Part of the reason this blog has been really, really quiet over the last week or two is because I’ve been to France with the UK Battle of the Nations team.
Battle of the Nations is the world championship for medieval armoured combat; the UK Team is new – this was our first year! – but we did very well indeed. We entered two teams of five into the 5 x 5 buhurts, and came eighth out of 22 nations, and won the cup for ‘Best Debut Team’.
Off the field, it was a great opportunity to meet fighters and support staff from other nations – we’ve been invited to two events in the USA, which we hope some of us will be able to attend, and also an event in Israel. Much drinking was done (mostly mead) and our flag was stolen, possibly by the Poles (although the Poles said they’d merely stolen it from the Russians, who’d stolen it originally), but we got it back safely.
So now we have to start preparing for next year! And after doing so well this year, the pressure is most definitely on.
I was not fighting this year; I was there as support staff, to mend soft kit and drive the van. Three of us took a van full of armour etc down to Aigues-Mortes in the south of France – from where I live, that proved to be a 21-hour drive, which we did in one straight stretch, taking turns at the wheel and catching as much sleep as we could.
Driving on the continent is not something that I had ever done before, so I learned several things.
- French people drive on the right. Mostly. (I knew this before I left home, of course…)
- French toll roads are very expensive, but worth it because the non-toll roads aren’t as good.
- The expense of the toll roads may be why French drivers tend to drift all over all three lanes of a three-lane road, maybe to make sure they are getting value for money.
- Some toll stations have a 2m height barrier, which is worrying when your van is taller than that.
- When you are driving a right-hand-drive vehicle on the right-hand side of the road, you have a big blind spot where you can’t see who is overtaking. This makes joining carriageways exciting.
- Garmin (at least the one we were using) does not have a function where you can tell it to avoid town centres. Either that, or the Garmin lady is madly in love with Steve, one of the other drivers, because she took us to Paris. Steve says he saw the Eiffel Tower, but by the time Gwilym (driver number 3) and I looked around, it had gone behind a building. Eiffel Tower aside, driving through Paris was also an adventure that we could possibly have done without.
- Food at French service stations is better than in England, but the toilets are worse.
- Vending machines have eight types of coffee, but only one type of tea (which is Earl Grey).
- They switch the fuel pumps off during the night. So if you want to fill up, you have to go to the cash desk and pay in advance. In French. At 2am, having to figure out how much fuel you need, how much this will cost, and how to say this in French is a challenge.
- French autoroutes do not have lighting. French roundabouts (of which there are many) also do not have lighting. This makes driving in the dark exciting.
- After several days trying to rearrange what you want to say to fit a (limited) French vocabulary, you start doing it in English as well.