its got to be here somewhere, I mean, this is a campsite. so is that. I can see the river from here, its just down there. hang on, lets go back in the town.
its a peculiarity of the towns on the river dordogne that all the best riverside spots are taken by bloody campsites. except it doesn’t necessarily tell you that, as you’re walking around with a cool box full of jambon and brie, in your map de tourisme, which is clamped in your teeth. “but look, that’s (point with nose) a bridge and there’s (point with foot) the river, but that’s (point with pelvis, to concerned looks from passers-by) another campsite. we can’t get over the bridge unless we’ve got the right canoe with us.” as it turns out, we’re slightly in the wrong place on the map, which isn’t surprising, as its not really a map, more a ‘representation’ of the geographical features, but done in thick orange lines and symbols without any explanation. “but surely that’s the abbey, there. look, there’s a cross. no, wait, maybe that’s the hospital. anyway, look, we’re here, and that’s the river. no, hang on, its the scenic walk, but its blue. BLUE.” when we realise we’ve been upside down for an hour, the cheese is ‘a bit runny’ (“I don’t care how f**king runny it is”, etc.), and the baguettes have escaped from the bits of paper wrapped around them and keep slithering off like wheaty snakes, landing in the conveniently placed plops of poodle poo, from which, you are never far, around here.
we finally find the bit by the river ‘like what we saw on the postcard in that shop daddy’ and lo, there’s even a bit of grass and a few benches. after lunch, we were entertained by a nuclear fallout ice lolly which could actually bend and was a nasty shade of of blue (‘that’ll never come off his tshirt you know. why did you buy that?’) and we just sat around for a good while, watching the campsite on the other side of the river and wondering what it would be like sharing that patch of ground with those other people in the caravans pulled up right next to you, even though they’re quite friendly and would probably offer to take your children to a play park somewhere for a few hours. we decided it would be godawful, and then headed back to the villa we’d paid about a thousand pounds for, but hey, it’s got a brick barbeque (which we never used).
“no, we’ll go tomorrow morning. we’ll get up early and we’ll get there before everyone else does. well. look at the queue. no we can’t, its raining. r-a-i-n-i-n-g. can you see? anyway, its four o’clock now. let’s just go back to the house and have a nice cup of tea and then we can work out what we’re doing tomorrow. yes we can come here tomorrow. yes. YES.”
not the day before had we been sat by the cafe pool watching our skin peel in the thirty-five degree heat reading about rupert everett’s passage and feeling very pleased with ourselves when up this morning and window opened with a flourish to see a lank of low cloud lapping around the hillside and very nearly piddling into the bedroom whereupon we unpacked the kag-in-a-bags and determined today would officially be not like it was yesterday I mean cold it might rain, yes r-a-i-n. so we trit-trotted off to the nearest enormous hole in the ground and expected it might be a bit busy at this time of year but I mean it won’t be that bad.
“look, it starts there, goes round there and then it doubles back round that tree there and see, look, it goes back round again and there’s the end, right over there.” “I don’t know, at least an hour.” “an hour? more like two hours.” “two hours?” “yes, look, those people were there when we went to the cafe for that drink (plus that mysterious extra tourist drink inserted in the bill), and now they’re just there.” “who?” “them.” “who?” “them. THEM. oh, je m’excuse, pardon.” “right. that’s it then. what are we going to do instead? its too early to go back now and there’s nothing else around here.” “there’s that insect place.” “insect place?” “yes. that insect place we passed up the road.” “what, you mean, like a hive or something?” “nooo. that insect place. insectopedia. insectipedo. insecticidia. something.” “oh, that ‘insectopia‘ place? with the huge insect outside it?” “yeees. that place.” “oh, well, that’s not going to very interesting is it?” “WELL WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST THEN?”
in the end, insidopia insectopia was a reasonable way to spend the hour you’ve got when the place you really came to see just down the road is overflowing with travelling badgers and gypsies. there’s insects in there. which is kind of interesting. I guess. on the way out there was a small shop that sold huge battery-powered bugs made in ipswich that wheel around the floor blarting out inane playground taunts at well-over-threshold volume which, naturally, we bought two of, and spent the evening watching them wheel around the living room floor, blarting out inane playground taunts at well-over-threshold volume, until one of them got stuck under a foot by mistake and its wiry guts fell out yes we can get you another one, tomorrow, maybe.
bright and early we’re off to a hole in the ground. its porridge weather, so we clad ourselves in nylon and pile into the megane scenic and sing songs from joseph although I’m secretly singing songs from manic street preachers in my head but nobody knows and there’s an inner calm from doing that that makes me almost drive into a river. as we pull up, a queue is forming, but that’s just for the pleasure of weeing into a hole in the ground (a different hole), so we pass straight on to the ticket office and I say something in french that I’m assuming is correct and lo, I get five tickets for the hole in the ground and we’re off kids, come on, we can go in the shop afterwards, oh, they’ve got those bugs too, great.
