In France, this weekend was going to be red or orange. Saturday, 7th August was a red Saturday. There was a black Saturday two weeks ago.
The colours refer to the intensity of the traffic flow on the days marking the beginning and the end of holidays, the “bouchons”, those places where the thousands of vehicles travelling on the French autoroutes come to a complete stop, are all too frequent.
Growing up with the myth that the English worked harder than anyone else in Europe and that the whole of France took the whole month of August for annual holidays, being in France for much of the month of August 1989 came as a surprise.
Previous holidays had been mid-July to mid-August, but working commitments pushed back the departure date that year. The first week of August was spent on a campsite on the Mediterranean coast near Béziers. Then came a drive to the Atlantic coast to stay in a village twenty miles north of Biarritz.
The second week of August had seemed as busy as the first, and the crowds had been huge on the holiday for the Feast of the Assumption on 15th August. A day or two later, as the sunset approached, there was the usual evening walk down to the beach for an expensive French ice cream, (a treat in times when money was not so plentiful), only to discover that the kiosk was closed. Looking around, the car park seemed to have many Dutch and German cars, large numbers of the French holiday makers had gone, the holidays were over.
It seemed sad for French people to be driving home in mid-August. In a country where summer would have at least another six weeks to run, it seemed almost as though they were leaving the party early.
Every holiday has to end. Every working person needs to earn a wage. Every employer needs workers to return. On both Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts it had been evident how much “les vacances” meant to French campers. The Mediterranean campsite on which the first week of the holiday was spent had been beside a site that seemed to be owned by a French trade union, there had seemed a camaraderie, a community, a bond between those who were there.
Perhaps they took that feeling with them. Perhaps on their return to the shop floor, they exchanged memories of their days in the August sunshine, perhaps in their northern French home towns their laughter and companionship endured throughout the year.