So as a blogger you’ve got to have your regular blog posts – your birthday posts, your year’s end posts and so on. A holiday post has also become a staple. This year’s holiday post is more of more of the same than most given that we went to the selfsame place in France as we did last year. But we figured that it all worked so well last year that we would do it all again this year. It consists of a somewhat stressful stage of packing a load of crap into our car plus ourselves, crossing the channel by one of various means, driving through France taking the odd wrong turn, Fo and I shouting at each other until Fo realised I was right all along (I write the blog – she can gainsay this point through her own social media channels should she feel the need) while the children sail through the campagne blissfully ignorant of either the rising tension between their parents or of the cultural treasures of France that they are missing with heads stuck in their iPads. Then we arrive to copious wine and fromage and all is good in the world. Love is in the air entre Monsieur et Madame Baxter, there’s a swimming pool – what more could you ask for.
The only slight difference this year is that on the way home for our history detour we go to Orleans rather than Saint-Malo. For those of you following the history podcast I am doing with Otto you will be getting our live/not live episode about Joan of Arc and the siege of Orleans… soonish.
Sadly the weather was not so great, so we couldn’t spend quite as much time in the pool as Ava-Jane would have liked. The conversation goes like this:
Parent: shall we get out?
Parent: but you are blue and shivering.
AJ: more wim pool!
She tends to win these exchanges and to be fair to her she has not, to date, contracted pneumonia.
Less time in the pool did mean we had a little more time for exploring, which I love. Fo came up with a classic – Chateau Blasé. This is the chateau that you drive straight past because it barely has any turrets and everyone except dad has long had their fill of chateaux.
Beyond that there is not much to tell other than of waistlines driven ever outwards thanks to the French knack of putting butter and/or creme fraiche in every course from your moules to your crepes and in each of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Merci mes amis. With Brexit looming, we thought it wise to pack every nook and cranny of the car with wine, even though we decided, in the end, not to jettison a kid in order to fit more in. How long will we be able to continue doing this? Come March 2019, will it be back to an allowance of two bottles of wine as it is with the rest of the world? How can a decision that stops you ramming your car with plonk be anything other than a stupid f*cking idea? “Taking back control”, my ar*e! (I do hope the more sensitive among my readership appreciate my strategic use of the asterisk to spare your blushes. I hope that my profanities are entirely unrecognisable to your innocent eyes.)
Mini-rant over. But this summer, for me, has also been about reunions after many, many years with people who have been a massive part of my life.
First we had the visit of RoRo – I am not yet fifty so I can still call her RoRo and not sound like some kidult suffering from severe arrested development, my brother Toby, on the other hand, who is past fifty would just sound weird!! RoRo looked after us when I was three, so not recently! She came with us to Brussels and was a very important part of the family. My mum has stayed in touch with her and was in touch with her parents too but this was the first time I had seen her for years. It was great to be able to introduce RoRo to my own children. Oh, BTW, she is actually called Rosemary, and rereading this paragraph I realise I probably do sound pretty strange.
Next reunion was with Jakob, see below with gorgeous daughter Malaika. When I was eighteen I went to Argentina to work for the Baron and Baroness von Plessen to teach their son English in Argentina. My official title was “Private Tutor” but essentially I was an au pair – my teaching was very unstructured, it mainly consisted of playing around with Jakob, who was only ten years younger than me, and riding around on horses. Luckily Jakob was a bright kid and he picked up English pretty smoothly – he already spoke Spanish and German.
The year I spent with the von Plessens was an absolutely formative part of my life. It was where I first learnt Spanish. I was picked up from the airport by two gauchos, I didn’t know a word of Spanish at the time, so they taught me words for the things we could see out of the car window: horse, cow, tree (caballo, vaca, arbol), by the time we got to the house five hours later, I had these words pretty well learnt given that there is nothing much else to see on the pampa other horses, cows and the odd tree. It was here also that I had my first teaching English as a foreign language job, which would become the career I have followed in one way or another ever since.
So when I was sent to Buenos Aires for work, I decided to add on a few days to see if I could track Jakob down. I make this sound more of an adventure than it really was – he is on Facebook. It was great to meet him after thirty years and to see that he has grown into the adult he always should have been. He came to spend a summer with me in the UK when he was eight. We arranged for him to meet some Brit kids of his own age and he told them he had shot a wild boar, they naturally thought he was making it up but it was quite true. Jakob has continued to live on the wilder side of life. He organises horse trekking expeditions in Patagonia and Kenya and has broken almost every bone in his body tumbling off horses.
The chap below, Claudio, has never been my au pair, nor I his! But he was Jakob’s tutor, and Claudio was a proper tutor, after I left. We met very briefly when he dropped Jakob off at mine the following year. But then a decade later, in what felt like a different thread of the space-time continuum, I was introduced to an Argentinian guy on the street in some fiestas in Madrid by our late and very lamented friend Donald. It took us a while to work out the connection but Claudio, being the sharper of us two, suddenly exclaimed “That Luke!!” And we became great buddies and did quite a few more fiestas round Madrid over the years.
Claudio was surprised to see me without a beard so it has been a good few years since we last saw each other. Luckily we pretty much picked up where we had left off the last time ours paths had crossed and did lots of chatting over cocktails, wine, massive steaks and dulce de leche pancakes.
I do hope that Otto and Ava-Jane will stay in touch with all the lovely people that we have had here with us looking after them, the Boros and the Anders, Noemie and Jess and Emily who is here now. I think that it is such a special relationship, that bond between a kid and a young adult who isn’t a parent but is.
So all in all a very fine summer has been had so far. Great to come back to some British drizzle and know that things are as they should be.