It was the morning of Christmas Eve day, we took the short stroll to the Patisserie to get our daily Baguette and hatched our plans for the next couple of days. We decided that we wanted to get away from the traditional Christmas diary of events that we had when we were in the UK in bricks and mortar. In those days Shazza much preferred Christmas Eve, rather than the ‘big day’, it was a tradition that she would prepare a ‘Buffet’ and in the evening all the kids would come around, we would eat, drink and then we would all sit around the Dining Table and play the highly competitive card game of ‘Chase the Lady’. So, because Shazza always thought she was feeding an army, she would spend all day in the kitchen, cooking and baking, Sausage Rolls by the bucket load, Quiche, mince pies, canapés etc. There would be no Christmas Eve Buffet this year, today would be spent doing absolutely nothing, apart from the general on-board domestics so that we wouldn’t have to bother with them again for several days but after that, in the sun chairs and get horizontal. Shazza had decided that for our evening meal she would prepare the squid she had purchased the previous day and we would have that with a tomato and oregano salad and she would make her own garlic butter and use some of the Baguette for ‘Garlic Bread’, it got my vote !! The ‘French’ tend to start their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve night with a banquet, generally about six courses and plenty of the ‘Falling Over Juice’. In France it would be a big family and friends affair but here it would be with travelling companions in smaller groups, from the piles of shopping bags being unladen from car boots and the copious amounts of alcohol we were anticipating a happy and perhaps ‘rowdy’ night. On Christmas Day, although we had purchased a variety of meat for the BBQ, we also had the option of wandering down to the Promenade and having lunch ‘Al Fresco’ at one of the many restaurants, followed by a walk on the beach, decisions, decisions !!
We were enjoying the afternoon sunshine when Arlette and Gerard popped across, well walked about six feet from their pitch to ours, they invited us to join them at 6pm for ‘Aperitifs and Nibbles’, at least this wouldn’t be an all night affair like the previous day as they would be getting ready to sit down and eat their traditional Christmas Eve Dinner, sadly, they had not been invited to join any of the ‘other’ French groups !! We graciously accepted their kind offer and then they left to go shopping, we hoped that they had not left it too late, by the looks of what the others had already purchased, would their be anything left on the shelves !! When they returned, an hour or so later, with what looked like plentiful supplies, they again approached us. Now you have to remember that Gerard speaks no ‘English’ whatsoever, Arlette speaks very little English and rattles French words off like bullets out of a machine gun. Even with Shazzas basic French it was sometimes difficult to fully comprehend what was being said to us. However, after much repeated gesticulations it appeared that things had changed, we had not just been invited for pre-dinner ‘Aperitifs’ and ‘Nibbles’, but to join them in their traditional Christmas Eve Dinner !! Well what do you say ? We were not prepared for this, it’s one thing having brief conversations where we smile and nod in the right places but an evening that could last several hours could be a bit more of a challenge !! I don’t know whether it was because we felt sorry that they had been ‘shunned’ by their fellow Countrymen, or that we did not wish to offend them by saying ‘No Thank You’, perhaps a combination of the two, however, one thing was now certain, the Squid would be remaining uneaten for another day and this evening we would be dining on ‘Canard’ (Duck) and heaven knows what else !!
At Five minutes before 6pm, just as we were putting our shoes on, there was a knock on the van door, it was Gerard asking if we were ready to join them. We entered their caravan awning and it was as pretty as a picture, Christmas lights, a small Christmas tree with lights, the camping table was covered with an appropriate festive tablecloth and their were two, already lit, red candles, we had just stepped into ‘Christmas’. I was expecting a gentle start to the evening, liquid refreshment wise that is, but no it was straight into the hard stuff !! Shazza on the Ruby Port, Arlette on her favourite Whisky and Gerard and myself on the JD’s. Now, Gerard does not do ‘small’ measures, his are more by way of ‘large sploshes‘, probably equivalent to a generous ‘treble’, leaving little opportunity for me to dilute it with Coca-Cola. I had considered asking for a larger glass but that would only have served to give Gerard the opportunity to pour even more JD in to it !! Arlette had obviously been out and re-stocked her ammunition supplies, all magazines were fully loaded and with the safety catch off, she rattled them off at us as if there was no tomorrow. However, after the first hour, and three drink re-refills later, even I found myself following Arlette’s conversations, now whether that was because she was beginning to slow down after having three large Whisky’s or because we were learning new words at an alcohol induced rate of knots I really don’t know, but I actually found myself, not only joining in with Arlette and Shazzas conversations, but even having separate smaller chats with non-English speaking Gerard ? Who says that alcohol is bad for you !!
