One thing the guidebooks never bother to tell you about France is also one of the most important of all that you should know. In fact this piece of information is so important that my imparting it to you, as I am about to do, is worth the price of the book of all this. So perhaps, if you’ve borrowed this from a friend, you should skip to the next chapter right now. (I jest.)
So what is this invaluable knowledge that no-one should travel in France without first having assimilated? Just this:
Everything Shuts At Twelve. For Two Hours. At Least.
That’s it. Outside of the major metropolitan cities like Paris and Lyon, and maybe even Marseilles these days, if you ain’t got whatever it is you were looking for by the time the midi rings, you can forget getting it until two o’clock at the earliest.
Believe me, you will not be in France long before you realise how much this immutable chronology affects life.
All those thoughts of a nice long lie-in, a lazy, protracted breakfast, perhaps a little snoodling with your loved one and a pleasant shower afterwards followed by a quick trip into town to do the shopping…..er, no. By the time you get into that town, say eleven-thirty, people are already making their ways home for lunch, the baker will have sold all of that nice bread you like, and your efforts to purchase the bare minimum, having already edited your shopping list from the thirty or so items it began with, which you intended to buy on a relaxed saunter around all those lovely artisanal shops you like the look of so much, will turn into a desperate, manic dash around the aisles of the local supermarket while the staff watch you with the regard of those who just know you’re going to make them late for their break. You will be the only person in the checkout queue, dealt with frostily by the cashier, who can’t close up the only till left open until you leave, and the door will be closed quickly enough to catch your heels by the manager, who will have been standing by it jangling his keys, alternately looking at his watch and you.
Think I’m kidding? Think again.
Once, while Moira and I were looking for our dream home, we had an accident. Well, I mean Calum had an accident, of the type that renders a two-year-old’s lower garments fit for the bin.
In the ensuing panic, after I had screeched to a stop at the side of the road, Moira performed the emergency repair procedure—pants and nappies off, into the spare plastic bag and into the nearest poubelle; clear up the worst of the spillage with toilet paper, wipes to finish up (those of you with children know this already; those without—it awaits thee.)
When she had done, she rummaged in the mummy bag and then turned to me, eyes wide in alarm.
“Shit. I forgot the nappies.”
Indeed she had, as I quickly verified. Now anyone who has had children knows that it is sheer insanity to allow a two-year-old with a very obvious case of the Bombay (or should that be Burgundy?) Trots to sit in a car without a restraint device, and I don’t mean a seat-belt, so we had to find nappies, and quickly.
“I think I saw a supermarket on the way into that last town,” said Moira, hopefully, so we wrapped Calum in our only remaining towel, strapped ourselves in and put pedal to metal, as they say. It was only then that I looked at the clock.
Despite ripping through the quaint medieval town at a speed that I can only apologise for, slamming to a halt two metres outside the door of said supermarket in a prodigious cloud of dust and leaping out of the car like those posers in The Professionals, we were met with the face of doom, as the grim-faced manageress on the other side of the door turned her key with finality and shook her head. She began to turn away and I banged on the glass…(To Be Continued…)
Also published on Medium.