This week in bigger pixs

 Monday 24th March 2014 week 144 France


    I was hoping the drive into France, at the weekend, would be an uneventful one, it wasn't. Around one, we pulled off the road for a spot of lunch. We don't rush anywhere. In fact don’t so much as go somewhere, as meander to it. I like to think we arrive at our destination by accident rather than careful planning which, with our sat-nav, is often the case. We rarely drive more than 150 miles in any one day. I've yet to find anywhere worth rushing to.

    Hazel set about preparing lunch and I checked the vehicle. This normally entails little more than kicking tyres, checking lockers are still locked, the scooter is still securely in tow and generally making sure everything is tickety-boo before climbing back aboard and enjoying lunch, least that what normally happens. While making my rounds I detected the smell of diesel. Concerned, I popped the bonnet. All looked well. I should point out this is a Fiat and they leave the factory smelling of diesel so it's nothing to get too excited about, however it was stronger than usual. Next, I looked underneath the van. Ugh! clearly there was a leak. A diesel drip clung to a bolt head on the engine cross member and the surrounding dirt looked darker in colour. It took me a few minutes to track it down. It was issuing -lovely word that- from around the diesel filter. There was no way I could get access to tighten it so I did the next best thing, tied some kitchen towel around it. Yep I know that’s going to do bugger all, but I wanted know how bad it was. We drove off and after ten miles I pulled over and checked. The kitchen towel was pretty sodden but I decided we'd push on rather than call for assistance. I was just glad Hazel had convinced me to fill the tank. I should point out that the leak was well away from the exhaust and, unlike petrol, diesel is practically inert, it takes a very determined person to get it to ignite so there was minimal risk.

    OK, at this point I'm going to lose it for a bit, but bear with me. We had driven from southern Spain to its northern boarder with France, a distance of some 700 miles. The journey was, 90% of the time, on first rate motorways or duel carriage-ways. The toll charges amounted to a mere £14, so you can perhaps imagine my incredulity when we arrived at the French border to discover a toll waiting. I'd not yet stepped foot on their freakin roads and they've already got their hands in my pocket. And just let me remind any French readers (You seriously think you have any left? Ed) who might be blowing out their cheeks and shrugging their Gallic shoulders at that remark, when you come to England our roads are Gratis.

French tolls they're everywhere.

    Obviously this will all change when I run England. There will be a day of reckoning for the French at Dover.

    “Bonjour. Mr Frenchman. Want to drive in the UK? no problem, that'll be £100.

    “Ola. Mr Spanish man. Want to drive in the UK? no problem, its free! you have a nice day.

    I paid, obviously...they have guns! and I drove off. My frustration with them was made all the worse because I was pulling off at the very first exit which was only five miles away......... at least that was the plan. The French had other ideas. When we arrived at our exit it was closed. Now get this, I had to take a twelve mile, very poorly signposted, detour which took me through yet another toll. I'd been in France fifteen minutes and coughed up a fiver and got nowhere. It simply isn’t on. My only consolation was that I was dripping diesel over their nice clean road.

    We arrived slightly stressed (speak for yourself. Ed) at the camp-site. The elderly lady in reception insisted on speaking to me in French even though I'd practically exhausted my entire French vocabulary just by saying hallo to her.

    Welcome to France. I think they knew I was coming.






 Tuesday 25th March 2014 week 144 France

    Jet setters

    We've had a spot of good luck and then some bad. First the good. Fortunately opposite the camp site is a garage and the young chap within spoke English. Interestingly when I walked over and told him about my leak, he turned and said, without provocation “Fiat Ducato?”, “Yes” I said, “how did you know?”. He said nothing but gave me one of those smiles, the smile someone gives when they know something your not privy to. I smiled back as if we were co-conspirators in some secret plot to expose Fiat and their dodgy diesel filters.

    In less time than it would take me to assemble all the tools to do the job myself he'd fitted a new filter. Wasn't cheap at 98 Euros. His labour was reasonable but the filter itself was twice what I would expect to pay in the UK, but that's France, and Fiat for you.

