*a person who enjoys himself or herself - Collins English Dictionary
The misty ephemera of a Norman village in the morning
The answer was plenty of heart-in-mouth moments but what was the question? Well it was one of those that tempts fate (and therefore should have been avoided but wasn't) and was spelled out in the "Coming next" section of my final blog of our epic 5 months in South Africa.
So here goes with the question in its full context: "An old bloke ventures into France for the first time post Brexit. His wife and her sister tag along. We're about to experience our first long-range EV journey before leaping into a camper van for 10 days. What could possibly go wrong?"
What indeed? A huge amount of planning had gone into the getting there, viz. leaving Oxfordshire early in the morning, picking up Kerry (hereinafter referred to as Kinkels or Kinks) from London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5 before entering the Eurotunnel, which had been booked for the middle of the day. From there we would rest in Normandy for a couple of nights and then continue our journey to our first proper destination Shan (a.k.a. Shelley-ann Harrison) and Kinks' cousin, Craig's, home in Saint-Romain in the Charente department in South Western France. Suitable slippage had been planned into each phase to ensure the plan worked like clockwork. All in all, this first section would involve a car journey of approximately 1,100 kilometres (km), taking two days plus a rest day in Normandy. Craig and his wife, Ann, had planned a Braai for us to enjoy on our arrival, three days later.
The first leg of Kinks' journey was to travel from Cape Town to London via Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport. Kinks' BA flight was due to take off from Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport at a respectable hour to begin to make its way to LHR by 05:30 on Tuesday, September 27. Given a fair amount of latitude for landing formalities, she would be in our car by 8 am and we'd be off to Folkestone for an electricity top up at the much vaunted Tesla chargers before positioning our car in the train for the journey under la Manche.
The rot started with a phone call from South Africa on the Monday evening before the Tuesday morning. Some birds had flown into the engine intake of the plane that was to fly Kinks to London and the flight had been delayed while BA rectified the situation. I started investigating the necessary changes to the Channel crossing but it wasn't long before the follow up call came. The delay would be until Tuesday evening and her luggage was unobtainable for a switch to a sensible alternative such as Lufthansa/Air France.
We made a snap decision to buy Kinks a ticket from LHR to Paris (and we'd work out how to collect her from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport) and resume our journey while she was en route. Job done.
Only it wasn't. The BA flight from OR Tambo was further delayed until Wednesday morning and BA was being typically unhelpful about helping to sort things out. All questions to the endless junior staff at OR Tambo (or seemingly in the whole of Johannesburg) were met with various versions of:
"We can't make that decision ... it can only be made in England."
Now, I'd recently had extraordinary difficulties getting any sense out of BA when some unrelated international flights had been postponed a few months earlier and had been advised ask for help on Twitter. This did have some limited effect so I thought I'd try the same channel again for Kinks. It wasn't long before a most personable fellow purporting to be Peter from BA had tweeted back. He assured us he could expedite Kinks getting to Paris.
We felt reassured. We might even be able to fetch Kinks from CDG earlyish the next day. Only, Peter started to insist that we cancel Kinks' existing Joburg to LHR flight first and he'd then be able to rebook appropriately. At this time we were talking to him from sous la Manche, i.e. under the sea! We asked if he could prompt the BA staff at OR Tambo first and he prevaricated, intimating that he couldn't because he was based in BA's Nairobi office. This was not, in itself, outlandish given the service industry being scattered around the globe these days.. Shan smelled a rat and asked a telling question about the flight he claimed he could get Kinks on to. Caught off guard he said he could get her on BA064 if we first cancelled her current ticket.
BA064 flies from Nairobi to LHR. We immediately cut the call. He did try to call me sous la Manche (we were amazed that calls worked the whole way through the tunnel) at which point we were congratulating ourselves for avoiding an expensive scam. We eventually managed to speak to Kinks, now fully aware that she was going to miss her Wednesday flight to CDG. She succeeded, at some cost, in postponing it and we eventually fetched her from CDG after a late evening flight from LHR. Got home at midnight and had a bit of a knees-up with the odd glass of wine or two. The third member of our party hadn't slept much for 72 hours by the time we crawled into bed at the lovely house we were renting in Vascoeuil.
I tell you what, though, one has to be brave to drive into CDG. It's a self-contained metropolis in its own right. The access roads are labyrinthine.
Château d'En Croûton
Above, l to r: we named the half-timbered house on the left Château d'En Croûton; a room in the tiny château.
This lovely cottage in Vascœuil in the Eure department in Normandy captured our imagination as a chapter of the ongoing saga of Oncrust. This saga is well-known to the latter day extant Deale family starting with Shan's Mum Judy and continuing into my wife's siblings and, now, her offspring.
Essentially, being an almost only child 8, 7 and 6 years younger than her older siblings, the young Shelley-ann's entertainment incorporated an imaginary friend, Oncrust. She was of a similar age to our Shan and the friendship became quite intense when my wife was a little girl too young to go to school with her older sister and brothers. The childish sophistication of the conversations between Shan and Oncrust developed to the point where they began to drive Judy scatty and she eventually managed to get her youngest daughter accepted at pre-school at the age of four. Before that happened Shan had identified a disreputable hut on a hillside near the Deale home and insisted every time that the family passed this dwelling in their car that this was Oncrust's house. This became so ingrained in her siblings that to this day they all immediately understand who Oncrust is when she comes up in conversation.
Our own daughter, Kate, became captivated by the story to the extent that she, too, is more than familiar with Oncrust's history and her environs in Cowie's Hill in South Africa.
Wind forward more than 40 years and Kate, Shan and I were visiting my sister, Cath, for Christmas in the part of Normandy where she now lives. Kate would have been in her late teens and studying French at school when we drove past a tiny and somewhat disreputable half-timbered outbuilding in one of the villages.
"Look, there's Encroûton's house," our daughter exclaimed.
And so it was when Shan and I first clapped eyes on our charming house we were renting for two nights, it immediately became Château d'En Croûton and photographs quickly ended up on the family WhatsApp group and it was immediately recognised by all as Oncrust's more affluent ancestors' stately home.
Above, l to r: Shan captured this whimsical picture of sunrise in the mist in Vascoeuil; Kinks still able to manage a bright-eyed smile after 72 hours of travelling ... perhaps some French wine helped ... I love this picture BTW.
Kinks had barely arrived when we had to leave Vascoeuil. It would have been splendid to have properly walked around the town and its grand château and chilled out for a while. But there were cousins to see and Bordeaux wines to sample with a French braai. Craig was expecting us at around 6 pm but that stretched out to 7, 8, 9 and almost 10. What wonderful hosts we had ... supper was enjoyed from around 10 pm until maybe 2 am the next day. I think Kinks finally waned but the rest of us soldiered on.
Above: Kinks is the first up for breakfast-al-fresco after a challenging journey ... there is no curbing her enthusiasm (Craig had been out for the fresh bakery, it must be said).