Holidays In The Sun . . .
Mrs Jeanetta Encoule & I have just returned from a Neolithic/Medieval tour of Bretagne, Aragon & Eire. A bit like Julian & Dorian Cope - but without the kids in tow (in part) – or Tom Fourwinds! We are, therefore, both suffering from Ferry Lag (poor man’s Jet Lag).
Part 1: Roll Away The Stone (Schala-la-la-push-push)
Our trip began in earnest with Rat Scabies’ birthday party in Rennes-le-Chateau, following an entirely pleasurable 24hr drive along the Auto-Routes of France: lane discipline, respect for other road users & comparatively light traffic being the main buzzwords here.
On the night, Flipron rocked the house - the red wine flowed like sick - & I sat next to Keith from The Action (Mighty Baby) & several prominent Freemasons! Jeanetta & I ended up partying till the wee small hours with our new Swedish mates, Patrick & Ewart. An impromptu sing-song – standing on a chair in Rennes square with my trusty Yamaha, surrounded by pissed up French kids, singing “Anarchie Pour La France” – ended with local residents begging us to ‘tais toi’, back flips into a sand pile - & shooting stars strafing the firmament above our shattered heads.
Being too pissed to drive back down the mountain, Jeanetta & I foolhardily decided to sleep in the motor. Bad idea. Every movement resulted in the car alarm going off. This happened – on average – every 3 minutes. Needless to say, sleep/unconsciousness came in fits & starts.
I awoke just after 5 am, Jeanetta still comatose beneath the quilt, covered in sand - with the hangover from hell. Unable to play dead a second longer, I fired up the engine & pointed the motor towards Perpignan. The journey – 100 or so miles through the glorious foothills of the Pyrenees – was punctuated with regular puke stops – whilst Jeanetta slumbered on – blissfully unaware of my wretching. I had intended to wake her on reaching the coast – with a cup of Café Au Lait & a forced smile – but my inability to drive & read a map without my bins resulted in us coming to a halt on the wrong side of a dual carriageway with the words: “Babe, I think we’re lost”.
We eventually arrived in Canet-en-Roussillon desperate for coffee, pastries, luxury & a shower. It was barely 10 am, but the sun shone down hard like a bastard. We parked up on the sea front & proceeded to book in to what we imagined to be a suitable hotel. Unfortunately, the room wasn’t available until 12 pm, so we cooled our heels & fought off the headaches with a series of coffees, pastries & English newspapers in a nearby café. A couple of hours later, minging like a pair of binners on a 3-day-bender, we returned to the aforementioned hotel only to be denied by the permanently smirking receptionist, who had no memory of swiping my Visa card 120 minutes earlier. A heated discussion ensued, & we were finally shown to a third floor room which had obviously not been cleaned since the apparent fuck-fest that had taken place in it just a few hours earlier. It smelt of sex, sex, sex. Wobblers were thrown, luggage was returned to the lobby & a fierce argument ended with me walking out of the establishment, leaving Jeanetta screaming: “She’s smiling. Are you smiling at me? Get me the manager. I demand to see the manager.”
To cut a very long story short, we were soon in situ in the rampant opulence of Les Flamants Roses, a 4-star exposition of luxury - with it’s own health spa – permanently indebted to the mega-helpful employees of the Canet-en-Roussillon tourist office. It took 3 days of pampering, relaxation & reading for the headaches to back off.
We left refreshed & chipper – heading for Calella de Palafrugell – a quaint Catalonian seaside resort oft frequented by Jeanetta & her family in the 70s. On arrival, we booked into the Hotel Sant Roc – quaint as a picture postcard - & only slightly marred by CWAs (Catalans With Attitude). A week of sun, sea, more sand, walking, eating, drinking & plenty of sex followed. Highlights included the ruined Greek/Romano city of Empuries - & an 8-hour-treck around Antonio Guadi’s Barcelona.
Throughout our stay in Calella, we were often taken aback at the arrogance (Aragon-ce) of the aforementioned CWAs. Jeanetta only had memories of friendliness & bonhomie. What could have altered the outlooks of these once humble costal folk to turn them into British/Dutch/French/German hating bigots?
