Ed, Pearl and a sunshine bus of happy campers
Before I start this epic (in length anyway) blog, I have to thank Ed and Pearl for allowing me to share their adventures, even though this is my account of an eventful week, ie from the point of view of an over-worrying mum. I guess it is true when they say you never stop worrying about your children, no matter how old they get.
Ed and Pearl set off last weekend for summer job with a difference, and one that is a world away from the more routine library job he enjoyed last summer. This year they will be working away for five weeks as the responsible leaders in charge of taking adults with learning difficulties on holiday. It will be a busy summer for them, chaperoning three sets of seven people - two fortnight holidays followed by one week, staying in gîtes in the Lot and then the Creuse.
We are equally proud of them and terrified at the responsibility that will be on their shoulders, but we are quite sure if they can survive this, which will include driving a minibus, budgeting for all the holiday expenses, cooking and cleaning (with added covid-19 protocols) as well as day trips and entertainment, they can probably survive anything and will undoubtably learn so much. They are undeniably the most sensible twenty-one and twenty-two-year old’s we know, old before their time, living in a one-bedroom flat (with balcony) in a quiet residential street well away from the hot spots of Poitiers’ student nightlife. Pearl is quiet and caring; a gentle soul who scoops up the lost and injured and who animals always warm to. Ed has a sensitive and caring side too and as this first week away would prove, the ability to remain calm under pressure. On the flip side, they both have amazing airhead moments when I worry about leaving them in charge of an ice-cream.
The long goodbyes
We got to their flat just after eight o’clock on Saturday morning to give them a bit of morale-boosting and ensure nothing important would be left behind, of which we were only partially successful. As we parked up in a remote corner of a lycée carpark, close enough to the Futuroscope theme park to hear the screams of delight from happy holidaying families, we asked if they would prefer us to hide in the car or were happy to be seen in public with us. Given our roles as bag carriers, we all marched over to the marquees and portacabins that will now be the summer hub for the association organising accompanied holidays for around two-thousand vulnerable adults, with a team of around four hundred staff members – 98% of whom are students.
Having signed in and admired around fifty hired minibuses from Titi Location, used during term time for school pick-ups and drop-offs, their first task was assigned to them. Pearl, being one of the oldest (at 22) was the designated driver of a Titibus to take a van full of other students to the hire car centre by the station in Poitiers, twelve kilometres away. As Ed and Pearl will be working together all summer, and Ed was the more enthusiastic candidate, they had an understanding – Ed would be the driver of the minibus, Pearl in charge of navigation. Thrown in at the deep end, she bravely overcame her nerves and made it back safely, followed by a convoy of Europe Car hired vehicles, most with an array of scratches, scrapes and dents in all panels. We proudly stood at a respectable distance as Ed displayed a perfect reverse parking manoeuvre on something that is almost double the length of his Fiat Panda, a skill he has obviously inherited from his father, not me. These few hours of helicopter parenting reassured us that despite their youth and inexperience in so many areas, they would probably be fine, and it was time to take our leave. Many of their summer colleagues were equally as inexperienced and were only just eighteen, so also fairly new to driving – what could possibly go wrong? We hugged them both and returned to their flat to pick up the washing and close it down for the summer. We also scanned in a medical certificate and sent it over to Pearl, the original having failed to make it into her luggage, despite our last-minute checks this morning.
It seems their standard laundry policy is to fill their laundry basket until the point of overspill, have a rummage on the top for the essentials and put a wash load on. While this must work for them, every now and again a visit from the laundry fairy to prove there is indeed a bottom to the basket seems a good idea and resulted in four large laundry bags of clothes, another one of bedding and one of assorted towels and tea towels filling the back seat of our car. We also vacuumed the bedroom, emptied the fridge and defrosted the icebox, and cleaned the bathroom, before treating ourselves to a burger lunch at a local diner. Such is our efficiency, we squeezed in a weekly shop on our way home and still had enough time to get the first wash load on and hung out, around our constant checking for text messages from Ed.
|Albas, the Lot|
Their first holiday makers arrived Saturday afternoon, identical twin brothers (with different shaped glasses to help differentiate them) who according to Ed were rather quiet and not too chatty. They all spent the night in a local hotel before the arrival of the rest of the group and the official departure on Sunday. Their three-hundred- and forty-five-kilometre route to the Lot had to go via Limoges, where they picked up their last two clients on the ring road, a chatty wife and quieter husband, and everyone enjoyed a group-getting-to-know-you picnic in Limoges. Before hitting the road once more, they stopped for some essential shopping as the packed picnic from the association, that was supposed to be sufficient for lunch and dinner on Sunday, was woefully empty.
