“The French cannot get the hang of queueing. They try and try but it is beyond them… you see orderly lines waiting at bus stops, but as soon as the bus arrives the line disintegrates into something like a fire drill at a lunatic asylum….” Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’
When we woke the next morning there was a cheerful blue sky and we decided to walk out from the hotel and find a traditional brasserie for a continental breakfast. There was a chill in the air when we left but we found what we were looking for, took a table and ordered our food.
Unfortunately it turned out to be most disappointing with just a single bread stick and a croissant and a most unsatisfactory pot of lukewarm tea and at the table this morning we were accompanied by another dog, this time one that insisted on sneezing everywhere. Bloody charming, absolutely bloody charming! Some of the hotel reviews had recommended this option in preference to the hotel buffet breakfast and I deeply regretted having read them and even more having taken any notice of them.
Today we planned to take a bus ride to Saint Martin-de-Ré on the Ile de Ré that was about an hour’s journey away, so, knowing that the French are the World’s worst queue jumpers we arrived at the bus station in good time to find the departure point and stand with sharpened elbows at the front of the line. There was no line of course, just a disorderly crowd of people that was steadily getting larger and more excitable as we waited for the bus.
The French as we know can be extremely rude and the situation where they excel and demonstrate this quality best of all is in what can only very loosely be described as a queue. Eventually the bus arrived and as expected the crowd surged forward like a river breaking its banks but I have to say that despite its untidy appearance a sort of discipline began to gradually develop and although there was no shape or form to it was surprisingly orderly nevertheless and eventually everyone made their way onto the vehicle. A couple of professional queue-jumpers inevitably slipped in ahead of us but despite this setback we were soon on board and took a seat.
It was a wise decision to get on the bus at the first stop because after that it made several more stops through the town and was quickly full to capacity. At each stage there was a curious and intriguing little routine that was repeatedly played out each time with passengers seeming to have difficulty in making a seat selection that resulted in a farcical form of musical chairs as people swapped from one seat to another before they were finally satisfied with their choice and settled down.
At the main town bus stop the vehicle was full already when the final passengers got onto the bus. This was a mother and her four children who were accompanied by ‘grand mere’ and were off for a day on the beach on the island. The mother was only quite young but looked like an extra from the film ‘Deliverance’ and she was possibly the ugliest woman in France (if not the entire continent). I have to say that for me it is a source of constant disappointment that despite the reputation for being sexy I find that French women generally fail to live up to the pouting and voluptuous image of Bridget Bardot. In France the use of hairbrushes and deodorant if not completely forbidden by law is definitely frowned upon by tradition.
This woman took ugly not just to the next level but also into the stratosphere and beyond. She had lank greasy hair and a spitefully thin face with wild eyes, a lob-sided mouth and absolutely no teeth whatsoever (well ok, a few, but they weren’t in the right places!). It has to be said that I don’t possess a set of teeth to match Tom Cruise myself but that was due to the vigorous attention of the 1960’s school dentist who filled molars with indiscriminate haste on a mission to defraud the National Health Service but there was no excuse for the state of dental devastation that was on display here.
This was a face that could sink a thousand ships, a face that could turn a gorgon into stone, and a face that if it could be captured and bottled could be marketed as a near perfect form of birth control. She was ugly, really savagely ugly! It was surprising therefore that she had four children and this seriously perplexed me, and then I found the only possible answer, her husband was surely totally blind and he had a guide dog with a wicked sense of humour. Her children by contrast were good looking little things with perfect manners who behaved themselves for the entire journey and one behind us kept up an uninterrupted barrage of entertaining information for a fellow passenger about how he proposed to spend his day at the seaside.