This week in bigger pics

    Monday 7th October 2013 Week 120 France

    Urgh!!

    I don't fish. I tried it once, as a small boy, but I was hopeless. On the rare occasion I did catch anything I discovered I'd taken so long to land the thing the fish had swallowed and partially digested the hook. This made retrieval difficult, messy and sometimes fatal for the fish. I was perhaps the only angler whose fish died of internal injuries by the time they were yanked out of the water. I do, however, admire guys who have the patience and skill to fish, and I love the equipment. I can be quite envious of a fisherman’s tackle.............! perhaps I could have phrased that better. Anyway, last week we were camped alongside the crystal clear waters of the river Tarn and it was full of humongous Salmon, or Trout, not sure which. I stood on the bridge excitedly pointing at fish. There’s one!. There’s another!. Look at that one!. OMG that’s huge!. Hazel, was keen to walk on and disown me. Here’s a photo of one. It was about 12 to 18 inches in length. A wonderful creature. To catch it you could have simply jumped in and grabbed it, though judging by it's size it could have just as easily grabbed you and taken you downstream. Oddly, in the four days we were there I saw no anglers. I tell you this only by way of explaining why I have a photo of a fish in my diary and also seeing these fish brought back childhood memories.

Handsom chap

    Ok lets move on. We left Millau and headed south. The drive through the mountains was spectacular. Although we only drove the distance from London to Birmingham, the start and finish locations could not have been more different. We left a fertile green valley and climbed 1500 feet onto a rock strewn, wind swept barren plateau. From there we joined the motorway south, and drove over the Pyranees before dropping down to sea level with it's vineyards, sub tropical plant life and the Mediterranean coast line. It's this that makes France so uniquely stunningly in my book.

    We headed for Port Leucate on the Mediterranean, which while sounding charming was anything but. I'm rarely stumped for words, as you may have noticed, but Port Leucate defied description. It was everything neither of us like. A collection of perhaps three hundred identical holiday homes built on a finger of land. It owed it's existence solely to the holiday maker of which there were, this late in the season, none! It looked dreadful. It had no style, character, history nor community. We comforted ourself in the knowledge we were staying only a couple of days and, as I reminded Hazel, the site had a heated swimming pool which was still open. This, as it turned out, was more than what could be said for the camp-site. It was shut and looked as bleak and empty as the rest of Port Leucate. It had closed two weeks early than advertised. A sign on the door told us it'll reopen again in April 2014. A date I shall quickly forget. We thumbed through the guild book and found another site just twenty minutes away, imaginatively named 'Le Fun camping'. This didn't bode well. In our experience any camp-site with the word 'fun' in it's name was normally anything but. We weren't wrong. A random hotchpotch of some one hundred empty sandy pitches by a railway track. We walked around choosing a pitch and passed just three other campers who all looked as if they were there because they were on the run. They sheepishly acknowledged us. We found a likely pitch and set up. I then went off and discovered the wifi was an scandalous £4 an hour and the nearest McDonald’s was 16Km away.

    Safe to say we won't hang around. We'll drive into Spain asap. I've found a camp-site which, the guide tells us, is open all year. In high season it would set back a family of four a budget busting 60 EUR a night! So it should be special. However, now, to us, in low season a more affordable £12 a night with two pools, a gym and a jacuzzi..

 

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 Tuesday 8th October 2013 week 120 France

    And finally France.

    I've just noticed I've never given you my list of quite useless, instantly forgettable, but yet strangely fascinating facts about France. So here, on our last day, let me put that right. I should point out they are all genuine and not just a figment of my imagination, as was once cruelly suggested by someone who has since been struck off my Christmas card list. Feel confident to throw in any of these at the next dinner party you attend should the conversation flag. Though having said that, I wouldn't just blurt one out randomly as you're likely to be asked to leave before the pudding course.

Parting shot of Millau, the huge bridge in the back ground.

