If you've found my web diary by accident you're probably wondering WTF! I know I would. So feel free to check out the Phil 'n' Hazel's Adventure tab opposite, it'll bring you up to speed. If you can't be arsed, read on....
(I post three times a week Mon/wed/Fri wifi permitting)
Monday 11th December 2017
Party time for some.
What did you do this weekend? Anything interesting? Maybe, like me, you woke up thinking you were in for a pleasant weekend only to discovered the self appointed American 'leader of the free world' has taken it one step closer to Armageddon. At the moment the only differences between their democracy and a dictatorship is that they 'elected' their psychopathic leader. At least in North Korea you can't blame its people.
Trump's problem, same as with Hitler, is that he doesn't have a sense of humour. Hitler never laughed, but then again he was German so perhaps he's not really a good example. Trump never laughs. Rarely smiles. Just poses with that stupid Mussolini pout and strut. You'd think someone would tell him to stop it, I have. I Tweeted him. Told him he looked a knob. He ignored me. All global trouble makers throughout history were humourless. Just a fact. Nobody with a sense of humour has ever started a war. Not even for a joke.
Anyhoo, enough of Adolf Von Trump.
Last week the campsite filled to the gunnel's. The Spanish poured in. They were all squished in together down the far end. It looked less like a campsite and more, what they call, an urbanisation. We British ideally like to have a ten foot perimeter around our vans, a kind of no man's land. We'd dig a trench and fill it with water if we could. Not so the Spanish. They shoehorn themselves in just about anywhere and don't give a hoot. They're extremely social. We are too but not with people we don't know. We keep strangers at arms length until we've established that they're not, 'a bit funny'.
Last week was a bit of a non working week here. They enjoyed two public holidays. One was Constitution day. The other was to celebrate the immaculate conception. The day when Mary told Joseph she was with holy child and he wasn't the dad. The holy spirit had entered her womb. The bible doesn't tell us how Joseph took the news. Most blokes I know, and true I don't know any shepherds, so I don't know how valid my opinion is on this, would be down the pub getting bladdered. Perhaps, I'm assuming theirs was a 'normal' marriage, after all, wasn't she a virgin at the time? Maybe he didn't even know what she was banging on about. Perhaps he was more a sheep man, who knows?
The Spanish have almost twice the number of public holidays than we do. Our government clearly likes to keep the British worker's shoulder to the grind stone. We work longer hours than twenty five of our soon to be divorced EU partners. They're also not fans of public holidays so if you have an invite to the royal wedding best phone in sick. They, on the other hand sit in leather chesterfields, knocking back subsidised booze in one of the five bars in the houses of parliament, wondering how they're going to stay out of trouble on the 235 days a year when parliament is closed.
Aren't you glad they produce nothing of value? We'd all be in a pickle if they did.
Moving on. Obviously as this is Spain and it's their country, I shouldn't moan about the noise they make. However, I've said before, the Spanish are loud and not hugely considerate about the ruckus they create. We've had fireworks in the showers. Chickens clacking on pitches. Parties late into the night and they can't talk to each other without shouting; even when they're standing two foot apart. Some campsites impose a curfew. One rule at a campsite we stayed stated;
“Make noise after 10 pm and you will be forcibly ejected by security forces”. All sounded rather exciting. I was hoping someone would. But to be fair we also partied – with a small p - one afternoon, clearly a bit too loudly as a humourless German asked if we could keep the noise down.
Cheek! I was going to remind him we won the war so we didn't have to spend our lives living under the jack boot of Germany tyranny!
But I thought that might be a tad much.
Friday 8th December 2017.
What's on my mind
Have you noticed how difficult it can be to change your mind, perhaps change a long held belief or opinion? The proof of this is that so few people actually do! I know people who totally ignore the weight of new evidence, new findings, new scientific discoveries, just to cling to some wacky opinion they've believed since the year dot. Logically, in the face of new data, changing your mind is actually the smart thing to do. Problem is, much like politicians, you'll likely be accused of not sticking to your guns, or selling out, or not being consistent, or not knowing your own mind. You'll be made to feel like you suffer from some form of intellectual weakness. Now I mention this only because I've done just that, changed my mind. The topic was not a hot potato. In fact, I didn't have that much of an opinion on in the first place. I used to think it was harmless. A bit of fun. No one gets hurt. Besides, come on, does anyone take them seriously?
What I'm referring to is beauty contests.
In Europe while the popularity of beauty contests has faded, in the USA it's still very big business. Today, a mother can dress up her sweet little seven year old daughter as a hooker, in a kids beauty pageant, to win cash for mum and a trophy for the kid. American culture, let it be a beacon to us all.
In 1921 a nervous Miss District of Colombia was voted the 'Most beautiful bathing suit girl in America'. She was the first Miss America. At the time she was just sixteen. Not much more than a child. The thought of millions of men ogling a sixteen year old in a bathing suit is not a particularity wholesome one. And before you say, 'well it was a different time then', let me point out that in 1983, The Sun's page three topless model was also a sixteen year old. Under the photo was the tacky headline, 'From A-levels to Ooooh-levels'. Not that it worried the owner of The Sun. When you're in the gutter, you can't physically get any lower.
Now I've never been comfortable with the argument that women in these events are being exploited, I've always thought it's actually us chaps. We all suffer a genetic inherent weakness for; as the Victorians put it, ' fine pair of ankles'. If this couldn't be exploited, then beauty contests would never have gotten off the ground and humanity would have gone the way of the Dodo.
Anyhow, my epiphany was only the other day. I was listening to Trump, a man who so embarrasses my gender I want to apologise to every women I meet for his very existence! He was telling a radio interviewer on a youtube video that he could, and did, go behind the scenes while the contestants were dressing.
“No man is allowed behind the scenes”, he said, “Except me, I own it”. I''ve seen some very beautiful girls”. He was talking about The Miss Universe contest. A beauty contest, I feel obliged to point out, that, despite its title, doesn't have any alien representation, or indeed any other country on our planet, but since it comes from a country that hosts 'The World series', a game with one participating nation, them! The grandiose name is hardly surprising.
In the video with Trump, I saw the contestants walking across the stage. They had identical figures, the requisite number of limbs, the same hair, they could all walk in a straight line, all wore the same smile and all had their bikinis glued to their arses. (Apparently the glue is to keep them in place when they walk. - Must try that with my pants - My immediate thought was, Christ! do they still have competitions to find the best looking human being on the planet? Really? How pathetically shallow is the human race?
To add gravitas to the event, and perhaps to show it actually had a serious side, - it's not just about legs, tits, arses and money - the contestants were asked questions. One was asked:
“In the light of the ISIS atrocities perpetrated around the world, what should the USA do to combat global terrorism and make the world a safer place?”
WTF!! Henry Kissinger would take a week to answer that, she had all of 30 seconds.
The irony of asking a half naked, 21 year old girl from Nantucket, with glue in her knickers, to crack one of the biggest problems facing humanity today, is wasted on the Americans.
That's when I decided it was all just too bloody ridiculous for words!
Have a good weekend.
Wednesday 6th December 2017
Hello Phil & Hazel.
My wife and I are thinking of taking our caravan to Sweden. Can I ask, did you go? If so, what were your impressions? Cheers Steve.
This appeared in my inbox over the weekend.
Well Steve, the question I ask myself is; could I live there? This is how I rate a country and sadly, I'd have to give Sweden a miss. Don't get me wrong it has a lot going for it. For a start it's home to many familiar household names like Ikea, Electrolux, Volvo, Saab, Nokia, Ericsson, Scania, H&M, Tetra Pac and of course Abba. Impressive for a country with a work force smaller than the population of London. Sweden is not some commercial backwater, far from it, and there's an interesting reason for that which I'll come to.
It's an attractive country. Problem is, you can't see any of it. All you see are trees. We travelled the entire length of Sweden on the only road North and saw nothing but trees. In fact Sweden is one huge unending forest's. Any one tells you there's a paper shortage show them an aerial photo of Sweden.
Now this should mean that Sweden has a lots of room for it's ten million inhabitance and there's the problem, it doesn't seem to. If it had, why have they built so many unattractive blocks of flats? They're everywhere, and I'm not just talking about cities. I'm talking about small, nondescript, out the way towns and villages. Places that wouldn't register with you as you drove through them.
We visited Odeshog, a typical small town just a few thousand people. True, there were some attractive older homes on the periphery, but most were blocks of flats. And just like Hoor, the first town we visited, both had a slight municipal feel to them. I half expected to find communal bath houses and a hall for comrades to hold their meetings.
Shops there, as in Hoor, all looked dated the same way charity shops do in Britain. All the manikins looked like seventies TV characters and wore ill fitting wigs. And while the shops weren't run down... they didn't look like they'd seen a customer in a while.
