Tuesday, 1 April 2008


“Come the hell on Alice!”, Hubby roared at me from the car, “We have to get going”.
“Just one minute”, I trilled back. The gas man, who I’d completely forgotten about, had arrived minutes before to service our boiler. This was particularly bad timing given that five children and it – it being Hubby, were squished in the car ready to embark on our mammoth drive to Brussels.
“So what you’re saying is that this boiler and flue are kaput? I scratched my head. This was bad news.
“That’s about the measure of it Mrs Band. This is an old one, there is no ventilation, I’m surprised to be honest, that you haven’t all died from carbon monoxide poisoning.”
I blushed, “Well since you mention it. I do have an alarm and every time it goes off, which is only when it’s freezing, we drag the kids out of bed, run into the street, turn of the central heating and ventilate the house”. I think the gas man thought I was joking.
“Shall I send someone around to give you a quote for a new system?”
“I think that would be most expedient”. Hubby held his hand down on the car horn, the gas man packed up his brief case.
“I’m sorry”, I said, apologising for my husband’s impatience and guiding him out of my hallway, “But we have a long drive to Dover to catch the ferry to Dunkerque.” I looked at the steaming windows and the expectant faces of five children peered through the mist. My son and his friend, sitting in the back of the Espace facing backwards smirked at me through some rather vulgar steamed-up window graffiti.
“Rub that out at once”, I barked. The gas man looked at me with pity, “It’s going to be a long day Mrs Band. Good luck”. I locked up and in silence, took up my position in the passenger seat.
Many, many hours later we arrived in Dover and drove on board the Norfolk line to Dunkerque. My nerves were in tatters. The youngest children had been hell all the way, bickering constantly, “I had it first”, “No, I had it first”, “No me”, “No me”.
When reprimanded and asked to pipe down, they met this with a ricochet of “Told you”, “No, told you”, “No told you”.
Not even Charlie and his Bloody Chocolate factory on CD appeased them.
“Put Mika on mum” demanded the 6 year old.
“Yeah Mika”, reinforced the Red-Head parrot. It was with much relief then when we unfurled our legs on the ship and climbed the stairs to the cafe area where there was a rumpus room for the young children.
Hubby got himself a beer and a paper and sat himself near the kids. The teenagers sloped off to see what delights the ship had in store for them and I just gazed out of the window at the, mercifully calm sea. I sat back and relaxed.
Within two hours the ship docked and we drove off in darkness in appalling weather. Hubby had taking up position of navigator and I was behind the wheel. I was very nervous and my neck muscles were taught within minutes of driving. There were few cars on the road but hundreds of trucks and lorries and the rain was sluicing off them and onto me. I drove at 55mph.
“Speed up a little Alice, or we’ll never get there”. Hubby was cross with me for being a wuss.
“Look I don’t know of any of my female friends who would do this, so don’t give me a hard time. I cannot see the road, I am getting used to the French road signs and the driving on the left. Give me a break.”
Now I am fairly proficient in day to day French – at least I understand what ‘Autres Directions’ and ‘Prochaine sortie’ mean but ‘Volgende uitgang’ and ‘alle richtingen’, were lost on me. So let’s recap. The weather is atrocious, it is pitch dark, I am tired, the children are tired, my husband it tired, we cannot understand the language, we have to find some suburb of Brussels and Charlie has yet to find the golden ticket. If my nerves were in tatters before, now they were in ribbons.
Finally, when Hubby screeched out “For God’s sake Alice, get in the outside lane, we need to get off here”, I was able to park up, be embraced by my friends and finally relax with a much deserved glass of wine.
The following morning our friends left to go on their own holiday, leaving us to navigate ourselves once more. We eventually found the centre of Brussels only to remember, on hearing a sickening scraping sound that we had the roof box on top of the car and were thus excluded from all multi story car parks.
“Watch out!” yelled Hubby as I was about to pull out and find a parking space, somewhere, anywhere. “I have to pull out a bit”, I yelled back, “I’m on the other side don’t forget, I can’t see”.
The weather was not good. It snowed. I drove in all conditions. I only almost killed us once, on entering a No Entry road and only to see six lanes of traffic came towards us. It was a talking point for days.
It was a lovely city but the weather was not conducive to meandering with several children in tow. And expensive? Unbelievable. It’s not much fun when you have to share a coffee and a sandwich and the children have to make a coke go between three but when it costs €18 for a Quick Burger for two little children and one adult then what can you do? The ketchup sachets were 45 pence each and a pee? 30 pence. The journey home was without incident. Matilda went down better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It wasn’t until we’d unpacked and Hubby had a beer that I mentioned the boiler..


Mary Alice said...

You have to pay MONEY to pee? Doesn't that just cause people to pee in the planter boxes, garages and back alleys???

thefoodsnob said...

I would Pee outside MYSELF if had to pay for it.
Smart, smart lady to wait until you got home to tell hubby about the boiler, it doesn't sound as if it would have made the trip better.