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.

More Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 9)

Once again we have motored over to France in our motorhome (or camping car as the French call them.) The weather has been great, in fact a little too great as a heatwave has descended upon France making things rather uncomfortable indeed.

By the Lake.

As a result we parked up at the Lac d’Hommes, a lake with an artificial beach where the locals come to cool off. After a lovely cooling dip on a day when the mercury hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (don’t bother asking what that is in Celsius because I neither know nor care!) I settled back on a towel on our groundsheet. Sadly, sun loungers were not available!

I know I’ve said it before but lying in the sun as the water drips off you after a swim is one of life’s great relaxing experiences. Here by the lake lying with my eyes closed I am bombarded by numerous different conversations coming from the busy lake. I can pick out various words in French that I know and I try to put together conversations based on those few words. The language of children squealing with delight as they splash about in the water though is universal. At one end of the spectrum are screams of delight, at the other end are the tears of some minor mishap and they die down when mum or dad come to the rescue.

Names are shouted across the waters of the lake and one urgent cry I heard was that of ‘Jean-Michel! Jean-Michel!’ Strange how brothers and sisters the world over always refer to their siblings with their full and proper names. My brother always calls me Stephen. Not Ste or Steve but Stephen and my childhood friends, brothers Tony and Chris, always referred to each other as Anthony and Christopher.

We arrived at the lake about 11am and after a few days here I think I have got used to the natural rythym of things. There are a few families here when we arrive but the second wave comes after the French lunchtime ends sometime after 2pm. The final wave of lake goers arrive in the late afternoon, just as we are about to leave, young men and women who have perhaps finished work or college.

By the Sea

One day we left the lake behind and moved towards the coast and the somewhat cooler climes of the French Vendée. Relaxing once again on our towels and groundsheet on the beach, the only thing I could hear when I closed my eyes was the crash of the waves on the beach. It was a hugely relaxing sound, very, very loud although we were about 100 yards from the sea.

Later we walked down to the sea wanting to swim but the breakers came in very fast. As we paddled barefoot out into the sea the sand gave way to a stretch of shingle and when I hopped from one foot to another to try and get away from the unexpected sharp stones, one huge wave knocked me right over and I fell over into the water momentarily shocked and confused.

I pulled myself up feeling rather silly and made my way back to the sand. No swimming today.

Le Puy Notre Dame.

One of the reasons we came to France so early this year was to watch the Retro Grand Prix at Le Puy Notre Dame. It’s a vintage motor race through the streets of the village with pre war motor cars and motorcycles. The cars assemble in a makeshift paddock then make their way to the track, actually the village streets, lined just as they were in the past, with straw bales. Motor racing in the pre-war years was a different thing to modern formula one. Huge steering wheels without power steering, narrow wheels with tyres made for normal motoring, cloth helmets and goggles.

The stars of those years, people like Tazio Nuvolari, Prince Bira, and Henry Segrave were a different breed to modern drivers. Still, whatever the era, racing drivers the world over love the speed, the competition and the winning although winning a race in some of the classic cars we observed at Le Puy Notre Dame must have been a formidable achievement.

In between the races we settled down for some french sausage and frites washed down with a 2 euro glass of beer. I fancied another but we had come on the day of late racing; the activities start in the late afternoon and go on until late in the evening so I had to forgo that extra drink so we could drive off to find a quieter place to stop the night.

In the Heat.

The heat of this summer heatwave is really hard to deal with. The usual frenchman or woman will just stay inside, after all, french houses are made with the heat in mind. Their stonework hugs the cool and their white exteriors reflect away the heat. A frenchman goes inside to cool down but in a motorhome, the interior is even warmer than the outside. Despite trying to park in cool shady places the motorhome is always hot and so we can only sit back and suffer the heat.

Shall we leave the doors open asks Liz? No, of course not I answer. Suppose someone comes in the night to rob us! However, what happens when the sweat is pouring down our faces? We leave the doors and windows open and security goes out of the window.

