Mind your Language

caedmonIt was my husband’s birthday this weekend and we had the best of all celebrations.
Time to ourselves.

We closed the gates to the drive and settled down to undisturbed peace.

Yes, of course we had to collect eggs, let out the chickens and ducks, change their water, put in fresh feed and then bang them up again in the evening.

Yes, we had to chop banana stems and fodder grass for the sheep and cattle and not get knocked over in the stampede for the bananas as we shut them in for the night.

Yes, we had to give the dogs their wash and deflea session.

But we did not have to speak to anyone else.
We did not have to put ourselves into the mindset of another language or culture.
We could think and speak entirely as we pleased.
All the time.

And what did we find?

For the most part we spoke to each other in English….but when we were talking about local stuff it was surprising how much Spanish we used…I can only imagine because the source of our information, whether oral or written, had been expressed in Spanish which had come, in its turn, to define the mode of discussion.

It would not have ocurred to us that the lunacy of a situation in which the leader of H.M.’s government is a foul mouthed coke head could be discussed in any language other than English, but it was interesting to find that the same process led to discussion of the character of the ex Mayor of San Jose and Presidential candidate using any number of Spanish phrases.

I would not say that it was perfect Spanish, either in use of grammar or pronunciation, but it was the Spanish that came to us spontaneously.

I enjoy the proper use of language, but not to the point of pedantry.
Language lives, evolves; it has to do so to be able to reflect the experience of its users.
I do not understand texting ….but it is an offshoot which has developed to enable those with more time than sense to communicate with each other and as such is no less legitimate than any professional jargon – which is double dutch to anyone outside the charmed circle.

I would never make a translator.
I see languages in their own compartments: products of their own cultures and dependent on those cultures for their meaning.
I can enter those compartments; enjoy the contents, but I can’t bridge the compartments to translate – it is too easy to be clumsy and swift yet takes forever to translate one context to another.

I would be quite capable of the translation classic..the English phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ translated into Russian and then retranslated to English as……. ‘absent idiot’.
But on the positive side, as a translator I could block the work of the European Union for years…..
Any offers?

Expat blogs can be a sort of translation…..illustrating one culture in the light of another in the person of the blogger…and there are many fine ones in the blogosphere.
There are also the others….

Those on Costa Rica which would lead the unwary to believe that the country is populated solely by wild birds and monkeys…like the tropical house at Kew Gardens with the lid off.
Or those which seek to persuade others that Costa Ricans are simple, happy folk, whose only concern is to help the gringo – reminiscent of slide shows of missionary activity in darkest Africa.
Or those that want to sell you overpriced property. ‘Trust me, I’m a gringo!’

There aren’t so many of the rose tinted blogs about life in France these days – if you discount the American girls in Paris rotting their teeth on macaroons – as reality in the shape of taxes eats into the dream world of pink wine and baguettes.
But, by golly, there are still a few blind mouths about….

Those who have a holiday home there and spend their time visiting other expats with holiday homes and eating in restaurants: any criticism of France, any comment on the realities admitted to by anyone French, and they fly up like a fighting cock.
‘Touche pas au grisbi!’ Don’t go for their bundle of golden dreams.

And then there are the pedants: wedded to a certain idea of France (pretty damn far from that of de Gaulle) based on its literature, architecture and gastronomy as they have learned to appreciate them in their home countries. So far gone are they that some of them would even eat an andouillette.
They ‘know’ France…but they don’t know their neighbours.

I was reading of the death of a film director, Georges Lautner, and one of his films came immediately to mind.
Les Tontons Flinguers. A take off of gangster films.
Not so much for his direction, but for the dialogue written by Michel Audiard – a man who had an ear for France.

One of his characters says
‘Les cons, ça ose tout! C’est même à ça qu’on les reconnaît.’
Pratwits…they are capable of anything. That’s how you know them for what they are.

The pedant would soon tell you that is not French…not proper French. ‘Les cons’ is plural and ‘ca’ is singular…
What the pedant can’t tell you is why audiences – French audiences – rolled about.
If you want to connect with old France…find a Youtube download with subtitles to make things easier…and enjoy.
The scene where the assembled crooks sample the products of the illicit still is a classic.

