“Ok… easy does it.”
We’re off again, avoiding motorways and tolls so that we can keep the speed down and with that, we hope, the temperature of the wheels.
It is SLOW going.
Taking turns to drive, we strategize that if we use deceleration (taking your foot off the gas to slow down) or the gears to reduce speed, we can minimize the amount of breaking.
The upside of this, is that we see lots of French countryside. Plus, it’s really flat here, so you can see for miles in all directions. The view extends straight over the very smooth, endless fields of stunted, dormant grapevines all neatly tied back waiting for spring, to some really pretty chateaus. The world is waking up slowly after winter; gorse bushes offer gaudy yellow splotches of yellow brightness against the green-brown landscape. They distract from the grey tree spines that are wind pushed, waving distractedly into the dark clouded skies.
The rain started overnight in Bordeaux, it sticks with us up the D137, up to Saintes, past Rochefort, still drizzling as we limp past La Rochelle.
We take regular breaks to let the system cool and keep an eye on Stan. He visited a lovely vet in Bordeaux this morning. It took half a pack of dog treats to get two tapeworm tablets down him. Sometimes, I’m really embarrassed to be the owner of a Labrador whose nose needs surgically extracting from the bottom’s of better socially adjusted canines. Other times, like this morning, he does us proud. Today, Stan was super compliant, licky-loving and generally charming and obedient in a way that suggested, he would always be that good. Together, we got lots of approving French nods and glances.
I’m still beaming with pride when I’m presented with the bill for our 13 minute visit to the vets. I just want to know – is €52.40 the normal price? Whether it is, or isn’t, we need the stamps and squiggles in the pet passport and gratefully receive our certificate (for general, good doggy-ness?) to take with us to Calais. But friends have spoken of the devastating effect these two benign looking tablets can have on puppy-insides. So Stan get’s lots of additional outside opportunities over the course of the day, to be on the safe side. Plus, we keep regular checks on the van’s four corners, just in case.
One advantage of bland-ish landscapes, is that they allow the mind to wander. Mine drifts across the weeks that we’ve had on this trip. The challenges (mostly vehicle related), and the few tensions that have arisen between us.
What’s come up and eventually been dealt with is our different perspectives on the need for privacy. When M has asked for the van to himself, for using the loo/ablutions. I’ve cleared off with Stan, often for 30 minutes, so that he’s got plenty of time to get sorted. When I’ve asked for the same, M has either responded by saying: “It’s fine, I don’t mind” or he’s decided to employ the time usefully, by, say, cleaning all the van’s windows, from the outside, looking in.
One day, I got decidedly tetchy and explained that it wasn’t about M’s level of discomfort, but mine. He was genuinely surprised. But, credit where credit is due, he took the point on board.
In Bordeaux, he was relaxing in the warmth of the van, whilst the wind whipped up a storm outside. I asked if I could have some space and without a word, M picked up his coat, called the dog and stepped into the maelstrom. Some time later, I wondered where he’d got to, opened the side door and found him shivering outside. He looked up at me with concern. “I didn’t want to intrude…” he offered. Ok, maybe this still needs a bit of refinement!
That’s about it though. It’s not been a holiday. It’s been a learning curve, an adventure, a risk, a lifestyle. We’ve both worked whilst we’ve been away. M has constantly been taking enquiries, bookings, sorting out the cottage, doing business admin. I’ve had various pieces of work to do, much of it time-limited. So, this hasn’t been a cessation from economic activity; the ability to work whilst away hasn’t impeded or spoiled the journey. If anything, it’s added a level of security. This is what we can do whilst we’re travelling.
I pushed for this trip; I’m profoundly grateful that M let me ‘gently encourage’ him into it. We’ve learnt so much.
But today is a long, slightly anxious day. We pull into a Park4Night site at Nantes in the dark, we’ve been driving for eight hours and have covered just 200 miles. Urgh…
It’s still raining so we leave the brakes to sizzle in the drizzle. There’s more of ‘fait accomplis’ approach now. The brakes will be fine, or they will not be fine. Today’s drive has, thankfully, been uneventful. Tomorrow we need to make quicker progress or we’ll never reach Calais in time. Supper is a one-pot wonder and then we watch ‘Fleabag’ that M has managed to download using patchy wifi and mobile data.
Time’s slipping past, the hours left are rapidly disappearing…