Ralph in France

I spoke to Ralph last night, my Uncle Ralph, not my real uncle, but as good as – for decades Ralph, my dad, and the two Joyces were inseparable, the two Joyces worked together, they all entertained together, and every year we would holiday together, it was Ralph who taught all us kids to swim in Great Yarmouth, in the sea, simply by taking the time to get up at the crack of dawn each day of our holiday and watch over us as we struggled to stay on the surface in our armbands before the tide turned at breakfast time and we’d all go back to his caravan and have toast and hot tea and spread sand all over the carpet so he’d have to sweep the place out when we’d gone before Joyce got up.

And now Ralph is the only one left of those four and well into his eighth decade, we got to talking about those holidays and he reminded me of one incident in France around 1971 when we drove halfway down that country from Cherbourg with only our destination known to Ralph, he had no maps at all and only a vague idea of which side of the country we should be heading to – he followed our car like a limpet for twelve hours never daring to let us out of his sight.

But it nearly all went wrong as soon as we drove off the ferry for as Ralph reminded me last night, we in our car drove straight through the customs checkpoint but Ralph in his car was stopped when it was discovered that his green card insurance documents were wrongly dated, a French customs official directed him to a police officer and he was told to park on the dockside and wait there overnight until the next morning when his insurance would become valid, he did so and our dad returned to the docks to see what the problem was.

“Bugger that Ralph” was the solution, “Wait until they’re not looking then follow me” and we did, screeching off the dockside like a police chase form a bad copy of Steve McQueens “Bullit”, Ralph was in such a rush to get away un-noticed from the docks that he forgot that in France you drive on the right and went the wrong way around the first roundabout he came to, heading the wrong way up a dual carriageway, he had to do a quick 18o degreee turn in the road, holding up all the traffic to much tooting of impatient French car horns and all the time thinking “Don’t draw attention to yourself, you’re not bloody insured for this…”

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