Okay. First off. I'm going to continue with my diary. I'll post three or fours times a week so friends, family and debt collectors can keep tabs on my whereabouts. If this is your first time here you're probabily wondering WTF! and I wouldn't blame you. But before you press your back button I'd suggest -if you're the adventurous type- to click on 'Our Adventure' tab on the left, this will enlighten you and maybe change your life.... as I have been reliably informed it has others. (Names and addresses can be supplied)
Friday 21st October 2016
Today finds us in Portugal, a few miles outside Porto in the busy fishing village of Angeiras.
The drive was, as all drives should be, uneventful. We arrived at our destination, as planed, on time and without a profanity being uttered. Clearly we're getting our mojo back.
Spanish motorway driving, even at peak times, is akin to driving on the M1 at 2 AM, there's little traffic. Portuguese motorway driving is how I imagine driving would be if an apocalyptic event, such as humanity being wiped out by a virus, occurred. The road stretched out before us empty, and disappeared over the horizon still empty. After thirty minutes we came across a lonely windswept road toll. The guy in the booth looked surprised to see us. We could have stopped and chatted but we wanted to get on.
Even though only four cars a week use Portuguese motorways - that's not an official figure, it's a guesstimate - it hasn't stopped the highway authorities from erecting signs, and painting chevrons on the road, warning drivers to 'keep your distance'. That's optimism for you. The car in front of me was probably in another country. Oddly, even with no traffic, we still came across an accident. A young lady had lost control of her car and, over the space of two hundred yards, it had seemingly dismantled itself before ploughing into a crash barrier. Bumper, head lamps, bits of internal combustion engine and hose pipes littered the motorway. I gingerly steered around them all. The lady looked unscathed, and surprisingly unruffled, as she stood by her wrecked car calmly texting, which was possibly what got her into trouble in the first place.
The Orbitur campsite is large, well maintained, and practically devoid of another living soul. The lady in reception spoke excellent English which is handy, as I'm able to keep the two words of Portuguese I know, in reserve for another occasion. Portuguese is a Latin based language, so Haze tells me. For example, did I know, that obrigado', meaning thank you, it's derived from the Latin to 'feel obligated'. Safe to say I didn't.
It's chosen to rain, so we've only managed to pop into Lidl, that Mecca of all things good in high street grocery retailing. I blooming love Lidl. Where else can you buy a can of bratwurst sausages and a trumpet? Nowhere.
A lady wrote to me ages ago and said, and I quote. “I'd never once thought of shopping at Lidl until I started reading your blog, it's rather good isn't it?
(She was referring to Lidl not the blog. Ed) True.
Still I was seriously chuffed. To think my ramblings had the power to change peoples shopping habits. Clearly, I was going to have to use this power responsibly.
The drive to Lidl was six miles over cobbled streets. The Portuguese are big on cobbles. Dickens would love it here. No flat smooth tarmac for them. Oh no, they enjoy giving their suspension a good work out. By the time we got back the two bottles of fizzy water we'd bought looked ready to explode. Food prices, I felt, had gone up, not helped by the pounds value. If you include the bank commission for taking out your cash, the pound is worth a Euro. Having said that the good news is I was hard pressed to find a bottle of wine costing more than £3 in Lidl. Boxed wine, £4.50 for FIVE litres. Gin was less than a fiver as was a Porto Reserve port.
Not that I drink, a lot. Just letting you know for em.......future reference and all that.
Wednesday 19th October
The ultimate power.
The campsite in Santiago de Compostela is in town -never my favourite location for a campsite- behind a large shopping centre, and that's as good as it gets. Sadly it's possibly the worse camp site we've stayed at, and to take top spot, it was up against some stiff competition.
One, just outside Valencia, where I'm convinced the sour faced old guy in reception had advanced plans to top himself, and us turning up only delayed them, saw us park on, well, basically scrub land. At the weekends local kids used it as an impromptu footfall field. They actually played around us. Unbeknownst to me I'd parked midfield, but then I was never very good at football.