descending the slippery metalwork while holding at least a couple of hoods the air gets musty and damp and so we overtake the couch party from derbyshire and everything’s alright again. there’s not so much as a queuing system for the underground boats, more of a ‘put your hand up if you think they’ve asked you to and apologetically jump the queue for no reason’ thing going on, so I stick my hand up for no reason and we’re ushered onto a flat-bottomed wreck of a pretend boat affair which is supposed to transport us 2 kilometers or something along a freezing bottomless river to the largest cavern in europe (all caverns are ‘the largest in europe’) and back again, which, in the end, it does, and very interesting it is down there as well, but I’m not going to tell you about it because its teatime. you can look for yourself.
it was 11 years ago yeah we missed 10 so here we are its just like I remember it except that bit which I don’t really remember and we never actually went to that bit last time but I remember sitting there I think it was no there that was it wasn’t it and its even hotter if that’s possible but it feels like that to me so if we go up there we get to the belvedere right but I don’t remember this bit we must have just come straight up the main street before well we wouldn’t have been playing on the adventure playground then and looking for the toilets would we hahahahahahaha.
well look at that that’s nice where have you gone? no we’re not going to go in the caves because they’re rubbish even though you come out in the side of the sheer drop and get in a glass lift like charlie bucket although you don’t fly because if it flies there’s something very wrong and anyway we’re not doing that but I want to have a quick look at the sqaure and look at that view it goes on for miles its a bit like the view from down there but you see the difference you can see all the river from here, well, all the bits in the bit of the river that cingle isn’t the biggest but look you can see it all. I want a drink. there? here? let’s just go here. ok
chips and omlette. hmm. got any sandwiches? sondweech? jamon et fromage. oui, c’est bon merci. aah, come on everyone, drink it in. do you know, 11 years ago…oh, we have told you that. anyway, yes you can go and look at friendship bracelets but don’t upset that huge woman/man thing again or she’ll set the dog on you anyway what’s her/his problem we’re gonna buy something. she doesn’t know about the airport leaflet incident does she? how could she possibly know he’s such a fiddle and break risk. I just think she/he doesn’t like people. good job then, working in a shop. moan moan.
can I have some of that bread. that’s aireated that is. have we got any croissants? what’s that? what’s gruyere? can I have cheese? eeuw, that’s all red, look, it’s got red stuff coming out of it. is it? do you like that? what’s for tea? can I go swimming? but what if the alarm goes off. can you come with me. well, can daddy come with me? how long is it? oh, can I have one? what’s that? is that for us? I don’t like that. I have had it before, honest, and I know I don’t like it I had it at Bella’s house I did when I went there remember. honest. I did. when’s tea?
notwithstanding the fact that we didn’t get anything and now its like 1 pm so the whole country is asleep and we didn’t get anything yesterday because we were asleep and now its today and that chocolate bun doesn’t go 5 ways we’ll have to think about doing something tonight instead yes that’s right maybe we can go out that place looks nice maybe we could walk there but only if we don’t get as far as the observatory and daddy chooses that time to tell us that he’s only brought out 20 euros because he didn’t think they’d actually want to be buying anything so he had to run back in the 38 degrees back up the road back up the hill to the farm to get a new tshirt and more money and then, sod it, drive back down and park in town where everything’s closed anyway so we don’t even need 20 euros but this time we might so have you got any money. good. I know its hot we’re nearly there so who wants to go and see that funny metal person in that cafe where they give you tartazine for lemonade and you gag all the way through your baguette which was probably made by that fat bloke behind the bar who’s pointing his gun at the dog who’s snarling by the toilet which you’ll have to use because it’s the only one open I’m afraid so come on, let’s go.
ham cheese pasta melon apples grapes prunes danone red white lemonde vittel
it’s only 10 minutes down the road and it’s been a week already, yeah, I know, so why don’t we just do that? I feel like a quiet day after all and can’t be bothered to drive round for a hour trying to find my way out of a field of withered sunflowers somewhere between the buddhist pagoda and appelation controlée so let’s just take it slowly and we can even saunter if we feel up to it. there’s probably a bench there somewhere where we can sit all afternoon and watch the dutch come and go in their convoys.
