Stay safe folks.

May 2020

 

I’m a shit parent.

    Hang on. Boris Johnson said in defence of Demonic Cummings: 

    “Its, er, er, er perfectly reasonABLE! for a, a, a, a parent, to care for his or her child. We all understand that”.         

    Really? Well I don’t. Strikes me, shoving your kid in the back of a car and taking it on a five hour drive when you suspect you've been infected by a deadly virus to the point where your eyes don’t appear to be working, takes the expression ‘shit-4-brains’ to a whole new level. And let me remind you, these brains are the ones behind Brexit. If the old bill pulled over Joe bloggs on the M1 and he gave them that story, we’d all be calling for capital punishment to be re-instated. But instead the Tories closed ranks and told us, “He was acting as a concerned parent”: which effectively means if you’re following the Government stay-at-home-policy and keeping yours in, your a shit one. Good one apparently schlep theirs up and down motorways. Update.

 

 

April 2020

 

I've been mugged by Brittany ferries.

 

    If crap service was an Olympic sport, belive me, Brittany ferries would take gold. You may remember the first time I had cause to criticise this French company, this was when they cancelled our crossing because of a strike: clearly, they treat their staff little better than they treat their passengers. However, because they failed to manage the situation and agree a compromise -which is how all strikes end -  thousands of pre-paid customers were forced to find other routes or cancel their trips.  For us, instead of a leisurely 600 mile drive south from Bilao through Spain listening to tunes on the radio looking at the scenery, we had a very long 1600 mile drive from Dover. 

    Was I compensated? You ask. No, is the answer.  What's worse, I even had to chase them up for a refund. This involved waiting in a phone queue for an hour forced to listen to an upbeat female voice continually telling me “Your call is important to us. Thanks for holding. We'll be with your shortly. You're... 56th... in.... the... queue.”. It took two weeks to get my refund. What annoyed me the most was that the Brittany ferries web site had only susspendeed their on-line booking for a two weeks period. It was almost as if they knew when the strike would be over which, coincidently, two weeks later, it was. Suspicious or what? 

    This time our ferry from Spain to the UK was cancelled over the currant pandemic crisis. How I fully understand the possible dangers of getting a few hundred people on a boat, even for 25 hours, so I don’t blame them for their actions in this regard, however, what I do object to is NOT getting a refund at ALL. What they’ve offered me is a 12 month sailing voucher. I can sail with them, once they are operational I suppose,  within the next 12 months: free. Well not quite. If I want a cabin I'll have to pay for it this even though I paid for one they cancelled, so its not a refund of any description.  But it also assumes... 

 

A: The pandemic will be over by then. Who knows?

B: They will still be trading by then.  Who cares?

C: I will want to visit Spain again. Maybe?  

D:  I’d even contemplate using their ferries services again. Very doubtful.

E:  I’m going to survive this virus. Hopefully.

So do I think their offer of a voucher is anything but a slap in the face? Think you can guess my answer to that one.

 

 

 

Our escape from Europe.

 

     While the camp site had done its best to keep us informed about the growing pandemic, they were none the wiser as to what was going happen next.  The information coming out of Lisbon and Madrid was changing by the day. There was a real danger we could have got stuck in either country, so on the Friday we decided to make a dash for it. We wanted to be home.

On the Sunday morning we left Lagos and headed  the 1600 miles to Calais for a crossing on Tuesday evening.  The mood in the holiday camp site had been mixed. Some were hoping they would be allowed to stay and ride out the virus, others wanted to get home, but you could tell people were stressed, even slightly panicked by events. Two days after we left, the Portuguese government closed all camp sites and everyone had to leave. For some that wasn’t going to be easy. 

     The roads, that Sunday morning, looked like the opening scene from an apocalyptic movie. You never see much traffic on Portuguese motorways at the best of times, that Sunday we saw none.  At the Portuguese/Spanish border the queues of fleeing holiday makers we’d been warned about, never materialised. We were stopped by Spanish police. They were cool. Took some details and issued us with a pass. If were stopped, one said, you must show this. We took off into Spain, relieved at the ease of crossing the border. 

