Monday August 10
The Princess and I headed off to Caen to visit the shops. “Are you looking forward to it?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “I have put it in my calendar.” “Really?” “Yes,” she replied reading from her phone, “Go you know where with you know who.” I have pointed out that her mother may be a Trojan Horse in this keeping things from Google.
Notwithstanding that almost all shops in Caen are closed on a Monday morning (good to know though belated in our case), we had an excellent time. She got gladiator sandals and I got a tablecloth. Then we went for lunch and after some floundering around which she bore with exemplary patience, we found the restaurant. It may perhaps have been hunger that made her less than entirely patient with the father and young son sitting nearby.
Father: C’est qui?
Infant son: Puts hands in front of his eyes and laughs.
Father: C’est Guillaume!
Repeat many, many times.
Father: C’est qui?
Infant son: Puts hands in front of his eyes and laughs.
Herself in hissing undervoice to me: I imagine it is Guillaume, like the previous 22 times.
However, lunch came and we were cheered and all was well with the world. And notwithstanding the fact that I dropped and broke my phone on the way back to the car, we were both rather pleased with ourselves on our return.
We found that the courgette problem had reached critical proportions in our absence though.
Before we went to France, we had decided that as we were relatively close to Paris we would go for a day trip. As the actual day for which we had booked train tickets approached, Mr. Waffle and I became consumed with fear that we would spend a fortune and they would hate it. Matters did not begin propitiously. An attempt to book tickets for the Eiffel Tower before leaving Ireland was met with a blank non. Top tip, book two months in advance. No, really.
Tuesday was the day and it dawned extremely rainy. I insisted on getting up at 7 because I was worried about traffic and missing the train. In consequence we were in the station 40 minutes in advance of departure time. This gave us ample opportunity to verify Ouest France‘s reporting on the urban, edgy nature of the station and surrounds.
I had been, with the greatest reluctance, persuaded by Mr. Waffle to leave our raincoats in the car. The rain was coming down in sheets. I was afraid.
Parked beside us in the station and sitting behind us on the train was an English family with three children aged about two, four and six. The youngest was in a buggy. They looked quite glamourous and tanned and I was impressed by their coolness and, frankly, also by their bravery.
The train journey was uneventful but I was able to verify from Ouest France the reason for the traffic jam on the motorway out of Caen the previous day. Apparently a consignment of frozen peas had fallen from a lorry. No injuries but quite the traffic jam. Aren’t local newspapers fantastic? There was also the tale of the family of six who were speeding to the South of France on their holiday and inadvertently left the 3 year old at a motorway stop. It took them three hours to notice and the gendarmes were annoyed. The child was unhurt and the parents relieved, apparently all the children were asleep and it was only when they woke up that they noticed one of their number was missing. Let he who has never lost a child cast the first stone etc.
When we arrived in Paris at 11, it was boiling and I rejoiced that we did not have our coats. We took the metro into town and went for a sustaining and reassuringly expensive cup of tea near the Sainte Chapelle. The children were pleased. We were pleased.
We went to Notre Dame and sustained a shock. Good lord, the queues. I have been to Notre Dame loads of times and never remember queuing for any length of time. Mr. Waffle pointed out, I probably hadn’t been in August. We went to the dusty park behind and considered our options. It was a low moment.
We trekked across to the Île St. Louis and had a walk around. It was toasty. We found a restaurant. It was not the best restaurant I have ever eaten in but, you know what, there was food that everyone ate and our waiter was charming (what is it about this trip to France and the charming French people?). He chatted to us; he had a friend who lived in Dublin and loved it; he gave us a copy of le petit futé. He was really lovely. The children got to speak French. It was all good.
We went off to take a bateau mouche. We found one that was just leaving. It wasn’t too crowded; the commentary was fine and we got to see almost everything. I had never been on a bateau mouche before and I was a bit sneery about them. No longer, this was fantastic.
After the bateau mouche the children got some souvenirs from the bouquinistes and we went for a further restorative cup of tea (at the pain quotidien – ah a piece of Paris that is forever Brussels).
There was a funfair in the Tuileries and after the children had dutifully inspected the Louvre Pyramid we broke the wonderful news to them.
While the children spent their money judiciously, Mr. Waffle and I sat in those green chairs in the park and waited happily in the shade. It turns out, extraordinarily, that a fair in the Tuileries does not charge more for its excitements than one anywhere else.
After the children joined us, the Princess and Mr. Waffle went up the park to inspect the perfect alignment of the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde and the Louvre while the boys compared the guns they had won at the fair.
As I sat there peacefully, I heard English accents and turned around to see the English father from the train with the two younger children. The baby had wilted and was protesting angrily about life and they all looked a lot less dapper than they had at 9 in the morning (as we did ourselves but starting from a much lower base). I was torn between admiration and smugness. It’s just so much easier to do this kind of thing with older children but still it is impressive to do it with three small children; what will they tackle when their children are 12?
We went back to the station to get the 8 pm train back to Normandy. After the stresses of the day I bought a “Royals – Hors Serie” featuring the European royal baby boom and also, mysteriously, Celine Dion’s children and whatever happened to Macauley Culkin. Don’t judge.
