Monday 23rd March 2015. Week 196. France.
Lights, Camera, Action...!
I've received a few emails recently from people who've said they've enjoyed reading my ramblings, naturally I'm chuffed. This spurred me onto, in a moment of gay abandonment and we really should all try and use that phrase at least once a day, I'm convinced it will change our view of the world, make a short video. You could then put a voice to the written word, so to speak. Hazel thought it sounded a champion idea.
Yep you did. Don't back out now.
(Think what I actually said was, at last! your out of ideas)
Well this one was simple. While on route to the next camp-site I'd make a short informative video about the French road toll system, I could say for your enjoyment but that might be stretching it a bit.
Thing is, I do have something of a tradition to uphold. Over the whole of this adventure I have, each time I've travelled around France, complained about their road tolls. Their ridiculous. Especially when you realise 88 million people a year, many using their roads, visit or just drive through France. Imagine the huge revenues collected. Clearly it's not enough the poor wayfarer is forced to buy their dearer fuel and their daft spam baguettes, oh! no.
Let me give you an example. The toll from Menton to Paris and return, in a motor-home, is a sphincter tightening two Hundred and forty four euros Yep, no typo, 244 Euros! twice that in a truck. It's one of the reasons the motorways are near empty compared to ours. Of course the other reason is the French will insist on driving French cars. With a French car it's not so much a case of will it break down? but when? I once foolishly brought a Renault car, my ownership of, still haunts me to this very day.
I digress. For some reason the tolls are 30% dearer for motor-homes than for cars. It can't have anything to do with weight nor length as the rate for a 40 ton juggernaut isn't ten times the rate for a motor-home or caravan. I think it safe to say that if I lived in Paris, and you in Manton, you'd not see hide-nor-hair of me.
Friday we were on the road for less than thirty minutes and past through four tolls. This whole stretch of the N10 is being upgraded to motorway status. The French can't do it fast enough. It's costing millions which I'm convinced their trying to get out of me.
We made for a town called Ruffec, north of Angouleme. Now from here to Rouen and yes I'm finally on the road to Rouen, it's fifty four Euros. Needless to say I'll be dodging the motorway.
Anyhoo, this was the motivation behind the idea. Safe to say it went pair shaped the minute I turned the bloody camera on. My down fall, in hindsight, was that I lacked a script, a director and some might say talent. consequently I come across as bit of a twat.
Annoyingly, I now have this vision of people that know me saying after watching it: 'no Phil that's pretty much as you come across in real life...... '
Still here it is. See bottom of page. Tomorrow somethign sensible.
Tuesday 24th March 2015. week 196. France.
Quite a gob fall today so I better crack on. We arrived at Chartres camping site at lunch time. Typically the staff where off having their two hour lunch break. Mainland Europe pretty much grinds to a halt at lunch time. I found a bell and rang it. A few moments later it was opened by a women who looked as though she had more urgent things to attend to rather than answer the door to me. She spoke no English, least not to me, and looked a tad exasperated when she discovered I have only a rudimentary grasp of her native tongue. -Trust me, The French have a subtle way of letting you know this-. I smiled. She grimaced. Rather than resort to pigeon French and give me a fighting chance, she spoke to me like a native. I managed, just. I asked about Wi-FI. She waved her arm casually in the direction of the world outside her office window. This I took to mean, yes, but only here. Once the formalities were over I was ushered out, and the door closed behind me. Unfortunately it's encounters like that, that perpetuate the belief, in some, the French don't really like us.
Later we walked into Chartres. Now I've long since run out of superlatives to describe Cathedrals so I'll not bother. But it's enough to say it had to modelled on the Grand canyon. It's humongous. Possibly the biggest I've seen and over the past four years I've seen more than your average pontiff. I'll say no more than that. Its worth a visit.
Chartres, Quite charming
If you do drop in then please avoid the pizza cafe just around the corner. We took a seat outside and were approached by an exceptionally attractive waitress. We ordered. She brought our coffees which in typical French style was tepid and in very small cups. She gave me the bill, Ten! sodding Euros. Not enough I'm forced to give these blighter a kings ransom for using there feckin roads they want ten euros for a couple of coffees. I've been mugged and lost less.
My immediate reaction was to pass out. Failing that ask politely, if I was paying for everyone's. I did nether. I played her at her own game. I gave her the kind of look that said, 'Ten Euros..... that all?' I casually threw down a fifty Euro note saying 'I've only fifties'. Thus in a instant creating the impression I was a well moneyed Englishman use to paying through the nose for his coffee, and not much caring if my fifty euro note was whisked skyward by a passing breeze.
