Thoughts from a Sun lounger (Part 4)

Sun LoungerI 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 a least a refreshing of the soul. The only sounds in this remote hamlet where we are staying are the gentle breeze swaying through the branches of a nearby tree, the quiet humming of insects, some bird song and the occasional drone of a far away car or tractor.

You might be thinking hang on, why is this guy waxing lyrical about lying on a sun bed? Yes it’s that time of year again, holiday time. Once again Liz and I have travelled to France to spend time in a beautiful gîte in the Cher region of France.

Travelling down here was a little bit of a trial though. Coming down the M6 in  the north-west we had to travel through the roadworks for the new Smart motorway scheme. I don’t know that Smart is really the right name for this concept but the idea is that the traffic runs along the hard shoulder in the busy periods thus shifting more traffic. So the experts say, anyway. Whether that will happen I really don’t know but at the moment the whole area is bit of a nightmare and when we finally got through that we came across more delays round about junction 13. Throw in some torrential rain and spray, creating really poor driving conditions and you begin to get the picture. Anyway, we made it to the terminal in Folkestone with about ten minutes to spare; many thanks to Liz for her fabulous driving.

One thing I noticed during the journey down here was the enormous amount of tyre carcasses in the central reservation. It really seems to me that Highways England need to pull their finger out and clean up the motorway otherwise I may just start up a scrap rubber company and pick up all those discarded tyres, and believe me I’ve counted a hell of a lot of tyres on the way south. I reckon I can make an absolute fortune flogging all those tyres to Goodyear or Pirelli or even some rubber recycling company. Come on Highways, get your act together!

French phrase book After the hell of UK motorway travel, the roads of France are just a delight. OK it might be busy round Paris and other large towns but out in the countryside driving is once again an enjoyable experience. Stopping at the services is much nicer too. Not for us the packed UK services charging ridiculous amounts for a cup of tea. The French aires are quiet and picturesque. Nice rural stopping places with picnic tables and nice clean toilets. Lovely.

In the UK I have had a great deal of trouble with my back. The doctor offered me pain killers which I declined, well, I must admit I did take some, the pain was that bad. Anyway I asked to be referred to a physiotherapist. Get the problem sorted out at the source I thought. This gets complicated here so bear with me: I started off with a telephone appointment, one in which you are supposed to make an ‘actual’ appointment. It did not go well because although I rang at the specified time, I was given several messages to listen to and  options to choose so when I eventually got through, the lady at the other end thought I was late for an ‘actual’ appointment, not a telephone appointment and could not arrange it for me as I was two minutes late. Anyway, to cut a long story short I spoke to her boss and made an appointment (an ‘actual’ appointment) and arrived on the day only to find that my ‘actual’ appointment had been cancelled due to a bereavement at the hospital. Pity they didn’t tell me in advance. (They said that they had left a message on my mobile – which I never received, although on the same day my garage had managed to leave me a message about my car and my brother had also left a message. Strange that two others had no problem leaving messages.)

Anyway, with me so far? Another appointment was duly made and then two days before that appointment I received a letter saying that had been cancelled too. I called  to complain only to be told I had cancelled the appointment! I most certainly did not, I said in my best aggrieved customer voice. I eventually spoke to a manager and she managed to arrange another date which fitted into my calendar just nicely between work and leaving for France.

When I finally found myself face to face with a physiotherapist, or at least someone who claimed to be a physiotherapist, he spent a lot of time asking me questions about my pain, which, when it first occurred three months previously had been very severe but now it wasn’t so bad, in fact the actual spot in the middle of my back seemed OK but the pain was now in my neck and lower back. Sadly, those areas were not the ones that I had been referred for via my GP. Now those two areas, the neck and lower back, happen to be a matter of inches from the source of the original pain so let me throw out a crazy mad concept here: could they be related? Well, we’ll never know because as my physio pointed out yet again; my GP had not referred me for those areas! After a lengthy consultation of which perhaps five minutes was actual hands on my back stuff, my physio declared my back was ‘mechanically’ sound. How did he explain the pain I asked? Well, that was a muscular issue due to my ‘sedentary’ life style. As we were on the way out he mentioned it was perhaps ‘not worth seeing me again.’ Interesting. Perhaps the problem solving concept was not something this guy covered at university, perhaps they don’t even teach that kind of stuff any more. I know that if I was a physio and someone came to me with back pain my job would be trying to find the source of that pain and cure it or ease it or suggest further treatment for my patient. It’s rather like having a problem with your car and telling the customer, well, we can’t fix that, perhaps it’s time to get a new motor. In this case, no new motor is available! I’m tempted to apply my usual rule here, that names have been changed to protect the innocent but Clifton Hospital in St Annes, Lancashire, you have gone way down in my estimation!