Now this is a truism of life; you can take a towns financial temperature by it's shops. If the town's folk have dosh, that's reflected in their shops. Using this barometer something was clearly adrift. This feeling was reinforced by the disproportionate number of Volvos I saw. And not the kind you'd want to own, but the ones loved by antique dealers because they can shove a wardrobes in the back. I even saw a Ford Sierra. The last time I saw one of those was in a episode of The Sweeney back in 1978.
So I did a little digging. I came across an article written by an English chap who lives in Sweden. He said that what struck him, about the Swedes, was their reliance on the government and their expectancy that it will provide for them. And here we're not talking about a few work shy buggers, it's the populace. After a week I started to see what he meant. It's as if the government is some kindly wealthy old uncle bestowing his generosity on his family. They do have an odd political system here. A mix of socialism and capitalism. It's called the Nordic model. And I think this is where the problem may lay. The model was conceived by the socialist democratic party with help from trade unions, and this may explains the housing. Interestingly, from a British perspective, it also disproves the long held belief that capitalism and socialism can't work hand in hand. Sweden is the proof it can, and hugely successfully. Not a lesson British politicians have ever learnt sadly.
Of course theirs a price. The Swedes are heavily taxed, but they're okay with that. They know the government will plough the tax back through the welfare state. And while I've been a lifelong supporter of a decent fair and equitable welfare system that provides the basics, free heath care from cradle to grave, an all compassing education system and a commitment to provide basic social housing for those that need it, I'm not so keen on aunty making sure we all have the same pocket money.
Which brings me to the real $64 thousand dollar question I'd like to ask.
Why is it you can only buy booze from the few shops run by the Swedish government? That, in my book, is reason enough for me not to want to live there.
Monday 4th December 2017
Today you find us at Pinar San Jose a small campsite on the outskirts of the small coastal village of Zahora, on the west coast of Spain. Its only claim to fame is that Paul Weller, that music chap, lives here. Bumped into him a couple of times. Seems a decent fellow.
This is our sixth Christmas at this campsite, which may prompt the question, why here? Good question and not one I've a ready answer for, because basically, the camp-site doesn't have a whole lot going for it. For a start it's built on sand held loosely together with a few tufts of grass. Occasionally heavy vans sink up to their axles. Still, pulling them out normally takes on a carnival atmosphere. It's also not the easiest site to get around, made troublesome by the odd pine tree growing in the middle of the road. And when I say road I don't mean anything you'd call a road. It's a kind of hard sandy track. The site is covered with umbrella pines that drip sap 24/7 over your car which dries to the consistency of concrete and has to be chiselled off. And in said trees, lives a species of caterpillar which if one fell into your cornflakes one morning, could well make that bowl the last you'll ever eat; of anything. The showers are nothing to write home about, I've struggled to get a hot shower on occasion. The big improvement this year are the new toilet paper dispensers. However they're perhaps biggest toilet paper dispensers I've ever seen. I think they're designed to use on oil rigs in the north sea, consequently take up an inordinate amount of space in the small cubical.
So what is the attraction then?
Well having just written that list......... I ain't so sure now.
The view outside the van this morning.
Only joking. Two things. Firstly, this part of Spain, the west coast, is proper Spain. It's not some over populated, over commercialised, over stuffed, tourist ridden hot spot that can knock up an 'all day English breakfast' at a moments notice. It's proper authentic Spain. It's where many Spanish come for their holidays. It's as far away from the image of a typical Spanish package holiday as you can get and yet still be in Spain.
We crossed the south coast over the weekend, from Malaga, around to Fuengirola and Marbella, and saw miles of retail outlets, souvenir shops, bars, supermarkets, cafes and hotels. All this so the massive ex-pat community can spend their pensions, and the package holiday makers their two weeks. You can read English newspapers, listen to English radio, get fish and chips and buy PG tips. Not my idea of Spain. Not even the Spanish idea of Spain.
No one knows, least of all the Spanish, how many Brits actually live along this coastline. Some say half a million, seems a good number. A recent report has suggested the number of over 65's has doubled in the past ten years. Sadly their futures are in the balance. I was handed a leaflet which was offered free legal advice to ex pats. It suggested that; due to the uncertainty of Britain's future within Europe, ex-pats living in Spain for more than six months, should apply for residency. At the moment, while Mrs May prevaricates about the future of migrant workers in the UK, Spain can't answers any of the questions being asked by many of the British here. While the Spanish shop owners, hoteliers and restaurant owners etc. would hate to see us go, they didn't write the EU constitution.
So, for us, this small corner of Spain is right up our street. No commercialisation. Lots of small white Moorish villages perched on top of mountains. Miles of empty beaches. Still a huge tradition in horsemanship. Lots of old Spanish traditions followed. No traffic and if you like live music, you're spoilt for choice. Of course the biggest draw, for us, is the friends we've made in the last six years. The atmosphere. It's quite a community. The first night here we went off to a local bar where Haze and her friend got up on stage, at the invitation of the Spanish female singer, to bang out a classic.
She likes givin it large sometimes.
1st December 2017
What's on my mind?
We love labelling people, even though the act is much criticised. We're told we shouldn't do it. 'Find out what they're like before passing judgement first'. Which is risky. I mean, say I label someone a psycho because they appear to have all the character traits of an axe wielding nut job, I think that's me being prudent. If I listened to the magazine columnists who shell out such advice I could end up being found in sacks, in a ditch in two different locations. Bugger that.
A human behavioural study once observed, we actually need to label people. If we tried to deal with everyone as if they were a blank sheet of paper we'd never get anything done. It's incredibly time consuming trying to work out how people tick. What with their views, opinions and their desire to be 'listened to'. Sadly not everyone has a point worth making. Much quicker to make a snap judgement before they've had a chance to open their gobs. Saves a lot of faffing about.
On a more serious note. Labels help us to feel safe. For example; a guy walks towards you wearing pink harem pants, sporting long dreadlocks and a ring through his nose and instantly you think, 'Hippy dude'. He's harmless. Move on. However, if a mob of hooded lads swagger toward you it makes sense to label them 'smack heads out looking for trouble'. True, they might all be jolly nice lads but can you take the chance? Course not. In these situations I normally call out, “Yo, my man, 8-ball, big up to your mum” and then rush off. By the time they realise none of them are called '8-ball' I'm long gone.
Labels also help define us. Example; someone's politics can instantly labels them. It relegates them to either being a complete twat, or someone with their head screwed on. It depends on the label you wear as to which. I'm a Tory she's a Tory... therefore she can't be all bad. That kind of thing. Other examples are; he's a dog lover, I'm a dog lover, I bet we have so much in common. (Dog lovers actually do). I collect train time tables, so does he, ergo, friends for life. However, you can run into problems with labelling when assumptions are made about the wearer. Happened to me once. I was criticising the government – yeah I know, not like me right? - and a chap, I knew well, suddenly swung around and snapped, “Your lot are no better”. He assumed I voted for 'the other side'. At the time I pointed out I couldn't recall the last time I voted. This was due to the fact I live in a safe Tory seat. Same dude always wins, has always won, so this makes voting for anyone else pointless. People in North Korea must have the same dilemma. So I've not bothered. My vote would only slow down the announcement 'Would you Adam and Eve it, he's won gain” and delay the victory party celebrations. So not worth it.
Nice beach photo to calm you.
Back to my point.
(There's a point to all this? Ed) Ignore her.
So labels help. They enable us to pigeon hole people and cope with them better. There's lots out there. Chavs', WAGS' and snowflakes' are all recent contenders. Of course there's Right and Left wing. Racists, fundamentalists, dreamers, religious nuts, extremists, pervs, liberals, vegans and now brexiteers and remoners and that old faithful, twats'. (A generic term used to describe any person who repeatedly say and/or do stupid things). Those are just off the top of my head. But all of them tell us something about the mindset of the wearer.
The oddest label, and one that's gone from being a compliment to an insult, and one I've been accused of is 'a do-gooder'. Which confuses me. Surely, by definition, it must be a person who does good. Like a stranger who comes to your aid in a time of need. Or a person who offers you a kindness for no reward. One of life's good Samaritans. What's wrong with that? Perhaps the best known was Jesus. He made a career out of being jolly nice to people. Turning water into booze. Knocking up free fish suppers. Applying balm to lepers privates. This got him quite a reputation and following.
“You bloody do-gooders are all the same. You bleeding heart liberals, you get on my nerves”, this chap once said to me. Well he didn't say it so much as spat it out. He was having a paddy. I'd said something about, 'lets all being kind to foreigners', and that really upset him.
