The Road To Reims: 2. Laon, France

by Adrian Sturrock | August 30, 2014 2:18 am

b. On Laon

A few hours south of Arras, we find Laon by accident, perched dramatically on a hill ahead of us. It’s a vaguely pretty little medieval muddle set on a small elevation approx 100 metres above the otherwise flat plains of Picardy. Its cobbled streets twist their way up to the town’s focal point, the Notre Dam De Laon, a cathedral designed, I guess, to appear both impressive and threatening to onlookers and potential antagonists alike.

Apparently, this place has long been used for its strategic position, reputedly since the days of Julius Caesar. We have a strategic position of our own – we’re starving! – and are now, rather, following the maxim: ‘where there’s a tourist spot, there’s a restaurant’.

With a potential promise of lunch, we are ignoring the continuous cries of Bernice (my wife felt the need to name our Sat Nav, not me) to ‘turn around where possible’ and we find ourselves snaking up the winding hill to the top – to, hopefully, food.

We continue on past the first parking spot we see, which includes an old Citreon with its side windows smashed in, in favour of another, more exposed, car park on the corner of the main road. My wife is convinced that we’ll be mugged in one of the cobbled alleyways or seedy side streets that pave the way to the main centre. However, unless they have a machete or gun, I am going to eat. My sugar lows have always been pretty aggressive.

It is, in fact, after we have eaten and have made our way back to the car that we actually come face to face with a rather intimidating individual leaning against the side of our car. He is actually holding tightly onto the passenger door handle as we approach, neither looking away nor changing his stance as we get closer. He’s looking straight at us, menacingly. This could be a problem. Oh, and he’s huge!

‘He’s f**king massive!’ says my wife, as we stop walking. (She has a way of nailing situations with few words.) She’s looking worried. I’m considering what tack to take as I eye him over for a point of weakness. But the problem with these guys is that where there is one there are often others lurking about.

I stop in front of him, holding my ground and staring him out. There is silence. My wife has backed off a little and nobody is moving.

I slowly reach into the bag that is hung around my neck, closing my fist around the solid object within, deciding whether or not to use it as a weapon. But then I stop.


‘Pheromones’, I say loudly, not taking my eyes from him.


‘What?’ says my wife. She is also staring directly at him.


He is staring directly at us both.


‘Pheromones’, I repeat. ‘Hornets use pheromones to alert the rest of the nest that there is danger around. It’s their way to get the entire nest to attack if necessary. If I kill him and his nest is near, we’ll be surrounded within seconds. And the truth is, it will probably bloody hurt.’

I’ve no idea why I know this but I’m impressed that I’ve found myself to be both a linguist and entomologist, all in one day. And, my God! I didn’t know that I knew the word ‘entomologist’ either. I’m impressed. It must be the French air. If I stay here much longer, I may apply for a game show or two.

My wife is now looking at me. ‘So now you’re David Bloody Attenborough?’ she feigns, smiling a little.

‘No, but I once met his mum’, I lie, smiling back.

‘I offer the suggestion that she just pretend he’s not there and get into the car anyway. But in a rather cunning chess-like manoeuver, she suggests she drives and that I should ‘pretend that he’s not there’, as I open the passenger door. I try hard to come up with another idea.

This hornet seems to have no desire to move but I suddenly have a further plan. I go around to the driver’s side, get in and start the car. I drive the car at speed around the car park. ‘There’s no way he’ll be able to hold on now’, I say to myself, probably out loud.

As I execute my rather astute plot, I see my wife standing on the car park periphery as I drive past her … again … and again. She is now looking at her watch. I’m a little uncertain of the expression on her face is but I’m sure she share’s my view that this is an inspired idea of mine.


… He’s still there!


I re-park the car and Nat and I sit on the side of the road, watching the traffic, waiting for the hornet to leave in his own time.


Eventually, he does leave, we haul ourselves back into the car and Bernice takes control once again.


Source URL: