I’m not absolutely sure why #4 wanted to know the french for slaughterhouse this morning, but he did.
“Maison de slaughter”, suggested #3, his recent GCSE French burning a trou in his poche.
“No”, said his mother, “I think we all know the word for slaughterhouse in French, don’t we? It’s abbatoir”.
And, as a family, in our limited french vocabulary, A will always be for abbatoir, and this blog is going to tell you why.
It is a story of sickness and accidents, of disaster and horror, of a slaughterhouse and a mysterious bar, and of the ghastly realisation of parental responsibilities, the like of which hope never to experience again. In short, it is the story of our summer holiday in the year 2000.
We’d decided that, as the three boys were, at 6, 4 and 2, that much more mature, that we ought to all jump in the car and head 700 miles south of where we lived. Honestly, that’s how our minds worked back then. We booked two fabulous looking places to stay, and come the exciting departure day, lined up three car seats in the back of the car, loaded up with travel sweets and Early Learning Centre cassettes of popular singalong classics, and headed for Dover.
Dover is quite a way from Norwich, and it didn’t take too long to find out that #3 hadn’t quite resolved his problems with car sickness. The first and second projections were skilfully fielded from the front passenger seat, with Mrs E at silly mid on, but, unusually, with her back to the wicket. We weren’t so lucky with the third one though, and the back of the car ended up being lined with a bilious film that stank beyond belief.
Fortunately, this seemed to get #3 into a slightly better place, and he felt able to nod along feebly to a couple of choruses of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, but by the time we got to the ferry terminal, never the sweetest smelling place in its own right, we were all feeling a little bit sick ourselves.
Onto the ferry, and #3 is still feeling a bit dodgy, so Mrs E takes him to the first aid room, where he spends the rest of the crossing. We agreed the duties for the voyage. Mrs E to take charge of first aid. Me to look after the older two and deliver car maintenance, ie making the next 500 miles a tolerable experience.
Armed with the only tools I had at my disposal (half a packet of wet wipes), I made my way onto the lurching car deck, and did my very best to clean up. I did a reasonable job under the circs, but was very conscious that my work wouldn’t pass much of a sniff test, and the practicalities of driving all day with all the windows fully open wasn’t too attractive. So I made it my business to improvise. Thinking back, I really should have improvised by finding a cleaner on board, who, presumably would have cleaning up other people’s sick as a key part of their job description. However, unfortunately I ended up trying to improvise at the Stena Line gift shop.
Had I been in desperate need for some Stena branded playing cards, a scale model of the ferry that we were travelling on, or even an oversized toblerone, I would have been in luck. But cleaning materials and things to make your car smell like it hadn’t been used as a student’s toilet were in short supply.
“Cleaning materials are in short supply here”, I brightly suggested to the assistant.
“Je ne comprend pas” was the reply, a phrase I was to hear very frequently on this and future visits to France, so much so that it became our stock in trade response to almost all questions asked of us. Sometimes it becomes a competition to see who can get the first “ne comprend pas” into any conversation.
I had another look round the shop, a exercise that really didn’t take very long, and, just as I was about to give up, found the one thing that could have saved our holiday. There, on a back shelf, was a can of deodorant, by the not very well known cosmetics manufacturer Joe Bloggs. At a bargain 15 francs, it would have to do. The label on the can said ‘Jus de Femme’, which suggested that they’d had an intern for the day in the Joe Bloggs marketing department (can you ever see Boots marketing a male deodorant labelled ‘Female Juices’?) but at the time, I just thought that it was something that Mrs E might find amusing.
I retuned to the car and liberally sprayed ‘Jus de Femme’ around the back seats. It seemed to do the job, and I stuffed the can into my jacket pocket.
Little did I know that I’d come to rue the day that I’d bought a can of Jus de Femme…
(To be continued)