To the British, who are brought up on a culture of home-ownership and with a continuous supply of DIY and gardening programmes which are drip-fed to them via a plethora of television channels, many European towns may appear bland and characterless. With properties which often front straight onto pavements and windows shuttered tightly against prying eyes and either the sun or the cold, houses can appear austere and foreboding.
I am always curious (or perhaps that should be ‘downright nosy’) to know what goes on behind the facades and a quick peep or a more resourceful strain of the neck will often reveal pretty courtyards with colourful plants and tinkling fountains, ultra-modern designer kitchens or rabbit runs of corridors and polished wood or marble. Unlike the British who often feel the need to parade their accomplishments and possessions, the Europeans are generally not too concerned with displaying their homes and instead focus inwards.
Le Touquet bucks the trend. Sitting on the coast to the south of Calais this town is jam-packed full of beautiful buildings. I defy you not to gasp as you approach the town along long tree-lined avenues. Tantalising glimpses of the most amazing homes can be caught between the trees, or for an even better look, get out of the car and walk. Away from the edge of the road, smaller secondary pavements weave and dodge between shrubs and trees and swoop past manicured lawns. From these inner paths you can gaze freely at verandas, swimming pools, statues and turrets. Just as you think that you have found THE dream home, an even grander property comes into view.
The Post Office
The older buildings nearer to the town centre set a precedence when they were built. The Post Office is housed in an imposing mustard yellow stone building, designer shops jostle alongside a huge array of delicatessens and the market place has permanent stone tables tiled with pretty mosaic all ready for the traders to set up their stalls.
Even the smaller properties boast little wooden verandas or arched windows with multi-coloured shutters. On the promenade these quaint little buildings are being elbowed into the shadows by the inevitable rectangular apartment blocks, but if these bring holiday makers and money into the town we must forgive this minor intrusion..
The beach is MASSIVE. And windy. Land yachts nip along the huge expanse of sand and the wind whips up the fine sand, blasting it into bare legs and stinging the eyes. A few resilient souls lean into the gale force wind clutching their coats and jumpers tightly around them and strongly suspecting that no matter what time of the year they were to visit, the wind would still howl along that particular stretch of coastline.
The market at Le Touquet
I visited two establishments on my visit this time. One rather posh bar cum coffee shop which doesn’t deserve a name check here and the English Bar called Le Globe Trotter. On entering both places I checked that I would have access to Wifi (as I needed to work on my laptop). In the posh, lets charge silly money for a hot chocolate place in which the fawning proprietor assured me that I could use his Wifi, the waitress looked extremely puzzled when I complained that I couldn’t access the net and informed me that they had never had Wifi for customers. I didn’t feel quite so bad when I managed to throw the contents of my hot chocolate over their pristine linen table cloths and I certainly did not tip. Le Globe Trotter in contrast, had a lovely atmosphere and despite being themed as an English bar was really quite French. There was the old lady sat in the corner with her little dog and drinking her coffee, the men reading their newspapers with their beers and the bar man polishing glasses and listening to the radio. I sat there in my booth for nearly two hours, taking my time over a couple of beers, working on my computer and watching the wind howl up and down the street outside.
Scarlet and the Golfers
Snow White – played by Scarlet Jones
The Seven Dwarfs – following the tradition of my blog they have been given alibis – which will also avoid the little problem of who should be allocated the name of Dopey.
- Golfer Number 1
- The Professor
- The Jezter
- Fast Car Driver
- Tango Man
Once upon a time, early one morning, huddled in a driveway in the Kentish drizzle, Scarlet was introduced to the Seven Dwarfs. Cupping mugs of hot tea the group re-established old acquaintances with insults and jibes
I already knew four of the dwarfs and I was relieved to discover that the other three were just as nice, all with the same crazy sense of humour. Downing our mugs of tea we piled into the cars and set off at a rate of knots for Dover and the ferry. The duo in the fastest car with the satellite system promptly ignored directions, separated from the convoy and set off along the wrong motorway in what was to be the norm for the whole week. Despite having the satellite system they continuously sped away from the convoy – not so bad in the UK but it would be a bigger problem in France with no road maps between the group.
We managed to meet up at the ferry port and got ourselves on-board for the crossing and the subsequent drive down through the foggy French countryside to the tiny hamlet of Manninghem near Montreil-sur-Mer – about an hours drive from Calais.
our little pad in the French countryside
Golfer Number 1 had struck gold with the gite. Sleeping up to sixteen there was ample room for the eight of us in the rabbit warren of rooms, which included a games room with billiards table and table football, four bathrooms a huge kitchen and large gardens. We excitedly explored the farmhouse accompanied by much swearing as we repeatedly bashed heads and other parts of our anatomy on the low beams, narrow staircases and jutting chimney breasts.
