I sprang out of bed the next morning. Well, that isn't strictly true - I don't spring so much these days as fall out of bed. There was a kettle in the room, along with one tea bag and two sachets of instant coffee, but no milk. I made the Old Bat and I black coffee before I took a shower.
It was about 10.00 before we had partaken of a meagre breakfast. (Most of the cheaper French hotels provide only meagre breakfasts in my opinion. No bacon or eggs, unless you count the eggs sometimes provided for the consumer to boil, and bread that just doesn't lend itself to being toasted. Cold croissants or pain au chocolat, sometimes some cheese or ham. In this case there was a poor selection of jams.) That done, we checked out and set off back up the autoroute towards Bernay, almost 200 miles to the north-east. I say we set off up the autoroute, but I had the best part of an hour's drive to reach that!
We stopped for a sandwich at the Alençon services and I will be quite happy if I never see another motorway sandwich! It was after lunch that I made my next mistake. Now, if you have been following this story you might be asking your self, 'Next mistake? When was there a first?' Whether you are asking that question or not, you will find the answer a little later on. Just be patient and accept that after that lunch at the Alençon services I made my next mistake. My miserly character came to the fore and I decided not to use the autoroute for the next and final part of the journey, there by saving at least £5 in tolls. I knew there was a perfectly good Route National which ran dead straight and passed through only two towns, Gacé and Sées, before reaching Bernay. I suppose, in truth, it was not that decision that was the mistake, it was the next one. You see, when I turned to the back seat of the car to retrieve my road atlas, it was nowhere to be seen. I later discovered it on the writing desk back in Les Lavandes, our ice-gripped holiday home. Being a macho male and a miser to boot, I saw no need to go into the service station to buy a map. I knew well enough which road to take. Granted, it did get us to Bernay - eventually. And after a drive about 50 miles longer than the direct road. We never did see Gacé or Sées that afternoon.
We must have been about an hour away from the car hire agency when my mobile phone trilled. The breakdown insurers rang to confirm that my car was ready to be collected. Mrs S agreed to call them when we had returned the hire car so they could lay on a taxi to the garage in Brioney, several miles from Bernay. She also persuaded them to pay for a night in a hotel as we couldn't hope to get back to the Loire at a reasonable hour that night.
The taxi turned up after we had been standing on the pavement for over an hour as all the car hire staff had to leave and lock up the office. I was getting a little worried about Mrs S as the temperature at the time was several degrees below freezing and we really were not dressed for it. However, we managed to climb into the taxi and set off. I gripped hold of something pretty tightly as the driver chatted on his mobile phone and made notes in his diary of future pick-ups, swerving at the last minute to avoid oncoming traffic. Despite the hair-raising nature of the ride, we arrived at the garage in one piece (two pieces really - her and me) and there was my car sitting outside waiting.
We returned to the hotel we had used before and had another very pleasant reception and meal at the near-by restaurant where the waitresses and the maitresse d' greeted us like old friends. I became a little anxious the next morning when the car seemed reluctant to start (the temperature was -14.5C) but we did get under way and this time I made no mistake - I headed straight for the autoroute!
It was with the benefit of the 20-20 vision of hindsight that I then saw my earlier mistake. We were returning to Les Lavandes the floor rugs which had been taken back to England after our last visit for their annual wash. If I had thought about it, I could have picked them up from the garage in the hire car and we would have been able to reduce our total mileage by 400 or so! I consoled myself with two thoughts: even with hindsight I couldn't know that the house was frozen up and at least this meant we could have another excellent meal in our favourite restaurant before spending another night in an hotel and heading back to England 24 hours earlier than planned.
And so ended the trip on which I was going to do so much work. We had spent the week either cruising the motorways of France or lounging in hotel bedrooms reading. And all at an horrific cost. The repairs to the car alone came to £750 and not all the hotel bills would be covered by the breakdown insurance company.
Just to add insult to injury, the Old Bat broke a tooth on a breakfast roll on the day we came back!
But... let's not lose our sense of perspective. A day or two later I met an acquaintance in the park. He looked bronzed and I assumed he and his wife had visited their daughter in Florida. No, they had taken a cruise up the Amazon. His wife had been taken so ill that the ship's doctor wanted to put her ashore in Brazil for hospitalisation. Luckily she perked up and was able to stay aboard - for a little longer. His mother died and they had to leave the ship and fly home more than a week before the end of the cruise. We were inconvenienced, but there was no sickness and nothing was a matter of life and death.