A diary entry from August 2013
I'm sure you've cracked open a couple of bottles of wine and woken, hours later, to find you're outside wearing only your pants, Yes? Course. Happens all the time. Does wine do you any harm? I doubt it. Wine is made from fruit, and since when has fruit been bad for you? In fact wine has a whole raft of health giving benefits, we know it aids digestion. Although, that's probably only true if you drink it by the glass, not by the bottle. Anyway, if you're anything like me, you open a bottle with good intentions, not to get pie-eyed.
I'll bring home a decent bottle on a Friday, not silly money, but I'd pay more than I would on a Wednesday, it's the weekend, right? I'd uncork it – gives you an idea what I paid. It's got a cork - pour myself, and Haze a glass and sit back to savour it. Trouble is, an hour into the evening, after a meal, it's empty. I remark on how well it went down, Haze remarks on how quickly it went down. But the night is young. I'm not ready for my slippers and Horlicks just yet, besides, I'm feeling a tad jolly, and yet, surprisingly sophisticated. So I decide to nip to the Spar and grab another bottle. This, while Haze opens up a tin of tropical fruit salad for pudding: clearly, the evening is developing nicely.
If you're like me, you'll pick up a bottle based on the label. Does it look interesting? My entire ethos on the selection of a bottle of wine is based solely on the attractiveness of the label. I'm not kidding, and I've discovered this actually has some validity. Fuck the name of the grape. I promise you, it'll only complicate things. I gravitate to bottles with darker, moody labels. I'm quite fond of those showing Kangaroos or geometric shapes. Bold fonts in yellow are good. I certainly wouldn't be seen dead walking out with a bottle depicting a castle or château. Leave those for the novice drinkers.
Now you've probably noticed too, that once you've killed one bottle, choosing the second is never quite as difficult as it was when choosing the first. The first can take some time. Weighing up, year, colour, origin, price etc. The second, you're in and out in five minutes. Does it meet my most basic requirements? Well it's red, got a nice label and it's 13.5% proof, that'll do. You get it home, and that too disappears pretty quick. Clearly opening a tin of fruit is thirsty work. As I sit and wonder if I dare make a second foray to the supermarket, that's assuming I could, Haze finds one of those little bottles of cooking wine. I convince myself, this is the last glass I want, need or fancy. Even though it tastes like nothing on earth you'd willingly pay for, you finish it. It's then you suddenly remember you have a half a bottle of sherry in the garage. -You kept it out there should you ever need to de-gunk the lawnmower-. You're now drunk, and take it from me, it's now when sherry tastes its best. Besides, you could now drink lighter fluid and think it tastes okay. Which, and let's be honest, most sherries taste like anyway. The night ends with you curling up on the lawn and the wife falling asleep with her toothbrush in her mouth. So a cracking evening all round.
Now where’s this heading you ask? Well, to an apology, of sorts. Perhaps I've been too quick to judge.
Last week, I told you about my elderly neighbour on the next pitch who insists on sitting out in his figure hugging Lycra underpants. - I've closed the curtain on that side of the van permanently now - I wasn't, you may remember, very complimentary, think I called him a twat. Well I bumped into him yesterday. He was walking along carrying a bottle of whisky.
“Do you drink whisky?” he asks as I drew up to him.
“I do” I said, sensing my luck might be about to change.
“Here. I bought this. It's dreadful. Can't drink it”.
“Have you tried mixing it with something?” I suggested not really wanting to put ideas into his head.
“I doubt there's anything you could mix it with to make it taste any better”, he says.
“ Was it cheap? I ask. Noticing the bottle was called Kentucky something, and in an interesting woody type font.
“Eight Euros. he exclaims. There were cheaper ones. Here”. He hands me the bottle.
“ Well thanks”.
“Don't thank me yet. You’ve not tried it”, he says, as he shuffles off.
I tried it after my pre-dinner G& T and three glasses of wine, and you know what? just like the sherry, it didn't taste half bad.
Friday 28th October 2016
Outside looking in.
Look, seriously, I don't want to rain on any ones parade, but there's a problem on the horizon. In a couple of years we may no longer be EU citizens. And that's going to be an issue for those of us enjoying this carefree lifestyle. Free movement, within Europe, will end. Now I'm not talking about holiday makers taking their vacation on the Costa Del packet, nor business men, for those nothing will change, no, I'm ONLY talking about those retired, and semi retired, people who, like us, bum around Europe long term.
Thing is, we've been EU citizens for so long now - over forty years - many of us don't know any different. We've taken travelling around Europe, without hindrance, for granted. As EU citizens it's actually our right. The truth is, once we stop being EU citizens, and become only British citizens, we'll have no more right to travel freely around Europe than say... a Mexican has.
If, in an attempt to secure our borders, we step outside Europe, the EU will treat us just like they treat any non EU national, we'll be subject to passport and immigration controls. Sure, we'll be able to visit EU countries without a visa under the, 'thirty day international visa wavier programme, but if we want to stay longer, we'll have to apply for a visitors visa, just as other non EU nationals travelling to Europe do. And on that visa it will state your arrival date and a departure date. Get caught over that date, and you can be deported. Countries take a very dim view of people who over stay their legal welcome.
