How dare she? The leaflet, which my neighbour had given me, incensed me - and my husband was pretty cross too, to put it mildly. This woman did not even know us. How on earth had she got the idea that he was an alcoholic and, even worse to contemplate, was she spreading malicious gossip about us, based on an untruth? The next day, I gathered up all my courage and went over the road to confront her about it. I am not normally one to stick my head above the parapet, but this could not be left unchallenged. If it was to do with seeing him on early mornings out on our forecourt doing DIY with a drink in his hand, I explained that Greg often worked night shifts and that other people's breakfast times were his supper time. Therefore to see him with an alcoholic drink in his hand at breakfast time was not as odd as it seemed. It was his nightcap. She still insisted we were in need of the advice she had presented me with. She had seen the signs in her own husband (from whom she was now divorced) and she was trying to spare me the same experience she had gone through. I was very upset that she continued to take that stance and through gritted teeth I said she couldn't be further from the truth - my husband was not an alcoholic. She had got it severely wrong. She apologised, but I never spoke to her again. Shortly after that, she moved away from London altogether. Everyone in our small close thought her a little strange anyway, so good riddance, I thought.
A year or so later, we discovered France. We had hitherto not thought much about the place - it was just somewhere we had to drive across to get from the English Channel to Germany, where we still visited our many friends. But we had meanwhile acquired a dog, Snoopy, and we were too soft to go away on holidays and leave him in kennels. Snoopy used to pine terribly if I left him alone for just an hour to go to the supermarket, for goodness sake - how would he cope for a fortnight without us, if we went away on holiday? So we prepared him for the Pet Passport Scheme and decided to go on a short camping trip to Northern France, taking him with us, just to test out the scheme and hopefully bring him back in one piece with us again. There was a residue niggle that we might have to leave Snoopy in quarantine on the way back, if we had unwittingly overlooked one of the conditions of the scheme. More than we could bear to think about. We found a superb camp-site with a huge swimming pool, which I couldn't tear my daughter away from. The weather was ideal too - much treasured when you are overnighting in a tent! It was quite cosy huddled together with Snoopy as one contented pack. We managed to communicate to the locals with our rather awkward school French and decided that there was more to France than just the transit route from Calais to Lille. On the return journey, we stopped at the famous Cite Europe just outside Calais and found by trial and error a wine we really liked. We had heard about other people's experiences of booze cruises and decided to take 12 cases of this particular wine (6 bottles in a case) back with us to eke out through the following 12 months. Roughly a bottle and a half a week between the two of us. An occasional glass with a meal, or for taking to dinner parties with friends, you understand. You can imagine the sight of us as we drove off the ferry and through the customs' shed at Dover. The car was piled high with the camping gear - tent, cooker, lanterns, kitchen sink etc - suitcases, us, 72 bottles of wine, a few bottles of spirits, AND Snoopy perched on top. You couldn't have found room for a pin. The customs officials waved us through with bored looks on their faces and had no queries at all about the dog. We breathed a sigh of relief. The holiday had been a great success.
That was in late August. In November, I had occasion to go into our celler, where the wine was stored, and noticed that the last bottle of wine had been drunk and I had only had about six glasses in total myself.