This week in bigger pics

    Monday 21st September 2013 week 118 France

    Education, it's a wonderful thing.

    If you'd asked me a couple of years ago what the Capitol of Estonia was, I wouldn't have had a clue. Now, thanks to our odyssey, that's all changed. Now I not only know, but I've got photos of me standing in it.

    I'll admit that geography was my worse subject at school. Followed closely by, probably, history. And, if I'm being totally honest, I wasn't so hot at maths either. Nor, when I come to think of it, English. I was, however, a whiz at woodwork. I had a selection of ping pong bats any school boy could be proud of and my mother had enough tea trays to give them away as Christmas gifts. The best school report I can remember taking home was one that said: Phillip, has a good amount of common sense. - unfortunately the teacher then spoilt that rather promising start with - just a pity he doesn’t put it to better use. Now I'm admitting to my scholastic shortcomings because, until I chose it, I'd never heard of the of French city of Dole. I elected to stop here simply because it was on route, offered free wifi and Lidls was in walking distance.

    It turns out that Dole was once the Capital of Franche-Comte. Yep, I've never heard of it either, it's a region, apparently. It was once under Burgundian rule. It was also owned and administered by the Spanish for a while. And that’s as much as I'm gong to quote from the city's guide book. But it's colourful past does explain why this small cosy city is a real gem.

    Dole hasn't changed. Much of the town was built around the 16th and 17th centuries and remains the same today as it did then. The Hospital, built in 1700, is now a boarding house for pupils of the school opposite which, itself, was once a convent. The French are generally loath to knock anything down - preferring to recycle a building, or failing that, leave it empty until it falls down of it's own accord. I'm told, by my illustrious editor no less, inheritance laws in France are very complex. This may account for why so many properties stand empty. How, or why, she knows stuff like that she doesn’t say and I've long since stopped questioning her encyclopedic knowledge.

    One ingenious feature which sets Dole apart from other 'tourist' cities is how one gets to see the sights. The authorities have set small directional plaques into the pavements every twenty five yards throughout the town. You simply follow them. The tourist office can furnish you with a guide, in English, listing all the points of interest around the route. Why can't other towns be like this?. The city isn’t famous for very much. However you may owe your life to it's most famous son, Louis Pasteur. A man to whom I thought I had little in common, until I checked up and discovered he was born on the 27th December, three days after me, albeit 123 years before. I'm also delighted to report that as a schoolboy he was said to be, and I quote: an average student, skilled only at drawing and painting. No mention of woodworking skills you’ll notice.

    I should also quickly add you may also recognise Dole from the 1995 film: 'Happiness is in the Field' as it was used as the films location. It was about a sixty year old toilet seat manufacturer -a theme only a French film could have- who became disenchanted with life. Sounds riveting. However being in French it's unlikely you’ve seen it, unless of course you're a film buff or you frequent fringe cinema or you are actually French..... In which case the comment about it possibly being riveting was meant to be pithy........

 

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   Tuesday 22nd September 2013 Week 118 France

    Rules, rules, and more buggering rules.

    I'd be the first to admit I can be a fickle chap at the best of times. For example it's well documented, by myself, that I admire the way Germans abide by the rules. It means you know where you are with them and they behave themselves. And yet, in the same breath, I totally respect the French who show almost a total disregard for any rules. I doubt they beheaded the French aristocracy, became a republic and then sat back as bureaucrats wrote a whole new bunch of rules for them to follow. No, it's a Frenchman’s birthright to stick two fingers up to authority. The word Liberty may well be inscribed into their constitution and on every government building but it's also written into their make-up. If you want an example here’s a good one. On route from Dole to Macon the other day someone had chalked, onto the road, in large red letters, 'speed trap ahead'. Faced with having to try and erase it the police went elsewhere.

    I of course vigorously support the need for rules. It would be a mad-cap world if we didn't have any. However being British, and in particular male, I firmly believe that rules were made for others to follow and certainly don't apply to me. I'm happy to bend them but get a tad miffed when others do the same. I'm not alone in this, it's a somewhat charming British character trait.

Macon

    Take parking. In the UK there’s nowhere you can park without encountering a raft of parking rules and restrictions. And, if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself constantly fighting the urge to blow up the council offices because you’ve been bullied into buying a three hour parking ticket when all you needed was ten minutes to pick up your dry cleaning. And, to add insult to injury, you're committing an offence if you give your unused parking time, which you've paid for, to another motorist! Why? The French would never stand for that. Here many towns have a small number of free ten or twenty minute parking slots so you can pick up your dry cleaning. Just how reasonable is that? They work with the motorist, not against him. Parking in the Uk is a money spinner. Councils make squillions from it. Last year the beleaguered British motorist coughed up a staggering £270 million in parking fines. That’s 270 million he’s not spent in shops greasing the wheels of industry.