After the ‘Nibbles’ Arlette did us proud, first came the ‘Tomato and Tuna Salad‘ followed by their own regional ‘foie gras‘, now they both seemed very proud of this, continually asking if we were enjoying it and repeating that it was special from the ‘Landes‘ region, where they come from, and that it was completely ‘natural‘ from corn-fed Ducks. I interpreted this as being the equivalent to our ‘Organic Free Range’, it was beautiful and Shazza was afforded the honour of slicing it !! Then Arlette proudly displayed her two huge and plump Duck Breasts before me and asked how I would like them………………. !! Yes, for the briefest of moments I did think about a cheeky response, however, I thought better of it for two very good reasons, first, there was the language barrier and Arlette may not have understood, or appreciated, ‘my‘ particular brand of humour and I certainly didn’t want to cause any offence, but secondly, and more importantly, I was within close striking distance of what could have been a very painful uppercut from one’s beloved, who was sat not a million miles away !! We said that we would have them whichever way they preferred, but no, we were not getting off the hook that easy, we were the guests and we must make the decision. We opted for Medium Rare and then watched for any tell-tale expressions on our hosts faces, to see if this had been a good decision, there were several nods of approval so it appears we got it right !! Once cooked, to perfection I must add, the two Duck Breasts were thickly sliced and presented on a platter surrounded by a mountain of ‘real‘ home cooked ‘French Fries‘ with a peppercorn, not an Orange, sauce and accompanied with a basket of sliced Baguette and washed down with two bottles of very nice ‘Vin Rouge‘. Next came the assortment of cheeses and then it was rounded off with a mixed ‘fresh fruit’ cocktail. There were reasonable gaps in between each course served, so lots more chatter and filling of glasses ensued.
Arlette, like myself, enjoys that certain ‘Christmassy‘ feel and she was delighted when I went back to ‘Big Momma’ and returned with my iPod and external speaker and put on lots of ‘Christmas Songs’, ‘traditional‘ and ‘pop‘. Even when she was in a full flow conversation, she still had an ear on the music, when she heard one that she knew, and liked, her conversation would stop mid-flow and she would sing along to the song or where she didn’t know the words she would just ‘la la la‘ along to them. Gerard became ‘generous barman’ again with the Port, Whisky and JD !!
I don’t know where the six hours went, but before we knew it Midnight was upon us, I disappeared once more in the direction of ‘Big Momma’ and returned with a nice chilled bottle of ‘Fizz‘, which we of course opened, and at the allotted hour we made a mutual ‘toast’ of ‘Joyeux Noel‘ as we welcomed in Christmas under a cloudless, black, starlit Moroccan sky !! I really do not know what time we finally departed, however, we must have been sat for so long that my right leg had gone numb and ‘gone to sleep‘. From the entrance of the awning on Arlette and Gerard’s caravan to the door of ‘Big Momma’ is no more than a few metres, however, for a reason I cannot for the life of me understand, for every one step taken with my left leg, my right one took three steps side wards !! Now this could have resulted in a very long ‘circular walk’ around the campsite, had it not been for Shazza’s hand grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and ‘kindly’ guiding me in the direction of the door of the van !!
