SW Resident columnist Louise Candlish takes a cruise on her family holiday in France…
One of the surest signs of ageing is a loss of cynicism regarding cruise holidays. I don’t mean those floating care homes aboard which nonagenarians breathe their last into a plate of Mississippi Mud Pie after one buffet too many – we’re not quite there yet – but cruising of the river variety, the idea of a nice sit down on a sun-drenched deck while pyramids and palaces slide gently by.
And so it is one Sunday evening during an ITV mystery drama ad break, the ones sponsored by Viking Cruises, that I say to Andrew, ‘I think I might like to go on a river cruise.’
‘I have two words to say to that,’ he says, not even bothering to turn. ‘Koh Samui.’ This, said in a tone of fear and loathing, alludes (unfairly) to a canoeing incident thirteen years ago that involved a terrible argument and the pair of us not speaking for 24 hours. ‘It’s just because you’ve seen this same TV ident twenty times in two hours,’ he adds. ‘You do realise they’ve paid millions of pounds to get you to think you might like to go on a cruise?’
‘It’s the river element,’ I say. ‘I’d like knowing that I could strike out for land at any time. You know, in an emergency situation.’
‘I see,’ he snickers. ‘Why not just stay on land in the first place rather than worrying about the need to “strike out” for it?’
‘Shut up,’ I say, as ‘Endeavour’ comes back on.
Soon after, in France on holiday, we pitch up in the idyllic little village of Coulon, staging post for a network of waterways known as La Venise Verte (the water used to be bright green with algae but now, inexplicably, it’s not). ‘Hey, let’s go on a boat trip!’
‘Two words,’ Andrew says.
‘Oh, come on, that was the South China Sea. These are canals. And this is France, people are properly trained in search and rescue. Two hours with a guide, s’il vous plait,’ I say to the girl in the booth.
‘No guides available for three hours,’ she says.
‘We’ll row ourselves,’ Andrew sighs. ‘But you have to follow my instructions this time, Louise. There can only be one captain.’
‘Bien sur, Sir.’
We board our vessel – not one of the cute rowing boats everyone else seems to be in but a much larger one that could seat twelve, more like a barge and almost as long as the waterways are wide. Two minutes into two hours of sweating and toiling and I haven’t felt so exhausted since the last leg of the Inca Trail; before long, there is more blister than real skin on my hands. Meanwhile veteran cruise-goers sail effortlessly past, picnics spread on their knees, chortling at our red faces.
But, to misquote Jerome K Jerome, we have come to the water for enjoyment and enjoyment we mean to have, even if it kills us. ‘I like it when we get stuck in the tree roots,’ I say. ‘It makes it more fun.’
‘If you say so,’ Andrew says.
Finally, rather later than billed but at least still friends, we return the boat and drag our aching limbs to the car. It is decided that the least blistered will drive.
‘Look at this one on my thumb,’ Andrew says. ‘It’s going to leave a scar.’
‘Well, there’ll be no scars when we do our river cruise,’ I promise.
‘Not physical ones, no,’ he says.
Louise’s novel The Disappearance of Emily Marr, is out now in paperback