Then there was the Isle of Christina which proudly claimed their campsite backed onto a swamp! which could be visited! Why any sane person would want to visit a swamp, home to a zillion mosquitoes, is only marginally more puzzling than why the Isle of Christina thought it could be considered as some kind of Disneyesque attraction worth promoting.
The first thing that scared me when we arrived here, is the near vertical entrance. The site is superglued to a hill and heavily terraced. Outside reception I gave the car a boot full of throttle and it still rolled back six feet. The internal roads are tight, steep and narrow. Pitches are small and close together. I had four attempts at getting Bessie, that's the name Haze has christened our van: I wanted to go with the Globe Explorer 2000 but was outvoted, onto a pitch. Bessie's a big girl. It's expensive here too, £70 for three nights. But it's worst feature is the 5amp power supply. Pretty much any combination of two appliances on at the same time blows the pitch fuse. Which, when it's raining, means I'm the one who gets wet even though it wasn't me who turned on the microwave.
Still I didn't come here to moan.
(Sure about that. Ed)
Oh no! Like you, I came to gawk at the marvel that is the Santiago de Compostela cathedral. This is the mother of all Cathedrals. Built almost a thousand years ago, I expect the local peasants thought God himself was moving in. Inside it's packed with more bling than a gangsta rappers crib. On show, behind bullet proof glass, was some of that bling. Gold, silver and jewel encrusted robes. Books and religious artefacts of every description. Hanging from the walls paintings and tapestries, riches beyond imagination.
Lightweight waterproof sunsade. Ideal when you don't want to errect a full awning. This Angeires site by the way.
The Church had unbelievable power and wealth then, and the Cathedral, and its contents, is a testament to that. Back then folk believed religion was the conduit to the afterlife. For them religion wasn't about some hippy-dippy inner spiritual understanding, it was about death. Only the devotional Christian was assured of a place in heaven. The less than pious were often disembowelled, put to the rack or burnt at the stake. All were popular methods used by religion to bring home the Christian message. They also encouraged kings to finance the crusades, against the Muslims, which lasted two hundred years.
But as the power and popularity of the church waned, death has lost much of its appeal. Today we all quite like living above ground, consequently religion has lost its ace in the hole..... along with much of its congregation. Personally I don't think that is altogether a bad thing. Standing in this cathedral I realised, and not for the first time, you can choose to live your life according to the doctrines of 2000 year old teachings if you want, but the world's moved on, I think it's about time humanity did too!
I'm happy to call myself a Humanist.
(Pretty much insulted half the world, way to go!. Ed)
Monday 17th October.
How the professionals do it.
We left Gijon Saturday, a nice city but one without much history, and headed west two hundred miles to Santiago de Compostela. A visit here, was on Haze's bucket list. I should mention, while in Gijon, I asked a señorita in tourist information if she could point us towards the best of the eight museums Gijon boasted, she did.
Thirty mins later I stepped back into daylight and realised I'd dodged a bullet. If that was the best, I'd hate to see the worst. A third of this small museum was given over to a lady who thought she was a cow. And by that I don't mean she'd divulge your secrets to anyone who'd listen, no, I mean an actual cow. A moo cow. She rolled around the floor dressed like a Frisian (black and white leotard) wearing fake horns. Apparently she performs her 'art' in Spanish shopping centres. I felt confident she'd be chucked out of my local Asda for such shenanigans.
We left under a bright blue sky. Driving across northern Spain you could be forgiven for not knowing which country you're in. The north is quite different from the east and southern coasts which are home to the package holiday industry. Here the scenery is green and lush. The mountains are covered in dense forest. Smart, alpine looking homes, which wouldn't look out of place in the Austria Tirol, littered the lower slopes. The is the affluent end of Spain. If you think Spain is hard up! Think again.
I mentioned the spainish parking anyhow, this is a perfct example.
On route, the motorway spanned deep gorges which afforded us the kind of views normally reserved for pilots of small planes. It drilled its way through, or snaked around, the Sierra De Meira mountains. All a marvellous feat of engineering.
Right enough of all that, it's not like I work for the Spanish tourist board.
As we entered Santiago de Compostela we were talking, so missed our exit.