We dot-watched Ed’s mobile phone location on and off on Sunday afternoon, as the excitement of a local semi-pro bicycle race flew through our village, and decked out in our florescent yellow vests, we took our traffic marshalling roles very seriously indeed, before joining friends for a cold beer. Once our phone revealed our travellers had arrived without incident, my anxiety levels began to abate, just a little.
Monday was a red-alert day for us for extreme heat, with temperatures expected to rise above 40º. Although it had been 36º when they arrived at their gîte, the department of the Lot wasn’t expected to be quite as hot as where we were, but they sensibly decided a quiet day in the cool would be best for everyone. They were joined by Martino, a more experienced member of staff who would be with them until Friday lunchtime, to ensure they had everything under control and give them both some downtime, as there would be no rest days in week two. Siestas were encouraged and the planned early evening walk in a shady spot put on hold when everyone emerged post-siesta dressed in pjs.
Tuesday morning and we awoke to the smell of burning and heavy, leaden skies. The temperature had dropped overnight and the change in wind direction meant the smoke from the devastating forest fires between Arcachon and Bordeaux had reached us, some two-hundred kilometres to the north-east. A quick text to Ed revealed they had missed this excitement and the sun was still shining on their holiday, for now.
We spotted his phone location in Cahors and imagined them to be taking in the sights of the fourteenth century Valentré bridge, with its towers, arches and cobbles, that is one of our favourite places in the area, but realising they would be busy, tried our best not to keep messaging for updates. As my evening yoga class drew to a close and I’d settled down for the relaxation part, my phone began to ring. Adrian was still out on his bike, so relaxation was the last thing my mind was capable of with a ringing phone down in the kitchen. It wasn’t a call for help from Adrian, but Ed out in the garden of the gîte uttering the words “there’s no need for a parent-panic, Mum, but we’ve got a bit of a situation”.
While the theory of creating ‘family’ groups of strangers for accompanied holiday experiences is spot-on, we are still living through a pandemic and it seems our companion Covid-19 didn’t want to be left out.
Pearl had begun to feel unwell on Sunday, got a positive result from a home Covid-19 test on Monday, that was confirmed by a PCR test on Tuesday morning, hence their visit to Cahors. The good news was that Ed was suffering no symptoms and his PCR had come back negative. They were awaiting further instructions from the association, but as her results hadn’t arrived until after six o’clock, nothing much could be decided until the following day. Their sleeping arrangements in this gîte were bunk beds, which at least gave a bit more of a safety buffer than a double bed. Luckily, with Martino already onsite, there was no immediate need for a replacement member of staff.
My covid panic-monitor rose sharply at the realisation that I’d stripped their bed not more than a few hours after they’d rolled out of it on Saturday and bundled all their laundry into the car, some of it having made it through the washing machine, some of it still bagged in our laundry room. The fact that Ed was holding his own was reassuring and by now it was too late to worry about my lack of personal protection equipment, or that we’d hugged them both goodbye.
Texts were flying on Wednesday as I checked in with Pearl to see how she was feeling, reassured myself that Ed was still feeling OK and hung on with tenterhooks to see what the group PCR results would be as today’s fun activity had been a minibus ride back to the Covid-19 test centre in Cahors. Luckily all results came back clear, and Pearl had used her time to liaise with the association. It seems that despite it only being the first few days of the first week, theirs was not the only group to be hit with Covid-19. The association had taken out an insurance policy that provided an ambulance taxi service to evacuate staff members falling ill, so at seven o’clock on Wednesday evening an ambulance arrived to collect Pearl and drive her back to the flat in Poitiers – the flat that we had stripped bare on Saturday, turning off the electrics as we shut the front door behind us. Luckily for Pearl, Adrian wasn’t working, so had made a mercy dash with a few food essentials, the freshly washed bedding and towels, and ensured that when she arrived at almost midnight, there was a tank of hot water for a shower.