Anyway, the temperature here in our little village is currently in the 90s. (Fahrenheit of course. If you want that in Celsius, I don’t do metric, work it out yourself!) Time for a read, perhaps a short doze, then another swim in the pool. After all, exercise is good for your back!


Make sure your click back here next Saturday for at look at my Holiday Book Bag!


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More thoughts from a Sun Lounger

IMGA0475edOne of the most pleasurable things in life surely must be relaxing on a sun lounger. I love it when I have a refreshing dip in the pool, climb out and lie on my lounger and then slowly feel my wet body drying in the sun. Here in Lanzarote in January it’s quiet by our rented villa and the only sounds are the gentle hum of the pool machinery, the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Now and again there is the distant sound of a car or motorbike, the sound becoming louder and then dying away into the distance. One thing about relaxing on a sun lounger, apart from getting a tan and recharging those batteries before going back to cold England, is how the mind wanders and with a little effort the beginnings of a blog post can take shape in my mind.

Christmas and New Year

Not a great Christmas for me this year as I was working. Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the UK was made worse by the terrible weather, particularly the rain in the north of England. I work in one of Highways England’s motorway control rooms and Christmas day was unexpectedly busy with crash after crash. Why people continue to drive at high speed when the weather conditions are atrocious, I’ll never know. On New Year’s day I was working on the early shift, starting work at 6 in the morning and it was a particularly quiet drive into work. It seems to me in recent years the rush hour has just got longer and longer and people now travel earlier to avoid the rush which seems to just expand the rush hour. Many times at five in the morning when I leave home for the 42 mile trip to work the traffic can be really busy. Still, I think that nowadays, people are just doing more and more travelling in order to get the job that they want. It becomes very apparent when my work colleagues discuss where to go for our work’s ‘do’. Colleagues live all over the north west; St Annes, St Helens, Preston, Wigan, Manchester and even the Wirral, so where can we go to suit everyone? It’s hard work choosing a venue but eventually we chose Liverpool which involved a two hour plus rail journey for me. A bit different from the days when I worked in Stockport and every one of my work colleagues lived in, yes, Stockport. Back in the eighties I don’t think the idea of long commutes to work had really taken off.

Travelling by Air

I sometimes wonder whether aircraft were invented by the Japanese, or at least, are modern aircraft designed for people with an oriental like body frame? For me, a six foot tall man with a considerable bulk although surely not that much bigger than the average male, travelling by air can be something of a trial. On the way here flying on a Boeing 737 courtesy of Jet2.com I remember thinking about this problem as I struggled to get comfy in my small seat and fumbled and wrestled to eat my cheese and ham toastie. The thought of all those movies and TV shows that depict air travel with big comfortable seats and lots of room flickered for a moment through my mind as I almost knocked over my plastic cup of red wine. Yes, once upon a time, back in the uncivilised 1940’s and the beginning of air travel they actually used proper plates, cups and glasses. How we have moved on since then! Another trial was when I realised I had to use the bathroom. I didn’t really want to get up so I tried hard to hold things in but eventually I got to the point when I realised it was no use. I had to go. I had a good view of the toilet so I waited until I knew it was free and no one was waiting then I pried myself up and out of the seat. Just I was doing so a woman nipped past me and into the toilet! Not happy! Anyway, I had to wait at the front of the aircraft, in the way of everyone including the stewardess trying to serve drinks but eventually, my turn came. It was a little cramped but I got on with what I had to do. At least we didn’t hit turbulence while I was there and have a steward banging on the door telling me I had to return to my seat and strap myself in which has happened to me before. I washed my hands in the little basin but dropped the paper towel on the floor which was pretty hard to pick up and I incurred a bang on the head for my efforts. By the time I returned to my seat I felt as though I needed another wee but with a supreme effort of will, I managed to push that thought to the back of my mind. To be honest, our flight was particularly friendly. The steward and stewardess were nice and helpful and I appreciated the complimentary tea due to French Air traffic Control having computer problems which caused delays on the part of our flight that passed over France. Also, there were many empty seats so we were able to stretch over to the empty ones and relax. Not looking forward to the flight back though so here’s a quick hint to the guys at Boeing: Put bigger seats on your planes!

