Bruno shares some very interesting information with us. Bruno, by the way, runs the campsite shop/bar/restaurant here at Camping de Ceyreste, so we somehow manage to see quite a lot of him. Complimenting us on our French, he goes on to tell us that this is important because apparently 90% of French people do not speak English. We remember this conversation later on in the week.
A day or two later we are in nearby La Ciotat, exploring this fascinating former ship building port now transforming itself into a posh marina. Having spent an excellent morning wandering around, visiting the market, seeing all the sights, doing yet more retail therapy, we stop for lunch at a Crêperie overlooking the harbour. We enjoy an excellent meal and are just drinking our coffee when an American woman, with two young children, comes in for a late lunch. Unfortunately she doesn’t speak a word of French and the waitress’ English is limited. They are getting into a right mess trying to order something suitable for all three of them. I feel very sorry for them and am wondering if we can help when Julia jumps in and offers to translate. She goes right through the menu with the American lady and her children, they decide what they want, and then Julia orders their food for them with the waitress. When the food arrives it is just what they want and everybody is very happy. We leave a tip for our lovely waitress who promptly tells Julia that she should be tipping Julia for saving the day.
The following day we visit Cassis, a very posh seaside town just along the coast. There is yet another wonderful French market on so the place is packed. We find our way to the main car park and queue to get in. Parking spaces are in short supply and the car in front of us suddenly stops because he spots someone about to leave. He wants to reverse to allow the car whose space he wants to appropriate to get out. This means that we have to reverse as well but we have another car right behind us. The driver in the car in front leans out of his car and shouts at me to reverse. Julia is driving but he thinks I am driving because I am sitting in the left hand seat of our car. The French never seem to be able to get hold of the idea that the steering wheel on English cars is on the wrong side. I put my arm out of the window and signal that we can’t reverse because there are other cars right behind us. Eventually we manage to sort it out, the space is vacated, the driver in front reverses into the vacant space, and we continue our search for another parking space for our car. We eventually find one, pull in and park.
No sooner have we done so than there is a very angry young French man knocking on my car window, screaming at me in French. I don’t know what I have done wrong. Are we not supposed to park in this space … or what? I wind my window down to try and make sense of what this angry young man is shouting at me about but he is speaking so fast I haven’t got a clue what has upset him so. I tell him in French that I am English and that I don’t speak the French language that fluently so could he please slow down and explain what the problem is. He takes no notice. He is not listening to me. He is too intent on shouting angrily at me. I decide not to get out of the car. Forty years ago if I had got out of the car my sheer size would have stopped any possible violence … but not these days. For a start I am approaching 75 years of age and, in any case, although I am much bigger than this angry young man, I think he would still have gone for me anyway. The angry young man’s girl friend is there as well, looking very frightened and upset – not with me, but with him. I feel very sorry for her – what must it be like living with someone with such a short fuse?
Julia gets out of her side of the car and confronts the angry young man. I am reminded of a comment by Julia’s father in his speech at our wedding 27 years ago referring to her earlier brief career after university working for Mecca Leisure managing nightclubs that ‘Even the bouncers were scared of her!’ She may only be 5’ 4” tall but she has a certain ‘presence’ coupled with an uncanny ability to defuse situations. I recall her sorting out a drunk who came staggering down the aisle during one of our Sunday Services – bottle of whisky hidden away in brown paper bag – when we were at Kings Heath a few years ago. She manages to calm the young man down and get to the bottom of it all. Apparently he was driving the car behind us when we had to stop earlier because of the driver in front wanting to bag the parking space about to be vacated. He thought I was driving our car and that when I put my arm out of the car window and indicted to the driver in front that we couldn’t reverse because there were cars behind us I was giving him the finger. So he had chased us all round the car park in order to confront me and whack me one. Julia explains the situation slowly and carefully and he calms down, apologises, admits that because our car has tinted windows he couldn’t actually see what was going on, shakes hands and leaves – much to the relief of his girlfriend, and me. Once again, Julia saves the day!