If I’m going to review the third instalment of the 2011 series of The Blanchetière Summer Visitors, I need to get on with it, before episode four begins on Thursday, (with the arrival of my offspring, and my offspring’s offspring). The third instalment, completed yesterday morning, was brought to us courtesy of Simon’s brother, and his two youngest children.
They arrived, somewhat surprisingly, exactly when they said they would. Marcus, flying recklessly in the face of his conservative preferences, had purchased a new satnav especially for the trip, but it transpired that his trouble-free arrival was not entirely attributable to the triumph of technology. It was, in fact, considerably assisted by Robyn’s capable navigation skills, and a map – both brought to bear on the issue when the satnav insisted on believing that they were driving across open fields, when, quite clearly, THEY WERE ON A VERY BIG ROAD.
Their sojourn with us was planned to precede a week’s stay in a gite in Swiss Normandy, during which a lively schedule of visits to various local (and some not-so-local) attractions will take place. After reeling off a list of must-see places within a 60 mile radius of their holiday accommodation (Mont Saint-Michel… Bayeux…), Marcus asked if there was anywhere else they should go, or anything particular they should do during their stay in Normandy. Simon and I looked at each other. We thought. We thought some more. We have both been to various bits of Normandy in previous lives with previous partners. But we are both also a bit sort-of-crap when it comes to visiting tourist destinations.
“Um… well… you should definitely eat some galettes” suggested Simon.
“Oh, and drink some Calvados.” I added, enthusiastically (whilst remembering the numerous bottles of the stuff that had found their way back to gather dust on many a kitchen shelf over the years, and whilst also wondering if – surely – galettes weren’t more a sort of Brittany thing). “Yeh… and the river’s pretty – the… um… the Orne, is it?.”
Twenty-six-year-old memories of ant-ridden forest picnics, feeding Petits Filous to my twenty-month old daughter sprang to mind. I recalled finding the key to our overnight hotel room in my pocket 30 miles after we had checked out. I remembered reading ‘Mr Rabbit and The Lovely Present’ at least five times in a row, in a failed attempt to get my daughter to sleep before dinner. I recalled her lobbing her full drinking cup at the posh waiter’s nose, and proceeding to further delight the indulgent clientèle with a charming, stumbly dance brandishing a cocktail umbrella. I remembered a lot of crows on the tower of some old castle or other. Such is the nature of my Normandy memories. They are from Normandy, but not of Normandy, and they do not serve well as general recommendations for possible holiday activities.
I was aware, from his previous visit to us in 2008, when we lived in Roquetaillade, that Marcus likes to see notable sites. He came then with four of his children, and the holiday activities were chosen to strike a balance between his desire to visit places of cultural or historical interest, and his childrens’ desire to walk llamas, splash about in rivers and eat ice cream.
Reflecting on their previous visit to us, I began to fear that Marcus and his three-year-older youngest daughters might find our new corner of the French world a little uninspiring.
In an attempt to rise to the challenge, we sprinkled the customary Blanchetière holiday activity of Doing Nothing with a variety of exceptional and oh-so-exciting escapades. We visited Le Montet (our nearest village avec commerces) to purchase bread and cakes, to not-purchase postcards, and to cool down with a drink in the shade outside the café. We visited Le Montet a second time to eat a slow-and-tasty lunch in the shade outside the café, to watch wasps carve meals the size of their own bodies from the remnants on our plates and ferry them heavily away, and to once again not-purchase postcards. And, on the last evening, we topped off the whole enthralling caboodle with a dog-and-insect-accompanied circumambulation of the plan d’eau on the edge of our actual village of Saint-Sornin, and a bit of cloud-spotting.
And in between these excitements, we played cards, and word games, and throw-and-fetch games with the hounds, and did a bit of sitting-and-reading, and a bit of sitting-and-watching, and a bit of just sitting. And overall, and afterall, it turned out that quite a lot of what we did could, in fact, quite reasonably be ascribed to the well-loved category known hereabouts as Doing Nothing.