The holiday that nearly didn't happen
It's 6.47am and we've just driven off the Eurotunnel shuttle in Calais. There's hardly any traffic on the road.
When I say 'we' I mean Tony and me. Cleopatra isn't joining us on this holiday that nearly didn't happen.
We'd looked forward to this holiday for weeks, months even. We haven't been to France since August and everything was set for the journey, and we were excited to explore another new piece of France.
Then, three days before we were due to leave, Tony arrived home from the gym with a large part of the front-passenger side of Cleopatra crumpled.
Tony was fine, just upset and clearly worried about breaking the news to me.
I didn't know what to say or even what to think. I felt sick. Our beautiful campervan, our pride and joy. How was that damage going to be fixed? When would it be fixed? Did this mean no holiday?
I went into crisis mode. While Tony rang the insurers I was busy investigating how we might still have the holiday pretty much as we'd planned. Our campsite, already paid for, had wooden trailer caravans for hire and I quickly fired of an email to ask if the money we'd paid for a camping pitch could be used as part payment to rent one of these.
It took 24 hours for the campsite to reply that they'd booked a wooden trailer for us. By that time there was another unknown. I was to take Cleopatra to be assessed in order that a quote for repair could be provided to the insurer. We'd have to keep her until the repair work was approved. If that took longer than a further day she'd have to sit out in the rain with a big hole in her and it would be over a week before we would be home to take her back to the garage.
I have to say that Admiral, our insurer, has been brilliant. Tony explained that we'd be going on holiday and they made extra efforts to turn things around quickly, contacting the garage a soon as they opened and keeping us regularly updated.
As it happens, when I took Cleopatra in to be assessed they took one look at her and said I couldn't drive it and sent me home in a courtesy car. I came the closest to crying having been given that news - I'm not sure if with relief that they'd be keeping Cleopatra or worry that they thought the damage so bad she shouldn't be driven.
We heard later the same day that the repairs had been agreed and work had started.
After three years of holidays in our beloved campervan this week-long break is going to feel strange. We're travelling in a car we haven't even named.
We've forgotten how or what to pack, getting so used to knowing whatever we needed was in a drawer, storage box or bag, or some other nook and cranny in Cleopatra. Pebbly beach? Beach shoes under the driver's seat. Sneezing? Hayfever tablets in the third drawer. Mosquitos? Insect repellent also in the third drawer.
We had to empty Cleopatra of all the stuff in any case so we just went through it all deciding what we thought we needed. So much thought required when we only usually have to take some clothes.
The other problem with driving a car and not a campervan is that we'd have to complete the 12-hour drive in one go. We're heading more than 900km from Calais and had planned to spend an overnight stop at an air in Gizeux to break up the journey. To ensure we arrive by the time the campsite reception closes at 6pm we have had to leave home at 2am.
A few things will be different. There'll be something we need and haven't got. There'll be a car to get around in and so we will have to be strict with ourselves and force ourselves to use the bikes. We'll have a loo and shower without having to go outside.
This will be a strange holiday but I'm determined to enjoy it.