    The bad luck. It was a beautiful day almost 70 degrees. We'd planned to mingle with the jet set at the plush resort of Biarritz just ten miles up the coast. We unloaded the scooter, kitted ourself out, jumped on, pressed the starter and zip diddly. The battery was as flat as......, well, a flat thing. I'd had a problem with it a month ago but I'd since given it a damn good talking to and hoped, clearly in vain, it had pulled itself together. I asked around, looking to borrow a battery charger. No one had one or, if they did, they didn't want to loan it to an Englishman on the scrounge. I was told I could buy one at E.Leclerc -its like a giant Tesco-. Conveniently the nearest was just a mile away so we walked. They actually had a fine selection, all at ridiculous prices. I brought the cheapest at forty Euros. I can get the same thing in the UK for £15. We walked back with me asking no one in particular, 'Is nothing in this ruddy country reasonably priced?. Hazel said nothing.

    Back at base camp I connected it up and was handed a therapeutic cup of tea. Four minutes later I noted the charger said: 'Your battery is now fully charged'. It didn't actually say that, if it did it would have been worth the forty Euros, no, a little green light said it. Something was clearly amiss. Either the charger was duff or the battery was, my money was on the battery. I reconnected it and it still didn’t start. Oh! for the love of........

    The day was too nice to be out foxed by a dead battery or an iffy overpriced charger. I supped my tea and had an eureka moment. -all the very best ideas come when drinking tea, its a proven scientific phenomenon.-

    I've two leisure batteries in the van. Granted they are as big as the bike but why can't I hook up one of those? Well as the photo shows you can! It might look a tad unorthodox but it worked jolly well and it fitted in the top box a treat. I had a piece of spare flex and ten minutes later we were being whisked down the coast road to Biarritz.

When they said it was portable not sure that what they had in mind.

    Biarritz became renowned in 1854 when the wife of Napoleon built a little place for herself on the beach, it's now a hotel. -See above- Biarritz became the international play ground for the rich, famous, and Europe’s royalty. It still has two vast Casinos. It also still retains an air of prosperity. Property prices resemble lottery ticket prizes and Ferrari's sit parked on almost every corner. Its the kinda town where, I expect, everyone owns a top of the range French battery charger............. one can only speculate about such matters.

    We snooped around. Did some window shopping. Took some photos Avoided the beggars and then had two massively over priced cups of coffee at £6. Now that might not sound much to you, but in Spain that would have brought us eight cups. I toyed, momentarily, with the idea of stealing the cups but Hazel confessed she couldn't run in the shoes she had on...............women!





 Wednesday 26th March 2014 Week 144 France.

    Lost in space

    If you're ever down this way I can highly recommend this Basque camp site, Larrouleta. Lidl is within easy cycling distance down a countryside lane flanked by fields full of nosy cows. Cycle on and you'll arrive at the Corniche, from there its just a downhill cruise into the charming and very lively fishing port of Saint Jean-du-Luz.

    There’s a restaurant and an indoor heated pool on site. I swam twenty lengths yesterday. I then, out of curiosity, paced it out, and discovered it equated to almost 300 meters. I walked back safe in the knowledge if I'm thrown off a ferry just minutes after leaving port I've a good chance of making it back to shore.

    Still onward and upward. We decamped and ploughed on northward. Within just forty miles we had passed through four road tolls!. At the forth Hazel glanced my way. I bit my lip. Seriously, I wouldn't mind quite as much, and certainly wouldn't keep bleating on about it, if they hadn't replaced their toll staff with ticket machines, at least, previously, I was contributing to the employment of others.

    I did the maths yesterday. If we drive the 655 miles to Calais on toll motorways the French will relieve me of 154 Euros. I decided to reprogrammed the sat nav to avoid them, surprisingly the mileage worked out at 641 miles. Based on this information I've devised a cunning and imaginative route north.

