Saturday – the start

The alarm sounded at 02:30, a time at which I am more used to heading to bed rather than rising from it.  I shook ‘Er Indoors awake.

“Wassa amat oo?” she said, eloquent as ever.  “Has the alarm gone off”

“Yes, light of my life, at half past stupid o’clock as you wished.  Isn’t it curious that we say the alarm has gone off, when it clearly comes on?”

She ignored my incisive and witty conversation and staggered off to the bathroom as I made my way to the kitchen.  If I was to drive I would need a fix of tea.  Then we swapped stations until, just after three, we were ready for the off.  I programmed the car park post code into my phone and the sat nav app guided us towards our point of departure.

As we neared the airport I relied on ‘Er Indoors to supply the final navigation, as the whole site has a single post code.  I had also committed the directions to memory.  Now, in my defence, I did not have the directions in front of me, that was her job, and it was still very early in the morning.  Consequently we found ourselves stuck in a line of traffic approaching the drop-off point, amidst building work to make our journey more pleasant (we’re sorry for any inconvenience).  I slowly wound my way past tearful farewells, out the other side and round again.

“We should have turned left,” said the love of my life, five minutes after it would have been useful to know that.  I turned left.  “Oh, not this one,” she said, as we pulled into a hotel car park.  “The next one.”

“No problem, my angel,” I said, smiling.  Well, my teeth were showing.  Let’s call it a smile.

I pulled into the airport car parking lot and parked the car in the required lane.  It appeared quite a lot of people had decided to head off to the sun at stupid o’clock.  I left ‘Er Indoors by the bus and entered the reception area.  I handed over my reservation and key, the receptionist handed me the receipt.  Inside a minute I was back outside again.

“Oh no.  It’s the wrong place, isn’t it,” she said.  Have you not read the previous chapter?  Who’s stolen my drink, remember?

“No, Princess.  It’s all hunky-dory.  Let’s get on the bus.”  We boarded the bus, heaved our hand luggage onto the rack and sat down.  Within minutes we were at the South Terminal.

“This way,” I said, for I am a man, and a man always knows where he is going.

“But it says Easyjet that way,” she said.

“Yes, Precious, but that’s for those that need to check in and who have hold baggage.  We have our boarding cards already, and we don’t have hold luggage.  We can head straight for the bleep-bleep machines.”

“Okay,” she said, doubt not so much dripping as pouring from her voice.  We made our way to the bleep-bleep machine, where she finally entrusted me with my own passport and boarding card.  We went through the bleep-bleep machine.  ‘Er Indoors has a phobia about these.  She is convinced they make the machines bleep whenever she goes through, just so the butch security woman can pat her down.  This time we passed unbleeped.  Not so our luggage.    “Wait a minute!  Why have you got your laptop?”

“Um, well, there’s free InterWeb, and I thought we could research online things to do, and check our flights home, and stuff like that.”  Her look was one that was not exactly encouraging.

While one guard tested ‘Er Indoors’ collection of liquids another wiped the inside of all my backpack’s pockets.  He rifled my carefully packed contents.

“A travel iron?” he said, looking inside a small bag.

“Yes, God forbid foreigners should see me in a wrinkled shirt,” I said.  “Or old shirts,” I added, as he picked up shirts still wrapped in plastic.  He smiled.  He obviously had an ‘Er Indoors of his own.

It appeared that neither of our bags had been in contact with illicit chemicals and we were allowed to proceed (after I had surrendered my boarding card and passport back to ‘Er Indoors.  I am not to be trusted, it appears.  I wonder how I ever manage to travel on my own).

It was now 04:20.  We had passed through the whole process in minutes.  We located our flight on the departure board.  Good.  No delay or cancellation.

“The gate doesn’t open till 06:20,” said ‘Er Indoors.  “I thought it was 04:40.”

“No, ma Cheri.  The check-in opens at 04:40, but we checked in over the InterWeb.  That’s why we could go direct through the bleep-bleep machine.”

“You mean we’ve got two hours to wait?  We could have had another hour in bed?”

I showed her my teeth again.  We bought a newspaper and waited.

The gate opened a little before time.  When we boarded the plane the row by the emergency exit was unoccupied.  My six feet three frame rejoiced.  We settled in.

“This is the captain.  I’m afraid we’re scheduled for a little delay.  Air traffic has scheduled us for a 07:05 slot.  My apologies.”  I have yet to be on an Easyjet flight that took off on time, but they’ll charge you if you’re a minute late.