The Glenn Miller Story

I think I mentioned in an earlier post about Christmases back home with my Mum and Dad and how we would gather round our coal fire to watch a family film on our old black and white TV with my brother, myself, and Bob the dog vying to be closest to the fire. One of the films we watched back then was the Glenn Miller Story. I really loved that movie when I first saw it on TV back in the 1960’s. It was on TV again over this last Christmas and I settled down to watch it, a nice glass of port in hand and a box of Christmas chocolates nearby. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment! James Stewart, as much as I love him, was far too old to play Glenn Miller and the film was in colour, not the expected black and white. June Alyson played Glenn’s wife and she elevated the use of the word ‘annoying’ to a new level with her constant beginning or ending of a phrase with ‘Honestly!’ I imagine the scriptwriter was fairly pleased with himself, coming up with a cute bit of business like that. Wrong! If I had been Glenn Miller and June Alyson my wife, I would have been sorely tempted to employ some appropriately placed Gaffer tape to remedy that situation. Another moment in the film comes when Glenn comes home from work and his wife takes him upstairs and says, ‘look what just arrived’, and guess what had arrived: Two children who seemed to have arrived in time honoured fashion via the unseen stork. Of course, they may have been adopted, I really don’t know because it wasn’t really explained very well but it was a little bit like one of those moments in old episodes of Blue Peter, the children’s TV show, where Valerie Singleton or John Noakes would say, ‘and here’s one I made earlier!’ One last thing I want to tell you about the Glenn Miller story, and I do feel bad about taking the mickey out of an old favourite movie but that’s the thing about the sun and sun loungers, as your mind wanders, all sorts of old memories rise to the surface! Anyway, here goes. I must have mentioned in previous posts about how I used to have a cassette tape recorder and how many times I used to drag my poor brother into performing the skits and plays I used to write. One time we did a skit on the Glenn Miller story and there was me in my best American accent drawling, James Stewart style, ‘that sound, that certain sound, I need to find that certain sound and I’m gonna keep on looking till I find it.’ Enter stage left my brother with a cardboard toilet tube over his mouth and he does a tremendous raspberry fart into the microphone. Cue me as James Stewart: ‘That sound, that certain sound: That’s it! I’ve found it!’


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Reflections on a French Holiday.

refelctionsAs I come towards the end of my French holiday it’s perhaps a good time to sit and reflect about France and the French people. I do love the quiet of the French countryside. It seems to me that in the hustle and bustle of the small islands that make up the United Kingdom it is harder than ever to find a little peace and quiet. Perhaps up there in the Scottish Highlands peace can be found, or even in the Lake District but in places like urban Manchester, silence is hard to find.

The French departments, similar I suppose to English counties, date from Napoleonic times and there are ninety six departments in France today which are further subdivided into cantons. Here in the Cher region, to the south of Paris are some lovely rural communities. Still and quiet villages, almost haunting in their silence can be found everywhere.

What I’ve always liked in France is the simple tabac. As the name suggests it’s a place where you can get your tobacco and in some places it is also combined with a presse so you can also pick up a newspaper. One thing you will always find in the tabac though is a bar, similar to the vault of an old English pub where French men chat and drink coffee, sip wine or a pastis. In the village where Liz and I are staying, Germigny l’Exempt, there is a small sell-everything shop, a combination epicerie, depot de pain (the lady owner explained carefully that they are not a boulangerie, but a pain depot) and of course, a bar! An interesting combination. You can imagine the situation if a similar establishment was available in England: The wife happens to mention to the husband, sitting in the lounge watching sport that they are a little short on veggies for the coming Sunday dinner. The husband jumps up; “need some vegetables love? Well, I’ll just nip down to the local shop and get you some!” And have a few beers while he’s there no doubt! Frenchmen, at least those of the rural Cher countryside, are clearly made differently here because I’ve yet to see anyone in that bar!

Last Friday night, Liz and I went down to a nearby town, La Guerche sur l’Aubois, and had a meal out. The only place open appeared to be a rather nice looking pizza place so we went in. There were only two other diners and at the small bar –this was Friday evening remember- were two or three French guys chatting. We had our pizza, had a beer at the bar and by nine pm they were ushering us out! What do the French do ‘au weekend’? I don’t know but it’s certainly not a beer and a pizza! One really nice thing about that bar though, every time a new customer came in, he said hello to all at the bar and shook hands with everyone in turn, including Liz and I, two English strangers. As for eating out though, that is something the rural French do of a lunchtime, not an evening. Shops close in France twelve till two while hungry Frenchmen go to the nearest bistro or restaurant for lunch.