“Oh for the love of. I don't believe it”.
“What” said Haze, sucking on the last extra strong Trebor mint, which I'd claimed dobbs on earlier.
“The second campsite, and the second time we've missed a bloody entrance. We're supposed to be professionals at this. There are people who actually think we know what we're doing”
The GPS recalculated. It told me to take the next exit. This meant cutting through the city. No frekin way! Cities are worse than mountains.
(More things to hit, he means. Ed)
At that point we took a bend in the motorway and were met with Chaos. We'd entered a contraflow system, our exit now barred. They were digging everywhere. No road was safe. Bollards channelled, funnelled and corralled us. Massive earth movers snorted fumes, and guys in hard hats and hi-vis jackets did what guys in hard hats and hi-vis jackets do at times like this. The GPS showed us we were now crossing a field, since I'd ignored her advice earlier she refused to comment on the situation.
It's at times like this, the cool persona I work so hard to maintain, turns to shite. I become an adolescent with Tourettes. We chanced our arm and turned off at a temporary exit. At the bottom we met with more bollards and makeshift road signs, all seemingly erected by someone on a YTS scheme who clearly had little idea of which way the traffic was supposed to be flowing. The GPS re-calculated and then said, without invitation, NO ROUTE FOUND. “Twenty squillion pounds worth of frekin Sputniks circling the earth beaming back data, and this stupid cow can't frekin work it out”, I said........ very calmly.
Using a distant church spire, our instincts, and a pile of building materials we'd passed earlier, to navigate by, we eventually found the campsite which, unfortunately, turned out to be only marginally bigger than the Museum in Gijon.
I give up.
Sunday 16th October 2016
On Sundays I thought I'd resurrect an entry from my past diaries. This one's from August 2013. I called it 'Lost in translation & Danger in the woods'.
We were staying at a camp-site in Ortrand. Ortrand, is a small provincial German town just off the A13. If I described it as sleepy, I'd be doing it a favour, comatose is more apt. It warrants just one sentence on Wikipedia. The camp-site is typically German. I'll not describe it, I'll let the camp site do that. Here’s the ad from their brochure.
The newly designed motorhome port is the real eye catcher of the camping site. Or rent a mobile home. These are more generous in the floor, and are suitable at most six persons being of veritable height. The swimming pool invites us to take a sunbath or to jump in water. Children of all ages will cover their expenses at the slide park. And whoever does not want only to spoil his mind and soul, can keep his body fit through a wide course of sportive activities. For children are two playgrounds which allow the children’s hearts to beat faster. The well being of parents is also important to us, so you may stay for a conversation or the like.
Kinda charming really.
It was forecast to be sunny, and since it's was our last day here, we decided to get some exercise and go for a hike in the woods. Hazel's idea really. Like most people I enjoy the great outdoors, but at heart I'm a city slicker. I was born in north London, so I've never felt totally at home dicking around in the countryside, I've always felt a little out of my depth. Haze, loves it. She knows the names of plants and flowers and trees. Get stung by nettles and she can spot a dock leaf at forty paces. Being out with Haze is a bit like having your own personal forest ranger in tow. She spends most of her time taking photographs, investigating stuff, telling me about stuff, collecting stuff: stuff she can paint later. I spend most of my time making sure I don’t tread in anything yucky or accidentally touch something that might be living.
The walk we took is a recognised local hiking trail, the path was fairly worn. We’d been out for about an hour, I was in the lead, but don't take that as an indication I knew where I was going, I didn't, when the trail crossed a large meadow. Haze, had stopped to photograph something I think was dead, so I started across. I'd got about a hundred yards when, in the far corner, I spotted a stag and a female deer grazing. I dropped onto my haunches, licked my finger and checked for wind direction. Was I upwind or downwind? Fuck knows. I couldn't tell. Can anyone? Without giving my position away I called to Haze as silently as I could. -not easy, must be a knack to yelling quietly- I loudly whispered, “Get down”. She hustled over, bent double as if avoiding a rooftop sniper. We watched silently in awe. The thought then occurred to me: could we be in any danger? I mean, what do I know about stags? Bugger all as it turns out. I ask ranger Haze if the stag was likely to be dangerous. They both appeared to be looking our way, perhaps sensing our presence.