    1, The infamous storming of the Bastille was more of a symbolic gesture since, at the time, there were only seven prisoners in it and four of those only in for issuing dud cheques, hardly freeing the imprisoned masses as history implies.

    2, Marie Antoinette never did say “Let them eat cake”. That phrase was attributed to someone else ten years before she was born.

    3, The guillotine was named after it's inventor a doctor, Dr Guillotine. It was last used, surprisingly, just thirty six years ago. More than 15,000 heads have been lobbed off. It was customary to tip the operator so he'd ensure the blade was Sharp. Last thing you'd want is him having to have several goes because the blade was dull.

    4, The Eiffel tower was originally intended to be temporary. It was meant to be dismantled and sold as scrap. So it wasn't made of any special material, consequently it has to be painted every seven years or it would rust away.

    5, The French Ministry of Health once tried to promote milk as the national drink. Needless to say he didn't last long.

    6, There are about 700 new cook books published each year in France.

    7, The wearing of a white wedding dress was first started in France in 1499.

    8, In 1386, a pig was hung in France for the murder of a child. The pig, so it's said, never took the stand as it couldn't be trusted not to tell porkies. -OK, I added the last bit-

    9, At the time of the French Revolution, 75% of French people didn’t speak French.

    10. A sex Survey by a condom manufacture found that the French have more sex than the British. (No Comment)

    11, Almost one in ten is either physically or mentally handicapped in some way.

    12, They were, in 2007, the biggest consumers of medicines in Europe

    13, They are the world's biggest consumers of psychotropic drugs. A staggering one in four admits having taken anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

    14, Not surprisingly perhaps the French out live us Brits.

    15, In France, in certain cases, its possible to marry a dead person. While that seems crazy I have to say I've dated a couple of girls myself where it's been a close call.

    16, France has the highest wealth tax of any European country.

    17, The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world and designed by a Brit, and yes I know I pointed that out before but it's worth repeating.

    18, France has fewer speed cameras that Finland and yet there are 63 Million French and only 5 million Finns.

    19, In France your daily bread comes in the form of a stick or French Baguette. 40 million are baked daily.

    20, One in four French can speak English, they just can't be arsed.

(Tres amuse' Ed.)

 

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 Wednesday 9th October 2013, week 120, Spain.

    It's not all fun and frolics you know.

    We left 'Le Fun Camping' after a brief and disappointing stay. I think it safe to say we probably could have sued them under the trades description act. Word of advice, if you're going to put the word Fun into your camp name then you really should make some effort to ensure that your guests are going to get some...... fun that is.

    When I booked in the charming, and I thought slightly flirty, lady in reception told me a large party was due the next day and they were going to have a fiesta. “A fiesta” I repeated clearly all too excitedly because she then said it was private. She went on to warn me “there may be some noise”. I pooh-poohed her fears and made it seem as though I positively thrived on noise. Why?..... well I think to be equally charming. As it turns out, of course, I don't. She rather misled me because what she called a fiesta which, lets be honest, sounds all rather jolly, everyone else would have called a Rave party. Big difference I'll think you’ll agree. They fired up the mega-amps around ten pm and didn't switched them off again until 6 am and all just a thousand yards away, not close enough to hum along to any tunes but just close enough to hear the incessant drum beat. Above this we occasionally heard men yell and girls scream. Once upon a time a girls scream would have had us all looking out of our windows to find out what the hell was going on, now, today, I don't rouse from the sofa. All this din spoilt what might have otherwise been a good nights sleep, which was something I was in need of because the day had been a tad stressful.

Sigean

    It started with a three mile walk into Fitou. Now if you frequent office licences you may recognise that name, it's quite famous as a wine as is this region for producing it. We were advised, by reception, to take the path from the camp-site to get there. This involved hiking, like a couple of hobo's along a rock strewn electrified railway track. We then had to navigate across a large and impromptu roadside tip, courtesy of French fly tippers - fly tipping is reason alone to bring back the death penalty in my book- and then along a busy road which, for the most part, had no pavement.. But still, it's Fitou right? Wrong. If France was a human body then Fitou would be that space in-between the big toe and the next. One word. Woeful.

