We spent three nights at the Neufchatel Aire. Partly to visit the vet for a wee embarrassing problem that Boo had developed, partly to sort out the storage in the underbelly of the van and partly to sit slack mouthed and stare into space. We also spent almost a full day on and off the phone to the bank. They had decided that our bank account was being used for illegal activity – probably the fact that the entire proceeds from our house sale went in and then went out again to a range of different savings accounts. This set off a stream of security alerts that concluded in us being blocked from using our own bank account. A little awkward when we were so far from home. It only took about four hours and some collateral damage from being forced to listen to their piped music but they fixed it in the end.
When we set off we had been so busy clearing the house that preparing the motorhome for takeoff had been lower on the priorities. One job that urgently needed doing was re-attaching the heating pipes that run from the boiler under the bed to different parts of the van. Putting stuff in the underbelly and shuffling it about had disconnected two of the pipes so that the only place that was really warm when the heating was on was under the bed. The job involved taking everything out of the underbelly, removing the mattress from the bed, lifting the bed base onto the leg that was thoughtfully provided but awkwardly positioned, to hold the bed up and then – the really unlikely bit – I had to climb inside the underbelly with some tacks and a small hammer and re-attach the pipes. Once in there I found a lot of dust, several used paper hankies fallen from the bedside, an old glasses case and some nasal spray. Sadly there was no money or anything else of value. Shirley helpfully handed me the small Dyson we carry with us so that I could do some housework whilst under there. I had some sympathy with small boys up chimneys at this point as I pondered the contortions I would need to adopt to get out again. Shirley, kindness personified, made encouraging comments and ran for her camera. She did try not to laugh though.
Flop Bot and Cracker Dog
If you were a fan of the James Heriot book series you will remember the lady phoning the vet saying that her dog had “flop bot” and had gone “cracker dog”. The lady’s dog had blocked anal glands. Boo has lots of problems with his anal glands. He has an unusually frequent need to get help emptying them and this unpleasant task involves either going to the vet or some vinyl gloves, kitchen towel and a retired midwife. I hereby forgive Shirley for not getting into the underbelly of the van as she is the one who gets into the underbelly of the dog – usually. Given the unpleasant nature of the task we might be forgiven for not attending to it regularly but when we’re away in the motorhome there is a disturbing side effect. His bum itches mercilessly, causing a nasty dose of flop bot and cracker dog. He worries at it most of the night, shaking the entire van and making unspeakably horrible slurping noises. It wakes us up and makes us a little nauseous. So if you’re not a dog owner you probably never will be after that discovery. Arriving in Neufchatel we found that Boo was a bit under the weather and rather sore in the nether regions, so we booked him in at the vet. This is our chosen French vet – the one we go to every time to get their passports stamped for re-entry to the UK, so they know us. The vet, speaking perfect English, dealt with the offending glands and prescribed some soothing cream. She then supplied Soresto collars – the ones we use to keep nasty ticks and biting insects away – and charged us a lot less than British vets for the same treatment. We were happy, Boo was happy and we all slept well that night.
We discovered something very interesting and rather touching when all this was going on. Normally, anywhere we take one dog, we take the other along. They are rarely separated. On this occasion Shirley offered to take Boo along to the vet and Poppy stayed behind with me. To my amazement, the normally quiet and calm Poppy was distraught after they left, whimpering and looking at me with pleading eyes and refusing small treats that I offered her. After about half an hour and a call from Shirley to say they were on their way back, I put her on her lead to go and meet up with them. In the distance I saw Boo look up, prick up his ears and rush towards us. A second later Poppy did the same and they met up in the middle, joyously licking each others’ faces and rolling about in delight. Shirley told me later that Boo had been so unwilling to go out without Poppy that she’d had to carry him part of the way and drag him the rest. We had no idea they were so attached. Sweet eh?
