It’s 9 weeks since I last left the house and returned to the UK. Andy has been down since & our eldest has spent the last month there pottering about improving his French and his Strava times at the same time.
It’s felt as if I’ve been counting down the days for the last 9 weeks, looking forward to returning for the extended summer and just enjoying the anticipation of what we may find at the local Brocante markets and Vide Greniers this time. All this has been helped by the fact that I’m returning as the fields around us will be turning purple with this year’s lavender.
It’s been a tough couple of months with our youngest, Tom, doing his GCSEs, which has seen him head down in a book, or suffering writer’s cramp from filling out his revision cards. The teachers at his school have also given up days of their much needed holidays at Easter and May to hold revision sessions for the children in school. In effect, apart from a handful of days, Tom hasn’t really had a holiday since February.
So the day finally arrived for the much looked-forward to return to Provence. I’m heading out on my own now, to be joined by Andy & Tom next week, when we can all collapse in a post-exam heap!
Over the last 12 months we’ve travelled out by just about every possible route and form of transport & today’s trip was designed to be as easy as possible – train from Exeter to Heathrow, before the flight down to Marseille.
Timings were organised and (as someone who always likes to be early) I had arranged a train that would see me arriving at the airport 3 hours before the flight. Giving me ample time for a spot of shopping and a bite to eat before heading on.
However today was just destined to be one of those days where the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ were almost going to go horribly wrong.
The day started nicely enough with Andy & I finding time for a leisurely coffee on The Quay at Exeter, before he dropped me at the station in plenty of time for my train. It was only then that things took a turn for the worse
The train arrived a few minutes late and was already busy, with people struggling to get off with their bags, which left people rushing to get on & find places to put bags. As the door slammed shut I realised there was an older lady left totally distraught on the platform as her husband had been locked onto the train. He had got on to help his daughter and her baby try to get on with the buggy as the lobby was full of cases that wouldn’t fit in the racks. All of a sudden the doors had been shut (because that’s policy) & the station staff wouldn’t let him off, resulting in him having a one way non-stop ticket to Reading. To be honest it seemed incredible as it actually took longer for us to leave the station than if they had simply let common sense rule & opened the door to let the gentleman off. Sometimes you have to wonder at what point discretion and common sense went out of the window – perhaps it’s now time to bring back the ‘That’s Life’ Jobsworth Award!
Then once we pulled out of the station we realised there was no air conditioning in the carriage – this would have been bad enough on a normal British Summer’s day, but in temperatures of over 30 then it was simply hideous …. not helped by the way the train manager spoke to the couple behind me, when they asked about it. His curt and patronising response was such that it led to the Spanish chap next to me saying he couldn’t believe someone would speak to a customer like that – he had always thought the British were polite and thoughtful (his words) – so I found myself apologising to him for my kin!
Then due to problems on the line the train was delayed, finally arriving at Paddington at 1509 – well over an hour late, with hit, bothered and simply frustrated people in my carriage desperate to get to the Heathrow Express to try to get to the airport in time to catch their flights (some already accepting it was too late).
Finally we discovered that The Heathrow Express was not running a normal service – after structural problems and a train being taken out of service – so another 30 minute wait on a baking platform under the glass roof of the station, increased my worry that I would join the ever growing list of people who may miss their flights.
After a final glitch when the train we were all piling onto was declared ‘failed’ -and a mad dash with (what felt like) hundreds of other people. to a different platform I finally collapsed into a seat in (yippee) a beautifully air-conditioned carriage, holding out some hope that I would get to Heathrow on time.
Happily the rest of the journey went like clockwork, with no queues at check-in or security. Although my idea of a chance for a sit down and something to eat had totally collapsed – so I dashed into Pret and grabbed a bottle of water & the only sandwich they seemed to have left that didn’t need cooking, as I really didn’t have time to wait for something to be heated as the flight gate had been called – not exactly what I had planned!
I finally got to the house just after 10, driving through the lavender fields on top of the Claparèdes Plateau above Saignon. It may have been almost dark, but the scent of warm lavender was heady as I stopped the car & took a moment to breathe & relax.