The mystery was solved by a chance meeting, as mysteries often are. We were taking in water at a café in Llfranc after a particularly gruelling return costal walk to Sant Sebastia – as mad dogs & Englishmen do: in the midday sun. Posh Thames Estuary voices clattered all around us: “Tarquin, if you wobble that bally table one more time you can return to your private villa, forthwith.”
“But mater, it’s these damn wasps, they’re driving one to distraction – so fuck you”, shouted Tarqs, before legging it off towards the quayside – possibly in the direction of his private villa – probably down to the beach to sniff nitrus oxide & snort Tizer with his posho mates. I sank into my book – “Andalus”, by Jason Webster – embarrassed to be reading an English title, despite the relevance of it’s subject – gutted to be even vaguely associated to these nouveau riche arseholes.
Beside us sat another dubious individual, lost deep inside the pages of the previous weekend’s Sunday Times, greedily working on a large tumbler of Pernod & chuffing on cigarillos like they were going out of fashion. “Excuse me mate,” I enquired, “any idea how the cricket’s going today?” The man returned a vacant half-smile, “No idea, I’m afraid, I’ve been living out here for years now. Who are we playing?”
Over the course of several further Pernods & at least a whole packet of cigarillos - Simon, nee Mark, nee Scorpio - explained that the CWAs, having built their economy on Pounds, Guiders, Francs & Deutchmarks - were now intent on reclaiming their paradise for the exclusive use of nouveau riche Catalonians. Judging by the side-bar stories of the collapse of his marriage, his disillusionment with his country of birth & the regularity with which he ordered more Pernod - Simon, nee Mark, nee Scorpio - could hardly be accredited as a reliable witness, but the scenario seemed plausible enough to us, & with my abused liver screaming at me to leave, we declined an invitation to return to his abode for a puff, & hastily bid him farewell. Apparently he had come to Calella to ‘beat the bottle’. The ignorance of the long distance drinker never ceases to amaze.
As we returned on foot from Llfranc to Calella, the arrogant stares of the Aragons burnt ever deeper into our Lilly white souls. I wanted to tell each & every one of them that they owed it all to the Moros – that without the Arabs they’d still be living in caves - eeking out an existence from the sea – but apathy got the better of me, & we headed for Sant Roc to pack our bags. They would not be getting any more of our Euros.
We left the next morning, destination Carcassonne. We arrived around 2 pm, gob-smacked by the medieval city that stood before us. Patrick & Ewart had warned us of the magnificence of Carcassonne, but nothing could have prepared us for the fantasy fortress that shimmered beneath the beating sun a few hundred yards in front of our disbelieving eyes: a Disney-esque riot of towers, battlements & tourists. Carcassonne obviously suffered from turrets syndrome. I have never seen a more impressive medieval structure in all my days as a castle groupie.
We strolled through the packed medieval streets, took sustenance at a charming inn, visited the impressive Chateau, marvelled at the seamless reconstruction that had taken place over the last 100 years - & concluded that UNESCO were spot on. Carcassonne has a magic that is only slightly tainted by its hideous history as the base for Simon de Montford’s decidedly un-Christian Albigensian Crusades. My thoughts on the thousand’s of peace-loving Cathars (medieval hippies, basically) that were burnt alive at the stake by this Leicester City supporting megalomaniac in the name of the expansion of France, the liquidation of Occitania & the paranoia of the Roman Catholic Empire, were only slightly sweetened by the knowledge that de Montford was eventually slain by a rock thrown from the parapets of Toulouse – by a woman! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition – our three main weapons are fear & surprise!
Bidding Carcassonne farewell, we headed along Le Canal du Midi, ever deeper into Pays du Cathar: Castres, Albi, Figeac, Cordes, St-Cirq-Lapopie, The Lot Valley, Pech-Merle, Cahors – Palaeolithic cave paintings, villages hanging from the sides of mountains, river beaches & canoes akimbo. A truly beautiful region, which if truth be told, we now wish we’d spent far more time in than we actually did.