We stayed at one motorhome aire where there were showers. Showers, what a luxury. I don’t think I have enjoyed a shower so much ever. I was hot and bothered and sweaty and nothing seemed to combat the heat but after a cool shower, feeling cooler and fresh, suddenly all was right with the world!

Two things are always on my mind as a motorhomer; where can I stop the night and where can I empty my toilet? I worry about those things and it is always a great feeling to find somewhere to settle down for the night. We do consult various guide books and web sites like Park4Night and so far things have been fine.

On this trip one other thing has also worried me. Will we have enough water to drink? I find myself remembering something that happened years ago, cycling with my friends in the peak district and gasping, absolutely gasping for a drink. We stopped at a shop and I remember buying a big bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, my favourite childhood drink. We stepped outside the shop and my friend took a big gulp of his drink and me? Well I opened my bottle and drank the whole lot down in one long guzzle. I can still remember the feeling of refreshment that I felt back then, it was so wonderful.

Anyway, time to get that Pepsi out of the fridge!


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

Cameras, Cards and Motorhomes.

My holiday in France this year was pretty different to the one I’m used to. No French villa, no poolside sunbed. Although I did manage to get through four books from my holiday book bag ( I have to admit I only finished three of them) I didn’t do much writing at all.

It’s not quite so easy writing in the hot confines of a motorhome. No cool kitchen or dining room like in our last rented villa. A motorhome too is about movement, about travelling. It’s about spending one or two nights in one location and then hitting the road, looking for that next location and then the next. I enjoyed it all, don’t get me wrong but the lazy relaxing holiday is probably the one for me.

A big disappointment on this holiday was also the reliability of my GoPro Hero camera. I’ve got 2 action cameras; one is a cheap imitation of a GoPro camera. It works fine but sometimes in the heat of the moment, especially when driving, it’s easy to stay too long on the power button and click into another mode like a still picture mode or a time lapse mode. The GoPro hero is great in this regard as it can be set for instant shooting. Once set up all you do is press the top button, the camera begins recording and beeps to acknowledge that (3 beeps). When you are done, click the same button once again and the camera beeps again (5 beeps) and you know recording has shut off.

I had not used either camera for a while but made sure they were both fully powered up and even had a long lead to connect the GoPro to the cigarette lighter socket and a new memory card. Everything seemed outwardly OK but the files from days 2 and 3, when later downloaded to my laptop would not play. What is even more annoying is that on day 3 as we drove down (up actually) into the Jura and the French Alps we were engulfed in a huge snowstorm which would have made great video. Alas none of those recordings were usable nor were the next day’s video with some spectacular views as we headed towards the south of France.

All of this brought back memories of the film era and so many disappointments of photographs that I knew were going to be amazing but after a visit to the photo lab were found to be too bright or too dark or blurred or, in one sad episode, completely blank. On that last occasion I remember going to pick up my prints and finding that the bill was rather cheap. ‘Is that right?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes’ said the rather smug girl at the till and I did wonder why my prints were not on the counter in front of me while I pulled some notes from my wallet. As soon as she had my money she handed over the prints wallet with the news that my film was blank and must have somehow been exposed. Nothing to do with them of course. A heated debate followed. The manager appeared and declared it ‘obvious’ that the film was exposed when removed from the camera incorrectly. I felt on the contrary that it was ‘obvious’ the photo lab had cocked up. Either way, I found somewhere else to do my developing and printing after that.

A GoPro Hero similar to mine.

Getting back to my video cameras, I did notice when downloading the footage that the date on my GoPro Hero had somehow reverted to 1899 instead of 2019 so that may have been the root of the problem. I updated it and later bought another new memory card and I did manage to record some more video but nothing as spectacular as the video that I should have had. Some other mistakes on my part led to me using up the memory card prematurely because I had left the GoPro running too long on a couple of occasions. In fact in one instance I have a good 30 minute sequence of the corner of a lay-by when we stopped for a brew and a sandwich. The latest video I had looked forward to producing may now be condemned to a fate similar to the latest Woody Allen film: Never to be released!