We realised this was probably the most expensive coffee in the whole of Europe. Portugal won our impromptu poll at just 50p a cup. When I'd finished I debated whether to leg it with the cups. I didn't.
None of that was what I wanted to chat about today.
Over the last four years I've pretty much commented on just about everything under the sun. All quite diverse. Much of it juvenile, true. Occasionally cerebral. I'd like to think I've catered for every taste. The range of topics has been almost as vast as Chartres Cathedral. Oddly, I've just realised thinking about it, the only thing I've NOT talked about is marriage which when you consider I've been married five times should make me something of an expert . Still, left it a bit late now.
The most frequently asked question I get is: Motor-home or caravan? which is better? So here's my parting comments on this most vexing of debates.
The rise in popularity of motor-homes is due to the over sixty's age group. Old folk have so much dosh today that stuffing it in the mattress is no longer an easy option. They want to spend it, enjoying their retirement before the GBH (government) moves the retirement age to 75 and recalls them all. Consequently, the popularity of motor-homes has little to do with them being ideal vehicles to jaunt around Europe in, and more to do with our affluence. They're marketed as the next evolutionary step up from Caravans. Offering levels of freedom, escapism and kudos than the average caravanner dreams of. Doubt me? Check out the motor-home ads. They invariably show a motor-home, the size of the Bismark, tearing across some inhospitable landscape with the tag line.......
Freedom!... is the new Overlander Adventurer excellence X5000.
You'll also note, if you look carefully enough, the occupants are always young and laughing like idiots. Go figure.
Personally, if I'd just spent £120 grand on one of these hotels on wheels, the last place I'd take it is anywhere there might be stones.
We changed, mid stream, to a motor-home only because we wanted to travel to some of the lesser known destinations. In hindsight we needn't have bothered. There was nowhere we went that I wouldn't go tugging a caravan.
This is no joke, its an actual caravan you can buy.
The real question to ask yourself is: how do you want to experience your adventure? If you're okay with hopping around, moving on every few days, maybe tow a car or motorbike, many do, then a motor-home can be an ideal tool. However, come the winter, when you might want to park up and squirrel yourself away till the sun comes out again, this is where the spaciousness of a caravan, and having a car to potter around in, makes excellent sense. So it's all a compromise of sorts. Ones not better than the other.
We discovered we tended to stay for shorter periods on camp-sites in the motor-home. I think this was due, in part, because you're living inside a vehicle where the steering wheel is as predominant a feature as the sink. Thus you're constantly aware you're actually in a vehicle, ergo, shouldn't you be driving somewhere in it? Whereas a caravan is much like a small student flat........ only a lot tidier.
With the car and van we were able to trundle around exploring. We'd even go for a drive, who does that anymore. It's an alien concept to most British drivers. In Europe it's still something you can enjoy, just drive for the pleasure of it. I'd had no problems in parking. The same can't always be said for Betsy. She's 3.5 tons. Vehicles of her size are not welcome everywhere. There's also a question of security leaving her in populated areas.
Of course some people simply don't like towing caravans. Perhaps, like me, they never have. It can seem daunting, but it's not. And remember this is coming from a chap who once spent 30 minutes trying to reverse one of those daft Halfords gardening trailers while four council workman at my local tip looked on sniggering.
Okay, now having said all that I'll get someone emailing me tomorrow telling why the above is a load of bollocks. Remember, it's only my opinion. It's not going to become law.
Captains log: Star date: 201524.03 Week 196. France.
I wanted to mention this a couple of weeks ago but something else came up. I'd like to pay tribute to Leonard Nimoy, who recently was beamed up, permanently. I'm a big Star Trek fan, especially of him and the character he played, the logical Mr Spock. I admired his unflappability at anything the rest of the crew panicked over.
Dear old Scotty would run out, almost every week, of Lithium crystals. You'd think he'd have the good sense to fill up the Enterprise before setting off, but no. Still I can't criticize, Betsy's never got any DERV in her. Dr Mackoy was always telling us 'it's life, but not as we know it'. Chekov and Sulu were always twiddling knobs trying to get the Enterprise to hit warp factor seven when we all knew it would only do warp factor five and that's with a good solar wind behind her. Then you had Capitan Kirk. No one could pause while delivering a line quite like old Jim. He couldn't even say his name without saying it thus: I'm.... Captain..... James........T....Kirk. And then there was Lieutenant Uhura in her tiny mini skirt. She'd be flashing her wonderful ebony thighs with her finger shoved in her ear. Halcyon days indeed.
