This week in bigger pics

 Monday 16th September 2013 Week 117 France

    Some days, just stay in bed!.

    Friday the 13th is a day marked in the annals of history as the day I first 'got' the cane. (Your a few days late with this. Ed). Shush. I should quickly point out I only every received it twice, in eleven years of schooling that it isn't such a dreadful record. You'll remember I wrote, at length, a year or so ago about the grave injustice that was done to me when I was an innocent and dare I say, very angelic school boy. I was accused of the heinous crime of pinching the swimming teacher's buns -That's not a euphemism for anything sexual by the way, they were actual buns. My defence, at the time, was that I found them abandoned in a changing cubical at the swimming pool,which was true. However that fell on deaf ears as did my claim that possession is nine tenths of the law. Any-ways, long story sort I was given the cane for this. Safe to say I never touched any one else’s buns, that or course excludes a brief fumble with Christine Beaumont behind the bike sheds but that exposé is best left for an x rated version of my web diary. The second time was for letting off a stink bomb in class. I should make clear that technically speaking I didn't let it off, no, the teacher did when he stepped on it. On this occasion I took my punishment like a man since, as was pointed out to me at the time, I shouldn’t have rolled it under his foot in the first place.

Sorry, Every so often I have to post pics of ourselves or I get threatning letters from the family. 

    Any-ways why am I telling you this? Ah yes I know! Because, since that day, I know not to take Friday the 13th for granted.

    Last Friday -you'll remember it was the 13th- we awoke as normal. Well, now, I was normal, Hazel was anything but! One side of her face had swollen up. I screamed....... No, not really. I would have liked to, simply for the comedic effect, but I know she wouldn't have spoken to me all day and I doubt I would have got any dinner so I just gasped. It appears she has a tooth abscess. There’s nothing can be done for a tooth abscess other than take a course of antibiotics until the infection has gone and the swelling goes down. We carry antibiotic so she immediately put herself on a course. “Not a good start to Friday the 13th” I joked.

    I offered to cook breakfast as any concerned husband would. I turned on the gas to make French toast but by the time I'd cracked the eggs the gas had gone out. I then spent the next thirty minutes investigating why. I discovered that an unrepairable fault had simply manifested itself overnight in the gas regulator. We now needed a new one. OK not the end of the world as they say, that will come, I suspect, with a giant PFHUTT!.

    Hazel said “these things come is threes you know”. Well that's not strictly true. What she actually said was, “dizth fings cum in freeze oo no”. Clearly the swelling was making her a little incomprehensible.

    If I believed in that kinda thing I might have been worried, but I don't, so I wasn't. However that was about to change when I switched on my cutting edge 3G, android, all singing and dancing, less than a year old phone which is simply way too expensive to use abroad but makes an excellent torch and all I got was the spinning Vodafone symbol. It spun and spun and did nothing else. I couldn't switch it off, I had to take out the battery and reinsert it I went through this procedure several times but still nothing, all I got was the spinning logo. Now that's amazing! I mean, that's the phone, the gas valve and Hazels face all buggered up overnight.

    Obviously I’ve not listed those in order of importance.




 Tuesday 17th September 2013 week 117 France

    All together now?

    We are in what looks to be a very interesting town called Belfort which is twelve miles from the Swiss border in France. However, there’s little I can tell you about it because it's not stopped raining since we got here, so I'll come back to it later. Instead, since I ain't going anywhere soon, I'd like to point out a couple of differences between us and the Germans because I've come to realise there’s a different mindset here. Lets see if I can explain.

    A British conservative prime minister one said and I quote: 'There is no such thing as society'. What possessed her to make such a rash statement I really can't say. However what I can say is that if she wanted a lesson in: a collective sense of social responsibility, Germany makes for a good teacher.

