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We made it! Driving through France in a Nissan Micra with a baby and a teenager AND CAMPING! This is the first installment about our trip.

For an all-but 13 year old stepson on a blazing hot day, an old French farmhouse with shutters and an old stone well in the most pretty and peaceful setting holds no amusement. There is nothing to do but hide at the back of a dingy garage where you can more easily view your PSP screen. But come nightfall, it’s a different story.

I gave BB a bath and put her to bed (successfully, for now). When I returned to the garden the sun had disappeared and all I could see were glowing balls whizzing about in the air and changing colour, accompanied by the sound of various family members shrieking and falling over each other. Dad and Stroppy Stepson (SS) were holding the near end of the garden, while from the far end came the disembodied voices of various relations of mine. Trying to catch a glowing orb when you can’t see ANYTHING else is quite a challenge. The shrieks and laughter went on into the night.

Sitting at a table in the blackness was the rest of the assembled gathering, observing the mayhem, chatting and looking up at the myriad stars to discern which were satellites and to catch the odd shooting star making its way across the sky. Someone had a torch lying on the ground, illuminating the side of a big old barn. My mum, the artist noticed the shadows of people projected large on the barn, flitting about. This lead to hand puppetry and experiments with how various things looked when put in front of the torch.

The next blazing day, no-one was to be found lurking in the garage. SS and Dad were at work drawing characters on cardboard and cutting them out, ready for that night’s grand puppet show. There were the Three Musketeers, World War II people, a parachutist and a big Terry Gilliam like monster with great snapping jaws. Others contributed, I did an alien with three eyes and many feet, Crazy Sister made an excellent horse, Crazy Sister’s Pikey Blagger Husband drew a big hammer with which to flatten everyone else’s character and a dinosaur.

The den of creativity.

Me, BB, Uberfather, Pikey Blagger, SS, Dad.

That evening was the celebration which had drawn us all there, my mum’s 60th birthday. We feasted, drank plenty and toasted the Ubermother.

Exuberant Aunt, Uberfather, Pikey Blagger, Ubermother.

Ubermother, me,BB, Crazy Sister.

BB went to bed (for now, at least). My Exuberant Aunt and I had prepared many songs for the occasion, but being the only show-offs in the assembled crowd it proved more like a concert than a jam so we picked some choice offerings and left it at that. Jokes were told, including Dad’s perennial favourite – ‘what’s brown and smells funny? Clown poo.’

Then Ubermother suggested her favourite activity of singing rounds so we were all merrily singing as the light slowly faded and night fell, allowing the main event of the night to begin.

The puppet show was as anarchic and chaotic as was hoped, many people chipping in. A big problem was it was so dark in that garden that whenever we placed a character down away from the beam of the torch it took us ages to find it again. It was amazing to see how real our little cardboard figures looked. The horse and the dinosaur were fantastic. Some mutating of characters went on. One of the World War II guys turned out to look exactly like Darth Vader when projected on the wall, so Darth became a lead role. I shrunk myself by going closer to the wall and rode the cardboard horse to try and vanquish the dinosaur. The normally shy and retiring SS and Dad’s zany humour came bubbling up. The Welsh Musketeer was a favourite with the audience, his call of ‘Oreeeet’ on entrance became a catchphrase. But Dad professed not to remember any of it the next morning!