Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Holday - England part 2 (Party!)

The day of the big party dawned somewhat overcast. Overnight the weather forecast had not got any better although the wind had died down a little so even if it rained, it would at last be vertical rather than horizontal. There was plenty of last minute preparations as we fixed up the house and the garden for the 2pm kick off.

We had arranged a hog roast and the caterers arrived at about 11am to start setting up - there first act was to set up a canopy as it had by now started to rain. I was busy fixing the bar area which we set up outside the annex to the garage so that the drinks could be kept in and around the fridge in the Annex and the wine glasses/cups/beakers etc. were within in easy striking distance. We had a table for "adult" drinks and a tale for kids drinks as well as three ice buckets (ice being the last think we actually needed as I am sure I could see condensation when I breathed out - it was not particularly warm....). I had put a couple of the boxes of champagne into the freezer so they were very chilled and we had a couple of boxes of white wine and red wine as well as a Keg of beer (picked up from Frankies) called I think "Rustic" - brewed locally as well as bottles of lager/Guinness/cider/lemonade/coke/and fruit juices. M had sourced a couple of teenagers to run the bar and when they arrived I gave them a quick run through emphasising the importance of keeping everyone's wine glass filled with champagne (I had bought three boxes of Monopole Heidsick bronze top from Majestic at £14.99 each so was determined that we make a good dent in the supply).

E, was busy with dad in fixing the house and we had already set up the tables in the Marquee (seating for around 40 in the expectation that it would be too wet to do it on the day - a correct expectation as it tuned out!) and M and B arrived to help with the final preparations as the rain started to intensify!
Apart from a slight blip when I managed to incorrectly sign the cheque for the Hog roast people (I had to sign another - it is years since I wrote a cheque in UK!), the party was terrific. It was a really lovely combination of old friends and family. Among the first to arrive was GW and M who I had not seen since they stopped off in HK to visit us around 6/7 years ago although I had been regular email contact. Last time I had spoken to him last year G had recently had a hip replacement (and was now completely teetotal and given up smoking!) and was looking very suave. They both looked really well and promised to visit us in Dubai when they next visited M's family in Oz. Also arriving early was OF and his family. I had not seen his wife S for ages and had never actually met the children - his daughter looked very like O. I regularly see O when I visit London to keep up to speed about what is happening with the old CAF football team (seems to have disbanded although they still catch up for a drink occasionally) and also the Unplayables so was able to catch up on the latest gossip. JG also turned up which was great as I had not seen him for 3 or 4 years. He now works for a college in Sussex (C and Lulu still at home so he commutes every week living at his Mother's in East Grinstead during the week) and having forsaken the law, now travels the world recruiting students - in fact had been in Hong Mong only the previous week which was a little ironic as we never saw him there. JG was a mine of interesting tid-bits including the fact that his Father is married again (to a 38 year old Pilipino ) and he now has a 2 year old half sister!

RP and his wife also arrived early - given that they have travelled the furthest (from IOM) was quite a feat and they had brought a big collection of IOM treats including beers and sweets and they were joined by RC and his family –still recovering from the Lassies and Lads v Dads game on Friday. There was some talk of arranging a rugby trip to Paris for the England 6 nations game next year so will need to follow up on that.
AL arrived a little later and it was nice to se him again (last time as in Dubai) and he had a good chat with JG.

The rain was now lashing down so everyone was either under the hog roast canopy or in the Marquee next door. The Hog roast was fantastic – we got a great picture of it before people started eating – it was an enormous pig done to absolute perfection.
The Marquee was also looking terrific with a big banner and lots of balloons and the barstaff were swept of their feet as everyone tucked into the food and drink. There were some unexpected arrivals amongst the relatives - Uncle K was their although I had understood he was away and was in fine form. R and D (with Dan but not T) were also there – R was supposed to be in Sicily but had cancelled because he could not climb. D and R were also their with their two boys (A and ?) (actually young men) who I had not seen for ages – really nice chaps and I had good chat to them about their visit to Dubai at Christmas where they had stayed at our villa and R said it was one of the best holidays she had ever had (commemorated on Facebook with a Christmas Diner with Minnie our cat taking entre stage). There was also some more unexpected arrivals including my Cousin Michael and his wife from Bognor (who I had not seen since their wedding years ago) and also his Sister Teresa (with her husband) also from the Bognor branch of the family who I had last caught up with in Killarney at Ks 60th).

