Notes and Reflections from a Sun Lounger

It’s been great to nip over to Lanzarote and escape the British winter and most of Storm Ciara although sadly we arrived back just in time to experience Storm Dennis. Watching the TV news about high winds, torrential rains and flooding was sad. How do you recover from having your house flooded? Well, I don’t know but it must be difficult.

The first two weeks of my holiday I didn’t even think about work for a moment then in the third week the spectre of home, bad weather and work began to appear like the ghost of Christmas past, wailing and rattling a lot of chains. It seemed like only moments later when I was whisked back to my desk at work and although Ebenezer Scrooge eventually woke up at home a changed man, I was feeling pretty grumpy as the spirits had ignored all my pleas to take me back to Lanzarote.

The weather in Lanzarote was wonderful, the skies were blue and the temperature kept to a steady 70F. After a few days of relaxation I began to imagine myself actually living in Lanzarote. One of our friends out there Kris, has made a life for himself doing various small jobs. He runs a Karaoke at various locations and also works as a pool cleaner and I started to think that maybe if I could have found some similar small jobs could I settle there? Perhaps. Of course I’d miss certain things, the hustle and bustle of Manchester, the seaside ambience of St Annes, English tea and so on. The flip side would be sunshine, a temperate climate and plenty of San Miguel.

Of course there are other factors to consider like where to live for instance? Property prices are looking pretty strong in Lanzarote. When we were there a few years back, building work seemed to have stalled on the island. There were numerous half-finished villas that looked to be abandoned, some with graffiti on them. There were new roads built to anticipate new homes but the building plots were lying vacant and the new roads complete with zebra crossings led to nowhere.

This year, new building work was evident and only round the corner from us, work was progressing on a stylish villa, even though the advertising hoarding announced that completion was due in 2017!

We used the local bus service quite a few times. It covered a circular route in the local area taking in Casa Carlos, a restaurant much favoured by Liz at one end of the route and the small town centre of Playa Blanca at the other end. The fare was a flat rate 1 Euro 40 although when we first arrived in the resort we decided to cover the entire circular route just to take in the local area. The bus driver was not happy. Apparently we had passed the terminus requiring us to pay again. The bus driver got pretty aereated until we coughed up the extra bus fare which was quite a departure from the usual laid back Canarian style . Still, being a one man bus driver is a pressurised job as I know only too well from experience.

We hired a car for a few days and the staff at the car hire place were the exact opposite of the bus driver, chilled out and laid back. When I returned the car they didn’t feel the need to check the vehicle over unlike every other car hire operator I have ever dealt with. I remember once arguing with a hire car man about a small mark, nothing more than a speck really, on the bonnet of a car I was returning which he claimed I had made. Luckily it was found on the previous driver’s paperwork. Our Canarian hire car man only asked if I had left some fuel in the car.

The one other mode of transport which turned out to be the cheapest of all was the local taxis. There was a busy taxi rank in Playa Blanca with a car always ready for when we had drunk our last San Miguel or last glass of red wine. There was also a smaller rank by the Marina for when we weren’t inclined to walk and there was even a local taxi phone line manned by English speaking staff. Transport in Lanzarote was frankly wonderful.

To be fair, we really didn’t need transport that much. The marina was only a short walk away and full of restaurants ranging from the expensive to the cheap. Our favourite was in the cheaper range, the Cafe Berrugo which served beer and wine and had a menu of British snacks alongside Spanish tapas. Most nights there was some entertainment and best of all when you asked for the bill the waiter would plonk down a bottle of caramel vodka on the table and a couple of shot glasses. I have to admit, I did like that caramel vodka.

One disappointment was the pool. It was a good size, it had both steps and a ladder and it was pretty deep, perfect in fact for some much needed exercise. The only real problem was that it was cold. Actually, not just cold but freezing, bone chilling, heart stoppingly freezing!

The first time we tried to swim in it, Liz realised it was far too cold and stepped out after getting in only knee deep.  Ah ha, I thought, this is my golden opportunity to go where Liz has feared to tread. As I slipped deeper into the icy cold I realised this wasn’t a good idea but on I went and with total disregard for the elements I splashed back into the water, completed a hurried 2 laps and was out of that pool like the proverbial wonga bird! It took a while to warm up, in fact I was so cold a kind of tingling euphoria came over me as I warmed up. I kept imagining what it must have been like for those on board the Titanic as they were forced into the icy waters, many to certain death.

Needless to say, I survived and gradually, by degrees the pool did get a little warmer. Not actually warm as such but at least I could swim without the threat of hyperthermia.

One final trip was the trip back home. The aircraft was full despite the time of year and although Liz and I were separated on the outgoing flight from Manchester, on the return flight from Lanzarote we were sitting together. As the aircraft took off I noticed a couple ahead of me reaching out and holding hands across the aisle. They did the same during the landing. Landing and take-off are the stressful parts of a flight and a little touch from your loved ones can ease the strain.

All went well despite some high winds on our final approach to the airport. We went quickly through passport control and as we entered the arrivals hall there waiting for us was our taxi transfer man, waiting just like they do in the movies holding a little card with our name on. He took us round to the car parks where much new building work was going on. Finally we arrived at the taxi and soon the driver had cranked up the heating and we were exiting the airport.

Many years ago as a schoolboy my friends and I knew every inch of the airport. We knew the main entrance, the rear entrance. We knew where the runway went over the main road on the way towards Wilmslow. We knew the tiny lanes behind the airport and all the little places where we could park our bikes and watch the aircraft landing and taking off.

I remember that as we drove away from the airport car park I was looking out of the window for something familiar, some old lane from the past, some old back street that I had once cycled along.

Maybe I’m getting old but nothing at all seemed familiar.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click here to buy or check out the links at the top of the page for more information.

Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 10)

Liz and I have chosen to escape the British winter for a short while and decamp to the Canary Islands, actually Lanzarote, for three weeks. Of course, to get here involved flying and flying can be a stressful mode of transport. This time, even the journey from home to Manchester Airport was equally as bad. Our taxi arrived on time and the driver seemed to be a friendly sort of fellow but then as we got under way I sort of half noticed, and I should interject here that I had set my alarm for 6 am that morning and had started to nod off in the taxi, that the driver had elected to take the m61 and M60 motorway route rather than my preferred M6 and M56 route.

The M61 is a nightmare of a motorway and there is no way I would have elected to go that way. When I told the driver that he replied that according to Google maps my preferred route was ten minutes longer. The M61 comes down from the north Lancashire area into the M60 ring road and is forever at a gridlock from about 7 on a weekday morning. We arrived at the airport 30 minutes late but went quickly through our luggage check in and passport control and soon we were at our gate ready to board our flight.

