Day Three: Driving and Language.

by | Feb 3, 2024 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

This manoeuvre saw me enter the car park of Castorama, (the French equivalent to B&Q), instead of the A13 to Paris.

There are many things which separate us from our cross channel cousins and an equal number of reasons why.


I woke this morning to a plethora of messages. Omnia had arrived safely in Dubai. Unfortunately, I’d neglected to tell her that she was now four hours ahead of me. I decided to answer them and the replies to yesterday’s blog during breakfast.

This consisted of the usual and consistent Premier Inn fare. I’d gone continental again so had pancakes with fruit compote and yoghurt, drizzled with maple-type syrup. This was followed by a croissant which was freshly cooked, (from frozen) and a pain au chocolat, which I dipped in my coffee, in anticipation of things to come. I rounded it off with orange juice.

My fast well and truly broken, I returned to my room while conversing about Emirates residency, opening a bank account and the dreadful situation in Egypt. I had one eye on the time, as I was aware that our conversations could run away with themselves.

I began the process of repacking the car, something I’d gotten used to in the past week, rotating my worldly possessions from night mode to day. Baby went from being on the floor of the boot, to nestling on the top of the cases. Each time I picked her up, a warm glow flowed through me and I recalled her last look.

The twenty minute journey to the port was perfect and I stood in the modest queue for boarding, an hour before departure. The boarding process was slick and within half an hour, I was in my cabin. The feeling of relief was palpable. This was what all of the planning had been for.

The boat departed twenty minutes early and was virtually empty. The decks were so sparsely populated, I passed the same dozen or so people on many occasions during the six hour, fog-bound crossing. I occupied my time with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, a tragic tale of war, corruption and human cruelty. It put my trip, and my ability to travel virtually anywhere, into sharp perspective.

I decided, during the six hour drag across the channel, that I could never go on a cruise. However good the entertainment and food is, it’s just a means of getting from A to B.

The WiFi was shocking on board, so I went into social media silence for almost six hours. The consequences being that I was informed of our arrival at the French coast by my phone going into notification overload. It was then that the paradox hit. My excitement at arriving in my favourite place, tempered with the dread of driving a right-hand drive vehicle on the right. That combined with my trepidation about dusting off my rusty French, left a weight in the pit of my stomach.

My exit into the streets of Ouistreham was buoyed my a most pleasant border guard who, on checking my passport, wished me a pleasant stay in France – a first for me! It was then that I had to concentrate on something that, in a matter of days, would be second nature. I was ninety percent of my journey to the Campanile in Caen when I was brought down to earth with an errant right turn. This manoeuvre saw me enter the car park of Castorama, (the French equivalent to B&Q), instead of the A13 to Paris. Following a tour of the car park, I was soon on my way and arrived at the hotel five minutes later.

The Campanile was a typical out of town version, motel-like with the car park sandwiched between the accommodation block and the reception/restaurant. Challenge number two, as I checked in, in French and held my own in the conversation about breakfast and dinner. That was , until I booked my dinner for seize heur, which is sixteen, four pm. I meant dix-huite, which is eighteen, six pm. The young man gave a wry smile and, as they always do, reverted to English. I was crestfallen, stuck in the metaphorical DIY car park.

Reversing the process of Portsmouth with my luggage, I welcomed the Baby to France and placed her carefully in the boot. Her third country in all, having been created in Qatar.

Once settled, I check the possibilities of a craft beer bar in the neighbourhood. Bingo! There was one within a five minute walk. I cancelled my dinner reservation and headed out. I found the Chope et Compagnie in an ex- retail unit on the nearby industrial park. What they’d done to this simple box of a place was remarkable. Using wooden pallets and items of art, they had created a space that had a true atmosphere, especially on Friday night when it was filling up with people of all ages. This was a real success story.

I ordered a half of Belgian Blonde from the beautiful young bar attendant, who replied in English. I was going to have to try harder. I really wanted to say that I preferred French, but my confidence shrivelled at her exquisite smile and her question.

“English, yes?”

“Yes,”I replied, simply and scuttled away to an empty table. My confidence was, again, rocked and I didn’t have the guts to order one of the delicious snacks on offer. Finishing my beer as the place grew busier, I left for the hotel.

My last observation was that of the adjoining unit. It was a ladies lingerie store which made Ann Summers look like Mothercare. As I stood in the pink glow of the car park, I observed several young couples browsing the wares. Many of which puzzled me as to what they were concealing – or revealing! One young woman was holding a particularly skimpy number up to herself with enthusiastic nodding from her partner and an approving smile from the assistant.

I turned away into the darkness and wondered at the short stretch of water that separates us from our cross channel cousins.

I rounded off the evening watching an episode of the new Alexander, the Making of a God on Netflix with Omnia. This, as usual, concluded with a long conversation on the fall of the Persian Empire and Egypt’s part in it. It moved on to the difference between East and West, Muslim and Christian and the inevitable presence of alcohol in the West.

Realising she was now only three hours ahead, I thanked God I was three thousand miles away and said goodnight. I turned over in my single bed, content in my own physical company.


  1. Kenneth Childs

    Driving to Paris today Brian?

    • brian

      No Ken I’m going to Brittany for three weeks I’ll be back in the UK on the 22nd then fly to Paris with my son on the 27th. I’ll be in Paris for a week, then return to Brittany for a month when my son comes home. After that it’s Japan for two weeks.


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