The West Country contingent (A and J, and his daughter L with her family K, and the two children – the dog was banished to the study) who we saw last night also arrive bearing yet further gifts of beer and my Cousin C with his wife L also arrived. It was great to see them all and the uproar from everyone trying to speak at once in the Marquee had to be heard to be believed! K and A also arrive with S and his girlfriend H and C and D with K and O (all of whom would be attending part 2 of the party in Ireland next week). S had shares in Chapel Down vineyard and so had bought a selection of sparling wines (as well as an LP – Revolver – I had not received one of them in many years!) which we were able to add to the general stock of champagne/sparkling wine which was rapidly reducing! K. and A had also prepared a great photo album with some great shots of Mum dad Mary and me as well as some of the family (including Mum's family in Ireland). We also had J and J from next door having recovered from their BBQ or yesterday (slightly sunnier than ours!) and E's parents P and T were also able to come (although they had also struggled due to accommodation issues).

I had an absolutely great time chatting with everyone and K. gave a short speech which was very well received. M had also distributed some quiz questions about me which everyone was invited to team up with the rest of their table – the questions wee answered to much hilarity – in fact there was a couple that I did not get myself – apparently I had interviewed the Secretary of State for northern Ireland when I was at University – I vaguely remember something about that but even now cannot recall who this was {Just checked wikipedia - Tom King was Secretary of State at that time and I did not interview him - it must have been Merlyn Rees - who I did interview while I worked as Features Editor at URN. He was better known as Home Secretary but had at one time been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland).

JG won the quiz (he always was quite competitive) and as it was a Sunday afternoon and many people were working in the morning, things started to wind down at around 6:30/7pm with the last guests leaving at around 9:30pm. I had eaten my own body Wyeth in Hog roast and cake and had made a considerable dent in the champagne – although we still had a couple of bottles left to send with K and A on their drive trip to Ireland (they were setting off immediately after the party for the ferry) for part 2 in Castletownbere along with some Chapel Down.

Despite the rain (and the fact that everybody had to congregate in the marquee probably helped)it was a lovely day – a real pleasure to be part of it all and a great testament to my family - particularly M, dad and E in putting it all on. And we still had a further leg to go next Sunday at K's house in Cork!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 - England part 1

After the excitement of our adventures in France, we now have a week in UK before heading off to Ireland. First up is my big birthday party (part 1) for UK based friends and relations which E and my Sister M had been plotting for some considerable time.

The day of our return from France had been wet and windy. However, the next day (Saturday) was sunny and dry - perfect for putting up the marquee that we were using to forestall the vagaries of England's summers. We had all been looking forward to the erection of this edifice with some trepidation - mainly based on our experience a few years earlier of the challenges of putting up a gazebo for our annual UK BBQ and also some concerns about the likely weather given a somewhat dire forecast for the whole of the weekend. In the event, whilst a little breezy, the Marquee was put together in bright sunshine under the expert guidance of Ms friend (who was lending it to us) in a little under two hours which was excellent going although did require a team of 7 (including Dad and also J from next door)working pretty much full time.

The first challenge was to see whether it fitted in to the top garden (K my cousin had been confident that it would not). However, with a little bit of manipulation and the judicious removal of some (small) branches from the apple tree we were able to fit it so that the main opening coincided with a step down from the patio which allowed ready access to the hog roast station and allowed M and B's gazebo to provide cover from the house to the Marquee (the weather forecast really was that bad..). It also meant that the kids would have free range to play in the lower part of the garden, weather permitting. By coincidence, next door were also having a BBQ(but that afternoon) and so B dad and I helped put up the gazebo next door so a good example of a community support scheme!

