Saturday, 23rd July 2011
It was with an overwhelming sense of relief that I finally got into the passenger seat of a car packed to the gunnels on Saturday afternoon. The last job was done, the last thing thought of - and for anything else it was too late. I was officially on my way to holiday.
The journey down to Portsmouth was mercifully unremarkable - free of the dramas of flat tyres and broken down cars or horrific traffic jams all conspiring to make us miss the ferry. No, we managed to get to Portsmouth with half an hour in hand in which to enjoy a quick drink at a sun-kissed bar and write two important birthday cards (to my parents) and get them in the post. Finding a letter box around the absurd set of dual carriageways and one-way systems which beset the area around the ports proved more testing - another scraped alloy wheel as I pointed to a red pillar down a side road and N attempted some sort of emergency stop in two lanes of traffic. Much squabbling later we finally found our way back to it, having abandoned that first attempt; it was sited outside the Naval Acadamy which was looking decidedly shut and deserted up the dead-end street, rather like the post box. It also said on the little plaque that the next collection was, somewhat inexplicably, Tuesday. Still, I threw caution to the wind and chucked them in anyway before we missed the ferry.
Safely on board, we then found we couldn't open the boot any more. This was going to make unpacking the car at the other end somewhat tedious, but we left that as a problem for another day and went, under slight pressure from the crew to leave the car deck, to find our cabins. Needless to say, we always book too late to get any with a window but since we go straight to eat when we get on board, and in St Malo it's always raining, this does not strike us as a loss.
So, overnight bags deposited, we headed off to the 'posh' restaurant, always citing the first time we used this ferry crossing four years ago when we had the blow-out on the motorway and caught the boat by the skin of our teeth, falling on the maitre d' of the restaurant with a certain lingering desperation in our eyes. He responded and found us a table and it was one of the best meals we've ever had - purely because of the relief of being there, eating good food and drinking good wine, after the stress we had undergone to reach that point. This being the fourth year running, of course it doesn't now hold the same thrill, but nevertheless it marks the start of the holidays and it is always good to go out on deck and watch Portsmouth recede under a pink-hued sky. Such fleeting freedom from domesticity is always a moment to relish.