    For example: in 2011 a political survey found that almost one third of German voters supported the Green Party. In the Uk the Green Party is supported by new age travellers, Bill Oddy and people who knit. Unlike modern political thinking which seems to be based on the 'Sod you Jack I'm all right' mentality, Green politics takes a global view. It acknowledges we are all temporary travellers on board one big world spinning through space, and we ought to start behaving like adults. After all, don't we have an obligation to look after it and ourselves a whole lot better than we do?. Germany takes green issues seriously and is probably why it has 22,000 wind turbines and a hundred times that number of solar panels. They want, by 2050, to be self sufficient in renewable energy and good luck to them.

Bit of a classic 'French' shot but cute non the less

    Another example of where the German mindset is different is in the simple task of everyday commuting. In the UK crossing the road can be akin to attempting suicide, here the pedestrian is King. Drivers stop even if you look like you might want to cross the road. It's happened to us, I had to wave him on. When driving and making a right turn on a green traffic light the pedestrians still have right of way. Get it wrong and you will be scowled at!. For their part pedestrians wait patiently at pedestrian crossings. We did see four girls who crossed against a light and you could sense the collective disapproval of waiting German pedestrians, but I guess that’s rebellious German teenage girls for you. On some autobahns you have no speed restriction but in residential areas it can be 20 mph and everyone sticks to it. They do have speed cameras, but the total number is amongst the lowest in western Europe.

    After Pedestrians comes the cyclist. Almost every street has a bike lane, some have two. Pavements are also sub divided. There are cycle lanes throughout Germany even on county roads. (The best are the pretty ones joining villages and towns, Ed.) Many traffic lights have a dedicated green light for cyclists, allowing them to set off before the motorist. The Cyclist is well catered for here as in Holland and most of Scandinavia. It's fair to say the German motorist comes in at third place in the commuter pecking order. Not so in the Uk.

    This collective sense of responsibility doesn’t end on the road. Earlier we’d queued up to deposit our empties at the 'Pfundservice'. A machine that eats cans and plastic bottles at supermarkets. You pay a deposit on plastic bottles and get that refunded when you return them. Consequently there are no plastic bottles abandoned on grass verges, central reservations or floating in rivers. Nor are there cans, nor anything for that matter. On leaving a supermarket the other day I picked up a piece of litter and deposited it in the bin! Why? I didn't drop it. But living in a near litter free environment is infectious.

    It's the same with driving. When driving over here you want to conform. Fit in. It's not just about you getting from A to B as quickly as you can it's about doing it with consideration. But if you think all that's all just baloney I'll put it this way. We all share this same space and just like any toilet you may use, you have a responsibility to leave it as you found it. And that’s what that politician, I'm guessing, couldn't understand. 





Wednesday 18tb September 2013 week 117 France.

    I've a mean streak.

    It's still raining. We realised yesterday it's rained eight out of the last ten days. We still haven't seen Belfort. The sun appeared briefly yesterday just long enough for us to walk into town and buy ourselves a new umbrella, now that's Sod's law.

    Now I was going to tell you this on Monday, since it happened Sunday, but I wanted to get that whole Friday the 13th thing out the way first. I could have dropped it in yesterday but I ran out of room, so here goes. On Sunday, driving along the E35 motorway heading into France I became aware of a distant rumbling. This surprisingly over the noise of my own engine which, being a Italian made 2.8 litre diesel, makes enough racket to bury most external noises. It droned like a rapidly approaching Lancaster bomber and grew until it became a roar. At that moment we were suddenly overtaken by several Hells Angels riding their hogs in close formation. I know they were Hells Angels because they had 'Hells Angels Sweden' emblazoned across their sleeveless denim jackets. -There’s nothing quite like advertising the fact you're a bit of a knob, I always say-. Now to be honest they didn't so much as overtake me, as swoop down on us like seagulls harassing a trawler. They then spread themselves out on the road in a kind of battle formation, reminiscent of Marlon Brando and his biker gang in the sixties film, The Wild Ones. I did notice their bikes positively gleamed and sparkled. I don't know how long a Hell Angel spends cleaning his hog these days but clearly it ain’t no five minute job. Now that simple observation got me thinking: Hang on! just how dangerous and desperate are these men today? Is there a place for them? or are they simply caricatures of themselves. These questions, and more, were about to be unexpectedly answered.

