I spent a week down in France to attend a family wedding of something like my 6th cousins.
Well, we set off from home at around 0615, with me driving the first leg of the journey to Charnock Richards service station on the M6, my dad driving the rest of the way. Arriving early to Dover Ferry Port, we were put on an earlier ferry to the one we were supposed to be catching (and got the unfortunately habitual stop by customs on the way out – I wonder why they think we look suspicious?). 90 minutes later, arriving in Calais, we continued the journey to Guines, which isn’t far from from Calais. After a very nice tea at Cité Europe, a quick explore of the campsite was in order. After finding an area at the back of the campsite where I had a nice view of the surrounding countryside, I moved towards the front, where someone took a picture somewhere with flash enabled. Or so I thought. In actual fact, I was in the middle of a thunderstorm, except without the thunder.
The storm was incredible – it started off as a few weak flashes, but built up very quicky to be a fully-fledged storm, with fork lightning hitting the ground only about a mile away, several times a minute. I’d moved back into the open area at the back of the campsite, a small field surrounded on three sides by trees, and the fourth by a tall metal fence topped by razor wire. I could see a considerable distance, and a considerable amount of ground hits by the lightning. 2 hours later, at about 1am, I decided to call it a night, even though it was one of the most impressive storms I’ve ever been in. Plus, I was beginning to get somewhat worried about my safety, partly because the lightning was hitting the ground pretty much all around. Just as I got back into the tent, the rain started. And it rained. By 4am, the storm had subsided, and we finally got some sleep.
The next day we drove down through France to Orleans, past Paris, going around the Peripherique (aka ring road), moving at about 1 km/h due to the traffic. The only problem was, we came off one exit too early, and got lost in Paris. 3 hours later, we found our way back onto the road to Orleans.
Arriving late to the campsite, we unpacked and had some tea, then I went for a quick explore of the campsite. Camping near the pool were a group of reasonably fit Belgian lads, unfortunately cowardice got the better of me for the first night – there were a reasonably large number of them vs me! The pool looked pretty good, two flumes and two slides, a lazy river, and a deep main pool.
Well, we got up quite late on Saturday, so we skipped breakfast, and went shopping for lunch, before heading out to the wedding at about half one.
Well, we got to the village where everything was going to take place in time for the civil ceremony, which started at 14:30 in the town hall. This was basically a quick and simple affair, read a few things in French which I was struggling to follow, but I think it went along the lines of a quick and jokey biography of the couple, followed by reading of some regulations, then signing the registers. Then, some of the guests performed a musical piece. We then went outside for some photos of the various family groups, and then moved into church.
The catholic ceremony went ahead much like the usual religious weddings we have here in the UK, mixed with a service of Holy Communion – or at least that’s what I think it was, because I was having trouble following this as well, over a tinny sound system which regularly screeched in a feedback loop. The traditional rice (in the UK it’s confetti) was not thrown, but instead bottles of bubble mixture were given out to the kids to blow bubbles at the happy couple.
By about 1700, we’d moved into the Salle des Fetes, (aka the village hall). The typical drinks and nibbles (aperitifs) were available, including some sirop des violets (basically similar to squash in the UK, but in a more syrupy form). I thought I’d stay away from the alcohol – bier brun (ale), bier blonde (lager), cidre (cider), vin rouge (red wine), and vin blanc (white wine) – especially since I had a reasonably empty stomach, and didn’t want to get drunk this early on in the evening. So I decided to stick to the violet syrop.
One taste told me all I needed to know. It was not diluted with water as expected, but instead fortified white wine. That proved to be the fastest I’ve ever become drunk, a flute of that stuff. So, at 1730, I was desperately trying to sober up. Thankfully, the orange and apple juice had no hidden alcohol, and the nibbles were really really nice – to be expected of French cuisine.