It never ceases to amaze me that some people who have never flown in an aircraft, like my elderly mother for instance, might look at a TV show or film and think, wow, what a lovely way to travel.

The other day I was watching the movie Die Hard 2. In case you have never seen it, Bruce Willis is at the airport ready to pick up his wife and comes across a terrorist take over of the terminal. Despite his best efforts the terrorists get the upper hand and all flights are stacked up waiting for the villains’ terrorist leader to arrive. Cut to Bruce’s wife up there in her aircraft and from where I was sitting on my Jet2.com flight from Manchester, it looked pretty luxurious. Big wide aisles, big comfy seats with lots of leg room and telephones available for calls to friends and family.

Cut to Manchester and the Jet2 Boeing 757. Liz and I always elect to sit near to the front of the aircraft but the problem there is that as a committed writer I always take my laptop with me. I bring it as cabin luggage and stow it in the overhead compartment and sometimes, unless we are among the first to enter the aircraft, it sometimes happens that I cannot fit my laptop in. On this occasion it just so happened that luckily I did fit it in. Liz and I though were not sitting together, she was in row 7 and I was in row 4. I settled down, sorted my luggage, slipped my jacket up there into the overhead seats and then she asked me to swap. Ok, no problem so we swapped over. This did have repercussions later when we exited the plane because my jacket was down there in row 4 and I couldn’t reach it as I was in row 7. As it happened, just as the passengers began to surge out of the plane I managed to catch the eye of a friendly fellow passenger who grabbed the coat and tossed it back to me.

Unlike the aircraft in Die Hard 2, this one had an extra 20 passengers crammed in which limited the available legroom from spacious to minimal. The trip wasn’t too bad though I suppose. A glass of red wine with my cheese and ham toastie went down rather well although I did find that I couldn’t quite give ‘Our Man in Havana’, the novel I have taken to read on the flight, real justice.

On arrival in Lanzarote, our ‘transfer’ man arrived, a man in a small minibus, ready and willing to drop us at our villa. He took us the safe route, bypassing the mountains and 40 minutes later we arrived at Playa Blanca. ‘Where is your villa?’ he asked, surprisingly as we had already provided him with the address. ‘Turn left here’ we called. ‘No, that is not Marina Rubicon.’

We know that we told him, but the villa is called Villa Marina Rubicon even though not actually situated in the Marina! Finally, he deferred to our directions, telling us this was the wrong way. Liz however, is a world expert on Google maps and as far as I was concerned, if she said this is the way, this way was the way!       

Arriving at the villa we could not gain entry, the code for the keysafe would not free up the keys and the driver was getting a little anxious, unusual for the laid back Canarians. ‘I have another pick up to go to’ he complained. ‘I must get going.’ Just then I noticed a second gate to the property with another keysafe and the passcode worked there and freed up the keys. The driver was all for driving off then but I stopped him in time to get our suitcases and bags but sadly, not quick enough to get Liz’s coccyx cushion, which she needs in order to sit down pain free.

Numerous calls ensued to the company that arranged the transfer but it seemed that that company had contracted out the work to another bus company. We contacted the company and they said we would have to get to the airport bus station where there was a lost property office. ‘Whoa, how could we get back to the airport’ we asked? Well, that was clearly not their problem so we hired a car, went back to the airport, which luckily was not Manchester and while I waited on yellow lines in the hire car, Liz went to the bus station to try and find the cushion. It was not to be found. Further heated phone calls ensued and it transpired that we should have gone not to the bus station lost property office but to the lost property office of the bus company. The next day, armed only with the information that the bus company was situated at the airport next to a petrol station, we found the bus office and successfully retrieved the cushion.

Well, that was a result but what was really difficult for me was driving a left-hand drive car. In my own car and our motorhome, I have driven thousands of miles in Europe but driving a left-hand drive car, well that was a challenge. At first, every time I went to change gear, I put out my left hand and went whack into the door with my left hand. The gear change of course is on the right and it is important in a left-hand drive vehicle to change gear with the right hand. Two days later I had finally mastered the technique, but then it was time to hand the car back. I’m just trying to envisage what problems I’ll be having back home in a ‘proper’ right hand drive car!

Here in Lanzarote the temperature is that of an English summer although it does cool down in the evening . Take a look at this picture of our villa. Looks pretty good doesn’t it? You can see the owners have made everything low maintenance, hence the lack of any plant life or garden area. Pool looks good though doesn’t it? Looks good but it’s not heated and there is no cover so I can assure you that despite that inviting photo it is absolutely freezing. After a few hours of sunning myself in the fabulous sunshine I thought time to cool down in that pool! It took me a while, stepping gingerly in one step at a time but I finally did it. You might be thinking well, bet it was okay once you got in. Wrong! It was cold and just got colder, in fact it was a bit like those crazy people who jump into the sea en masse on New Year’s Day. Glad it was warm and sunny when I got out but it took a while to get my body back to normal operating temperature I can tell you!

One final observation about our rented villa. Liz and I have rented a lot of places in our time, some small, some large, some expensive and some very expensive. Some come with a welcome pack for the new visitors, I remember once in Portugal staying at a huge villa which we had rented off-season and with a nice discount, finding a lovely welcome pack consisting of wine, bread and orange juice. In some places, in the cupboards you might some a leftover packet of pasta or cereal or something. Our present place came with nothing, not even salt and pepper or a kitchen cloth, all of which we had to buy.

I noticed too there was no visitors comments book either, very convenient indeed for the owners.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click here to buy or check out the links at the top of the page for more information.

Exploring the Windmills of your Mind.

I’ve missed my sun lounger this year. Even though it has been a hot summer in the UK and Europe I don’t seem to have done what I always enjoy doing, relaxing in a sun lounger; reading, listening to music and letting my mind wander and open up to new thoughts, ideas and blog posts.

A whole bunch of my blog posts have started life in that way, just by relaxing and thinking and later putting those random thoughts down on paper or on my laptop and then later honing them into something readable and hopefully entertaining to my small band of readers out there in Cyberspace.

I have done some sun lounging of course both at home in St Annes and down in France but a motorhome holiday is different to renting a villa like we usually do. Cheaper of course but it seems to me that a motorhome holiday is one where you always seem to be going somewhere but not necessarily arriving. Maybe it might be better to find a suitable caravan park and stake out our own personal corner for a week combined with the usual driving about the previous and following weeks. My big problem of course as anyone who has ever read this blog before is that I am fundamentally lazy. I’m not one for doing a great deal of exploring, except for maybe finding the best way to the pool or the beach or to the nearest restaurant or bar. Once that vital research has been done and locked into my personal sat nav, that malfunctioning out of date device I refer to as my brain, well then that’s my exploring done.

