Friday 31st March
The last post.
The 200 mile drive north on the unromantically named A75 was spectacular. You should add it to your bucket list: Roads I must drive on: A75. Seriously.
It's a roller-coaster ride. It swoops, plunges, rises, spans and cuts through part of the Alps range which sits in a national park the size of Wales. Every twist in the road was another view to enjoy. Every gorge we crossed - which the area is famed for - seemed deeper and more impressive than the last. We rose to heights normally reserved for light aircraft, four thousand feet at its highest. I preferred it to the more famous and far more impressively named, Brenner pass, which, having driven it, was something of a disappointment.
The car did well. The only time it hesitated was when we both got into a rowdy chorus of 'Heart of Glass' by Blondie, I lost concentration and the car lost momentum. I selected a lower gear and gave it a boot full. Once you lose inertia it can take a while to build it back up again. Tankers were hauling themselves up at 15 miles an hour, flashers flashing in the slow lane, lowest gear, foot hard on the throttle. But even that was no guarantee. We've seen several trucks on these climbs that had abandoned the challenge and sat wheezing in the hard shoulder.
What's more amazing than the scenery however, is this splendid road is toll free! It's an awe-inspiring motorway that must have taken an pronominal amount of engineering to build, and yet it's FREE. I would've gladly coughed up a few Euros for the pleasure of driving it. Oddly, the boring flat bit at the bottom, did have road tolls, so I'm baffled by the French Road Toll pricing structure as I suspect you are.
Walk in the woods.
Anyhoo, after four hours we arrived at the four star Camping Le Clos Auroy on the edge of the small village of Orcet, just outside Clermont Ferrand. We were immediately impressed. The site looked clean, tidy, roomy, nicely laid out and well manicured..... except for the swimming pool. It appeared to to be filled with a green liquid which, to my untrained eye, looked toxic and slightly industrial. Large leaves were floating on top which appeared to have some kind of bio hazard growth on them. It looked rank. Clearly they have a vacancy for a pool man.
I should have seen that as an omen, but I didn't. I innocently walked into the reception and discovered this is probably the dearest campsite.... well, possible on the planet. The receptionist asked for €78 for three nights without a glimmer of embarrassment. People are held for ransom in Columbia for less. I wanted to point out that once we'd checked in, we'd double the occupancy since there was only one other chap here and he looked depressed. I could have added ironically, did she think the campsites fees might be a factor in that? But I'm British. I just can't do that. I'd worry she'd turn around and tell me to fuck off if I think I can get it cheaper elsewhere. It's what I'd be thinking sitting her side of the desk. Big up to the Dutchman who walked in behind me. No sense of British reserve for him. “Wow so expensive”, he exclaimed. I just grimaced, the way you do when you share someone else's outrage.
It winds me up that while they offer no discounts, the bar and cafe are closed. One shower block is locked. In the other, half of the toilet cubicles are also locked. The most convenient water taps have been removed and of course the swimming pool is a health hazard. Charging top dollar and then closing half of the campsite is taking the piss. Trust me, I shall be leaving a review which will accurately, and acerbically, reflect my displeasure.
Just a quick contentious word abut the local Mayors office. As you can see it has the grand maxim plastered across it, Liberty, Egality and Fraternity. You see this on a lot of public buildings and monuments. Now that's not just three fancy word, its basically the country's mission statement. French society has a goal. An aim. And those three words embody that aim. This is unlike Britain. We just meanders along aimlessly. We're not working towards any grand aim collectively, we're just out to better our own lot in life. Much like any successful business, a country, needs to have an endgame in mind, ideally enshrined in a mission statement. We just lurch from one crisis to another. We're not proactive, just reactive. Politicians need to hammer out a consensus. Stop the continual extremist swinging from left and right in support of their own political agendas which, lets be honest, have dogged British politics since the end of WW2.
Once Britain serviced the world. Today one of our biggest exports is Fisherman Friends Lozenges. I think that says it all.
I'm making this my last entry for this trip. As always, I've enjoyed writing this stuff. And that's all it's is, stuff, meanderings, the odd rant, an observation or two. In defence of my more extreme utterances I'll say just this. I've learnt that everything in life is subjective. There are no moral absolutes and the only reality that exists is the one inside each of our heads. The truth of any narrative is the hardest thing to nail down. Not sure what all that means but sounds pretty profound so I'm going with it.
I've have two books out on Amazon about our early adventures living this life. Check out the links on the left. They cover our first two years. I'm just putting the finishing touches to book three. I'm proud to say the first two have attracted some very flattering reviews. For those I am humbled and grateful.
Lastly, I hope others will be able to embark upon their own European adventure similar to ours. My concern is, due to Brexit, we're all about to lose our EU citizenship and along with that the 'right' to travel freely around Europe for as 'long' as we like. In a couple of years, maybe sooner, we'll be subject to the same visa rules other non European states are. This will make it a lot more difficult to travel freely, as we have, in Europe. I sincerely hope I'm wrong.
Right, on that shite note I'm off up to the boulangerie to buy some croissants for breakfast.
How terribly French of me.