But as it was, we took off just before 07:00, and landed at Montpellier on time.  We skipped past the tourists waiting by the luggage carousel, trying unsuccessfully not to look smug.  We found the bus stop.  We had just missed the bus.  The next was an hour later.  Stuff it, I had Euros burning holes in my money belt (not all our Euros, of course, but as much as I could be trusted with).  We took a taxi.  Like taxi drivers the world over, he drove at breakneck speed, casually holding the wheel in one hand.  The sensation of imminent death was enhanced by the fact they all drive on the wrong side of the road.

He dropped us off at the hotel, corporeally intact.  We walked into the reception, smiles present and baggage wilting.  Check in was at 14:00, but we could we drop out luggage off.

First was the tourist office.  We walked along the magnificent Antigone pedestrian precinct.  The sky was overcast, despite all my predictions of blue skies and unbearable heat.  In the Place de Comedie (how can you not love a place whose central square is called that?) market stalls littered the square.  ‘Er Indoors’ eyes lit up.  As we walked through the place a group of people debussed from the tram, a variety of mainly brass instruments in their hands.  They took up their instruments and launched into an enthusiastic recitation.

“Is this a flash mob?” said ‘Er Indoors.

“No, it’s just Montpellier,” I replied.

We wandered along tiny medieval streets, lined with boutiques.  I found a cafe I’d eaten at six years previous.  We ordered beer, with me showing off my perfect French.  The pretty waitress immediately divined we were English (how, I don’t know, as my French is without fault).  Afterwards, refreshed, we made our way to the pumping station.  Now, anywhere else you would be correct in asking, what the heck?  But this is the south of France.  The pumping station is like a monument, and the aqueduct a marvel.

Afterwards we meandered through the municipal gardens.  Formal layouts gave way to natural-looking conglomerations of vegetation.  Turning a corner we came across a bamboo grove, the trunks clunking against each other in the Mistral.  We turned another corner and I swear the man seated on a bench was Gandulph.

We started back towards the Place de Comedie, or L’Oeuf, as we locals called it.  We came across the huge cathedral, where a couple were getting married.  I called out, but it was too late.  The groom had already been suckered into it, and it was all over bar the rice.

The next square held another fanfare band, different people but the same joi de vivre.  I wonder what that is in French?  Another square, and yet another fanfare band, this one all dressed in a uniform that consisted of red and blues, with skirts.  The men in particular looked very fetching.

We hit the Office de Tourisme again.  It was to be an almost daily thing.  We bought tickets for a walking tour on Sunday, grabbed yet more leaflets and looked for lunch.  This was France.  Not just France, but Mediterranean France.  What would our first taste of this gastronomic centre of excellence be?

After our burger and fries we returned to the hotel.   It was 14:10, but our room was not ready.  Twenty minutes.  Have a coffee.

When our room finally became available at 15:00 I was almost asleep on my feet.  They gave us our card keys and the wi-fi password and we ascended to our third-floor room.

Or rather, our suite.  “Yes, I’m famous,” I told her.  “They’ve upgraded us.”

“No they haven’t.  They’re all suites.  Why haven’t we got a balcony?”  Oh, she can be so ungrateful sometimes.

“I am just going to test the bed for five minutes,” I said, as the air-con kicked in.

I awoke at 19:00.  Oh come on.  Up at stupid o’clock, remember?  We headed out for a bite to eat.  Tired and hungry, we forwent the excitement and mystery of a restaurant hunt and opted to go to the end of Antigone by the river, where a dozen restaurants nestled together.  ‘Er Indoors ummed and ahhed over each one, wincing at the prices.  We settled on an Italian restaurant.

“I’m not that hungry,” she said.  “I’ll just have a salad for starters and a pizza.”

The salad arrived.  I don’t know how many fields died to populate the plate, but the apple of my eye (and lettuce and cabbage as well) looked aghast.  “That’s bigger than a main course.”

She managed to struggle through it, though.  The pizza was no smaller.  Welsh crofters could have used it as a coracle, and still have room for a sheep.  It was too much.  We had to take half of it home in a take-out box.

We sauntered slowly back to our apartment.  As night fell and the street-lights game on, families with small children wandered along the precinct.  Back home they’d all be safely locked away by seven, but the climate and the attitude here gave us a sense of safety and well-being.  I grinned.  I hadn’t dreamt it all.  This was going to be a magic place.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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