     I’d booked us into a hotel in Valladolid some 300 miles into Spain. When we arrived it was deserted, this even though I had only booked it two days ago and received confirmation.  The next three hotels we found were also closed.  We headed towards the French border, at around 7 pm we pulled into a service station 200 miles from it.  We were relived to find a toilet open, these were the first we'd found open.  We were both knackered so decided sleep in the car. We dozed until 3 am but by then, because of the altitude, it was too cold to sleep, - I could have started the engine but I don’t think sleeping in a running car makes good sense – so we roused ourselves and pushed on.  Some four hours later we were waved through the Spanish/French boarder by police.  We stopped at the first service station. Wow, lights blazing, coffee machine pumping out hot coffee and a decent toilet, it felt like luxury. After a drink and some food from the supplies we brought with us, we dozed for a couple of hours. By eight we were back on the road, heading north to Poitiers and a hotel I’d booked, with our fingers crossed. Thankfully, after 250 miles of empty roads, we found it was. We were greeted, at a distance, by a very nice chap who booked us in.  We had a shower, a decent bed and a TV. We’d purchased a kettle in Lagos as hotels in France and Spain rarely have tea making facilities in their rooms so we were  able to boil water for tea and pot noodles. In the morning we headed off early, I wanted to be in good time for the tunnel and didn't want to rush. We covered the remaining 400 miles in seven hours and arrived in Calais at 4 pm. Our crossing was at eight. The machine gave us several options, including the next crossing! Delighted  we joined the short queue. Forty minutes later we were back in the UK, It felt good to be on home soil. 

 

 

 

Caranval time. Yeah!

 

    It’s said ‘a photo speaks a thousand words’, in which case, since I’ve posted three, that’s quite enough from me. So I’ll keep this brief. 

    When it comes to carnivals, Portugal takes some beating.  The 100 year old Carnival in Loule, one of the oldest in Portugal, I feel would rival anything you’d see in south America. For such a small  town, the population is only 70K and it’s slightly off the tourist’s beaten track, the carnival doesn’t pull it’s punches.  

What is particularly noticeable about this one and the carnival we attended in Cadiz Spain a couple of years ago, is the lack of a police presence. This is in stark contrast to our Notting Hill Carnival where police in riot vans hide down alleyways, pepper spray at the ready, waiting for it all to kick off. Last year 386 offences were recorded; and that was consider a ‘good year’ by the organisers. The previous year 647 offences were recorded.  On the upside however, theirs been no near fates stabbings for a couple of years now……. so, practically worth going to then.

    If you feel there are a disproportionate number of pretty ladies in these photos I can assure you, that is just a coincidence.  The bexit one below is also from the same day. They were poking fun and why not.

 

 

 

I’m happy to nail my colours to the flag.

 

     Since 1st January 1973 you and I have enjoyed the right, laid out in European law, to travel freely around Europe without let or  hindrance. We don’t need permission, we don’t need a visa and we don’t need to tell them for how long we’re staying, we can simply wander aimlessly around all twenty eight countries and enjoy what they have to offer.  And in the past 47 years hundreds of thousands of British people have made full use of that right. Since we left in 2011, only popping back to buy tea bags,  my wife and I have. I’ve written four books on the back of our travels.  However, thanks to Brexit,  the UK is in the throes of denouncing its membership, and once finalised we’ll lose our EU citizenship label. We’ll become ‘third country nationals’ which, if you ask me, makes us sound a tad undesirable. Would you like a bunch of ‘third country nationals’ moving in next door to you? See what I mean?  As such we’ll only be allowed to visit the EU at weekends accompanied by a parent.....  Okay, bit of an exaggeration, but basically we'll only be allowed in for twelve weeks, after that we’ll have to return to the UK for a minimum of three months.  If you're caught staying over the twelve weeks allowance, you can be arrested and banned from returning.  So, for the many thousands of us who have enjoyed travelling around Europe in caravans and motorhomes, that gypsy lifestyle is coming to an end.

     Now I know I’ll get no sympathy from the 17 million British who wanted out, they don’t give a flying fig. They wanted out and they won, which I’ve begrudgingly come to terms with,  however I’m still a tad miffed. Why? Well because I  know people who voted to leave the EU, but have since taken up foreign citizenship, so they can carry on enjoying the freedoms their vote took away from them and their fellow countrymen, and amazingly they don’t see the irony of it.

     Okay, so why am I telling you all this? Well, two months ago Haze and I took out foreign citizenship. We’re now Portuguese citizens.  It was a doddle and cost  £45. We filled in two forms and ‘bobs your uncle’, or as I’ll now say it,  ‘Bob e’ seu tio’.  When we signed and paid the fee the official shook my hand and said, ‘It’s a small price to pay for freedom.’ I smiled and agreed. 

     What this now means is: we’ll not lose our rights as EU citizens and not be bound by the twelve week rule. It’s not ideal and I wish I hadn’t needed to, technically, turn my back on the country my father fought for. Okay, granted, a bit overly dramatic. I think he was excused from the army because he had flat feet, something I never inherited thankfully. 

     I should add, the EU is not happy that Portugal has found a way around the EU rules, but, contrary  to what many leave voters believe, Brussels doesn't run the show!