Wednesday, September 11, 2013

France. And a tale of heaven and hell.

As I mentioned, in the middle of August Nye and I went to France for a few days, ALONE! I was photographing an anniversary party and he was driving me around, together we were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary somewhere in the middle. We were desperately looking forward to some time away together, something that we've done a few times since having the girls but always for weddings and always staying in a shitey budget hotel on a motorway and leaving first thing on the morning after work to get home and relieve our babysitters. This was the first time we were away for more than two nights and the first time we stayed somewhere beautiful. (No offence Travelodge M6). 

And my god, was it beautiful. The party was an hour east of Bordeaux and we stayed at a bed and breakfast about half an hour away, over the departmental border into Dordogne. We found it through Airbnb, my new best friend for finding Accommodation That Is Not Travelodge (not sponsored, I just think Airbnb is the bollocks). Pauliac is a traditional building renovated lovingly over the last 20 or so years by its owners. And I'm telling you, the one day that they left us alone in the building I was all for changing the locks and claiming squatters' rights (they definitely have those in France, socialisme) but I don't know the French for 'new locks please, very secure. Of course I have permission' and it would have been a crappy way to repay our hosts for such a gorgeous time. Besides, those shutters weren't exactly modern, I'm pretty certain that they could have got back in fairly easily. And they had a VERY big dog who I'm not sure was on our side. Anyway, my point was; I never ever wanted to leave. It was the perfect place to recover from the horror of what was the most stressful car journey in the history of car journeys ever and the perfect place to sleep away our 5th wedding anniversary under the trees. Which we needed after the journey there. 

As I said, we were there to photograph a party, so of course we had a camera bag in our suitcases. We got off the train at Lille and into the car we had hired which was waiting for us in the basement of a very smelly, very dark car park under the station. Walking to the car I slipped in what I thought was a puddle of engine oil (although actually, it's dawning on me that perhaps it was something a little more.... human.) I was already stressed and grumpy and hungry and hormonal and Nye had tried to make me go in the wrong direction in the train station and dammit if that doesn't make me want to kill people. So when I fell in the dark nasty car park and banged my knee I cried, like a toddler. When we got to the car Nye told me he would put my suitcase in the car, that I should sit down. I ignored him, figuring I could do it myself, but actually I couldn't reach so I just put it down beside the car and got in, where I cried and pouted and generally acted like a big baby. After a few minutes of faffing around behind the car Nye got in too. He gave me a hug, told me it was all okay and we set off on the 750km journey to the B&B. At km #375 Nye thought that maybe he might like his sunglasses, which were in my bag (you can see where this is going). We had stopped at a service station for sandwiches and I hopped out of the car to get his glasses out of the boot. My bag wasn't there. My bag, with £10,000 worth of camera equipment in it, was in a car park in Lille. Maybe. 

We turned around and too stunned to cry, talk or eat those sandwiches we had just bought we raced the 375km back to Lille. Through Paris at rush hour, through Lille without a GPS, tearing up at the train station 15 minutes before the car park closed and we split up to try a) the parking space we had left the bag in and b) the car hire terminal. Nye tried the parking space, I tried the terminal. It was at neither. And the guy at the eurocar terminal was frankly, an unhelpful dick. Vomit rising in my throat, blood draining from my head, I desperately banged on the door of the hertz office next door and the woman who was working there was, I am certain, an angel. An angel in a nasty polyester uniform, but an angel. Bemused she called the car park attendant's office (THERE WAS A CAR PARK ATTENDANT? We did not know this when Nye was dashing desperately from one parking space to the next like a sniffer dog on speed) and oh sweet Jesus, the bag, it was there. It had been handed in. I FUCKING LOVE THE FRENCH! And and and! My camera bag was still inside! Grinning and sobbing I snatched my bag back from the attendant and hugged it to me close. 'Anglais' the hertz woman said with a shrug. Whatever, they are both on my list of Favourite People in the Whole World. 

