Tour de France

Posted: August 23, 2012By: Briony Cooke

We have just returned from a fortnight in France spending one week in a gîte in the Ardèche with our family and the rest of the time travelling there and back; around 2,000 miles in total. I am no sailor and was dreading the crossings between Portsmouth and Cherbourg but to my surprise, the weather was fine and the sea was calm. I enjoyed being up on deck in the fresh air and sunshine, watching the coastline approach. Both the outward and return ferries were busy with toddlers dashing recklessly round the decks pursued by weary parents who had been up for hours. We were glad to be free of such responsibilities.

The French Autoroutes were relatively free of traffic even at the peak tourist season so it was easy to make rapid progress covering around 400 kilometres per day. Along our route there were frequent service stations offering a mind-boggling choice from burgers to boeuf bourguignon. But, the challenge came with using the tolls and the toilettes. Buying a ticket at the tolls was a matter of leaning far out of the passenger window and grabbing the ticket at speed with my dodgy left hand. At the ‘aires’ (rest stops) it was not unusual to be confronted by a ‘Turkish’ toilet – a flushable hole in the ground which required skills  in balancing, getting up and getting out before being flushed away; a high-risk venture and best avoided by a ‘PwP’ (person with Parkinson’s).

We chose six hotels for the overnight stops there and back. It was hot and night-times were difficult, but with the window open and the shutters closed I got some sleep, often accompanied by the chiming church bell. In the towns we were woken by the road sweepers and in the country by cheerful cockerels. Essential pieces of equipment both en route and at the gîte, were my pulley rope and bed handle which I used to get myself from lying to sitting when I woke up and my medication had worn off. On checking in at the hotel receptions with my contraptions, I got a couple of funny looks, but there was no way I could begin to explain.

The car journeys were scenic and when I wasn’t nodding off, I watched the gradually evolving landscape. It changed subtly as we moved southwards; fat dairy cows slouching in the orchards of Normandy and lean sheep grazing the volcanic pastures of the bleak Massif Central. As we moved south, the sunflower fields and vineyards took over and finally apricots and chestnuts as we approached or destination in the hilly region of the Ardèche.

There were seven of us sharing the gîte and plenty of room both inside and outside. The garden was surrounded by lavender bushes buzzing with bees and butterflies, many of which we do not get in the UK. With seven of us, the domestic work was shared and I was able to relax totally. The wine certainly helped and my increased consumption appeared to have no adverse effect on my Parkinson’s. In fact, the whole lifestyle suited me very well and the incidence of my dystonia was much reduced by the warmth.

Our children, now in their late twenties and thirties, rated the holiday as one of the best after years of avoiding family holidays and their association with culture. The gap has now closed and they are more than happy to stroll round a market or go to a snail festival. In fact, they took over much of the shopping and cooking which allowed me to spend time reading and photographing the butterflies and the inspirational views over the Rhone valley to the Alps. The holiday also allowed them to appreciate the difficulties I have when my medication wears off and that I need assistance with manoeuvres such as getting in and out of the car or carrying heavy items.

We have taken many holidays in France since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2000. If I look back on those earlier holidays, when I was adjusting to having PD they were fraught with anxiety, but twelve years on I feel much more in control. This holiday fulfilled our aspirations; good food, breath-taking scenery and above all, excellent company.

Briony Cooke

Briony Cooke

I experienced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) during my 40s and was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 47. At the time I worked as a lecturer in a further education college where I was in charge of geography and environmental sciences, and was Senior Tutor to 250 students. I also held the post of Deputy Chief Examiner in geography for the International Baccalaureate and ran training courses for teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I worked with PD for 6 years and finally retired in 2006. Since retiring, I have setup a support group for those with young onset Parkinson’s in the Reading area. I write in my spare time and have published three geography textbooks.

I have three grown-up children who have all left home and I live with my husband, two fat cats and five tortoises. My hobbies are photography, gardening and breeding tortoises and my philosophy is: “there’s no time like the present”.

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