Doing the family thing

As you probably know by now I recently went on a week’s vacation to the south of France.

I have already mentioned previously on this blog that during that time I spent two amazing days doing absolutely ridiculous things. Once in a lifetime things and even then, once in a lifetime if you are very, very fortunate as I undoubtedly was.

But what about the rest of the trip? Anything else worth reporting from the rest of my time?

I think so – and this is the blog dedicated to the rest of the vacation experience – the week I went to the south of France and did “The Family Thing”

19 of us went, men women children and a dog (but more about him later), on vacation to a beautiful part of the world, a lovely villa, located just outside the village of Lorgues in Provence.

I set off on the Friday evening in a Volkswagen minibus organised by a friend of ours. 5 adults and 2 kids as well as our luggage set off from the outskirts of Antwerp at around 20:00.

09:00, the next morning, we had arrived. Yes folks, it was a long, long drive and one that only one member of the group actually did. The rest of us being chauffeur driven all the way, our friend not accepting any of our offers to relieve him of driving duty.

Perhaps he didn’t trust us with the driving, I don’t know, but with only 4 short stops en route, it was a hell of a task to undertake and one that he managed with admirable fortitude.

Relieved of any driving duties, we did the only thing we could under the circumstances – we brought two bottles of red wine along for the ride with the intention of getting more along the way.

The two bottles were polished off before we had even left Belgium (by the two Irish contingent in the bus might I add) and this presented us with our first problem – because unknown to me the service stations in France don’t sell alcohol. A perfectly understandable policy but it is something that I take for granted here in Belgium. Alcohol is available just about anywhere in Belgium. And I mean anywhere.

Take for example drinks machines in train stations across Belgium.

Along with the usual cans of Cola, Fanta and water, it is possible to get cans of Stella Artois or Jupiler as well. And not only that, the beer is actually cheaper than the soft drinks.

Yes, quite.

Forced into sobriety for the rest of the trip, there was nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. Except that’s not something that I am very good at, preferring to drive, I find it difficult to get comfortable when not actually driving myself. So as I stared out of the window and looked at the passing traffic (most of it passing us it has to be said), I hoped that sleep would take me into its welcoming arms and pass at least some of the journey for me.

Unfortunately, apart from a few stolen minutes here and there, I remained awake for the whole trip, a rather quiet journey, the kids having no problem going to sleep and behaving as good as gold, the journey being punctuated only by the 4 stops, where cigarettes were consumed at a frantic rate.

I have to say that GPS is a wonderful invention although I don’t actually have it in the Black Ninja (everyone has a nickname for their car, don’t they?) but it does help if you follow the instructions given by the ‘sexy lady’ when driving in the middle of nowhere in France.

To be fair though, our destination wasn’t even on the GPS, so the faffing around at the end was probably unavoidable. A phone call to some of the people that were already there ensured that we got to our home for the week just after 09:00 in the morning.

After we all said our hellos, I placed my luggage (a hold-all and my laptop) in my room and immediately changed into swimming shorts and flip-flops, grabbed my ciggies, a towel and a book and went down to the swimming pool, a rather splendid large L-shaped affair.

Whilst splashing and thrashing my way through a few lengths, I experienced my first introduction to our canine companion, a rather vocal Jack Russell.

Now folks, I have always avoided naming people on this corner of cyberspace. I write for the fun of it and whilst I have received some very nice comments from some of you about it, I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with what I write but I would hate it if I caused anybody any embarrassment. Just because I choose to bare my sole on occasion in this, My Wee Corner of Cyberspace, does not mean that anyone else, guilty of nothing other than being a friend of mine should be exposed against their wishes on this blog.

However, having said all of this, I feel that on this occasion, there really is no alternative for me other than to name and shame Dinky, the aforementioned Jack Russell. Yes, Dinky came and joined me at the swimming pool and continued running up and down the length of the pool yelping repeatedly and constantly, shattering the early morning peace.

I gave up (to be honest, I probably didn’t have too many more lengths left in me anyway); lay down on a sun lounge, lit a cigarette and started reading. Dinky lost interest and rejoined the rest at the villa. I settled into my book and, although the sky was overcast, it was still pleasantly warm enough to be quite content with myself.

To be honest, lying by the pool with book in hand was the position that I adopted for most of the trip, being glad just to get away from the hustle and bustle of ‘Boring Belgium’ for a while.

Soon the clouds broke and the sun started shining and all was good in the world. A few of the kids came to the pool and started playing around and I helped myself to a glass of wine before settling down to the book again.

My early morning peaceful reverie was soon shattered once again by Dinky yelping excitedly by the pool. As I contemplated various ways of disposing with him, I thought that this could be a long week if things continued like this.

It did. How a dog so little can make so much noise is beyond me.

Apart from the two excursions to St. Tropez and Monaco, the rest of the vacation was just what I had hoped it to be – relaxing. After a few hours of lazing by the pool, I caught up on some much needed sleep, opting for a little siesta. This was exactly what I was looking for, for you see, I spend too much of my time running about Belgium until the wee hours of the morning and the few weeks in the build up to the vacation, I had been going to many festivals and concerts, so nothing appealed more to me than just getting away from it all and chilling out.

