On the Sunday night JB's parents were putting us up in La Rochelle, but didn't have room for seven guests so their opposite neighbour Kevin put up four of us. It was a lovely place, and obviously just their summer home - Mrs Kevin (I didn't catch her name) was a teacher in Winchester, and Kevin was something indefinable in the music industry. We spent quite a long time the next day wondering how someone could afford to have a second home a few yards from a glorious Atlantic beach. Clearly it was rented out to people the rest of the year as Kevin & Mrs Kevin and their two daughters' rooms were in the basement, separate from the rooms we had, but still, lots of money was involved there. We went across to JB's for breakfast and again his dad was overwhelmingly hospitable - as fast as we could eat the toast, croissants, pain au chocolat, four types of jam, fresh fruit, cereal, coffee and juice, they were replaced. JB's mom Nicole asked if we wanted coffee or tea. Andrew asked for coffee but I asked for tea and she was thrilled. 'I knew it!' she said, pleased with my being stereotypically English. The JB family are absolutely wonderful and we've exchanged details for when Nicole comes over here next year with a bunch of students, and if you ever happen to find yourself in La Rochelle I am sure they'd give anyone just as amazing a welcome.
We then set off back on the long drive back to Calais - just me and Andrew as the band were going on to Portugal a couple of days later, and then back to the US. Luckily Nicole had told us that the Monday was a serious Catholic bank holiday and everywhere would be shut, and she was right. (Kyle: What's the holiday for? Nicole: Mary ascends to heaven. Kyle: Oh! Good for her!) The only things open were service stations and a Carrefour where I stocked up on Dijon mustard. Dijon mustard isn't better when you buy it in France because it doesn't actually have a protected status - it doesn't have to be made in Dijon - but it's massively more cheap. €1 for a jar that would have been at least £3 in England, in a jar re-usable as a tumbler, and €2 for one in a wine glass shape. Why on earth doesn't the UK do more of that? It's the most basic and obvious idea of recyclability; jars with a peel-off lid that you can wash out and reuse as a glass.
But back to the service station route, and here's where we get deep into the (quite literal) bowels of my digestive system. It's not very nice. At home I tend to drink at least six cups of tea a day, and two pints of water, and usually some fruit juice, and I have a good diet with plenty of veg. After a week of mostly meat and cheese, with the occasional tiny service station coffee, my innards were in a bad way and sitting in the van for hours at a time was becoming very painful. After dropping off Kyle in Nantes where he was picking up a hire car I was finally free to say to Andrew, through gritted teeth, 'I am going to the toilet. I will be a very long time.' Ouch. But what a relief in the end. The van seat felt much more comfortable after that was out. Sorry there.
I'd booked the Monday night off work which was a bloody good idea as we were only just in time for our ferry, and then we got stopped by both sets of customs in France, and again in England. I'm not entirely sure what the point of the Calais ones was - French customs stopped us and searched the van, and UKBA customs stopped us three yards later. The UKBA guys had clearly watched the van get checked over by French customs, but still wanted their own go. And then on arrival in Dover we got the full lot. 'Driving a band sir? What band? So where are they now?' while they climb round the back of the van and bang all the panels. They didn't ask me to get out of the front passenger seat, which was full of stuff, so the main impetus is looking for immigrants rather than drugs, I think. And having been through this before with Andrew driving a band van with no actual band in I've realised that they send a guy up front who asks chummy questions like 'oh what band? Will I have heard of them?' not out of interest, but because they have mikes picking everything up, and someone listening in is checking whether that band is currently doing a European tour.
Andrew and I once went to Belgium for the day, just for the hell of it, and that was fun. 'So you went to Europe for no reason?' No. 'You didn't visit friends?' No. 'Didn't do any shopping?' No.' Buy any duty free?' No. 'You normally drive bands in a van, don't you sir?' Er yes (and how the hell do you know that?') But as we weren't actually carrying any illegal immigrants or drugs, and Crystal Stilts had checked out as having toured Europe recently, we were allowed home, via Brixton to drop the band's gear off.
On arrival home, the place hadn't burned down. I have no idea why, but for all my life, whenever I've been on a holiday longer than a weekend, I always arrive home convinced that my house will have burned down in my absence. I always round the corner and let out a deep sigh to see it still there. I have the same feeling about returning to my workplace after a long holiday, but that's more of an 'oh bugger it's still there. Oh well, back to work it is then' feeling.