A number of guest for the party had travelled up from the West Country a day early and were staying at various camp sites and hotels in the outer environs of the Maidstone area. We were therefore joined by Dad's Cousin J who had come with us a few years back to the rugby in HK and his daughter L with her family and Dad's other cousin who used to cycle a lot. We had a great meal and learnt at first hand about the problems of getting accommodation in Maidstone this weekend - it was apparently proving very difficult as the "Rambling Man" prog-rock festival was on-going at Mote Park which had caused every hotel and B&B in the Maidstone and outer areas to sell out). Given the rather chilly evening we decided to use the marquee as the venue for our meal and whilst it was nice to be outside we made an easy feast for the midges that congregated inside - this of course did allow us an opportunity to do something about them before the main event tomorrow but at the cost of some rather painful bites.

It was nice to catch up with part of the family who we very rarely see and the kids enjoyed playing with their young cousins as well as M, B and N and J who also came along and a good time was had by all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 6 - Calais to Harrietsham)

During the course of the holiday I have been trying to read "The Lost Symb*l" by Dan Brown. It is a very thick book and very heavy going and in my room at the top of the van it has been keeping me company at night - not sure whether it has been an aid to the fact that I have been sleeping very soundly (apparent from the occasional wrestling matches with the windows and blinds when I have been trying to open/close them at the dead of night - last night I was having a particularly energetic battle trying to open the window when E. turned on all the lights thinking someone was tiring to break into the van...) but in any event, it is heavy enough to make a good door stop although will need to think carefully about whether to take it to Ireland next week.

After an early wake up call with E thinking there were burglars we were all feeling a little groggy as we woke up in good time for our train back to UK at 9:50. After our usual breakfast we went through the usual de-coupling procedures and were soon on our way back to the Chunnel. By contrast to the chaos in Kent due to Operation Stack you would not have known that there were any problems on the French side - certainly no long queues of lorries or impatient drivers. Check in was very smooth - simply entering our reference code and having our gas bottle checked (to ensure properly closed) and we were in place for our 9:50am departure in good time. However, for reasons not explained the 9:50 was cancelled and we eventually boarded the 10:20 which got us to Folkestone at around 10am (UK time).Fortunately the M20 was open London bound so we set off to Harrietsham with a birds eye view of the car park for lorries that the Southbound lane had been turned into by Operation Stack. I have not seen so many lorries and I would not have envied being a lorry driver at all.

We reached Harrietsham just before 11am and finally met Simon who had provided the van. He was a nice chap who apparently worked with Aston Martin on their racing team and had a small side-line in hiring out camper vans. He had a fleet of three but told us he was adding a brand new van next year which would have a trailer (for Smart cars presumably).

The Roller Team 746 was an excellent van. Whilst we could have made do with a 4 berth it was great to have a lot of space. I think if we do this again we will be a little less ambitious on the amount of driving we do as the route maps indicative driving times were no doubt for cars rather than pantechnicons and it would have been nice to have time to explore the places we stayed in more detail. I would also probably take proper BBQ equipment next time but it was a great trip and the kids seemed to have enjoyed it which was the main thing.

We were met by dad at the van hire centre and we managed to pile everything into his car for the drive home. On the way we stopped at the Roebuck to re-visit the scene of the near miss at the beginning of our adventures but it had not started serving Lunch so we carried onto Frankies in Staplehurst where once again enjoyed the pulled pork and I also bought a keg or beer for the party on Sunday. After we got back to Maidstone we caught up with my Sister's family and the kids played with N. and J and we had a take away from the Coxheath curry house.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 5 - Rouen to Calais)

Most French campsites will have early morning deliveries of fresh croissants/bread etc. which have to be pre-ordered the night before and St Michael's was no exception (in fact I had pre-ordered when we booked in yesterday) so the kids were able to go off and collect our breakfast and bring back our penultimate breakfast on this holiday and it did not disappoint (V. had slept for most of the previous afternoon - presumably exhausted by her bike riding the previous day and was most unhappy when she woke up about the difficulties a mid-afternoon nap have on getting to sleep in the evening). We set off shortly thereafter and after taking an unexpected detour around some picturesque wheat fields in the heat of the French countryside we finally found our way on to the A28 and made our way towards Rouen.