There was a reasonably good brass band entertaining the guests, which I was surprised to discover was made up of people who were all guests anyway – including the best man! The band was joined by the groom for a while, first on the trumpet after a little persuasion, then the trombone, and after a lot of persuasion, the tuba. It didn’t take much to persuade him to conduct, and as a professor of music, he took it all in his stride.
His new wife was a different matter altogether. She tried her hand at conducting, but the band took no notice of her frantic waving of hands, but did begin to take a bit of notice when she started dancing. Some of them were finding it somewhat hard not to laugh.
By 2200, we finally made our way inside for starter – Foie Gras, ham, salmon, prawn salad, exotic salad, and a few other things I can’t remember. Of course, french tradition dicates that there should be a different wine with each course. So, I was back on the slippery slope of becoming quite drunk once more.
After starter came some entertainment – every table had to get up and perform a song. I was sat with people roughly my age – one of the musicians from the service was sat next to me, and trying her hardest to help me to understand everything. I owe her a lot actually, a really kind young lady. The other musician proved to be a considerable amount younger than me, even though his handsome looks and really long (halfway down back) light brown/mousey hair caught my eye. At the other end of my table were two other handsome and very attractive guys that caught my eye. :P
Well, about an hour after that, we had a traditional sorbet – a small scoop of home-made pear sorbet to be precise. I didn’t realise the alcohol content of this either – some pear liquor was definitely added generously to the sorbet. By this stage, I was once again tipsy.
Well, we ate our main course at around midnight; trying my hardest all the time to communicate: it’s amazing how hard it’s become after a year or two of not practising French. I’m plain appalling at it. Luckily, the musician’s English has been improving massively.
The conversation seemed to be a lot about me, I guess I had little confidence in my abilities to ask about other people. I just didn’t want to get it wrong, or insult them through a simple mistake. I was finding it easier to get along with them all now, probabally something to do with the majority of people there being my family now, and it was just so damn annoying that some of them were so damn good looking.
I wish I knew them better, knew French opinions on homosexuality, but I had doubts they would actually find out – no idea about their possible reactions. So much for courage!
I spent a lot of time talking to one of the family – someone we’d visited a few years earlier, and his sister’s boyfriend, then the two guys from the table came over, started talking more about me, and they all now know I’m the proud author of Helpmebot! Although I did spend far too long trying to explain what IRC was.
I’ve been eyeing up the guys from the table most of the evening, I think they noticed though, especially when one of them unbuttoned his shirt for 30 secs (no idea why he did btw), I don’t think he missed my look!
Anyway, 2am came and went, and we were still talking. My dad came outside and said the cake was about to be cut, and that I’d missed the cheese course! I was quite annoyed at that actually, because it was the course I was most looking forward to. Anyway, we headed back inside to see the cakeS, thirteen in total, with about six indoor fireworks, which burnt out, and then the usual drink with interlocking arms for the happy couple.
The cakes were amazing – there were thirteen in total. Proper French gateaux, with a traditional wedding cake in the middle. “Traditional” means pretty much profiteroles filled not with cream, but confectioner’s custard, and stuck together with caramel.
Anyway, I sat down and had a chat with the guys from the table, while we ate some cake. They seem to be the “popular risk-taking” type, who tend to be a big hit with the girls. I think they might have realised that I am gay, and was eyeing them up all evening, because one asked the other to dance, with the explaination to me “we are gay”. My hopes rocketed. When they sat down again, they promptly said “we are not gay”. I can’t tell you how high my hopes really jumped at the first statement, but all through their dance I was thinking to myself – “they’re playful and jokey, and are probabally pulling my leg”, so I was prepared for the second statement, but it still crushed me a bit. I tried to hid my feelings, but I’m pretty sure I failed epicly at that. I have a strong suspicion that they know, but I don’t really care, as I did consider telling them that actually, I *am* gay.
Unfortunately, the guy we visited earlier had left – the one person whom I found it easiest to talk to and got on well with. His father was still going on about Camembert, but that’s a different story about a different wedding.