One thing I enjoy coming across in France are windmills. Yes windmills, not the old fashioned ones although I like those too, I’m talking about those huge white modern ones that harness the wind and turn it into electricity. They do that quietly and cleanly without any side effects to the environment although there are some who say the windmills spoil our countryside. That is something I find hard to get my head around, especially when our nuclear power stations create power but leave behind a waste product that is toxic and radioactive for many years and the usual way of disposing of it is to dig huge holes underground in which to bury it like some allegorical cat burying its dirt.

After checking on the Internet I see that there are three kinds of nuclear waste LLW (Low Level Waste) ILW (Intermediate Level Waste) and HLW (High Level Waste). The first too are radioactive for perhaps 40 years but the High Level stuff can be toxic for many thousands of years. So, the next time you see a modern windmill just think for a moment how they are saving us from producing and storing this dreadful toxic waste. Not only that I’ve always found windmills elegant and calming with -and excuse me for perhaps waxing a little too lyrical here- a sort of innate beauty all of their own.

Round about this time of year my email inbox gets flooded with various invitations to participate in the annual JFK Lancer conference in Dallas Texas in the USA. JFK Lancer is a group named after the Secret Service codename for President Kennedy -Lancer- and they continue to research Kennedy’s assassination. I have to say I do always think about going to their annual conferences. It’s a heck of a way but it would combine a number of ambitions: visiting the USA and meeting other folk all interested in what happened to John F Kennedy that day in Dallas back in 1963. Even with the release of new files the real facts are still obscure and today all those intelligence agencies that had links to supposed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald still continue to deny them.

Lee Oswald, in case you didn’t know was a former marine who spoke Russian. Russian you might ask? Yes, Russian. How on earth does a marine get special training in the Russian language? Because he was an intelligence agent of course. Does that mean the CIA liquidated the President? No but it does mean that Oswald was not quite the guy that the media has portrayed.

Still, I’m sure there will be many presentations in Dallas about rifle trajectories, about the ‘magic bullet’ about Police officers who encountered secret service agents on the ‘grassy knoll’ (when in fact there were none) about the CIA and the Mafia. There might even be presentations about the secret service whose actions seem in retrospect to be a little bit odd; their officers spending the night before the assassination at a Dallas nightclub and they later had the assassination car cleaned destroying any forensic evidence. Will we ever know the absolute truth? I think not especially when experts cannot even agree from which direction the shots came from that killed Kennedy and if anyone expects to find a file released by the CIA with the plans for the assassination complete with names, well I don’t think that will happen anytime ever. Still, for conspiracy buffs like me it is all hugely fascinating.

Another death has been on my mind this last week, Liz and I went to a funeral in Blackburn. When you hit your early sixties like I have done funerals seem inevitable. Time runs out for the elderly and infirm just as it will for those who today are young and healthy. Sadly, this was not a funeral for someone old; it was a young girl aged only 28. A university graduate who excelled at sports, especially swimming and who had started a new career in the police force. The church was packed for the funeral and clearly the late girl’s father was surprised and moved at the turnout.

He, his wife and two other children, a son and daughter gave their own eulogies to the deceased each in their own ways. The father thanked everyone he could think of, the mother spoke of her daughters last days which were marked by humour. The sister spoke of earlier happier times and the young brother spoke of how 80 percent of his young life was taken up fighting and arguing with his late sister, each complaining to the parents about what the other had done and each lying that the other was guilty of some misdeed or other. In later life the two had finally become friends, just like many fighting siblings the world over do.

It struck me then about the unfairness of life, about how one person can live a long and happy life and another a short one. Both of those of course lose exactly the same thing but one will have enjoyed a long life and all its benefits while the other would hardly have had the chance to live. I remember thinking of my elderly mother, currently in hospital and fast approaching her 90th birthday. Dementia has taken away her short term memory and she lives in a state of confusion but her heart, nearly ninety years old, beats on as strong as ever. If she had the choice of choosing death instead of that young girl I am sure she would have gladly done so.

Once again I felt myself drawn to my new mentor, Marcus Aurelius for some comfort.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information. In the video below I talk about the city of Manchester and discuss the background to the book.

France in Six or Seven Restaurants.

I was tempted to label this post as another of my ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ but as Liz and I have just returned from another motorhome trip through France and neither the sun or a sun lounger made much of an appearance, well then, I thought I’d give that a miss.

I do love France but sometimes I think my love affair with this country is waning. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the food, the restaurants, the innate calm of sleepy French villages but, I do miss the absence of nightlife. The nights when I would stay out till the early hours are long gone of course but I do like a nice friendly bar or a busy restaurant. In rural France those things are hard to find.  In our favourite French town of Doué la Fontaine it is hard work to get a restaurant table on a Saturday lunch time but on Saturday night, the bars close around 9 pm and the restaurants are empty except for a few English tourists.

Coming over on this latest trip Liz did her usual research and found a lovely restaurant in the town of Montreuil sur Mer, a short walk from an Aire du Camping Car. As we motored along serenely through France after exiting the Eurotunnel Liz was urging me to get a move on but I knew in my heart of hearts that like so many other plans earlier in the year, the restaurant would be either closed or one that did not open in an evening.

We arrived in pouring rain to find that a huge amount of cars were parked in this small town. We had decided, wisely I thought, to park up and check the restaurant was open before going to the motorhome parking area. I squeezed gingerly into a small space and then we donned our rain coats and went off in search of food. One positive sight, apart from the numerous parked cars was the various bistros and bars all with a thriving clientele.

We wandered eagerly through the old cobbled streets and finally came to the restaurant Liz had found on the internet. Yes it was open and yes there were people inside! We entered to a round of bonsoirs from the serving and cooking staff clustered around the open kitchen, A table for two? Have we booked? No but could you fit us in? Yes of course! Moments later we were seated in a lovely restaurant full of old world charm and plenty of happy faces enjoying their food.

Le Pot du Clape specialised in home made soups and French flans so we started with mushroom soup and I chose a flan Italienne and Liz ordered a Welsh, nothing to do with Wales but a sort of cheesy quiche. The food was excellent and we particularly liked the red wine served at room temperature unlike so many establishments which serve cold red wine.

The next day we motored on further south. The bar is sadly closed at our regular stopping place in Gizeux and when we stopped at Bourgeuil the hotel and restaurant where we dine regularly was also closed. Oh well, time to light the barbecue once more! While I’m on the subject of barbecuing I think it’s important to share these two universal facts.

One. Always watch your barbecue because if you don’t it will burn itself out before you’ve had a chance to set the table and serve the salad.

Two. Never watch a barbecue because if you do it will just take ages and ages to get going and just when it finally reaches optimum cooking temperature well, it’ll probably be time for bed!

