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The Quick and the Dead

Posted by daveb on September 11th, 2007

Squiffy’s dad had talked us through the concept of French Aires, which are essentially cut-down motorhome campsites at which you are entitled to stay for a couple of days without charge — local businesses sponsor the upkeep in the hope that you might throw some of your tourist Euros in their general direction (have a meal at a restaurant, buy a souveniour, etc.). All in all, a glorious idea to help us cut down on expenses. Let me recount our very first French Aire experience to you, dear reader.

Following the blue motorhome signpost off the motorway, we arrived at the Aire, which was tucked away behind a Peugeot showroom. The steel bollards at the entrance way appeared to only be separated by six feet or so, certainly not big enough to welcome a regular-cut motorhome but just big enough for me to squeeze our pint-sized camper through. Strange, I thought, and drove on.

As we swung right, past a dilapidated brick-building in which no pane of glass was left intact, a sizable range of caravans parked in aisles, just like at a supermarket car park, came into view. No motorhomes, just caravans. And no cars either. Another few feet forward and Squiffy became suddenly excited at the sight of washing machines and dryers situated just behind each caravan, and full-size washing lines too — what excellent facilities they have here!

And chickens. And a pig eating carrots from a bowl washing-up bowl. And lots of rubbish, over the floor. And a gaggle of women, complete with hands-on-hips staring intently at us. And three children on BMX bikes, circling our bus.

I’m sorry to write that until this point, the penny had been firmly stuck at the coins-in slot. It fell in both SQ and I simultaneously. We had forced our way into a gypsy site and we’d now be lucky to escape with our hubcaps intact. My mouth opened before my brain had fully engaged and I asked Squiffy if we should stay. She gave me one of those looks that said, “get out of here before they nick our windscreen wipers!”

I wrenched the gear lever into reverse and floored the gas, span the steering wheel, heel-and-toed the footbrake and feathered the handbrake to perform what, in my head, was the perfect high-speed J-turn–Knight Rider-style–and sped off towards the horizon. However, in reality we pootled off with all the grace of a ham-fisted clutz trying to manouvre a 25 year old van with a turning circle of a Boeing 737 on an ice rink. Still, we got away by turning the angry women into harmless belly-laughing ladies.

Once a safe distance away from the ‘Aire’, we decided that it would be best to try a commercial campsite instead. According to our book, there was one in the next town and after some issues with French sig(h)nposting, we pulled into the site. It looked deserted and a little run down, but hey, we needed somewhere and beggars cannot be choosers. A man came out of the office and met with me. Not being anywhere near fluent in French, I tried to pick out words that I recognised and perform hand-gestures to confirm my understanding. Each time I heard the word “ferme”, I would draw my index finger across my neck, gesturing the international signal for ‘closed’. How clever I thought I was.

It was only when Squiffy heard the word “deceades” and glared at me, that I realised that the poor bloke was trying to tell me that the campsite was closed because his father had died, rendering my hand gestures massively inappropriate.

We drove on.

Comments

Comment from Mark
Time: September 11, 2007, 11:05 pm

I laughed out so loud at the end of this! It’s become so very evident to me, that you are not only worthy of The Wooden Spoon in the workplace, but in general life too.

Comment from Beno
Time: September 12, 2007, 1:14 pm

Mate…priceless!

Comment from Mum N
Time: September 12, 2007, 4:56 pm

Re photos Claire, I know you said you were legless ( well a bit squiffy ) but I dindn’t realise that Dave had BBQed and eaten them !!

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