But I came back with a swift retort. - I've a reputation to protect - I asked him, 'would he prefer it if I were evil, held extremist views and didn't give a fuck about anyone? Would that make him happier?'
He then labelled me, 'A clever dick'.
You have a good weekend.
Wednesday 29th November 2017
Darby & Joan
We left and headed south 160 miles South to Capo de Gata.
I've been down this stretch of the A7 before and each time I'm amazed. The scenery is pretty unique. It's how I imagine Mars would look after a year of terraforming. The barren, rock strewn landscape, gives way to distant brooding mountains, devoid of vegetation save for scrub grass Occasionally, when the mountains move in and the road can't get around, up or over them, it cuts through them and you get to see their innards. The range of colours is impressive, silver, maroons, yellows, golds and browns. A geologist could tell you much about Spain's geological history from those colours. Me? Bugger all. I'd love to know more about the planet I live on but I can't be arsed. Sad. Right?
It's said that Mr Average, when he checks out, will have seen only a tiny portion of the creatures he's been sharing earth with. He'll know the names of maybe just a handful of the plants and flowers that have surrounded him his whole life. He'll have visited, according to Thomas Cook; on average six of the 197 counties there are. And he'll know less than half a percent of the sum total of man's collective knowledge. A fact which has never seemed to make much of a dent on the number of clever dicks one meets.
Anyhoo, the diversity of the Spanish terrain is one of its best features if you ask me.
Just as amazing is their ability to grow stuff here. Almost all of it under vast ugly poly tunnels. It's said the Great wall of China is the only man made object that can be viewed from space. This is one of those 'facts' we assume is true, but isn't. Another one being humans only use ten percent of their brains. Also not true. Although those that believe it are probably guilty of using just ten percent of theirs.
However these poly tunnels can be viewed from space, so numerous are they. If you check out google earth - Spain bottom south coat - you'll see what appears to be a large area of silvery land. That's light reflected off their roofs. And today you find us camped slap-bang in amongst them - Lucky old us, is what I say - in what is technically termed a sub dessert.
We've not been here before, we're just stopping a couple of days on route west.
Now I'm a great one for going with my first impressions, my gut feeling, which I think could be our much rumoured sixth sense.
I think mankind's early rise up the food chain, at a time when even his own shadow surprised him. A time when he wasn't the brightest thing on two legs, nor four; mother nature knew if he was to survive he needed assistance. So she equipped him with 'gut feeling' or, as we call it now, intuition. He had a heightened sense of it, honed out of necessity. He'd know when danger was approaching long before it arrived. Many of us still have that ability. Some can sense their in-laws turning into the drive.
My alarm rang a couple miles out. The road kinda gave up on us. Like it couldn't be arsed to show us the way. Like the final destination really wasn't worth the diesel. A couple of times we said, “Hang on. This can't be right surely”. It was.
As we drove in, my feelings were confirmed. It looked beyond dull. Why anyone would want to come and sit out the winter here is a mystery. Especially now as they are coming up to the windy season. Here the wind can blow for days.
It had a sparse dusting of elderly British couples holed up waiting out the winter, or hiding from the Department of Pensions, who knows? From the second we pitched up I had the sense that this is where caravanners come to live out their days. Much like that spot in Africa where elephants go to die. I sensed an air of hopelessness. Not easy to describe and do it justice, I'll try though.
Have you ever thrown a party. Invited say, thirty odd people and only twelve turned up? And those twelve not even the hottest twelve. These were the ones you hoped wouldn't come, but had to invite because you work with them. Some twat let it out the bag you were having a party. But what the hell, you insist the party should go ahead regardless, even-though you know you should send the twelve packing. Well that's the feeling you get here. It could be fun....... but you just know it ain't going to be. It has a Derby and Joan atmosphere. And to prove me right, while we were setting up a women rode past on her mobility scooter (seriously not making this up) and said, “Hello”. Clearly a pleasant and friendly lady. I wondered at the time if she was the official welcoming committee. She told us about the weekly quiz. The fish and chips on a Friday. A 'disco' in December - where one can dance to the big band sounds of Billy Cotton; I assume - and a Christmas dinner for £50 per couple.
Frankly... I'd rather gouge my eyes out but that's just me.
Monday 27th November 2017
It's all go.
Good weekend? We had an 'activity' weekend! Swimming, cycling and walking. If we'd thrown in a bit of archery, practically a triathlon. I've said it before, I'm no fan of excising. I pay homage to it by occasionally wearing a track suit, I find it helps to promote the illusion I could take flight at any moment at great speed.
I had two work collogues who were fitness nuts. One jogged, the other played squash. Both sung the praises of their respective pursuits. Sadly, both dropped dead doing what they loved. If there's a moral to that story drop it to me on a postcard.
Today 'keeping fit' is practically a religion and one that's promoted by everyone and his dog. Not least because the industry itself is worth four billion in the UK. You can't open a magazine without some nubile woman leaping across the page with the tag line, 'Be a Fitter You' in just two weeks'. Or another, sitting in a minimalistic kitchen eating muesli, telling us, 'doing planks changed her life'. Then there's the TV ads encouraging us to buy all manner of daft rubber gizmos to help us reach that peak of physical fitness. You can even buy a home gym from Argos. Thus enabling you to turn your six by six spare bedroom into your very own 'wellness centre', providing you can still open the door and get in that is.
Pensioners are not spared either. Apparently they can get fit whilst sitting on their commodes doing toe crunches or some such nonsense. Also our government sticks its snout into the lifestyle choices of the committed couch potato, by threatening to introduce a tax on pop, crisps and Jaffa cakes; implying they should get off their arses. It's everywhere and it's insidious. We're being brain washed into thinking we have an obligation to 'keep fit'. Those that hear the calling feel superior, and those that don't feel guilty.
The danges of smoking are all to evident here. Smoking will turn you into a fit young man.
Of course most of the benefits claimed by fitness gurus aren't proven. True, if you work hard enough, you'll be able to say... run a marathon. But when was the last time you wanted to? The truth behind the fitness hype is simple; you only need to be as fit, as you need to be. For example; a guy who digs holes for a living will, after a while on the job, be fit enough to do just that. The chap who sits in an office, and then works out four times a week so he could dig holes if ever the occasion arose, is really wasting his energy. Put another way. A one ton cow does nothing but eat grass and shit. So is it unfit because it doesn't do a spot of aerobics? Well no. If you doubt me, try and outrun one.
The biggest claim is you could live a little longer. And to help bring this point home they'll show you a slim, grey haired, retired couple, on a beach laughing. But of course there's no way to prove it will. Certainly it didn't for my two ex-colleagues. And besides, there is no evidence we're living any longer, fit or unfit. Genetic Scientists will tell you, the human body hasn't mutated on some genetic level enabling us to defy the ageing process. We're all still getting older and as fast. Proving we're living longer is left to statisticians, chaps who can prove anything if you want them to.
Anyhoo back to my weekend. Swimming was Hazel's idea. She likes swimming. It's okay. We did a good few lengths. I feel confident if I'm ever tossed into the Thames by an irate politician I should be able to save myself. Although I do find that the longer I swim, a bit like a knackered barge, I start to take in water. Clearly I'm holed somewhere.
We cycled 12 miles into town and before you congratulate us on our efforts, I should point out it was on electric assisted bikes, so that's fucked that image. We did some walking which is only the next movement after standing up, so I don't class that as exercise. It's just something we all do if we want to get anything done. Actual 'walking', as an exercise, seems to require equipment and I draw the line at equipment.
My advice surrounding the whole fitness issue, is this; don't bother? If you're say... over 50, it's too late and if you're young you really shouldn't need to. Be only fit enough to do what you do. The key is to pace yourself. Don't knacker your knees by jogging. Don't go pulling muscles, tearing ligaments, damaging your back, getting tennis elbow, athletes foot or cricketers crease. Don't stress your body out, it's your friend, treat it like one. And know, we weren't designed to run marathons. Play tennis for three hours. Lift 200lbs weights. Swim 2000 meters. Cycle up slab sided mountains. Bust a gut in a gym, or work up a sweat just for the sake of it. Don't go forcing your body to do stuff it really doesn't want to, or needs to do. It ain't worth it.
Sage words indeed.
Friday 24th November 2017
Whats on my mind.
Sorry about this... Brexit. About time I had a pop at it.
First, and this is important, the only reason we had a referendum was because David Cameron wanted a second term. No great constitutional crisis and no great desire to listen to the 'Will of The People'. It was political gamesmanship, an election bribe. But he'd thrown the baby out with the bath water! Bitten off more than he could chew and when it all went pear shaped he shot himself in the foot. Okay, I'm out of applicable idioms. So cowardly, he quit. At least captains' go down with their ships. But let me take you back to June 23rd 2016. The Day the Earth Stood Still or Referendum day.