We were home by 11 (still raining in Normandy), tired and dusty but pleased with our achievement.
Wednesday, August 12
We recovered at home for the day. The boys played an elaborate game in their room with the guns they won in Paris.
The cat warmed to us a bit. She brought us a dead mouse as a sign of her affection. Mr. Waffle nobly disposed of it.
Sometime later herself said to me, “What is that behind the door?” I peered, “A rag?” “Eye of the bat,” said Mr. Waffle – still bitter about this test that I did really well in – entirely scientific:
"How refined is your color perception?" Eye of the tiger, actually. http://t.co/dGetWTN234
— Anne (@Belgianwaffle) June 24, 2015
He dutifully hauled a second mouse corpse out from behind the kitchen door where the cat had put it for safe keeping.
That night there was a spectacular thunderstorm. The absence of shutters allowed us to fully appreciate it. The cat and the dog slept with the boys.
Thursday, August 13
Herself was ill during the night and still felt seedy in the morning so we woke up to a sick child and, bonus, no electricity. Our hosts had left pictures of the fusebox and instructions on which buttons to press but neglected to say where it was, so Mr. Waffle spent a happy half hour exploring the basement and the stables in the driving rain.
He met with some success but the kitchen remained without electricity. We were, at this point, well known to the local tradesmen and the electrician came very promptly and tripped the trip switch. Embarrassing but all to the good.
In the local town, there was a cycle track running along the river for 20kms. It wound up in Caen. I thought it might be nice to venture along part of it. Herself was sick and the boys disagreed with my assessment. Nevertheless, I was determined. I cycled in along the back roads. In a complex fox and geese type arrangement, Mr. Waffle then drove in with the two boys and their bikes while herself stayed in the house recuperating and reading my “Royals hors serie” (what have I done?). Our cycle was reasonably pleasant given that it drizzled throughout and the boys would have preferred to have been exploring the functionalities of the PlayStation back at the house.
The electricity went again while we were out and it was definitely not the trip switch and the electrician was summoned. Inevitably, he came while Mr. Waffle was collecting the boys and their bikes and herself was alone at the house. He was quite an elderly gentleman and he was maybe not entirely clued in to what 12 year olds might be expected to know. She didn’t know where the junction box was. He proposed doing something with the power. Did she approve? It was hard to know as she didn’t understand what he was proposing. She went for no as the safest option. He was displeased. She tried yes, he seemed to like that better. Mercifully, Mr. Waffle returned at this point.
Your heroine meanwhile was slogging back from the village uphill. I ended up accidentally going back by an entirely different route from the picturesque country roads I travelled on the way in. I found myself on the main road (not a motorway or dual carriageway but nonetheless busy) with no verge and a low but very solid concrete wall at the edge of the road. It was genuinely one of my most scary moments as a grown up. There were times when I thought I might actually be run over and die. I would have phoned for help but my phone was dead so there was nothing for it but to keep going. I’m still alive, as you may have guessed.
Friday, August 14
There is a Sugar Loaf in the Suisse Normande, it is called the “Pain de Sucre” and we decided to climb it. It was not high. We brought Viva the dog and went up the quite gentle hills (though steadily uphill for an hour or so which did not fill the boys with joy).
Downhill was pleasing though and Viva was delighted with the whole trip.
As a reward for the effort in walking we had pizza for dinner. Joy was somewhat confined by the masses of ham which appear to be a feature of the Norman Margarita pizza.
Saturday, August 15
We went to see the Bayeux tapestry. I’ve seen the Bayeux tapestry quite a few times at this stage but, fortunately, my memory is so poor that I am always surprised afresh. It was cleverly laid out and not too busy and, all in all, we were quite please with the tapestry and, indeed, the town where we enjoyed a cup of tea and a visit to the cathedral (you know, because it was there).
Sunday, August 16
The countryside was full of war cemeteries. We went to a Canadian one. I was a bit dubious about this outing but it was very moving and I was surprised how sad it still is to see those rows of dead young men with their identical headstones.
These were the same as the ones in Arbour Hill in Dublin as the Commonwealth War Graves people have an impressive reach.
We went on to Falaise where there was organised fun at the castle where William the Conqueror was born.
We had some success there, in dressing up in armour:
And exploring the castle with an iPad
but it was quite warm and crowded. Please admire Michael’s loyalty to his toasty hoodie.
We were not, however, as unhappy as the Kentucky students who were on an exchange programme. They had been promised Deauville by their college (Kentucky and Deauville both being strong on horses) but instead found themselves in the tiny hamlet of Falaise doling out iPads to tourists. I can attest that they were speaking a great deal of French but perhaps not using the full range of their vocabulary.
Monday, August 17
We took a last walk with Viva and then we left. We were sad to go but, on the other hand, some of us were really, really glad to be going back to our own house with our own toys.
When we got home, we found that the French people had left some courgettes in the fridge for us.
And today is September 1, so I think we can truly declare the end of summer 2015. It was good while it lasted.