Audiard was also responsible for the dialogue in another of my favourites…but I don’t think that it is subtitled…
‘Les Vieux de la Vieille’ where a trio of First World War veterans decide they are better off in an old peoples’ home than in their own – until they meet matron.
I saw the last of the world that that film depicted….in all its hardship and obstinacy…when I was first in France.
But then…I knew my neighbours.

I’ll let the pedants tell you how to pronounce ‘crapule’ while I leave you with a classic from Georges Brassens

‘Quand on est con, on est con.’
You can be an old ‘con’ you can be a young ‘con’…but you’re still a ‘con’.

Old Friends…..

I am shutting down my other blog…but would like to preserve some of the posts, so apologies to those who have read this before – although in terms of the Eurozone it still seems decidedly relevant!

all mARCH 13 235 July 23, 2012
Sunday morning in Costa Rica.

A warm hazy morning with a slight breeze lifting the humidity as I sit on my balcony listening t0 the Test Match Special team describing the annihilation of the England cricket team at the hands of the South Africans.

As Jacques Kallis thumps a ball from Ravi Bopari to the boundary yet again, I see on the laptop that Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour de France and led his compatriot Mark Cavendish into a fourth sprint victory on the final stage in the heart of Paris…..and turning to the French newspapers see with no surprise that while the journalists are fair, the comments on the victory articles are sour and jealous.

The voice of France.

But not the only one as, turning to the politics reporting I find with delight that old friends have made their reappearance.

Sarkozy? Chirac? Mitterand?

No! Much more interesting….

pumping_shadoks2
The Shadoks. Birds with vestigial wings, long legs and big clumsy feet. Heroes (?) of a television series.

They were a cult in the years in which I first stayed in one place in France long enough to watch television….and even then those series were repeats of the early stuff which I think came out in the 1970s.

They lived on a two dimensional planet from which it was easy to slip off into the void and their aim was to colonise the more stable Terra, inhabited only by retired dinosaurs and an obnoxious insect…but their plans went always awry.

Harmless enough you might think…sort of a French version of The Clangers….but it roused passions, even on second and third repeats, because it was felt that the Shadoks were being used to represent the French people by their creator, Jacques Rouxel.

And the image presented was not to the taste of all.

The Shadocks were ruthless….and stupid.

So stupid that all of which they were capable was blind obedience to orders: whereas the other group in the series, also seeking to move from an unstable planet, the Gibis, were presented as intelligent and cooperative, capable, efficient and peace loving.

They even got along with the obnoxious insect.

thumbnailgibis
Rumour had it that these Gibis – whose collective brain was housed in their hats – were meant to represent the British!

Outrage!

The delight in the Shadoks rested in their perversion of those qualities on which French culture prided itself….logic and mathematics.

What was the nature of a colander?

Anything could be a colander which had an exterior, an interior and some holes.

The holes were not very important.

It didn’t matter how many holes there were, or if you reduced the number of holes by a half, or even if there were no holes at all.

QED…. that the notion of a colander was independent of the notion of a hole and vice versa.

In the same vein, there were three types of colander…

One which let through neither noodles nor water.

One which let through both.

One which sometimes let through one or the other and sometimes did not.

A colander which did not let through water or noodles was a saucepan.

A saucepan without a handle was a bus,

A bus which did not move was a saucepan (slang term for an old banger).

The use of language too was subversive with its twisting of common phrases and proverbs….

Everything which is not clearly authorised is strictly prohibited….

If it is hurting, it’s good for you….

Why do something the easy way if you can make it difficult…

If you don’t know where you’re going you have to get there as soon as possible….

The only way the poor Shadoks could escape to the stability of Terra was by building a rocket…..but the fuel was a substance floating in the air and their leaders told them that the only way to succeed in trapping the fuel was by pumping…..and so the Shadoks pumped.

shadock4_s

And pumped.

And were told that it was only by pumping that they would get somewhere….and if they didn’t get anywhere at least they hadn’t done any harm….after all, better to pump even if nothing happened than that something worse happened if you did not pump.

So why have the Shadoks…under the radar for so long…emerged in the political columns of Le Figaro?

Because the German ambassador must be a fan…he was expounding on the problems of the eurozone recently and delivered himself of the well known Shadokism…

If there is not a solution, it is because there is not a problem…..

shadock3_s
Which led the author of the article, Jean-Pierre Robin, to consider the attempts to control and master the crisis in terms of the two dimensional world of the Shadoks.