We set a course for La Rochelle, a medieval walled port I could have sworn I visited with my homeboy, Chris Jennings, a matter of a decade previously, on a drunken, stoned, get-away-from-it-all mini-break in the early 90s. “It’s a fantastic place,” I excitedly informed Jeanetta, “we can chill for a couple of nights & take romantic walks round the city walls - & I can show you all the paces where Chris was sick!” It sounded too good to be true, & we put pedal to the metal in a mad dash to get there & check into a decent hotel before sunset.
As we reached the outskirts of La Rochelle, I quickly became disorientated & confused. I know a place can change over the course of 10-years, but I didn’t recognise a damn thing. We headed down to the Old Port - I was convinced it would all come flooding back. Jeanetta, tired & hungry in the passenger seat, became increasingly dismayed at my obvious ignorance of the streets of a town I claimed to know like the back of my hand. A gesticulating Gendarme blocked our entrance to the Old Port - apparently there was some kind of festival going on. The look on Jeanetta’s face said it all: no room at the inn! We spun off round the ring roads & industrial estates of La Rochelle in ever decreasing circles. I couldn’t comprehend how a place could have changed so much. Eventually, after narrowly missing yet another passenger side collision (Jeanetta’s 7th near death experience of the trip, thus far!), I pulled onto an industrial estate & decided to ring Chris: “Geezer, it’s Encoule, how ya doing? I’m in France, La Rochelle. Can you remember the name of the hotel we stopped in – or anything about the place at all? I can’t make head nor tail of it. Man, this place has changed”.
“Encoule, you tosser, we stopped in St Malo, not La Rochelle. I’m not surprised you don’t recognise it.” To say I was slightly embarrassed would be understating things somewhat. As I fired up the engine once again, red-faced & fucked off, I suddenly remembered what 15-years of smoking plutonium grade skunk weed does to the short term memory - whilst Jeanetta & Chris took the piss out of me over the phone. Luckily, she saw the funny side, something other partners from the past would never have been able to do. I thanked Ur for my newfound love, & pushed the past back into the recesses of my drug-addled brain.
That night we drove until 9 pm, scouring the horizon for an Ibis, an Etap – hell, even a Formula One would have sufficed. We hit pay dirt – an Etap - just in time for last orders at the adjacent Le Bar & Grille. Two hastily devoured steaks later, washed down with carafes of rose, we were comfortably numb in front of a satellite TV blaring out reports on Israel’s disproportionate bombardment of Lebanese civilian’s - & ‘breaking news’ (don’t those satellite news hounds love their catchphrases, or what?) of an alleged plot to bring down a number of US bound passenger planes – foiled by our very own secret police. Dozens of British Muslims were under arrest. John Reid appeared smug & in charge. Try topping that, Prescott. Londanistan is apparently a bigger threat to the US than Iraq, Iran & Syria combined.
The next morning we hit the road afresh, breakfasting in Vannes, before hitting one of the premier destinations of the whole trip: Carnac. For those of you who have never been to the Carnac Alignments, the initial impact of the place is hard to express in mere words. Carnac is simply out of this world: a megalithic landscape literally dotted with numerous monuments to eternity that surpasses anything the Neolithic epoch achieved elsewhere on the Western Atlantic seaboard.
We began at the visitor centre at Menec, struggling gamely to take in the vast scope of what was unfolding before our eyes. Guidebooks purchased & cameras primed, we ambled through the stones of the cursus at the western end of the Menec Alignments – now crammed with the relatively modern buildings of Menec hamlet – how could anyone have been so irresponsible? To build a village in the centre of a monument as important as this only epitomizes the total ignorance of modern man. This would never have happened at Avebury (whaddya mean, it already has?). We followed the cursus clockwise, sucking the energy from the standing stones as we went, past a café rammed with coffee sipping tourists, and met Mark, an Englishman born within a stone’s throw of Stonehenge. Jeanetta struck up a conversation while I marvelled at the alignments heading off back down the hill towards Kermario. This was too much to take in for one visit, Copey had hinted as much in his indispensable “Megolithic European”.
