (because it’s cheaper) can combine to afford you a bad case of BES. SYMPTOMS INCLUDE (1). Arriving at breakfast only to realise that unless a waitress shows you to a specific seat, you may actually be unable to choose from the plethora of vacant tables and return to your room empty stomached. (2) Wandering around the breakfast buffet in a disorientated state, forgetting what you are there for and indeed who you are (3). Getting the ratio horribly wrong with your “compote to cereal” mix, thereby creating an almost inedible pulp which slowly turns to a primitive form of concrete in your stomach (4) Looking deeply into the bottom of a shallow glass whilst deciding whether or not to pour the apple juice in it or just look at it. (5) Whatever music is playing starts to sound like Leonard Cohen… oh wait?! ….. There is no known cure for BES, but continue with the beer/water substitution as it will enable you to not give a damn!

THINGS ABOUT PRAGUE No. 4. The Modern Art Gallery holds its head up amongst the finest in Europe. A generous and inspiring collection of all the 19th and 20th century (yes folks that’s what modern art is!) super heros AND some incredible, lesser known to us Brits, Czech 21st century artists (Contemporary Art to the uninitiated). TOP TIPS (1) when getting a taxi to the gallery (less than 8 mins drive) care to negotiate the price BEFORE getting into the vehicle, which doubles as a Gulag, or risk being locked in until you have handed over all your bank notes, loose change and even had to take off your shoes to disclose the emergency 200k note hidden in your sock, before expecting to be released back into society! (2) When entering the enormous gallery be sure to note that between the ground floor and the first floor is ANOTHER first floor, and that your confusion as to exactly which art you are looking at, may be something to do with not appreciating that having two first floors, in Prague, is common practice!. (3) All (yes ALL) the pavements in Prague are cobbled. As such, there is only one type of footwear suitable for walking the streets of the city, these shoes fall into a single, simple category, namely UGLY SHOES… The uglier your shoes are the better and the more comfortable you will be. All normal rules regarding coordinating footwear with clothing do not apply. If you want to look well turned out bring copious boxes of plasters and expect to enjoy the full “Little Mermaid walking on knives” experience. (4) The Natives all speak good English, it is impressive and an incredible relief, as nearly all their words are completely unpronounceable with our minimal British oral dexterity and lack of readily available phlegm (with the sole exception of Liverpudlians who are fit for purpose). (5) When returning to the Thai masseuse who performed your divine foot massage, and deciding to upgrade to a back and neck massage. Please remember that Thai Massage is actually code for a legalised version of intensive interrogation techniques used in places such as the former USSR, current North Korea and other dictatorial destinations. A, this time, heavy set Thai national will pin you to the floor (albeit surrounded tastefully by orchids!) and succeed in bending your skeleton in directions it is not designed to bend, she will slap you and shout “no ouch!” if you cry out, and kneel on your buttocks and push your scapular out through your breast bone if you don’t! Much like the taxi there is no end until you have handed over any remaining currency you have about your person, by way of a “voluntary” tip, at which point your shoes are returned to you and you can make good your escape.

Thank you for reading and coming up soon will be my own blog on my recent trip to France entitled ‘Dippy Menopausal woman’s antics in France.’




French Supermarkets

Cheeses in a French market. They taste like fluffy cheesecake


An aisle of squared paper pads

Garlic is stacked very high in French markets and the smell gets into your nostrils

A holiday to France isn’t complete without a trip to at least a couple of supermarkets. Back in the days when you could sail to France by ferry for a tenner, courtesy of The Sun newspaper Brit’s went on day trips to Calais and Dieppe in their droves, in the same way that factory operatives in Lancashire mills flocked to Blackpool in the 1800s. They’d enjoy a nice meal at a brasserie, pores ouzing with garlic, pleasantly merry on wine and finish the day wheeling a trolley round one of the hypermarkets, maybe Carrefour or Auchen. Back then and we’re talking about the 1970s and 1980s the choice of wine in British shops was more expensive and the range more limited. Blue Nun, a white wine became a by-word for naffness by the late 1970s when it was selling 3.5 million bottles a year. It was famously the wine of choice for Alan Partridge, the fictional disc jockey. Understandably we Brit’s wanted more choice on the shelves.

But things have moved on a lot. In Britain our shelves are stacked with a good array of roast coffee, wine and cheese. Or so we think, that is until we head to France and see just what we’re missing in backward, plain old Britain. The supermarkets in France are “literally massive” according to my teenage daughter. She’s right, they are. Imagine the largest Tesco store and then double it in size and you have Auchen or Super U. For some unknown reason a trip around a foreign supermarket is exciting. Strange really given that we hate shopping at home. At home it’s a chore, but abroad it’s called fun. As we wander up each aisle we don’t know what to expect. Our taste buds are tickled with so many delights we don’t ordinarily see in Britain.

The aisle, or should I say three or four aisles, I love the most are the yogurt aisles. The French love their yogurt, but to the average Brit yogurt is plain and boring when there’s nothing else on offer for dessert. France is drowning in yogurt. I’m sure it’s piped in via taps, from the massive warehouses and factories of Danone that sit by the roadside like huge toads on the landscape.  Even in the smaller stores, the yogurt selection is award worthy. There are so many brands and varieties that an inquisitive foreigner could easily spend 30 euros on yogurt alone out of sheer curiosity for the many recipes and flavours on offer. From pistachio to almond, from coffee to cola they have it all covered. Fancy a drench of yogurt? Sounds a bit kinky to me.

Yogurt isn’t the only food item that takes up about two or three aisles. In the British supermarket Iceland fries take up a whole aisle but in France Salmon fills a whole aisle or two. Salmon is very healthy. It’s an oily fish, low in fat, a great source of protein. Fries – well it’s not surprising that we see so many obese people on the streets of Britain. Blame Iceland.

However there are some items that don’t offer much choice. Sandwiches for example. You’ll find a long aisle of sandwiches but the choice is limited to ham, chicken or cheese. Most of the sandwiches are in fact ham. (Jambon).

We took a leisurely stroll down the stationery aisle. My daughter wanted to buy a writing pad for college. We couldn’t find a single pad of lined paper. It was all squared paper for accountancy. Don’t they learn to write in France or is maths the only subject they do?

Beware though you Brit’s as you trawl the hypermarkets. The pound is low against the euro at the moment and you won’t find any bargains apart from some reasonably priced wine and coffee. Gone are the days when we could fill our car boots with bargains but make sure you enjoy some of the delicacies like modules and snails while you’re there and don’t forget to visit a French market where you will find garlic and cheeses stacked two metres in height like the attached picture.

If you enjoy travel writing but also enjoy a Bridget Jones style romantic comedy you might enjoy my book “Holiday.” It’s only 99p, a bargain and has 29 reviews in the UK and is an Amazon bestseller.