“Not unless it's rutting season” she said in a whisper.
“Why what happens in rutting season?” I asked.
“Well it might want to protect it's female, in which case it might see us a threat!”. On hearing this I looked around for an escape route should the stag take me for a suitor, there wasn't one.
“Hang on a sec” Haze adds. “I think rutting season is over, or do they have two rutting seasons?” she muses. I point out that I'm sooo the wrong person to ask.
It's about then I notice neither animal has moved, I mean not at all, not even flicked an ear. “Are they real?” I ask. Haze gets her camera out and winds out the lens as far as it would go and peers into the viewfinder.
“Urm.... no, they appear to be wooden” she says.
“Thank fuck for that”, I replied.
Friday 14th October
Bit of madness.
Okay. It has to be said so I best get it over with. I'm talking about the elephant in the room. Yeah, that's right. Fucking Brexit. Sod impartiality, the drop in the exchange rate has seen to that.
Prior to our four year jaunt around Europe in a caravan in 2011, I was indifferent to Europe. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought. Who does? For many it existed, bit like Disneyland, as a holiday destination. My view changed during our tour. I discovered Europeans are actually just like us. Sure, some eat frogs. Some have wife throwing competitions, though, having been married five times I can see the sense in that, and some think it's okay to have sex with animals, -those wacky Swedes- But the more I saw, the less I understood. What I couldn't fathom was: why weren't we more like them? Why don't we embrace Europe?
Think about it. Our history is tied to theirs. We once spoke French, at least the nobility did. Parts of Europe once belonged to us, bits still do. Our royalty was once called Saxe Coberg. They changed it to Windsor in WW1 to make them sound less like the enemy. Christ! Brentwood is even twinned with Montbazon. Our ties are huge and go back centuries. So why aren't we more like our European cousins?
Then it came to me, and this encounter sums it up nicely. I was in Luxembourg, in a bar. During a conversation with the Dutch barman he asked if he could speak freely. Since he owned the bar, and I fancied another drink, I cleverly said yes.
“From our point of view” he stated, “us Europeans think Britain wants to remain aloof. That GB is something special. Britain still believes that Britannia rules the waves.” With that he sung a mini chorus of Rule Britannia, and waved an invisible union flag for added gravitas. I was impressed. The right words and in tune. Cool. But I had to agree. I pointed out we're not all like that. Many Brits are happy to be Europeans and EU members. He raised an eyebrow! “No, seriously”, I said.
More like spring around here.
But he had a good point. And the more I thought about it the more I realised what a shite European neighbour Us British make. In 54 we were invited to help form the common market, be a key member, help shape Europe, but we said no. We were invited again, ten years later, but again we said no. And now, since joining, we've done nothing but moan and bitch about the EU at every opportunity. We constantly complained about the cost of membership, so much so they eventually agreed to a rebate. Holland pays twice what we do as a portion of its GDP, and yet, do we hear them moaning? Course not. They know the value of cooperation. The British government has repeatedly opposed a variety of EU directives. Employment rights, war widows rights, the 40 hour working week, prisoner rights and a myriad of other directives. The Tories have for years wanted out of the European Court of Human Rights, mostly because they've appeared before it more times than any other government. I once compiled a list of all the benefits we enjoy as members. Trust me, it was a long and exciting list. (See my second and book, the very amusing and cheap, Incontinent! who us? II ….for the full list)
But in Britain the positive aspects of being a member is always glossed over. The media, and those with political agendas to foster, only ever focussed on the negatives. Consequently, with a mix of ring wing politics, nationalism, xenophobia and racism, the brexiteers won the day.
Someone, full of the joys of victory said to me, “Hooray! we can now have our country back”. -I'd no idea where he thought it had been- But if he'd said “Hooray! we can have out 'Island' back”, it would have made far more sense.
Lastly: The government, forty years ago, introduced VAT to pay for our EU membership. Any brexiteers think they'll likely to scrap it anytime soon?