Now you will be forgiven for thinking that I may have been followed home by ‘the gorilla‘, but I wasnt !! Neither did I wake up on Christmas morning with a ‘banging head‘, hallelujah for that ! In fact the day started reasonably well, all things considered. We also had new ‘Spanish‘ neighbours on our non-awning side, ‘Rat on a Stick’ having departed a couple of days previously, we had already passed the usual pleasantries each morning since their arrival, as we passed on our way out to get our morning baguette. Our Spanish neighbour had a motorbike and each morning he would ride to the Port, a few minutes ride away, and return with fresh shrimps, anchovies and sardines which ‘he’ would cook outside his van. On this particular morning I wished them ‘Feliz Navidad‘, I am getting good at this foreign lingo stuff don’t you think ? They seemed to appreciate that and wished us the same, well I think they did as they smiled as they spoke, but it was in Spanish !! Don’t you just wish that sometimes our fellow Europeans would try harder to learn other languages !!
When we returned from our daily bread run, Arlette and Gerard had made an appearance, not looking too badly either, the usual shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks was conducted and then, on this occasion, there was only a short barrage from Arlette, perhaps she wasn’t feeling as good inside as she appeared on the outside. Later, whilst Shazza was making us a sandwich lunch, a voice hailed us from outside, it wasn’t a French voice, it was our Spanish neighbour, and he had brought us a plate of freshly cooked shrimps !! I thought to myself, if this is what happens just for wishing your neighbours a Happy Christmas then I might go around the site and wish them all one, then perhaps we will have enough food to last us for the next week or so !!
After lunch we sat outside in the sunshine, we still hadn’t decided whether to eat ‘in’ or ‘out’ this evening but that decision was to be made for us !! Although Shazza had brought all the makings with her to make some mince pies, we had decided that we didn’t really need them, we had fruit cake and even some German ‘Stollen’, both unopened. However, after our Spanish neighbours kind gesture she decided to make a batch with a bit of ‘Port and Brandy‘ and take them around to return the gesture for the ‘shrimps’. She was in the middle of preparing her pastry when Gerard kind of ‘sauntered’ across, he gestured to having a drink. I tried to politely decline but he gestured again, squeezing his fingers together ‘just a little one‘, then said ‘Noel‘, a small drink for Christmas, how could I refuse !! He poured the JD into the glass, “small one, my arse“, I thought it, but didn’t say it !! Then he pointed to the ‘Port’ bottle, I said ‘No’ on Shazza’s behalf, that didn’t work, he poured one and took it around to her. So Shazza now felt obliged to join us and soon the four of us were sat around their table, again. I tried to drink my ‘large’ glass of JD slowly, honestly I did, but to no avail, it was refilled before I had even got half way down, after the third ‘treble’ !! I finally stood up, thanked them profusely for their hospitality, again for the previous evening and for today’s Christmas drink and we made our way back to ‘Big Momma’. I don’t know how Shazza did it but whilst I collapsed on the bed for a ‘Siesta’ she finished making her mince pies. I awoke, about an hour later to the delicious aroma of freshly baked ‘boozy’ mince pies. We sat on the bed and ate one each whilst they were still hot from the oven, once I had given her the verdict that they were edible, as if there would have been any doubt, she took a plate to our Spanish neighbours and also to Arlette and Gerard. In the meantime, I had fallen asleep again and didn’t hear her return, it must have been the Port and Brandy in the mince pies that tipped me over the edge !!
I awoke at 5pm !! I was not feeling too good, my head was hurting and Shazza had a relapse too and was not feeling very well, it could have been the Port and Brandy laced mince pies but I think not somehow !! We had missed our Christmas Day walk on the beach and we were certainly not feeling up to getting changed and eating out, we had, for all intent and purpose, lost a day !! The squid would not have kept for another day, there was no room in the freezer so Shazza, bless her, prepared squid with a garlic mayonnaise dip and a tomato and Oregano salad, neither of us enjoyed it. Shazza video skyped her mum and afterwards I video skyped my daughter Stacey, fortunately, I had telephoned my mum and dad the previous day, they don’t do ‘Skype’. We both had an early night hoping that ‘Boxing Day’ we would awake refreshed and we both vowed that no matter what, it would be an alcohol free day or perhaps two !!