Plat du jour

Plat du jour

At every restaurant or bar serving food you will always see a sign for the ‘plat du jour’ or the dish of the day and one thing I love about French restaurants is their menu deals. You might see something like, for instance, a starter, the plat du jour, and then fromage (cheese) to finish. I do so much prefer small courses to one big meal!

The great thing about France is the wine and my personal rule about French wine is this –buy the cheapest, it’s always the best but then, I like my wine cheap and cheerful. In Intermarche, the Asda of France, you can buy a ten litre box of merlot for about 17 euros, that’s about £13 in UK money, an absolute bargain. Forget expensive French wines, a nice quaffable French red does it for me every time!

Another thing about the French, especially regarding drink. You’d think that France, the country that created brandy would be a haven of cheap brandy, after all, this is where the drink is made! Sadly that isn’t the case, in fact, brandy in France always looks to me to be pretty expensive. However when you come to whisky, a product of Great Britain, there seems to be an incredibly vast choice, far bigger than you would find in the UK. Perhaps the French are a nation of secret whisky drinkers!

Whisky in a french supermarket -and this was only one section!

Whisky in a french supermarket -and this was only one section!

One final observation about the French. We’ve spent many a weekend on this holiday visiting brocantes and vide greniers, flea markets and car boot sales to you and we see so many stalls selling beer bottle tops. Here is a quick flash for any frenchman selling bottle tops; No one is going to buy them! Well, not me at least!

Anyway, as you the reader reads this blog we’ll have left the Cher region and will be motoring serenely across to the Loire for a few days before making our way back to the UK and home. One final reflection about holidays. Why is it that I’ve packed so many things for this trip and used so few? All my clothes were worked out in advance, polo shirts for the fetes and brocontes, smart shorts for being seen in public and scruffy shorts for private use. I also brought along both jeans and trousers, which I have worn exactly once each. Despite all this planning and thought, the fact of the matter is that I have spent most of this holiday in the same scruffy old vest and the same scruffy old pair of shorts. If I’d really thought about it, I could have significantly reduced the amount of clothing and saved some space for . . . more cheap wine!

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More Random thoughts from a (French) Sun Lounger

sunloungerlogoI really do love France. I love travelling here, driving down the picturesque country lanes. I love the quiet sleepy villages. Driving is a joy here, even on the major roads. OK, I’m sure that in Paris or any of the other major towns driving is just the usual nightmare that it is in London or Manchester but here in the countryside, driving is just a joy.

What is a little annoying is the French system of signing. I’m talking about traffic signs, directional signs. You follow the signs, for instance on the way here we followed signs for the town of Nevers for a while, then we were looking for a right turn and none appeared. OK one did appear but it was unsigned. After a while we realised we must have missed something, so we turned back and guess what, coming from the other direction the road is signed for Nevers but not from the original direction. Maybe there is someone in the French road sign office thinking ‘Ha! Got those English idiots again!’

On holiday in France Liz and I spend a lot of time at the weekend at vide greniers (car boot sales to you) and brocantes, a sort of antiques/ flea market. It always surprises me how well attended these events are in the French countryside and bad weather does not seem to put people off at all. In the UK the first sign of rain or even dark clouds and it’s ‘get the stuff in the van -we’re off!’ The French are made of sturdier stuff and if it rains, OK, get the covers over the goods and it’s off to the wine tent for some vin rouge and some frites while it clears up. I often wonder though, if there isn’t a fete or vide grenier on, what do French people do? They certainly know how to keep quiet! Read this previous post for a few ideas on what they get up to!

The French have a strong connection with food and in particular bread or ‘le pain’ as they call it here. On arriving at our gite in the french village of Germigny L’Exempt we began to unload the car and numerous neighbours came out to talk and advise us. One French chap came over, said bonjour and proceeded to babble away at a ferocious pace in his native tongue. It took me a full ten minutes before I could stop him and say I didn’t speak french that well. ‘Je ne parle pas bien francais!’ Did that stop him? Well, for a moment, then he began again only at a slightly reduced speed. Did we have bread? If not he had some to spare for this evening but in the morning we had to be at the bakers by twelve otherwise, well various dire consequences were explained, none of which I understood, but of course a frenchman must have bread. Here in France it reminds me of the UK twenty years ago. Shops closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Unthinkable isn’t it? Over in Calais they tempt British day trippers over to huge hypermarkets and wine stores selling so called ‘duty free’ merchandise at inflated prices. Stores may be open on Sunday there but here in the countryside that is not the case. Of course the bakeries do open on Sunday morning. After all next to liberty and fraternity it is bread that really matters to the French.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