That brings me now to pre-paid Euro cards. Heading to France my wallet had a hefty chunk of cash Euros but just to supplement that I had a post office card which you can top up with a currency of your choice, in this case Euros. My biggest expenditure on the trip, apart from food and drink was fuel and we tended to always make for the supermarket fuel pumps which, as in the UK, are usually much cheaper than Texaco or Esso or all the other brand names. Each time though my Euro card was declined and I was forced to use my credit card and pay whatever arbitrary exchange rate was available that day.

Strangely enough, those same stores were willing to accept my Euro card in payment for food and groceries. Many petrol stations in France though are automated ones; perhaps that was the issue.

On the positive side though, one great advantage of a motorhome is simply this: As you motor down the Autoroute following the sun, you begin to feel the pangs of hunger and the need for a good old British cuppa. After a while a lovely layby or country aire surrounded by trees and birdsong appears. You stop, crank up the gas, gently fry the sausages on the stove while the tea brews and now, miles from anywhere, you can relax with a cup of English tea in one hand and an English sausage butty in the other. Wonderful!


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

More Travels in a Motorhome (part 2)

As you read this I’m heading towards the end of my holiday in France. It’s been an interesting trip, a true road trip and one where there is no destination because it’s the journey itself which is the beginning and the end of the whole experience.

We arrived on the European continent in Zeebrugge in Belgium, motored serenely down to France, from the dull and cool northern France to the snowstorms of the Jura and French Alps where my trusty GoPro camera let me down mightily, deciding not to record the epic snowstorms we had to endure in order to visit Liz’s sister.

We arrived in one piece and were glad for some warming food and wine but then moved on to warmer climes in the south of France and then onto Spain.

Spain was nice but not totally our cup of tea, well, it might have been had the weather be more welcoming, and warmer. Back towards the north then we went as we noticed warmer weather was on the way to the Loire, one of our favourite places in France.

One major stop was at the Lac d’Homme in the Loire, a beautiful lake with lots of parking areas. There was nothing to say that motorhomes could park here overnight but then again, there was nothing to say you couldn’t, so we did!

It’s rather lovely just to settle down and relax after a lot of driving and the lake was a lovely quiet place. The first night we stayed we awoke the next morning to a lovely chorus of birdsong. Wonderful!

Sorry there’s not more to this post but we are currently in a bad mobile WiFi area.

Hope to be back with you next week with a more substantial post.

Best wishes from France!


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


More Travels in a Motorhome.

This week Liz and I have been once again off on our travels in our motorhome. We set off on April 1st and rather than endure the long haul south to Folkestone and the horrendous traffic queues and delays we decided on another route, the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

This involved only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lancashire over to Hull. One interesting aspect of this was although Yorkshire folk and those of us from west of the Pennines are sworn enemies, we are both northern and so a little northern humour and banter was the order of the day at Hull when we arrived at the port and I took a wrong turning and also when I stalled our vehicle as we were boarding the ferry. The ferry itself was also a delight. The bar was very northern in atmosphere and there was a ‘turn’ as we say ‘up north’, a vocalist and her keyboard man who knocked out some very nice songs indeed.

Off to sleep Monday night and we awoke in the morning in Belgium. There was no knocking on our cabin door by ferry staff, eager to get in and clean up for the next batch of passengers which is what we are used to with Brittany Ferries. No, with P & O everything was a little more relaxed. A little, dare I say, ‘northern’!

Belgium was looking rather sad and was covered with a grey low cloud and persistent drizzle but things brightened up as we swept into France.

After a few hours we stopped for the night at a ‘Routier’ which in France is a sort of restaurant come Truck stop. We were able to enjoy the usual lovely starter, a small plate from the buffet comprising salad, cooked meats, pates, pickles and so on. The main was a choice of two dishes, Steak or pork. The cheese board was as usual wonderful, this is France after all, and for dessert I chose ile flottant which was a meringue in a sort of cold custard. Nice and all for 13 Euros including wine.

