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SCARS AND BARS AND CARS (Tour de France 11)

Campsite Swimming Pool

Campsite Swimming Pool

I am in the swimming pool, with Julia, at our new campsite at Camping Fleur de Camargue near the historic town of Aigues Mortes on the edge of the Camargue in southern France. It is really, really hot – bordering 40 degrees – and most of us happy campers are in the pool desperately trying to cool off. A young girl, around 10 or 11 years of age swims up to me and just stares at me in a completely fascinated way? She gives me a cookie, sympathetic smile … and I wonder why? ‘Its your scar!’ Julia whispers in my ear, ‘she is fascinated by your scar!’

The major heart surgery that I had just over a year ago was brilliantly successful and has resulted (God willing) in an extended quantity and quality of life for me. I have made an amazing recovery and feel fitter than I have for many a year. The operation, however, left me with a long scar down the centre of my chest. It has healed up nicely and the scar is fading gradually, but it still clearly shows. ‘Its your scar!’ Julia whispers in my ear, ‘she is fascinated by your scar!’ The girl nods in a knowing way. She doesn’t speak English but realises that we understand why she is so fascinated with me. She waits for me to provide an explanation for the scar. I have a ‘Walter Mitty moment’. ‘It is a war wound’, I tell her in fluent French. ‘I got it in action in Afghanistan serving with the British SAS!

I wake from my ‘Walter Mitty moment’ and realise that the girl is still there staring at me waiting for an explanation for the scar. I decide to tell her the truth and, in my more hesitant French, explain that I had heart trouble so the doctors cut me open and put a zip in (the scar looks very much like a zip) so that they could simply ‘unzip’ my chest any time they liked and fix my heart when necessary. The girl laughs … she is not that stupid … she understands about heart surgery. Perhaps she has a grandfather who has had the same operation, or perhaps she has never seen the chest of someone who has had such an operation? Whatever, she is both fascinated and sympathetic!

We really love our new campsite. It is very different from the other two main campsites we have stopped in during our extended seven week stay in France. Each campsite has been very different, but each has been very good in its own way. Camping Fleur de Camargue is situated in the salt flats that cover this area. It is an area of great natural beauty which we have visited before and which we wanted to return to. This campsite is more ‘family based’ than the previous campsites we have been to on this trip. It is mostly family sized cabins although obviously there are some spaces for tents, caravans, and camper vans. It is the beginning of the school holidays in France and so the families are here in force. The majority of campers are French (which we like) and we have only met one other British couple here so far.

Throughout July and August campsites like ours run a programme of ‘animations’. There are activities for children during the day, and various ‘attractions’ for adults mainly in the evenings. The centre of all activity after about 8.00 p.m. is the campsite bar. Everyone begins to congregate around the bar from around 7.00 p.m. because it is only there that the Wi-Fi works. This is really annoying … our other two campsites had free Wi-Fi all over the campsite … but at least it is free (although you have to ‘log on’ again every 30 minutes). The bar area is very busy from 7.00 p.m. on with kids logging on their mobile phones … and us oldies on our iPads and Laptops. We have already been down to the bar a couple of times. On our first night we went for a few beers after setting up our tent in blazing sunshine. We ended up having a meal there … and very nice it was. The ‘high light’ of the week at the bar so far has to have been last night’s cabaret! It was a ‘Drag Act’ and I sensed trouble was ‘brewing’ from lunch time onwards when I observed the said act ‘rehearsing’? This rehearsal consisted of miming to loud music … and nipping back into the curtained off changing area for a glass or two of wine every 15 minutes or so. When it came to the actual performance the said ‘Drag Queen’ fell off the stage during her first song (and had to start again) and then when escorted off the stage by a ‘helper’ managed to bang into the poles holding up the improvised changing area? In all it was an unintentionally hilarious evening … we can hardly wait for the ‘Disco’ this evening?

It is so hot here that we (along with all the other ‘happy campers’) really don’t know what to do with ourselves. It is the same all over France at the moment. Kaysersberg (where we were for our first main campsite) is even hotter than here. One night when we were there in Kaysersberg it was so cold that I put on more clothes to go to bed than I wore during the day. Here everybody goes around wearing as little as possible. It is so hot that we literally can do nothing but sit quietly and rest from around 12.00 noon to about 4.30 p.m. We have taken to getting up very early and visiting the places we want to see then … or waiting until much later in the afternoon/evening and going out then. Other than the swimming pool we have two other ‘places of refuge’. One is the Super-Marche with its wonderful air conditioning … we just go and wander around there without buying anything simply to keep cool. The other place of refuge is our wonderful air conditioned car. Tomorrow we are planning a trip that involves a long drive … just so we can keep cool!

So there I am back in the swimming pool … cooling off … when my new little friend swims up to me once again. She smiles sympathetically at me … and swims away again. She comes back a few moments later with several of her friends. They want to see my scar as well! And for 15 minutes or so I am the key attraction in the swimming pool!

Jim Binney  

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