Mark, it turned out, was on a tour of megalithic Bretagne in the ubiquitous VW camper van. He offered us some warm mead, which we graciously declined, pointing out that it was a touch early, even for us. We smoked a few fags & chatted a while. Mark was knowledgeable, friends with Merlin Of England, & suitably impressed with my knowledge of Neolithic culture: “Wow, it’s so cool to meet you two. You must be the only ones here all morning who haven’t driven up to the stones – taken a few pictures - & driven off again. Did you know there’s a Holy Well around the corner?” We told him of the energy we’d felt inside the cursus – a light-headed sensation somewhat akin to setting the alarm for 3 am, getting up - & smoking a Benson & Hedges with the filter ripped off.
“Yeah, man,” he concurred, “the energy flows through Kerlescan, Kermario & Menec, hits that cursus, & heads straight for the St Michael tumulus! I’m so glad you felt it too. Are you going to Locmariaquer? You absolutely have to see the Grand Menhir & Les Tables des Marchands. It’s fucking incredible.”
“How do we find the Holy Well?” enquired Jeanetta, a glazed look across her face, the sunlight illuminating her mane like a halo.
“Follow the energy,” said Mark, enigmatically, before adding, “come down to Stonehenge for the 21st of September – they’re opening up the stones! It’s my birthday - you’ll find me there somewhere - please say you’ll come. I’m going to make a concerted effort not to get as pissed as I did last year!”
We promised we would, & headed off in search of the Holy Well. 5 minutes later, only slightly crest-fallen, we were forced to return to Mark & request his assistance in locating said well. He gathered up his mead, his plastic bag of assorted herbs & a scruffy sheaf of crumpled leaflets, & duly led us directly to the Holy Well. We’d never have found it without him, we had no idea what we were looking for, & the energy seemed to have temporarily forsaken us. We stooped in turn & drank handfuls of the cool, clear water, cleansing our souls as we did. I theatrically rubbed some on my terminally aching liver/back – the pain had gone entirely by the time we’d wandered back to the Menec cursus. The tranquillity was over-powering – the faith came pouring back into our hearts. We bade Marc farewell, renewed our vows to attend on the 21st - & exchanged charged, meaningful hugs. Mark had made our morning already, & we set of for lunch in Carnac village & St Michael’s tumulus.
Carnac village was not built to handle the amount of traffic it has to put up with every summer. Jams clogged the roads - we were glad to heading out to Locmariaquer & the relative peacefulness it promised. On our way we stopped off at the Kermario & Kerlescan alligmnets – but as St Julian rightly attests – there is way too much here to take in with one visit.
The main site at Locmariaquer contains the Tables des Marchands burial chamber, the Grand Mehir Brise – a fallen standing stone that would once have stood over 40ft high - & the Er-Grah tumulus – all extraordinary testaments to the funerary rites practised in Brittany 4500 years before the birth of Christ. We cursed our luck for having left it too late in the day to hit Gavrinis as well, & returned to Carnac to seek room & board.
Carnac was full. Every hotel was packed to the hilt. Frustration levels rose accordingly as we tripped from establishment to establishment, slowly realising that we were not going to get a room anywhere within a 50-mile-radius of this vastly oversubscribed destination. We sagely decided to cut & run, making a solemn pact to return one day, & eventually scored another Ibis on the outskirts of Lorien. As we scoured the aforementioned guidebooks purchased earlier that morning, it became apparent that we would need at least a year to fully appreciate the megalithic heritage of Bretagne.
The next day we headed for Concarneau, a walled citadel I had visited with the Encoule clan over 30 previously. I phoned my parents, excitedly relaying the news that it hadn’t changed a bit (unlike La Rochelle!). I suddenly felt like a 10-year-old all over again. The decades dropped from my before weathered soul like the petals from a wilting rose. I held Jeanetta tightly - ecstatic to be in such a special place with such a special person. “Take care,” said my father down the line, “watch out for suspicious packages on the ferry home!” I somehow doubted that blowing up cross-channel ferries was anywhere near as spectacular as taking out a Boeing 747 30,000 ft above Kennedy airport - & assured him that we had nothing to fear from Al Quieda & everything to fear from our own government. We said goodbye before the usual New Labour v Old Labour debate had a chance to kick in: “they don’t call him Tony Bliar for nothing, Dad. Au revoir!”