I was asked, like you, Should we leave the EU? Now it won't come as a surprised to anyone but I know fuck all about global trade, even less about making trade deals and what I know about import tariffs, world finance, international politics, constitutional law, immigration trends and article 50 wouldn't fill the sticky side of a postage stamp, and yet I was still asked! Christ! I'm not even sure how to tax my car any more! Where's the sense in asking us? And what a pants question. A better one would have been: Do you wish to steer the good ship GB away from the course it's been on for the past 44 years, the one that's helped it achieve the ranking of the 26th richest nation on earth, vote Yes? No?
Truth is, we elect governments to make those decisions solely so we can blame them when the shite hits the fan. So now 17 million, out a population of 62, have set in motion, a change in course from which there is no return. Interestingly, 17 million is less than the number of people who watched the 'Only fools and horses 1998 Christmas special'. Was that a vote for Del Boy? Think not.
But hang on! I don't want to get into the blame game. What did any of us have to go on? I mean, to help us make this historic decision? The debate turned out to a hollow shambolic name calling propagandist exchange. I listened to it. It became obvious they knew even less than me. WTF! The SS GB is about to enter uncharted waters and nobody had a clue and still doesn't eighteen months later. It's still all speculation and conjecture. Meaning my guess is as good as your dog's. The only thing I can say with any authority is that bananas will almost certainly retain their bent shape. So victory of sorts for the leave campaigners.
So what's in store for us? Well disappointment obviously. Those who voted out because “There's too many bloody foreigners here”, won't be happy. They weren't really talking about the new Spanish barman at Wetherspoons. Nor the Latvians who clean their cars. Nor the cheap Polish plumber. They meant the people from the middle east, sub-Saharan Africa. None of whom are EU Migrant workers. They'll still get visas; I assume. Half a million issued, by this gov in 2016.
Then there's those who think Britain is being controlled by Brussels. They'll be so pissed off when they discover Britain has 73 euro MPs in the Brussels parliament, only Germany has more, and those 73 can veto anything that's not it the UK's interest. But nobody told them that. It doesn't sell newspapers. The press told us the EU is staffed by people who eat babies, which was backed up by Farage. An odd music hall, trilby hat wearing, politician with a cult following. A guy who's worked a decade for an organisation whose very existence he despises. That's like being a dog lover and having a job where you force beagles to smoke fags. Still, he can always count his £2m in earnings I guess.
But those that will be the unhappiest will be the people who think Utopia is beckoning. “Once we leave, Britain will regain it's place in the world as a major trading nation”. Really? Someone should tell them we don't have a manufacturing base any more. It's gone. Dismantled. Sold off to foreign industrialists. What WE have is Mr Dyson. A Tory business man who made out he reinvented the vacuum cleaner, sacked his British workforce, fucked off to Asia and was then hailed as a shining example of British entrepreneurial endeavour! And gets knighted for it! Can you believe it? He's now Sir twat-face Dyson. Our biggest exports are Nissan cars made for the European market, (Nissan thought the UK was the most stable politically lol) Pharmaceuticals and Fisherman's friends lozenges (exported to 54 countries) …..and spam. That's it! Oh! and gems apparently.
But it's not all dire news. Oh! No. We do have Mrs May working tirelessly towards securing Britain a trade deal. Granted not all her supporters are singing off the same hymn sheet. And yes, some are making up their own tune. And yes, Mrs May is no Mrs Thatcher who would've demoted the likes of Johnson to such a lowly role in government he'd have given up politics to: “Spend more time with the family”. Unfortunately May can't promise a 'Strong and Stable government' and then not deliver it. That makes her look ineffectual and weak to both her enemies and the country. But it doesn't stop people pinning their hopes on a 'free trade deal'. She was offered one, the 'Norway deal, but turned it down. Now the EU's hands are tied by their own protectionist constitution whose sole aim is to protect the markets of their member states. So getting a deal will almost certainly include trade tariffs. Which is no deal and the most likely.
I voted to remain because of that wise old idiom 'Better the devil you know, than chance grounding the good ship Great Britain on the rocks of prejudice, misinformation and nostalgia.
Have a good weekend.
Wednesday 22 November 2017
On the move.
We moved on. We had to.
Driving in Spain is nothing like driving in blighty. In blighty you need the tenacity of a chariot driver, the suicidal determination of a NASCAR driver and ideally, a baseball bat in the boot. The bat is handy for those moments when a fellow motorist flies into a rage because you failed to signal resulting in him being delayed for 12 milliseconds while on his way to Lidl. In blighty driving is fast becoming a gladiatorial sport. Here you can sit back and driving the way your granddad did when there was only twelve cars on the road. You can look out the window, have a drink, do a crossword or knock up a toy amphibious landing craft from the contents of your glove box. Here's there's just miles of near empty roads. You soon start to remember why you once liked driving. The satisfaction of mastering the controls of a complex machine at speed is fun. Why the rush towards autonomous cars is a mystery to me. I enjoy driving.
We headed south under a azure blue cloudless sky. So far the weather has been amazing. 68 degrees today, though it felt hotter. - not really what most of you guys want to hear - In fact it's being reported as the driest year on record in Spain which might explain why the rivers we've seen have all be empty.
I'm constantly amazed how anything grows in Spain, but they do. Some crops seem to love this arid climate. Olives for one. The trees sit in earth you couldn't drive a tent peg into even with a pneumatic hammer. And yet, they produce masses of fruit. We picked some a few days ago and then, after a search on google, discovered the process to make them edible wasn't worth the time and effort. So we chucked them away and brought a jar from Mercadona. (Our favourite supermarket here. Ed).
Another is Oranges. Today, for almost sixty miles, we saw nothing but orange groves disappearing mile after mile into the horizon. Millions of trees. You'd think that for a fruit renowned for its juiciness it would need a wetter climate, but no, they thrive here. Frankly, after a while, they began to tick me off. I mean, this many! Come on!. Why ain't they giving them away instead of charging us a euro a kilo at the supermarket? I will say the Spanish keep the best for themselves. Seriously, you can get almost a wine glass full of orange juice from one. At home I have to crush the living daylights out of a bucket full with a hammer to get that amount.
This owner of this motorhome said he wanted to live off grid. I was going to thell him, living in something that can be viewed from space kinda defeats the object
Around lunch time we pulled into an empty garage. For a break. Stretch our legs, Get a coffee. I popped into the mini shop and grabbed a couple of bags of crisps. And then stood there. The attendant was outside sweeping the forecourt. I waited. The chap was alone. I mooched about checking his stock. Looked out of the window again. He now stood staring at me like a character from a Stephen King novel. He seemed to have no interest in me nor taking my money. I waved the crisp packets at him. This did nothing. His glum face gawped back at me. I considered stuffing them down my pants and walking out. Eventually I went out and handed him the cash. I got nothing from him during the brief exchange. He could have been dead.
By early afternoon we arrived at Camping Marjal. A vast campsite with 1200 pitches. I'm not a fan of these big camping sites. Surprisingly over a thousand pitches were occupied. Quite a lot of them are permanent all year round fixtures. Consequently they've grown exponentially, and spread into mini fiefdoms. A caravan, an awning, an outhouse, a canopy, garden furniture, barbecue, fences plus an assortment of garden gnomes or pots of flowers. The pitches are overflowing and I'm sure flouting fire regulations. One goes up they'll all go up.
The occupants are mostly octogenarian pensioners from across Europe. Mainly a mix of Germans and Dutch. However there's a large British presence here. Sadly, unlike their German and Dutch counterparts, they'll soon have no right to be here. Us Brits are about to lose our European citizenship which has given Haze and I 'the right' to roam freely around Europe. Once the UK leaves we'll revert back to being British, and as such we'll have to apply for a visas if we want to stay in Europe for anything up to three months (The maximum allowed). Some optimist say the EU will make a 'special provision' for us, why? I've no idea. I will say, unlike me, few of them seem to have read the EU directive on issuing Visa to none EU citizens.
While I waited for the paper work be printed up in reception, I was amused by one of the rules. It said, and I quote; 'If you come across an emergency, don't scream! Sage advice. After all, with this number of old folk I guess emergencies are not that rare.
Monday 20th November 2017
Heaven and Hell.
We left camping L'Ametlla, one of our favourite European campsites, and arrived here at camping...... Truthfully, I can't be arsed to look up the name. It's west of Valencia. I think it has Valencia in the title. Where L'Ametlla was pretty much the perfect campsite for us, this isn't. It's the opposite. Imaging a Aldi car park with gravel and you have camping.......... Still can't be bothered.