The end is nigh
Enjoying the last few days before our return. Catching a Calais ferry back to Dover on Tuesday. Back to the madhouse. Post Brexit Britain. God! I'm going to have to be polite to friends and family who voted out. My nephews did. They told me Bracknell, where they live, “Was full of foreigners”. Which I thought was odd since they, and they dad - my ex brother-in-law - all went to the Philippines and found themselves wives which they brought back. - I should point out they didn't all go together, it wasn't like a job lot or anything – So now three of the foreign faces they complained about are actually family. I tried to point this out, gently obviously, but they couldn't see the irony. I guess it's all about perspective. Anyway, you can see what I'm up against and for Britain for that matter.
Most people that do this, escape the winter months to live in a caravan or motorhome in Spain, travel back to blighty on the Santander or Bilboa ferry. We've chosen to drive back up through France because A, the long crossing is expensive and B, I don't want to spend 24 hours with my head down a loo like I did the last time. It's just a pity, as we queued to get into the restaurant, the captain didn't announce that the ship was about to plough through thirty foot swells. I guess such an announcement might have affected the restaurant takings. Unjustly, for that literal gut wrenching roller-coaster ride, I had to pay them! No, I'm far happier to take the longer scenic route. I worked out a price. The cost, even taking a week to travel up through France, the road tolls, camp fee and fuel etc, compares favourably with the ferry prices at this time of year. In the summer months there's massive savings to be had.
Today you find us in Montblanc, southern France. It's a small rural village surrounded by vineyards. It's nothing special: other than charming, the way small French villages can be. It hasn't changed. Caught in some time warp. If the cars littering up the pavements - few park in the road for some odd reason- were all 40's Renault Dalphines and Citroen Advants nothing else would look out of place. Its another dimension.
The campsite Le Rebau, is municipal. This means it's run by the council, or their version of a council. But don't picture some run down poorly financed camping experience, here most council run campsites are pretty good. This has fast free WiFi and a swimming pool, although time of the year it's full of frogs. Actually the whole area is full of frogs. Don't ask me why. At night the noise they make is all you can hear. The first night we thought it was a piece of machinery the winery just up the road had left running, that was until we went out to investigate. As I stood listening, I started to wonder if this was why the French have gained the nickname 'froggies'. Haze assures me it's because they eat frogs legs, which is true, though I've yet to see a bag of frogs in Lidl's. I guess, when you've got a abundance of frogs, baking a few doesn't seem as mental as it sounds. I can't help wondering though, being amphibians if they're a bit like oranges, I mean, quite juicy.
This house dates from Louis the 16th (not the letter box)
Any-road. The campsite is deserted. Three of us are here which makes a welcome change from the last two overcrowded sites we've just come from. I can be quite happy camping on my todd. But I know that can be seen as a tad worrying. After all, this is how lone gunmen start out. All wanting to be left alone. Happiest when they're solitary. Then I realised, I should be even more worried because two days ago I closed my Facebook page. I've been on it for five years and all I've got is thirty-one friends. Half of them I'm related to so they don't count. You'd think after that length of time I could have press ganged a few more to join me. Thirty one is paltry. I blame myself of course. Rather than post photos of kittens with their heads poking from jumper sleeves I bang on about serious stuff. I once wrote a bit about refugees. I thought it was quite moving and poignant. It got three likes. (one from Haze) The next day, in frustration, I posted a photo of a puppy driving a car and it got twenty two likes. That was me done.
Of course the real issue with Facebook is this: Once we feared the concept that 'big brother would be watching us'. That he would know everything about us, our thoughts, ideas and we'd have no privacy. But then Facebook came along, and now we seem to have given all that up quite enthusiastically.
Sunday 26th March.
Excuse me but when the Taliban were fighting the Russians, president Bush described them as freedom fighters. Two years later, when he was fighting them, he labelled them Terrorists. I guess it's all about perspective. He vowed to wipe them out in the hunt for Bin Laden and while he was at it, crush Al-Qaeda. How anyone crushes an extremist philosophy is anyones guess. As it turned out old Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, a long time ally and beneficiary of USA foreign aid and a major terrorist training centre. Fair to say, he needs to choose his friends more carefully.
He convinced Blair to support his invasion, this, because none else would. To make that palatable to the British, some dodgy report, no one ever took credit for, suggested Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The fact that French weapons inspectors had already been to Iraq and found none, was ignored. Of course none were ever found. We'd all been conned.
So Britain attacked a country that no military advisor, even on a bad hair day, would describe as a threat to Britain. But we went in anyway, guns blazing, under the guise of liberators. Once we found Saddam, we had a quick trial, found him guilty and hung him. Unfortunately, from that moment on the country went to pot. Turned out, he was the only one keeping the lid on things. Old grievances surfaced, violence and the death toll escalated. We'd just opened a can or worms. Worth remembering it was a similar situation with Gaddafi. Once gone, the country slipped into civil war. Makes you wonder if these tin pot countries can only survive with a despot at the helm. They're the only ones able to keep the warring factions from each others throats.
US military experts told Bush the war would be over in two years and cost twenty billion. It lasted fifteen and cost $682 billion. As well as the lives of 3000 soldiers and 155,000 innocent civilians. It radicalised a new generation and gave birth to ISIS. In 2001 the CIA had seven names on its 'kill list', by the end of the war that number had grown to over 2000. In short, 'Operation Enduring Freedom' was a total disaster. It freed no one and turned the middle east into a shit storm. Proving, they should have listened to me, because I said at the time it was a mental idea. Wars only kill people and change history.