The next day we motored on south to visit Liz’s sister who lives in the French Alps. She had mentioned the previous day that it was warm up there, 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F for all us non metric folk!) and apparently she had been swimming in the local plan d’eau, a small lake. However, on the day we decided to visit a major snowstorm blew into the Alps. Conditions were very, very Arctic indeed, in fact at one point we were almost in a ‘white out’ situation where only a thin ribbon of tarmac was discernible through the blizzard. If similar conditions had descended on the UK it would have resulted in a total grid lock on the roads there. Here, in France though, the locals were ready for bad weather and a small army of snowploughs were at work clearing and treating the roads.

Our big mistake was following the advice of the lady from Google maps who sent us up a small mountain which gradually became blocked with snow as we rose higher. Thick snowflakes were falling and as we approached the highest point, I stopped to avoid a large mound of snow and my wheels would not grip the tarmac to carry on ahead. A snowplough motored serenely past going the other way and I managed to roll back onto the snow free side of the road, turn in a small area where the road was wider and go back the way we had come. Back down the mountain we located the Autoroute where constant ploughing and treating had kept the surface clear and we finally got going once more. The route across the A40 was spectacular, changing from tunnels to bridges and more tunnels.

I clicked on my Go Pro camera which I had stuck to my window but sadly when I later transferred the files to my laptop they wouldn’t play. Of course, all the boring stuff I shot on the M62 in the UK was fine but the really spectacular views didn’t come out. It was rather like years ago when you took your camera film to be developed just knowing what great shots you had taken and for one reason or other they just didn’t come out. I was not happy. I hadn’t used the camera for a while but I had charged it up and fitted a new and better memory card. Oh well, that’s technology for you!

The next day it was cool but sunny and most of the snow had vanished. We motored on further south and stopped in the small lakeside town of St Chamas. We were hoping to stop in the camping car area but sadly it was under renovation but we managed to find a spot in the local car park.

Driving a motorhome makes you very aware of consumables like water and gas and also of the waste products you are creating. I’m not sure actually how much our toilet holds but I do find myself worrying about it getting too full and wherever possible we try to use public toilets. The great thing about France is that they actively welcome visitors in motorhomes and provide a lot of facilities for them, toilet dumps, waste disposal, drinking water and so on. Back home in the UK it is almost impossible to find such amenities unless you pay to go on a camping site.

A busy motorhome stop at Pelissanne.

After a wet evening in the town of Pelissanne where we were able to empty our onboard toilet we carried on to a lovely motorhome site situated in a olive oil farm near the town of Trouillas. The site was completely free and there was a shower and washing area available. The staff encourage campers to visit their shop and purchase some of their lovely olive oil products but otherwise, stopping here is completely free.

Day 9 of our trip saw us head further south and cross the border into Spain. In fact as I write this in a quiet motorhome parking spot in Cantallops across from what I hope will be a lovely restaurant, the clouds are clearing and the sun has appeared.

Fuel is much cheaper over in Spain, pity I filled the tank up in France! While I’m on the subject of money, in the UK I had got myself a post office card and topped it up with Euros. It’s quite handy for most purchases except in the french service stations where it has been declined it all but one so far.

One more thing though, I really am not happy about that video!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information. In the interview below I talk about the background to the book, publishing and the trials of marketing.

Northern France, Video and a Supermarket Car Park

As you read this Liz and I will be making our way back to France for our proper summer holiday. The excursion in our motorhome a few weeks ago was mainly to attend a French wedding but it was also a chance to do a little exploring. In northern France the landscape is littered with many reminders of past conflicts but one you will come across time and time again are the many immaculate cemeteries maintained by the War Graves Commission. The price of world war comes heavy.

I won’t say too much about the trip because all my thoughts and observations are mostly in the video below.

It was a sad but moving experience, especially seeing so many graves of unknown soldiers. One particular gravestone I went in search of was the grave of Wilfred Owen, the famous Great War poet. He is buried in the small cemetery in the village of Ors and lost his life only a matter of days before the end of the conflict.