L'Ametlla has nice smiley staff. It sits on a beautiful coastline. Has roomy flat pitches, Fabulous cliff top walks and is five minutes from a beach. It's tranquil, has free WiFi that romps along, and a 10 amp electric supply that pumps sparkly new electrons to your electrical gizmos all at once, if you so desire. Inside the modern heated shower block, you don't so much shower as get valeted. Oh! and Haze has told me to tell you it has first class washing machines.
Washing machines!... Go figure.
Camping what-ever. New view from our bathroom window. Nice.
The only downside, this year, was the German chap who thought I could speak German. I can't, unless knowing 15 words counts as being fluent. Why he thought this? I'm not sure. I did try and tell him, but he was having none of it. He insisted on occasionally passing the time of day with me. While he did this I would nod knowingly and smile when appropriate; normally when he found something he'd said amusing. I'd follow his finger when he pointed out stuff and when he looked surprised, I'd mirror his expression. So thinking about it......Yeah! I can perhaps see why he thought I could.
Anyhoo, regardless. I'm fully aware campsite reviews are subjective. For example: Some people whinge about noise created by people 'having fun'. And yet, when we get there, we can hear an ant fart from 30 yards. Some reviewers grumble about the reception staff, accusing them of being a Spanish version of Basil Fawlty. Yet when we get there they fall over themselves being helpful, can't do enough. A common complaint with reviewers is barking dogs. Well to be honest, don't come to Spain if barking dogs get on your tits. They're a constant feature of everyday life here, much like mass shootings are in the USA. It's just one of those odd idiosyncratic peculiarities about a country. I can here one barking now as I'm sat typing this.
I should point out there are two types of dogs in Spain. Those small nervous looking things that get carried everywhere, until eventually they lose the use of their legs; I assume. The other type are those stupid dogs who bark constantly at anything. People, their own shadows, twigs, the wind, if there's an 'A' in the month. It's an endless list believe me.
I do think a campsite review says as much about the reviewers mental state at the time, as it does about the campsite. And I've read, and written, a lot of reviews. Not blowing my own trumpet here, but I have won two second prizes, two years running, in the Acsi camping review competition. When I say competition...... it was more a draw to be fair. But it never pays to underplay ones achievements.
Here at camping who-gives-a-shite, we're packed in like sardines surrounded by a twelve foot high security wall - Still working out if it's to keep ne'er-do-wells out, or us in - Just outside the 'compound' there are pitches marked out among a few trees and stuff that passes for grass around here, but none have electricity. I couldn't see any water either. It's camping ye olde 18th century stylee.
At least inside Stalag Aldi we have electricity, albeit at 4 amps. Basically enough to charge your toothbrush but not much else. More, and and you're in danger of blowing the fuse. You'll then have to get a guy to come out and reconnect you. Water is rationed here. Well charged for, which is water rationing by proxy. The pitches are quite small and close together. Because of this, and us in a car and a caravan, I was given a Delux pitch. This has all the drawbacks of a non Delux pitch, but only more expensive. How much more expensive I shan't tell you because each time I think about what I paid at L'Ametlla for a week, and what I was asked to pay here for a couple of days, I get emotional.
So today were moving on again, further south to pastures new.
Have a happy Monday folks.
(While the above is generally accurate, Some features have been exaggerated for comedic effect) Editor.
Friday 17th November 2017
What's on my mind
Friday is typically the day we move on, so, much like a Blue Peter project, here's something I prepared earlier.
Let me kick off with a question. How many British registered Charities do you think there are? I guessed 4000. Haze 14000. I'll give you a minute. Got one? Okay. The actual number, according to the charity commission, is a colossal one hundred & seventy thousand. And between them they raked in a herculean £74,Billion last year. Just from our lose change? That's bigger than some Africans countries GDP. It's enough to wipe out last years UK budget deficit.
So how much do we actually know about the charities? If you're like me, bugger all. I know some think they're run by little old ladies, the kind that staff High Street charity shops, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Truth is, many are very big businesses. That much I do know, and as the nations affluence has grown, so has the number of charities. I remember a time when I'd occasionally have a collection box shoved under my nose, no more. It's organised on a biblical scale. It's an industry 170,000 strong. One charity has 120,000 unpaid helpers collecting on their behalf. Some employ call centres to drum up donations. There's TV and media advertising. Soon the yearly Christmas appeals will be upon us and we'll be asked to save anything from donkeys to children from their abusive fathers. Interestingly, the charity 'The Donkey sanctuary', has £29 million in the bank. I'm guessing you can save a lot of donkeys from the knacker yard for that. But why in the bank? And Britain's richest, 'The Arts Council of Britain' has a massive £604 million in the bank. That's a lot of Shakespeare. Haze gave monthly to a charity, but stopped when they sold or passed on her details to other charities who then started calling and writting to exploit her generosity.
Odd sky last night.
Now because it's remembrance Sunday, (was at the time) I'll use the Royal British Legion as an example. It was started by a Lance Bombardier Tom Lister in 1921. He was so horrified by the treatment of WW1 soldiers returning from France by the British government - most went from the front line to the bread line - he got some army chums together and formed the British legion.
I was surprised to discover that today, it's assets exceed £340 million. It owns property and buildings and has a pension fund of £17 million. They say 96p in a pound goes to good causes. That's impressive, least it would be if it were true. Unfortunately it's not. The Charity commission has criticized them (and others) for including their 'governance costs' within that 96p. - Governance is their running/operational costs - For the RBL, like so many, that's wages for over 1400 staff, building costs, renewal and renovation, power and heating, admin and IT systems, transportation costs including vehicle purchasing. Advertising, media and fund raising. Manufacturing and promotional costs and a ton of others I'm not privy to. What proportion of a pound actually goes toward grants they won't say. I found one 'unofficial' report that said it could be 20p or less. It said the RBL, along with other charities, won't publish the actual figures because they fear it'll affect future donations. Good assumption.
But what concerns me is, not what they spend their £150m a year donations on, but why the RBL is still going strong a century after it was formed. Don't you think the care, needs and welfare of our British armed forces, some injured in action, should be the responsibility of the government? I mean they put them on the front line. Why make'em charity cases?
And that raises a bigger question. Why are charities like the RBL, Mind, The RNLI, Bernardo's, The NSPCC, Cancer UK, Age UK, and many others still needed in 21st century Britain? Fine in the 18th century when they was real hardship and poverty. What kind of a society are we making for ourselves where the welfare of so many is left to charities? Not one I'm proud of I'm sorry to say.
Of the £74 Billion in donations it's estimated that around £15 billion ends up where it does the most good. The rest disappears in administrative cost and salaries of £121,000 for some directors.
I reckon today's RBL is a far cry from what Tom Lister had in mind. And I reckon the young lads buried in France would turn in their graves if they knew their comrades ended up as charity cases. I doubt that's what they fought for. Perhaps, what we should have taken from their sacrifice is what's chiselled into many monuments, 'Never again!. And to that end take away the authority of any British Prime Minster to plunge Britain into war if he/she so chooses. That'll be a fitted epitaph for those brave lads.
Have a good weekend.
(Financial information supplied by the charity commission)
Interesting reading: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/apr/24/top-1000-charities-donations-britain#data
Wednesday 15th November 2017
I know I should try and be more informative. Focus on the job in hand. So today here's my top ten tips for caravanning abroad. For people who hate caravans and their owners - you buggers, I know you're out there - I'm sorry. But at least you've now got time to alphabetise your CD collection.
Don't screw with the law. It's your job to know the traffic laws. It's no good saying to a cop “But no one told me in Calais, when I got off the ferry, that I needed a first aid kit, headlight deflectors, a warning triangle for each vehicle, a spare pair of glasses and enough hi-vis jackets for me, the wife and kids”. Or worse. “Well it's not illegal to drive in flip-flops in the UK old man, and we've been at this driving milarky a damn sight longer than you foreign chaps”. Neither will go down well. Trust me.
If you don't want your wife's undies spread across a French motorway, and let's be honest who does? don't take liberties with the weight distribution of your van. Anything heavy, over the axle. Haze has a plastic crate into which she puts all the cans, jars, bottles and packets of food.. That sits over the axle. Full, it weights 23 kilo's, as much as our awning. So don't get blasé about where you shove stuff or you'll end up on Youtube in a clip entitled. “Twatish caravanner gets stuffed by his van”
While a GPS may stop you getting lost it can also lead you up the garden path, literally. It actually did it once to us in Austria. The home owner took it well. I recommend one called Navigator. It's a free app for Android phones. I've used Garmin and the one screwed to the dash of the Kia but it's far better, has free updates, and maps that cover the world. It also shows many hiking routes.
