The sun cascaded over the spires of Nantes on the next day, Nantes has a beautiful church and cathedral, most striking of the churches is Église Notre-Dame de Bon-Port and the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul isn't too shabby either. Both are beautiful but at 7am in the morning after a night of sleeping on parquet tiles, Steve really didn't notice them. After getting up at 6.30 and having a shower whilst Stuart and Kevin slept, Steve went out into the autumnal sun to find food and coffee. It had been noted that Nantes had a McDonalds and a "Q" - a French McDonalds chain, so Steve headed for them. To his horror and dismay, McDonalds in France may not have a clue what a "quarter pounder with cheese is" (according to John Travolta) they also dont do breakfasts and they open at 11.30. I suppose the sausage and egg McMuffin hasn't captured the imagination of the Gaulles, and the same can be said for Q burgers - Steve, being a James Bond fam expected Q burgers to fire poisoned darts or turn into a invisable car, but sadly the burger chain, the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast, in France don't do breakfasts.
As Steve wandered around Nantes at daft o'clock, he found a little patissearie. Champion he thought. The place was swarmed with (indeed the whole of early morning Nantes was) young people who hadn't been home for the night. Nantes at 7am was like a huge bottle bank with loads of empty bottles all over the place, last night Kebab wrappers dancing in an October sirocco (nice kebabs, by the way as Steve's memory of the night before de-misted, and a note to self avoid the chilli sauce) to be frank or should that be franc? the whole of Nantes had transformed from a whimsical and beautiful city into a shit tip over night. The plethora of beautiful women certainly know how to party like it's 1999!
Steve tries his best at French, but its 27 years since he failed his 16+ (ask your parents GCSE generation) French (Steve's Letter he had to write to a French friend in his 16+ exam comprised of "Bonjour Philippe, a Bientot, Steve") but since this was his 10 trip and most places he had been spoke French he had been able to sort himself out with food, at least he tries, unlike the shocking breakdown of the "Auld Alliance" of Scotland and France (the NMBS Scottish member doesn't do French). Steve's Salfordian accent had alerted some of the young revellers to the fact that there was a Englander within their midst. A few stares and a "Rost Bouef" didn't really put Steve of the coffee, Orange juice and a Croque monsieur, as he was starved and had the munchies.
A few moments later a pretty lady in her mid twenties came over. Steve usually hates mither, but she was young and pretty and he's a sucker for the French accent. She spoke to him in perfect English and asked him where he was from. When Steve replied 'Manchester' she replied "Eric Cantona". So she was young, pretty, had beautiful hazel, oval eyes with soft olive skin, and a wisp of dark hair falling on her forehead like a cute comma, and soft pink lips (Steve states he didn't really notice what she looked like) and she loved the King Cantona. With this Steve was wishing that his 16+ had told him "will you marry me?" But she asked his name "ah Stefan" she replied like a young Audrey Tautou. "I am Salome" Steve worried that he will soon end up saying something he shouldn't was relieved to see a young, tall big black guy walk over.
He asked for one of the roapy French cigars that Steve had in a tin next to his coffee, Steve gave him one and Salome walked off with him - Steve smirking as the guy walked off lit up and chocked on the cigar. One - Nil to the NMBS.
Steve walked back to the hotel, passing Gerry and Lance's room he heard they were up and on returning to his room, Kevin was awake and Stuart was rousing out of his slumber. After the rest had showered and dumped the bags with the concierge the NMBS went out to get coffee and walk around Nantes. We wasn't due to pick up the care until 2pm, so we had a morning to kill in Nantes. It was 9am and Steve was amazed that Nantes was not bottle and kebab free, and that the bin men had done a wonderful job in a few hours. After coffee we found a great bar called the "Webb Ellis" named after the rugby union guy and seeing that the rugby world cup was on and that Gerry is passionate about rugby it was an ideal place to sit, watch the rugby and wait with a beer or two until we could pick up the car. The place was situated in a narrow street and opposite was a beauty salon. So much neck turning was done by the NMBS as hoards of young ladies were trying to make themselves look even more beautiful, how you could improve on perfection was hard to see, but, bless them they tried. The French owner of the Webb Ellis sighed and shrugged his shoulders in a way only the French can do. "you can see why I bought this place" he smirked whilst sipping an espresso and smoking a Lucky Stripe. The NMBS nodded in absolute jealousy.
It was time to pick up the car and the drivers this year would be Stuart (he first time driving on the wrong side) and Lance. To be kind Stuart and Lance set off on the
twenty minute walk to the car hire place, leaving Steve, Gerry and Kevin risking more RSI and having a beer.