The view from our camping spot at Gastes.

Liz found us a super place to stop by a lake at Gastes. Nine Euros for two nights seemed pretty reasonable even to a tightwad like me so we found ourselves a nice spot with a view of the lake and parked up. The first evening was a lovely and warm one so out came the barbecue again. The next night was my birthday and there was a restaurant just by the motorhome parking area. We had a look in and there wasn’t much to the menu but the place was actually open with people inside eating food. Happy days!

That evening we got ourselves dressed up and meandered down looking forward to a birthday meal. However, the French restaurant curse struck again. They didn’t do food in the evenings! Quelle dommage!

I’m happy to report that we did finally finish the holiday with a lovely meal. We parked up in the village of Clérac in a lovely leafy aire. Sadly a bunch of noisy idiots in a clapped out campervan parked next to us and proceeded to annoy us no end with silly juvenile larking about. After a while they decided to move to the other end of the park and left us in peace. We walked into the village and found the hotel restaurant ready for business.

The Auberge des Lacs Bleus is well worth a visit if you are ever passing. The starter was an excellent cold buffet served with plenty of crusty French bread, next up was an escalope of chicken served in a tasty creamy sauce and we finished with some excellent cheese. The wine too was lovely.

Buffet starter looking yummy.

Of course I should mention the tasty food that Liz serves on board our motorhome. We have three rings on our small gas cooker and a grill but sadly no oven so cooking can be a challenge but even so we regularly find ourselves miles from anywhere enjoying a lovely English breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg and tomatoes, served with toast or fresh bread if there is a boulangerie nearby.

On one of our last nights in France we dined on Pasta Bolognese served with crunchy French bread and followed by an impressive cheese board sourced from the French supermarket Super U. Who needs French restaurants anyway!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Summer Holiday Reflections


I know I’ve waxed lyrical about lying on a sun lounger but another favourite pastime of mine on my French holidays is just sitting outside of an evening and watching the sun go down, a glass of wine not too far away of course. As the sun dips down over the horizon it’s time for the local bats to make an appearance and whip across the patio whizzing from the trees to I don’t know where but making a fleeting but strong impression on my mind.

The pool is all covered up and the barbecue cools quietly in the corner as I take a sip of my red wine. All is well in the world. Well, it was, a few days ago when I wrote that, now it’s just another holiday memory.

The last few days of a holiday are always the worst, a countdown to packing up and getting ready to leave, checking what time the ferry sails and considering which route to take to the port, what time to leave and so on.

After a pleasant trip to Caen we boarded our ferry, had some food and settled down in our cabin for a nap before the long drive up north in England.

Driving.

Leaving Portsmouth we headed to Southampton and then north on the A34 dual carriageway. Leaving the port was a little like a grand prix start as various vehicles of all shapes and sizes passed through the passport checks and then sprinted away to the motorway. A large contingent of that traffic made their way up the A34 and up ahead of me as well as behind were a great number of cars. The A34 is an unlit dual carriageway and we all motored along at a good pace, 65 to 70 mph. After a while the traffic thinned out and up ahead of me were two pilots or pathfinders, lighting up the dark road ahead. Gradually, one pilot turned off leaving just one car ahead, then he turned off too and it was just me, leading the pack. Now being in front on a dark unfamiliar road at night is not so easy. There was plenty of traffic on the other side so use of my full beam headlights was limited and gradually my pace slowed a little.

Once someone behind decided to take a look at taking the lead but once off my tail in the outside lane he slowed right down and I overtook him back and once again I took on the pathfinder role. Later a guy doing well in excess of 80 came hurtling past, lit up the road for me but then disappeared over the horizon but after a while another vehicle came to the front, overtook and upped the pace a little and we carried on as before, my pathfinder lighting up the road for me.

Personally, I think that unlit motorways and A roads in the UK are an unnecessary hazard and I honestly think that perhaps Highways England would be better spending their money on street lighting rather than so-called Smart Motorways. However, the journey home was a good one, the rain held off and road closures were few. We motored up north serenely taking in the M40, the M42, the M6, the M55 and finally home. There were a number of mandatory 50 mph sections on the M6 due to roadworks but in a way they were helpful, almost like the safety car in a Grand Prix when, on a long journey, the driver can relax, check engine temperatures and oil pressure and so on before resuming 70 mph again.

Telephone Boxes.

Back in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set, there was a long row of telephone boxes just by Piccadilly gardens in Manchester. Telephone boxes were once everywhere but today, when the mobile phone is the main instrument of communication, telephone boxes are few and far between.

In a small village in France, we came across this once lonely and unused telephone box, now transformed into a small library. Take away a new book to read but remember to leave your old ones behind for other phone callers  -sorry, readers- to use.

Writing.

One of my objectives on this holiday was of course to produce more writing and push one or more of my numerous writing projects towards completion. As you may have guessed if you have ever read any of my other post-holiday posts, that goal was not met although I did manage to knock out my usual Saturday posts whilst I was away and stack up a few draft posts into the bargain. My one deadline, that of a Saturday morning at 10:00 AM UK time is really what motivates me and keeps me going. Pity I don’t have a similar deadline for my books!

I am always wary of blogs that give tips for writing or blogging. They ask you to subscribe and then hit you with a full blogging/writing course with a bargain price tag thrown in towards the end of their patter. One great writing blog that I do enjoy is one by Kristen Lamb and one post that pinged into my inbox the other day was this one:

https://authorkristenlamb.com/2018/09/stuck/

One of the tips for writing when you get stuck was this, instead of writing so much then flipping back and forth changing and editing, try writing a fast draft. Yes, head down, laptop open and just steam ahead. No stopping to check or to edit or to rearrange. Full speed ahead, nail that draft and then look back, rearrange things and edit. Great idea, I just need to get into full steam ahead mode first. Of course one thing is worth remembering:

No unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have.

Last year I remember reading about Noel Coward, either in his autobiography or some other biography. Coward spent a lot of his time in the winter months at his house ‘Firefly’ in Jamaica. There, Coward would go to his study at 8 AM and write through the morning until 12 when he would join his friends for a swim and then lunch. Ian Fleming had a house nearby, ‘Goldeneye’ where he wrote many of the James Bond books.

Perhaps that’s the answer to my writing issues! I need to spend the winter in Jamaica!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information!

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

I don’t think there is any nicer feeling than to take a dip in a swimming pool and then after a few lengths, return to your sun lounger and lie there peacefully while the hot sun dries your body. You can feel little rivulets of water dripping away and in time the sun will gradually dry you. It’s almost like a sort of rebirth or at least a refreshing of the soul.

