Free coffee is never going to be worth what you paid for it

Last night (or, rather, this morning) I didn’t get to bed until 2am. I was busy giving the finishing touches to the first draft of my dissertation. Actually I didn’t so much finish as give up through tiredness. The alarm woke me at 5am.

Our ferry was due to leave Portsmouth at 8:30 so Bob was picking us up at 6:15. A pair of bleary eyes welcomed them and we packed the car and set off. Mirinda navigating. It actually went well. It was -1.5° outside the car and pretty much traffic free for most of the drive.

The road suddenly went a tad confusing for a bit so we followed some guy, assuming (incorrectly) that he was heading for the ferry terminal as well. This assumption was based on nothing more than the fact that he was in front of us and driving a red car. Fortunately a sign appeared as he turned off so we happily bid him farewell and trundled on.

Obviously we found the terminal and while Claire and I booked in, Bob and Mirinda dumped the hire car in the multi-storey car park. We then just sat around and waited for not very long. We drifted through the usual laxity and onto the Mont St Michel ferry.

We had ordered four comfortable chairs and they were at the front, looking at a blank wall of louvred metal strips. A few people had a try of opening them. It was sort of like when the blast shields get lowered in Battlestar Galactica (or some other sci fi show). On the side of the blocked windows were little signs saying not to try and open them manually, that they would open automatically when someone pushed a button.

While we waited for the magic moment when the front (or back) of the boat would be revealed, a few chaps asked to see our tickets, which we happily showed. During this security check a couple of non-paying people were discovered and escorted from the luxurious salon.

And then, with a wrenching and grinding, the shutters rose, revealing a steely grey and miserable looking Portsmouth morning. This prompted me to conjecture that the reason the shutters remained down until after the ticket inspection, was to ensure that anyone who had not paid did not get to enjoy the view.

We were offered a free cup of coffee. Stupidly, I accepted. In my time on this planet, I have indulged in many and various concoctions of coffee. Some good, some bad, some foul, some made with mud, but I can safely say that this coffee was easily the worst. I can see why they are giving it away. Obviously trying to get rid of it to unsuspecting passengers. Unsuspecting passengers who will never fall for that one again!

In saying that, I drank it all as the caffeine was pretty important for keeping my eyes open.

As we sailed out of the harbour and the steely grey drew back under the strength of the rising run, we hypnotically counted the navigation buoys pointing out into the channel. We soon left land behind and sped up to snail’s pace. I think this is when the people who were thrown out came back.

The others decided to go and find breakfast while I opted to sleep. A little while later Bob returned to say that they were going to the movies to see Australia, the Movie. I said I would sleep on. My reasons were twofold. Firstly I was so tired I figured I’d not last more than a minute after the lights were extinguished and secondly, I’ve read only really appalling reviews. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of Australia already.

I closed my eyes, stretched back, pulled my hat down to keep the sun off my eyelids, set the iPod to shuffle and didn’t so much drift as capsize into sleep.

Two hours later I felt a lot better.

Upon their return the vote was two against and one for. It sounded like a film best avoided by me, at any rate. After a frank and open Stockwell discussion about the merits of the film, Mirinda & I went for a stroll around the deck. It wasn’t as cold outside as I’d thought it looked.

We then returned to the seats to await disembarkation. As usual, it took forever…but eventually we wandered down to the luggage area then stood happily by the long spiral gangplank.

At the bottom, and once more on dry land, we watched as the ferry bus left with about four people on it. We stood and waited for the next one. We then hung about in the terminal waiting for the only big taxi in Caen to arrive for our mass of luggage. Including Mirinda’s guitar, which, fortunately I bought a backpack type bag for. Though sitting down is not a good idea. And I have to allow for an extra foot of height.

After about 20 minutes our driver arrived and thus ensued an awful drive through the centre of Caen, through thronging and throbbing traffic. The afternoon traffic had no idea which lane was which and figured that direction was a negligible and unquantifiable inconstant. It took ages to get to the Holiday Inn, but get there we eventually did.

I am convinced that the taxi driver either didn’t know the best way to the hotel or was ripping us off as tourists. It seemed we went through the heart of Caen when it wasn’t necessary. I chose the hotel because it is near the station and the bus goes direct to the ferry port from the station. It seemed an excessive trip to me.

The rooms were lovely but it must be said that Bob & Claire’s room was sadly without any drawers and no shelf in the bathroom. I feel a bit guilty admitting this but our bathroom DID have a shelf. As we all know, the big test comes with the shower.

After dumping the luggage we went out for a walk. We ended up standing before the Church of St Jean. For some reason known only to the lunatic designers, this church was built on a swamp. All was well for a few months but then it started to develop an awful lean to the left. Just the tower though. The rest of the church is actually straight. It currently leans 7.5 feet over a distance of 150 feet.

The church of St Jean, Caen, France

Inside it all looks most peculiar. And somewhat marvellous as well. It was a bit dark and gloomy though. During WWII, Caen was blasted to bits. In the church was an old photograph showing the aftermath of the bombing. The church is about all there is still standing – given the lean on the tower, this is quite simply, amazing.

A visit to a patisserie for a couple of truly delicious pastries was next and a quick search of an antique shop for silver sugar tongs (not fruitful) before ending up at an ice rink set up especially. I mean especially for the season, not especially for us.

We then popped into a café – actually we sat OUTSIDE the café – and had a coffee (Mirinda) and Leffe (moi), before heading back to the hotel. On the way we spotted what appeared to be a lovely French restaurant. It didn’t actually say it was a French restaurant but it was a pretty safe assumption. Though oddly it was called La Marmite.

We went back to the room for about 30 minutes of Mirinda’s guitar practice then picked up Bob & Claire to hit the Marmite.

Great meal though I’m not sure what type of animal I ate. Bob thinks it was a caribou. I know it was some sort of large quadruped but the waiter’s English was only just a bit better than my French. I thought he said it was deer but it didn’t taste like deer. Anyway, I had crème brulee for dessert and it was pretty good. I gave it 8/10 because the top wasn’t really crispy and the custard was a bit too set. I was being quite critical. That’s not an excuse. Anyone reading this should know by now that I LOVE being critical. Next to sarcastic, it’s one of my favourite things. Much better than bright coloured packages tied up with string.

We had a lovely bottle of Poilly Fume and a strong coffee. Everyone enjoyed their meals though it was all a bit rich! By the end of the holiday, we discovered that marmite is French for a type of small hot pot or simple farmhouse cooking. This explains the name as well as the fare. Bob also told us the story of how Vegemite was originally called Pawill to compete against Marmite in advertising terms. The strapline used to go “Marmite but Pawill!” We also found out that the meat I’d eaten was, in fact, a deer. I still maintain that it didn’t taste like any deer I’ve ever had!

I typed up the day and then, sleepy, we settled down to sleep. From about 30 miles away the faint sound of a small motorbike could be heard. I was suddenly transported back to Pitfold Avenue and the terror that was mosquito boy. Unconsciously, I expected it to vanish as insistently as it had appeared.

It (very) gradually and (VERY) noisily approached the hotel. It took forever and the noise climbed to ridiculous levels. Eventually Mirinda climbed out of bed and watched the street. The bike was still not in sight as the windows shook with the reverberations.

And then it arrived. And was parked directly beneath our window. We were on the 4th floor and the double glazed window was securely locked. The burping engine was still loud enough to drown out my thoughts. I lifted the large rosewood chair, and directed Mirinda to open the window wide, determined to end the life of this raucous, foul creature. Then it stopped.

All was perfectly silent. And we slept. Apparently Bob and Claire heard nothing.

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