As my teenage daughter turned her eyes towards mine and held my gaze in her terror, it was then that all pretence fell away and my maternal instincts took over. Despite the on-going cat-fight that was our recent relationship, I realised my frightened child needed her mum to hold her hand and soothe her through the horror of a FlyânâScair landing. I chose my words carefully.
âBrace yerself, Doris,â I whispered.
We then bounced, skidded, swerved, hopped and zig-zagged down the landing-strip in what I gather was a routine landing. As the plane dawdled towards the terminal, tiny tears fell from the eyes of the traumatised teen and I smiled a loving smile. Once we were at a standstill and the âseatbeltâ light had pinged out, the fruit of my womb spoke:
âI canât believe you just did that. I hate you!â she hissed, âRemind me not to rely on your comfort again. And FFS, put your teeth in and straighten that glass eye before you get to passport control. Iâll see you outside. Moron.â With that, Angry Daughter gathered up her miniscule hand-luggage and marched towards the rear exit door.
A short while later I stepped down onto the tarmac. I donât know if anyone else remembers that bit at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when a Naziâs face melts but Iâm fairly sure that happened to me as soon as I stepped down from the plane. Wiping a dribble of forehead out of my eyes, I spied Mme Raccoon immediately in the throng of those keen to meet someone from the plane. Now, Iâve met up with her many times in the past and sheâs always had a hint of Elle McPherson about her, being 6-feet tall with legs all the way up to her armpits; I also knew she was only 3 weeks past a very serious operation and had lost a lot of weight but I was astonished to see the actual Elle McPherson herself, wearing a long grey wig, jumping up and down and waving at me enthusiastically from behind the chain-link fence!
Once through immigration, it was with tears and smiles that I cleaved to Elle McRaccoon as only a melted ton of lard can cleave. I have to say she showed great fortitude in the face of such an attack and seemed pleased that I was staying for a week. Extricating herself diplomatically from my soggy clutches, she entered into a much less sweaty (but no less joyful) hug with Angry Daughter before marching us through the cafÃ© to where Mr G-Force sat in muscular, bronzed and brooding splendour. He wore the resigned expression of a man who had been evicted from his bed and was not looking forward to the prospect of sleeping in a camper van for a week (albeit with Elle McRaccoon) just so that the Smudd party could sleep in comfort. Under the circumstances, he was surprisingly polite. âHullo, Glo,â, said he, âHowâs Smuddy? Oh dear, you look like your face has melted! And arenât you sweaty? Youâve got to write a poem while youâre here about the riots to the tune of âHouse of The Rising Sunâ and have you brought the Adele CD you promised me?â. Of course I had forgotten to bring the CD. In an attempt to make amends I immediately and breezily promised I would write something about the riots to the tune of âHouse of The Rising Sunâ. Now how did that one go again?â¦
So it was that we sat and we chatted, we drank coffee and we awaited the arrival of Gildas The Monk. Quite soon after we sat down, a cold chill ran down my spine as I realised that a charming and personable young lady was happily engaging in animated conversation with Elle McR and Mr G. She looked like my daughter and she sounded like my daughter but she was actually smiling and maintaining eye-contact and it appeared that for at least five minutes no-one had been instructed to âtalk to the handâ. I knew at once that those wicked French Immigration Officers had swapped my own truculent teenager (all scowls, lip-curls and âyeah, wuhâeverâ) for this polite and socially-adept interloper who was sharing our table. Gripped by panic yet loathe to make a scene, I leant towards this Midwich Cuckoo Child and asked her if she was looking forward to meeting The Monk.