    Last year, while here in France, we were waiting at a crossing when a van pulled up and parked on top of it. The driver got out and walked away. We were left standing staring at the side of his van, on the kerb!. I appreciate he was 'white van man' (They have them here too. Ed) and generally they believe the highway code was written for lesser mortals but two policemen stood chatting close by and ignored him and he they. In France, almost any attempt to stifle a Frenchman’s liberty is seen as, well, a liberty. Here while clearly some cities have parking restrictions and meters outside, in towns and villages, there are always a number of free car parks, often with toilets. Many towns even make provision for motor-homes, overnight if you want. If they tried to introduce parking restrictions and charges here, in the same draconian manner UK councils do, the resultant protest and strikes would bring France to a halt... and lets face it they never need much provocation to do that!

    Viva la difference! I say..

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   Wednesday 25th September 2013, week 118 France

    Another attempt on my life!

    We said au revoir to Dole and the diminutive camp-site owner, a small round faced French lady who continually chuckled to herself. Not, I hasten to add, in a, quick-hide-all-the knives-and-scissors type way, but the same way people, who don't sweat the small stuff, do. She would chuckle when she mistyped something while at her keyboard. Chuckle because she didn't know the correct English word to use. Chuckle when a camper walked out forgetting to take their bread with them and only really stopped chuckling, trust me to wipe the grin from her face, when I inadvertently let her dog out and she had to scurry after it. She didn’t hold it against me though, because on leaving she thanked us for staying and hoped we'd enjoyed ourselves. In returned I heaped praise on her camp-site which, if I'm honest, was merely OK but heaped even more on her home town which she was clearly proud of.

    We headed for Macon, north of Lyon, once again keeping off the motorway. At times the N6, which we were on, ran alongside the toll infested E15. At one point I pointed out to Hazel we were actually moving faster than a truck who was on the motorway and paying a hefty whack for the privilege. For some inexplicable reason this failed to excite her as much as it did me. Women? I love em, but I can't eat a whole one.

Macon

    Macon camp-site, on the edge of town, is Municipal. This means it's run and owned by the 'council'. Now don't run off with the idea that this means it's full of abandoned fridges and yapping dogs, far from it. It's well maintained, exceptionally well laid out, has a bar, restaurant, shop, plush new shower blocks and free wifi. On checking in I enquired about the wifi. I was assured, with a wave of the receptionists hand, that it could be picked up from anywhere on the site. Wrong! The only time I could get a decent signal was when I huddled up against one of the transmitting aerial,s But you can hardly complain when it's free, right? Fortunately there was a McDonald’s, practically across from the site, whose food I rarely eat but whose free wifi signal I frequently enjoy and very nice it is too.

    Macon is as unremarkable as Dole was remarkable. Not that its unattractive, it's not, it's simple not memorable. The older buildings are ones you'd neither rush to photograph nor move into. The town is split between Burgundy and the Rhone Alps regions. The La Saone river which runs through Macon marks the boarder. (Yesterdays photo was taken looking across the river, Ed). The old town consists of a maze of ageing narrow streets seemingly laid out in a panic. These are lined with more shops, mostly cafés and boutiques, than you could wave a credit card at. This, in France, is a little unusual but handy as I was in urgent need of an apothecary and had a choice.

The local flea pit! wonderful

    In the past I've recounted and documented, should evidence ever be needed, the several attempts Hazel has made on my life. I'll not list them all again. But we can all recall the exploding egg, right? The time she tried to set fire to the van with me in it by wrongly fitting the exterior power socket. The time she encouraged me to go snorkelling when she knew damn well sharks had been spotted in the Med. (Give us a break, they were 300 miles away. Ed). What! and fish don't swim? Well her latest attempt was to suggest I had more pills than I actually had. I take a pill each day, if I didn’t I would explode, least I think that’s what the doctor said.. (Ignore him, it's for his cholesterol. Ed). That's right, explode with a build up of cholesterol. It turns out I didn't have three weeks supply, just four days! Hazel puts this down to a verbal mix up. Yeah right. Anyway we found a chemist yesterday. I nervously showed him the packet and he simply sold me a pack over the counter. He never asked for a prescription nor enquired what I wanted them for. I could have been feeding them to my dog for all he knew. They cost me £10 which is about as much as a prescription these days. I know you can buy them cheaper over the internet from India, but they're curry flavoured.

    Noooooo, That's a joke, sorry India.

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 Thursday26th September 2013 week 118, France 

    KABOOOOM!!!

    I've already mentioned our Fiat Ducato turbo diesel isn't the quietest vehicle on the road, not by a long measure. But I guess it's an Italian workhorse of an engine, so I shouldn't expect too much in the way of refinement from it. I have discovered playing Def Leopard at number 50 - that's the highest my radio knob will go to - will drown out the engine noise, and conversation unless you shout at each other much like you would while standing in a wind tunnel.

Lot to be said for having a mate you can rely on.

    Yesterday, in order to get over a 1000 metre high mountain which, when I approached looked near vertical, I had to give the old girl some serious welly. I floored the gas pedal, dropped from fifth into third and she started to hauled herself up. We got about half way when, seemingly, all hell broke loose. The exhaust gave up the ghost. Now we've all had exhaust pipes blow on us and know just how loud it can make your car sound. Suddenly you're whispering Vauxhall Corsa sounds like a dragster being fed nitrous oxide on Santa pod raceway. My break happened at the manifold, so it was akin to driving without an exhaust. It didn't just crack or split, it rotted clean in half. The resultant noise was..... well horrendous. When Armageddon comes, that’s what it will sound like. I instantly realised that A, the exhaust had serious failed or had been stolen (Unlikely) and B, if I didn't soon get to the top my ears would start to bleed. There was little I could do but keep my foot hard on the gas and shrink back in my seat.