    The new route changed a couple of things, not least the next camp. This new one, off route National 10, a non toll road, is buried deep in the French countryside. After six miles of country lanes we came across it buried in a wood. It was deserted ..... open, but deserted. A sign on the shed door......, sorry reception, said open at three, however another sign below said open at five. So take your pick. I wandered off and had a nose. The whole site looked organic. As thought it, and everything in it, grew from the ground up. Caravans weren't so much parked, as taken root. This look had evolved over time and requires only a modicum of neglect to pull off. I popped into the shower block. To say the showers were dated is an understatement of some proportions. Entering was akin to entering a worm hole in another dimension. A huge wood burning stove stood resolutely against the wall. It was decorated with ornate iron castings, something which I felt would fetch a handsome penny on the antiques market. The men's loo (singular) consisted of a porcelain hole in the ground. The ladies had proper loo’s. I walked out just as a women appeared and opened the office.

I picked this in reception.

    “Parleez vouz oglage?” I asked in my own version of French as I entered.

    “Ah! Oui. A little.” she replied. And that was it! she never said one more word to me in English. I know enough French to get myself into trouble so was able to make myself understood. It was a mere £9.50 a night. But according to what Id seen so far they had pitched the price about right. I think the last people to stay here were retreating Germans in the second world war.

    There were several caravans but no one about. A few bungalows looked occupied but again ghostly silent. Around six I was outside faffing around with something when three cars pulled in, a couple of scooters, a chap on a bike and a couple on foot. I realised they'd all knocked off work. They all gawked at me with a look that conveyed surprise and bewilderment. I smiled and waved....,. as you do. I just don’t think they're used to seeing tourists here and certainly not English ones this far off the beaten track.

    If you want to getaway from it all, become a recluse, a hermit perhaps or simply want to hide because you're on Britain’s most wanted list then this is an ideal spot to disappear into. Its the French equivalent of area 51 or the Bermuda triangle.

    We shan’t stay long.




 Thursday 27th March 2014 week 144 France


    Now hang on just a minute. Someone, who clearly isn't paying attention, asked me why I didn't just go out and buy a new battery. “It would have been so much easier” they said. Well of course it would have been but a battery here is a gut wrenching 150 Euros. Back in thrifty Britain I can one for as little as £28. Granted at that price even the manufactures have little faith in them and only supply em with a six months guarantee. But I can, for £42, buy a Welsh battery with three year warranty. -Little known fact, the Welsh make lots of batteries, why that should be I've no idea-

    I've recently been asked why I don't review the camp sites we stay at. I used to but reviewing, or critiquing, anything is all a bit arbitratory. For example: Take kids. Too many and the site will get a thumbs down from me. But from a chap with a brood in tow its unlikely to draw the same response. What I dislike about a camp site, others may find endearing. I say its as dead as a dead thing, others say its charmingly peaceful. I say its ancient, others say its full of rustic charm. You really can't win, so I stopped. I now only poke fun at the odd or quirky. I do however review camp-sites on the official ACSI website. And, not that I'm blowing my own trumpet, (Never stopped you before. Ed) I did win a small prize last year. I'd like to say it was for the wittiest review of the year but I think it was based on just sheer bulk. I send them loads.

Now 'Ive seen this lady before somewhere.

    A reviewer of a mobile phone summed it up nicely. I was shopping on the web with a view to replacing my mobile phone. I came across a review, posted by a customer, who'd recently brought the phone I'm interested it. He said, and I quote: Its a nice phone but a bit slippy, you can drop it easy. I've dropped it twice. I got over this problem by buying a rubber pouch for it. I'm hoping that will solve my slippy problem.

    See what I mean?

    I've also been asked am I saving any money by driving up through France to Calais as opposed to taking a ferry from Santander or Bilbao?. The answer is yes and quite a chunk of it to. The ferry costs £520. Driving the 657 miles with tolls, fuel and ferry crossing at Calais comes in at around £345. And, if you can avoid all the tolls you'll save an additional £120 quid of that. -I've deliberately not included cost of food or over night stays incurred in the drive up as I would have paid them either in Spain if I had stayed longer or in the UK if I got back earlier. So its not fair to include them-.

    I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone but we are moving on tomorrow, there’s only so much rustic charm I can take. This morning, around eight cars, a van, two scooters and a couple of guys all filed out of the site, presumably on their way to work.