Unlike some of the other major cities we visited, Rouen did not appear to have a ring road (if it did we did not find it) and we were therefore swept close to the city centre where we had a good view of the Cathedral before we were taken on a tour of some of the industrial areas to the East of the City before re-joining the motorway en route to La Touquet. We had decided to stop off there as it was reasonably close to Calais and we were not very sure of what the situation in Calais was like due to the on-going industrial action.

I am pretty sure we did not take the most direct route to the main drag but the tour of the outer suburbs of Le Touquet were very pleasant featuring immaculate holiday homes, tree-lined avenues, equestrian centres and various beaches. We eventually found our way to the main town beach and as if by magic a space appeared to park the van next to a jumping machine and the crazy golf which the kids were most interested in. We had a pleasant stroll down on to the beach and I went for swim and V. went for a paddle on the wide expanse of beach. The Channel was a little colder than Dubai but once I had got under the waves it was lovely - with the sun shining it was very pleasant despite the strong wind. We played some ball games with the tennis ball we keep with us at all times after my swim and then repaired for coffee and ices (caramel with caramel chunks - excellent) at a beach side café before investigation of the jumping area.

The machine was very similar to the one the kids had used in Castletownbere on regatta day a few years ago but unfortunately only one was in operation and there was a big queue so A. and I had a game of crazy golf (which A. won) and we then went back to the van to find that we had been left a note due an alleged parking infraction. Given that we were in a parking space for which we had bought a ticket this seemed a little harsh.

We then made our way out of the main town and stopped off at a Carrefour that we had spotted on the way in to buy provisions for our final BBQ of the trip - consisting of a giant sausage and some beef kebabs and prawns. We were soon back on the road and we found the campsite with a minimum of fuss. It was truly a 5* site set in the grounds of a chateau with a pool etc. (unfortunately closed by the time we arrived)and we were shown to our pitch by a lady driving an electric car.

The grounds were idyllic and once again I felt like the poor country relation in having to scout out a base for the disposable BBQs. My scavenging took me around the back of barn towards the rear of the site where the owners obviously kept all the maintenance equipment. It was also the home of a number of rabbits who ducked and dived as I approached (unfortunately they did not show themselves when I took V. around for a look a bit later) and the rolling lawns of the site in the late evening sun were very picturesque. Less picturesque was the plume of smoke that came of the BBQ and directly onto the British family camped next to us with their bespoke camping dining equipment (stainless steel stand with what looked like the worlds most enormous omelette being cooked in a giant (Stainless steel) saucepan). Not that I was jealous of their equipment (much) - in fact some of the equipment we had seen on this holiday defied belief - at the campsite outside of Rouen we had seen a Vespa fixed to the back of the motorhome and another garaged in the cubicle at the back where we kept the hose on our van. We also saw a number of motorhomes towing trailers with Smart cars on top - presumably to give a little more transport flexibility.

Whilst the next door family were forced to relocate their cooking operations due to the smoke from our BBQ the food itself was great and we enjoyed a great final meal as the sun gradually set over Calais.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 4 - Olonne-Sur-Mer to Rouen)

The kids again managed to collect breakfast for us (having ordered the previous night) and so we had a brief visit to the pool and slides to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. Our original plan had been to spend three nights in Olonne but given the distances involved it would have meant a whole days drive back up to Calais to get the Friday morning departure to UK so we decided to split the distance by leaving a day early and stay at Rouen. I had located a likely looking site which had been recommended on one of the many camper van websites (wi-fi was available at all the sites we stayed at in France although sometimes at a fee)which was around 30KM to the South of Rouen and was therefore more or less on the motor way directly from where we were via Le Mans. On the way we stopped off at was the only slightly disappointing lunch at a motorway service station/Aire of the holiday - mainly because the chips were not particularly warm although we made up for it with some nice ice creams.

The campsite Camping Saint-Nicolas was near the village of Le Bec-Hellouin and was located in a Forest. It had a covered pool (not really indoor as it was open to the elements through panels at the side) and it also boasted a tennis court. We found a pitch (the owner was very relaxed about where we needed to go) which was next to an extraordinary looking tent/home which was on stilts and appeared to be part of a larger vehicle which had presumably driven off.