Reflections on emptying the loo
Whilst on the subject of bottoms I will share my thoughts on the chemical toilet dump at Neufchatel. The motorhome aire is very plush. Yes it’s a little expensive but you get a lot for your money. Free, fast wifi, a proper pitch with its own little lawn, unlimited electricity, a laundry, a shower and a state of the art motorhome service point. The CDP (toilet dump) is unlike any I have every seen before. It is made of stainless steel with shining, slanted sides, a strange base with small holes cut into the steel and a short hose with a fast flowing tap. The effect is attractive but a bit impractical.
Health warning: If you have a delicate disposition or are eating your tea whilst reading this stop here!!
Chemical toilet cassettes hold, by their very nature, solid deposits. These normally fly down the CDP and out of sight without causing the one who empties it any need to avert their gaze. In this flash and shiny model they don’t. They remain, waving merrily at you, and refuse to go down the holes. Your only option is to the use the aforementioned fast flowing short hose to fire at them until they submit and disappear. So I was taking aim with the hose, one fine afternoon, and reflecting on the fact that our entire stay in Neufchatel had been a bit bottom heavy, when I had a terrible thought. The slanting sides, so shiny and slippery, along with the force of the water aimed at sending them to goodness knows where, could easily cause one of these offending solids to shoot out of the CDP and out into the neatly manicured gardens, or worse, onto the beautifully paved path. The very thought made me shiver with horror. So I aimed the hose with great care and breathed a sigh of relief when all evidence of our visit was gone. Shirley was reminded me of a lyric from a Boney M song Show me your motion fa la la la la. Enough already with the bottoms.
Some culture to raise the tone and make us think
We left Neufchatel on Sunday and drove to Bayeux, stopping en route to indulge in our Sunday Bunday treat.
After visiting Battle in E Sussex to see the site of the Battle of Hastings, we thought we should complete the tour and see the Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story from the Norman angle. There are two motorhome aires in Bayeux, both within easy reach of the museums and the cathedral. We are using a new Sat Nav app on one of our phones and a small misunderstanding of how to put co-ordinates in led us not to either of the aires but to the very centre of the town on a Sunday afternoon when the whole world and its aunt were visiting the place. After circling the town square twice and realising that this was where the sat nav believed we wanted to be, we parked up, and got google maps to tell us the truth. Leaving the van in the square, trusting that somehow we would be able to get out again, we walked to the aire and checked the route before going back for the van. An overnight stay in Bayeux for a motorhome costs 4€ with no charge for parking during the day. We were surprised to find the parking area quiet and we pulled up behind an enormous RV complete with a motorbike. We were completely dwarfed by it and it led us to imagine how complicated it would have been for that big beast if it had accidentally ended up in the town square.
Bayeux is beautiful and rich in history, having both the famous tapestry depicting the battle of 1066, two other large museums, a stunning cathedral and cemeteries from both the First and Second World wars. Normandy has a sad and war torn past. Today in the 21st Century it is a symbol of the call to world peace. It was late in the afternoon on Sunday when we visited the Cathedral. The mixture of beautiful architecture, magnificent stained glass windows and beautiful Taizé chants playing quietly in the background in contrast with modern panels describing the many world conflicts through history and into the present day, is a stark reminder of how little progress has been made towards world peace.
The next morning we were up bright and early to visit the tapestry and, despite my ambivalence towards museums, to buy a ticket that gave us access to the Battle of Normandy museum.
The tapestry is incredible. Now well over a thousand years old, it’s intricate and clever depiction of the whole story of the conflict between Harold and William is, probably, a work of propaganda, created to convince both the Normans and the English that William was not really a bad sort and that Harold, misguided though he was, had been a pretty good egg too. The audio guides tell you the story as you walk slowly along the length of this massive tapestry helping you to see many things you would otherwise have missed. Afterwards a film show talks about the background and the struggle William had to be accepted once on the throne of England. A rather touching ending of the story came at the end of WWII when the archway at the cemetery says the following “We who were conquered by William have become your liberators” (translation).
We found the Battle of Normandy museum a bit of a let down after the tapestry. We were saddened by a slight air of triumphalism in the voice of the commentator as we saw pictures of dead German soldiers lying at the side of the road with exhausted British and American troops walking by, some sadly averting their eyes. There are no real victors in war.