Later we went for an hour walk through the woods to a tiny village. We were barked at by every dog we passed and were stared at by some wizened up old chap who stopped dead in the lane to watch us pass, clearly he'd not seen aliens before.

    We are headed for what promises to be the opposite of this camp-site. Its called 'La Futurist'. Generally I'm wary of these places whose names are designed to excite even before one arrives. You’ll remember one site we stopped at was called Le Fun and it was anything but! It was, singularly quite miserable. You can tell nothing from a camp site name, they almost always fall short of my expectations and are destined to disappoint. (There is an exception to this rule and that is “Honey Valley” in Lithuania, even prettier and friendlier than it's name! Ed.)






  Friday 28th March 2014 week 144 France.

    What's on my mind.

    The problem with life today, as I see it, is we all know far too much, more than is good for us. Happiness, believe me, is not knowing. Thanks to the information age there's never been quite so much to worry about. I now know, for example, my statistical chances of being shot, mugged, burgled and kidnapped. I also know the likelihood of catching any number of dreadful diseases and even the chances I'll get eaten by a shark. Am I better for knowing any of it? Of course not, on the contrary.

    I came across a NASA report which said humanity is basically buggered. Around the world societies are founded on levels of economic growth and environmental stability which can't be sustained. The study used theoretical models of civilisation, -like a grown up version of the Sim City computer game-. Which were all designed to mirror the realities of the modern industrialised world and predict the future. Almost all of them collapsed! No matter what they jiggled around with it was near impossible to avoid a catastrophic collapse.

    NASA does tend to be the harbinger of bad tidings. Rarely a day goes past without me reading that a rock the size of Gibraltar is hurtling through space at some phenomenal speed and we're in its flight path. It then misses the Earth by, what they call, 'a close thing'. which translates into a miss of about 12000000 miles. Personally, wake me up when one skims the Earth and knocks off a few chimney pots. In my book a miss is a miss and a result.

    The thing is, why look for them? Why tell us months before hand? For what? So we can square up our visa cards?. Not take out any new magazine subscriptions? No, I'd much rather look up one morning and say: What the fuck is........!! And then get pulverised by a meteor. Last thing I want is to die knowing it was called H6756.

The building are wash houses. Its were the towns folk did they weekly wash, until the twin tub came along.

    The Bible says the meek shall inherit the earth. This was really a political carrot. It kept the riff raff from demanding the church be more charitable and demand less from them. It promises its followers an afterlife where, if they were good and gave enough, they would get their reward in heaven.

    The thing is, ironically it's turning out to be true. I don’t mean that weedy guys with bad haircuts and no money will one day get all the girls. I suspect we're talking about something much much smaller than mankind, a bacteria or a virus. They are far more resilient, adaptable and have been around since the year dot. It wasn't until quite recently (since he met me! Ed.) I discovered why it was so important to finish a course of tablets. It turns out if you don’t kill off all the bugs you're taking the tablets for, one or two could survive and adapt themselves. Some bugs, which we've had no trouble in defending ourselves against to date have mutated. Antibiotic resistant bugs are here now in our hospitals and it will only get worse. (Nearly all the antibiotics we know, are now resistant to MRSA! Ed.)

    Then of course we have global warming. Some scientists tell us this is nothing new, it's happened before. Which it has, but not while we were around. Many think, like the American administration, that its all a big wind-up by those lefty Greenpeace agitators who are out to end the American dream and there's nothing to worry about. And in a sense they're right. There is nothing for us to worry about, but for the future of mankind? well that’s a whole different ball game. It stands to reason, and you don’t need specialist knowledge to know, that the planet functions as an Eco system. Mess around with that, and its going to change and maybe not for the better. In fact its more logical to think that its going to change for the worst and bear in mind we are part and parcel of that Eco system. Humanity isn't random, nor is it coincidence and nor is it divine.

    Back in the good old days our only worry was would Russia and the USA kick off WW3. Somehow, I still wish that’s all mankind had to worry about.

    Have a worry free weekend.



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