No, me either.
Have a good weekned. We're moving on to Santiargo de Compostela.
Wednesday 12th October
Deva & Divas.
For most, driving up, or down, a mountain presents no problems. In fact it can be very exciting. Breathtaking vistas at every turn. The frisson of danger as oblivion beckons at every corner. Excitement as you climb to dizzy heights. However, pulling a 1.7 ton twenty eight foot caravan does rather change all that. Your sphincter involuntary tightens and you find yourself saying stuff like: 'oh for fuck sake.... their kidding, right!' as you take a hairpin.
As I entered Deva, I missed the turning to the caravan site. Haze, yelled out, 'There it is!' But in the few seconds it took me to process the yell and regain my hearing in my left ear, I'd sailed past it. There was no way I could turn around. I had to stay on the road I was on; unfortunately this took us up a mountain. Not a huge mountain, but unquestionably not a hill.
Eventually, just as I started to feel a nose bleed coming on, we drove into a small village and I was able to swing around and head back down to civilisation.... or to the ground dwellers as I like to call them.
As we pulled into the camp site our hearts sank. It was heaving with small kids all running around screaming. Not good. -they still don't come with a volume control knobs even in Spain- Cars cluttered the parking lot. Spaniards park where, and how they like. Cars don't so much look parked, as abandoned. I managed to squeeze in and made for reception. I hadn't booked. Fingers crossed they had space. They had. Thankfully the kids and mayhem of traffic were just locals using the swimming pool and the football pitch. Phew!
The site is practically empty. I doubt there are 30 vans here. We found a nice grassy spot, set up base camp and settled back into a routine we'd almost forgotten about. The following morning it was peaceful, sunny and 70 degrees. I ate my toast with the Picos mountains dominating the horizon. Back home I don't have a horizon. The sky meets the ground with little fuss or bother.
The Picos mountians are the other way. (Just in case you thought I was fibbing)
Now the eagle eyed amongst you may notice we have a flash new awning. This is revolutionary. It's inflatable and why not? we have inflatable women. -Which reminds me, some years ago I was attacked by one, but I'll leave that story for another time- You simply pump this bad boy up. No frame to erect or to lug around. Wonderful. The manufacturer proudly tells us: it can be erected in minutes!, which it can. What they fail to mention is that without a frame to support the awning, it needs to be spot welded to the ground. I hammered home around 40 pegs and still there were more I could have put in.
(Slight exaggeration there. Ed)
You didn't get blisters from wielding a 2lb lump hammer luv. The last time I saw this many straps, buckles and eyelets was on a 1945 ladies steal reinforced corset in a museum. I spent most of yesterday afternoon hammering pegs, attaching straps, fixing ropes and tying down. This is the downside of technology.
Quick plug for Deva, the campsite. It's a pleasant, neat, tidy and open all year. Terraced, with good flat pitches each with water/waste and 16amp electric. The site has decent showers. A large swimming pool, supermarket, free Wi-Fi and is €19 a night. I'd give it 8.5 out of ten.
Finally, I can't let this go, Our illustrious leader, Teresa May, said: If you think you're a citizen of the world, then you're a citizen of nowhere. Really! Ms May? I think that's thinking Inside the box.......... not outside of it.
Monday 10th October 2016
Doh! Brittany ferries.
I was a tad surprised when the lady checking me in at Brittany ferries terminal left her booth and, with the aid of a colleague, measured my caravan with a tape measure. This has never happened to me before at a ferry port.
“It's almost eight meters” she said accusingly once she returned.
“Yes, seven point eight to be exact”. I said cheerily. (I'm like that, upbeat)
“But you've put seven on the booking form”.
“True, but the the car and caravan is 12.8 meters, less than the 13 I've paid for”
“That's not how it works. You have to put down the correct length for the caravan.”
“ Well since I've paid for 13 and I won't be taking up 13, does it matter?”
“Yes it does. It goes by the length of the caravan.”
“Really! Then why was I asked for the length of my car?”
“I'll have to charge you an extra £30,” she said ignoring my last question.
Next time I'll arrive in a stretch limo pulling a shopping cart: see if she still sticks to the same formula then.
