Yes, I know it's been a long time. Almost six months in fact since i lasted posted anything. No excuses i have just been lazy, unmotivated, distracted. Whatever. Anyway, its a new year and i am full of beans and raring to start back hammering those keys again. (OK, I know its 28 days into the new year. I had a hangover OK?)
Right where was I....erm........ Oh thats right, Kayaking on the Dordogne...........
St.Emilion proved to be a lovely place to spend our holidays. The campsite was excellent with great facilities and the sun shone everyday. The town of St.Emilion is old and picturesque but overall rather dull. If you don't believe me try visiting the 'pot museum which for 8 Euros apiece you can kill your senses by strolling around a warren of damp cellars looking at ancient earthenware like some kind of pre-historic Tupperware party. If only one had some pot to smoke during the tour it might have been bearable.
Not surprisingly the town is dominated by wine merchants all vying for the tourist Euro. On our first full day in town we fell for the charming patter of an Aussie salesman who somehow managed to cajole us into his shop for a tasting session. He did his best to hide his New World roots, refusing to answer any questions about his origins, possibly thinking we would not want to buy fine French wines from an Antipodean upstart. I must say he was very good though and after only thirty minutes we left with an appreciation of the St.Emilion appellation and five Bottles of Grand Cru which cost 160 euros. In true Bury style we drank the five Bottles warm with Barbecue burgers later that evening.
A couple of days later we took "The Duke" for a spin and found a CarreFour supermarket in a nearby town where Andy was delighted to find he could buy a bottle of Cote Du Rhone for a measly 1 euro 30. For the rest of the holiday (and beyond) every time we had a glass of wine he would take great joy in declaring,
" One euro thirty. We could have bought more than a hundred bottles of this with the money we spent on the five bottles of fancy shit and you can't tell me it was ten times better let alone a hundred times better than this."
Nic and I invested in a game of Yahtzee at the supermarket. It was one of those sets with a plastic bowl and cup to shake and throw the dice in. It was great for ensuring you didn't lose the dice but made us very unpopular with the rest of the site when the rattle of dice woke up babies all around us as we grimly saw out the game in the wee small hours. In a spirit of good neighbourliness and to allow Andy to do a bit of night fishing we spent one night down by the lake playing by dim torchlight beneath a flurry of bats. When the game was over we left Andy to his fishing and retired to tents calling at the bins on the way to dispose of our carrier bag of empties and rubbish. Next day Andy and Nic spent a fruitless 10 minutes scrambling around in the bin trying to find our carrier bag which turned out to have contained Andy's very expensive wraparound sunglasses and my copy of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones book which i had lent him. Obviously it was most annoying to discover the rubbish had already been collected, after all that book cost me 3.99.
It was during a drunken session of yahtzee or cards that Andy mentioned he had seen a notice advertising Kayaking on the nearby Dordogne and we all agreed it sounded like a fun thing to do.
The Kayaking centre appeared to be run by a group of twelve year old boys . Having never done it before I should have been worried when their safety training simply involved asking if we all could swim. We were issued with a bright yellow Kayak which we carried down some steep steps and plonked in the river. After a wobbly embarkation we set off into the middle of the river where it suddenly struck me i had no idea which way we were meant to be going. Luckily Andy had asked for directions and he and Vanessa stormed of down stream with a purposeful and clearly well practiced stroke. We struck out for the centre of the placid, gently flowing Dordogne river and i allowed my imagination to wander. I was Nathaniel of the Long Cararbine' and Nicola my Cora as we fled the evil Magwa from The Last of The Mohicans.
At first the whole thing seemed a doddle and we fell into a perfectly timed steady rhythm which propelled us nicely along. Unfortunately, this lasted about two minutes as my over enthusiasm to escape Magwa caused me to paddle much harder than Nic resulting in us spinning completely around and heading back to whence we had come. We never really recovered from that point on and our teamwork and coordination fell apart like Man City's back four. We managed to turn a two hour 8km beginners jaunt into a fraught foul mouthed four hour 12 km zig-zag from bank to bank. At least twice i had to clamber knee deep into the muddy river bank to push us out of the Lilly pads amongst which we had beached. Nicola kept up an increasingly frantic and virulent diatribe of commands and demands,
"'Row on the left. Now."
"Not that hard"
'John, for God's sake stop paddling so hard'
"stop we're going in the wrong direction"
"Fishermen. Watch out for the Fisherman"
"Will you just fucking leave it to me!!!"
All the while we could see Andy and Vanessa drifting further and further from sight. Their laughter carrying on the gentle summer breeze mocked our ever more desperate efforts. As we fought a life and death struggle to stay afloat with Nic calling out the stroke, 'Left, right, left ,right. LEFT, LEFT. I said left you idiot' a bright orange vessel came alongside us with a young girl sat up front trailing her tiny hands in the warm waters whilst behind her, her Father lay on his back blowing smoke rings towards the clear blue skies every now and then casually dipping a paddle and pulling them past us with the greatest of ease.
Finally, as the sun began to fall towards the horizon we saw the jetty ahead of us and i pulled us strongly to the bank. As i did so Nic spotted Andy and Vanessa twenty yards further down stream and began to paddle madly towards them which only succeeded in driving us back across the river towards the opposite bank.
"What the fuck are you doing," I cried hysterically, "NIC. Will you just stop fucking paddling, PLEASE"
Taking control and ignoring the sobs coming from up front I paddled with all my might and steered us at top speed back to the bank where Andy and V held out their hands to haul us in. In a moment of what i can only call wild relief and showing none of my customary gentlemanliness i jumped out of the boat leaving Nic behind only to go stumbling onto my backside in a humiliated heap.
" Never a fucking 'gain" I screamed. "Never in a million fucking years."
Neither Nic or I or indeed anyone spoke amidst the bristling tension which filled the transit van taking us back to the centre. I figured Andy and V's silence and refusal to look at us was due to their acute embarrassment at our inept performance on the water. I found our later they were too frightened to speak or make eye contact in case one of us exploded with rage.
It was one of those experiences which has quickly entered the annals of family folklore and draws howls of laughter whenever Andy recounts the tale. Nic and i always laugh along but i notice neither of us make eye contact during the telling. We are too busy strangling a curse and clenching our fist until the knuckles go white.
Happily the rest of the holiday saw no further traumatic events as Nic and I concentrated on obliterating the memory of that dreadful day by drinking huge amounts of Cote Du Rhone and playing Yahtzee.
So a word of warning. If you ever get invited to go Kayaking and you want to preserve the quality of your relationship with the one you love i suggest you feign illness or say you can't swim.