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Three Weeks In France and Le Mans Parade

by

Silverfish David Parr

January '09

Dave - "Can we go to this rally in the Pyrenees? We could get the ferry to Bilbao - I've always wanted to go on that."
Nicki - "Don't forget we've got the twinning visit in northern France the week before."
So we booked the ferry, Dover-Calais outwards , returning Bilbao-Portsmouth on 6 June, confirmed the online payment, then logged onto the Pembleton enthusiasts' forum.
Dave - "S**t! We've been invited to take part in the opening parade at Le Mans on 12 June!"
Quick rethink - can we get three weeks off work, will they let us change the ferry booking? Yeah, let's go for it.

23-26 May

We spent with our friends at Bray-sur-Somme where we were looked after very well- lots of lovely French hospitality, fine weather and good food.

We left on the Tuesday morning (p**ing down), taking a 2-night stop-over at Bourges - lovely medieval city with a magnificent cathedral. On Thursday we set off southwards and found a nice, quiet campsite at Aguessac, just up the road from Millau. "We'll just stay one night, do the bridge, then move on."

Friday 28th

Scorching weather, nice campsite ? "think we'll stay here a bit longer". Did the drive across the viaduct, amazing, everyone should do it - then spent the next day chilling/polishing the car ("discipline must be maintained") and somehow acquired a Thomann motorised bicycle from an old guy at the local Brocante. There was just enough room for it in the trailer.

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Saturday night

Horrendous thunderstorm, did wonder if we were going to be washed away down the river.

Sunday, 30 May

Raining still - drive to Nick and Anna Poll's and stayed with them until Tuesday morning. Nothing further to add about the rally - sure this has been more than covered by everyone else - except that we had another thunderstorm on Thursday evening discovering next morning that the trailer leaked and we'd got a damp Pembleton! and then left in pouring rain, of course.

Spent the next three days in Duncan's company looking at St Girons, Limoux and Alet-les-Bains before wandering off on our own for a couple of days by the seaside - Cap Ferret on the Arcachon Basin. Arrived in bright sunshine, did some shopping in the local market and had a nice drive out to the lighthouse on the point only to wake up to rain clouds for the next leg of our journey.

Wednesday 10 June

Set off in torrential rain to spend the night in Saumur where we'd been invited to stay with Annette and Edmond, a French couple we'd met on the rally (owners of a very nice soft-top Messerschmitt and a very pretty house on the bank of the Loire).

Thursday

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First job, get to Le Mans, then find the gite. It's near a village called Silly Philip (Sille Philippe). Put the post-code in the Nav. and find ourselves up a dirt track in the middle of nowhere looking at a house that might be the one in the photograph if only the photo was big enough to tell. We decide to go and ask at the nearest house and walked up the drive where we were accosted by the most enormous dog you have ever seen - 6 feet tall without his shoes and very enthusiastic! Fortunately the owner was in, the dog was friendly and it was the right place. Not long afterwards we started getting phone calls from lost Pembletons so Dave and Duncan went out on search patrol while Nicki checked out the accommodation - and very good it was too. By mid-afternoon there were a total of seven Pembleton "families", including Paul Dufour and his girlfriend, Iuliana (Mademoiselle Pembleton 2009).

We had a really good evening getting to know one another. Eileen Meakins and Peter Gray manned the Barbie, Duncan provided the entertainment (ably assisted by Ray Lloyd and Peter) and Nicki had fun trying to translate jokes into French for Iuliana. (And, naturally, a little wine and beer was consumed.)

Friday 12 June

THE BIG DAY!
All the lads were up early, polishing and titivating, while the ladies packed the bags and tidied up (some things never change).

11.00 am photo shoot (note the white team uniform and Eileen looking very elegant)

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Having driven in convoy to the centre of Le Mans we were directed to a car park, lined up and told to wait until we were called. Meanwhile Nigel Davey arrived, then Claude with his beautiful new build. We all went off to get some lunch, came back and waited ... and waited. and eventually - when the car park was nearly empty Duncan approached an official and (very politely and in his best French) shook her warmly by the throat and asked, "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" "Oh, you should have gone ages ago, vite, vite!!"

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Arriving at the paddock we were lined up again and informed the parade would start at six. Needless to say, it didn't but there was plenty of stuff to look at - from the ridiculously powerful and noisy to the unusual, the usual and the beautifully elegant.

There was a lot of interest in the Pembletons borne out by the photo coverage subsequently posted on the official "Grande Parade" website: http://www.grande-parade-des-pilotes.com/galerie-photos.php (The Morgans only got one in - and they called that a Pembleton!)

Jan managed to get her overalls signed by most of the race drivers - so look out for them on e-bay, they could be worth a few quid!

It was hot in the paddock, and we were thirsty, and there was a long queue for the toilette, and some people found it all a bit too much!

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At last, it was our turn to go. Led by a Harley Davidson with a placard-carrying 'pit-babe' riding pillion to announce us, we were off. First stop, up the ramp on the red carpet to the man with the microphone and the flashing lights (fame at last!) then on into the crowd ? approximately 150,000 of them.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the more noise you made the better they liked it, so much enthusiasm!

The excitement was catching, so much so that Ray Lloyd melted his brake lights, Mike Meakin lightly poached his BMW engine and when Spike drained his engine oil it smelled like burnt chip oil (but since that's probably what he put in, in the first place ...). The good news, however, is that nobody burnt their clutch out and everybody agreed that, despite the poor organisation, a damned good time was had by all - and the holiday was finished off with another round of drinks, songs and jokes around the table at the gite.


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