If you want a argument against war, I think that's a petty convincing one. I know some will say, 'Well if we knew that outcome we wouldn't have gone in'. Problem is, we did know. Forget the morality of it. Many knew it was going to be a cluster fuck and said so at the time. Military history teaches us wars are shit, especially for those that start them; made even worse when your only motivation for starting the thing in the first place was revenge.
Now we've pulled out, having destabilised the whole middle east and in the process made lots of new scary enemies, many of whom are quite happy to carry on the fight. We've also left behind the kind of death toll that makes it easy to convince others their cause is just.
So now, thanks to those we elected to protect our country and not put it in the cross hairs, we've our own terrorists, home grown.
Sure the government is making the right noises. Rally the people. Promise to take a tougher line. Beef up security. Hound those responsible. Tell us we should all be vigilant. Go about our daily lives. Democracy will win out. Terrorism will never win. But it's hollow BS. It doesn't amount to anything and it's nothing we haven't all heard before.
What they could do is withhold aid to Pakistan until they've cleared out all the terrorist training camps from their country. They could halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a known supporter of terrorism, but won't because it's too profitable. They could stop trying to force feed democracy to countries who don't want it. They could stop supporting every hair brained idea that passes for US foreign policy. They could condemn Trumps decision to lift the embargo on arms sales to the middle east. They could hold Blair responsible for lying to the British public and arrest him for war crimes. And more importantly, they could enact a law which would give ALL politicians a vote on whether Britain starts any future wars. Two bills to do just that have not seen the light of day. And they could also try to introduce morality into politics and for once do the right thing not just the politically expedient. Civilians are cannon fodder. Always have been, always will be. If you doubt me just ask any of the relatives of the 155,000 that died in the snappily named Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thursday 23rd March. 2017
Gender differences and Size matters.
First this. Small thing but it has big implications. Haze has problems switching on her lap top. Sometimes it comes on, but generally it doesn't. So she sits there pressing the switch till it does. This can be the tenth time, or the hundred and tenth time. Personally I'd have battered it to death by now and enjoyed doing so, but Haze has far more patience than I. The other morning she sat calmly pressing the on button repeatedly between mouthfuls of bran which, by the way, not only looks like shredded cardboard but tastes like it too.
“I think it's safe to say it's dead”, I said without looking up.
“It's just cold. It'll come on it a minute”.
“Cold! Really? How does that work then?”
“When it warms up it'll come on”.
“Sorry? If it doesn't come on how's it supposed to warm up?”
“Oh it will. Seems not to like the cold mornings”.
“No hang on, that doesn't make any sense. It's a laptop not your grannie”. I stop what I'm doing. “You mean what? put it in the sun for half an hour?”.
“Yeah”. With that she gets out the hair-dryer to prove her point. She plays it over the keys and hey presto it comes on.
I give up.
Our last campsite was fairly typical of the sites you find right across Spain and some parts of Europe. It opened in 1965. In those days people camped in tents and were dropped off outside by a bus. The tents they carried were little pointy things made of canvas. Then you had wooden pegs, toggles, wooded poles and guide ropes. I think they were supplied with a boy scout to help put them up. None of this press-o-matic, pop up, tenting business you get today.
Caravans were considered a luxury. And those you could buy were the size of an allotment potting shed. More cute than practical. But times have changed. We've become more affluent, now caravans come in all sizes. From the trendy and bijou, often given an equally trendy name like The Mouse, to something the size of a starship battlecruiser called The intergalactic 5000 globe trotter.
The Finns actually make a caravan with an upstairs bedroom and a roof beer garden.
Today many caravans come with fixed double beds. Full sized fridge freezers, cookers, showers, central heating etc. Yesteryear you needed the skills of a carpenter to construct your bed from bits of the seating and the table.
(Some are still like it. Ed) True.
What's also changed is the room a modern camper needs. He needs a decent sized pitch. Somewhere for his van, his awning, his barbecue, his sun loungers, his bikes and his turbo charged 4x4. Many camping sites have amalgamated one, two or even three pitches into one to accommodate him. Which is great, but what they've not done is improve the road access around the camp sites themselves. Some can be tight.
We're now just south of Barcelona. This campsite, Vilanova Park, is vast. The size of Wales. When you book in they escort you to your pitch, you'd never find it otherwise. Even here, the internal roads are no better. I struggled to turn into our row. I had to unhitch and faff about using the motor mover, all while being watched by the predominantly French in our row. Some campers have nothing better to do than watch other campers struggle. I then spent twenty minutes jiggling the van around on the small pitch, getting into an optimum position where I could open a window or the door.
Yesterday we walked around the site - for the exercise- and spotted a dozen pitches that would have been ideal. A breeze to get to, and onto, and affording much more space. They seem to have given me the toughest and smallest pitch on the site!
That's it. Sorry, there's no moral to this story. I just wanted to moan.