Back in 2004 the car hire to Normandy was a nightmare and the NMBS have never forgiven Avis and will never do so. So obviously nothing could go wrong. It did. around forty minutes after Lance and Stuart had left, Steve got a text from Stuart saying Lance had lost his licence. Five minutes later a rather stressed and sweaty (as sweaty as a glass blowers arse) Lance appeared in front of the rest of the NMBS. "I have lost my licence and the paperwork to hire the car" Lance spluttered. "Is it in your bag?" The boys asked "No" replied Lance. "What about the hotel room?" Lance explained that the maids had been round and tidied the rooms throwing out rubbish (read, empty cans of 1664) and that he had waded through the refuse sacks (which included a manky salad) and no licence or paperwork. "phone Stuart and let him double check your bag" Was the helpful reply from Kevin. "I have but I will phone him" Worried a very panicked Lance. After a few Second of looking in Lance's man bag, Stuart had found the licence and the paper work. You could see the look of relief and smile beam across his little beardy face. Steve, Kevin and Gerry started to hum the "Laurel and Hardy" theme as Lance scurried away for another 20 minute trek to the car hire place. Gerry, Steve and Kevin ordered another beer and watched the passing women.
Half an hour or so later, Lance and Stuart arrived in a huge VW Transporter People carrier (he nicknamed it "The Stath" after Jason Statham of the Transporter series of films) and we were off to the promised Land of Normandy and the Gite.
The journey was a 3 hour trip which was quite uneventful, apart from the toilet stop at a French Service Station. The toilets were the typical stone holes in the floor. How can a member of the G8 and one of the main player in the EU still dump, squatting in a hole in the floor, amazes us. The one that Steve and Kevin used (for a Wee wee, I hasten to add) looked like that hell hole toilet in the film "Trainspotting". It was like a H-Block Cell after a dirty protest. It was vile. Kevin and Steve used it but fantasize about a massive pristine convenience. Brilliant gold taps, virginal white marble, a seat carved from ebony, a cistern full of Chanel no.5, and a flunky handing them pieces of raw silk toilet roll. But other than that we hit the Gite (stopping at a Lidl for goods, Well we are in a recession) in good time and the owner greated us with a nice smile.
The Gite was spectacular. It was basically an old vicarage, and we all had separate bedrooms, ample showers and loos (proper loos, the French do them when they can be bothered) The Kitchen was big and the NMBS cook, Steve was in his element.
A huge pot roast Chicken Dinner was made, Stuart turned on the TV, and the Boys settled down on the huge sofa for the night, a nice beer in hand, relaxed that we had settled in the Gite. Tomorrow would bring the start of the real holiday and the Normandy D-Day beaches awaited. So a nightcap and a semi early night and maybe a bit of a lie in the next morning, well it is our hols.....
Not many things or people have made the NMBS “List” as we are a placid bunch, maybe AVIS car hire, French toilet makes, “H” from steps (or is that just Steve’s list?) but now a whole new group had made the list – Campanologists. The gite where we were staying for the week was in a quaint little village called Cricqueville-en-bessin, quite close to the famous landing beaches of D-day – indeed the village must have been one of the first villages liberated on D-Day by Americans.
I say village as from the gite all you could see was a Church about 25 yards away and a few other houses which were a few hundred yards away. Just outside of Cricqueville, the United States Army Air Force established an airfield shortly after D-Day on 9 June 1944, just three days after the Allied landings in France.
The airfield was one of the first established in the liberated area of Normandy. Known as Advanced Landing Ground "A-2" (Cricqueville), it was used from early June through September 1944. After the Americans moved east into Central France, the airfield was dismantled and the land returned to agricultural use. The aforementioned church has a memorial to the Rangers and Col. Rudder who stormed the nearby Pointe du Hoc on D-Day (more on that later).
Back to the Campanologists. For those who do not know what one is, and believe you me, they will become a dying breed if the dare repeat the shenanigans, are bell ringers. And as Mr. Sandman sent the boys of the NMBS a blissful dream at 7am the bell ringers strutted their stuff. It sounded like the credits for the Children’s Film Foundation (ask you parents if they were forced to ever watch Saturday morning films in the 70s) or that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were coming out of St. Paul’s after getting married. More bells than the cockney Oranges and Lemons.
7am, I ask you. That’s 7. A. M ! now the NMBS are a tolerent lot and if that was the Shires of England and When a muezzin faces the Qiblah, calling the faithful to prayer from a minaret, The Daily Mail would be up in arms. Mumsnet would have kittens and the listeners to the Archers would think Armageddon has come, so why do we tolerate Church bells at such an ungodly hour? (See the pun?)
It’s 2011; can’t churches reach the masses via twitter or text messaging? So the boys were up and shaking fists and swearing like the love child of Tracey Emin and Gordon Ramsey at Bells and Campanologists. But a full English (we even from proper bacon, a rare event in France, that and sit down toilets and Parisian men buying soap) and the boys were off to Pointe Du Hoc.