Get yourself an ACSI camping book. It lists thousands of European campsites. Tons of info. Cost £15 for the year and you'll get an 'out of season' savings card. And this is one of those very rare occasions when something really does pay for itself.
The Roman founded Tarragona in 1AD, look! the buggers are still here.
Arriving at campsites. I've never booked a camp site in five years (one exception Paris). Best time to arrive, even in high season, is a Sunday. Many holiday makers make for home and work/school on a Monday. Aim for about 2.00pm. In low season go for any day but the same time. Many campers arrive later. So you get a pick of the pitches.
Reception. When booking in ask about Wi-Fi coverage. They'll often point out the best areas for reception. It can be free or bloody expensive. I try and avoid camp-sites that charge.
Pitches. For ideal sun you'll want to park east/west. Ideally not far from water and waste. Don't park near showers, convenient yes, but too much human traffic. Use a spirit level to level your van. Failure to get it level will mean doors will swing open, or close, automatically, crud will accumulate on the wrong side of the plug hole and you may roll out of bed. Sods law.
There will be times when bad weather will stop you exploring. If you've brought along a hobby, excellent. If you've not, then now might be a good time to start one. Drawing is easy and cheap, as is learning the lingo. Take games, cards & books. Any one of my books (available on Amazon, modestly priced) will afford you many hours of light entertainment. Without any distractions you could find yourself wondering how much air your partner is breathing, and is it more than his/her fair share.
Make sure you pack a sense of adventure and humour. Plus a shed load of T-bags. Anything else you can buy
And finally Ten.
If you're married take your partner.......... failing that a nice dog. We all like company.
All very sage advice I think you'll agree. And all discovered the hard way. Forged in the fiery pit of full on, long term, in your face, European camping.
I thank you...... How's that CD collection coming along?
Friday something very controversial. Just warning you. That's all.
Monday 13th November 2017
Dave and the Aliens.
Good weekend? Ours was a mighty windy one, I mean that in a meteorological sense. Nothing to do with the veg soup we had Saturday. I received an email from a reader - always nice - having read my appraisal of the political shenanigans in Catalonia on Friday, he wrote, “The Catalans are very proud of their heritage and their history, why shouldn't they want independence?” I dare say that's something we could say about the inhabitants of the Isle of Man. But moving on. Let me try this approach.
Dave's small space ship was caught in a tractor beam and reeled into the belly of a vast alien spacecraft while in the outer limits of our galaxy.
He was interrogated in a cavernous auditorium surrounded by aliens.
“Where do you come from?” one asked.
“23 Mandela Buildings” Dave replied proudly.
“Where is this planet Mandela you speak of?”
Dave laughed. “No... it's not a planet. It's in Hackney.
“Where is this planet Hackney?”
Dave chuckled again. “No that's not a planet, it's in London, and that ain't a planet either”.
“Oh! for fuck sake”, one alien said, “Zap him now and let's be done with it”.
“So where is London?” another enquired, ignoring Zog the Zapper.
“Ah now, that's in England which is on planet Earth”.
“So your planet is called Earth?” one conjectured.
“Yep”, Dave replied, chuffed he'd cleared up the confusion.
“Why didn't you say that in the first place”, said Zog, putting away his zapper.
“Well, when you asked me where I was from, I was wasn't sure what you meant”.
“So do all humans come from 23 Mandela buildings?” one asked.
Look on the bright side it will be like this in the UK in a few months.
Dave had a good long laugh at that one. “No just me, the wife and kids”. Zog leapt to his three feet again, “This is getting us nowhere! Here, let me zap him”.
“Patience!” said the one in fancy headgear. Dave thought he was probably the head alien. He'd noticed that, generally speaking, people with power often wore big hats. “And where is this Earth you speak of?”
“In the milky way, on the right”. It's just one planet amongst billions of stars. You'd never find it” Dave added quickly, concerned they might have a bigger agenda than just him.
“TOO LATE”, one yelled, “We've got the whole fucking address now”. They all laughed. Dave thought he'd probably given too much away.
“So each humanoid has his own place on Earth; where he comes from?”
“Yes, well kinda”.
“Bugger for the postman”, one alien joked. A titter went around the auditorium.
“Next time”, the head alien said, “Just say Earth okay?”
“Well I'm proud of where I come from”, Dave said defiantly.” I don't want to get lumped in with every Tom, Dick and Harry on Earth”. I don't want to be confused with say, a Tongan. Not that....!
“Is a Tongan a fire breathing dragon?” one asked, excitedly interrupting Dave”.
“No he's human too”. The questioner looked disappointed. “Truth is, us humans tend to stick to our own kind. We don't really see eye to eye with each other on much ”.
“Why not?” one asked, “You all cohabit on a tiny planet, which quite frankly is in a really boring bit of space, I'd have thought you had a lot in common”.
"Not really. We're all different. Different religions. 460 of those. Over 6000 languages. Most of us only speak one. Almost 200 countries. We look a bit different. Dress a bit different. We're not all the same colour. We've different customs and histories, and of course, some are brexiteers. All those differences add up and.........!
“And you all have different addresses” interrupted an alien, then looked pleased with himself that he'd grasped the whole concept of living on Earth so quickly.
“Yeah that's right”.
The head alien leaned forward and placed one of his three elbows on one of his tree knees. “But what stops you from being... oh, I dunno, just all humans from Earth and all working together to better your species? ”
Dave thought for a moment before replying.
“Honestly, I think it's too soon. But we'll get there one day. Give us time.”
Friday 10th November 2017
And the moral of this story is....?
So the idea was a simple one; a bit of sightseeing and then find somewhere nice to have lunch. We chose to do the tourist bit in the small historical town of Tortosa, and once parked up walked slap bang into a protest rally. The townsfolk were protesting against Madrid's handling of the Catalan governments declaration of independence. The protest march was peaceful. Bystanders waved at people they knew marching, and marchers waved back. Mums pushed buggies and people seized the opportunity to walk their dogs. There was some ritualistic flag waving, some flag wearing and an occasional half hearted chant, but sadly no drumming. I do think you need drumming in a protest, Gives it gravitas. Girds the loins.
In brief the background to all this argy-bargy is that Spain was once made up of several Kingdoms. Catalonia was one of those kingdoms. The Catalans now want to turn the clock back 400 hundred years and have their Kingdom back. They don't like being told what to do by Madrid apparently. Who does? However, I'm a believer in that old military adage 'strength in numbers', seems sage advice to me in this day and age. But I'm neither Spanish nor a Catalan so it's not my business. I do know however, that while they want independence from the rest of Spain and their fellow countrymen, if a tsunami was to hit the Barcelona tomorrow, the first people the Catalans would turn to is Spain, Madrid, and their fellow countrymen. Make of that what you will. I expect they'll tell me they're proud Catalans first, and Spanish second. Sadly, like most folk, they forget they're actually humans first and that supersedes any other label you want to label yourself with, at least in my book.
Anyhow enough of that. Here's some sage advice of my own.
When you're out having lunch in a strange land keep clear of the tourist hotspots. The reason: the food's crap and twice the price. Restaurants frequented by tourists don't rely on local patronage, so they can churn out any old slop and sadly some do, I've tasted it. With this in mind we went off the beaten track and found a small rustic restaurant that catered for 'local people' serving 'local food'. Here they have to dish up decent vittals at sane prices or go bust.
Now the only problem with these places is there's a good chance nobody will speak English. Why should they? And they won't have an English menu. Why would they? None of this is a problem if you can speak the lingo which we can't, so ordering food can be bit of an adventure. Once, in France, I ordered the only thing I recognised on a menu, bouf.... something. (Beef) What was placed in-front of me twenty minutes later was a cows kidney. Have you ever seen a whole cows kidney? No? Well they're frekin big. Fair to say it was bigger than the one I owned.
I had this very problem with the first course yesterday. Here's a photo of it. The soup, that stuff in the glass, was basically cold Britvic tomato juice. On the plate was..... well, not sure. It could have been road kill. In these instances I find it best not to ask, it might be something disgusting and I'll gag in front of the waitress. I ate it. It turned out to be very nice. The main course was 'carne', or meat. Now we lost something in translation here because she insisted it was, “jam meat”. I looked at Hazel to see if this was a cut I'd not heard of, hoping she had, she hadn't. She was confused too. So we ordered,
“Dos Jam meat please”. And why not?
When she came back with the plates she said, “No jam meat.....lamb”. Sure enough, that's what it was, Jam.... I mean lamb, lamb chops.