Now you might say that's just daft. The EU is bound to give us some special dispensation, after all, they want our money, we won't have to fill in silly visa applications if we fancy staying longer. But, I ask you, why should they? And if they were able to, it would be an exception to international law. And remember, I'm only talking about about a relatively small number of British people who, like us, travel around Europe.
While many exit voters saw leaving the EU as a way of tighten our borders, you're a fool if you think Europe won't do the same.
Still I don't think that's our biggest problem, it could be solved. A bigger concern is vehicle insurance. As EU members, vehicle insurance policies issued in the UK must cover all EU countries, that's an EU regulation. Once we leave, insurance companies can ignore that directive and return to the lucrative business of issuing green cards, as they do now for non EU countries. The issue then becomes one of duration. Insurance companies will know you'll only be allowed to stay three months on a visitors visa. So why would they issue longer cover? Even now, mention you want to travel around Europe for an undisclosed length of time, and many insurance companies will just hang up on you. I really can't see it getting better.
Then there's your health. As an EU citizen you can walk into a Polish casualty department with a nail sticking out your head and they'll pull it out for free. That will end. We'll have to pay the bill and then claim the money back from our holiday health insurance. Now, go on line. Fill in a fictitious travel insurance application. Tell them you're sixty, taking medication and you want travel health insurance for an unlimited time in a non EU country. I tried, I couldn't get any.
Teresa May said recently. 'There's no such thing as being a citizen of the world, those that believe there is, are fooling themselves. Well I was happy to settle for being a citizen of Europe, she clearly isn't.
Still, you could say, Phil, mate you've got it all wrong and our EU rights won't change, but if you do I'd really love to hear your reasons for thinking that.
Have a good weekend.
Wednesday 26th October 2016
Another successful drive. We left Angeiras and drove a hundred miles south to Coimbra. I should warn you, road tolls in Portugal are more than a little confusing. Some you pay as you enter a motorway. Some you pay as you exit a motorway and some you pay for on line. Check out the Portuguese road toll web site for lots more confusing info.
In medieval times Coimbra, was the Capital of Portugal. It boasts Europe's first University which opened in the 16th century. The university is a collection of very grand imposing buildings on top of a hill, which you can tour. The two Cathedrals are lack luster and after Santiago de Compostela, a Cathedral would have to be on fire for me to cross the street and have a look at it.
The old town is a maze of steep narrow cobbled streets with the kinds of gradients designed to build up leg muscles. The chairs outside bars have uneven legs to compensate for the inclines. The science Museum has lots of British early scientific instruments, but would be more interesting if it were larger. Four rooms doth not a museum make. Sorry.
As we were sightseeing, a pretty young lady, about 18ish, dressed as a scout, complete with toggle, approached me. I say dressed as a scout, obviously I had no reason to doubt she wasn't an actual scout. I mean, I don't think she was impersonating a scout.
“Are you Portuguese?, She asked smiling.
“English”. I said.
“Ah! English”, she said. “Would you like to buy a cake?”
“And why would I want to buy a cake?” I posed, trying not to sound like Terry Tomas.
“We're building a new camp hut and trying to raise funds”.
Ah! The old 'camp hut scam', I thought. As you may know I don't give money away, I've spent too long trying to collect the stuff. But then two other girls came over and looked doe eyed at me. I immediately could see the value of their fund raising endeavours and the valuable good work ….....
(He bought some cake. Ed) I did.
The campsite is on the edge of town. On Sunday, a 'felon of gypsies' arrived. I'm not sure if that's the collective name for them, so don't quote me.
(I Think you coined it luv. Ed) Did I? Bit naughty of me.
First one, then another and another. They arrive singly so as not to raise suspicion a French campsite owner once told me. Within the hour there was a dozen. They ignored the ladies instructions to park along the top terrace, and made for one of the lower empty ones. I watched from the safety of a eucalyptus tree. Not that I was up it, just behind it. Just..... y'know, keeping an eye out.....
I'll give credit where credit's due, they know how to manoeuvrer their caravans, and, on occasions, other peoples apparently. They parked every which way. Ignoring pitch boundaries. I got chatting to one. I mentioned the road tolls. He told me he'd never paid any. Now why didn't that surprise me.
Interestingly, did you know the term 'Bimbo', a word used to describe a lady of a particular type, is taken from a specific clan of American Gipsies called the Bimbos. The younger women of the clan would seduce much older 'non gipsy' men. Sometimes marrying them to get their money. It was a quite legitimate way for them to bring home the family bacon. This they did, even if she were already married to a gypsy man.
Fascinating, as spock would say.
Monday. 24th October 2016
This and that.
Good weekend? Ours was wet. We stayed calm, Didn't go stir crazy. When it's wet you need interests. Something to occupy yourself with. I have my writing and my guitar. Hazel, has her knitting, crosswords and her reading. She's also having a crack at writing a racy novel. The few bits I've read, seem excessively steamy. You'd need to be a gymnast to get up to the shenanigans her characters do. I've still not yet worked out where she gets her ideas from.
