Monday 11th April 2014 Week 146 England

    Give me a break!

    I know what it is........ I've been spoilt. Ninety five percent of my camping experience has been in Europe and there the camping experience is quite different. For a start they're keen to see you. Keen to take your money which is fine, its what they're in business to do. Keen for you to stay as long as you like. In my humble experience, European camp-sites are more customer orientated and less bureaucratic than Uk ones.

    For example: Almost without exception in Europe you pay on leaving a camp-site much like a hotel, here you pay on arrival. Here, on many sites, weekend rates are dearer, we've never found that in Europe. Here, even though I am a member, I can only stay a maximum of 21 days after that I have to leave. At this Camping and Caravanning club site your even told how to park on your pitch. They have markers to ensure you don't get it wrong. Between my pitch and the showers, as I've said, there are twenty three assorted signs and notices. One of them, a sign over a bin, simply says BIN. Practically anything that’s screwed down has a sign telling you what it is. But I can live with the above... the quirkyness.

Its a lone house on an Island on the Seine.

    However when we arrived on Friday I asked about the wifi. This because I remembered how dire it was last year. Back then, I was advised by the staff of this multi million pound organisation to scoot up the road to the pub and use theirs rather than struggle with the camp sites.

    “Its all been ungraded” the women announced proudly, indicating with a wave of her arm the camp-site wifi now covered most of the known universe. “We had complaints last year” -I know I was one of the complaintees- “but its been improved and upgraded”. Armed with this information I went out on a limb and splashed out a tenner on a weeks internet pass. Pretty good value I thought.

    Can I get on-line? Can I bugger. What’s absolutely madding is that I managed to log on, pay my tenner, register and get a pass word before discovering it actually is as hopeless as it was last year. I've not been able to log back in since. Its a conspiracy to wind me up!. The staff wash their hands of the problem.

    “You'll have contact the network supplier”, they say. Somewhere in my brain I have this nagging voice saying, “well you are in Britain now, what did you expect?”

    I've camped in some questionable camp sites across eastern Europe but they all had one thing in common, cracking wifi. On the very few occasions I did have problems I was, in all cases, given a refund instantly. Not here. Oh! no.

    And while I'm on the subject (Crusade might be a better word. Ed) can anybody tell me why they insist on giving me a not so handy, instantly forgettable, six digit code to get into the toilets. Your answering the call of nature not trying to get into Bletchley park spy centre. It's a toilet for God sake. And why close them in the mornings, just when people want to take a shower and do number twos, to clean them. Where’s the sense in that? Its not rocket science, clean them in the bloody afternoon.

    The problems is, of course, your seen as a club member and not a customer. There’s a subtle difference. Members of any organisation have, since the dawn of mankind, been treated entirely differently from a customers. I'm only surprised we don't all have a fucking secret handshake like the The Odd Fellows or Free Masons. Its as thought they're doing you a favour by letting you stay. The fact your paying for the dubious pleasure is neither here nor there.

Still I'm a long way from being done with the buggers, just wait until they read my review on the members web site.






Tuesday 8th April 2014 week 146 England

    Britain at its very best.

    Not for the first time I've received an email questioning my loyalty to Queen and country, its a cross I have to bear, writing the way I do. Apparently I'm always having digs at Britain. I, of course, deny this. However, and its well documented by me, I do have issues with those in authority. I fancy this is where the misunderstanding might stem from. So today I'm going to redress the balance. I'm going to big up my country! Wave the flag just a bit.

    There is something we do far better than our European neighbours. Something that, if they mastered, I feel, would improve their lives immeasurably. What is it? you ask. Perhaps our sense of social fairness or justice?. Maybe its our education system or our marvellous free healthcare?. Could it possibly be our enviable social welfare, or our legal system? Well, its none of them. Its this: we bake excellent bread. That’s our ace in the hole, our trump card.

    Imagine you're in Tesco and someone attacks you with a loaf of Kingsmill. You beat them off and sustain no injuries, because Kingsmill bread is light, fluffy and soft! All you'd think is, what an idiot!, right? However, if you were attacked similarly in Germany you'd think nothing because you'd be dead. I know this because your average German loaf weighs about the same as an ingot of gold and has the texture and consistency of a ground up wardrobe, in short, its lethal.

    While in Germany last year I asked a friend to pick us up a white sliced loaf. She looked aghast at me.

    “Vhy? u don't eat zhat do u?” she asked giving me a look of disapproval.

    “Afraid so” I replied weakly. She wasn't wrong in her implied condemnation of white sliced bread. The white bread you buy in Germany, nay Europe is pants.

Peterborough, I've never seen it so empty.

