I was employed once again and Sophie was teaching so we decided we would have a holiday on the Continent. We would fly to Paris and let the train take the strain to a place called Hendaye, in the Basque country, on the Spanish Border. Sophie was helped in her teaching by a French assistante who suggested that we should stay with someone she knew in Hendaye under a system known in France as ‘en famille’. The system was that Madame Ader who ran the place with Poppa Ader, supplied a room for the whole family, French style, although we chose not to share with the children and were singular in that we took two rooms. There were something like six families in the house, and each morning Madame would go to each table, and take orders for lunch and dinner, she would then instruct each family what ingredients they needed and they would do the shopping on their own behalf. Each had one of those old fashioned safes in a shaded part of the garden and this was where we kept the provisions. Madame would help herself as need be. So twice a day Madame was preparing different meals for six families. It was incredible how smoothly the system worked. Unlike the rest of the guests, we had no car so had to take the bus to the beach with the result it did not pay us to return to the house for a full midday meal and, in any case, our way of life was different, I don’t think we could have stood the pace if we had.
We were required to make the bed,s and as I have said, do the shopping, otherwise we were free. There were times when the beach was impossible due to heavy rain and as we were away for a month, the number of alternatives soon palled and we would sometimes go back to the house and play board games with the girls. In the next bedroom to them was a couple we would have referred to, and for that matter still do, as ‘deuxieme fois’, meaning that we suspected they were having it away. In this case they were hilarious in both senses. In the evenings and sometimes in the wet weather, they could be heard chasing one another round their bedroom and our girls brought to our attention that they could hear the slap of the hand on naked flesh. As Gilly was twelve years old and Noreen eight, this took some explaining, especially as the combatants were probably in their first flush of old age.
In Hendaye we met some charming French people including a family . The father was an hydraulics engineer and I soon discovered I could get into quite technical detail with him merely by using an English word, giving it a French pronunciation and a French ending. We became very friendly with them and kept up a relationship until ultimately they divorced which was a great pity. Perhaps it was an interest in the foreigner, perhaps the inability of strangers to communicate when they don’t speak the language, but we found that the French children very soon took the girls under their wing and they were playing French games, including snail races on the concrete coping to the garden steps. The girls for their part were there long enough to pick up enough French to enable them to go shopping on their own.
On the second trip to Hendaye, my younger daughter was not in favour of the fare and one day, in Hendaye, as she was going into the sea for a swim, I suddenly realised she was little more than a skeleton. This put the fear of God into us and we rushed off for the only remedy we knew, tube upon tube of sweetened condensed milk. Once again we made friends with a French family. Madame was a most beautiful woman both in looks and nature and Sophie and I could never understand why her husband was more in tune with his car than the beautiful Jaquis. Every day when we all went to the beach, he would stay at the house and clean the engine of his car until it was gleaming and then having got it to a state where it was immaculate he would start all over again.
Ultimately Madame found solace elsewhere and the effect on my elder daughter, when she heard they had become separated was as if they had died under tragic circumstances, which showed her fondness for them, her faith in the sanctity of the family and emphasises how uncommon divorce was in Ireland in the 50’s.
On the way home we visited Lourdes and there we experienced two main reactions, we were appalled at the commercialisation on the periphery. Secondly, the sight of so many very ill people, and the inherent reverence of the place caused everyone to remain totally silent for at least an hour and probably nearer two hours, as we resumed our journey. I have never forgotten the suffering I saw there.