Spock was the logical one. The epitome of cool calmness. In fact I wanted to be him right up until I was about forty.... no I'm kidding, 25. He got me curious about logic. Which is, just in case you don't know, the application of two known facts to determine a third as yet unknown. Fascinating........
What do they know we don't?
But the show was more than that. A key feature was something called 'The Prime Directive'. This forbade crew members from interfering in the natural evolution of other civilisations. Making contact with people who were less advanced technologically, scientifically and culturally by extraterrestrials (the crew), could alter that society's natural course of development.
Seems reasonable, even logical. Societies have to evolve naturally, guided by their own history, culture and traditions etc. That way they're built from the ground up.
Oddly, while that made jolly good sense to a bunch of Si-Fi TV programme makers back in the late seventies, and hopefully you now, it doesn't with present day politicians.
I mean, our politicians, far from making our lives safer have jeopardised us and world stability to boot. They've done this by continually interfering militarily and politically around the world. We seem desperate, along with the yanks, to sell or install, our brand of democracy in countries which are basically feudal, practically medieval. Countries that stone homosexuals and women who commit adultery, perform public executions, lob off limbs right left and center, religiously oppress women and see them as something a man can own, abuse basic human rights and publicly whip people. Safe to say these countries are not ready to embrace the western view of personal freedoms or any form of democracy any time soon. That's even if they want to, I don't know if they do. Our politicians assume everyone wants our version of democracy but do they?. I know some people within these countries bravely struggle and fight for the freedoms we enjoy. And perhaps if we refused to sell arms to those oppressing them, it might help their cause. Who knows.
Our politicians have stirred up resentment around the world. They have fanned the flames of extremist Terrorism. -Not my words but that of a top British general- They have also created an irrational fear and ignorance where Islam is concerned.
Soon, we will be given the chance to vote. Now while I'm not the biggest Russell Brand fan, I do think the chap has a point. And please ignore the negative press he gets for suggesting we shouldn't vote. After all, that's just an attempt to manipulate us by those with a vested interest in keeping their political jobs. It's YOUR vote, do with it what you will. It's always worth remembering millions won't bother to vote anyway.
Surely his point, which I totally agree with, is wait until someone comes along who is worthy of your trust and support. Someone who represents your views. Men and women who will put morality, fairness and justice before, please-elect-us-budgets and cheap promises of more tomorrow.
One day they will realise that those with no voice, shout the loudest.
Live long and prosper.
Thursday 26th March 2015 Week 196 France.
Have you ever thought to yourself: You know what? I've not heard from Aunt Sally in months?, and then, out the blue. she rings you. Or perhaps you've suddenly realised you've not eaten spam in an age and then, through an odd turn of events, had it twice in one day? You have? Good, because that's coincidence at work. Now most people foolishly think coincidence is simply random unconnected events coming together, but its not. I know it as something far more sinister.
I've looked into it and come to the conclusion that it's actually a queer mix of three well known phenomena. Namely: Sods-law, kismet and I-feckin-knew-that-would-happen. You See, nothing just happens. In the great cosmic order the balance has to be kept. Your Ying, has to balance your Yang, or your out of kilter. When the day finally arrives and we tally up our lives we'll see that 78 negative things happened to us but conversely, so did 78 positive things. Thus the balance has been restored.
(Obviously the 78 is an arbitrary number. Could be more, could be less. I chose it solely to keep within a reasonable margin of scientific error )
You want proof. Thought so. Well a few days ago I wrote with confidence, when comparing Motor-homes V caravans, 'there's nowhere I've been, I wouldn't have gone towing a caravan.' What I didn't know as I typed that, dark forces were amassing on the horizon. I'd just gauntlet slapped the face of fate and she'd picked up the challenge.
Thought you might like this, a snap I took in a Spainish A&E
The day started well enough. We left Chartres early and advanced toward Calais. I'd found a small site twenty miles south. We're catching an early ferry tomorrow morning. After an hour travelling we approached the city of Dreux. For some reason, at least one that wasn't immediately apparent, the Sat-Nav took us through the centre. Now when I say the centre I mean slap-bang through the centre. The shopping precinct with it's raised pedestrianised pavements to be precise. Fortunately, just as I wrestled Betsy around a particularly attractive central floral display with seating, the heavens opened on a hail storm and everyone dashed for cover. They stood, sheltered, slack jawed, watching us from doorways. I waved nonchalantly, some might say cockily. Once I'd cleared the shopping centre, and by the way the sales are on in Dreux, there are some bargains at Jean Adnot Pret-a-Porter shop in the High Street, I pulled over and checked the Sat-Nav. It was programmed for the shortest route which explains why it ignored the perfectly good ring-road. I reset it and off we trundled.