Apart from a couple of evenings where we went into town for dinner, we dined at the villa, everybody chipping in with preparing dinner, setting the table, clearing the table, doing the dishes (or at least loading them into the dishwasher) and preparing the coffees.

Occasionally, a few of us men went into town to hunt, forage and provide for the women and children. This basically meant racing down into Lorgues, filling up a shopping trolley with the supplies and then heading to a wee terrace café in the village for a few sneaky drinks. Even though everyone knew that’s what we were up to, there was something deliciously naughty about those afternoon drinks.

The first afternoon I joined the guys on their foraging mission we went to a terrace and sat down at a free table. The neighbouring table was occupied by an elderly gent with a poodle on his lap, which I find a deeply disturbing sight at the best of times (a poodle on a guy’s lap – not elderly gentlemen).

However, even more noticeable was the guy that he was talking to. Honest to God, if you’d looked up ‘Stereotypical French Man’ in ‘The Xenophobe’s Guide to Different Nationalities’ there would have been a photograph of this man.

Sporting dungarees, a black and white striped top, carrying a wicker basket over his arm with a stick of French bread protruding and smoking Gauloises cigarettes, all that he was missing was a black beret and a string of onions, to complete the picture.

As our two neighbours conversed animatedly in French, my Flemish friends started to discuss the guy with the poodle on his lap in Flemish. Clinging on to it like it was a loved one, I could see their point.

Shortly afterwards, Stereotypical French Man bade farewell to his friend, leaving Elderly Gent sipping his Heineken (what else?) and stroking his poodle.

One of my companions started conversing to the guy in French about the dog and much to all of our surprise, he responded in Flemish, asking if we were from Antwerp.


What a way to ingratiate ourselves with the ‘locals’. How much of our conversation had he heard? Enough to know my companions were from Belgium and that they hailed from. If he did hear the jokes being made about the poodle he didn’t mention it but instead proceeded to tell us His Story.

It turned out that the guy was originally from Ghent and had been living in Lorgues for the last 9 years since leaving the diamond business. His wife had taken ill 3 years previously and died, leaving him and the dog but he didn’t want to go back to Belgium, preferring the climate and the more sedate pace of life in the South of France.

Oh dear. The dog probably belonged to his departed wife and this was his daily reminder of her. No wonder he seemed so attached to it.

Drinks were quickly ordered for him and our table and we spent the next hour chatting with him about the differences between the two lifestyles. This guy was definitely a convert to the South of France way of life and had no desire to return to Belgium. When he told us his age, I could see it was certainly having a good effect on him. Putting him around the early 60’s, he told us that he was 76. The South of France was obviously treating him very well.

Having to return with our supplies, we bade our new friend (and his poodle) goodbye but not before inviting him to the villa in a couple of day’s time for dinner, which he gladly accepted. We arranged to meet him in the same café terrace, if not on Tuesday (which was market day in the village), then on the Wednesday when he was going to join us for dinner.

Incidentally, it turned out that this arrangement was something that he could not keep in the end, thanks to having a date with the village pharmacist. Yes, life in the south of France was treating this guy (and his poodle) well.

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious here, but one of the problems of going on a family holiday is that people operate on very different body clocks, kids generally going to sleep first, with some adults opting for early nights whilst others are happy to chat quietly on the terrace, sitting under the stars, sipping on wine into the wee hours.

I would place myself firmly into the latter category.

This in itself is fine; it does however present problems for those that wish to have a lie-in the next morning – another category of people I would firmly put myself into. However, thanks to the constant whine of the wash machine/drier coupled with the yelping of Dinky, the screaming of the kids at the pool, I can’t claim to have too many lie-ins during the vacation.

You might think it churlish of me to mention such a thing and perhaps it is but if the adults that are sipping wine into the wee hours of the morning do so well to keep their noise down, then surely there must be the same courtesy displayed by the people that get up early in the morning?

Am I expecting too much here?!

Perhaps I am and I have to say it wasn’t that big a problem – apart from the fact that my bedroom was right beside the washroom and Dinky’s constant yelping seemed to be delivered at just the right volume and frequency to ensure that a lie-in for me was extremely unlikely.

On more than one occasion I adopted the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude but it did make sure that the holiday was perhaps not quite as relaxing as I had hoped.

Upon returning from one of our ‘foraging’ expeditions I discovered that my nemesis, Dinky, had been at it again, deciding to chew extensively on a mini football that I had brought with me. Bought for me by a close friend whilst on vacation in Brazil, and then posted to me from San Francisco along with some other items for Christmas, it had done this many thousand-mile journey, only to meet its demise at the hands of Dinky.

I swear he did it on purpose.

The kids were great but they were just sooooooo tiring. They were continually on high spirits and enjoyed themselves immensely but you just knew as they ran around the swimming pool giggling, screaming and shouting that the tears were just around the corner. And they often were.

I left for this vacation with a near certainty that some time in the future I would father a couple of children and settle down and do the whole family thing, including the pet dog.

Now I’m not so sure.

Still – these are only minor grumbles. I had a lovely time doing the family thing. I’m glad I went - all in all it was a great wee holiday and I look forward to doing it all next year.

Although perhaps next time we’ll leave the kids and dogs at home…


Anonymous said…
Better that Dinky got the mini football rather than the cock ring (or you would have had some serious explaining to do).