The only sounds in this remote French hamlet where we are staying are the gentle breeze swaying through the branches of a nearby tree, some bird song and the occasional drone of a far away car or tractor. I love the silence of the French countryside and silence is one of those commodities that is sadly missing in 21st century UK. It is something that is hard to find, yet here in the country, silence is as free as the fresh air.

Lying on my sun bed under the hot sun and a clear blue sky is just a wonderful feeling and after a short while those sun lounger thoughts begin to flow.

Work.

Now work is not something I usually think about when I’m on holiday, in fact nothing could be further from my thoughts. However, I mentioned a while back how I had lost my status as a Deputy Manager and that demotion, especially after some pretty good work that I had delivered was very upsetting. The application form in which I had to apply (sorry, re apply) used some common competencies derived from the civil service, things like ‘communicating and influencing’ and ‘delivering at pace’ and although my application was a failure, I decided to use my competency answers in another application, this time for a position in the civil service at the DWP. (Department for Work and Pensions.) Lo and behold this time I was deemed worthy of an interview which was surprising considering how those exact answers spelt failure at my actual place of work.

The interview was set for a time during my holidays so I e-mailed the DWP telling them of my holiday predicament and they agreed to interview me the day before I left for France. Okay, fine so far. A big problem though was a sudden attack of constipation, (readers of a sensitive disposition may wish to skip this paragraph!) something that has only happened to me once before but now, only two days before my interview I was desperate for a bowel movement but nothing was happening. So, I finished my night shift, went home for a sleep and then managed to wake up in time to get ready. No bowel movement had presented itself and I was feeling desperate, horrible scenarios kept coming to mind where in the middle of my interview I would have to say, ‘excuse me, I’ve got to go’ and then rush out!

Suddenly, at the eleventh hour, my bodily plumbing got itself into gear and my bowels were happily evacuated, leaving me free to turn up at the appointed time for my interview free of any personal worries. All the new people I met were lovely and friendly and my two interviewers put me at ease with some friendly chat and then I answered all their questions pretty well. On one occasion I felt myself stumbling but my interviewers gave me a little prompt in the right direction and all seemed to go pretty well. Whether I will get a job offer remains to be seen but I left the UK feeling upbeat and happy.

Tea.

Tea of course comes mainly from Asia however it just so happens that tea is absolutely fundamental to England and the English. What we would do without a tea break or afternoon tea I really do not know. When tea supplies dry up it could spell the end of the British Empire -what’s left of it of course. As usual Liz and I have come to France with a substantial supply of tea bags because life without tea for any sensible Englishman is unacceptable. The thing is tea doesn’t taste quite the same here as it does in the UK. Ah, you are thinking, it’s probably the milk. No, because we brought English milk with us, frozen in small bottles. Perhaps then it’s the water. The water certainly tastes alright when you drink it from the tap or chilled straight from the fridge, then again some things just do not travel, perhaps tea is one of them. Cheese is probably another because come September, Liz and I will take the remnants of our french cheeses back to the UK and on some cold and chilly September evening we will lay out a cheeseboard and wonder why it doesn’t taste as good as it did on a warm french evening.

Bread.

Here in France I do try to eat healthily, much more than I do in the UK. I’ve have had no cakes or biscuits or chocolate but I do like my bread. Here in France bread is vital to any french meal. Shops may close on Sundays and bank holidays but one place which will always be open, come what may, is the boulangerie. I remember once a few years back discussing food with one of my work colleagues. The lady in question was a rather large lady who had discovered dieting with what I can only describe as a religious fervour and when I mentioned that I always ate heathily at work she looked at my sandwich and said ‘healthy, eating bread!’

She eyed my sandwich as if I had been eating a great big fry up with a pizza on the side. Bread is natural and healthy, isn’t it? At least I always thought so but it turned out that her diet forbade the eating of bread because it was full of calories, whatever they are. Personally I think that bread, proper fresh bread is one of the great food experiences you can have. Bread with cheese, bread with your meal so you can mop up any juices or sauces from your food, bread as a snack or part of a starter. Toast for breakfast. Yes, I’m sorry, I stand with the French, bread is indispensable.

Fish and Chips.

Ok, you might be surprised to see this here, especially as we are currently in France but the other night we fancied a night out and we noticed that down in the nearby village of Parçay Les Pins there was a special fish and chips night at the local restaurant. Well, what could this be, we thought. Clearly it was going to be nothing like proper fish and chips but some French approximation of the dish. Anyway, what the heck we thought, it’s only a ten minute drive so we’ll give it a go.

Off we drive and we pull up at the restaurant, well it looked more of a cafe but there were a few token French couples (so we thought) about so we went in, I had my French already prepared, bonsoir and une table pour deux and so on and the hostess greeted me, not in French but in an unexpected southern English accent. Not only was she English but so were the bar staff and also all the customers. It appeared that her fish and chip night drew in all the local English for miles around. Anyway, the beer was nice and cool, just right for a hot summer’s evening. The fish was ok, not up to the Fylde coast standard but ok although the chips were a little crisp and I do prefer slightly softer chips. A number of authentic Frenchmen passed by wondering what are this lot doing out at this time of night (it was well past 7 PM) and a good time was had by all.

Think we might try for some more authentic French food next time. . .

Facebook.

I’m not a great Facebooker. I have a page there and it’s nice to post now and then and see what reactions my friends have when once again I ‘check in’ to one of the many restaurants in Lytham St Annes. It’s also nice to take a look and see what is happening back home, well sometimes anyway.

The other day I clicked onto Facebook and sadly the first item I saw was a video showing some youths attacking a middle aged chap who had asked them to watch out for his car when they were larking about somewhere. It was sad, very sad to see that sort of mentality, especially when here in the Loire we encountered something very different. In a quiet lane in a lay by, we found a table laden with fruit and vegetables for sale. No one was around just a note asking any potential buyers to take what they wanted and leave the money, the payment, in a tin left on the table. Simple trusting faith in one’s fellow man that put the youths in that dreadful video to shame. Still, one day, I am sure they will meet their comeuppance.

The Chinese Guys.

Once, many years ago when I was a bus conductor working the night shift on Manchester’s buses, a wonderful example of comeuppance  or karma, presented itself to me. We used to pick up these three regular Chinese guys who took the night bus from Altrincham into Manchester City centre. They got on about eleven or midnight and returned from Manchester about three or four in the morning. None of them spoke English but the spokesman would show me three fingers and would say something that approximated three, and would present the exact fare for three to Manchester. I took the money and gave them their tickets and they carried on into town. The first time I came across these guys I mentioned them to the driver and he explained they were three regulars who went into town every week to gamble in the casino.