Once back on the motorway we pulled into Aire for lunch and to give me a moment to consider if I should take up smoking again as a hobby. Setting off, Hazel took the helm.
The drive was pleasant enough but we were not talkative. We were both thinking about past adventures. We suddenly spied a cafe where, four years ago, at the very start of this, we'd stopped for coffee. We both perked up excitedly and chatted about it and then fell silent again, each of us thinking of our own high and lows.
Our exit came up. The camp site was just a mile from it. We took the slip road and entered a roundabout with six exits. We, naturally, took the wrong one. The Sat-Nav recalculated. It took us into the town of Wimille which if I never go back to will be one day too soon. Could the streets be able more convoluted, narrow or small? No. There wasn't, because of parked cars, one road you could get two cars, travelling in opposite direction, down simultaneously. We held up traffic at every junction. The Sun shone off Hazels knuckles as she gripped the steering wheel. We met a bus half way. How or why it got this far is a mystery. Somehow we squeezed past, I think we ran something over, I didn't care to look back. The single lane main road was lined with parked cars. Almost all had their mirrors tucked in and those that didn't Betsy kindly adjusted on route.
I woke at four in the morning in a cold sweat imagining the catastrophe I would have caused, in those two towns, had I been towing my old sizeable caravan.
My parting shot.
My final entry, for the moment at least. But rest assured I'm not giving up on my dairy, I've got plans for it. Hard to believe I've churned this stuff out for four years. I've averaged 650 words a day. That's just shy of a million words. I never knew I had that much to say. (Believe me, I did. Ed)
So how am I going to sum up those four years? The answer, simple, I can't., not a hope in hell. You'll have to read my diary if the fancy takes you.
I've been asked several times, 'Of the near thirty countries you've visited, which would I live in?'. For all the reasons I've highlighted over the last four years, none of which I'll go into again, I'd choose Spain. Wonderful country and charming people. Hazel summed it up better that I the other day. The most beautiful place, I think, was the Italian Tirol. It's stunning.
There's somewhere better?
I've said a bunch of stuff over the last 196 weeks, some of it controversial, some of it interesting, some of it amusing, some of it entertaining and some of it a load of old guff but I've never set out to preach, if it's sounded as though I have, it was by accident, not design. I'm just passionate about some things. However I do have a personal philosophy so I'll make no apology for preaching now, and I kinda think it sums me up to.
Mankind's future, in my book, is not assured, especially if it continues to hide behind politics and religion. They appeal to those who want certainty in a world where there's little. Both, by their natures, seek to control us. Religion attempts this by using ancient contradictory doctrines and teachings, best suited to a time long ago when the world was quite a different place. Religion has failed to evolve. It can't adapt in the light of scientific evidence, modern thinking or new discoveries. The answers it has, are to questions we know the answers to. It still offers forgiveness and salvation but only from the guilt it first instils. As a carrot though, it offers us a deal on an afterlife.
Politics, which pre-dates religion, offers us quick, simple, knee jerk, sound bite remedies to the complex issues which concern us all. And thereby stops us calling for real meaningful democratic changes. Politics and religion's greatest tool is their ability to divide us, and then sub divide us into a myriad of groups, factions and sects. It's a skill they've perfected over time. But I've always believed only those that want to be led, follow. We can make our own way.
Most of us forget we're all born into one family. The Human race. You're a humanist before you're anything else. We're all born good, no child is born evil. Goodness is our default position. Nature sees to that. It has to, to ensure human survival.
If we worked together there would be no illnesses we couldn't cure. No mouth we couldn't feed. No life valued less than any other. No wrong that couldn't be set right. No causes only wars could settle, and no intolerance or injustice left unanswered.
Cynics will tell you it's a dream, but better that than the alternative we have now.
I'm ever aware we're all on a single journey. None of us have a return ticket. Perhaps we'll get to ride this planet eighty times around the Sun. So I believe it's our duty to befriend our fellow travellers and treat them all with respect, compassion and tolerance, anything less, and we've probably not made the best of travelling companions. It's that, that makes for a better world. Wow... some heavy stuff there.
So I'll leave you with this daunting statistic. I've calculated that in the last one hundred and ninety six weeks Haze and I have consumed 1400 bottles of wine. That's approximately 215 gallons or, assuming the average bath holds 40 gallons, just over five bath full,s. Amazingly, the irony of that fact is that I still feel fucking sober.........
And remember this, if nothing else: The greatest gift nature bestowed on humanity is our sense of humour, it transcends every other emotion and can unite a room full of total strangers in an instant.
Love and piece to you all and thanks for reading..........