Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The shortest day, or the longest?


Monday 21 December 2015

Winter solstice

10 degrees rising to 16

2.30 is not a reasonable time to wake up.  Apparently Margaret Thatcher ran the country, for years, on 4.5 hours of sleep a day.  I need 9 in order to get through the rest of the following day without needing a siesta.  Poked OH and he shuffled around like slug but was up to headless chicken state within about 40 minutes.  Finally set off at 4 am, the skies hung with stars as bright as baubles and threads of mist wrapping themselves around the car.

There is something to be said for driving in the dark.  Instead of looking through the window at views you have seen many times before, you look at the blank darkness, the glitter of approaching lights, the dark masses of trees.  In the night, you could be anywhere and it could be at any time in history.  No colour.  No reference points.  In the car, you are suspended in time.  The road snakes ahead, dull and grey and shadows bounce across the carriageways, sliced up into rays by the metal rails.

We stop for a sleep at about 7 am when it is still dark and then set off again and have done about 200 kms when the first glimmers of dawn start to illuminate the western horizon.  So many lorries.  We stop for breakfast at 10 am near the town which houses Futuroscope, a huge complex.  MacDonald's and OH fancies a burger.  I ask for a burger and am told that it is not possible to serve burgers because, at this time in the morning, the grills are reserved for breakfast.  There is no indication on any of the boards that breakfast is served.  We are given two buns containing tasteless bacon and rubber eggs.  Vile.  Coffee is very watery. Staff sullen.

We press on.  The land flattens out and mile after mile of agricultural land, rich brown earth, grass, cows.  Another sleep stop then OH requires refuelling so we go to Flunch in Le Mans. It is absolute chaos.  One man is attempting to cook steaks, burgers and fries for 20 people at the same time.  The chips are way behind the meat.  The customers are busy filing up on the free vegetables.  We lose 40 minutes in there.

Finally, and interminably, the journey is achieved and the pale chalk cliffs of Le Havre appear and it has taken 12 hours.  The ferry is buzzing in the harbour and we finally park on deck, shower, and fall into the bunks.  It is 5.30 pm.  The engines rev up and we edge out of harbour.  At first the motion resembles a brisk trot.  Not too bad.  People go to their cabins and become silent.  After an hour, the trot has turned into a gallop, there is rolling and pitching and sometimes it feels as if the ship has driven into a brick wall.  Three hours go by. We grip the sides of the bunks and wish it would all stop.

Waves are strange things.  They shape the water into flattened onion forms which roll forward, pushing the water before them and dragging the water after them.  No vacuums allowed.  Nature abhors them.  I imagined the boat on top of these massive forms; bobbing. Approximately ever seventh wave is the big one.  After four hours of rattling bunks, tikka tikka tikka tikka, clanging coat hangers, rattling bottles and howling of wind, things slackened off and we took some rest before the tannoy summoned us to the deck and we emerged gratefully into lovely, lovely England whose earth was solid and reliable.  To our hotel and sleep.