‘It’s your turn’ the VOR says, disturbing my concentration, as we motor through the Alpine tunnels.
I love driving through ‘La Belle France’ its wide empty roads a refreshing change from the congestion, drizzle and perpetual greyness of my home on Kong’s Island.
Each leg of our journey is a revelation. The battlefields of the Marne and the Somme, the vineyards of Champagne, the Chickens of Bresse, the wildness of the Parc Naturel Régional de Haut Jura and the overdue promise of a Fondue Savoyarde.
The VOR dislikes video games and films and, rather like those parents who insist on wooden toys, prefers ‘I Spy’, ‘I Went to the Shop’ and ‘Who am I’ as (in-car) entertainment much to our children’s chagrin.
I settle on a mineral in ‘Animal, Mineral, Vegetable’ hoping to buy some extra daydreaming time. The kids, having held their breath in the tunnels of Paris, have decided that they might die of asphyxiation in the long Alpine versions perhaps thinking that this might be preferable to guessing my choice of Georgerobinsonite.
We arrive in a heatwave, the high temperatures sapping what little energy remains in my middle son’s teenage body forcing him to lie down (again) lest vertigo take hold.
I settle for an ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment with a glass of beer prior to a swim in the Lake – don’t try this at home – to rid myself of my drivers legs. The VOR meanwhile befriends our neighbours, an elderly couple from Paris, who are impressed by her treatment of their beloved language. It appears she has told them that I am a wine merchant and for the rest of our holiday the old man waves half empty bottles in my direction to indicate his tipple of the day.
I have decided to swim to the mile buoy and back twice a day. Although this slightly increases my chances of a premature death by drowning, it is the only way I can think of to burn off the Tartiflette and Gratin Dauphinoise.
There are some 17 crus worthy of the name Vin de Savoie and I intend to work my way through all of them during our stay. The best are Abymes, Apremont, Arbin, Ayze, Crepy, Seyssel, Montmelian, Saint-Jeoire-Prieuré and my own personal favourites Cruet and Chignin. These razor sharp, low alcohol, refreshingly restorative, often perlant whites are made from Jacquere, Altesse (or Rousette), Gringet, Chasselas (Roux and Vert) and Roussanne or Bergeron of Chignin. The reds (please don’t ‘mull’ them) are equally light and delicious and made from Gamay (Noir a Jus Blanc), Pinot Noir, Persan (almost non existent) and the native Mondeuse.
Our heatwave ends prematurely in a massive storm which obliterates the southern end of the Lake making it look like the entrance to the sea. I put down my Mondeuse, batten the hatches, splice the mainbrace and break out the Eau de Vie.
The inclement dawn weather inspires the VOR to venture further into the mountains. I question the wisdom of going higher but only inwardly as cowardice, or is it diplomacy, prevails.
‘I promised the boys a toboggan ride’ she ventures by way of an explanation.
We climb through the kind of narrow, winding, hairpins a cyclist full of EPO would struggle with. Past cows with bells and cute wooden chalets perched precariously on the sides of deep valleys.
‘Does the Tour de France ever come through here’ my youngest asks. 2009 and 2013, I ‘Rainmanly’ add, but my attention is taken by an extremely small man with curly hair stood next to a woodpile.
Before I have adequately thought things through I find myself on a chairlift ascending over heathered scrub and jagged rock into increasingly opaque cloud to the sound of a child weeping. Afraid of heights I know exactly how they must feel. This must look charming in the snow, I think, but again keep it to myself.
“Mont Blanc must be over there” the VOR says, gesticulating toward a thick bank of grey cloud, before the returning chairlift hits her in the calves leaving two peach size bruises which ruin her tan for the remainder of the holiday. I sit next to my cold and frightened youngest son vainly trying to keep him warm, and my camera dry, as a rivulet of rainwater runs down the back of my neck.
We change into dry clothing under the tailgate of the car before running to a charming, chalet-style restaurant for lunch and some much needed warmth. ‘This is nice’ and ‘Pull yourselves together’ says the VOR to our hypothermic offspring over the sausages and beer. Our fellow diners all appear to come from the north of England, presumably eager to find somewhere that resembles the Lake District in February, they do not seem to be cold at all.
Hours later, whilst driving back through the mountains with the heater on full blast, we pass the same man next to the woodpile and I imagine him in lederhosen made from Captain Von Trapp’s curtains.