So then we turned around and drove right back again. At 3am we limped into a parking space outside Pauliac and crawled into bed. We spent the next 4 days sleeping and eating cheese. Which was nice.

On the way home as we were waiting for the Eurostar in Lille we decided to go for a walk and see if we could find any food. It was Sunday so of course we couldn't. And the whole of Lille spelled like piss, which was nice. We walked for an hour and finally slumped down on the concourse tired and hungry and without a sandwich. Nye took my camera bag which I'd handed to him earlier as my grumpiness got too extreme for carrying shit, and went to put it down. He paled. He looked at his hands in horror. 'Cara, Lille doesn't smell like piss, we do.' I'd put my camera bag down in a puddle of someone else's (that makes it worse, I swear) wee in a the car park at the train station. My bag was soaked through and we both had yellow streaks running down the backs of our white t-shirts. The camera bag went in the bin, the cameras were wiped with baby wipes, and thank the sweet lord, we were outside the only public toilet in France that held soap. But we still smelled like a stranger's wee all the way back to London. If the Hertz woman and the car park attendant are on my list of people I want to sit next to in heaven, that car park is on my list of places that I would like to watch burn to the ground. Damn that car park, damn it right to hell. But Vive le France. And the Hertz woman. And Pauliac. 


  1. You just cheered me up enormously.

  2. Yeay for happy endings...even if they are a bit pissy! Phew.

  3. Bloody hell!!!!!!!! I am so glad it was there. Sometimes the universe is not completely shite.

  4. Like I said, you are HILARIOUS. You should bottle this shit and sell it.

    And AirBnB is the dog's bollocks wearing the cat's pyjamas. It rocks.

    1. Also, I love these photos so, so much.

  5. I'm so sorry that happened to you, but the story was hilarious! and made me squirm a little from the grossness of the pee. ick!
    Glad you could enjoy some time in Dordogne!

  6. Holy beautiful photos, Batman. Also, God bless the Hertz woman and whoever handed your bag in. I've had that moment of, "Where's my bag?" "What bag?" "The bag you were meant to put in the car?" "Erm..." and frankly it's a miracle I'm still married, so congratulations on making it to your anniversary relatively unscathed (albeit fragrantly).

  7. What a story!!

    I am glad that all turned out well in the end.

    Are you drinking out of a jam jar in that one photo? Those are what we use for drinking glasses and people (guests!) always make slightly snobby comments about it, which really irks me. I feel somewhat validated seeing them being used as glasses in France, since most of the comments I've heard have been from French people.

  8. How do you manage to write realistically and not seem like you're whining? This blog is the perfect mix of real and beautiful. If I could bottle up the essence of what you do here and spray it all over the Internet, the world would be a better place. So happy you found your camera.

  9. Jeez. Sometimes life is a proper pain in the arse, or a wee trickle down your back. The place, however, is just the doozy, and you are one lucky girl to get that wee-wee bag back! Not sure why you needed the sniper rifle though.....?

  10. I love these photos. And am so glad you had a great time at the house but ick, ick ick ick ick on the hideous car park. Angels - whoever they were that handed in your bag and got you your stuff but ick ick ick ick ick ick ick.

    I shouldn't laugh but I am.
    It's not faeces but I'll take it.

    (and you didn't even have the girls with you as plausible deniability for the eau de pee?)

  12. Great blog and amazing pictures you have here. Thanks for posting and keep it up!

  13. I really like the photos on here they are so beautiful, I usually dont read blogs but this blog - wow i can read this over and over again :)

  14. Beautiful documentary photography!

  15. oh my oh my...I have just spent 1/2 an hour reading your posts when i really should have been busy doing something else!
    This story is hilarious....from the point of view of the reader as I am sure it is too you with hindsight?!!
    gorgeous blog glad i found you....via jmiss pickerings I think! I am now lost in blogland ....
    bestest to you and yours
    daisy j


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