âOh, yes!â she hissed, âWhich 15-year-old wouldnât have a few questions after finding out their mother was taking them away to spend a week in the company of a collection of virtual friends? Naturally Iâm very interested to meet an on-line persona who claims to have been born around 500 AD and who likes to be referred to as a âThinker from Historyâ! For starters, I think Iâll ask him if he the gets to watch a lot of TV and then I think Iâll ask him what he thinks of the BBCâs decision to employ Richard Dawkins as âAtheist in Residence. Got that? Enough for you, Moron? Go on, then, tell me what heâs like!â
I smiled indulgently, leaned in towards my daughterâs doppelgÃ¤nger, cupped her happy face in my rough hands, rubbed noses with her and whispered â¦
âBrace yerself, Doris,â
All credit to her. She resisted the impulse to spring backwards from me spitting and hurling expletives; instead she creased her eyes in kind delight and took her time before whispering back her reply:
âYes, OK Mum, youâve already said that. It wasnât funny on the plane and it isnât funny now. God, why donât you just grow up? And your eyeâs still inspecting your top lip; shame it isnât in charge of the tweezersâ.
Then I knew I could relax. The French Authorities hadnât got Smuddlett after all. She was there in front of me, safe and well. This could be an interesting tripâ¦
Suddenly a long shadow fell across our table and for a second I fancied a chill-wind blew. The Monk had arrived and an arresting sight he was too, silhouetted against the sun, a 6-foot 2â chap dressed head-to-toe in rough sacking, a sinister hood covering his features and his arms held out wide out from his sides in salutation and greeting to Mme Raccoon. Blimey, I thought! I havenât seen a man dressed like that since I knitted Old Smuddy a jumper for Christmas! Giddy with excitement, I jumped up to greet Gildas, at which point he said he felt rather faint and needed to sit down. It may have been my melted face or the fact that my one good eye is prone to swivel alarmingly if I move suddenly but I prefer to think the Good Monk had merely succumbed to the oppressive heatâ¦.
What better way can there be to spend oneâs first evening in France than to amble into the medieval village and choose oneâs evening meal from stalls laden with freshly cooked moules, steak, creole grub etc.? Our merry band was able to find room for our picnic basket at one of the busy trestle tables and we feasted on all of the above, together with generous helpings of excellent frites and extremely agreeable local wines. Just to add to our âenjoymentâ of the evening, the Dordogneâs answer to Chico parked himself on a tall stool right next to our table, picked up his mike and proceeded to belt out a series of deafeningly loud âpopularâ songs. When we could stand this no more, we trundled back to Raccoon Towers at which point all sensible people retired to their beds. However, The Monk sparked up his Holy Laptop and began working through his Holy Playlist, triggering a long and circular discussion between us regarding the relevance of the Gregorian chant to todayâs music audience. Some hours and several gallons of fortified cocoa later, the matter was still not resolved so Gildas tripped off down the stone steps to his cot in the cellar and I crawled in alongside the Midwich Cuckoo in the biggest, comfiest and grandest bed I have ever seen. Head on pillow, out like a light.
I was roused early next morning by the kitchen-sounds of someone with a head-cold making a cuppa and rearranging his phlegm. I emerged from my chamber. I have to say that Gildas seems to have a very strong stomach, given that the sight of me in my dressing gown first thing in the morning usually makes a grown man cry. Gildas was already very busy at the table and, even as the kettle boiled, I observed him dealing with 3 nuisance calls from a SPECIAL FRIEND while trying to pen overdue sermons and frantically inking away at a rather racy-looking illuminated manuscript. I offered to get out my bingo pens and fill in a few of the simpler bits for him but he was having none of it. He seemed keen to be left alone so I took my tea into the garden and spent the next hour teaching The Worldâs Nicest Dog to perform a new trick with a drool-soaked tennis ball.
Mr G had spirited Elle McRaccoon off to the hospital at crack of dawn (with no breakfast) for a âpetit interventionâ from which we had all confidently expected her to return by mid morning. Mr G eventually returned alone, explaining that Elleâs surgeon had been called away to an emergency and the âpetit interventionâ was to be much later in the day. Gildas broke from his Godly Toil and joined us in the garden for a lovely meal of bread, cheese and deliciously sweet tomatoes from Mr Gâs garden. The Worldâs Nicest Dog immediately began showing Gildas his new tennis ball trick, much to the amusement of everyone except Gildas. After enduring the repeated attention of The Worldâs Nicest Dog and despite quite a bit of helpless giggling and relentless quips from those of us not visited by TWND, The Monk remained in good humour, politely took his leave and returned inside to attend to his Labours.