Tuesday 21st March
Most campsites along the eastern coast line of Spain are pretty full. Our last site had just 12 vacant pitches when we arrived. The one before that, five. This is mainly due to the weather. The Mediterranean side of Spain has something of a micro climate. But, sadly, there's also a far more sinister reason as to why they're full.
Many French, and a few Germans, have stopped going to Morocco. Morocco was a big winter destination for them. Even better weather and very cheap camping. The trouble is: many now don't feel safe, what with Morocco being a predominately Muslim country.
The French are a bit nervous around Muslims. This, mostly their own doing. Banning the burka, generally not liking anyone who isn't French, and of course, marching in support of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebro when it was attacked. They rallied under banners supporting the 'freedom of the press'. 'The French press shall not be silenced' they proclaimed. Which is all quite laudable, until you discover the French government shut down the magazine some years earlier when it insulted Charles De Gaulle. Then, no one said a bloody word. You can see how that might upset your average deranged religious fanatic, who needs little provocation at the best of times. Insulting Mohammed is a little like poking a Rottweiler with a stick. You take a gamble.
Back on safer ground, and the point of today's bit. This camp site is situated just outside the Marina d'Or, which is probably unique. We've been here before and I seriously still walk around gob smacked. The story of this place is one worth telling and should be a cautionary tale to us all.
Let me introduce you to Mr Gur. A Spaniard. His mission in life was to sell toasters, hair dryers and irons etc from his shop. But Mr Gur harboured a dream, this spurred on by the Spanish property boom. One morning he woke up and decided it was time to make his dream a reality. He'd have a crack at property development. His plan was not to build an apartment, nor a house, or even a few houses, no, he wanted to build a 'Holiday City, 35,000 apartments in fact. It would consist of a mile of fairly attractive apartment blocks: three deep. Each with approximately 300 apartments. The 'Holiday city' would also include golf courses, board walks, swimming pools, parades of shops, a Mall, a couple of plush hotels, bars, restaurants, a flamingo park, family amusements, a water world, a theatre, and even fake elephants and a replica Eiffel tower. There was only one snag... he was broke. Undeterred, he set about selling the idea to those that weren't. They loved his dream. Soon the building work began. It was talked about across Spain. TV programmes were made about the New City rising from scrub land. People came just to ogle at the size of the project.
And then..... just as they were screwing the last door on the last apartment, planting the last of the trees, filling up the pools and stocking the flamingo park, President Bush relaxed the US banking laws - in a failed attempt to reflate the US economy - and the shit hit the fan, big time. Capitalism caught a cold and banks needed tax payers money if they were to be saved.
The resulting fall out was the end of the property boom in Spain. The market vanished overnight, literally. Mr Gur had 38,000 front door keys and no one to hand them to. He went bust owing banks, investors, building companies, and suppliers a Kings ransom. So today, nine years after that event, rows of empty apartment buildings stand like sentinels looking out toward the Mediterranean. Most shuttered up. A few, a very few, have residents.
Walking around you seen handmade 'for sale' sighs hanging from balconies and windows, which I'm told, they're discouraged from doing, lest it send the wrong signal to a perspective buyer. I was also told, that at night, some of the empty apartment lights are switched on just to make the place look a little more lived in and less like a ghost town. Thankfully it's still well cared for. Flowers grow everywhere. The grass is deep green. It's neat, clean and tidy. Someone, the banks I guess, still have high hopes for Marina d'Or and Mr Gur's dream.
Personally, I think it stands as reminder of what an idiotic American President can achieve if he really puts his mind to it. Take note Mr Trump.
Saturday 18th March
Today you find us in Oropesa del Mar. It's above Valencia. Save you looking,
(Like anyone was going to. Ed)
We got mugged on the 230 mile journey getting here. Without warning we came upon a road gang digging up the duel carriageway, all four lanes of it. One minute we're sailing along admiring the scenery singing, the next we're parked in front of a barricade blocking our way. A bulldozer had knocked up a detour which climbed over the banking and disappeared into the hinterland. All very ad-hoc. Bugger if I was going to attempt that. So I, and a bunch of other mystified motorists, swung around and went off in search of another route. We found one which took us over a small mountain. Great! As you can imagine there's nothing I like more than towing a two ton, twenty seven foot caravan up and down a mountain pass. It took almost six hours to cover the 275 miles we ended up driving.
What a place to have a nice cup of tea at.
Enough of all that.
I was asked the other day what I miss about England when we're away on our jaunts. Well of course the answer is bugger all, once you've take friends and family out of the equation. But after some thought I realised I did miss the postman.
Now I don't know about you, but I have something of a love hate relationship with my postman. Well, not him exactly, more the post itself. Letters and such. I think it started many years ago when I was briefly unemployed. Every Friday my Giro would drop through the letterbox. Literally, money would drop onto my door mat. I ended up like Pavlova's dog. The letter box would rattle and I'd start salivating. I still feel that same frisson of excitement when I see the postman walking up the path today. Course now, he just brings me bills and junk mail, so that early response has been tempered with mild trepidation.
