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!