Despite our inclination to be economical we decided, as usual, to take the easy way over to France on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry. Weighing up the cost, with my thumb only lightly on the scales, there seems to be a saving of about £50.00 between the expense of the ferry from Hull versus the Tunnel from Ashford once you have allowed for an overnight somewhere down south and the diesel. The sheer pleasure of not having six or seven hours driving on English motorways and of waking up on the continent after an all-you-can-eat buffet the night before is worth more than that – so the rationalisation is not hard!
Portia follows a now-familiar route through Belgium into France taking a short stretch of A1 and A26 before turning south onto small roads and finding the free aire in the middle of Sezanne. There is free hook up too as electricity is provided for the market stalls on Saturdays – so no parking on Friday night unless you are a very early riser. This is a little town where we have stayed several times over the years in hotels – it has some charm. It has old ramparts for historic safety and the shops nestle closely up to the church – to the point of sharing a wall.
It is an auspicious night: the bartender in sports bar opposite the church has a big screen and says he will be showing the England-Croatia semi-final of the world cup that night. We walk in optimistically and are offered the best seats in the house. We walk away disappointed some time later followed by only a modest degree of sympathy from France supporters in the bar:-(
All is pretty much OK at the fermette and the weather is hot. One problem – the air con on Trudi is not working. Arrangements are made with Extreme Cars where the amiable petrolhead owner thinks twenty years is a bit young for the vintage of cars he deals in, and an Audi saloon a bit tame for the other four-wheel drive monsters he favours. He has looked after her before though and inspires confidence. He regasses the system and refuses payment until we have run the car for a week or two to see if it stays full. It works so we dutifully go back to pay two weeks later when he claims not to have made up the bill and to wait a bit longer. There is a chance we may forget altogether if he does not charge us soon!
We will be having visitors in the next week or two so I am hoping the heatwave stays away for a bit as the spare bedroom gets quite hot up there under the roof. Jill is the first to arrive for a couple of nights.
She has recently moved to Ireland is searching for a barge to live on. It seems barges for sale are more plentiful in Burgundy and considerably cheaper. The plan is to buy one in Burgundy and sail it up the canals and rivers via Paris to Le Havre then hire a qualified pilot to sail it over to Ireland. The idea of a barge wallowing its way across the channel, let alone tackling full exposure to the Atlantic in Fastnet, is scary to say the least. But apparently these thirty to forty ton barges can do it given the right sort of weather. I will definitely not be crewing for that leg of the journey.
Barges are available at several locations near us so we all drive (with working air-con) to the canal ports of Decize, Nevers and Briare to view tjalks (pronounced cholk). These are relatively small as Dutch barges go, with elegant lines – high at the front and wide in the body. None of them are quite right but there is another further away between us and Charles De Gaulle airport. Jill views it externally on her way back to get her flight and we go for an inspection with the agent the following week. The Friso is an appealing boat to look at. Tatty and in need of a lot of love and attention internally, but the price is both good and negotiable.
Jill starts the negotiating process and we casually agree to man the boat with her as far as Paris in a few weeks when other friends can take over. Things go quiet for a few weeks while plans are put in place.
The heatwave starts getting serious. We continue mooching around in the cool of the house and going to the lake for a swim every afternoon or evening.
The following week Caroline and Hugh turn up en route to a holiday in the french alps. Caroline has recently retired and they are thinking of buying a campervan. I am trying to persuade them to go up a step and get a motorhome. You really do need full bathroom functionality whether you are parked overnight down a country lane or in a city centre car park. So they are coming to see Portia and talk motorhome. It looks as if a panel van conversion might be the ideal compromise for them. Good luck in the search – it is good fun. Caroline was my boss at the British Library and Jill was my boss in my last job at Europeana. My last two bosses, by chance, in one week? Good job I am not a paranoid sort or person!
The village summer meal and dance arrive a week later than expected and we go along to sit with half-a-dozen Dutch neighbours who have all turned up for the event. There is a raffle at the event and I win the main prize! A hamper with bottles of wine, jars of pâté, honey sweets and a whole jambon!
To serve the jambon a stand and a thin, sharp knife are needed. These cost many times more than the raffle ticket but Amazon swiftly provides and we have a ham-eating apero under the apple tree. The eating, drinking and talking extend into the night. Another great evening.
The days continue hot, the plants start to wilt despite watering, we continue mooching and the car air-con gradually stops working:-( Mr Extreme Cars cannot help immediately as he is about to go on holiday until 3 September so it is clearly time for us to take to the roads in the van and find cool beside some lakes. The Morvan with all its waterways is a mere half hour away so we decide on a little tour of municipal campsites bordering a lake or river.