We arrived in the St Malo I knew so well late the next day. The accumulated kilometres were beginning to take their toll. It was starting to feel like an endurance test. We’d spent so much time on the road these past 4 days that my back/liver (never can tell which) was killing me – the Holy Water had failed. A few relaxing days in romantic St Malo was just what we needed. We parked up & began to hit the hotels on foot. With every step the futility of our task multiplied. Full. Full. Full. Fuck off. Full. Full. Full. We headed for the tourist information office to no avail. St Malo was full. There was a festival on, apparently. The nearest hotel room was in Rennes – 50 fucking miles away!
Said 50 miles were driven in ensuing darkness. The temperature had dropped for the first time in 3 weeks – jeans & boots were retrieved from the dark recesses of the back of the motor. If you factored in the blazing months of May, June & July back in Blighty – I’d worn shorts & sandals for nearly 4 months straight. Get me the Guinness Book Of Records on the phone!
We booked into yet another Etap, & duly headed into Rennes in search of sustenance. Rennes initially appeared to rival NYC or Tokyo in the tall buildings stakes. “Of course, most of it was flattened in WW2”, I said, in my best David Niven voice. We eventually stumbled across a charming metropolitan bistro packed with local residents. This must be the place. The food was delicious, the rose was chilled to perfection - & the bill was so reasonable you wanted to pay them twice. By the time we’d demolished 3 courses & a litre carafe each, we were talking so loudly & laughing so hard we barely noticed the remaining punters in the restaurant watching us, aghast. Pissed & merry, we bade our hosts ‘bon soir’ & headed off in search of the motor.
Finding the motor was relatively easy - finding our way out of Rennes & back to the hotel was not. We spun around the city centre, laughing as we went, driving on the wrong side of the road, pissing ourselves at our ineptitude, begging to be arrested. Cars were beeping down their noses in our general direction, cyclists mounted pavements in defence of their legs, pedestrians stood & shook their heads, as if to say: “Encore des Anglais”. Ur knows how we made it back to the hotel. In retrospect, it was neither big nor clever. I know they never chased me up for the parking ticket they gave me in St Malo back in the 90s, but I’m sure they would have thrown our arses in jail if they’d breathalysed me that particular night.
Slightly hungover the next morning, we decided to go stone hunting and went in search of the alignments at Plesin. Here we discovered a plaque in French illustrating how the ley lines from Carnac passed through this very spot on their way to their final destination: Mont St Michel. After Carnac, Plesin was a puppy by comparison. Not that it bothered us. Look at our faces. Do we look bothered? We took our time, hugged every megalith, found a satellite menhir in an adjacent field - & rambled along a sunken Roman footpath.
After coffee in the impressively medieval Dinan, we headed for the most impressive mehir on the Bretagne peninsular: Champ Dolent, at Dol-de-Bretagne. In front of us lay Mont St Michel – behind us a trail of dolmens, menhirs, circles & tumuli heading all the way down to Carnac. Our trip had begun to resemble a pilgrimage, with Mont St Michel our destination.
We arrived in Mont St Michel with no real expectation of securing a room. Surely the same would happen here as it had in La Rochelle, Carnac & St Malo? I tried the Green Hotel regardless, & was so taken aback with securing a vacancy that I booked us in for two nights. It was settled, we’d end Part 1 of our tour here – where the ley lines converged.
Having decamped & dumped the kit in our modest room, we made our way across the causeway to Le Mont. Pilgrims were still flocking in – despite the lateness of the day – plenty of Italians, for some reason. We scored maps & leaflets at the foot of Le Mont – a quick perusal of the historical context revealed a total denial of Le Mont’s pagan heritage. According to the blurb, history started here in 500AD. Fucking Roman Catholics, always appropriating. As we climbed the narrow cobbled street that rises through the heart of the complex to the entrance to the Abbey above, we became increasingly bitter & resentful of the lies perpetuated in the name of Christianity. Did any of our fellow pilgrims appreciate the true significance of what they were about to behold? We doubted it. Once inside the Abbey, we located the spot directly below the central spire – roughly marking the centre of Le Mont - & held each other tight. I gave thanks to Ur - & prayed for the return of the wisdom we lost so long ago. Jeanetta just smiled serenely & we made our descent through the bowels of the Abbey. As amazing a feet of engineering that this building undoubtedly is, for us, the most important moment was when we found the original summit of Le Mont, deep in the bowels of the Abbey itself. Our fellow pilgrims regarded us with suspicion as we hugged the outcrop of rock, feeling for the energy that had been transmitted in its general direction for millennia. This was the end of the road for us: the culmination of 3,000 miles of adventure. It was a fitting finale - & one we won’t forget in a hurry.