I do love the sweet satisfaction of putting together a short video but I often wonder if is it better to write my narration first and then put my video together to fit the words or just make the video and write the narration later. In actual fact the end result was a bit of both.

My ‘action cam’ video camera packed up during the trip, or at least I thought it had. Back home in the UK I plugged it into my laptop and realised that at some point I had left the camera running endlessly and all the space on the memory card had been swallowed up. For this next trip I have taken the plunge and got myself a ‘proper’ GoPro camera, a much more sophisticated version of the cheap action cam I have been using. I was a little disappointed to find that this version, despite the GoPro reputation and extra price tag, does not have a viewing screen in the rear of the camera. After further inspection of the manual I see that the device has an ‘app’ which you can download to your smartphone and see exactly what is being filmed and operate your camera remotely. Check back here in a few weeks to see whether I managed to shoot anything interesting or if I come back with another memory card full to the brim with exciting footage of the car park at Intermarche.

I shot a whole lot of in-car footage last year in France and put it all together in yet another video. I did the narration armed with a few notes and just rambled on into the microphone. On reflection I might have been better writing out a proper script but you can make your own mind up by checking out the video below.

Anyway, we are all packed, ready to return to France this time in a car rather than a motorhome so I hope that by next week I should have some more sun lounger thoughts to share with you. Our previous trip to France in a motorhome was fun but there was always that sense of travelling but never arriving. Still, maybe that’s the essence of a road trip, at least according to that old saying it’s better to travel than to arrive. This time we hope to arrive at our rented villa in the Loire sometime on Saturday afternoon. I can see it all now: A quick flurry of unpacking, a refreshing dip in the pool, the decanting of the red wine, that agreeable hiss as our steaks are slapped on the barbecue . . bring it on!


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.

Return Journey

All holidays end, and eventually, no matter how wonderful a time you have had, you have to return home and go back to work. It’s sad to think that when I’m back at my desk, some other lucky fellow will be in my villa, sipping wine on my patio, and relaxing. At least he won’t be using my glass, because I bought my glass at a vide grenier and brought it home to the UK so, to the guy relaxing on my patio -get yer own glass mate!

Liz and I finished our holiday in France by motoring from the Cher department to the much lovelier Loire region and stayed for a few days in one of our favourite french towns, Doué la Fontaine.

It was nice to see our old friends again. We visited Julie, the landlady of a small bar in Doué. The bar is rarely busy and Julie runs the place herself. On the day we visited, she wasn’t feeling too well but what can she do she asks; she must work as there is no one else to open up. I have to say, I did consider eating there but earlier, as we walked around the market, we found a small bar offering a 13 Euro three course menu, including wine, so we sauntered round there to find a hidden gem of a bar that we had not noticed on any of our numerous previous trips to the town.

Julie’s bar in Doué La Fontaine

The lunch was lovely, if a little too big for someone who has never taken lunch seriously. A sandwich is my usual lunchtime fare but this lovely lunch kept me going for the rest of the day.

After a few days we had to say goodbye to Doué and set off for our rendezvous with the ferry at Caen. We did some serene motoring travelling north but as I was worried about time we jumped onto the autoroute to make better headway. After a good run we stopped at the services for some refreshments. French services, Aires as they call them, are much, much nicer than the packed UK versions. French Aires are like quiet restful picnic areas, some have petrol and all the other facilities of UK services but others are just small picnic areas. The one we stopped at was unusually busy. Rarely have I ever seen more than a few cars and wagons at the services but at these there must have been fifteen to twenty cars.