In which context the phrases cited above may take on a new resonance.

As may these…..

shadock1_s
In a parody of probablility theory, if something has only a million to one chance of succeeding the sooner you try the 999,999 attempts doomed to failure the better….

While remembering that to finance the said attempts, there are less malcontents if you always hit the same targets…

shadok2_s

And that our self proclaimed leaders have a similar capability to the leaders of the Shadoks….

shaddock hollande
Who speak so intelligently that they fail to understand what they are saying.

Acknowledgements.

Le Figaro July 22nd 2012. Article by Jean-Pierre Robin ‘Quand les Shadocks eclairent les paradoxes de la zone euro.’

The first illustration comes from this article.

Wikipedia on the Shadoks…the French version.

http://www.archimedes-lab.org/shadoks/shadoks.html for the other illustrations.

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Nothing New Under The Sun…

dicese-poitiers.com.fr

As the French economy turned down and the votes for the Front National turned up the Sarkozy government thought best to draw the fangs of the FN by starting a debate about what it was to be French, which roused a great deal of noise and fury but arrived at no conclusions.

Waste of time, of course: any reader of the Daily Mail has the answer on the tip of the tongue….
Eats snails, has unsavoury urinatory habits in the male (possible link?) and makes improper use of hand and head when playing football.

And there was even an answer in France among – the beaufs – not that they would be listened to as not having passed the portals of the Grandes Ecoles, except as labourers…..
Anyone born in France who is not a bougnoul.

A bougnoul?

Someone of North African descent, now extended to anyone darker skinned than the average non bougnoul Frenchman.

The word might be relatively modern….probably from the colonisation of Algeria….but the sentiment is not.

I would often be included in the boules party at Jules’ place when walking the dogs in the evening, followed by the glass or two at the kitchen table, mustard glasses on the oilcloth and a plate of biscuits put out but left untouched.
They were the sign that we were not alcoholics….just there for the booze…but they remained untouched.

Jules was recounting a run in he had had with a man who had bought one of his sheep and was reluctant to pay for it….a man from the next commune just over the departmental line.

His wife was not surprised. She certainly wouldn’t have dealt with the man.

Who is it, I asked, curiosity being my besetting sin.

That man out at Humeau….you know…does eau de vie and honey.

Yes, I did. Sold under cover eau de vie at higher prices to foreigners.

Not that you can trust any of that lot out there, she continued. They all have the ‘teint bazane’. (acute accent on the final e).

Teint bazane? Swarthy.
Not, in my view, noticably so compared with their neighbours on this side of the departmental line…but enlightenment was at hand.

Descended from the Saracens beaten by Charles Martel at Poitiers! They ran and hid in the forests and there they are today!

Given that this was in the 1980s and the battle of Poitiers was in 732 that seemed a mighty feat of folk memory. Clearly these early immigrants from North Africa had about the same level of appreciation as did the later wave of new arrivals.

Further to the south, a commune bears a name referring to a legend concerning the same flight of the defeated from the battlefield…..St. Sauveur de Givre en Mai – Holy Saviour of Frost in May.

Legend has it that a band of Saracens holed up in the local church in the month of May some six months after the battle, defying all efforts to dislodge them.
Eventually they made an agreement…if there was frost overnight, they would surrender.
Coming from southern climes, they could not imagine such a thing, but, lo and behold when they emerged the next morning, the ground was covered in frost and the trees were white.
They marched out with the honours of war…to leave the village in peace.

Ancestors of the honey man at Humeau? Who knows.

Ah! Say those who know their rural France…the Saracens had not reckoned with the Saints de Glace…the Ice Saints.
St. Mamert, feast day on May 11th; St. Pancrace, feast day on May 12th; St. Servais, feast day on May 13th.
One of the first things I was warned of by my neighbours when moving to France was not to let the sudden warmth of spring go to my head in the garden.
On top of not casting clouts I had to beware of the ‘lune rousse’ in April and May when the sudden chill risked burning the young shoots and the Ice Saints.

Only when their three feast days had passed should I even think of planting out the tomatoes….

As in the case of the sheep, a financial reversal can bring up all sorts of reactions, and racism is one of them.
Nothing new under the icy skies of the economic lune rousse.