With my post, perhaps like yours, I occasionally get a variety of mail addressed to past occupants that used to live in my house during the war, or so it seems. The senders never seem to grasp the concept that people move on or drop dead from time to time. If Freeman's haven't heard from a customer in twenty years, it's safe to say they ain't never going to. I also get a myriad of Credit card applications quite regularly. Not so long ago I opened a letter from a charity and found that a past occupier had been sent a pen. They congratulated her on her past efforts, and hoped she'd continue to support them over the forthcoming Yuletide celebrations. The pen was a gift. At times, I felt quite guilty using it.
The fort at peniscola.
Occasionally I receive letters from debt collection agencies. Coincidentally in the same name as the credit card applications. I opened them to have a nose. Have you noticed they always originate from obscure towns near Bolton? I have. Places you'd not immediately be able to put your finger on, even if you were sat with a map and a gun held to your head? They all suggested I've purposely ignored previous demands and now their legal Dept - which is really a lady called Doris - is tooling up for the job, so to avoid any legal unpleasantness with her, I should pay up.
Debt collecting agencies buy debt. I once gave an old mobile to a friend. I told her she'd need to ring the phone company and have the name changed. She didn't, instead she ran up a £400 bill, and buggered off. For two years various debt agencies tried to collect it from me. I moved three times. They found me each time. Pity Osama Bin Laden never had bad debts, a dozen recovery agencies in Kidderminster would have known exactly where he was. I gave them her info, but while morally they agreed I'd been shafted, and advised me I should pick my friends more carefully, the debt was all mine. Eventually I paid. In desperation an agency asked “Okay, well what can you pay?” I suggested half, and they agreed.
Anyhoo. Who writes letters these days? The only reason I'm pleased to see the postman now is when it's my birthday. But thinking about that, even those tend to arrive in my inbox.
Tuesday 15th March
You'll never here the end of it!
Well that's it. Teresa May has been given the green light to activate clause 50. Britain's divorce from Europe is all go, officially. Well that should please the 17.4 million who voted for it, and probably piss off the 16.1 million who didn't, but that's life. I guess the other 13 million that sat at home watching the telly rather than exercise their democratic voting rights probably still don't give a monkeys. And the 15 million under 18 year old weren't given a voice. Which is a shame since, in my book, their the ones most affected by the result. Personally, I would have banned the over sixties from voting. I mean, how long have they got? Basically then, 1.3 million people have changed, not only England's political and economic future, but also that of Gibraltar, Scotland, and Northern Ireland who all wanted to remain. Still that's democracy for you. Least a version of it.
I guess if you're an optimist, have faith in politicians and voted out you're still wondering why sixteen million are getting their knickers in a twist. However, if you're one of those sixteen million, you're probably feeling doomed about now. Either way, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that whatever happens now, is all something of a gamble. Personally, I'm not a fan of gambling, especially with a country's prosperity, I'd much rather play it safe.
A very nice walk in the hills yesterday.
I've been asked a few times, has living in mainland Europe these last five years changed my view of it? Well I'd have to say yes. I wasn't always a fan. I voted in the '74 referendum to leave. But in typically British democratic fashion one third of the nation spoke for the other two thirds and we stayed in.
Today I view it differently. For example, it strikes me that while the Spanish are without doubt proud to be Spanish and the French are well, quite frankly, more French by the day, neither mind being thought of as Europeans. This is in stark contrast to many British who feel being called a European is some kind of veiled insult. Personally, I put that down to us having an Island mentality.
Worth remembering. At the end of WW2 six men gathered in Paris and signed the 'Treaty of Paris'. Their sole aim was to eliminate the possibility of WW3 which many thought was an inevitability and which arguably they achieved. So kudos to them. They came form Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany. Britain was asked to join but declined. Six years later the six signed 'The Treaty of Rome' and thus created the EEC. The British were again invited to join, but again we said no. Of course, as Europe set sail and seemingly prospered, we asked to join. Now it's floundering, we want to jump ship. Typical.
Because today's politicians are as weak as yesteryears and still can't make their minds up about Europe, they left it to us: the British public, whose knowledge of International Treaties, Multilateral Trade Agreements, Global politics, European and domestic sovereignty, EU Law, or Article 50, could be written on a T-bag! It's like asking someone who once played the game Operation, to perform open heart surgery, it's lunacy.
But still that's all behind us. Whatever happens now can, and will be, blamed on the electorate. The Government have washed their hands of any responsibility to govern or lead and say they're now just carrying out the 'Will of the people'. A pity they don't carry out the 'will of the people' where the NHS is concerned.
Of course whatever happens now, good or bad, will be blamed on, or accredited to, Brexit. That's sods law. If we lose industry, jobs, foreign investment, end up with a weak pound and greater austerity it will be because we were mad to leave. However, if we miraculously manage the opposite, that too will be the result of Brexit. No one wins. Either way, half will take credit while the other half will apportion blame. Consequently the worse aspect of this whole circus will be, we'll never hear the bloody end of it.
Friday 10th March
Oh! to be Free.
It's been an age since I banged on about anything controversial. Readers must think I'm losing my edge, so here goes. I got asked the other day if we'd ever 'wild' camped. Just so you know, 'wild' camping or 'free' camping is a romantic term often used by campers who pretty much park where they like, and or, where they can legally. This can be a rough patch of scrub land, a wood, a beach or even a car park. There are rarely any facilities for them at such places. No water, electricity, toilets or waste. You have to be self sufficient. Some areas designated for 'wild' campers do, very occasionally, have water via a stand pipe and may even provide waste disposal points, but not many. Wild campers have to find ways of getting rid of their grey water, garbage, toilet waste and occasionally, an electrical appliance. Unfortunately, not all do it...., well, let's just say ecologically.