Well, that’s pretty much the story of the wedding. I had drunk rather a lot – the sirop de violets, 2 glasses of wine, about two shots of pear liquor, 2 pints of lager, and a glass of sweet desert wine – and that mixture was more than enough to make me somewhat drunk. So yes, I was up on the dancefloor, making a fool of myself until we left at around 0315.
So, after sneaking back onto the campsite at 4am, and into bed, the night was over too quickly. Missing breakfast, we went back to Huissau for lunch, effectively finishing off last night’s food.
I managed to get a copy of their side of the family tree (arbre généalogique). There are 88775 people in that database – my grandfather will be overjoyed about that!
The dance I had with the earlier female musician didn’t go unnoticed either – one of the family certainly noticed. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) the two from the table were not there, but the other musician was actually sat next to me, which didn’t help my thoughts. Why do those people whom I can’t have have to be so damn attractive?
Well, the hall had generally been left in the state it was last night, so the disco equipment was still set up. There was a wooden box which looked damn interesting, so I went to take a quick peek.
I was right about the computer power supply unit sticking out the back, but inside was a caseless computer, botched together with copious amounts of duck tape holding the components in place. Two LCD screens had been hacked apart, rotated through 90 degrees, and ducktaped into place inside the lid of the box. Power for the screens was connected through the PSU (also dangerously caseless), held in place with electrical insulation tape.
The USB sound card might go some of the way to explain the quality of the sound, that and the radio microphone aerial being a paperclip. I admire the ingenuity of the system, but can’t help but think that sort of thing wouldn’t be allowed in this country.
We left after helping to clean up a bit, at around 1700, and headed back to the campsite for something to eat for tea.
The double spiral staircase in the middle of the greek cross of the structure of the keep is incredible. There are two spiral staircases intertwined with each other, with a central ‘hole’ with windows so people can see across from one staircase to the other, but never actually meet them, because they are actually on a different staircase. There is a lantern on the roof, which used to reflect light down this central shaft, providing light to the staircases through the windows. This has, however, been replaced with a modern fluorescent lamp.
The keep was designed as a greek cross, the spiral staircase in the centre, with 4 apartments on each level. The two wings to the keep house a chapel, and the King’s apartment after it was moved out of the keep. The design is based around six standard squares for the outer areas, the keep occupying one. The keep is further divided into a 5×5 grid, with towers on each corner. See the plan below for more info.
The pool at the campsite wasn’t bad, save for the problem that I chose the coldest day of our stay, late in the evening to take a dip. Cowardice again had a part to play in this, but I decided to just go for it and plunge in quickly. The slides were somewhat shit, but the lazy river certainly wasn’t! I could just about stay still, swimming in the opposite direction to the current. Anyway, it was only a quick dip, because it was utterly freezing in the pool, and I’m a bit of a wus when it comes down to it! It got me thinking about pool circulation systems and monitoring systems though, with backup systems in case of failure etc, which might be pushing it a bit far for a simple pool.
And so our brief holiday came to an end. We drove back up though France in another thunderstorm (south of Paris), back to the campsite at Guines, where we had our third thunderstorm. The morning was spent shopping for stuff to take back to the UK, then boarding the ferry. Our impression of P&O ferries has fallen sharply as they gave us (a party of three adults) an out-of-date (by over a year) “kids eat free” voucher. Tom + Jerry was the entertainment for the 95-minute crossing, until disembarkation into England.
A quick stop at Maidstone services proved to be interesting – I started doing a bit of Bluetooth object push to several laptops and phones. This was repeated at Northampton services, where we stopped for tea following a disaster at the previous Welcome Break services, advertising a reasonably large menu, then offering only two items, neither of which were actually on the menu (this was at a peak time, so they should be offering the full menu). Roadchef did a much better job. Sandbach proved to be our last stop before returning home after a quiet trip on the motorway.