When she took our food order, I asked for Vino, pointing to our empty glasses. She reappeared moments later with an open bottle of Tinto Wine. Now in England I would have said, “Sorry I wanted two glasses not a bottle”. Here I just said, “Gracias”. I was determined to have two glasses and leave the remainder. Well as plans go, that might sound good, but it was much harder to execute than I imagined. We finished it.
The bill was, and remember this was for four courses and a bottle of wine, just £22. Amazing. Now here's the moral of the story. When you've enjoyed a nice meal, and downed a bottle of 14% proof wine in a Spanish restaurant, don't immediately go out and try and use a Spanish cash point machine. It's hopeless. I ended up giggling, slightly hysterically, as it didn't seem to understand English numbers and Hazel started getting cross I was about to have our credit card gobbled up if I pressed the wrong pin number..... again!.
So the moral of the story is... wait till you've..... digested your food a little before faffing about with a Spanish ATM. Okay?
Wednesday 8th November 2017.
Education Vs Taxation
I've said numerous times during the last five years that we could learn a lot from our European cousins. For example, in Spain you can buy a bottle of very palatable wine for £1.85 and a packet of cigs for £3.20.
The obvious question therefore is: Are all Spaniards fag smoking winos? The answer, unsurprisingly, is of course not. Like most countries, smoking is on the decline here. This is the result, in no small measure, to the horrific scenes plastered on fag packets. One of which is a chap having his lungs removed by chaps dressed in what look like hazmat suits. Implying his cancerous lungs are a bio hazard no doubt.
Spain seems to have focussed on education rather than taxation as a means to an end. They're also aware that, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to smoke. So draconian taxes on cigs hit the poorest who don't have that many pleasures in life to start with.
Now this approach, education over taxation, flies in the face of currant British political thinking. Which is: the only way to get people to give up anything they enjoy is to tax it until they can't afford it. Not that there's evidence to suggest that's true. It was a chancellor, I forget which one, that said “Increasing the levy on cigarettes and booze makes little difference to their sales”. So for our government to suggest it has the nations health and welfare at heart each time it raises taxes on these items is, well, baloney.
Surprisingly, and bear in mind booze is practically on tap here, you'll find bars in some Lidl's stores, Spaniards drink less than us Brits. In the time we've been spending our winters here I can count on one hand the number of drunken Spaniards I've seen. I can't say that about the ex pats I hang around with on some camp-sites. For some, drinking is positively a hobby. We Brits love getting sloshed. I think it's because we were kept away from booze growing up. It elevated alcohol to some mystical level. The forbidden fruit. In Europe wine, in sensible quantities, is given to children. It's normal. Kids grow up around the stuff. Not for them its psychedelic powers.
Of course the excuse given by chancellors for hiking booze prices is to combat the social horrors of 'binge drinking', which the media would have you believe this generation, with their loose morals, invented. It didn't. It's been a problem dating back to the 'gin houses' of the 18th century. (I can buy a bottle of gin here for £3.50) No, this government, and others, have cleverly shaped public opinion to justify tax hikes. This can be dangerous.
They've single handedly demonised smokers to the point where parents who spark up on the school run are viewed with the same venom as child molesters. And smokers who cough up £20 billion a year in taxes are forced, like lepers, to huddle in the rain getting their fix.
Improving the health of the nation is the task of the health authorities and doctors, not bloody politicians. I sat in my doctors surgery a few weeks ago surrounded by leaflets offering me advice from dealing with my many psychotic episodes to living with piles. (I've neither but it works better if I say I have) That's how it should be. Education.
We seem to have forgotten it's the governments job to manage the economy, spend the taxes it collects, and make laws. That's it. Not issuing ASBOs to people who bonk too loudly. It's a short job description, but one they struggle to master. Proof of this is Brexit, which has turned into a fiasco of epic proportions.
The government has been saying for some time we don't eat healthily. Too much junk food, What's needed to combat this evil is create a new hype the tax on crisp and fizzy pop.
Give me a break!
Monday 6th November 2017
Lets ruffle some feathers
Good weekend? We had some weather. Thunder, lightning, pea sized hail stones and winds of 55 mph. No fun being rocked to sleep by the wind. Trust me, it's then you start to appreciate building foundations.
Okay. take a look at this picture and tell me what you see. I'm going to guess you probably see an interesting and quite pretty coast line. Fair assessment. But that's not what I see. What I see is a photo which aptly depicts exactly what's wrong with Britain today.
Let me explain.
Bang in the middle of the photo is a large pile of rocks, yes? Well the last time we were here most of that pile was affixed to the land: actually part of the coastal path system ran across it. All along here they've had to move the coastal path inland a tad because bits of Spain keep dropping off into the sea. This of course is the result of soil erosion. Nothing new there, happens all around the world. What's interesting is not that, but the path itself. You see we've walked it half a dozen times and what struck me the first time, and still does, is just how dangerous it is. In places the path is just a foot wide. Its dusted with loose stones and riddled with gnarled tree roots poking out of the ground like man traps eager to trip up the hapless wanderer. And below him is a long drop into a very wet and rocky abyss. In places you frequently find yourself having to scramble on all fours or on your arse looking for a hand purchase as you climb down, or up, a rock face to get onto or off a beach. Its all very, erm..... Indiana Jonesish. What I find interesting is that the Spanish coastal pathways agency – if there is such a body – makes no attempt to make this pathway safe. (I should point out that on a few decidedly dangerous sections a hand rail has appeared this year to assist the frail). Every so often you'll find a hastily slapped daub of paint on a rock or tree showing the way ahead. That's pretty much your lot.
Now if this was Britain it would be fenced off. The public would be kept well clear. There'd be signs warning us not to approach the edge for our own safety. And those that chose to climb the razor wire - I'm sure that's what the council would erected around it - and who get into trouble, would be admonished by the rest of us for their foolishness. And that's the problem with Britain. In Spain they make no such provision. You hike the coastal walk at your own risk. They don't even put up signs saying, 'Hola' we take no responsibly if your nino's (kids) walk off into oblivion. Tough luck. Hike at your own risk'. Here it's just taken that you're masters of your own fate. I like that.
In Britain, the less than intellectual among us - idiots I call 'em - are protected by the powers that be. They ensure there's labelling warning them not to put their heads into plastic bags. Not to drink disinfectant. Not to stand too close to the edge of the platform. Not to take more than your daily prescribed dose. It insists electrical items have to be fitted with bonded plugs so idiots can't open them up and electrocute themselves. I read a warning on a sack of dried dog food which said, “Not fit for human consumption. Not to be used as a health food supplement”. We're now even warned peanuts may contain nuts, that's well, just nuts. We've created a country where you don't need common sense to survive the rigours and pitfalls of living. And its all backed with an army of claim lawyers out to get you compensation for being, well a twat really. With all this protection idiots are no longer being weeded out by natural selection as they once were. They are breeding and having idiotic kids, and thus the British intellectual gene pool is being dumbed down. We are becoming a less intellectual nation, not a smarter one. And of course these people have the vote. Some, even go into politics. A job that requires no qualifications, not even an aptitude test. Which, if there was one, would have surely weeded out idiots like Jacob Rees-Mogg. A man who's totally crackers! I ask you, what more evidence do you need to know that I'm right?
No, the the ugly truth is that idiots are shaping the future of Britain and that scares the bejeebers out of me, as it should you.
Friday 4th November 2017
A cautionary tale.
Picture this. We're driving south under a clear blue sky, radio on in the background, and the temperature a pleasant 24 degrees. We're heading to our next camp-site at Ametlla de Mar. We've been before and it's one of our favourites. We were minding our own business playing a game I invented called..... well, it doesn't have a name so for the sake of this piece I'll call it, 'Why I'm a pants business man. The idea is simple, you give reasons why you went bankrupt.
Here's a few examples.
I started a Not For Profit' business. I was broke in three months.
I owned a map making company but it was going nowhere.
I had a balloon company till it went bust.
I used to own a cardboard box business till the bottom dropped out of it.
I had a lawn sprinkler firm till the customers dried up.
I started selling dead clowns to cannibals, but they thought they tasted funny.
I promise you, I could go on... but you get the picture. It's a bit of daftness. It passes the time, exercises the brain and every so often you'll think of corker which will make you laugh. Trust me. I've being playing it a long time.
Anyhoo. About then a black sedan suddenly pulls alongside. The male passenger frantically points to the rear of the caravan looking concerned. I back off the throttle and look into the rear view mirrors. I see nothing. He continues to gesture wildly. I look again. Still nothing. He then speeds up, pulls in front of me, puts on his hazard warning lights and gestures me to pull over to the hand shoulder. Odd, a thousand cars have passed us in the last hour and nobody has given us a second glance. The car is driving well. No flames are coming out the caravan roof - always a good sign- so fuck em. He can pull into the hard shoulder all he likes, which he does, but I ain't about to.