Now I should make it clear that wild camping is the sole domain of the motor homer, not the caravanner. The reason for this is.... well, frankly a little vague. It's like one of life's truisms, we can't explain it, we just accept it. People in caravans can't wild camp. That's it. It's just not done. Now I wonder why - it's my job - after all, a caravanner can be just as self sufficient as a motor homer so why not?
I think it boils down to a couple of facts. Most caravanners don't want to be confused with gypsies, which they might if they're parked on a a piece of waste land hanging out washing or collecting scrap. Us caravanners have a fear of being associated with them. We were once turned away from a campsite, in France, because the owner thought we 'looked' like gypsies, but that's the French for you. Wear a burka and they think you're a terrorist.
Secondly some motor homers don't really want to wake up next to a caravanner. I'm sorry, but there is a modicum of snobbery involved. The motor homer may have just forked our £95,000 for his Skyline globe trotter 2000 XL and he wants a bit of exclusivity for all that dosh. He doesn't want to wake and find the chap parked next to him in a caravan that looks as if its been salvaged from a tip enjoying the same view as him. He's paid a lot for this privilage.
This photo doesn't do the scene justice. There were about sixty vans.
Regardless of the pros and cons, personally I can't see the benefit of wild camping, other that the obvious: It's free. There are no pitch fees to pay. Which is both good and bad. Good for you, as you can save £20 a night. Bad for the local economy. A large camp site can provide local employment both directly and indirectly. It can inject money into the local economy and perhaps, as tourists, we should putting something back. I dare say many that wild camp will argue that they do, an argument that will just boil down to the amount they contribute, and that may be very small.
I've a friend who loves it. Can't get enough of it. He tells me there nothing quite like waking up in the morning, stepping out of your van onto a deserted beach. It's fabulous he told me. I probed a little deeper. What's so fabulous about it? I asked. “Well it's the peace Phil”, he said tranquillity. That 'getting away from it all' kinda feeling. That whole Robinson Crusoe vibe” he said wistfully. Now I can see that attraction. But there's a problem. Look at the photo I took yesterday of wild campers getting away from it all. Enjoying the quietness and the solitude. All seeking their own slice of isolation far from the madding crowd. Strikes me they've swapped one camp for another if you ask me.
Can you see any romance in that? No nor me.
I do request now.
Today you find us In Mazarron, on the other side of Spain, on the Med.
While Humilladero was like a giant version of Travis Perkins, fortunately it was just up the road from Antiquera which is a jolly splendid little town. A World Heritage site and one of the oldest in Spain.
Whilst there, we drove up a mountain to oggle some unusual limestone formations - Don't ask. It's what us tourists do - The site is famous, it's called El Torcal. The day was slightly overcast but still bright: at least at ground level. By the time we were half way up we were shrouded in thick cloud. Visability was down to ten feet. It was only on the corners someone had seen fit to make the road a tad safer. Small rocks had been strategy placed on the bends. So providing you were doing less then say, 5mph there was every chance your tyres would bang up against one and bring your car to a halt. At 6mph you'd probably roll over it and sail off into the abyss below. Such is the casual approach to health and safety here.
The edge of the road led to oblivion, so we crawled up. My eyes glued to the mountains edge just feet in front. Haze looking watched for car headlights appearing out of the mist in front. It was a team effort.
The car park, at the summit, loomed out at us like some becalmed sailing ship from a fog bank. We parked, climbed out and were immediately struck by the temperature. There wasn't one. It was probably -000 something. We had a quick walk into the interior for some photo's of the rocks, which looked eerie in the mist, then we fumbled our way back to the visitors centre. After a quick tour, where I discovered the word fridge is actually Latin – not sure why that surprised me but it did - we headed for the cafe. We then sat huddled around a hot coffee, staring out the large panoramic window at the cloud.
We have since discovered, from friends, that this is quite normal, and cloud often covers El Torcal.
We drove the 230 miles across Spain to Mazarron and what a nice drive. Little traffic and no tolls. The views were stunning. We climbed the high sierras to a height of over a mile, glimpsing the snow topped mountains in the distance. We passed loads of cave homes. Homes dug out of the cliffs, many still inhabited.
The bullring, obviously,
We were heading for a camp site we'd been to before but, at the last minute, switched to camping Los Torres. The reason? Price. Our first choice was €34 a night and that didn't include electricity and WiFi, (without our ACSI discount card, which we forgot to renew). So after a quick google search we found Los Torres not two miles from the first, at a budget busting €18 including electricity and WiFi. So no contest. The issue would be; would they have any vacant pitches? This side of Spain is always very busy. It's a big hit with the European full timers. Many camp here all winter, so it can be risky turning up without a booking.
When we arrived we were in luck, they had just three vacant pitches. The lady in reception told me the pool was heated, the bar was open and they play bingo on Monday nights. I was going to ask her if I looked like the kind of man who played bingo? But she might have said yes, so I didn't.