The kids and I found some free tennis racquets and a ball and A and I had a game of tennis (not very easy in sandals) and then we went off for a swim. Whilst not boiling hot, the water was slightly heated and so we had a good time playing with a beach ball that seemed to have been left for pool use.

The Site had a nice rustic feel to it (including a chicken coop which A and I found near the tennis Court) and as the afternoon wore on gradually filled up with tents and motorhomes. The highlight of the evening was the meal - Moule et frites which appeared to be a speciality of the campsite(everyone else seemed to have had ordered them) - Euro 11 for a huge pot which me and the kids tucked into with gusto while E had an omelette and some sausage. Having tidied up the mussel shells (and returned the pan to the café area where it was apparent that many other had enjoyed a similar meal to us) and cleaned the plates, we headed off to th eland of nod.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 3 - Bayeux to Olonne-Sur-Mer)

Having booked our croissant, pain au chocolat and French bread the previous evening at the site shop, the kids collected our breakfast first thing in the morning and we feasted on a typical continental breakfast in our dining room over-looking a rather overcast but nevertheless dry day. Motorhomes are essentially large houses on wheels (hence the name!) and are remarkably easy to operate once you get the hang of it. All the campsites have electrical hook up pitches and whilst you need different adaptors for UK and French sites (we had one of both) it is simply a matter of parking up and hooking up. There is generally a water-pipe nearby and we filled up the water tank here for the kitchen tap (very hot water) and also sorted out the internal toilet (fortunately used once only the entire trip although even then....) and a shower (which we used for storage purposes for the wet swimming wear).

Our first stop was central Bayeux where we parked up the van in the municipal carpark and paid a visit to the tapestry - housed in a former convent (now a museum) near the cathedral. It was very impressive (and very popular). There was an audio guide (which came with the ticket - both adult and child) which provided an excellent commentary as to what was happening in each of the panels and basically told the story of William's alleged "betrayal" by Harold having apparently been promised his support in claiming the English crown. As they say, history is a story told by the victors and whilst it is of course entirely possible that William believed that he had been promised the crown it is does seem a little unlikely that Harold would have been quite so supportive given his own claims notwithstanding his kidnapping/release etc. in France. Nevertheless, it a very entertaining story although the audio guide did rather gloss over some of the pictures in the panel without giving an explanation most notably the image of a naked man that appeared around half way through the tapestry - perhaps it was an example of 11th Century graffiti and therefore unworthy of mention?

After the tapestry we had a wonder around the old part of town back to the van. By this time the sun was shining and it was clear that Bayeux would be a very pleasant place to stay in is own right - with a water wheel, medieval streets and plenty of restaurants. However, we had a longish journey down to Olonne to navigate so we set off just before lunch for the drive down to the Vendee.

Whilst getting out of Bayeux was not a problem, we did have some challenges getting around Caen as the Summer of "industrial action" in France finally caught up with us - this time not the French ferry workers but the French farmers who had decided to block the ring road around Caen with their tractors. Having spent 30 minutes in a queue for the motorway we were finally diverted past various bales of hay and ruddy faced farmers sitting on their farm machinery on to a street leading to the middle of town following a couple of huge trucks that were also caught up in the chaos and no doubt wondering whether they would actually fit into the town centre. More by luck than judgement we found another road that led to "la periphique" and by the time we have rumbled back on to the motorway we had cleared the obstacles and had an uninterrupted run down to the South West.

The comfortable driving speed of the van is around 65 - 75MPH although it feels a little happier at the lower end of that speed and as a consequence our progress to the Vendee was stately (or rather stately with lots of rattling) rather than rapid. It also seemed to be very expensive in terms of the road tolls - we had two peage stops where the toll was nearly Euros 50 which seemed quite steep given the fuel consumption was very high as well (roughly 20 miles to the gallon) so we were also refuelling fairly regularly. We eventually rolled into the site at around 7:30pm (notwithstanding some fairly vague directions based on the AA route guide E had printed off which led us down some very narrow country paths in the Olonne hinterland). The weather had been threatening on the way down with occasional showers although it was brighter by the time we got to the camp site and we had picked up some prawns and sausages in a supermarket on the way so we decided to have our first BBQ of the trip.