Learning the Language


It’s not so simple, learning the language.

I remember learning to speak French in France…..I had ‘done’ French in school…in later life I picked it up again and had good reading skills, but living in rural France was an eye opener.
For a start all my neighbours spoke patois….

It could have been a disaster had my neighbours not also been kind and patient and had I not been introduced to a retired headmistress who wished to improve her English.
While announcing that in my spoken French I was clearly a woman with no past and no future, speaking as I did only in the present tense she told me not to worry.

Talk to people, listen to people…do what babies do…communicate…and one day what you’re hearing will be what you’re speaking.

She was right. I muddled along, read a lot, especially the newspaper in order to be abreast of the current scandals and one day I got there.
I spoke French.

And now I’m learning Spanish. Costa Rican Spanish, not the Castilian Spanish spoken by my husband.

I was talking about my language learning problems to a taxi driver….one of those chatty, friendly men who have proved to be superb teachers.

You’ve come to the right place to learn Spanish, he announced. Here we speak clearly; none of this limp wristed lisping in Central America!

He might have a point….but I suspect that at some stage in the colonial experience a Glaswegian element intervened as nowhere outside that jewel of the Clyde have I encountered a more pronounced glottal stop.

Ganado…cattle…is pronounced Gannow.

Cansado…tired…cansow.

I must be getting somewhere with the local version, though,  because when I bought a train ticket in Barcelona recently the ticket clerk replied:

Pura vida!

The watchword of Costa Rica.

And that from a Catalan……saucy devil!

But learning the language is one thing….how I’m using it is another.

Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos….supposedly from their habit of noting affection or sympathy for something or someone by using the diminutive ‘itico’.

On the (mainly) North American expat fora, Tico is banded about readily when referring to local people or customs, usually in a somewhat condescending way….

A Tico house as contrasted to one built to North American standards….

What Ticos do as opposed to what the contributor does…..

And when the established expat human mosquitoes invite the newbies to  a get together to see how much they can  take them for you also tend to hear disparaging comments about Ticos.

So, though my Tico friends refer to themselves as Ticos…I feel inhibited from doing so from the way Tico is used by the expat groups.

I use Costa Rican…….Costarricense.

Then I’ll be with Costa Rican friends having coffee in the Teatro Nacional.

They’ll call the waiter over and address him as

Muchacho.

A bit like  saying ‘Garcon!’ to a French waiter.

But instead of peeing in the mustard for revenge, he takes it as normal and brings the order.

I can’t do that…or I feel that I can’t.

Yet when, years ago, we were travelling to Nicaragua, I didn’t find the same inhibition.

As we stepped off the bus at the frontier, a lady with a wad of immigration forms approached the passengers, offering to fill out the details for a sum of money. I said I could fill it in myself…but she still wanted money, despite notices all over the buildings stating that all formalities are free  of charge.

So at the entrance to the immigration offices…a Cecil B. de Mille crowd scene if ever there was one… I approached an unwary policeman and told him that the ‘muchacha’ wouldn’t give me a form.

He went off to the clerks at the desks and came back to say that they had run out of forms…but not to worry…the computer was working so no need to do anything.

So why did it come naturally to refer to her as ‘muchacha’ when I can’t call a waiter ‘muchacho’?

Is it that it was indirect…not to her face…thus not requiring respect?

Proof Positive…….

carla bruni
If proof were needed, that the image of France is nowhere near the reality.
Here is Carla Bruni…..as an example of the propaganda about French women (yes, I know she’s Italian; that probably accounts for the elegance).

Just read the stuff and guff about French women in the foreign press; the ones who are always thin and raise well behaved, cowed children…according to these open mouthed journalists a French woman, it seems, can actually tie a scarf round her neck without strangling herself, find matching bra and knickers in the airing cupboard, and wears high heels if it kills her….alongside whom the wearers of old Driza-Bones, wildly assorted underwear and comfortable shoes are supposed to feel shame and inferiority.

So much for the image in the foreign press.

What about the image of women in France itself? In la France Profonde?

Next time you are beckoned into Henri’s private bar…..you know, the one he has set up in the barn out of earshot of his wife…..I doubt you will find the walls adorned with pictures of Carla Bruni…or of the female portion of what is known as ‘les people’ but there’s a fair chance, depending on the month of your invitation, that you will find this…..

from'girls1 mothais

or this…

from'girls 3 camembert

or even this…

from'girls brillat-savarin

All examples from this year’s From’girls calendar…published annually by the association Fromages de Terroirs to promote the consumption of local cheeses made by small producers.

