Thursday, 11 September 2014

France with a Four-year-old

My grandson, usually known in Blogland as The Boy, is now four years old, as he will tell you given the least provocation ("I am four you know, Gran!").  He is obsessed by trains, and the thought of a train that takes cars under the sea was irresistible.  So I said that we would take him to France for a day, so that we could go in a train that takes cars under the sea (aka Eurotunnel, of course). 

He spent the previous night with us, and on the Monday morning we were up early and away slightly later than planned, at 07:45, but still made our booked crossing, with no time to call in at the terminal.  The Boy found the subsequent wait rather boring (so did I!), but was enchanted when we had to drive on to the platform to get on the train!  It had not occurred to him that this would be necessary.  We were on the top floor, and he was just slightly nervous when we had got parked and it was time to get out, but he coped admirably, and enjoyed visiting the loo, and going into the compartment behind us with his grandfather - this was empty, so he could run around.  They also went downstairs to have a look.

The plan had been to shop first, then go to Cap Blanc-Nez to have a picnic lunch, then go to Boulogne to play on the beach and then walk - or scoot in the Boy's case - round the walls of the old city.  The first part went without a hitch; the weather was fine, and there was a lovely view across the Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover.
We had our lunch, and then headed off in the car to Boulogne.  The Boy fell asleep, despite my attempts to keep him awake with raisins - he woke up with them clasped in his  hand and said "Ooh, raisins!" surprised to find them there!

The beach, too, was lovely.  Even I, who don't like beaches much, enjoyed walking on the sand as there were so many different kinds of sand - dry, damp and firm, damp and squishy....  The Boy was fascinated by his own footprints, and by various other footprints there were, of dogs and birds and other people.

And there was paddling:
But then, sadly, it all went pear-shaped.  When we got back to the car, the Swan Whisperer couldn't find his key - and we realised that someone else had found it, and had stolen our satnav, all the charging leads (but not, oddly, the multi-charger that plugs into the one and only socket) and, worst of all, my beloved binoculars.  And the first-aid kit and warning triangle, so we were now illegal.  We were, of course, extremely lucky not to have lost the car, the shopping in the boot, and the Boy's beloved scooter.  I think what I mind most, apart from my binoculars, is the clever lead that plugged into the satnav which made it able to tell you where there were traffic jams.

We should, with hindsight, have called the police, but neither of us thought of it.  And we didn't like to move the car nearer the walls of the town in case the thief were following us - we just wanted to get away.  So often bad things happen to us in Boulogne - we have had a puncture there, I drove our previous car into a ditch with the Boy's mother when she was 8 months pregnant with him, we got caught in a serious blizzard (and I have never been so frightened, as the French are even worse about driving in the snow than we are in the UK - but the Swan Whisperer was marvellous, and actually enjoyed himself that time)... and now this.  No, we are never, ever going to Boulogne again, and our day-trips will either be in Calais itself (something I was reluctant to do this time as there has been some unrest among the would-be migrant community there) or north towards Dunkerque.  Which is where we headed.

I felt sorry for the Boy - if it had been just us, we could have driven round all day, or something, but with a four-year-old.  But he was very, very good.  I don't know how much he gathered of what had happened, but he didn't fuss or anything, and enjoyed a second walk/scoot with his Granda in some random seaside resort north of Calais.

Then it was time to start thinking of supper, so we drove back to Calais, got petrol (which we didn't need, and I didn't think was all that much cheaper, but still), and then went to the Buffalo Grill for an early supper - all the people there were British, having an early supper before going home, we were amused to note.  The Boy had a burger with rice (he chose that instead of chips, and ate most of it), followed by a scoop of chocolate ice-cream.  The waiter raised his eyebrows and asked if he wouldn't prefer the children's lolly that was part of the set meal, but no, he wanted a scoop of chocolate ice-cream, and I was pleased to note that this was allowed as a substitute.  He had orange juice to drink.  I had a steak with ratatouille and then a crème brulée, which I had been fancying  (it wasn't part of the set menu, so we had to pay extra, but the Swan Whisperer very kindly said that was all right), and beer to drink, and the SW also had steak (but a more expensive one) with chips followed by chocolate mousse, and also beer.  It was all very good, although the Boy steered clear of the starter salad they give you as a matter of course in that place. 

And then it was time to go back to the Eurotunnel, and again we didn't have to go to the terminal but went straight through.  The English passport control were far more stringent coming in than going out, and we had to produce the letter of authorisation that the Boy's parents had given us; his passport is now four years old, and he really doesn't look like that any more! 

He was most disappointed that we were on the upper level again, but we explained that you didn't have a choice, but had to go where you were told, and Granda took him down to see the lower level before taking him to find a loo that wasn't locked out of service (as the one in our compartment was) to clean his teeth before we got him into his pyjamas and snuggled in a blanket in the (vain) hope he would go to sleep on the way home.  Apparently another family were doing the exact same thing, so they had to wait while several lots of teeth were cleaned and final pennies spent....

Google navigation on my phone, while adequate, isn't quite as good as the satnav, and we got one or two wrong turnings on the way back to Walthamstow, but got there in the end.  A cup of tea later, and we set off on a remarkably painless drive home (it is so much quicker and easier to use public transport that we always do if at all possible), after what ought to have been - and mostly was - a lovely day.

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