Day 6 – Thursday, July 6
There?s not a lot of time to spare when you are attempting to follow the Tour de France in a camper van. If we were just seeking to watch the race it wouldn?t be too much of a problem but the pesky matter of work keeps getting in the way. Before you know it, it?s 9pm and you?re praying the restaurants haven?t all packed away their pans and told the chef to go home.
Stage five from Beauvais to Caen, should have been straightforward but, having missed our evening meal the night before – feasting on scraps from a nearby bin like scavenging tramps instead (not really) – we were rather anxious to enjoy a nice breakfast, so we got up early and got on the road.
Besides, Pierrefonds and its weird inhabitants were starting to spook me out.
Feeling responsible for the whole Night of the Missed Dinner debacle, I?d appeased Ed by promising we?d have a lovely relaxing breakfast in the town square at Compiegne. I painted a picture of us sitting there in the early morning sun enjoying a deep bowl of strong, rich coffee, fat buttery croissants and fresh baguettes with jam while reminiscing about past editions of Paris-Roubaix. Compiegne is, after all, the ville depart for the Hell of the North.
The reality – scarfing down free veal stew from little paper plates in the VIP village at the stage start – was a lot less glamorous.
Basically, we couldn?t park our seven-metre long bus anywhere in the tight little town so we grumpily resigned ourselves to the 50-kilometre drive across country to Beauvais. Fifty flaming kilometres and only a bottle of water to keep us going.
It was bad enough missing dinner but the prospect of waiting until midday for breakfast almost made Ed weep. I wasn?t too happy either. I think I dreamt an entire edition of the BBC show Saturday Kitchen, right from Anthony Worrall-Thompson?s well-fed face telling me what was coming up later in the programme, through to Sophie Grigson doing something wonderful with some langoustines and pancetta.
It didn?t help that the French football fans were raucous until the early hours after their victory over Portugal. Only the sound of three rumbling stomachs drowned out their cheers. I must get some ear plugs before Sunday night?s final.
We made a rare venture into the press room at Caen and saw all the little lab rats watching the race on telly. If that?s the real Tour de France my name?s Monsieur Heulot and this is my annual holiday.
After the finish we headed to St Auban-sur-Mer, a little village on the Normandy coast north of Caen to stay at a campsite called the Yelloh Village. It was like Butlins, with space for 500 tents, caravans and camping cars.
Under pain of death dinner was not missed and we enjoyed the best meal so far – two triangles of lightly sautéed Laughing Cow cheese and a pain au chocolat drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Not really. Ed and I had fresh salmon and pasta while Chris opted for the tartiflette, which was basically a cheese and ham soup by the looks of it.
Back at the campsite the disco was in full swing and Chris had to be forcibly restrained from hitting the dance floor. Possibly. Beers were on me because I lost our predict-the-stage-result game spectacularly when my three selections stopped off to catch a movie and do a bit of shopping en route to Caen.
The camper is starting to show signs of wear. One of the table legs has broken, we think we may have blown a fuse so we have no electricity unless plugged into the mains at a campsite, and one of the windows won?t open. Add that to the telly not working and we needed to have a word with the hire company. I rang Eddy this morning [Friday] and ran through the list of problems. His answer to everything was to say: ?You need to look in the manual.? I was about to ask which page of the manual relates to inserting large pointy objects in camper van sales staff but thought better of it.
“We are not totally satisfied with all aspects of our rental,? I said. “We?ll need to have a talk about it when we return to Ostende.?
“Okay. We?ll chat then,? said Eddy in a manner that suggested what he really meant was ?We?ve got your deposit and we?ve already spent it on beer and fags.?
“At your service,? he said cheerily by way of sign-off. That, Chris informed me, was a Belgian way of laughing at me without having to bother actually laughing.
I just hope this thing gets us through the Pyrenees.