    Thirty minutes later and twenty odd miles up the road we pulled into a petrol station. At the pumps were the same Hells Angels filling up. They were, I kid you not, six of the biggest, ugliest, barrel chested, bull necked, meanest looking bunch of dudes I've ever clapped eyes on. One, totally bald, didn't own a neck, his football sized head grew straight from his shoulder blades. He also had a word tattooed across the back of his bald head. Now that just has to hurt right? I mean, the skin is so thin there. I don't know what it said. I'm guessing it was perhaps his name. It consisted of about ten letters. -safe to say that’s a guess, counting them could have tad dangerous- It went, practically, from ear to ear. I spell my name with seven letters. If someone suggested I had to have it tattooed across the back of my head, I'd change it to Bob, with a small B, lets not waste any ink. Each of them was well over six foot and with their leathers, wet proofs and denims on dwarfed us mere mortals. One took off his helmet and didn't even try to flatten out his ridiculous helmet hair. How hard is that?

    I pulled up behind a bike at the pump. I thought he was inside paying, he wasn't. He was off to the side talking to his mate. I waited. He chatted. I waited some more. He was in no hurry to finish his conversion.

In frustration I leapt down from the cab and moseyed across the forecourt, John Wayne stylee. I could have sacheyed by but chose to mosey instead, it's less feminine.

    “You filling up” I said narrowing my gaze against the sun. He growled and spat out a small piece of raw hedgehog, probably part of his breakfast that morning. “Only if you're not” I added pulling myself up to my full five foot nine, “you wanna like, move your motorcycle so that I can?”. His eyes flared. His friend spat out a wad of tobacco juice. “If you wanna stand around gassing you oughta join a debating society” I observed dryly. I walked up to him and stared straight into his nipples.....................................

    “Phil, Phil!” Hazel calling my name snapped me out from my day dream. “He's moved it's our turn...”

    Erm..... you can dream, right?




 Tuesday 19th September 2013 week 117 France

    Imaginary french ansestory.

    Well we managed to get into Belfort, briefly, between showers and found it to be undergoing major renovation. The picturesque town square is ringed by colourful buildings, as in the first picture. It's also dominated by a huge over the top war memorial showing half a dozen chisel jawed soldiers in various battle poses - nothing quite reminds you you're in France as does their love of war memorials. Sadly as the square resembles a Travis Perkins builders yard you can see little of it.

Could it look anymore Frence? I think not.

    Behind, and above all this confusion, on a long hill overlooking the town, is the 250 year old military Citadel. This is in such good shape you'd be forgiven for thinking it had been built last weekend. The hill, is now more fortress than hill, as it's been added to over time. Originally built to defend the town from the invading Prussian army, this it succeeded in doing, during a famous siege which lasted 103 days. It's fair to say we were both eager to check it out and with most of it being inside and underground meant we could avoid the weather. On arrival, and after climbing the hill, we discovered it was closing for lunch, as does almost everything else in France. It wouldn't open again until two. This was one aspect of French life we had both forgotten about. Checking the time we discovered it was 12.03.

The Citadel (part of)

    We tried to look crestfallen and explained that we had come from England just to visit the Citadel and could we not sneak in?

    “Non monsieur” the polite Frenchman said locking the door. I was tempted to point out, thinking he might cut us some slack, that my great great great grandfather on my mothers side was none other than Jacques Cousteau (First name that came into my head). And he was a soldier in the French third foot and mouth Brigade until he bravely died after taking a direct hit from a canon ball up on the battlements, but even I thought that sounded implausible.

    So we tramped around the exterior battlements in the drizzle, fighting our own battle to keep our umbrella from being blown inside out. We peered through the museum windows like orphans and used the toilets which brought our visit to an end. We then made our way down. We would have liked to have strolled around the town to get a feel for Belfort life but the clouds were thickening and our earlier resolve to 'weather the weather come what may!' was wilting so we trudged back to the camp-site for a rewarding cup of hot soup. I tell ya, it rarely gets any more exciting than this. And it's at precisely moments like this that I'm reminded of that phrase people so often use when they discover what Hazel and I are doing: 'Wow! You're so lucky, I mean, you're living the dream'.