    On the return walk dark clouds amassed thickening like porridge left too long on the stove. It was forecast to rain heavily and it did. It started just as we returned. I've talked before about the kinda rain you get abroad. When it chucks it down here it does so with a vengeance. The drops are about the size of a Renault Clio. You could track one, by sight, as it falls from the sky and hits the ground with an almighty splosh! The thunderstorm started around two in the afternoon and rumbled away till late evening, stopping only when the rave fired up. It mercilessly pounded the van. We watched things float by on a river of red sandy water. Sandals, bits of detritus, lilo,s, the odd camping stove. About then I became aware the seat beneath me was damp. We investigated and found we had sprung a leak. Rain water was getting in behind the window seal and running down the wall. For the next two hours we got through three rolls of kitchen towels and soaked two tea towels in an effort to stem the flow. I braved the weather and stuck waterproof tape around the top of the window but with little success. It wasn't until I started to dismantle the truck did I trace it and make a temporary repair.

    So did we have any fun at all at Le fun?............ urm... that'll be a no. But tomorrow it's Spain, sunshine and 68 degrees.

 

 

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 Thursday 10th October 2013, week 120, Spain

    First Impressions.

    The first thing you may notice when driving into Spain is the number of gentlemen’s clubs there are, we saw three. Of course such establishments exist in Blighty but they tend to be tucked away down side streets that whiff of urine. Here, some are conveniently sited just off motorways and are easy to spot. Often garishly decorated and invariably adorned with a neon lady on top, little like a fairy on a Christmas tree, albeit legs akimbo. Now, because I'm a bloke I really don’t have a problem with that. Perhaps I should. If the boot were on the other foot and they were ladies clubs with a bare chested, chisel jawed, dude dressed in skimpy rawhides and wearing a Stetson hat would I then? The answer would be, probably.

70mph, 4 ton of vehicle and her eye are closed. She said she blinked.

    I've never been to such an establishment but that’s only because Hazel has refused on several occasions to accompany me. I feel I should go once if only to justify any opinion I might have of them. There is nothing so dumb as having someone pass an opinion about something of which they know nothing. And while most would agree with that sentiment, many ignore it. This happens most frequently with, oddly, the second building I notice here, prisons. These too are often just off motorways. In the Uk everyone and his dog has an opinion about them. The general consensus is that they are little more than holiday camps, which really says more about holiday camps than prisons. Three meals a day, TV lounge, gym, ping pong tables, snooker, library, central heating, exercise yard and yet, when the inmate leaves, he doesn’t face a scary bill at reception. Most say prisons are too soft. They make no mention of the fact you could be rogered silly by some lifer in the showers, or you're locked overnight in a cell with a thug whose crime you're not privy to, and who worryingly tells you you remind him of his mum. I digress. (As usual. Ed). I will point out that in Spain you are allowed conjugal visits. Safe to say that's not coming soon to a prison near you.

    Ok back to clubs. In Spain, there’s little fuss about such things. Women are seemingly quite philosophical about their husbands going to such places. There is a more relaxed approach to anything sexual in Spain. I pointed out last year they take a liberal, and perhaps progressive view, of prostitution. It's both legal here and taxed locally. (? benefiting the community. Ed) While us Brits ensure it's driven underground and into the hands of pimps, gangsters and slave traders, here it's a little more regulated and tolerated. Women can even ply their trade legally on the highways, provided, just like anyone working on the highway, they wear hi-vis jackets.