That night we dined in style & Jeanetta consumed Oysters at an alarming rate. My system, clogged by too much alcohol in too little time, was in severe need of rehydration. I therefore spent the entire evening consuming litres of water - until, around 10 pm - I felt suitably cleansed - & was duly pissing see-through urine every 10 minutes.
Our final day was spent pottering the aforementioned Dinan, scoffing crepes, downing coffee & reading about Muslim extremists & the imminent threat to our nation’s security: “I suppose we’re gonna face a whole new strata of security restrictions on the ferry tomorrow”, I mused.
We arose early the next morning & hit the road back to Dunkerque, taking no chances, expecting delays - & fearing the worst. We arrived a good hour or so ahead of the sailing - & proceeded to wait it out. As we boarded the boat, any sense of heightened security was clearly not evident. No passport control, no customs, no laptop or Ipod confiscation. Al Quieda could be importing weapons of mass destruction wholesale via the sea routes to this septic isle - & no one would be any the wiser until they exploded in situ. The hypocrisy of the situation was galling, to say the least.
The crossing was uneventful & we docked at Dover just before 6pm. We drove off the ferry, straight through customs – directly onto the Queen’s highway. Not so much as a passport was checked. Nothing was declared. Surely, it’s bound to happen one day – if there really is a threat, that is? At the height of one of the biggest security constructs this nation has ever known – we were on the M25 within the hour (having already been cut up twice, tailgated & undertaken by indigenous road users. It’s so good to touch the green, green grass of home!).
We could have blown up every service station between Dover & SuponA - & no one would have been any the wiser. Food for thought, mobsters.
Part 2: Bru na Boinne
Barely a week later – pressing trakMARX business having been duly taken care of – Jeanetta & I, along with her daughter, Jeaniella, & my eldest daughter, Jeanberella, set off early one morning for Fishguard - & a further ferry. We were initially heading for Ardpatrick, County Tipperary - where Jeanetta’s eldest (problem?) child, Jean-Thomas – had been at Brat Camp (Roman Catholic Division) for the duration of Part 1 of our trip.
On arrival at Fishguard Dock, I was alerted that a photographer (who shall remain nameless!) was after payment for a photo of his we’d ‘inadvertently’ used in the blurb for our Meet Eater extravaganza at London’s 100 Club on September 28th. Obviously, having never paid anyone anything for any image we’ve ever used anywhere in the 1000s of pages on Punk Rock & Roll we’ve self-published over the last 5 years, we weren’t going to start now. Apologies duly dictated – trusting our excuses have placated - we boarded the waiting Seacat.
For those of you that have never sailed on a Seacat before – I can only liken the experience to spending 2.5 hours on the Waltzers (eternally spinning, sick inducing fair ride of the strictly old school variety: ”One more time, on the Waltzers, round we go, faster each time!”). I spent the entire crossing feigning sleep – leaving Jeanetta to manage the kids. Seacat may be quick – but it’s not clever.
As we left the confines of Rosslare Ferry Terminal it was immediately apparent that the Irish have a similar approach to driving as the French - & indeed – the Spanish. After only a few kilometres the induced stress of being behind a wheel in the UK had returned to comparable Continental levels. Bliss.
The girls soon fell asleep en masse - & it was down to me to map-read & drive at the same time. We eventually stopped off at a Tesco in Clonmel for victuals – but mostly for me to keep up my impressive summer record of shaving in unlikely public places (an underground car park in Canet, a service station near Girona, a tourist office toilet near Cahors, etc, etc). We phoned ahead to Brat Camp: we’d be there within the hour!