The site was very pretty and well maintained consisting mainly of cabins and tents with one or two motorhomes like ours. The site was divided by a road and on one side was located the indoor and outdoor swimming pools (complete with a slide that was to prove very popular with the kids) and the admin block/bar. The other side comprised the pitches and accommodation and although the office had shut by the time we arrived the manager happily checked us in (giving us all wristbands which I think A. is still wearing) and directing us to our pitch.

We had packed some disposable BBQs. However, we did not have any stands so I had to improvise with a breeze block I sourced from a pitch around 100 yards from our location - quite heavy to carry and goodness knows what the occupants of surrounding cabins/tents thought as I set up my makeshift BBQ on the ground (the BBQ instructions said not to put it directly on grass)with their immaculately equipped verandahs and state of the art cooking facilities and BBQS. The BBQ was very successful and the prawns and sausage were much enjoyed.

Earlier the kids had tried out the new badminton set in the other part of our pitch but unfortunately the shuttlecock had landed on the van roof and resisted all attempts to retrieve it so we ended up playing our second game of football (albeit in a more confined space) since Friday's Lads -v dads game (still rather stiff!!). The wash hut was very close by and so after cleaning up the plates we all headed off to bed. It was quite warm at night so I had some fun and games with trying to open one of the windows in my eyrie in the middle of the night but managed to avoid waking everybody else up.

Breakfast was croissants and bread with excellent tea brewed in our own kitchen (we did not do a huge amount of home cooking apart from the BBQ) and the kids and I then went in search of the pools and also some bikes. Our visit to the pool in Bayeux had given me the opportunity to model my new speedo trunks - compulsory in all French camp sites and, er, not particularly "slimming"! They were still somewhat damp from yesterday but the kids were fine sliding down the slide and trying our the little outdoor pool play area and when we wanted to warm up we went into the adjacent indoor pool (compete with Jacuzzi) which was heated. The views from the top of the slide (which whilst not quite at Wild Wadi levels of size was nonetheless great fun to use) showed that we were situated among fields and waterways/footpaths leading to a forest. It was an excellent location and, having hired 4 bikes(40 Euros - so not cheap) in the afternoon, we set off to explore our environs. It was generally quite flat with small rolling hills and bridges over the water ways/marsh area and although the sky was occasionally threatening it did not rain for the first part of our ride. V. is relatively new to cycling so eventually got a little tired so E and the kids returned to the Site and I pushed on through the Forest until I got to the beach passing another campsite (also with slides) on the way (and virtually on the beach for future reference). I had time for a quick paddle in the (chilly) waters before it started to rain so headed back to the camp site. We had the foresight to order a "free-range" roast chicken and chips at lunchtime for our evening meal and so had a delicious chicken and chips meal (and a couple of rounds of "who and I" played with yellow post it stickers attached to our foreheads - great fun) before turning in for the night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 2 - Canterbury to Bayeux))

The journey from Canterbury to the Chunnel was uneventful until we were just about to take the slip road onto the access road into the terminal where we found the road closed and a diversion in place as part of Operation Stack. As a consequence we missed our 9:20am departure time and were put onto the 9:50am train instead (whilst we had heard on the news in Dubai of the problems at Calais and also Operation Stack, I had not appreciated quite what an impact it was having on travel and transport around the M20. All the time we were in Maidstone we were hearing stories about the problems it was causing and the delays to travel in an around towns close to the M20. We were very fortunate to avoid any major problems). We arrived in Calais at around 11:40 having played Boogle with home made letters through the whole journey (I was the winner.....)and spent a fruitless 20 minutes trying to find our way into what looked like an open supermarket in Cite de L'Europe - we had made our usual misjudgement in arriving in a European country (other than UK) on a Sunday so the main supermarkets were closed. However, we could see loads of cars and people happily shopping next door in a compound surrounded by barbed wire and had therefore searched for the entrance. It eventually transpired that it was the Eurotunnel reception and shopping area on the French side......! We therefore decided to head off for our first night on French soil at Bayeux , stopping off on the way for lunch at one of the motorway aire's (for some ham and chips which became a bit of a staple for all of us).