It quickly became evident that Mr G had enjoyed the company of my daughterâs doppelgÃ¤nger during our meal and had judged her to be a suitable choice as his sous-chef in preparation for the eveningâs repast. Much to my amazement, the Cuckoo eagerly agreed and the two of them then happily attended to all matters domestic, keeping up a constant babble of good-natured conversation as they chopped, blanched, peeled, sliced and diced home-grown produce throughout the afternoon, even icing the glorious carrot cake that Elle McRaccon had prepared earlier. It has to be said at this point that Mr G has seen me in the kitchen and has lived through several meals prepared by my own fair hands. Therefore, I think it speaks volumes that at no point was I allowed anywhere near his kitchen. Instead, with The Monk studiously occupied sharpening his quills, mixing his own pigments and stressing that he found it easiest to deal with nuisance calls without anyone peering over his shoulder, I waddled off to the bedroom where I sat for some much-needed hours on the well-lit window-seat with a pair of tweezers, a magnifying mirror and my top lipâ¦
Late that afternoon the phone rang and we learned that Elle McR had actually only been imprisoned in the hospital all day and no intervention, petit or otherwise, had been performed upon her. Mr G (pausing only to ask me why my top lip was so red) whisked the Smudd contingent off to the hospital to gasp in awe as he scaled the stairs like a Super Hero before snatching his starving and beloved wife into his strong arms and carrying her out to her carriage below. I think the Smudd contingent may have let out a little cheer. We certainly did our best to cheer Elle McRaccoon in the van on the way home as she explained that the gloriously handsome surgeon, whose attentions she had been anticipating that day, had spent the day otherwise engaged, performing two emergency operations and a life-saving caesarean. To be honest, the word âsurgeonâ had me wondering whether the postponed âinterventionâ would be as âpetitâ as La Raccoon seemed to think it would be but I thought better of alarming her by voicing my doubts, choosing instead to make sure that she got a cup of tea and a few slabs of carrot cake into her skinny frame when she got home.
Once fortified, she flew into the kitchen and effortlessly made the complicated final dish for the eveningâs meal. She then leapt in front of her computer in the manner of James Tiberius Kirk in command of the Star Ship Enterprise and manned her own Flight Desk for a while, dealing briskly with the myriad e-mails that seemed to have arrived during her few hours away. I know she printed off the words of âThe House of the Rising Sunâ which she handed over to me with a look which told me I was to go away, work on it and leave her alone. Hint given and taken, I sloped off into the palace grounds with a couple of pieces of A4 and a crayon and tried to come up with something. Gildas, busy with His Tasks at the other side of the desk and valiantly prioritising new and urgent orders as they flooded in from the Abbey, was allowed to stay, providing he did something about those nuisance calls.
At last, Mr Gâs authoritative voice rang out and announced that the nightâs curry was ready and we all re-grouped at the table. Wine from a silver jug was poured out, two delicious curries were served together with a platter of jewelled rice, decorated with dates and spices, that the inimitable Elle McR had thrown together without batting an eyelid. Sheesh, but this womanâs good. As we settled, TWND took it as his cue to join us and proceeded to demonstrate how a new dimension can be brought to any meal âen plein airâ by the cleverly-timed placement of a dribble-drenched tennis ball. Oh, how some of us laughed! â¦
Edited by Anna to add: Since Ms Smudd has left out the memorably dramatic arrival of Bloggingâs Biggest Beast, King of the Red Mistâ¦..I shall spend the week bludgeoning her into submission until she produces part 2 of this epic in time for next Sunday morningâ¦â¦