5. Entrée

The guinea pigs were an essential part of the advance party, their cages crammed in along side the lawnmower, a stack of plates, cutlery, frying pan and whisk, to make the 6 hour trip across the channel via Euro-tunnel.  A rental house had at last been found after months of losing out to the three or four other couples also searching in the same neighbourhood of Rouen, Normandy. It conspired that Harry would have to work during the move, leaving me to finish the last DIY details, direct the removal men, and organise the children “tout seul”!

The removal guys were saints from heaven, taking in their stride the fact that I had packed literally nothing, and proceeding to fill mountains of boxes with all my worldly goods. Effortlessly the furniture began to descend down the stairs – entire chests of drawers with filled drawers still intact. My dream neighbour arrived with a steaming pan of soup and the entire team took a welcome lunch break. My father-in –law spent the day screwing on door-handles to doors which had had none for our entire life in the house and servicing my car for its journey south.  Late that evening the removal men pulled out of the driveway, somewhat to my consternation turning northbound and I was almost too exhausted to care whether I would ever see my belongings again.

Surveying the empty house, once the children had fallen asleep “camping-style” in one of the bedrooms, I quickly realised that there would be no sleep for me! Two bedrooms desperately needed painting now that all the furniture was removed, and this particular evening was my last in the UK. The following morning we were to set of south, the keys would be left with the letting agent and we would say farewell to our friends. I gathered up my last remnants of energy, took up my roller-brush and set to work!

The 20th August dawned the hottest day on record. We headed south sweltering in the heat only to meet the M25 at a standstill. The car, which had spent most of it’s life, struggling on with meagre top-ups of oil, now decided to flash its oil warning-light with alarming persistence. My father-in-law had declared that it had taken 7 litres of oil to fill, and now in horror I suspected an oil leak at the very out-set of my journey. It was inconceivable that 7 litres of oil could have disappeared, except through a very large hole in the sump. I am not a calm and rational person where cars are concerned, and panic set in! The cars were crawling at a few miles per hour, and there was no hard shoulder. We soldiered on, hot, stressed and irritable and at last found ourselves on the Dartford crossing in the central lane. Making a bid for the hard-shoulder required crossing some seven lanes of equally irritable motorists. Their goal of the toll-booth in sight, the drivers became increasingly suspicious of my motives, and suspecting queue-jumping made a point of blocking the path! At last, and by this time a catastrophic heap of stress, I pulled over into the emergency escape lane, pulled out my phone and called Harry in France.

The phone call was quickly curtailed! Within seconds a Police 4×4 drew up behind me, the officer rapidly insisting that I had chosen an extremely dangerous spot to stop. He was unprepared for the wreck of a woman he faced. Myself, by this time  somewhat hysterical, he was bombarded with irrelevant detail, emigration, husband whereabouts unknown, a lorry load of furniture inexplicably heading north, and finally that of the oil. Rising to the challenge, and taking me in hand, he parted the traffic at the toll-booths, escorted me to the other side, opened the engine and proceeded to check oil-levels, water-levels, tyre levels, and once finally satisfied with my sanity level, wished me a “bon-voyage” with instructions on where all the other High-way patrol vehicles were located in case of further mishap.

As it happened, the location of all the Highway patrol vehicles was extremely useful. Now finding myself running late for my Euro-tunnel crossing, I was able to put my foot down with a general confidence that I wouldn’t get stopped. It was a somewhat wry grin on my face when I pulled into the Euro-tunnel check-in only to be pulled over by customs and swabbed for drugs and explosives!

We arrived at our destination some two hours later, relieved to see the same removal men lounging on our chairs in the driveway chatting over a cup of tea with my husband. The sun was starting to lower in the sky and this group of very practical men had already set up the beds ready for our first night in France.

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