Thursday, 30 June 2016

ARRIVED.

After a week or wonderful rest with Florent's parents we set off from La Manche and headed south. Passing, first, through flat, grain growing arable land. Miles upon miles of fields devoted to grains. Florent assumed the position of the chauffeur to what must have seemed like a strange family lined up against one side of a bus. Thanks to the children's rear facing car seats (seemingly a good idea when they were bought) which need to be fixed to a seat positioned exactly infront of them, we needed to have a row of seats between them and the front seats. Inevitably this means I need to sit behind the drivers seat to be as close to the girls as possible to respond to their endless demands, cries and shouts of 'I've dropped my biscuit' or 'she touched dolly'. So, in this fashion we are seated in a line, Florent, then me and then the girls. Linny proclaimed 'I'm going to paint the bus with kingfishers, pigs, lions and zebras and it will be the most beautiful in the world', the only thing that could make us even more conspicuous. I think that Variety Club emblazoned across the front in red letters and the faded 'Sunshine Coach' on the side is enough.



The weather was stormy for the entire journey: terrific downpours, brilliant bright light, swishing windscreen wipers and crying children. We stopped overnight near Chateaurault and then Cahors, by now France felt decidely southern.





Then three days after setting off we arrived at a small hamlet in Ariege where we plan to set up tent for the summer. The family who live here, generously welcoming us as strangers, showed us to a small clearing in the woods. Quiet and peaceful. Tall, thin trees reaching upwards; oaks, beech, sweet chestnut, silver birch. It's a humble living arrangement. The tent, a compost toilet, our gas stove and my fridge I proudly built but seems to heat things up rather than keep things cool (two plant pots, sand, water and a cover should apparently do the trick but has failed to so far, if it ever works I'll share how...).


 
Life in a tent in the woods throws up a few elements to contend with. Our first storm sent us hurrying from our tent at midnight as we were convinced an unlucky lightening strike might hit a tree over our tent. Huddled in the bus we kept deathly quiet, terrified the family in the house nearby would see us cowering from a storm, that once we were safely sheltered, was clearly at a very safe distance from us. "We'll just say we came here to watch the storm" said Florent unconvincingly "From the bus". The story seemed unlikely, no parent risk waking a child for any reason, let alone rushes through pouring rain and thunder to sit in a small car park with no view when they could remain in a tent with an atmospheric view of the sky. All was well, they didn't see us and we snuck back silently willing the girls not to wake up and give the game away.

We are all trying to get used to the insects. There is such an abundance; tics, hornets, horseflies, wasps, spiders, bees (in incredible variety), mosquitoes, cockroaches and butterflies. And I am so dispointed by myself that I am hopelessly scared of a number of these. I can't help but rocket into the air shouting "you-bastard-fuck-off", if a horsefly strays too close then I look down to see two pairs of large round eyes looking up at me. They take in my irrational fear and the swear words and I feel instant parent-guilt. I've given my children a long standing unfounded anxiety problem and they'll probably swear in public and humiliate me. Unfortunately they do both now furiously clap their hands together, Linny shouting 'kill it', when they hear any buzzing sound. I hasten to point out we are trying to foster a respect for nature and do only kill mosquitoes. 
 
We've also encountered a snake, stretching half across the road. I stopped the bike not wanting to frighten it and too frightened myself to contiune. I whispered to Linny who peered from the bike trailer to see it hesitantly continue across the tarmac and disapear into the grass. Later I was told it must have been a grass snake but I had no idea snakes grew to such lengths here.

The insects, snakes and storms can all be the first of what I'm sure will be a catalogue of oversights we have made on this little adventure. Most importantly of all though, it's so beautifully wild.




Tuesday, 14 June 2016

AND WE'RE OFF...

We finally managed to find a van that fitted our requirement; affordable. And it does go, but not always at the first turn of the key, which we discovered to our peril. It cost us £800 so we really just want it to get us as far as the south of France and then anything from there on we will see as a providential bonus.

Over the final days at the farm we packed up the van trying to squeeze everything we can in along with just enough health and safety to remain responsible parents and celebrated Ira's first Birthday. We didn't expect to still be in Somerset but it was a beautiful place to be and, too stressed to start baking amongst the chaos, we set a candle on top a pile of raspberries and strawberries from my Mum's polytunnel. Despite the pressure to start the renovation (so by the time the cold weather comes biting we are no longer in the tent) I tried to accept what is beyond our control and enjoy the unexpected prolonged stay in England and Ira's Birthday tea on the lawn with family was something to treasure.


 


We left early on the Saturday morning to fit in a quick trip to Bournemouth to see some of our most beloved friends before catching the ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. There was a lot of tension in the air as we hoped fervently that the van would in fact drive and despite the weight of all our tools and other essentials in the back manage to climb hills. Which it did and we were happy.


After a perfect morning with our friends, leaving the beach in Bournemouth the van decided not to start. No apparent reason, just turning over nicely but not starting. Half an hour of repeatedly turning the key (I think we were too stressed to think of anything else to do) it finally fired up and we were away. We caught the ferry with barely minutes to spare. I think the adrenaline of the previous hour pushed aside any feelings of sadness as we watched the south coast recede behind us. The sheer relief of not having to spend more money on anything else associated with a vehicle overshadowed any other feelings. It felt like we had overcome the impossible by catching the ferry and we celebrated by sitting down.











Thursday, 9 June 2016

BYE BYE BRISTOL

  The last few days of packing and moving came and the cleaning and sorting seemed like it would never end. The mess of boxes, packed and half packed and then the empty rooms, stripped of the last two years of our lives. It felt very sad but toward the end the sadness was overtaken by a frantic desire to finish, finally. As if leaving our home wouldn't be task enough the minibus packed up, guzzling almost two litres of oil in a twenty minute journey (that's another story) and thankfully friends came to our rescue. 

On our last day, after sleeping in the empty house, we took a last wander to the local park in the most beautiful of early summer sunshine. It was blissful and heart wrenching all at the same time.











There wasn't room for the girls and I in the car for the final trip out of Bristol to my Mum's. We walked down to the station, me feeling choked up and slightly hazy from our neighbour's farewell gin and tonic. The girls smelt warmly of wood smoke from the fire pit's final fire that morning and their hands and faces grubby from final forages in the garden. Linny chatted and Ira smiled out at the world. 

Everything for a few minutes seemed to fit perfectly. We boarded the rail replacement service (a strangely regular feature in my life of getting places...) and the bus wound it's route through familiar streets and the girls squealed in delight at Ira trying to press her apple core through my lips and into my mouth. Finally on the train, it pulled out of Bristol, southwesterly, with the view on the Suspension Bridge and the brightly painted houses and then the lushness of Somerset in May, green deep grass and hawthorn and blackthorn blossom weighing down branches. I said a quiet thank you to everyone and everything that has made Bristol our lovely home for the past three and a half years. Something in that little journey, the first towards France, ignited that fluttering feeling I have inside when an adventure in underfoot. It felt decidedly right and perhaps the girls felt it too.

 Now we are at the farm. Unfortunately looking for a new van but fortunately enjoying early June in one of the most beautiful places I know. We are delaying the sailing to France until we have a new van so things are feeling a bit stressful at times but the recompense is that it has afforded the girls a little longer with their English side of their family: Sheep shearing, Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower, wild flowers and finally finishing the play house that was started for Linny's second Birthday.