This is a known ploy. They're out to rob us. They pull onto the hard shoulder with the hapless concerned caravanner eager to investigate the problem, and then get robbed.
Not much but it's home.
I should say, we've been doing this for over five years and have had no problems of any kind. People have only ever wanted to help where possible, that's the default position nature preprogrammed us with, sadly, a few ne'er-do-wells, are out to cause us grief.
As he slowed and moved onto the hard shoulder I sailed past giving him, and the driver, the finger! At that point he put his foot down, shot off down the motorway and disappeared. We decided if we came across a caravan, up ahead, that they'd stopped, we'd stop. I told Haze, “I'd kick one of them extremely hard in the goolies”. She replied, “And I'll bash up the other one”. How sweet? The last time I heard someone use the term 'bash up' I was at school.
Of course, if my life was a musical. I could challenge the villains to a motorway dance off.
“Hey, let's dance! winner takes all” (Cue Music)
I got some cool moves. I once wanted to start a dance school but I couldn't find a business partner.
Wednesday 1st November 2017
Are we liked? And bottoms.
We narrowly squeezed ourselves out of Dragonniere camping village yesterday damaging as little of the vegetation as we could. We then headed south under a clear blue sky and over the border into Spain. Something comforting about arriving in Spain. For a start you know they like you. I've never been quite sure the French do. I used to think them not liking us was a rumour spread by the Daily Mail and Jeremy Clarkson, but having toured France, at length, I'm not so sure there isn't an element of truth to the claim. For a start, we've only ever been turned away from one campsite and that was in France, and we weren't given a reason as to why. Also, it's said that 40% of French people can speak some English but finding one that's willing to is practically impossible. They seem more than happy to wait and watch me struggle with the little French I know. Take the other day. In a cafe. I asked for 'a coffee and a croissant' in French which frankly is practically the same in French as it is in English, it's just a twist in the pronunciation. The girl looked at me as though I was an idiot. I had to repeat it three times before she acknowledged my request by repeating exactly what I'd just said to her.
I can point to a number of small, and I'll admit fairly insignificant encounters, which in themselves amount to very little - other than perhaps paranoia on my part - but added together start to make one wonder.
So... crossing the border into Spain is always a pleasant experience because I know they generally like us British, And of course we've left the scandalous French road toll system behind us. One of the few road toll systems in Europe that charges us more just because we're towing a caravan. The eighty mile trip on French motorways cost €20, practically doubling the journey cost. It's safe to say that if I lived in Paris and my aunty lived in say, Narbonne, she'd never see me, what with the road toll cost alone working out to a massive €75. On the other hand the fair minded Spanish charge me no more for pulling a caravan that if I wasn't. And worth remembering, most of the toll roads in Spain are down the east coast, there's none down the west side.
We were heading for a pleasant campsite called l'Albera, which is surrounded by vineyards. It's one we've used before. Two years ago, as I approached the turning to the road that would take us to the sleepy wine making village of Capmany and the campsite, I was twerked by an attractive scantily clad young women. I say scantily clad but in truth she had no knickers on. I got the full monty. Both cheeks. As I careered off the road and down a deep gorge I wondered if such an exhibition would be considered a health and safely issue back in blighty.
Of course I didn't lose control but my attention was certainly elsewhere for a few moments. I had this smile on my face that wouldn't go for days. I'm so easily pleased.
Prostitution is legal in Spain. They pay taxes. Personally, having it in the open is preferable to having it driven underground where it attracts the worst kind of men. She only attracts horny drivers and hapless caravanners.
Well, yesterday, to our surprise, she was still there! The same girl! And frankly she looked like she was enjoying herself no end in the sunshine. And sure enough she gave us a good demonstration of her twerking skills which I think, and bear in mind I'm no expert, have come on in leaps and bounds.
Monday 30th October 2017
Southern France. Just outside Vias
Just a quick one. Haze says I'm in danger of coming across as an grumpy old man. But frankly, anyone who knows me well enough will know that ship sailed some time ago, so here goes.
Kids! We all know some.
We decided to have a swim. To get away from the heat. Yes, over here they a have sun that actually heats stuff up. Doesn't just shine and make shite look bright, like at home. It was blue skies and 73 degrees yesterday. So we popped into one of the many camping-village pools. This one grandly named 'The Olympian'. Sadly that was all that was Olympian about it. In reality it was anything but. The more athletic swimmer - such as myself - was in real danger of diving in one end and concussing himself on the other before had the opportunity to get his first stroke in. Perhaps that's why diving wasn't allowed.
Unfortunately, about two dozen kids had the same idea as us. Only kids don't swim, do they?. They just bob-about annoyingly. But my real gripe, and perhaps someone can explain this phenomena to me; is why little girls scream each time they discover how wet water can be. At least that's how it appears to me. They jump in.... they scream, A boy splashes them.... they scream. They go under.... they come up screaming. And bear in mind, the shrill notes these little girls can omit is off the scales. The needle on my phone app sound meter flicked over to maximum and didn't come down until I let it rest in a dark room for an hour. WTF, I've got tinnitus. And bizarrely, the smaller the little girl, the louder they can scream. I mean.... correct me if I'm wrong here, but that's the complete opposite of how hi-fi speakers work. You want a big sound you need fuck off giant speakers.
We managed to zigzag our way up and down the pool a dozen times before being forced to admit defeat. Hey-ho.
Let me give the camp-site a quick review. You need to book if you're thinking of coming here. We arrived four days before the season ended and they only had one empty pitch. Also the ACSI discounted rate of 19€ a night works out at 26€ a night with local taxes. The highest local tax I've ever seen after five years touring France. Inside the village the internal roads are narrow and the corners tight, definitely not suitable for large rigs. I tow a twin axle caravan and it was touch and go. Pitch sizes are not all the same. Some are a reasonable size and some you'd struggle to get a car, caravan and awning on. Each pitch does have its own heated shower and loo which is novel. However the holiday village is vast and has every amenity possible and for families I should imagine its an ideal place to come and spend your two week vacation, personally it would be my idea of hell.
Sunday 29th October 2017
Fuck. I knew I'd made a mistake as I walked back to the car from La Dragonniere camping village reception clutching my free 'Welcome' tub of goodies and reams of info about the area: this wasn't going to be our kinda camp-site. I climbed back in the car and handed Haze the map of 'the village' which was only marginally less complicated than a map I once saw of the London sewage system. Sure enough, within minutes we were hopelessly lost. We drove up/down - in/out a maze of narrow streets lined with holiday bungalows, parked cars, and under inflated lilo's. Eventually a Frenchman stopped us as I attempted to squeezed past his car with an inch to spare. “The camping's are on zee ozer side” he told Haze helpfully.
Let me stop for a moment. I should point out that La Dragonniere camping village is about the size of Idaho, and granted, while that's an exaggeration, it's really not much of a one. Within it are some 1500 chalet and bungalows, several swimming pools, shops, gyms, beauty parlours, play areas, fast food joints, a hairdressers and a myriad of other gaily painted building I'll never enter because I don't care to.
The Frenchman set us on the right track but then warned us that, “At the top of zee avenue.... now you say hairpin corner?”. I had no option, I couldn't reverse. We thanked him and pressed on. The bend looked more like a dead end till I got out, peered around a bush and saw the road double back on itself. Haze jumped out and sized up the angles like a professional snooker player. Christ! No way. My worst fear of driving something 34 foot long had been realised. I couldn't go forward and I couldn't go back. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle of biblical proportions, so much so, I woke this morning thinking 'did I actually do that? …....I made the turn. How? Don't ask. Could I do it again? Don't be daft. I just wished I'd had an audience as I know they would have applauded.
Amazingly, for all its size, there's only space for 40 touring vans, and 39 of those were occupied. We managed to get onto our pitch with some caravanning gymnastics supplied by the motor mover. If I ever meet the guy who invented it, I tell ya, I'm going to kiss him. The pitch is nothing special but has one impressive feature: its own heated shower and toilet, I've only seen this once before.
We set up and then explored. While none of the 'attractions' interested us, I did feel a frisson of excitement at one. The map pointed to item 27, The Observatoire des etoles. An observatory of the stars. It depicted a large telescope and a planetary image of Saturn. This was right up my street. Well not literally, it was several streets away to be fair. My excitement evaporated the minute I arrived. There was no giant telescope pointing toward the heavens as depicted. It was just a grassy knoll - the type presidents get shot from – overlooking a field. On it was nailed, to a piece of wood, a lacklustre map of the stars. I felt cheated. And then I had an old dude moment. I realised I'm most often let down, not by life, but by my own expectations of it.
Would I come here again? Think you can guess the answer to that one.