One night I picked them up as usual and they paid for three fares and exited the bus in Manchester. Later, earlier than normal, maybe about two am, one of the three boarded for the return journey. When I approached he said one and produced the exact fare for one. I asked ‘what has happened to your mates?’ but was met with an unintelligible stream of Chinese. Clearly it hadn’t been a successful night in the casino for this fellow.

Three other guys boarded in Manchester, all the worse for wear with drink but they paid their money and all was ok. As we trundled back towards Altrincham, I noticed that these guys were annoying the Chinaman, throwing bits of paper at him and calling him names. My way of dealing with trouble on the bus was always to use a bit of humour and try to get the drunken idiots on my side. So, I sidled over to the young guys and said, ‘do me a favour, don’t upset Kwai Chang Caine!’ They all laughed, we had a little bit of banter together and I thought, job done, situation defused! Later, they decided to have some more fun and started again on the Chinese guy again so he decided to move to the upper deck. The young guys followed him upstairs and my driver, looking into the periscope where he could see upstairs said to me, ‘something’s going on up there, you’d better take a look.’

I went upstairs and the three youngsters were taunting the Chinese guy and I could see the time for humour had gone, these fellows had to be sorted. Things were getting rowdy and I called for my driver to stop. Look fellas, I said, this is out of order, leave this guy alone. Things had escalated and it looked like a fight was about to start. I remember the youths charging towards me but the Chinese guy calmly pushed me aside and proceeded to wipe the floor with the youths using some expert kung fu or jujitsu or whatever. The three of them charged downstairs shouting for the driver to let them out, which he did without any persuasion and we continued without further incident.

When we reached Altrincham bus station, the Chinese guy shook hands with me, said something profound in Chinese and was gone.

After that, every time I saw those Chinese guys they came aboard, asked for three, held up three fingers but always gave me money for four. I always tried to give them the money back but they wouldn’t have it. It was their way of giving me a tip I suppose.

Anyway, it is my profound wish that one day, the violent and nasty youths from that video will get on board the bus to Manchester and pick a fight with those Chinese guys. I just hope I am there to video it!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977 and is available from Amazon. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Thoughts from a (Lanzarote) Sun Lounger

Travel.

This year’s  flight to Lanzarote wasn’t too bad at all. It was a pretty busy flight, busier than I had expected, but there seemed to me to be slightly more leg room on my flight. It was certainly better than on my previous trip, a few years back, so much so that I was actually almost comfortable. I’ve flown in January with Jet 2 in recent years and the flights have always been under subscribed which has been good, because as you know, budget airlines always try to cram as many passengers as possible into the limited confines of their aircraft and it’s nice to have a vacant seat next to you so you can stretch out a little. Happily on this rather busy aeroplane in the seat next to me was not a big non speaking, rather tubby fellow -like the guy I was stuck with a few years ago- but a pleasant, slim and quite small lady who was nice to talk to and gave me a little extra much-needed room.

Man Bag.

When I am off to European climes I tend to take my ‘man bag’ with me to carry my bits and pieces about. Much more sensible than trying to cram your wallet, phone, keys, reading specs and all sorts into your trouser pockets like we Brits do. There was some consternation at the airport when the bag went though the x-ray machine. That was due to a bullet key ring I had picked up some years ago and left in the bag. It was made using a world war one bullet, decommissioned of course but I was called to security, reprimanded and the bullet confiscated. Good job they didn’t find the Colt 45 cigarette lighter I was carrying! Seriously, airport security can be a bit of a pain but at least we are sure that we are flying safely.

Taxi.

The weather forecast for Lanzarote had predicted rain on our arrival but actually it was a lovely warm day although a little windy. We had arranged a lift from the airport to our accommodation by a Canarian fellow called James we had met some years earlier. He had claimed before we met that he spoke perfect English although the truth is actually slightly different. He actually speaks something that sounds like English, in the way a drunken Glaswegian or a speech impaired drunken Scouser speaks English. There are some familiar sounds there, even some complete English words, but most of what he says is completely unintelligible.

Numerous texts had passed forth between us detailing our time of arrival, our flight numbers and so on. James had texted back, ‘look for a Renault Kangoo van in white outside the exit’. Great, I thought, clearly his written English is better than his verbal variety. On arrival in Lanzarote we looked and waited quite a while but the van was not to be seen so I called him and he answered with a stream of unintelligible sounds, none of which were recognisable as words currently in use in the UK. One phrase did stand out, the repeated use of ‘no problem’. This of course is a new spin on that familiar phrase because there was a problem, that of getting to our villa down in Playa Blanca. Never mind, I said, we’ll get a taxi. No problem came the reply. Well, might as well delete that contact from my phone.

Lanzarote

Anyway, within a few hours we were sitting by our pool in Lanzarote, sipping wine and deliberating whether to plunge into the heated pool. A few minutes later I was regretting that decision as the pool was cold. Very cold! The villa company sent their man out to take a look and he saw that the pool had not been heated for a while and reckoned it could take a few days to get up to temperature so he cranked the heat up and by the next day the pool felt much warmer. So much so that I could actually just get straight in without having to gingerly slip in an inch at a time while I acclimatised!

Anyway, I think I think its time to throw in a picture guaranteed to make all my fellow Brits back home in the freezing cold UK totally envious. Here it is:

Yes, that’s our dining area with the pool in the background.

Spectacles.

Not long ago I got myself some new specs. They are what I call the Clark Kent type, you know black and fairly square, square in more ways than one although they are actually rather fashionable these days. Anyway, I don’t like them and much prefer my old ones which have photochromic lenses which go darker when the sun gets brighter. I love those lenses and as I am rather sensitive to bright light they are perfect for me. For reasons directly linked to my reluctance to open my wallet I didn’t add them to my new prescription and I didn’t bring the old specs but I did bring instead a pair of clip on dark shades that are so worn I can hardly see through them!

Employment.

On this holiday I’ve decided to start looking and see what jobs are out there for an ancient four O’ level former comprehensive school boy like me. Looking for jobs in this digital age is a tad different from what I’m used to. No need to buy lots of newspapers and troll through the situations vacant columns, yes now you can subscribe to special job seeking websites which search available jobs for you. You can upload your CV and the site will pass any likely looking situations on to you via your inbox. Here are some recommended jobs that were sent to me recently

Strategic Insights Executive

Quality Control Executive

Care Home Deputy Manager

PHP Developer (What’s that about?)

Here’s a great one from an e-mail titled:  26 jobs available in Lytham St Annes, (1)  Driving Instructor, Liverpool (!)

Yes, perhaps I might have to put up with my current job for a while longer.

Laptop.