Being this busy we have neighbours either side of us, both German, so I'll not be able to bang out a few tunes on the Guitar. Or can I? On the last site I did play, and the German lady opposite came over later and said it sounded 'very beautiful'. No, seriously, that's what she actually said, honest! She added, 'She hoped we'd sing some more. Trouble is, David Hasselhoff is very big in Germany, so I suppose the bar's not been set that high.
Monday 6th March
To Gib or not to Gib? That is the question
As I see it, there's only two reasons why anyone would go to Gibraltar: cheap fags, booze, and the very tasty fish and chips they knock up.
(That's Three. Ed) Er.. yep three then.
You can of course visit the top of the rock but that 'view' will cost you £40. Needless to say I've never been up. But once you've experienced those three heady delights (or four) you can honestly say you've DONE Gibraltar.
We made the trip last week to shop and have lunch. We shopped in Morrisons to get all those things you can't buy in Spain Oxo cubes, Bisto, Marmite, and decent bangers.
I have to say the thought of living in Gib - not that I could afford to: a two bed flat would set me back £200,000 I don't have - would fill me with horror. It's a soulless, overly commercialised, hunk of rock. Good for a three hour visit at best. If you've never been chalk it up as a plus.
I saw a poll that suggested 75% of Spaniards were more interested in keeping good relations with Britain than falling out with us over the 'rights or wrongs' of Gibraltar. Now that struck me as a very sensible way to view the whole situation. It's also in stark contrast to my experiences a couple of year back at the hands of some British commentators on a news forum web site.
The royal navy had just dropped some concrete blocks into the sea around Gib. The British government said, at the time, it was to encourage marine diversity: believe that and you should change your name to Gullible. I suggested as much on the forum site. I also added I didn't much care who owned Gibraltar, but thought it certainly shouldn't be us. We helped the Dutch steal it in 1704. Then, for some odd reason, gave it to the Germans. They couldn't find a use for it, so twelve years later gave it back to us. It was then conceded to Britain as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. While perhaps the legality of its dependency is well documented, I doubt the morality is. But since when has morality and politics shared the same bed, right?
There were those that pointed out angrily, in reply to this, that 'Gibraltar 'belonged to Britain' Adding 'Gib is, 'part of Britain'. They also pointed out that Spain has the disputed enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. “They won't give back Ceuta, so why should we give back Gibraltar?”
Well that ain't any kind of diplomacy I recognise, at least not outside the school playground. I asked, imagine if the boot was on the other foot. Say we'd signed over Bognia Regis to the French in some dodgy 300 year old treaty. Would we respect that treaty? Be as philosophical? Even support the French claims? Not sure anyone would frankly..
Well... had I admitted to eating kittens, I doubt the backlash would have been any more venomous. Many said I was a traitor, unpatriotic. Some suggested I didn't know what the fuck I was talking about. - That upset me - And it was because of people like me, Britain was going down the tubes. I should be ashamed. And those were just the polite ones.
I of course gave up. You'll never win a debate when the people you're debating with threaten to bash your face in if they ever met you. Britain does breed some very odd people.
Still, at the moment, the Spanish government are having a chuckle at our expense. This is because a large part of Gibraltar's income comes from British online gambling. The companies are all based in Gib. The government wants to tax their profits but can't. Problem is, Gibraltar isn't part of Britain. It has its own tax laws. Its own banking system. Its own Money. Its own government, police force, health system, and judiciary system, and really owes us sod all. And this is why I brought diesel last week for just 79p a litre. Tax on fuel, booze and fags is extremely low, mainly because, Gibraltar doesn't have an air force, navy or Army. For protection they rely on the British tax payers.
While I'm it, I should point out that British tax payers also fork out for the protection of sixteen other British protectorates around the world. Which is why you guys, the British tax payer, coughs up enough to keep the fourth largest Navy in the world afloat.
Friday 3rd March
A change of scenery
Today you find us bivouacked on the outskirts of Humilladero which is a small town fifty miles east of Granada. After checking in we chose one of the many empty pitches and set up base-camp. Once I'd finished, Haze pointed out we were occupying a portion of the neighbouring empty pitch. Well, by that time I was sitting down, in the sunshine, with a refreshing cup of tea, I wasn't about to jump up and faff about repositioning the van so I left it. An hour later a Swiss couple arrived in a motorhome and decided, of all the empty pitches on the site - seventy two in fact - they wanted that one. The chap then attempted to squeeze his large van onto it, between us and the a large hedge the other side.
I can never understand why some people do this. Insist on parking right next to other campers when there's so much choice. Don't they want privacy? I know I do.
He shunted back and forth several times. His wife got out and directed him. They stopped and had a confab. It didn't help he was Swiss. Swiss are a funny bunch. Stickler for the rules apparently. I was half expecting him to get out a tape measure, take a few measurements, then come knocking on my door and point out I'd upset the space time continuum by my wonky British parking. I mentally geared myself up for this eventuality. I did what any sane and rational person does at times like these, I rehearsed what I was going to say to him. I would point to all the other empty pitches and question why he wanted THAT particular one? But in a subtle tone that sought to enlighten, rather than impart sarcasm.
