This morning, I tell Heather confidently, she’ll see, the nine euros per person breakfast at the hotel will totally be worth it, because the lady at reception described delicious things and the promotional pictures on Booking.com depict sumptuous breakfast items on a sunny balcony. Of course, it’s just standard buffet crap with little packets of industrial jam and a tea machine. As we get ready to go, I hear the characteristic sound of a nappy filling up, and depart for the room to deal with it; in the time it takes to change Eliza the heavens open and it’s chucking it down something crazy. We decide to wait it out in the room and Zaza does her new thing of babbling adorably, progressing to mad laughing, shortly followed by rage crying. At eleven, the rain lets up enough for us to get in the car and leave in the direction of the village of Pezenas, former home of playwright Moliere, and seemingly well-endowed with quirky art galleries and little independent shops for Heather to browse.
But the weather is now almost sunny, so I suggest we bypass Pezenas entirely and push further South to the coast! “It’ll be great”, I say, “my dad said the oysters in Sete are some of the best in the country” (Hev is an oyster fan). It never takes much to convince Heather to go to the seaside so the plan is adopted. From the road I spot what look like flamingos and we stop at some industrial estate to look at them for a while.
Onwards to Sete. We park near the harbour and walk along the canal, taking in the washed out colours of the facades, the fishing boats and the incessant traffic. Eliza is thankfully asleep while we negotiate the narrow pavements to get to the bit with lots of restaurants. I’m pretty hungry, but Heather is experiencing the familiar thing where she’s somehow convinced that what we’re seeing is currently not great, but she thinks it’ll be gorgeous behind this corner, then this one, and then that one. There is nothing behind the final corner, so we retrace our steps back to one of the first restaurants we saw. It’s advertising home-cooked, fresh food; but the food is disappointing and my “tielle de Sete” (an octopus-filled pastry) has definitely been in a microwave in the recent past. Heather does sample the oysters, which are good. Cars roar past continuously between us and the canal. We are quite looking forward to leaving the city, actually – it’s not really captured our hearts.
Hev wants to head to the nearby village of Bouzigues, which she’s glimpsed from the road and has taken a fancy to. It’s a sleepy village at this season, but pretty – facing the Etang de Thau with all its oyster frames, with little boats galore and streets fragrant with jasmine. After this pleasant stop, Hev wants to drive along the shore line; but Zaza is now awake.
Now, OLD Zaza loved the car. NEW Zaza, however, hates the car; she likes: shouting, trying to sit up in the car seat and failing, laughing until she pisses herself off, slobber. As we depart Bouzigues, there is uninterrupted screeching from the back seat directly behind my head and I cannot make sense of whether this is a road to the shore line or the driveway to an oyster warehouse and now we’re back on the sodding departmental dual carriageway anyway. “Hey, would you mind taking a detour through this next little town please?” shouts Heather above the racket. “Sure, why not?” I shout back through gritted teeth, while each sound coming out of my daughter is driving me closer to madness. We enter the stupid one-way road system in whatever town this is; “Oh look, people playing boules!” Hev remarks pleasantly, and I grunt rudely in reply. “Nice little boats”, she bravely persists (whatever). We find the dual carriageway again. “ZAZA!” I bark repeatedly (in what I think at the time is a soothing fashion) while Hev jabs her finger in the baby’s mouth (only results in slightly garbled screeching) – Eliza carries on wailing in a dramatic crescendo. We’re now headed to the final activity of our day, the Cave of Clamouse.
As we finally park the car along the road at the foot of the cave and I practically eject myself out of the car and yank the back door open to retrieve the beast, I am assaulted by the familiar smell of a catastrophic poo event. Sure enough, it’s got to be roadside complete change of clothes, followed by roadside breastfeeding. We stride to the door of the cave, which has closed for the day.
The baby is now silent and sullen in the sling, so we decide to walk along the road to take in the view over the Gorges de l’Herault, the blue river bubbling against the rock at the bottom of a narrow stone canyon. It’s so beautiful that we are all ready to forget the previous events, and as we take in the triple bridge at Pont du Diable there is even some sunshine.
Back in the car to return to the hotel and Zaza is put out that she’s back in the car seat; there is a storm of sound coming out of her all the way to the door of the hotel. We have long, harrowed faces as we enter our room, where for the next three hours we try everything we possibly can to calm Eliza down while she screams in laughter, cries uncontrollably, tears at her face with her fingers and refuses to tolerate any slowing or stopping of continuous swaying and bouncing movement. We are now ready to also cry. The day ends with dismal takeaway McDonald’s from the retail park next door and speaking only in whispers as the baby has finally fallen asleep.