The campsite was in a lovely location just outside of Bayeux in the grounds of a chateau. It had a swimming pool (allegedly heated) and a fishing pond as well as a shop (where we sourced some bread and butter) and a restaurant where we booked our evening meal. The swimming pool was an odd shaped affair with a deep end in the middle (a trap for the unwary as one literally stepped off the edge and disappeared under) and two shallow ends. The water was emphatically not heated - two tiny children, blue with cold and shivering by the side of the pool being testament to this fact. This did not stop V. jumping straight in as is her custom and I followed shortly thereafter. A. was more circumspect but in the end we were all in and did a couple of brisk lengths. I then had to warm up the kids in the hot showers which were in a block next to the pool entrance and so we arrived back at the motorhome very clean and , whilst not exactly warm, at least not freezing cold. By this stage it has started to rain so we headed off to the restaurant where the kids became acquainted with the pool table and the table football while E and I waited for the table in what was very busy restaurant.

Eventually we were seated and we had a great meal (steak for me with pomme fries - a nice change from pork!) and we eventually got back to the motorhome at around 9:30 for an early night. Next stop Bayeux to see the tapestry.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer Hols 2015 (part 1)

Having now made my way back to the sand pit, I thought that I would record our adventures from the last few weeks while they are still fresh in my mind. The family are still in Blighty sunning (or perhaps more accurately raining) themselves in Portsmouth en route for Bristol. However, our adventures kicked off in mid-July when I joined up with the family (who had left Dubai at the start of July) in Maidstone and where we caught up with R., A , O. and I for our traditional drink at the Swan in West Peckham where R. and I managed to exact revenge for our defeat in last year's lassies and lads v dad's game against A, O and V including, if I might say an extremely well-taken goal from me to clinch a 9 goal thriller 5 - 4.

It must be said that spending 2 weeks chained to my desk at work followed by a lengthy plane journey that morning was not the ideal preparation and I certainly felt somewhat (in fact, very) stiff for the next couple of days. However, no time to worry about that as our next act was to brave "Operation Stack" (designed to turn the M20 into a giant lorry park while the French ferry workers were on strike) to pick up our campervan (actually quite a large motorhome) in Harrietsham the following day.

Everyone was using the A20 as an alternative to the M20 so traffic to Harrietsham was heavy but after a 40 minute drive in Dad's rather overladen car (he was kind enough to drop us off), we arrived at the pick up to find...nobody home - it transpired that the owner and his son (off to his graduation ball apparently) were not available and had left the introductory tour to a friend of theirs who owned the neighbouring fencing store. The Motorhome was rather larger than I had anticipated (6 berths with a bed over the cabin and a large seating area at the back) and having briefly been introduced to the facilities and its operating processes, my first act was to nearly reverse the back of the vehicle into the Roebuck pub which we had decided to call into for lunch prior to our departure. My attempts to manoeuvre the behemoth around the pub car park without touching the sides was undoubtedly an unexpected highlight for the various drinkers sat outside (and for the landlady, a matter of some alarm), nevertheless, after a good lunch (Gammon for me - by no means the last pork product I would be sampling over the next 7 days......), we set off for our first destination - a campsite just outside Canterbury.

The camp site was on the outskirts of Canterbury and within sight of the Cathedral (about a 40 minute walk as we were later to discover). I have not done a huge amount of camping in the UK but it was pretty much what I had been anticipating - a mix between the slightly dilapidated feel of Carry on Camping and a former farm set in the lush Kent countryside.

We had a walk into town arriving just in time to find that the Cathedral had closed and the currency shops where we were to get our Euros for the next stage of our trip were also closed. We did however have a very pleasant walk along the river and the scented gardens as well as a terrific sea food meal at one of the restaurants (I had an excellent cracked crab - great value for £21).

We could not face the walk back so took a cab and prepared for our first night in our new home by visiting the ablution block. Facilities were pretty basis but clean and having agreed the allocation of beds (I was in the bed above the cab which was long but quite snug!), we settled in for a night under the stars. The rain thundered down in the middle of the night but it had stopped by morning and we had time to have some bread and jam for our breakfast before heading off to the Chunnel for the next stage of our trip.