Like the cheeses it promotes it is the perfect accompaniment not only to the wine which Henri will offer you but also the slightly doggy prurience of the conversation once you have eyeballed it.

Listen to Mother….

I should have listened to mother.

Years ago she had decided to visit me in France using Eurolines, the international coach service. This followed a visit coinciding with a French rail strike when instead of arriving at Lille by Eurostar and catching a connection to Angers she found that the Eurostar had decanted her in Paris at the Gare du Nord.

She worked out that she needed to get to Montparnasse station and headed for the Metro…which was also on strike. Never say that French workers lack in solidarity. So it was a taxi or nothing.

It looked like nothing to judge by the numbers waiting at the station rank, but pushing forward the British Legion badge on her lapel and sweeping ahead of her with her umbrella as if searching for landmines she marched to the head of the queue and commandeered a taxi, whose driver proceeded to try to give her a scenic tour of the French capital.

Not for long. A poke in the shoulder with an umbrella and a sharp cry of

‘Montparnasse, not Versailles!’

had him returning to the straight and narrow and mother arrived safely at her destination. She did not, she informed me, pay what was on the meter nor did she give him a tip. Given the queues at Montparnasse I thought it likely that he’d soon make up the shortfall, even if careful to avoid elderly lady passengers with umbrellas.

So, her next trip was to be by coach.

I came to meet her at Tours, where the coach stop was directly in front of the magnificent station building….I found a parking space and although the coach was late arriving it was pleasant to sit in the gardens nearby.

Finally it pulled in, the doors opened to emit a miasma of blue smoke and mother leapt out, grabbing my arm and hissing

‘Quick! the loo!’

I directed her to  station, persuaded the driver that I was to collect her suitcase by dint of recognising it, then followed her into the building, which always seems as if oversized for the traffic it carries, the main line trains passing it by, using the suburban station of St. Pierre des Corps. Still, the delightful tile depictions of the towns once served from here still adorn the walls, pleasing me as always while I toddled down to collect mother from the loo, only to find her arguing with the gorgon on the gate.

‘She wants me to pay for loo paper’ announced mother. ‘I’m telling her I have my own. Never travel on the continent without.’

‘This lady won’t pay for the facilities. How does she think they are kept clean…?

I coughed up, mother declined the sheets of loo roll huffily and the gorgon subsided.

Over a coffee in the pleasant bar at the front of the station, mother, less ruffled, announced that she would be returning not by Eurolines, but by train.

‘There are limits’.

‘What limits?’

‘I didn’t know when I booked that the coach was going to Madrid. It was full of Spaniards, smoking and playing loud music….including the driver. And I couldn’t use the lavatory.’

‘Was it out of order?’

‘I’m telling you. The coach was full of Spaniards….of course I couldn’t use the lavatory.’

Mother was of a generation that did not use public loos unless in extremis…and if forced to do so would hover over the seat, convinced that she would catch something unmentionable in a place not to be displayed even to doctors should contact be made. But what had deterred her in particular?

‘They were Spaniards! With all that absinthe and Spanish fly goodness only knows what you might catch!’

Spain, then, had been admitted to the list of nations of whom mother held a dim view, thus joining…

Poland – wartime pilots wearing hairnets and silk stockings (how the blazes did she get to know that? Enquiries found her as tight lipped as Ron Knee)….

Belgium, because as a small girl she had seen a First World War Belgian refugee wearing a wig, while everyone knew that Belgians had thick necks (my husband was  examined very closely as to the neck in disconcerting silence on first acquaintance)…. –

The U.S.A.,  thanks to Joseph Kennedy….

South Africa, because her uncle had served in the second Boer War….

and, of course,

France, where nothing more than the name need be pronounced to provide full and complete explanation.

I can’t claim the moral high ground here…I have plenty of prejudices. They just don’t coincide with mother’s.

But I do try to be wary of the stereotype…that handy device which removes the need to think about the person to whom you are speaking by submitting a pre programmed response.

