We are in Carcassonne, on board our boat, waiting for our cruise down the Canal du Midi to start. We are moored next to another boat that belongs to the same company but is due to go in the opposite direction. The weather is warm and sunny and we are looking forward to our cruise. There are quite a few Brits aboard both vessels and ‘Nous sommes calmes!’ The captain of our boats tells us that we will be casting off in a moment or so … they are just waiting for a few more passengers to arrive. We see a group of about 15 people walking towards our two boats. Are these the ones our captain is waiting for … or will they board the other vessel?
As they approach it becomes obvious that they are … what shall we say … ‘somewhat inebriated’?! What is worse is that they are obviously ‘Brits’? They bypass the payment desk … much to the annoyance of the French proprietors … and engage in a heated debate amongst themselves as to which of the two canal boats they are going to take. One can sense a growing feeling of apprehension amongst those of us who have already paid for our canal cruise on both boats.
They eventually choose our boat (much to the relief of those aboard the other boat). ‘Hello every body!’ shouts the self-appointed leader of this unruly group as he marches down our boat. ‘We are English!’ he shouts in a loud voice (as if we didn’t already know this), ‘Are there any English people on board this boat? Are there any Russians?’ This is a clear reference to the recent England versus Russia football match in the European Championship. We wonder if he was there (and part of the source of the trouble). Those of us who are English hide under the seats. The French passengers look on with a mixture of contempt and disgust. ‘How long is this trip going to take?’ shouts our obnoxious fellow-countryman? ‘B****r this!’ I think to myself, ‘Why am I cowering under my seat?’ ‘Two hours!’ I tell him. Julia joins in the counter attack. ‘No! Nearly three hours!’ she tells him. ‘I can’t be away from a toilet for that long’ he says. Thinking on my feet I tell him, ‘There is another canal cruise on the other side of the river … over the bridge … and it only lasts an hour!’ I vaguely remember seeing something about this … and if it is actually only a figment of my imagination I feel sure that (in the circumstances) God will forgive me? ‘That’s more like it!’ says Mr Obnoxious and leads his party back off our boat and off towards the bridge.
Both boats breathe a corporate sigh of relief. We get a round of applause … and a handshake from our captain. ‘We just want you to know’ we tell everybody, ‘that not every Brit is an idiot! Everybody agrees … and the captains of both vessels ‘cast off’ as quickly as possible! We have a very pleasant trip … our captain and our guide are both very entertaining … and by the time we return to Carcassonne there is not a ‘football hooligan’ in sight!
I am reminded of a similar incident that took place on our campsite just a couple of days previously. Our campsite has (strangely enough, because it is a marvellous campsite) been very quiet. We met a couple last Sunday who were camping at Trebes and their campsite was ‘full to busting’. Ours is quite empty. There are ‘Mr and Mrs Grimsby’ of course (we have mentioned them earlier) and another couple of Brits (in a tent) whom we have nicknamed ‘Mr and Mrs McBeardy’ because he comes (originally) from Shetland and is as bald as a coot but with a magnificent bushy red beard! We appear to be the only people who are staying here ‘long term’ so to speak. There are various ‘overnighters’ but no other people staying for any length of time. If you are reading this blog, by the way, and are into ‘camping’ (either tents, caravans, mobile homes, or lodges) do look up ‘Camping Das Pinhiers’ on the internet and come and stay here … it is a great campsite really near to Carcassonne and loads of places of interest to visit only a short drive away.
Anyway, there we are, enjoying the peace and quiet of this place, when suddenly we are invaded by several busloads of ‘football hooligans’?! There are various teams, loads of supporters, and a good number of ‘groupies’?! They fill all the vacant ‘Lodges’ … and run all over our site swearing at us in English!? We were not anticipating any problems being here in Carcassonne … miles and miles from Marseilles or Paris … so this has come as a bit of a shock. Of course, I need to point out that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the European Championship but that it is all to do with a local football competition … and that the players are all about eight to 10 years of age?! Fortunately they all leave after a couple of days … and our campsite returns to normality … just us, the ‘Grimsby’s’ and the ‘McBeardy’s’.
Today we are visiting the Abbaye de Caunes-Minervois and the Cabrespine Gouffre Geant. Amazingly the Gouffre inspires more spiritual feeling than the abbey … or perhaps not? We stop off for coffee (our daily treat) at café in Villeneuve-Minervois and get into conversation with the café owner. I ask him if our coffee is free today: ‘C’est gratuite pour les Anglais?’ He laughs and pretends not to hear what I am have just asked him. He holds his hand to his ear (with a ‘what did you just say gesture’). Knowing that France are playing today, I reply, ‘Allez les Bleus!’ (the French football team play in blue shirts). ‘Mais oui!’ he responds, and claps … but I still have to pay for the coffee!