Following a brief dressing down on the application of parental skills & the importance of regularly attending mass, we were soon back on the road - heading North for Dublin. Jean-Thomas, having so recently & so solemnly promised – in front of his mother, myself & the Mother Superior – that he would continue to: be good/stop swearing at his mother/do as he was told/pray daily/stop punching fellow class mates/keep up the equestrian activities - & renounce dialling 999 whenever he was called upon to do something he didn’t like – quickly announced that he fecking hated fecking riding, couldn’t wait to get home to his Xbox 360 - & had no intention of ever returning to Eire again. “Stick the fecking Ramones on, fecking loud!” he screamed from the back of the motor.
Da Brudders duly shepherded us onward to our night’s accommodation – a superbly appointed, recently opened motel on the outskirts of Portalaoise. The establishment had only been completed in June of this year! It was squeaky clean, luxurious - & would have cost us an arm & a leg in rip off Britain. Needless to say, we all dined heartily for considerably less than we’d have paid for the same fayre back home. Result.
The inter-offspring arguments had already commenced by the time Jeanetta & I regained consciousness the following morning. The rain was falling hard, the skies were as black as the ace of spades - & we didn’t have any Motorhead on board to soften the blow. The kids were feisty, demanding & louder than Lemmy anyhow – so we stuck with Hot Chip (part of Jeanberella’s nascent collection, I hasten to add!).
We arrived at The Hill Of Tara just before lunch - & the kids soon twigged that Jeanetta & I may have had ulterior motives for the trip after all. The Hill Of Tara is best known as the seat of the High Kings Of Ireland during the early centuries AD – but the presence of The Mound Of The Hostages – a Neolithic passage tomb – confirms that the site has been a sacred terrain for us heathens for millennia prior to Christendom. Even though the rain spat down incessantly, the kids were excited & entertained in equal measure. We raced up & down embankments, in & out of ring ditches - & eventually coerced our charges past the aforementioned Mound Of The Hostages, The Rath Of The Synods, The Royal Enclosure, Rath Laoire, The Banquet Hall, The Sloping Enclosures & Rath Grainne. The visit ended with another Holy Well: we drank, we blessed - & I rubbed some more into my aching back/liver.
That night we stopped in a packed Drogheda – apparently, there was a festival on! We took the only hotel we could get (eventually scoring a discount - & a change of rooms – after Jeanetta found yet another pubic hair in the allegedly freshly made bed), dined Italian - & were all kept awake until 1am the next morning by the constant thump of the bass-drum in the club in the hotel basement that no one had told us about when we booked in.
The next morning, following further heated ‘discussions’ with the hotel’s ‘management’, we eventually departed for Bru na Boine – home of Newgrange, Knowth & Dowth passage tombs. Access to the sites is strictly via the Bru na Boine Visitor Centre – so we parked up, booked our bus passage - & set off on our voyage of Neolithic discovery.
Knowth is simply one of the most amazing megalithic sites I have ever had the pleasure to visit. The atmosphere was otherworldly, the site was nothing less than impressive - & our guide was informed & witty at the same time – a neat trick, if you can pull it off! Jeanberella & Jeaniella loved the rickety bus rides - & soon made friends with an 8-year-old Italian girl. Jean-Thomas, however, was sinking ever deeper into the kind of depression 11-year-old boys suffer when estranged from their consoles for long periods of time. The question was repeated ad nauseum - every few minutes: “When are we going home?”
Newgrange – whilst perhaps lacking some of the romantic vibes of Knowth – made up for it with vastly superior technology: this was so much more than just a passage tomb - it was a calendar, an observatory & a shrine - all rolled into one. Historians & archaeologists alike are only recently beginning to fully appreciate the scope of what went on at Newgrange 4500-years-ago!
Lunch at the visitor centre was reduced to a sprint as the pressure to return to the UK mounted with every mouthful: “I just want to get back to my games,” announced an increasingly mournful Jean-Thomas. We said goodbye to the small Italian contingent - & hit the road for Dublin Port.