When the rain stopped we took the opportunity to take the bus into Porto, a distance of just eleven miles, it took an hour and fifteen minutes. Not because the driver was slow, anything but, he fair had the hammer to the metal all the way, no. It was because he just couldn't pass a street, no matter how narrow or how steep, without driving up it. Some were ridiculously narrow. I sat in the rear thinking, for Christ sake he's never going to turn up there, is he? He'll never make it. He did every time. Amazing driving skill. Put me to shame. I can make a right a song and dance about negotiating a small roundabout towing Bessie.
Once inside Porto you realise, almost as you step off the bus, this was once a very wealthy city. Easy to forget Portugal had the first empire Europe had seen. It was a huge seafaring nation. Half the country looks out across the Atlantic. Little wonder then some of the greatest and most famous maritime explorers were Portuguese. Porto is crammed with some wonderful historic architecture. Unfortunately, like so many cities, it's also crammed with tourists. I'm aware we only added to it. Still, I'd be happy to put Porto in my; Top ten cities of Europe. Definitely worth a visit, ideally on the number 104 bus.
While it was raining, before we went into Porto, I had time to consider some of the wider issues facing humanity. This is something I do. So, can I ask? Do you believe in conspiracy theories?
A few of the most popular are: NASA faked the moon landing. Elvis faked his own death. The aids virus was created in a laboratory. The Queen and duke put a contract out on Diana. 9/11 was perpetrated by the CIA and, my favourite, humanity is actually under the control of shape shifting alien reptiles who occupy our bodies. This could have some validity, as I've met some very fishy people in my time.
I've personally got three. I've not time to go into them all now, but this is the newest. SMOKING KILLS! Now, we all know immediately what that slogan refers to. The problem I have with it is, it's not true. Least not as it's being sold to us. I'm not suggesting smoking should be part of your health regime, I'm just saying people deserve the truth, all of it, good and bad. Let us make our own minds up. Let's stop having them made up for us.
If SMOKING KILLS, then why did it take a truck to kill the oldest women in France who smoked twenty a day? Another lady, Mrs Lamichhane is one hundred and twelve and she proudly boasts she's smoked thirty a day since she was seventeen. That's over a million fags. That raises two questions A, Why isn't she dead? And B, How big's her ash tray? Now you may say, these are just two extreme examples, and possibly you're right but, according to the World Health Organisation, the USA is ranked fourteenth in the world smokers league. And yet the US department of health say Americans have the highest lung cancer rates in the world. Those two stats can't be explained. What muddies the water still further is that Japan has the highest number of smokers, and yet have far lower smoking related cancers. So you gotta think, are we being told the truth? What's going on? Do they even know the truth? And far more worryingly, is there something else at work? Something, as yet undiscovered. Like, in the US case, is being loud and not knowing where Europe is, a contributing factor?
Makes you think right..
Right, well, I'm trying to get off the ground, so I'd really appreciate it if you spread the word.
Sunday 23rd October 2016
Each Sunday, I'm reposting an entry from my past diaries in the hope you might buy one of my books.
Nohting wrong with self publicity.
This is from 2013
This morning I want to talk seriously about Fucking. No...... not that kind of fucking, the other kind. Fucking, the small town on the German border. Now I've elected to make a plea on behalf of the population of Fucking, that's the Fuckingers and all their little fuckers; could we please stop nicking the town's name plaque. It's not a blooming souvenir. It costs the town council €300 each time a Brit steals it. The thefts have gotten so bad they've even considered changing the town's name. Unfortunately this brought strong condemnation from lots of the old fuckers, and at the eleventh hour, it was decided against.
The local tourist brochure makes this rather barbed and pithy comment on the topic. And I quote:
The German visitors all want to see Mozart's house. The Americans want to see where The Sound of Music was filmed. The Japanese want to see Hitler's birthplace, but for the British it's all about Fucking.
Oh dear! How embarrassing, right? As a nation to be singled out for being well, lets face it, juvenile.
In an interview Fran Lindlbauer, the manager of a local guest-house, said “We have many lakes, forests and vistas worth visiting. But there's an obsession with the Fucking sign. I also, often, have to tell British tourists, sorry, there are no Fucking postcards”.
However Herr Juergen Stoll, the operator of another guest-house at Wank - seriously, I swear, I've not made any of this up - also close to the Austrian-German border said, the residents of Fucking should be cashing in on the towns name. He pointed to an enterprising teenager from Fucking who started selling T-shirts. Emblazoned across them was the logo, 'I'm a FUCKER'. Turns out the kid had to stop because townsfolk would shout at him in the street and, in his words, 'disrespect him'.
So please, no more fucking with the Fucking sign, Okay?
And while on the subject here's some other village names, translated from German, which are, well let's just say unfortunate. These include. Monkey Village, Putrid Butter, Kingdom of Heaven, Cat Brain, Stupid, Raincoat, Slave House and Warts, and I thought Newport Pagnell was bad.
None of this, I assure you, is made up.
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.