Well of course it's pointless crossing swords with these people, regardless of the logic of my argument. so I paid for fourteen meters. I'm sure Brittany ferries think it fair. Which it might have been had I not been instructed to park eight inches from the vehicle in front, while the chap behind was instructed to do the same. Now I should've leapt righteously from my car and pointed out to the chap directing us, that I'd just been forced to pay extra for space which the guy behind me is now encroaching upon, so could he instruct the driver to move his car back 1.3 meters as I might want to get a deck chair out later. Clearly, Brittany ferries are happy to make money from it's customers by fair means or foul. With that in mind I made my way to my cabin determined to steal a towel to redress the balance of the universe.
Now it wasn't until I was onboard did I realise I'd managed to book passage on the smallest and the slowest of the Brittany ferries fleet, the 'SS We'll get you there if it kills us'. This tub takes a glacial 29 hours to chug it's way down to Santander. Meanwhile, other ferries in the Brittany fleet scoot down in just twenty. This is apparently, a budget ferry. Not that I knew it at the time of booking. They have stripped out the frills to bring me low cost -my ticket had just ballooned to £390- ferry transport to Spain. Marvellous.
The problem they now have is; how do you actually deliver 'budget' passage to Spain. What could they do differently from their non budget ships. Remove the life boats maybe? Probably illegal. Have no restaurant on board? Well that's counter productive. Drop us all off on some beach in Normandy and tell us to drive the rest of the way? Not part of the contract. No, they can't do any of that. What they've done, so you don't forget you're on a budget ferry, is remove all the television from the cabins. Frankly, that is just bloody petty. The 'SS We'll get you there if it kills us' is bereft of any entertainment what so ever. You've basically nothing to do for 29 long tedious hours apart from try to hold down your breakfast which isn't easy when, the boat your in, bobs around like a toy duck in a bath of excited five years olds.
And if you think you can console yourselves by using the free internet connection, think again. Being a French boat all the power sockets are two pin, so you can't plug in once your batteries die.
Still only another 28 hours to go.
Thursday 22nd Sept 2016
Living 125 years could soon be the norm!
This was posited in an influential speech made by the expert Otto Thoresen, yeah, I've never heard of him either but apparently he's a big cheese in the 'How long are we all going to live' world. I read his speech. In it he cited other experts -and you know what I think of them- who are predicting men will soon live to 90 and women 93, whether this means we'll all be dribbling and mumbling incoherently just that bit longer, or healthy and old, he doesn't say. What he also doesn't say is that this increase in life expectancy only applies if you're born now, this year, which begs the question, why was he addressing a bunch of middle aged men and not a room full of babies? In his defence I should say one year old's make for a pretty unresponsive audience.
He then turned from his optimistic start and became the harbinger of bad tidings. I quote:
“This does not take into account further medical advances made, which may prolong longevity even further. This makes ageing the greatest threat to the UK's economic future”.
Now I don't know about you, but to categorise 'age' as being 'a threat' is worrisome, and should set alarm bells ringing for all of us.
Typically, as with all these doom and gloom experts, they load their argument in an attempt to try and prove a flawed theory. For example, they never factor in, because they can't, unforeseen economic changes, of which I'm sure there will be plenty. Nor can they factor in social changes such as the birth rate, infant mortality, nor the effect new diseases might have on humanity. Thirty years ago Aids was unheard of and only birds caught Avian flu. Also, and perhaps our greatest threat, is that bugs, germs and viruses are becoming antibiotic resistant and that could spell big trouble for us all in the not to distant furture.
The thing is, that's not the part of his argument that gets me reaching for my soap box, what does is the wholesale negativity of it all. The implication that the old are becoming a threat to economical stability. I have to ask, is that how we should see old age in our society? Can't he, and people of his ilk, rejoice in the fact that perhaps future generations will enjoy fuller, longer lives? To people like him and this government age has become an economic issue and rather than manage old age some are looking for ways to navigate around it.
This government has cleverly managed to demonise those on welfare and now what? Is it the turn of the elderly?
Shame on them.