My Toshiba laptop is not one of the best. Perhaps it’s time to put my hand in my pocket and get myself a top of the range one and make my writing and video editing life a little easier. Just in time for this holiday I took my laptop in to be repaired as a lot of the keys, particularly the ‘o’ were sticking. A new keyboard is what is needed, the guy in the shop told me. They sent off for the part and the day before departing the UK I got my laptop back. Everything seemed in order, the culprit keys were all working and I was fully prepared to bang out my new book and churn out numerous blog posts. Now I find, a week into my holiday, the r and y keys are not working! A writer’s life is not easy . . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Running With the Stars.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I am back once again in the UK after my five weeks in France. Yes, all things must come to an end and of course, so do holidays. It’s probably only fair to mention that after an inordinately long time spent lying on a French sun lounger, I do have, as you can imagine, a fair old plethora of French thoughts and ramblings in my notebook, all of which I feel duty bound to share with you, my readers.

Please bear with me, after all, in a few weeks time I will be fully reintegrated back into the UK and I’ll be writing the usual stuff about things like old black and white films and old TV programmes newly discovered by strange and sometimes fleeting new freeview TV channels. However, until then:

One of the really satisfying things about staying in a large house in the French countryside, is the lack of interference from the outside world. I mentioned in another post about silence, that simple commodity that is a cornerstone of relaxation but is difficult to find in an urban metropolis like Manchester. Another simple quality here in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky I noticed one particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

A screenshot from my iPad.

It is really humbling looking up at this great vista and realising that this is what creation looks like and that you too are a tiny part of it. It might even be the case too on that some distant place, millions of light years away, some other person, some distant inhabitant of a distant star is thinking the same thing, looking up at a star that might be our sun, the same sun that warms the earth.

One book that I have particularly enjoyed on this holiday was a book about the thoughts and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, a long dead Roman emperor and philosopher.

This is one of the things he said . .

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius

Another book which I read on holiday was a little disappointing; Lion by Seroo Brierley. The film version was an absolute wonder of documentary style realism and full on emotion. In the book though, Seroo talks about the events that took him away from India to Australia and then years later, reunited him with his lost family in a rather detached and matter of fact way. He hints at a hidden guiding hand in the universe but then denies that he is religious. What was the hidden guiding force then? Electricity?

Strange how something that would make one man turn to religion makes another turn away. Sometimes, religion itself can trigger a negative response. It has always surprised me that someone in the public eye like Cliff Richard for instance, who is a devout Christian and used to make a full on Christian song his Christmas hit has always had his faith used against him. It used to be a regular thing in the 1990’s to slag off Cliff because he was a Christian and yet Madonna, who belongs to a strange sect called Kabbalah, has not had similar treatment. She for some reason, was the acceptable face of the religious pop star.

In a few months time, around Christmas in the UK, yet another town will cancel the Christmas lights because it is offensive to non Christians and rename them ‘holiday lights.’ It’s Christmas, it’s actually a Christian festival for pity’s sake. Still, it will happen and it will be reported in the Daily Mail, I’m sure.

What you probably won’t see reported in the Daily Mail will be that in Afghanistan, Ramadan has been renamed ‘holiday week’ so as not to offend westerners. Perhaps here in the UK we are somehow ashamed of faith, perhaps we don’t need it any more, we are too advanced, too technological, or something. Perhaps technology explains too many things, the origin of the universe, the big bang. Pity it doesn’t explain the reason for living, the actual point of life.

Some years ago I started using some audio tapes by Paul McKenna to build my confidence and help with job interviews. On one of the tapes he mentions that there is no fixed purpose in life except the one you give it. Could he be right?

On one of my last evenings in rural France gazing at the night sky, I found myself thinking of the last sequence in the movie ‘The History of Mr Polly.‘ You must have seen the film on TV, the one with John Mills as Mr Polly. Polly finds himself in a very dull job with a very dull wife and resolves to commit suicide. Anyway, events unfold and instead of committing suicide, Polly accidentally starts a fire which threatens the whole street and he then mounts a brave rescue of an old lady. Instead of dying, Mr Polly becomes a hero and when the insurance money comes in, he leaves his wife, nicely settled with the insurance money, takes a little for himself and departs for pastures new. He sends some money to a post office in another village and gradually meanders in that direction, sleeping in fields and hedges, getting himself a tan. Working occasionally when he wants and sleeping when the mood takes him at other times.

He comes across the Potwell Inn and asks for work and right away finds himself at home.

Right at the very end of the film Polly, played by Mills and the Inn landlady, played by that old British film actress Megs Jenkins are sitting in the garden, contentedly watching the sun go down and Mills wonders aloud ‘what have we done to deserve a sunset like this?’

The fact is, sunsets are a part of nature and they will come and go whether we deserve to see them or not. As long as this world goes round the sun, the sun will rise and the sun will set somewhere on the globe. Even so, sunsets are lovely.

So are the stars and now and again it’s nice to imagine yourself running with them.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Some Random Sun lounger Thoughts (part ?)

As I  have probably mentioned, Liz and I are on holiday for five lovely weeks in France and the other day it was with some trepidation that I heard the bat phone ring. Yes, the bat phone, that urgent direct line back to the UK and stevehigginslive.com tower, the hub of the stevehigginslive.com empire.

I answered and at the other end of the phone was one of my deputy managers advising me that an issue had occurred with last week’s Thoughts from a Sun Lounger post. As my usual readers will know, this is part of a regular series in which I expound on the often random thoughts that occur to me in that chilled, relaxed and generally other worldly state that I enter when lying on a sun lounger, fresh from a bout of gentle swimming in the pool.

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

Turns out there was a mistake in last week’s Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4, despite extensive checks by the blog titling and numbering department. Perhaps they were getting a little lax up there in stevehigginslive.com tower while the boss was away but for whatever reason, Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 had been inexplicably named Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 when there was already a Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 in existence!

Mon Dieu was all I could say, as after a few weeks in France, I was fully immersed in the French idiom, culture and customs as well as the gallic language. How many waiters could have guessed that Monsieur, the suave homme who deftly requested ‘une table pour deux‘ or ‘une bouteille de vin rouge au restaurant’ was in fact an English tourist? I know the baseball cap with ‘Team GB’ emblazoned on the top gave the game away a little but what the heck.

Anyway, I fired off a hot email to the blog titling department and began a full review and overhaul of the current blog titling and numbering procedures and now, after a full investigation, I can confirm that Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 has been fully amended to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5.

Woody Allen

This year I have not brought along my trusty Nikon DSLR to France but have concentrated on my video cameras. Filming, as you may know, is pretty easy in this digital day and age but the tricky stuff comes with video editing. The other day I finally finished off a short project that has consumed me for a while. It’s a short spoof on Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan, not the entire movie but the opening section where Woody is narrating the beginning of his novel.

I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar but about Manchester, my home town and also the location of the action in my book, Floating in Space.