    For some quite inexplicable reason, to my mind, the passing drivers all looked at us. Now why do people do that? and they do. To see if they know us? I doubt it. To make sure I was awake?, I doubt that too. No one could sleep with that racket going on. To reassure themselves, perhaps, I too had noticed the noise?. Don't think so. No, they actually glared at me to register their disapproval of me driving such a noisy vehicle. Because clearly driving a four ton, 2.8 litre turbo diesel truck with only a three inch exhaust pipe was something I did all the time. Get a human behind the wheel of a vehicle and common sense is left by the kerb. I'll prove it another time when I don’t have more pressing needs.

Safe to say all chances of slipping into Le Puy-en-Velay town centre unnoticed were well and truly scuppered. And the camp site was bang in town. I tried to drive quietly, not an easy thing to do, try it. I tried to coast everywhere. Even opting to use the camber of the road for extra inertia, anything but put my foot on the throttle. And when I had to, the sound echoed off the buildings, rattled window panes, sent dogs in fits of barking and brought even more looks of disapproval. Oh dear.

The view from the garage

    At the camp-site reception I was pointed in the direction of a Fiat dealer. “Only five to six kilometres away” I was told. I parked up, grabbed my cycle off the back and followed his instructions. What he failed to tell me was the fiat dealer was on top of a mountain. And here I'm not talking about a steep hill, I'm talking about an actual mountain which I wouldn't walk up without a Sherpa guild and a bag of crampons.. After an hour I gave up. It was too hot and I was too knackered. Little did I know I was almost within spitting distance of it. I returned this morning on the scooter. One young mechanic spoke good English and I'm having the exhaust replaced tomorrow morning.

 

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 Friday 27th September 2103 week 118 France.

    Living on a knife edge.

    I wrote, somewhat enviously someone suggested, that Germany has 22,000 wind turbines and wanted more. It appears, however, that not everyone is a fan of them.

   If you were alive on the 22nd January 1961, you climbed into bed that night blissfully unaware that a ten dollar switch was about to save the world as you knew it. This because, the following day a USAF B52 bomber, on a routine flight, began to break up over Goldsboro North Carolina. This caused the two thermonuclear war heads it was carrying, to drop from the crippled plane. One fell to the ground with a loud thud while the second, assuming it was being deliberately released over an enemy target, went through all it's arming procedures except one, a single low-voltage switch didn't trip and that prevented the deaths of well, perhaps millions. The bomb was 250 times more powerful than that dropped on Hiroshima and carried the equivalent of 4,000.000.000 tons of TNT. Fair to say then, we would have noticed it going off. The US government, in typical fashion, covered it up. We will never know, had it detonated, how it would have changed the course of human history but change the course of human history it surely would have.

Your average anti wind farm protesters, they dont all wear daft hats by the way.

    On 28th March 1979 The three Mile Island nuclear power plant, in the USA, went into a partial meltdown. It was caused when a valve stuck open allowing coolant to escape. Despite the valve being stuck open a light on the control panel indicated that it was in fact closed, so no one bothered to check it. It turned out later, it had been simply wired up wrong. Thirty minutes into the catastrophe station manager Gary Miller announced the reactor was out of control and posed a serious radiological threat.. No deaths or injuries were ever attributed to the accident. However, almost $25 million was paid out in insurance settlements to people who were then not allowed to publicly discuss their injuries.

    On 26 April 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine suffered an explosion, caused by a sudden and unexpected power surge which itself was caused by human error. The resulting fire released tons of radioactive particles into the atmosphere which spread over the western USSR and Europe. The following battle to avert an even greater catastrophe involved over 500,000 workers. In 2015 the existing sarcophagus built to retain 740,000 sq meters of heavily contaminated debris will need to be replaced.

    On 11 March 2011 the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant was hit by a tsunami. This caused numerous equipment failures which in-turn caused a loss of coolant and started a nuclear meltdown. The following day radioactive materials escaped. Today, two years after that event, they still are struggling to get the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant under control. They are pumping 400 tons of water over the reactor every day! to stop it going into full meltdown. This contaminated water is then being stored in some of the 1000 huge storage tanks which have been specially built. Some of those tanks have since sprung leaks. It's now feared contaminated water is seeping into the ground. In order to save face the Japanese are refusing help.

    That's just three of the thirty seven serious incidents in nuclear power stations since 1956. The next 'accident'? Who knows? The French owned (EDF) manages the country's 59 nuclear power plants and produces more electricity than England, Germany and Russian put together, so perhaps it is a likely candidate.

    Critics of wind turbines suggest they are ugly and spoil the landscape. Well when a nuclear plant goes wrong it does a tad more than just spoil the view. Sometimes you don't have a choice.

 

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