rising the steps passing a couple of hopeless prams which probably weren’t designed for the 12th century we passed through the entrance gates and negotiated with a very french woman about the pricing structures which might allow us to have 2 of us and one of them at full but not them 2 as they’re under 7 but it says there famille which should include all of us right but that’s just 4 and there’s 5 of us you see and so should we get one of those and just pay for the extra 1, who is under 7 anyway, like we said, and, oh, right, it doesn’t work like that? pas de famille? deux adultes et trois enfant, mais, erm, les deux sont six ans et, elle, la, oui, la (zoe, come here, she wants to look at you), oui, bon, elle, la, elle a nuef ans, oui, um, c’est une biller de famille? non? deux adultes et trois enfants? pardon? libre? free? tout les enfants? ah! bon! (it’s ok Zoe, you can go away again now, she’s seen you) ok, deux adultes. pardon. et trois enfants? mais…
we handed over some money and she gave us an english guide book which was a photocopied affair in a plastic folder, much like the one we got at Marqueyssac which we put in our backpack and took home by mistake so we said we must not take this one home again which of course we did, adding to our new collection of english language guide folders for local attractions that we would leave behind in the gite so that the next people would take them thinking they are just free handouts and the people on the gate when they tried to pay would ask them where the hell they got that from. once inside it was obvious that they don’t have the same strict health and safety regulations over here as they do it english castles museums and monuments so we tied pieces of string around the children so that when they hung over the 2 foot high parapets we had at least a small chance of slowing their 50 foot drop to the valley below. it was also obvious that they were doing something akin to repointing on the upper courtyard which involved the tallest lorry-mounted contraption I’ve ever seen which was pumping cement about 100 feet up and over the battlements and about 50 feet into the roof area of the upper courtyard where monkeys were dancing around without hard hats and daft punk were playing harder, better, faster, stronger in the scaffolding. the upshot of this is that the upper courtyard was closed this year which didn’t seem so bad until you worked out that that was the very place that they film all the movies you’ve seen that they’ve filmed at this place and so you won’t get to see it and go ‘oh, yeah, that was that bit in les visiteurs II’ or ‘hang on, oh look, remember that bit in that james bond film’ and things like that so I got a bit grumpy and said I want to eat my sandwich NOW and so we stopped in the lower courtyard and took in the view though the very nice arched panorama and calmed down a bit.
there was still loads to see at chateau de biron, however, including a restored oak floor that you had to slide around on on small bits of felt under your feet, although we only realized that because other people were doing it, and there was naturally a nice graphic dungeon which was so dark (health and safety) that you couldn’t even see the small sign warning you about the small step you were about to take a small trip over which everybody did anyway. sam picked out everything ‘you see that that’s a rack that is that’s what they stuck people on and you turn those handles at the end and then that strrreetched people until all their bones broke and they came apart and all their guts flew out and look you see that that thing up there that that metal thing that’s a thing were they put bad people and squashed them in so their bones broke and they hung them out on big stick so they were still alive right and all the birds came and pecked their eyes out and stuff until they were dead and that that right you see that thing that up the back on the wall that right that’s what they used to tie people to you see those hooks at the end they tied their hands up there and then they tied their feet down there right see and so they broke all their bones, probably, I think, and they didn’t have any clothes on and they used to stick big bits of hot metal in them and when they weren’t dead yet they got a big saw and sawed them in half so all their guts flew out everywhere and they were like screaming everywhere and the dogs would come and eats their guts while they were still alive and you see that thing, ooh, listen, right, that thing is like a giant screw like corkscrew that is right but except they didn’t use it for opening bottles and stuff they used to put in on people’s heads and then turn that handle and it would crush their heads and their eyes would like BURST out and their guts flew out probably and all their bones got broken and you see that…’
I don’t know how he knew all that stuff. we don’t do that at home.
yeah so its in that little box you open it up right and there’s mr plastic head vegetable man with his pixie lute strumming the beach boys over a field of chaff, so that’s what its all about you see in them days they made their own entertainment and that you see is, well, you tell me, its a 6 foot idiot wrapped in fuse wire and one foot stuck in the past so I should imaging there’s something round here about geometric road alignment and bringing out your dead (I’m not dead yet) and see how clever they were? that one even has 2 tiers like that bridge what collapsed but I don’t think you’re supposed to touch that and, oh, never mind, look, its got a little button you press which transports you back to 1350 but with sennheisers on and an open bottle of vittel on the parkey.
well you get so much for the price don’t you? I mean, you might expect to get a bit of chainmail and some plastic bread or something but this is something else entirely. look over there. and next time we’ll be smashing hammers over the chisels of détant and snaring brick dolphins in sandstone nets until they start squeaking apolcalyptically about trains and we give everything to David who’s been scrubbing the plastic with his fingers again only for us to peel our skin all over the rim and leave a yellow detrius line over his hebrew symbolism he paid 3000 euros for but hey it lasts 8 years and so bob’s yer unkle. one day I’ll be back to poking sticks out the window at plebs and canvas taping the wing mirror but right now there’s another floor so let’s gawp at the orange boxes and give us a listen to that. it’s all in french. hang on.