Five of us then piled into the fast car for what should have been a twenty minute jaunt to the supermarket but turned into an epic hour and a half tour of the area. My sides were aching from laughing as we hurtled up lanes only to find ourselves coming back on ourselves ten minutes later. The Professor disappeared into a church for ten minutes – claiming he went to ask the priest for directions but we reckoned that he popped in a quick confessional whilst he was in there, he took so long. I would like to know how ‘go straight along this road’ computed as ‘turn right’ to Fast Car Driver but myself, Gel and The Jezter who were all squooshed into the back couldn’t speak for convulsing with laughter, whilst in the passenger seat The Professor tried to hold it together as kamikaze oil tanker drivers attempted to shave off layers of paint as they hurtled past us. We finally found the supermarket (the wrong one as it later turned out) and bought provisions of milk, bread, nibbles crates of beer and wine to keep us going until I cooked the dinner.
That first meal of chilli, rice and nachos was surprisingly edible and to my surprise they wolfed down the lot. Maybe they were just starving after a long day but I shall credit it to mine and Tango Man’s cooking skills. The guys all settled down for an evening on the Wii – until The Professor realised that he had left a small but vital piece of kit home. Personally I reckon his kids hid it from him in retaliation for him taking their Wii away for a week but without the Wii everybody settled down, dotted around the huge living area in groups, listening to music, chatting and playing card games. Tango Man who towered above everybody else and was very much a man’s man commented on the work of art that was the lace curtains and provoked a conversation among some about the art of lace-making. I felt as if I had been dropped into a surreal parallel universe.
Tango Man – his identity has been preserved
The next morning with Gel announcing that the monsters in the shower were not spiders but housemates, Tango Man, much to my disgust, produced an amazing breakfast as he set the bar very high for subsequent days. They took ages loading the car with the paraphernalia that goes with golf and eventually set off to their first golf course. I was disappointed to discover that there was no internet access, but after tidying the farmhouse and prepping the tea I settled down to my writing. Later in the afternoon I welcomed them back with cold beers at the ready as they hi-ho’d their way home after a long day on the greens. It only needed bluebirds and butterflies fluttering around my head to complete the scene.
After dinner on that second evening the living room resembled a nursery school with the guys fighting and jostling for place in front of the TV as England were due to play. If anybody dared to go and fetch another beer or pop to the loo, their seat was taken as everybody dived for better viewing positions. Eventually, fed up of being relegated to the corners, The Professor, Golfer Number 1 and Sneezy moved the table out of the way, picked up one of the sofas and plonked it right across the middle of the room. Bearing a loose resemblance to a cinema, they were now all relatively happy. Fast Car Driver and The Jezter cosied up in the back row and they all settled down with their beer and nibbles to jeer rowdily at the screen, breaking at halftime for snacks of cheese, crackers and more beer.
The following day I was allowed out of the house and I went with them to the golf course at Le Touquet. I had visited the town a couple of years before, having rented a gite in the same area one Christmas, so I walked the three kilometres into the town from the golf course, feeling like Little Red Riding Hood rather than Snow White as I wound my way through a little path in the forest to the town.
The beach at Le Touquet
Avoiding the wolves I arrived safely at Le Touquet and reacquainted myself with its little shops and the enormous expanse of beach where land yachts were charging around in the howling gale and then after spending fifteen minutes in the street stealing wifi from a butcher’s shop I went and found myself a bar. Following the example of the French, I ordered a beer and sat at my laptop, pleased to have found free wifi, and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately, beer on a (mostly) empty stomach got the better of me so when the dwarfs finally tracked me down after their game of golf they were not too hopeful of a decent evening meal. I think that I managed to amaze them by holding it together until after the meal but I vaguely remember being fleeced of my euros as they took advantage of my lack of concentration during the card game Chase the Ace, however it is best to gloss over the rest of the evening!
Attempting to produce a full English breakfast for eight with a storming hang-over was not the wisest move but I made it without the vodka making a re-appearance and I quickly packed them all off out so that I could have some peace and quiet and could lie down in a dark room.
This was to be Golfer Number 1’s pretend birthday (his official one was to be the following week) so I hung some balloons up and stuck some candles into some little buns on a plate and once they had all arrived back we decided to go to the local motel/pizzeria for a meal. My choice of fashion – a maxi dress and flowery baseball boots – was met with complete derision by these obviously not so men’s men as we set off down the road but I had the last laugh when we had to stumble back home along the lane in the pitch black.
The dwarfs’ final day on the green started off quite damp and drizzly. I remained home, cleaned the gite and made a warming beef stew for their dinner. We received our security deposit back the next morning and we set off in convoy for the ferry port – making a detour via Wimeraux to collect a refund of some golf fees which had been overcharged earlier in the week.
Following a group hug we all got into our respective cars for the final leg home in the UK. I had a brilliant week with a fantastic group of blokes and I was very sorry to leave them as we said goodbye but after just one night in Kent I would be setting off for Stanstead airport early the following morning.