I’ve always loved water. When I was six years old my mother packed us onto a ship to Queensland, Australia, where we stayed for just a year before returning to the UK. Whilst there we lived on The Strand in Townsville, in an apartment overlooking the beach and the Great Barrier Reef.
Although the tropical waters were gorgeous, the sea was so full of jellyfish, stonefish (something that scared me enough to not set foot in the sea) and shark that many people swam in the Tobruk Memorial Baths which were situated diagonally across from our apartment block and right next to the beach. It was there I learned to swim. I remember going to the pool as often as I could — for a while going early in the mornings for training — and throughout much of our time there I took part in competition races on Saturday afternoons.
Coming back to the UK pools were never quite the same, as they were all indoors and often much shorter than the full 50 metre-long pool in which I had learned to swim. So for much of my life my swimming has been sporadic and only recently have I got back into the habit of near daily swimming. Which really does feel good. And with every passing day my stamina builds and my stroke gets smoother. The only downside being the drying effect of chlorine on my skin and hair.
As it’s hot and humid here in Abrest today, we went for a mid-morning swim in the campsite pool, which felt glorious, but now I’m as hot — no, hotter! — than I was before my swim. I think, perhaps, I’ll jump in the pool again later for another swim, sometime in the early evening post-writing and pre-dinner.
One of the many upsides to swimming is, of course, that it’s a fantastic way to release the build-up of stresses and tension. Something we both very much needed these past few days, which were notable by a series of mini crises, one leading to the other — the kind that may not be too stressful in the normal course of events, but when you’re on the road and your only immediate resources are those things you have brought with you, the bumps in the road of life take on a whole different perspective.
I guess the story starts back in Hove.
A few days before we sailed from Dover to Dunkirk we were collecting a few belongings from a friend’s house (which we had deliberately left behind when heading over to Hereford). Somehow, in the short space of time between leaving our friend’s house clutching a bunch of things and arriving at another friend’s house, Sean lost a small bag containing his laptop charger, iPhone charger and a UK to EU adaptor. Over the course of the next couple of days we retraced our steps but to no avail, and ultimately had to let go of any possibility of finding it again. And so we replaced the chargers at a small computer/mobile phone store in Brighton.
A couple of weeks ago the charger started to become temperamental. It’s possible that either I dropped it too hard on the ground one day, or it was a cheap charger and not the HP one we thought we were buying. Either way, Sean was having trouble keeping his laptop charged. Last Friday it stopped working entirely and so he went against his better judgement and used his car adapter to charge his laptop. Twice. But it turns out that was two times too many and on Sunday we discovered the car battery was flat.
After getting a push start from a couple of guys camping on neighbouring pitches, we set off to drive the car for between the suggested 25 and 40 kilometres that would be sufficient to fully recharge the battery, which would have been okay except for one thing — we were low on petrol/gas. Since we couldn’t stop to car to refuel we pulled into a garage, engine running, filled up our petrol can with five litres of unleaded and popped it into the boot.
We then headed towards Gannat, all the while watching the needle drop lower and lower, knowing we couldn’t stop until we were reasonably confident the battery was sufficiently charged to restart the engine.
On the way back from Gannat (we didn’t actually go all the way there, just found a good place to turn back towards Vichy) Sean spotted an opportunity and pulled over onto a slip road on a hill, turned off the engine and put the contents of the five litre can into the tank. He figured that if the car didn’t restart I’d more easily be able to push it downhill to get going again. Fortunately for me, the battery had recharged so no pushing was required!
The following morning Sean checked his bank account and saw the balance was lower than expected. After some concern that the discrepancy might be the result of fraud, he spoke with a bank customer service rep who was able to see that the garage had debited approximately ten times the amount for the five litres of petrol we had bought the previous day. So how to rectify the situation and be reimbursed the difference?
Apparently the only way forward was to copy all paperwork (we had kept the receipt) and forward it, by snail mail, to the bank who would then open an investigation. From that point on it would be up to an additional three weeks before the refund would reach Sean’s account. And so …
The next day we returned to the garage, Google translated explanation in hand, hoping for some understanding and a refund. Fortunately, there were two helpful women in the office who read our explanation and immediately picked up the phone to speak with someone higher up. A few minutes later, in slowly articulated French, we were told that the difference would be credited back to Sean’s account the following day (today). Hurray! A much better result than going through the bank.
So what might have been less stressful had we been at home in England was much more so due to being on the road, staying on a campsite in a country where we don’t speak the language, beyond such phrases as “Excusez-moi, où est l’office de tourisme?”
And the one thing that kept us sane over the course of our weekend trials? Swimming.
Post-posting note: After publishing this I realised I had a more suitable image, and so I replaced ‘Stacked Logs’ with ‘The Road to Gannat’.