    Sorry, France is no better. They love the Baguette. Forty million Baguettes are baked daily in France. -that's a bagestimate obviously- (Ouch! Ed) The small town we camped at last week which had just a few hundred inhabitants had five bakeries. The problem with the baguette, from an Englishman's point of view, is that no matter how hard you try you'll never make a decent bacon butty using one, nor a decent toasted sandwich. Anything you try and do with a baguette simply ends up looking like a roll, and a roll isn’t a sandwich. They do attempt white bread. Harry's is a popular brand. They cut off all the crusts before packaging it. It frankly looks anaemic and is dreadfully expensive for what it is. Spain and Portugal don't fare much better. There, choice is small. Our local Mercadona supermarket carried a choice of just three white cut loves. Lidl two. Brown and white. (the only nice bread we ever found was a 5 cereal loaf, but at nearly 3 Euros it was not cheap!Ed)

    At the risk of upsetting some of my Euro readers it's clear white sliced bread in Europe isn't a patch on what you can buy in the UK. After 146 weeks of doing this, travelling to all corners of Europe, when it comes to your daily loaf, Britain reigns supreme.

    What we have in the UK is variety. Standing in Tesco yesterday I was reminded of this. Two whole aisles dedicated to the great British loaf. Breads of every description including the baguette and the heavy brown rye loaves favoured by the Germans. We brought an unsliced Tiger Bloomer for £1.30. It was huge. Had we cut off the end, scooped out the middle, we could have hid a small child in the cavity. We rushed back to the van, made a pot of tea and had ourselves a thick cheese and piccalilli sandwich...................bliss.

    Now really! how could anyone question my British credentials.





  Wednesday 9th April 2014 week 146 England

    Over 18's only

    First I should explain there’s every chance, over the next few days, my diary entries will go to pot, as I'll think you're about to find out. Spelling mistakes and poor grandma, sorry I mean poor grammar will go unchecked. The reason? the editor, the wife, Hazel, has deserted me for a week. She's flown to the USA to visit her son and granddaughter and left me in charge and a long to-do list. She's not gone alone. She travelling with her oldest female friend. Her parting words to me were “don't get up to any shenanigans” which is a shame because I'd planned to go pole dancing, but, if truth be told, I get a bit giddy these days hanging upside down.

    Now I've made the point of mentioning she’s gone with a female friend, because I didn't want you to get the wrong idea and think we were one of those progressive modern couples and she's sloped off with a toy boy. I should interject here and say that I've always found that expression odd, 'toy boy'. A women can have a a 'toy boy' and yet if a man has a toy women, that’s often exactly what it is, a toy, something he has to inflate. Now I don’t want to be indelicate, particularity as I've no editor, but I do find it says an awful lot about my gender that I can buy a pump up version of a women, complete with integral repair kit. How before you say anything, yes, I know a women can go out and buy, well........, lets just call it the business end of a chap and leave it at that, but that's not in the same ball park, not even in the same league.

Tescos, from yesterday. I popped in to take this pic, point made I think

    I have this image of some chap buying one and nervously waiting for it to be delivered. She'll be called Mandy or Cindy, something ending in 'dy' you can be sure. I expect he's also mildly excited. Perhaps each time a vehicles stops or the gate rattles he rushes to the window to see if its the postman. For some reason, I've always assumed he's tidied up. He's also perhaps planned the evening. A little mood lighting, nothing harsh. A light repast, she'll not eat much, not eat anything actually but that wont stop him from placing her opposite him at the table and serve her a little something. He'll try and engage in idle chit chat, not that she'll say much but she'll be a good listener. After, he'll scoop the plate away and make some fluffy comment about her not having to watch her weight. He may have brought her some underwear as a welcome gift. Women like nice underwear. Probably went to Marks and Spencer. He toyed with the idea of Anne Summers but its early days, maybe later.

    The door bell rings. She's arrived. He rips open the box, ignores the instructions and inflates her. For reasons which become evident the manufactures have seen fit to giving her a permanent surprised look on her face. A look that comes from having her mouth fixed in a 'O'. He lets that go.

    If he likes his ladies a little more rubenesque, he can inflate her a little more that he should. If he prefers the slimmer figured lady he can under inflate. I'm guessing its quite a delicate balance, over inflate and she could explode with dire consequences. I very much doubt the manufactures give refunds. In fact I very much doubt the manufactures ever want to see one of their products returned. Under inflate and he's likely to squash her. The last ting he wants is her going down on him..........., urm not sure that’s right. Where is the nipple on these things anyway?......Best stop here.

    No, blokes want the whole package. Its not just an inflatable women they want, its a companion. Women? Well, as I say, they just want the business end.





 Thursday 10th April 2014 week 146 England

    I'm going to have this engraved!

    Not sure what yesterday ramblings were all about, it wasn’t what I sat down to write about, I can tell you, I get side tracked. This is what happens when the misses is not here, its not just my spelling that goes to pot. Think I better return to safer ground today. Something a bit more practical. Something a bit more caravany, So I've turned to my email bag for inspiration, fortunately something was in it!

    I’ve been asked again about our choice of vehicle. I answer this question at least once a year and I've written at length on the topic. I really doubted I had anything more constructive to say on the subject so I wasn't going to bother but, giving it some thought, and since nothing else sprung to mind this morning, least nothing printable, I thought why not? Besides, we've owned both, a caravan and a motor-home so perhaps I can speak now with a little more authority.

    So here's my final words on the subject, honest.