    You do have the road tolls to contend with. In Spain most are on the east coast. On a positive note they are at least fairer than French tolls but then again everything is fairer than French tolls. There, driving a motor-home or towing, your toll charge doubles. The justification being, you weigh twice that of a car and therefore you should pay more. This argument falls flat on its face when a 30 ton 18 wheel juggernaut is charged only twice what you've just paid. So weight has little to do with French toll charging. It's more about what they can get away with. To run around Europe it's almost impossible not to drive, at some point, through France. Practically anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere has to go through France to get south. The tax revenues raised from visitors driving through France must be colossal.

    Still, the third thing you'll notice and without doubt the most important to you is the stunning scenery. Almost immediately it changes as you enter Spain and quite dramatically. Instinctively it lets you know that this is country that gets the Sun.

 

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  Friday 11th October 2013 week 120 Spain

    Being stupid is only human.

    Extremes of behaviour is a hallmark of humanity. In this, we stand out, head and shoulders above any other creature we share this planet with. So I'm rarely shocked or surprised at what we get up to. None more so than with stupidity, which is a wholly human trait. I doubt animals behave stupidly. This is because stupidity implies rational thought. We know what makes sense, what’s logical and what’s rational but yet we still go and do the complete opposite. By acting in a way that’s devoid of common sense we are said to be acting stupid.

    Now I'm not immune from stupidity, in fact some might say I've positively championed the characteristic. So much so in fact, I've slipped from acting stupid into acting idiotic almost unnoticed. Idiotic is a whole other level. This is when the above applies but there is also an element of danger normally wilfully thrown in. If handled correctly it can be immensely amusing but only if you can pull it off. Probably one of the daftest things I've ever done, and I've a whole raft of examples to chose from, is to shave my tongue with an electric razor. In my defence I was re-enacting a scene from a Woody Allen film for no other purpose than for comedic effect. On film it looked very funny. It reality, it wasn't. It hurt! On another less extreme occasion while filling in a job application form I entered Phillip in the surname box and King in the Christian name box. I then crossed both out and corrected it. Clearly I was not going to come across as an ideal candidate, as it appeared I had struggled just to fill in my name correctly on the form. I could go on and on, trust me.

    Generally, I try not to poke fun at others stupidity, however tempting that is and when it's cost someone their life! that’s where I draw the line. However, having read about a Ukrainian couples decision to make love on a railway track I think it only fair to mention it, if for no other reason than as a cautionary tale.

We've all been there, passion flares, temperatures rise and you really can't wait to get down and dirty with your partner. I'm all for that. And I'm all for having a go in the unlikeliest of places. It's a well known phenomena that doing the deed where you might be spotted or caught, adds a certain something, …........panic as I recall.

    However on a railway line?, that you know carries trains? A vehicle for which the term 'slamming on the brakes' is just meaningless mumbo-jumbo. Slam on the brakes of any five hundred ton moving object and nothing happens for an hour or two. What were they thinking? For a start it's hardly comfortable. Cold steel rails, pebbles, sleepers covered in a layer of black oily detritus, the elements. But even if they abandoned any thoughts of self preservation and thought: sod it let's go for it, the thought must have crossed their mind that this is a tad dangerous. Perhaps, as they climbed out of their clothes, laid down and jockeyed for position she said “if a train comes my beloved, you will stop won't you?” To which he instantly replied with: “Of course my petal, we will hear it! If a train comes we'll get out of it's way”. He can say that because, like me, he knows trains don't have a stealth mode. They can't creep up on people, it's not possible. They make an awful lot of noise. Noise that this couple, either never heard or were so caught up in making their own, were oblivious to. Or perhaps, and this is only speculation, when she shouted: “look out! a train is coming out the tunnel!” he thought that was her sex talk.

    And then there’s the hugely embarrassing aftermath. What do your friends and family say when someone asks you “how did poor Petrioff meet his maker?” You're either forced to lie and tell them he died in some heroic way or tell them he was cut in two by a train while getting his end away. And you just know what the listener is thinking at that point: well old Petrioff never was the sharpest tool in the box.

    Have a good weekend.

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