Dusk was falling as we arrived at the camping site, we barely had the time to get the tent up and a hot drink made before the night clouds arrived, and shockingly chilly air descended. After the warmth of the sunny day, we were brought back to the reality that it was still Spring, early in the year and weeks away from Summer!
Everything we could carry had been packed into the car, including three extra sets of clean clothing each. We gradually put on most of our extra clothing until it became obvious that we could not beat the cold night air! So, we gave up and went to bed, that is, we climbed into our sleeping-bags still wearing a full set of top clothing each! We lay in the cold, pitch-black darkness quietly talking about our broken dreams, it was a moment of truth we had not anticipated. I know I silently cried, I have no doubt my menfolk wept too. It’s something we have never spoken about, we each need to hold onto every shred of pride and self-esteem we have.
The following morning, it was still dark when we woke up and started the day’s necessary activities. It was cold, so very cold. We scurried around, trying to keep warm while we automatically prepared breakfast, took turns to watch the pan of hot water on our single camping-stove, and visited the shower-block to complete our ablutions. As the first warm rays of sunshine started to appear over the grapevine planted hill in front of us, we sat on huge boulders facing the welcome warmth, with steaming cups of hot tea in our cold hands.
We take so much for granted during our lives, I have been no different to many. But, since that early May morning in 2008, I have welcomed each and every sunrise with the thought, and very often the spoken words, “We have survived another night.”
Almost five months of glorious sunshine, walking on the beaches, visiting relatively busy coastal towns and tiny inland villages as they seemed to stretch, yawn, wake up and come alive for the season. We watched the crowds increase in volume as Spring gave way to early Summer. We spent the first week at Manjastre, then we started moving along the coast towards Nice, camping on the cheaper, although not cheap, municipal camping sites with their pristinely clean shower-blocks and washing facilities. Gradually, we relaxed and started to enjoy this magnificent country, its culture and history, its wide open spaces and beautiful countryside. I have travelled extensively during my life, but France is the only country where I want to spend the rest of my life. Despite our ongoing ordeal, my menfolk feel the same as I do.
Every month, we travelled back to the house in Champagnac to collect mail and to ensure the building was still standing! Each time, we spent at least two nights in a Premiere Classe B&B hotel en route, ensuring that we did not need to stay overnight in the house that can never be our home. We remained in contact with our avocat, via emails and telephone calls, throughout. There was never any news for us.
Our savings were dwindling, camping is not the cheap adventure of yesteryear, fuel and vehicle repairs can empty pockets and wallets without too much trouble at all. But, a severe storm warning sent us from our tent into a chalet on a mobile homes camping site, on the opposite side of Toulon from Manjastre. More about that on the next page!