    We promised ourselves that after lunch we would cycle around the large lake if the rain stopped, it didn't. We would have liked to stayed longer but the inclement weather is expected to hang around till the weekend which is more than can be said for us. A little over a fortnight ago we were complaining how hot it was, it now feels positivity autumnal. Tomorrow we will head due south west to the town of Dole. I've decided, after much poring over maps, not to take the motorway and thereby save a wodge of dosh on road tolls. I've mapped out a route which, if you squint at the map from a distance, doesn’t look quite as convoluted as when you are sat in front of it. Whether this turns into one of my better ideas remains to be seen.






  Friday 20th September 2013 week 117 France

    Roads...! It's a bloke thing.

    If you are bored, brave, adventurous, incarcerated or simply a member of my family (delete those non applicable) you may have read all of my Diary. For those among you that have, you'll have noticed I've periodically made reference to the differences between the sexes. Men and women are hard wired differently. It's a fact. The evidence is overwhelming. Take shopping. Women love to shop. Men also like to shop, provided they can plug in what they buy when they get home, almost anything else is a waste of money. I doubt there isn’t a women alive who hasn't said to her partner: “We need a new so-and-so”. To which the husband has replied with: “why what’s wrong with the old one.” Men often need convincing, for example, that a kitchen appliance has had the life rung from it and  now poses a  hazard before they contemplate replacing it.  Women love to buy clothes. In our motor-home I've one overhead locker for my clothes while Hazel has four, most of the wardrobe, boxes under the seats and yet she still has nothing to wear. Men do buy clothes but only because it's a legal requirement to wear them, if it wasn’t, I guarantee, most would walk around butt naked. Women get on, in most part, with other women. Men see life as one long pissing contest with one another. Women talk to each other. Men moan to each other -least once they reach fifty-. Women talk about serious issues which relate to them and their families Men discuss things they have absolutely no control over like, politics, religion, world affairs and how to turn your cell phone into a TV remote.

Arrived in sunshine. Dole

    Imagine, four couples go to a party. Within a short while the four women are chatting about, say, breast cancer, while the husbands are discussing the route they took to get there. All blokes have had this conversation.

    “Oh! I took the ring road. Crossed the B345 and came down by the church” says one.

    “The long way then” another quips. “Much easier to come up the A47, down the B678, under the railway bridge and up the lane”.

    “Had you not gone under the bridge” the third one adds, “but taken the B234645, left at the lights, over the crossing you'd have been here in half the time”. The three wait for the fourth guys contribution who then shamefully admits “The wife drove tonight”. They unanimously dismiss him. Women would not have that conversation, ever! Roads are a man thing. They are masculine.

    This morning we woke to a chilly, blustery, miserable grey morning and wasted no time in getting under way. I drove. Before departing I handed Hazel the map, she, when not driving, is our back up navigator. She tracks the route I've chosen. Sometimes if it's particularly difficult I highlight the route to make it easier to follow.

    “This squiggly yellow line, is that the route we are taking?” she says as if we about to embark on a mystery tour

    “That's the one” I said, easing off the hand brake.

    “Looks”, she picked her word carefully..... “challenging”.

    “Not at all. It only looks complex because the page is so small”

    “Ah,.....what about this big straight blue one? It looks like a direct road”

    “Direct it may be, I said knowingly, but that road leads to fiscal ruin, trust me”.

Easy driving

    As it turned out these 'lesser' roads were better than I expected. Many had overtaking lanes, crawler lanes, some duel carriageways and were near empty. It did take us three hours instead of two, even thought the distance was the same. But we did get to see a little slice of rural France. The scenery, which we wouldn’t have seen had we taken the 'big straight blue one', was breathtaking in parts. We pulled over in the twist of a steep valley. The sun was trying to poke through grey scuttling clouds. There was a lull in-between the squally showers. The river raced past us on the other side of the road flushed with recent rain. We sat and had a spot of lunch and very pleasant it was too.



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