Anyway, one last thought about France. Why is it that whenever I arise from the swimming pool (it’s quite a nice pool, check out the picture) wet and dripping after a welcome cooling dip and looking for my towel, some irritating French fly seems to want to buzz round my head? Just by our gite, there is a road that takes you out of the village. As you approach our holiday home there is a rise and one can see a car rise up and then dip down again as it comes towards us. As I am about to get out of the pool I can just imagine a Frenchman and his son, heading back home with the thought of lunch on their mind. As they crest the small rise the boy looks out at a man rising from a swimming pool and then turns to his father and asks, “Why was that man waving his hands about and doing a dance when he gets out of the pool?”
The father thinks for a moment and then replies, “Il est anglais!” (He is English!)


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Four Random Thoughts on a Sun Lounger

fourrandomOne

Lying on a sunbed under a blue sky and a hot sun must be one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things I can think of. The only sound is the rippling of the water in the heated pool and the rumbling of my own thoughts and I am thinking that as I write this it’s the last day of my holiday and in a few days time I’ll be back at work again, ploughing through a thousand e-mails, if not more.  Tomorrow someone else will be sitting here, in my villa, in my seat, drinking wine from my glass and contemplating the blue sky that I so love. I particularly like the heated pool and it has been great to swim every day and my fitness levels must have improved. A few years back I hurt my neck and it’s hard for me to twist and take a breath in the water so what was so good for me was that I was able to swim the whole length of this rather small pool in one breath. When we stayed in Portugal last year and had a big pool I was struggling to get to the other end underwater!

Two

One other thing that I enjoy when lying in the sun is listening to music on my MP3 player. As much as I have embraced technology I have been a bit of a late starter when it comes to MP3 players. It was only about two or three years ago that I changed from a car with a tape player to one with a CD player and since then I have had to start making CDs to play when I’m motoring rather than the tapes I’ve been making ever since cassette tape recorders appeared in the early seventies. Of course, once the CDs are copied to your PC it’s a pretty easy matter to then pop them onto your MP3 player. Quite recently I came across some software that has enabled me to digitise some of my old tapes and vinyl records. One of my favourite tapes was something I concocted over thirty years ago and has soundtrack music from my favourite films and TV shows along with some of my favourite dialogue too, things like Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront, James Garner and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, and Michael Caine in Alfie. It’s almost surreal to lie here under the warm sun listening -not to the latest downloads but to a compilation I put together over thirty years ago!

Three

This is a lovely villa, near to the bars and restaurants and from the balcony I can see the flickering of the flags on the boats in the harbour. At our favourite bar the Café Beruggo, the staff turned out in force to say goodbye which was really nice. Of course the last days of a holiday are always sad and it’s hard to hand over the property to the next holiday maker. It was just as hard when I was much younger and the holidays of my childhood were spent in rented caravans in places like Skegness, Prestatyn, Blackpool and Rhyl. I remember one such holiday when my brother and I ran excitedly through the caravan park following instructions on the lines of ‘go to the third row, turn left and your caravan is at the end with the red roof.’ Well, we went past lots of modern looking caravans, turned left but the one at the end was an old van, looking for all the world like one of those caravans you see seemingly abandoned in some corner of a farmer’s field or on a construction site. That couldn’t be our van? Surely not! When my dad tried the key and it worked, we entered into this old and rather dingy caravan in a state of disappointment and settled down for our week’s holiday. It was so ancient that it had gas lights that were lit by a match. The van filled with that aroma of calor gas that I always liked and I remember playing cards and board games at night lit by the glow of those lamps. Those were the days when Mum booked the holiday from a classified advert in the Manchester Evening News so we never knew what to expect. That particular caravan was a disappointment but there were others that she booked that were wonderful.

Four

One final thought on caravans. Once, a few years ago, Liz and I stopped for a few days at a caravan park in France. Our van was opposite the touring section and I remember one day, sitting in my deck chair in the sun reading a book when a foreign motor home trundled over and parked up opposite. The motor home was towing a small car which was unhooked and parked. Then a huge awning was wound out from the motor home, a ground sheet dropped down, and various items of garden furniture appeared. Not long after that our new neighbour rolled out something that looked like a circular wheelie bin. As I gazed on over the rim of my paperback the top of the object opened and a huge satellite dish that surely must have been NASA surplus stock was raised and aimed at some distant TV station. The Germans had arrived.


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