It might be that I’m just nosey, but there are times when I am the sort of person whose head is full of questions, and this was one of those times. I had questions for Pearl about how she was feeling, what symptoms she had and what would happen next in terms of being signed off from work, when she could return and how that would happen? I had questions for Ed about how he was feeling, what would happen when Martino had to leave on Friday lunchtime, would they need to keep testing everyone and had he safely managed to wash Pearl’s bedding from the top bunk? I also had questions about how the group were settling in together and had anyone been panicked at Pearls departure in an ambulance?
Thursday evening and once again my phone rang and once again, it was Ed. We might keep in contact regularly by text, but a real live call from him, is a rare occurrence and as I’d soon find out, not usually one imparting good news.
This morning Martino had woken up with a cracking headache, which prompted a home test and another positive result for Covid-19. He wasn’t feeling up to doing much, so the group were given the option of a quiet day indoors if their mobility wasn’t too good and a trip to a Plus Beaux Villages de France for those who felt they could manage it. Ed and half the group packed a picnic and climbed in the minibus for the hours’ drive to St-Cirq-Lapopie, accessed via a narrow road that twists and turns up a gorge. Sometimes it’s not a benefit as an anxious parent to know the full details, but having cycled up the gorge twice, ducking under the overhanging rock formations, I knew exactly what he was getting himself into, in sole charge of a minibus and half the group of vulnerable adults. Arriving back just after six o’clock, there was no rest for him as he was on dinner duties, but he did receive the welcome news that another member of staff, Evan, had just left Poitiers and would be with them sometime after ten o’clock.
Le Tour de France
Friday was a day of much excitement for our happy campers as the Tour de France was passing through their village on its way to a finish line in Cahors. This meant a lot of road closures, so the obvious activity for the day was to walk into the village and soak up the atmosphere of the publicity caravane that precedes the passing of the cyclists. The only one unable to enjoy the fun was Martino who was shut in his bedroom awaiting his official PCR result before he could leave, something that had been delayed by twenty-four hours due to the arrival of the Tour de France. Luckily all other members of the group were still symptom free.
We eagerly watched the live race coverage on TV hoping for a glimpse of Ed at the side of the road, only to be disappointed as the camera cut to an overhead view of field art at the critical moment. At least some of the group had bagged some freebies from the caravane and although there was a mini panic when they lost one of the group on the walk back to the gîte, Ed assures me they found him again pretty quickly. It was lovely to get a photo of them all that evening in a local restaurant, happy and smiling as they waited for their burgers.
Pearl’s official sick-note only lasted until the end of Friday, which seemed woefully inadequate to me, but I guess we have reached the stage in the pandemic where the economy must keep rolling. I also found it a bit harsh that despite her dramatic evacuation, it was up to her to plan her return to the group. The train looked long and complicated, so she found a car-share option on BlaBlaCar and left Poitiers at four o’clock on the Saturday afternoon, with an arranged drop-off in the Cahors McDonald’s carpark later that evening.
I’m pleased to say she made it safely back without incident, although the text from Ed about the antics of the family whose car she had shared did raise a few eyebrows. It seems the first thing they did on arrival in Cahors is dive into the bin in the car park and come out triumphant with loads of bread to eat. They were even generous enough to offer to share their haul with Ed and Pearl.
It is a relief for us that team Ed and Pearl are back together, and her return also meant Ed got his first day off on Sunday, when Pearl and Evan took charge of outings and activities. Well done guys, we are so proud of you - you’ve made it through the first week and proved you are more than up to the job, despite the issues that have come your way. Dad will be back to the flat this week, to strip the bed, bag up the washing, empty the fridge and turn off the electrics. I hope the rest of the summer is more fun and less eventful than this first week has been.
This is a post for Mums everywhere and reading it back I know it says far more about my inability to let go than Ed and Pearl’s ability to cope in a crisis. If you’ve made it to the end, thank you.