('One Summer in France' is the prequel to 'Bunny on a Bike')
Camping la Belle Sirène, was far more touristy than the Municipal Camping de Carcassonne, and much more up-market. It had proper tarmacked roads, a café, a crêperie, a shop, a pool, tennis courts and lots of happy campers.
‘What does Sirène mean?’ asked Carol, looking serene.
‘Mermaid,’ I replied.
‘And what does complèt mean?’ she eyed me, vitriolically.
I was proud of my superior knowledge of the French language. ‘Complèt means full.’
The world was a cruel place for people like us, who did not understand the wisdom of planning ahead, or making such things as reservations.
‘Let’s ask anyway,’ I said. ‘You never know!’
‘Sod it!’ replied Carol.
It was 2.00 and Anna said that there would be a free emplacement by 3.00, without electricity but with shade. The emplacement would cost twenty-two francs a night, more than double the cost of the previous campsite, but, as Carol pointed out, this was the South of Piggin’ France and there was ‘stuff’ to do that didn’t involve cats and dull old blokes.
I thought her assessment of Antoine and Cedric’s generous hospitality very harsh, but was secretly pleased to be in a younger, more lively place, even if it would make a hole in our daily allowance. We had ninety nights to go and 4,000 francs left, give or take. That meant we had just over forty-two francs a day. We were loaded!
Having set up our tent and kind of unpacked, we went down to the centre and made for the crêperie. I had a pancake with Nutella and ice cream and Carol had one with Marsala, which smelled nice. She wouldn’t let me try any on the grounds that I might like it.
The campsite was buzzing. People arriving, people leaving and people wandering in and out of the shop, pool, café, crêperie.
Then, at half past seven, everyone disappeared. We decided that we would buy a gas stove and cook some steak, so off we went to the supermarket, which was, miraculously, about to close also. Anna waved us in and went back behind the meat counter. She was a beautiful woman, we decided, with her short dark hair and her olive skin. We asked for some steak and she cut two thin slices from a larger piece, popping a sliver of raw meat into her mouth as she served us. We assumed she knew what she was doing. I wondered whether she might be a vampire.
‘Do you stay on the campsite all the time?’ I asked.
‘I have a tent with my husband just behind the café. We work the summer season and then go to the mountains.’
I had no experience of people working in this way and therefore had nothing very intelligent to add. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop me.
‘Is it an interesting place to work?’ I smiled, alluringly.
Anna looked at me as though I had just landed from another planet and didn’t understand the notion of a holiday wage or the concept of exploitation.
‘It’s ok. We manage.’ She smiled back.
Carol stood on my foot and said thank you to Anna, pushing me towards the exit and the remnants of the bread left over at the end of the day.
‘We need some ketchup,’ I protested.
‘No we don’t,’ said Carol, propelling me towards the checkout and away from Anna.
‘What’s the matter?’ I muttered.
‘You just told Anna her life was crap!’ she replied.
‘Yes, you did!’
When we got to the checkout, there was no one there. I whistled nervously and Carol scowled. Moments later, Anna arrived, slipping behind the checkout desk and putting our purchases through the till.
‘What does your husband do, Anna?’ I asked, before Carol had time to stop me.
‘He looks after the cleanliness of the campsite,’ she said, warily.
I was about to ask whether that meant he was a bin-man, when Carol blurted out that she had left her purse in the tent.
‘That’s okay, you can pay me tomorrow,’ smiled Anna, her teeth brilliant white, her expression radiant.
Outside, I pointed out that Carol’s purse was in her pocket, but she didn’t seem to care. I wondered what in the world had got into her.
We went for a swim before dinner. The pool was open late on Saturdays, so we were in luck. I wore my South-of-France-Dream-Goddess bikini, purchased from a local boutique in Hanley and chosen for it’s brilliant yellow and chain links at the front of the top and the sides of the bottoms. Carol wore a well-engineered, silky green number that brought out the colour of her eyes.
We sauntered into the pool area and had a look at the competition. There were a few glamorous women who were obviously older, richer and more interesting than we were, so we installed ourselves enticingly in one corner and waited for the single men on holiday at La Belle Sirène, to make their way over.
In the meantime, we became fascinated with the women and their complicated accessories for poolside life. They had stylish headwear, little skirts to cover up their cellulite, a range of garish jewellery and were wearing, as far as we could tell, copious amounts of makeup. They were dressed up to the nines and, unbeknown to us, consumed with envy towards the two very young and very pretty girls who were now giggling and dipping their toes in the water.
It didn’t matter how much I smiled at them, when I managed to catch one of their eyes, they looked as though they would like to kill me.
‘Do you think we have come to a private party?’ I whispered to Carol, eventually.
‘Nah! They’re just old and jealous,’ she replied.
‘Really?’ The thought that I had anything that they could possibly want had not occurred to me.
‘Yeah. We have no wrinkles,’ she said.
I looked more closely, and I saw what Carol meant. So, that was it. Well I never! And suddenly I remembered a line from a poem by Keats.
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty!’ I said to Carol.The look she gave me betrayed the fact that she was not a fan of classical poetry and so I smiled benignly and told her not to worry. It was just something I had read somewhere.
If you would like more of Carol and Bev, you can download one of my books now, by clicking on the direct links to Amazon at the top of this page.