we missed the 2:30 paint a cardboard bug face under a tree on the promenade slot and when we got there the tiny table covered in cut-out cardboard and poster paints was full of 5 year-olds with ribbons in their hair looking like something out of the summer mini boden catalogue and so they wanted to do it all the more but it was all being packed up at 3 so we said it was ok because we hadn’t even been the 2km up to the end of the garden yet and there was a brrriliant view there and anyway it was under the shade of the trees that way you see so let’s just do that and then we can come back and do this when it’s not so busy ok? as it turns out, it’s 2km uphill through the dusty gravel path and at the end there’s a rather well concealed mobile phone mast next to a wooden playground where you can climb on a dinosaur and swing down a vine and go round and round on a big round thing where there’s shavings all over the floor and a stone lookout that’s bizarrely cold but is full of 5 dutch people who all have calippos that miraculously haven’t melted which they must have kept in a tiny fridge they carry around in their backpack so it wasn’t all lost because now it’s downhill and round the corner so they can run all the way until their faces go #660000 and they collapse sous l’arbre and don’t want to do that painting anymore anyway. but she’s still there, cutting out fox’s heads from sheets of cardboard and lo, there’s 3 chairs and so everyone gets to have a go while I lay down on the grass and try to close my eyes while an italian baby is taking it’s first steps in front of the whole family tree and does really well to make it all the way over to where my sunglasses are and even better to step right on them. ah. well done! your first steps! grrr.
but we haven’t seen those mad bushes yet. where are they then? well, we walked straight past them when we went on the low path to the belvedere didn’t we? did we? yes. oh. so they’re down there. are they? yes. d’you know, I’m just too hot now, I can’t be bothered. we can come back another day can’t we. yes, but we won’t. yeah, we will. no we won’t and we have to walk past them to get out anyway so come on, let’s just walk slowly that way and we can get a nice cup of tea at the end. alright. where are they? that way. no, they’re that way aren’t they? no, because, look at the map, look, we’re here, they’re there, but we’re actually coming around this way so if you turn it upsaie down, yeah, right, see?
ooh look, there’s one here from 1974. it’s got french people and german tourists in flares and tank tops, see, they did wear them over here as well, but I don’t think those opening times are right and I didn’t bring any francs this time so we might want to dig a little deeper into the black hole that is the box of visitor attraction leaflets in the corner and see if there’s anything that has been updated since the troglodites lived in the walls. what does the rough guide say then. ooh, do you think they’ll like a garden? what’s a belvedere?
as we skirted around the edge of the river with the aircon set to wallpaper stripper we could see a number of things that looked like they might be a chateau with beautifully restored ornamental gardens as there’s apparently hundreds of the things around here and we’re not even on the right side of the river are we? hang on the map’s upside down and we passed that bridge half an hour ago and that was closed anyway so that’s why we’re on this side anyway look, if you look really closely on the bit where it folds and has gone all unreadable you can just make out the word Marqueyssac on that side of the river see? we’re supposed to be on that side. ooh look, nice chateau. give it to me. no, you look where you’re going, give it here. oh. but that’s not right. we should be there now. much as I’d like to see Josephine Baker’s place we didn’t plan to go there today so what the hell are we doing in the driveway anyway, oh, hang on, you see here where it says Marqueyssac, in this side of the river, right? well, we’re here, right? but the litte chateau symbol it is referring to is this one over here, not this one over here. that one is Castelnaud. no, hang on, it’s Beynac. anyway, you see what they’ve done right? look out you’re a bit close to the edge. they’ve put the label on the other side of the river, cos they ran out of space to get Marqueyssac on that side. we should be there. where are we now? here. oh.
there’s untold hilarity driving through enormous field sprinkler systems with the windows down when it’s 39° outside and you’ve just worked out just how much unleaded the aircon is using while it’s permanently on stun as we head for the car park which directs us everywhere on the left-hand side of the road which throws me for a minute but soon we’re parked up and as we leave the command module for the first time in about an hour the hot air peels the skin off our faces a bit like that bit in terminator when paula hamilton or whatever her name is is clinging on to the playground fence and then she gets blasted away by an apolcalyptic blastwave but still manages to hang on with her skeleton fingers and then wakes up. our first full day out and we’ve arrived. have you got the money? I thought you had it. no, I said can you put it in the bag. is it not in the back? why don’t you look? it’s not in the bag. what do you mean it’s not in the bloody bag. dad, I’m hot. dad, are we going in? what is it? it’s the garden we told you about. where is the money then? look again. it’s not there. why not? I don’t know. you’re joking. er, no. right, that’s it, back in the car. oh, hang on, here it is.