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First camping – five days at the Ile d’Oleron with the Uberparents.

Camping with this baby was good, all in all. We have got into a rhythm over the last few months – but it seems to stretch back as far as I can remember – of me dealing with BB’s early rising (anytime from 4.00) by keeping her quiet with nature’s bounty (my bosoms, of course) and then Dad taking her for a walk in the park about 6.30–7.00 to tide us over till breakfast and so I can have a little kip.

The night-times when camping were a little stressful for me! But we didn’t have any of the long crying bouts I feared. I lay next to her and administered a boob every time she got upset which put her back to sleep. The problem was she gradually woke up more and more to suckle plus the nights got progressively colder. I had a struggle to keep BB asleep and keep warm (of course you have to keep swapping sides to feed) so I didn’t get a lot of sleep done myself. Dad’s early morning walks saved me from total exhaustion, and would always result in a tasty treat for breakfast which dad had proudly brought back from the boulangerie wherever we were. A couple of the mornings were rainy and he spent them with BB sitting in the car, feeding her croissant.

Our tent held up through a few storms. It has a pod for two people at either end, and a big space in the middle. A great design for the extended family! There was one moment with a terrific storm going on overhead. Me and dad came out for a parent’s meeting, BB and SS (Stroppy Stepson) sound asleep in our respective pods. ‘Is it coming through your bit?’ ‘Not too much.’ ‘yours?’ ‘Its holding out so far’.

It was actually the daytime naps I feared most of all, knowing how desperately unhappy BB gets without enough. But every day I put her in the pod for a morning and afternoon nap (ok, I fed her to sleep most times. Each time she slept a good hour and a half and woke up refreshed. I was amazed she could sleep so successfully in broad daylight with a multitude of noises going on around her. I put it down to all the fresh air and excitement she was getting. Something to remember for home.

Well, lots happened on our hols, SS fell in love with a French girl which was really sweet – abandoned was the BB gun (I suppose that’s BB for ball bearings in this case, not Blibiblob) bought on the second night and obsessed over for two days. Now he was learning how to say certain things in French, going for ‘walks’ around the campsite, seeing who he could see, sometimes wearing BB as an accessory to show his caring side!

The track going past our tent was used as a general boules pitch, BB either watched the games with amusement or amazingly slept successfully through them. I enjoyed watching a game between Dad and Uberdad, and two French guys from the cabin across from us. Each of the four men looked like a typical stereotype of their country. The Gallic faces of the French (one we called Gerard because he reminded me of Gerard Depardieu – we later learned his name was Jean-Claude) and their summer vests. Dad and Uberdad sporting floppy hats. Dad in a football shirt, Uberdad in a cardigan. The French team had their tactics sewn up. One’s job was to get their balls as close to the jack as possible. The other would bomb their opponent’s balls out of the way, with frightening precision. Poor English dads! Every now and then they would manage a beaut of a shot, but then in would come the bomber, hurling a ball way up to smash theirs from directly above, sending their ball skittering away with a clatter and leaving his own in place. Score – 13/2. To guess who.

  

After this stay we abandoned my initial itinerary which involved more long, long car rides for the sake of everyone’s sanity. The Uberparents, who had done just a small leg of their big Europe tour headed south. We made our way up to Calais in four days, finding places to stay as we went.

Of course for SS, nothing could compare to the campsite on Oleron, where his heart still languished, but now it was my turn to fall in love. The object of my affections? La Chabotiere.

The most beautiful campsite ever. If you want to stay somewhere quiet, shady, with mossy grass, the Loire running alongside, nothing but the faint sound of a waterfall in the night, masses of open space for kids to run around in, two playgrounds, football, volleyball, table football, skittles, boules, ping-pong (ok, in france that’s a given), daytime bar, peddalos, canoeing, fishing, country walks AND a beautiful swimming pool with a diving board, and you want to be right next to a picturesque villiage where you can get your morning croissants and from which you can hear the faint sound of the ancient church bell, go to La Chabotiere! Oh, and I forgot to mention the loos with paper, the hot showers, the BABY BATH WITH EXTRA SOFT CHANGING STATION, rows of cubicles with hairdryers, the friendly people who patiently encourage you with your pigeon French and the fact that it was 13 euros a night for the four of us.

Phew.

Everywhere we went people expressed their adoration for BB. Travelling with a baby does get you a very friendly welcome. At La Chabotiere there were two old French ladies staying in huge motorhome affairs. They were staying with their husbands and only lived in the next town. They showered us with gifts and affection!

Old lady holiday activities – fishing and knitting.

The driving with BB had been OK, we managed to time each journey to her naps, and SS had an in-car entertainment complex (portable DVD player, PSP, a pad and felt-tips). But on the last day, just before sailing home on the evening ferry, we timed it disastrously wrong. Thinking we would be kind to our poor cooped-up teenager, we bombed it up on the payage instead of going slower on the nicer roads and stopping somewhere half way. Got to Calais half a day early, couldn’t spend any time on the beach as the wind was howling. BB started howling as well. Nowhere to go, we ended up driving to random places in order to send her to sleep. She didn’t go. We drove. She screeeeaaaaamed at the top of her lungs. SS was in a thunderous mood. It rained. we drove. The squeaky windscreen wiper squeaked. She screamed. I couldn’t bear it any longer, decided the best thing to do was to turn off at the first opportunity and feed BB to calm her down. I said ‘I’m going to turn off at Loon Plage and feed her, and you two can go and look at the beach’. There was no beach. There was bleak industrial stuff and an almighty traffic jam. We ended up completely stopped in a labyrinth of cones, with people desperately driving up onto the pavement and over into a hypermarket carpark to escape. Over we went. The boys went thunderously off into ‘commercial hell’ (Dad’s verdict) and I administered milk. On the way out, there were circus lorries parked up, and just the other side of a thin fence were zebras, camels and a giraffe, just minding their own business. We drove. She screamed. He sulked. We drove. She slept. He slept. We drove around some more, Dad thought there might be rows of graves in Gravelines. I was doubtful. There was nothing but speed bumps in Gravelines. The kids woke up when we were at passport control for the ferry, refreshed, merry and bright! We watched some Essex girls accost two unwary Italian bikers and insist on having their pictures taken posing suggestively on the bikes. By the time we got to my mother-in-law’s, the other side of the channel, everyone was happy.

It was a great experience full of different things, great for family bonding, for reminding us just how fantastic France is and for practicing conversing in French (Dad for the first time), but I must admit that when we got back to our own front room and put our feet up, it was then we really felt like we were on holiday. It took a week or so to wean BB off constant night feeding. It was such a relief to get her back in her cot. Night-night, I love you. I’ll see you in the morning.

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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!