Anyway, he couldn't get in. Well he could have, but it would have meant, had he rolled out of bed, there was every chance he'd have rolled straight into ours.
After a spot of lunch we wandered into Humilladero to sample any delights it might have to offer. We very quickly discovered it had none.
Imagine the most unimpressive thing you can. The fruit of your loins bringing home a school report telling you they'd came last in class. Perhaps your partner, rather than buying you a birthday card, gives you one he's knocked up on his computer. Perhaps that old perennial, watching paint dry. Well the town of Humilladero is nowhere near as exciting as any of those. It is to towns what road kill is to wild life. As Trump would say. Not Good. Tremendously Bad.
To find the reason for this you have to go back a few years. Spain's property boom was equal only to the Clondike gold rush. It was bonkers. Totally mental. Prices were rising daily. Builders were throwing up homes as fast as they could. Great swaths of land was earmarked for 'urbanisation'. Developers were queuing up to get a piece of the action. Then literally overnight, thanks to the Yanks, the bubble burst. The following day you couldn't give a property away. Companies went bust. Construction was stopped dead in its tracks. Building workers were sent home. It caused misery for the thousands of people caught up in it.
Towns like Humilladero suffered badly. It was earmarked for expansion. It now resembles a large deserted building site. One huge work in progress, at least it was. The plots cleared for homes are now just overgrown dumps or convenient shortcuts. Homes, all in various stages of construction, stand ghostly empty. Pavements are only half finished. Some occupied properties stand alone in what looks like a waste land. Access roads and street lighting have been installed across huge empty lots, but the roads lead nowhere and the lights are not turned on.
Walking around I felt ever so slightly depressed. The few people I saw wore grim looks. The same look I expect prisoners wear. People resigned to their fate, knowing there's no way out.
Wednesday 1st March
This is from last week. I couldn't get on line.
I don't know how it is in your house, but in ours, I hold the purse strings. I don't know why that is. Well, that's probably not true. I do, I guess. Men and women approach money from opposite directions. Personally, I think it's due to genetics. Us chaps are pre-programmed by evolution. Historically, we've had to be the bread winners, although not so much today, thankfully we're on our way to equality in pay, and rightly so. But still, dudes feel the yoke of financial responsibility for the family's fortunes. Once, we'd go out and kill a rabbit for dinner, now we sit in an office or stand on a factory floor, let someone else kill the rabbit, and then buy it off them.
For me, I'm comfortable holding the fiscal reins. I know Haze has complete confidence in my steady stewardship. I, on the other hand, would worry if it were the other way around. Let me clarify. For example: I'll ask Haze, as she throws something into the shopping basket, “How much is that luv?” to which she'll reply. “I don't know”. And that's worrisome.
I bet there's not a man breathing, on this planet, that shops like that. We have to know the price of everything we buy. I think, it's why items have price tags, it's for us blokes, not for women. I'd never forgive myself if I discovered, while scrutinising the till receipt later, that the bottle of Balsamic vinegar I'd just casually tossed into my trolley cost £4.99. I mean, Balsamic vinegar, what the fuck is it? I could live a charmed life without it ever once passing my lips and be a fiver up.
(The Balsamic vinegar incident. I thought you'd forgotten about it. Let it go. Ed)
Ask a bloke how much say..... a reversible cordless 14 volt power drill is, and he'll come up with a good guess. Ask a women and she'll say about a million pounds. And that's worrying because, if you ask a five year old how much a house costs, they'll guess at about £7.50. You can see the logic at work, right?
Oddly, however, ask a women how much a pair of leather court shoes with a kitten heel are, and they'll be bang on the money. They'll know this because they buy a lot, and it's not because they walk a lot, they don't. Women like shoes in the same way men like having jars of assorted nuts and bolts in the garage. I recently read that the average British women spends £34,000 on shoes in her lifetime. Personally that's grounds for divorce in my book.
Manufactures play on this genetic difference. Cast your eye over the cost of perfume, and then men's after shave. The difference in price is vast. If it were the same, men wouldn't buy the stuff. The most expensive perfume is one by Clive Christian at £143,000 a bottle. I bet ole Clive doesn't make a 'Homme' version. Got more sense, he knows he'd never sell a drop.
On beauty products, I have to say value for money does fly in the face of sound fiscal judgement. The more outlandish and exaggerated the claims and benefits of a given beauty product, the higher the price tag. Haze has two small jars of anti-wrinkle cream which she refuses to divulge the cost of. I've tried to get it out of her even when she's half asleep, but to no avail. Judging by the youthful claims on the jar, I'm guessing a lot.
Why am I telling you this? well perhaps it's therapy. To try and calm myself. Haze is going on a shopping trip with the 'girls'.
“I'll need some cash” she said last night.
'My wallet's on the side” I said bravely, spying at her through the crack in the bathroom door. “I'll take a hundred”.
“'God! are you going shopping or making a drop?”
“We're having dinner out”.
“And what, you're paying for them all? I could do you a pack-up”.
“Well I might see something I like. Perhaps I should take the credit card!”
'Hang on! let's not do anything rash”.
“But then again I might not” she added'
Well we can all dream, I thought.
(He is so easy to tease. Ed)
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