At the toilets themselves, one of the cubicles was closed for repairs and the other was engaged so I had to use the urinals. French men clearly do not need privacy because many urinals are open to the gaze of passersby, sometimes with a small modesty screen, other times not. Both urinals were in use but as I approached, one became free and as I opened up my trousers the one to my left became free also. Happy days I thought because for some reason, I always find it difficult having a communal wee. Just as I was ready to release my waters, someone stood at the free urinal to my left and my hoped for flow was stemmed before it had even started. ‘Come on’ I said to myself, ‘have a wee and get it over with!’ The more I tried the harder it seemed to be. My fellow urinal user was also having the same problem as I had not heard the tell-tale sound of his waters flowing either. He must have been trying hard because after a few moments he issued a loud and unexpected fart!. He was obviously flustered and mumbled a hasty ‘sorry about that.’ I detected a southern english accent and mumbled OK in what I thought was a french accent, not wanting him to think I was english as I felt that if he thought I was French he might be less embarrassed. (Yes, I don’t understand that either but that was my thought process.) Just then, the happy trickle of my waters finally began to flow.

A typical French aire. Looks busy doesn’t it?

We were early for our appointment with the ferry but what with passport checks and the inevitable stopping and starting the time passed quickly.

One nice way to travel on a ferry is to take the night crossing so you can freshen up, have a nice meal and perhaps the odd glass of wine and then sleep during the crossing, waking up in Portsmouth ready for the long trip up north. I’ve always rather liked that coming the other way, England towards France. It’s nice to wake up in France of a morning, all fresh and ready to drive through the Gallic countryside. Waking up in Portsmouth ready to face the morning rush hour is not always a good thing. On this trip we arrived in the UK at nine thirty in the evening. The weather kept mostly dry and we had a good run until the A34 we were travelling on was unexpectedly closed before we met with the M40. Ah, the nightmare of night-time road works!

The diversion took us back partly along the way we had had already travelled and on to the M40 from a different direction. Later as we ventured further up north we encountered signs for ‘DELAYS J15 – J16 M6’. Delays, at one in the morning? Surely not? Surely yes because after a while, when our three lanes became only one due to road works’ closures, we joined a sad and slow-moving convoy creeping forward in first gear. Oh well, good job it wasn’t a night journey in the other direction, hoping to pick up a night ferry to France. I could just imagine us sitting on the quayside having missed the boat!

C’est la vie!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or the icon below to go straight to amazon!

What do French people do?

A French villageI’m coming towards the end of my three week stay in France.  I do love it here, I really do.  My fiance and I spend most of our weekends at vide greniers and brocantes. A vide grenier is literally a loft sale,  the equivalent of a UK car boot sale.  A brocante is slightly different, a cross between a flea market and an antique sale. Many of these events in France are combined with a village fete and have a bar and a food area which can range from a full three course French sit down meal to merguez (French sausages) and frites (chips to UK readers and fries to you in the USA)

There is also always a bar, hey we are in France after all. Eighty cents for a glass of vin rouge, two euros for a glass of beer, and nothing stops these events. Rain shower at a UK car boot -forget it! Event over! Everyone leg it to your car and pack up. Are the French bothered by a downpour? No way! Put a bit of plastic sheeting down on your goods and quickly make way to the bar for a glass of red. Open up again when the skies clear. Now, here’s another thing; All these events are pretty well attended which means there are people about inhabiting these places but- and this is an important question. What do the French do when there isn’t a village fete on? Where do they go? What do they do and where do they do it!

Okay. deep breath needed here. I don’t mean to get excited but I’ve travelled for three weeks and here’s the thing; French towns close at 12 midday on the dot. Shops close. The only places open are the restaurants because nothing, and I mean nothing interferes with the French lunch. Nothing! Everywhere shuts down until two pm. Okay, I’ve noticed in recent years the supermarkets have started to stay open, which is a good time to shop for all us UK tourists. But even in the late afternoons French villages are still and quiet. UK villages are full of people, cars, traffic and kids. Where do the kids go? Why aren’t they kicking balls about in the middle of the street like normal kids? Where do the people go and what are they doing? If you know the answer, let me know!

This is what we need to do. Not so long ago on BBC there was a pretty interesting documentary about cats. The BBC team wired up all the cats in a village, had cameras and tracking devices on the cats and worked out what the cats did, where they did it and in fact the whole pattern of their behaviour. What the BBC need to do for a follow up programme is to attach cameras and gps tracking to a village of French people and report the results as soon as possible!

We need to know!


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