We’d discussed this once when English friends had came to lunch, bringing with them their French architect and his wife. We’d all agreed that none of us were like the national stereotypes we had been brought up on and the talk turned to examples.

My father’s stereotype of the French was as follows..
‘Buggers let us down in 1914…buggers did it again in 1940…can’t trust them as far as you can kick them.’ He also used to refer to the French army as the Comedie Francaise. He applied the faults of the higher echelons of French society to the entire nation and regarded every Frenchman with suspicion, while as for the women….!

My tutor’s stereotype of the French differed from that of my father..
The French were civilised, concentrating on the good things of life, the leisurely lunch, the wine, the foie gras and indulging in sophisticated conversation in cafes about philosophy and literature.
While as for the women…!
While the two views are not mutually exclusive, they would lead their proponents to behave in radically divergent fashions to any Frenchman…or woman…they encountered.

It would not have occurred to my father that a war time generation Frenchman, having been conscripted, would have spent almost the whole of the ‘phoney war’ period being bussed from one garrison to another only to find his regiment in entirely the wrong place when the German blitzkrieg roared across the frontiers, thanks to the miscalculations of his superiors, despite the fact that my father spent a great deal of vocal energy on the idiocy of those responsible for having the big guns at Singapore facing the wrong way when the Japanese came visiting, a lot of his friends having gone into captivity as a result. I don’t think a post war generation Frenchman existed for my father…..his view was formed by two world wars and stayed in that frame.

My tutor thought that every French citizen was a Simone de Beauvoir or Jean Paul Sartre in miniature….if it is possible to be smaller than Jean Paul Sartre…..thanks to their education system which demanded an exam in philosophy as part of the bac…the French equivalent of ‘A’ levels. It probably never crossed his mind that the majority of French kids just about scraped through the ‘brevet’ – a sort of leaving exam taken at the age of 16 – and went on to manual work, because he had his fixed idea of French civilisation which firmly excluded anyone not from the leisured classes.

My own stereotype was based on the novels of Georges Simenon…..only to discover later that he was Belgian (no, I don’t know about the neck) and had his own twist on France!

Our friends’ stereotype was based on the French rural idyll….unspoilt countryside, the vendange and the  peasant in his blue overalls enjoying a drink at the bar. I know where that particular view came from…the magazines pushing property and services!

The architect was astonished by these stereotypes…none seemed to him to be how he thought the foreigners thought of the French. Based on what he had read, he thought that foreigners assumed that the French were logical, serious, hard working people with a glorious military history and unique civilisation.

I don’t know what he had been reading, but it doesn’t astonish me…you do read an awful lot, even these days, about France’s civilising mission in the world…. well, you do in France.

In his turn, he gave us his stereotype of the British. We had let the French down in two world wars and at Suez. We were pawns of the Americans and only joined the Common Market, as it was then, in order to let the Americans and Japanese in by the back door. We were unintellectual, operating on instinct, not reason, and, moreover, we had burned Joan of Arc.

Thank goodness we did not fit any of the stereotypes! Lunch would have been a disaster!

Mother did indeed round off her visit with a return by rail, fortunately uneventful, and I thought no more of Eurolines until this December when faced with the fact that Ryanair would charge more to carry my luggage than to carry me and that the coach would land me directly in London which would avoid heaving luggage any further than the ticket office to book a seat for my onward journey.

I booked. Uneventfully. This was, however, the only thing which went well until my arrival at Victoria coach station in London.

The first incident was my own fault.

I was staying with friends and on the day of my departure they had invited people to lunch. Having no wish to have a beautifully cooked lunch ruined by having to fend off impertinent and persistent questioning from one particular female invitee I decided to leave early and take a walk round Tours, followed by a supper in the bar at the station to fill in the time before departure.

The bus arrived, and took me across a soggy countryside to Poitiers where I hauled the luggage from the bus station to the train station and took a modern push me pull you to Tours….having to sit near the loos as there was nowhere to park the suitcases.

At Tours, disaster struck.

No left luggage facility. There was not, it appeared, the demand for it.

The clerk suggested leaving my bags at a cycle hire operation down the road from the station, so, hauling the bags round and through the chaos consequent upon installing a new tramline complete with discarded take aways and doggies’ calling cards I went in the direction indicated. It was closed.

I returned to the clerk. Would there be a left luggage facility at St.Pierre des Corps… the main line station? He could not say, not working there himself.