I re-wrote Woody’s monologue with Manchester, rather than New York in mind and recorded it on my laptop. Next, using my Magix audio cleaning lab, I cut out all the bad bits, mumbles and murmurs, mixed in some royalty free music and added it to one of my old videos about Manchester. Next came a little juggling of some of the visuals, the addition of some more relevant stuff and after quite a few weeks of editing and re-editing I finally got something that was halfway towards what I wanted.

Just in case you have never seen Manhattan, here’s Woody’s original and much better opening.

Action Cam

Finally, I must tell you about my action cam. I shot a short film about cycling a while ago but I wanted to go a step further with the camera. I had it attached to the window all the way down here from the UK to the Cher region of central France. That edit however, must wait for another day, because as the camera has an underwater housing I thought it would be great to make an underwater film!

Now, I can see you, the reader, thinking: What is he going to do? Some underwater shots of the Loire? No. Some scuba diving perhaps off the coast of the Vendee? Nah! What I did was this, I took the camera into the swimming pool with me! Swimming pool? Yes, I know it’s not exactly coral reefs and exotic fish but photography can be a lot of fun especially if you are 60 going on  . . .15 . . .

Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger (Part 5)

I absolutely love it when the sun is shining and those golden rays burn down out of a clear blue sky. You get up out of the swimming pool and flop down on the sun lounger and as you do, all your worries slip quietly away, just as the water from the pool drips off you and the sun dries your body. Yes, it’s the time of year for some more ‘thoughts from a sun lounger’.

Out of Office.

Finishing work for your holidays, even for a part timer like me, is always a great experience and nothing lately has given me more pleasure than setting up my ‘out of office’ message on my computer at work last week. It said ‘I am out of office until September 15th’ although what I actually meant was ‘send me all the emails you want because I don’t give a flying monkeys about any of them until September 15th!’.

New technology, don’t you just love it?

Once again Liz and I are off to France for our summer holidays. The journey down to Folkestone from Lancashire via the M55, M6, M1, M25 and M20 was actually not too bad. The only problem was that we arrived early at the Euro Tunnel terminal at Folkestone and it sent us into a false sense of security. Well, that is my excuse for leaving the terminal shops late, getting stuck in the queue at passport control and missing our shuttle! Oh well, everything turned out OK in the end. We arrived at our hotel in good time, checked in and had our first taste of French cuisine with the hotel’s plat du jour; beef stew and chips! They say French food is so good but to a great extent it’s a case of chips (frites actually) with everything!

Action Cams.

Driving down from the UK to France I decided to stick my action cam on the window and see if it is worth comparing driving on English as opposed to French roads. There’s no comparison, the French roads came out tops, even in roadworks. What I liked about stopping at some temporary lights in France was that on the lights, under the red stop signal was a countdown timer, telling you how many seconds you had left under the red light. Great idea! Pity my camera had run out of battery power just then . .

Bank Holidays.

They have bank holidays over here in France, just like in the UK. Well actually, not like in the UK but they do have bank holidays. In the UK we are, mostly, pretty sensible people. A typical bank holiday might be on a Friday for instance, which follows on quite nicely to Saturday and Sunday. Another bank holiday might be on a Monday, which again follows on quite nicely from Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes we even go one better, bank holidays on a Friday and a Monday, making a rather lovely weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

What do the French do, something similar you might think? No. They will have a bank holiday on a Tuesday which does not follow on, to, or from the weekend at all. Maybe the French book a day off on the Monday or perhaps just throw a sickie in? Maybe they just go in to work on Monday then have a day off for the bank holiday. One day in, one day off, not a bad system really I suppose . . .

The Tabac.

The tabac is a great French idea. It’s a tobacco shop, mixed up with a bar -and I mean a bar like the vault of an old English pub, where the men go to play cards and pool and so on. In France they also sometimes throw a news agents and/or a corner shop into the mix so the end result is a place where you can go for a drink, buy cigarettes, get a newspaper and return home with a few groceries.

You must admit, it’s a great idea but would it work in the UK? You can imagine the situation.  The wife happens to mention to the husband, sitting in the lounge watching sport, that they are a little short on potatoes for the coming Sunday dinner. The husband jumps up; “need some spuds love? Well, I’ll just nip down to the local shop and get you some!”

He comes back hours later with a newspaper, a carrier bag containing three carrots, a turnip and an onion. He is casually singing ‘show me the way to go home’ and as he stumbles into the house he asks nonchalantly, ‘is dinner ready yet love?’

Yes, perhaps that wouldn’t work in England after all. Another thing that won’t work in the UK any more are things like those last few comments above. What is the problem? Well it’s gender bias! Yes, of course, I am sure you are thinking. Gender bias -the reason why UK TV advertisers can no longer show cosy home scenes where Dad comes home from work and Mum is getting the tea ready! They are gender bias and showing a totally incorrect representation of UK home life to poor susceptible young girls who may want to reject conventional home life and become a fireman (sorry, fireperson) or even a young man who wants to do something that, well, something that a girl would normally do!

Just hang on a minute while I re write the above and change it so it’s the guy who sends the wife out to the tabac and she comes home drunk with the wrong items. On the other hand, get real you crazy gender bias people!

The Sandwicherie.

I came a cross a new word this year in France. The sandwicherie. Yes, as the name suggests it’s a place where you can get sandwiches. I like that word, it rolls off the tongue well, it’s a little like Pizzeria, a place that serves pizzas or, actually I can’t think of another example but I’m sure you get my drift.

While in France this year I have also invented a new word, a new French word but whether it will catch on, I’m not sure. Sometimes when I’m struggling in French I sometimes try an English word with a French accent. You know, something like menu, café, salade, boutique, table and so on. In fact, if you look into it, there are quite a few words we share with the French. Quick tip: Don’t try the French word preservatif, thinking it’s the same as preservative in English. The French word means condom!

Anyway, back to my new word, it’s possiblement! It didn’t quite work when I tried it on an unsuspecting Frenchman, in fact, he gave me a rather strange look but at least it stopped him mythering me to buy something off his stall at a vide grenier! ‘Some bottle tops Monsieur? Some used phone cards?’ ‘Un moment; possiblement . .

Tea.

Tea is one of those great British inventions and institutions that we, the Brits, have exported to the four corners of the world. Personally I never travel outside of the UK without a stack of teabags in my suitcase because morning, noon and afternoon, I need my tea. What would four o’clock in the afternoon be without afternoon tea? A steaming hot cuppa, a cheese sarnie, a chocolate digestive and the TV tuned to some classic TV: You can’t beat it but what have those pesky Frenchmen done with our tea? Look in any French supermarché and you will find tea, ready-made in a plastic bottle in the chilled compartments! Sacré bleu is all I can say!


If you enjoyed this post why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.