    In fairness you can't compare the two because you're not comparing like for like. They might appear to be two similar products, but each go about the their respective jobs differently. One is no better than the other, nor is either more competent at doing the job it was designed to do. Each appeals to a different kind of 'consumer' and that, as I've discovered is the key word here. Its all about choice, least that’s what you'd think, right? But that’s not quite true, because choice can be influenced. The two biggest are, and here I could upset one of two people but as my editor is apt to say 'that’s never stopped me before', is fashion and affluence.

    You see on paper the caravan is a done deal. It offers you more of everything for considerably less dosh. And, importantly, you have a car at your disposal. For us these were important factors. So why do so many choose motor-homes? The most often quoted benefit is the ability to wild camp and if this is high on your list of priorities then is another done deal. However you do pay a high premium for that ability which some never use. We've never wild camped, preferring the comfort, safety and convenience of a camp site.

Thats so not over the top.

    I've spoken to motor-homer owners and some are not comfortable towing. Personally I liked it and its nowhere near as terrifying as it first feared. Some sight the length of time it takes to 'set up camp' with a caravan in comparison to a MH which, if you ask me, is a bit lame. Personally, if your time is that valuable, what are you doing wasting it camping, besides, its not true. Overall I've not heard a convincing argument that justifies the large cost differential between the two products. Many owners I’ve spoken to agree, MH are dreadfully expensive. One guy described his as a glorified transit van with furniture, it cost him £45,000.

    What has emerged, and Hazel first pointed this out, is that MH are clearly perceived as having more kudos, a certain cachet. There's an air of glamour about them. You tend to swagger just a bit if you own a massive Globe Trotter Extreme Adventurer 7000. They are also seen, by many, as the next logical progression from caravans. And its on this platform that MH are subtly marketed. Caravans are not fashionable, they're something you spent your holiday in at Margate with your mum and dad.

    That's the top and bottom of it. You can discuss the minutia of the pros and cons of each one till your blue in the face but at the end of the day it comes down to what motivates us as consumers. And, as any ad agency will tell you, its fashion, innovation and affluence. And to that end, today, we all have deeper pockets.

    Now please, don't ask me again.




Friday 11th April 2014 week 146 England

    What's on my mind.

    First: The eagled eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve removed the comments box, at least for a while. Its being abused. Some 'person' keeps using it to promote Polish tax laws and as fascinating they may be, this ain’t the right place for them. Why someone would waste their time in such a pointless exerciser is beyond me. I doubt they know why they do it themselves. I'd really like the person to get in touch and enlighten me. I'll even print it, then we could all get inside the head of a humpty.

    Ok back to day:

    Dear Diary, I'm feeling a little melancholic today. You see I went and fed the ducks, well to be more precise, the Swans.

    This is what passes as excitement for me these days, feeding ducks! It really says something about you, and your age, when you think: ' I know what I'' do, I'll feed the ducks' For a chap who wants to die in a hale of bullets I'm sure going about life the wrong way!. It actually wasn't as bad as that, thankfully. I went for a ride around the lake and took the bread with me, so I'm not yet a basket case.

    Anyway I digress. Swans are fascinating. Graceful elegant birds, and good eating by all accounts. Their are, as I expect you’ve noticed, all identical. Its impossible to tell one from the other and, sadly, I tried. And yet Swans find their respective partners with ease, amazing!. I can lose Hazel in a supermarket and only recogniser her, from a distance, by the coat she's wearing.

I'm making no cheap comment about the one on the left being the female becasue its mouth is open.

    Swans also mate for life and that’s fascinating, Why mate for life? Many creatures do, more do than don't, so wikipedia informs me. Something drives many creatures together and keeps them together, some invisible bond. That’s what I was intellectualising while feeding them. So where does the melancholic bit come in? You ask. Well its no secret I've been married five times, that’s four more than your average Swan, so it had me wondering what they've got that I clearly don't, and not just me.

    Exacerbating this line of thought is the fact I'm having to fend for myself. Having to do stuff that Hazel took care of. The realisation that, for the few days at leasts, hot meals will not miraculously appear on the table is a sobering one. I'll have to cook for myself which I can do, but I'm out of practice. I remember once buying a frozen TV dinner, taking it out the pack and thinking, why cook it?. I could suck it frozen. Its a fact of life single men don't live as long as married ones. Perhaps sucking frozen food doesn't help, who knows?.  I've already discovered the bed actually doesn’t make itself! who'd have thought, right? And clean shirts don't appear on hangers. All those things that most men put down to fairy activity simply aren’t happening.

    Now having written that I'm tempted to erase it. Because, quite frankly, it makes me sound like a lazy git and a bit odd. But erasing it wouldn't be fair. This is a warts and all diary. I have my faults. I know.

    Obviously I have my uses to but being a bloke I'm just not clear as to what they are. Like most married guys, I rely on the wife giving me some direction on that score. I do do the technical stuff. Like when we suffered a diesel leak half way up a mountain. It was my job to come up with a solution while Hazel had the easier job of making me a sandwich safe in the knowledge I would come up with something.

    Perhaps that why Swans mate for life...... its just about team work.

    You both have a good weekend.




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