I headed for the bar. No, I could not come in with all that luggage. Security. What, then, am I to do with it? Go to the cycle hire operation down the road…..

Thank goodness I had taken sandwiches and water for thus it was that I spent eight hours in the unheated waiting room of Tours station with all the other fools who had thought that a station would have somewhere to leave your goods and chattels.

Thanks to the clerk…sitting in the heated part of the waiting room area…I had already learned that Eurolines no longer took up passengers outside the main entrance to the station.

No…..they now used a halt laughingly called ‘The Poplars’ nearly a kilometre away down a side road. By this time it was raining.

I took myself off to ‘The Poplars’ about half an hour before the coach was due, to give me time to check in, but found that the portacabin bearing the legend ‘Eurolines’ was firmly shut so sat in the bus stop with a Portuguese couple going to visit their daughter in Holland and a Roumanian violinist waiting for his daughter to arrive from Austria. We had a most interesting conversation about economic conditions in Portugal, Roumania and France which was just as well because the rain had become persistent, the cold was all pervasive and a heated conversation was the only warmth going.

A coach! The violinist went to investigate. Not ours.

A second coach. No, not that one either….

A third…Yes! We rose and headed for it to load our luggage. No problem. Then we tried to board the bus. Where were our boarding passes? What boarding passes? The boarding passes we were to obtain from the office…..

A shadowy female figure was just unlocking the portacabin.

We trecked back through the rain, the violinist took the keys from her to unlock the door and we were inside, only to wait while she fired up her computer and printed out a page upon which she could tick us off in pencil. We were given the boarding cards and returned to the coach.

What about the violinist’s daughter?

She’d be on a later coach, he said…but at least he could wait in the office.

The shadowy female figure had succeeded in locking it up before he could get there. He waved to us from the bus shelter.

As the bus started, the man in the seat in front pushed his into reclining position, squashing my knees….bang went any sleep or comfort, but this was only toughening me up for the horrors to come.

After a halt in a deserted car park to change drivers – why there? – passengers for London were chucked out at Lille station at 5.30 am, to stand with our luggage in the wind tunnel produced by the surrounding buildings, unable to get inside as the doors were not open.

It rained, the wind gusted….an employee turned up, shot through the doors and closed them again. Not until 6.00 am did they open and the troupe then divided into those too frightened to miss the connecting coach and those so desperate for warmth that they were thinking about taking the Eurostar.

I was among the latter, haring for the lift to the lower section and then for the loos, manned by the employee who had shot through the doors earlier. It was warm there….and I contemplated sitting on the loo for the next hour until the bus was due, but abandoned the thought and went out into the great chill of the concourse.

The doors above, once firmly shut, were now fully open, letting in great gusts of icy wind. Coffee was available, the usual disgusting robusta dispensed in French caffs, but such was the need for some warmth that I gave in and bought one. It hit my stomach like volatile spirits and I headed back to the loos.

C’est chiant, said the attendent. I agreed. This was nothing like ‘Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis’.

Up again, to stand in the entrance hall, rain now dripping through the roof on to the only seats. Coaches came and went. A whole tour party of Germans arrived and disappeared into the maw of the building. A local tour party assembled and departed.

Finally the Eurolines coach turned up…with no Eurolines sticker and nattily painted with tropical beaches and palm trees – the last turn of the screw. I thought.

Off again. For some reason I thought we were to make a ferry crossing, but instead we headed for the forlorn surroundings of the Chunnel…and more fun!

Luggage off, hauled through security with hulking young men watching weary passengers heave suitcases onto the scanner belt.

Passports. Loos.

Luggage on…but we were a passenger missing. Another hulking young man boarded the coach shouting

‘Bulgarian people.’

Dressed in uniform as he was and sporting the modern fashion of a shaven bonce I wondered if he was about to give a political speech but it seemed that he was looking for a Bulgarian person who could translate for their unfortunate fellow countryman who had just been stopped and searched.

The Bulgarian people disembarked, to return some ten minutes’ later with their compatriot who was clearly not at all happy in voluble Bulgarian. The coach drove into a sort of shoebox with little windows and we were off …back to England, home and beauty.

Never again…..not at any price…not to save any money…..will I use Eurolines.

Much as it pains me to say it, I should have listened to Mother.