As we navigated our way around Dublin Port – a massive sprawling carbuncle on the face of Prince Charles – we soon began to realise that we weren’t just going to drive straight onto a ferry-rapide bound for Liverpool - & be home in time for tea. The next ship out of Dublin Port was a freight ferry – with no amenities – that was leaving at 9pm that evening - & would drop us off at Liverpool 8-hours later! Jean-Thomas – desperately clutching at straws - informed the ferry agent that we’d ‘suffered a family bereavement & had to be back in England immediately’. My face reddened with embarrassment – but it cut no ice with the ferry master (not unsurprisingly, as I later pointed out to Jean-Thomas: “you think they’re going to say: ‘ahh, in that case, young fellow me lad, we’ll alter our schedule accordingly & you WILL join the mourners at the graveside in time for the final absolutions’”.
A terse ‘family meeting’ took place on the quayside – the kids concerns were paramount: “we’re bored”! We decided to hotfoot it to the more car passenger friendly port of Dun Laoghaire – some 40 minutes south. We arrived an hour later - just in time to see the port gates close - & the 3.45pm ferry for Hollyhead make it’s way out of the harbour. A few cars were already left stranded the wrong side of the gates! We chatted with irate passengers who’d missed their ferry because of horrific traffic hold ups all over Ireland: apparently, there was a festival on. I left the rapidly irksome kids with Jeanetta & the motor - & proceeded to the Stenna Line Rapid Ferry Booking Office.
The queue in front of me was full of complaints. The roads, the traffic – the fecking festivals! One couple had taken over 5-hours to complete their 2- hour journey - & were not best pleased at the news that the next Stenna Rapid Ferry was not leaving port until 9.35pm. By the time I reached a booking operative, The Guardia were standing by – just in case things got out of hand in the queue, I presumed. The crossing home to Xbox 360 land cost over £250 – more than the return ferry to France & the Fishguard/Rosslare crossings combined. I was outraged. The Guardia inched closer. The agent said, “If you want to make savings with Stenna Line – you have to book 6-months in advance. Do you want this passage, or not?” I glanced at The Guardia one more time, “What cam I do? You got me over a barrel.” I flung my Visa Card in his general direction with a huff.
I don’t know if any of you have ever spent 5-enforced hours in Dun Laoghaire – but even though there was a festival on – it was about as exciting as an all expenses paid trip to Rockingham Raceway to watch qualifying sessions for a Nascar meeting. The kids, by now, had become volatile, to say the least. Those last 5-hours seemed to last 5-days – we passed a couple of hours arguing over a pizza – before moving the car inside the port gates & into lane 3 – ensuring our passage beyond doubt. The atmosphere in the motor worsened with every barbed expletive (from the kids, that is, I hasten to add!). I consoled myself with a shave in the toilets of the Café on the dockside – whilst Jeanetta buried herself in her copy of The Fascist On Sunday & sulked.
We docked at Hollyhead at midnight - & I pointed the motor towards home. The kids were asleep in seconds - & I didn’t need a map-reader to find my direction home. The pedal hit the metal, the needle hit a steady 100mph on the clock - & we were back in SuponA by 2.45am – just in time for a contretemps with a few pissed up revellers leaving Oscars bound for the Chicago Rock Café & further alcohol. Hello, hello – good to be back, good to be back. Goodness gracious, indeed.
A visit to the doctors on my return - & the results of a few more blood tests – have now confirmed what the aching in my rear nether regions actually is: permanent liver damage! It would appear that my 2-years on the wagon were not sufficient for regeneration after all. I either pack up all toxins forthwith – or I’ll be Jack Kerouac within 2-years. Sobering news. If you bump into me at Meet Eater on the 28th: mine’s a mineral water.
“Inside The Neolithic Mind” – David Lewis-Williams/David Pearce – www.thamesandhudson.com
“Push Yourself Just A Little Bit More: Backstage At The Tour De France” – Johnny Green – www.orionbooks.co.uk
“Andalus” – Jason Webster – www.booksattransworld.co.uk
“Megalithic European” – Julian Cope - www.headheritage.co.uk/merchandiser/books_and_merchandise
Jean Aramis Encoule – tMx 26 – 08/06
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