Sunday, July 21, 2019

My Log 746 July 20 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 181:On another holiday in a different year, tragedy struck in France; and I had to face the things a little kid can do to you, in order to make it back home

 I had quite a lively reaction to my innocent last piece about taking a
holiday by cycling around France on a tandem in 1952. So I am
encouraged to tell one more story about a very different sort of
holiday in France, exactly 10 years after the first one.

My wife Shirley and I had emigrated to Canada in 1954, and in 1960 I
had been sent back to London to work as the correspondent in London
for a Canadian newspaper. In that first year back we established a
pattern of taking a summer month off and going over to France,
although now we had a car, and a bigger tent. Of course in our
non-unionized newspaper there was no such thing as a negotiated
holiday or  wage. You took what you were given,  but the accepted
thing was for most employees to be granted a couple of weeks off. I
never announced my departure for a month, but I took care that they
wouldn’t object by providing them in advance with a stream of op ed
page pieces, enough  keep them quiet during the dog-days of summer,
until I got back. They never made any complaint about my longer
holidays, perhaps realizing that if they did complain, I was the type
who might be quite likely to quit.

We’d been trying for some years to produce a family, by way of various
revealing tests of my frankly inadequate spermatozoa, requiring the
swallowing of oceans of some thick white gooey stuff,  and by 1961 we
were graced with the birth of a lovely, healthy blonde little  boy,
whom we called Ben.  When he was two months old my wife took him off
to New Zealand to show to her parents, and while she was away I awoke
one morning with a slight hangover, decided on the spot to go to
France, went out and bought a bicycle, and spent a month or so cycling
around the region of the Loire valley. I ended that trip in the
campground of a charming little village called Sillé-le-Guillaume,
midway between Alencon to the north and Le Mans to the south. I became
so well-known in the village shops that I felt I had made some
friends, and the next year when we took off for France with our  16-
month-old son, I headed straight for that beautiful village, which lay
in the Sarthe region, just on the edge of Normandy.

To our intense surprise --- Shirley was older than me, approaching
what was thought of in those days as the upper years of child-bearing
--- she became pregnant again, and we spent our holiday driving around
the Sarthe region. Sarthe is one of the lesser-known regions of
France, not really a magnet for tourists. But we loved the countryside
and the ancient towns and villages. We were slightly worried that the
small country lanes we favoured tended to have bumpy surfaces, but we
were never in a hurry, and took it easy.

Nevertheless, one night, disaster struck. Shirley was having severe
pains, enough for me to rouse the camp guardian who ordered an
ambulance from Le Mans, 32 kilometres away, and off we went, Ben and I
racing along behind in our car, until she was safely installed in a
hospital. She had a miscarriage, but, although deeply upset,  had the
best of care in a spotlessly clean hospital run by nuns, who not only
provided her with typically excellent French food, but allowed her a
glass of red wine with each meal.

So, this is how the care, cleaning and feeding of my little boy fell
to me for almost a week, a bit of a challenge to a guy who had never
taken much part in that, partly because his mother, surprisingly
arrived at that status, was severely delighted at her various wifely
tasks.  I think I managed it as well as could be expected, considering
we were only camping, and did not have all mod cons at hand. and we
fell into a pattern over the four or five days they kept her in
hospital, of driving back and forth to Le Mans every day to visit, and
I became even better known to the female shop keepers as the man who
had that beautiful little boy in tow everywhere I went.

The doctor strongly advised against us driving back home, suggesting
we take the train instead. On the morning of her release from
hospital, therefore, I had a lot to do. First get the boy up and
dressed in his best clothes for the trip. Then, prepare and serve
breakfast. Then, dismantle the tent and everything in it, wrap and
pack every thing methodically (since method is essential to campers),
and store it in the trunk of our English-style sedan. That was a
time-consuming business, working alone, but I started it all early, as
I always do, giving myself plenty of time for the drive to Le Mans,
the finding of the railway station, and the despatching of my car to
London by train. Then we had to take a taxi to the hospital, collect
my wife and go to the station to take the train to, unless memory
betrays me, Calais, more than 420 kilometres to the north.

My way through this obstacle course was made more difficult by the
malfunctioning of the lock on the car’s trunk. However much I strained
at  shoving in all my gear into the trunk --- tent, sleeping bags,
cooking equipment, suitcases full of clothing, the non-perishable
items of food ---, the lock would not attach, so I had repack
everything in the back seat. It was quite hot at that time of year,
and by the time I finished all this I was bathed in sweat.

Finally it was all done. I turned my attention to my precious little
boy, who had been sitting quietly in his stroller all this time, and
there is only one way to describe what I found: he was covered in shit
almost from head to toe.

Woe is me. Lamentations! But nothing for it: I had to unpack new
clothing, take him to the washroom and clean him off  thoroughly, wash
the dirty clothes, and then, deciding to put at least some of my stuff
in the trunk,  struggle again to secure the locks as before.

Eventually we set off for Le Mans, world-famous for its 24-hour road
race. It was a bit of a race against the clock, but we managed it all,
and presented ourselves complete with wife and mother in time to catch
the train.

I have never been totally convinced it was necessary to take the
train. I believe that by driving  slowly and carefully on the
well-paved major roads I could have got us to Dieppe without mishap,
but who am I to argue against doctor’s advice?

We never expected Shirley, at the age now of 41, to have another
pregnancy. Before Ben was conceived, we had applied to adopt, which
resulted in her becoming pregnant within two weeks (a common enough
occurrence in these circumstances, I believe).  So we decided that
since there was a baby out there somewhere we could have adopted, we
should go ahead and adopt a brother for our little Ben. That is how we
got our son  Robert into the family. And lo and behold, not long after
the adoption my wife became pregnant again, and we found ourselves
looking after three small boys, Ben, Robert and Thom, separate from
each other in age by only about three years.

We had so little reason to regret having lumbered ourselves with these
three children that a few years later we adopted a small girl who was
so beautiful that we called her Belle. Thus did we make our itinerant
family into a quartet --- born in England and Canada, raised through
childhood in London, Montreal, and Auckland, New Zealand and in the
later stages for two of them in the United States, a family with
antecedents  from  four nation-states, and with a touch of blood
inherited from three separate races. They are all grown now: a rock
and roll musician, a criminal lawyer, a screenwriter, and a
businesswoman, angling to become the Kombucha Queen of Central

I will end with one of the biggest cliches in the book: you don’t know
the full scope and weight of being human  until you have had your own
children. Of course they can be pains in the ass from time to time, as
you can be to them, but I have only one response to that:

 Wot the hell? Wot the hell? What else is life all about?

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