Thursday, 24 April 2008

We rise good and early. Bordeaux has rejuvenated us. No longer am I the living dead. Our eyes are bright (well, they're no longer murky and bloodshot). Our tails are bushy.

We follow the boulevard out of the city centre. The weather is appalling. We bump into another set of hitchers, who look bedraggled and spiritually spent. Having spent the last day and a half living a life of opulence - our own beds in a cosy apartment, chi-chi bars and calorific crepes - we feel smug and self-satisfied. We express our sympathy and wish them luck.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing over where to stand, we soon snag a lift with an incredibly cool guy, driving a black Mercedes. In fact, he is perhaps a bit too cool because both of us are too scared to talk to him. I opt for sleep, whilst Sofia rides upfront and squirms with awkwardness. We are dispatched at a service station just outside of Toulouse (or "Tolouse" as our cardboard sign would have it). This is just as well, as my bladder is close to eruption, and I am craving some overpriced food from the estacion de servicio. I prop up our signs on our tables, so that we can be working our pitch whilst we munch and slurp. Soon enough, a Mickey Rooney lookalike (albeit a slightly older version of Mickey Rooney as he was in Rumblefish, when he was glamorously shifty, rather than corpulent and creepy) wanders over and eyes us with curiosity. After a short obervation period, in which we are clearly, he utters the immortal line: "I'll give you a lift, although you're allowed to change your mind once you see my car."

We assure him that we are not pernickey hitchers and that as long as it has wheels and it goes, we'll be content. As it turns out, the winding mechanism on the driver's side window has bust and been replaced on a pro tem basis with gaffa tape and plastic wallets. This makeshift repair did manage to keep the wind out, but had the unfortunate effect of generating a loud noise which drowned out conversation once we reached the Autoroute. Our driver, Jerome, is a Carlos Castenada-reading, jazz-loving customs official who has lived in Blighty for a time.
After some shouted conversation (he tells us a great story about him and his friend wearing shades and pretending they were Miami Vice cops), he takes a shine to us (or decides we are a danger to ourselves) and invites us back to his house to stay with him, his wife and his two children.

Upon arrival Jerome's beautiful (and clearly exhausted) wife Rima thrust the youngest child into his hands. The older child, Victor, age 5, turns out to be a wonderful, vivacious boy who, after exhausting his five English words, quickly coerces Sofia into playing games. N.B. it is a rule that adults are incapable of understanding most games children play, and should be advised that winning in such games is impossible, and maybe even prohibited by law. Emerging from the lavatory to demands from Victor for a display of swordsmanship, it transpired that whilst peeing Jerome had kindly informed his first-born that I was a swordmaster! I stood my ground, brandished the toy sword, before informing Victor that he was too young and that I would return in a couple of years. Phew.

Our hosts filled us with pasta and salad and plied us with alcohol. After asking if I thought the red wine proffered seemed okay (always a daunting question: was it from the family vineyard? Was it from the ancestral wine cellar? Oh God...), Jerome declared me "definitely English". The wine was slightly corked, but as my nose was still ravaged by coldiness, I was none the wiser. Vino was followed by a fantastic French apple liquor which, having been kept frozen, was breath-catchingly cold and so really hit the spot.

We slid into bed, our faith in human nature restored.

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