Igniting Family Unity With a Swift Tour of Normandy

Emma Latham recalls those days when we could make plans, go to exhibitions, and travel abroad.

Deauville Beach

Our teenage sons can easily fritter away hours online, shooting at each other. While I recognise that their command of virtual weapons in virtual space is admirable, they need some sunlight. And a plan.

With school holidays on the horizon, it was time to take action! Our tactic? Five days in France.

Vitamin-D Day arrived: our ferry sailed into Ouistreham on the Normandy coast – at dawn, naturally.

We drove through the poplar studded countryside, stopping in Caen, alongside the river Orne, where tethered kayaks beckoned. The Hippodrome stretched out in velvety green beyond, inviting us by billboard to the next race meeting. Would we have enough time to fit it all in?

Castle Gate, Caen

As we set off to explore, our boys displayed their dazzling knowledge of French, extracted from the 5-word lexicon that seems to cover most of their needs. ‘Let’s find a tabac that sells pétards (firecrackers)!’ 

During the hunt for pétards, we walked castle walls thicker than the span of our outstretched arms. We sipped cider in ancient cobbled streets. We visited beaches and museums that detail Operation Overlord and left, filled with awe at man’s endeavor. At last, in a tat-laden shop in Arromanches, we found the elusive pétards

The idea of making bomb-like sounds anywhere in Normandy made us postpone, to the last minute, our challenge to find a place where we could actually set off pétards. I studied the map for beaches en route to our ferry port and chose Deauville, despite its reputation as the most prestigious seaside resort in all of France. Once there, we marched along the smart boardwalk, past sophisticated cafés, seafood restaurants and champagne bars, until we left them all behind and the beach tapered to a craggy end. Frozen in time, this remote end of the beach was how I’d imagined this whole stretch of coast. It was perfect! 

And that’s how I came to be standing high up the sand-dunes, bolstered by tufts of coarse sea-grass, next to a vast graffitied gun emplacement, shooting our children. In slo-mo. With my phone.

And that’s how I came to be standing high in the sand-dunes, shooting our children

Gusts of wind made it impossible to communicate with one another from a distance. With rising alarm, I watched our boys attempt to light their pétards, shielded by a giant slab of concrete planted in the sand, a relic of the war. They’d run away and when occasionally it didn’t go bang, go back to try again, while the wind whipped my words of warning away over my shoulder, towards the gothic mansions dotted along the headland behind me. In our souvenir slo-mo movie, only the blunt ‘snaps’ of pétards is audible above the hushing of the sea and the bluster of the wind, overlaid by my slightly manic laugh and the distant yells of the others. 

Time contracted as we galloped back along the shore, laughing from attempted piggy-backs, our boys falling into strangely green sea-foam that seeped into their pockets. Time to go home.

Mission accomplished