The Glade of the Armistice

I never plan anything, never, which is why that it’s so unusual for this blog post to be appearing at such an appropriate time. This weekend, we remember the dead of two World Wars and I thought it might be fitting to tell you about the time I visited the Glade of the Armistice in Compiègne, France.

Earlier this year Liz and I were touring through France in our motorhome. Towards the end of our trip we were naturally moving further north towards Calais and our trip through Eurotunnel and back to the UK. We stopped in a place called Berny Rivière intending to visit another of our favourite restaurants. Sadly, the restaurant was closed and so we found somewhere to park up for the night and as the heavens decided to open up and drop a major rainstorm on top of us, we ate in.

We were parked not far from Compiègne where the armistice which ended the First World War was signed in 1918 so it seemed an opportune moment to visit The Glade of the Armistice.

The Glade is exactly that, a clearing in the middle of a forest. A series of what look to be tram lines curve across the glade to the site of the museum but still visible today, is the location where the armistice was signed, aboard a famous railway carriage in 1918. The railway carriage was designated 2419D and was part of Marshal Foch’s personal train. Foch decided on the spot for the surrender as he wanted to keep the negotiations away from the prying eyes of the press. The negotiations began on November 8th and were finally finished and the document of surrender signed at 5:45am on the 11th November, 1918.

The surrender came into force at 11am and fighting continued until that time with 2,738 men dying on the last day of the First World War.

The railway carriage went back into regular service for a while but was then attached to the French Presidential Train. Afterwards it was put on display in Paris until 1927 when it was returned to the glade at Compiègne.

The Second World War began in 1939 when Hitler and the Nazis invaded Poland. The railway carriage was still in Compiègne on the 22nd June, 1940 when Hitler ordered it to be brought out from its shed and back to the glade and it was there that he and his generals accepted the surrender of the French. Three days later the site was demolished on the orders of the Führer and the railway carriage was taken to Berlin. The statue of Marshal Foch was left standing intentionally, left to stand guard over a scene of devastation, a personal insult from Hitler to the Marshal who had died in 1929.

After the war, the site was restored by German prisoners of war and in 1950, an identical carriage was returned to the site. Carriage number 2439 was built with the same batch as the original and was also part of Marshal Foch’s train in 1918.

The carriage is housed in a small museum and when I entered early one Saturday morning I was the only visitor present. The staff asked me my nationality and when I stepped into the main area a recording began telling the story of the site in English. It was really fascinating and as I walked around, I started up my camera and took numerous pictures and video.

Outside in the Glade, the statue of Marshal Foch is still there and looks down on a beautiful clearing. It was a calm and peaceful place and it was strange to stand on the spot where Hitler and his Nazi cronies once stood.

Hitler can be seen on photographs and film footage from the time. He must have been overjoyed. He and his generals had done in 1940 what the Kaiser and his generals could not do in 1918 and defeated the Allied Armies. His joy only lasted a few short years. In 1945 he shot himself surrounded by the debris of a ruined Berlin.


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A Day in the Life of a Motorhomer

I’m not sure a motorhomer is even a word but language evolves, new words appear and it’s pretty exciting to think that this particular new word -Motorhomer- first appeared in the pages of this humble blog. After a few weeks of living in our motorhome I thought I’d try and give you a flavour of just what motorhome life is like. OK, here we go.

Morning.

It takes me a while to get used to sleeping in our motorhome. It’s only small and there is a little dip in the bed just at the point of my lower back which has given me some backache in the past but lately I’ve learnt to either avoid it or just live with it. Another issue that affects our sleep is the way the van is parked but I’ll come back to that later. My place on the bed is over by the window and there is no way out for me except by climbing over Liz so one of my rules is to not have beer prior to going to bed. Otherwise I’ll be waking in the night wanting to wee and struggling to get out. Even so, I’m usually the first one up so I’ll shuffle over to the small bathroom for a wash and a shave.

On summer mornings I can handle a wash in cold water but as summer has come to a close I’m less inclined to do that. I can switch on the water heater but usually I just put a pan of water on the hob.

Despite the bathroom being small, actually very small, there is a basin, toilet and even a shower in there. To shower it’s important to switch on the water heater first, pull out the panels that keep the water away from the toilet and basin and then switch on the water. In a motorhome I’m always aware that there isn’t an endless supply of water so a good idea is to apply shower gel liberally to the body, switch on the water and get washed as quickly as possible using as little water as you can.

Note to self: Don’t drop the soap as it’s pretty difficult to bend down and pick it up in these cramped conditions.

Shower over, towel yourself down, get dressed and get the kettle on before hanging your towel out in the sun on the bike carrier to the rear of the van.

Next I’ll check my emails while the van chef, Liz, gets herself ready too.

I’m a big lover of breakfast. In fact I’m even tempted to say it’s my favourite meal of the day and I love a standard English breakfast. Bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes and eggs, preferably poached, served with toast. That can be a little difficult on the cramped three ring stove in the van so lately we’ve been having a bacon omelette with some French bread. I’ll either walk to a bakery if there is one nearby or we usually have some bread in our little freezer which always keeps pretty well.

Noon

Another option is to not have breakfast at all but to save ourselves for lunch. In France there are many places that serve a cheap lunchtime menu which will consist of a buffet starter, a simple main meal, a cheese course and a dessert.

We found an excellent restaurant near to Parçay Les Pins called the Restaurant De La Gare, the Station Restaurant. The buffet starter is always my favourite and I fill my plate with pâté, cold meats, coleslaw and various salad items. A basket of French bread will appear and is usually topped up when it gets low. Vin de table is provided as well as some chilled water and on this occasion,  a large bottle of cider as well. Not bad for 12.50 euros each!

OK, breakfast (or lunch) over it’s time to head off.

We will usually be parked in an aire in France and these special parking places, reserved for motor homes tend to have all the important things we might need. A very important thing is a place to empty the van toilet. It’s not a pleasant task but I tend to empty it whenever we get the opportunity. A lot of French aires have a water pipe to help you rinse your toilet cassette but many require a token, a jeton that is usually available from nearby local shops although there are many aire de camping cars that are completely free.

The van navigator (Liz) will usually have perused google maps for a plan d’eau, a French swimming lake and we’ll be off to find it. We usually factor in a stop for some French bread and some more French cheese as well as a box of wine.

It’s important of course to keep a check on our fuel. We usually fill up with diesel at French supermarkets as they tend to be cheaper than the usual petrol stations. What can be a bit of a pain is that many of them are unmanned. That’s not really a problem except I tend to use a travel card that I preload with Euros and it’s not accepted at unmanned petrol stations. Then I have to pull out my credit card and pay the foreign currency fee.

Our fridge and cooker are powered by LPG, liquid petroleum gas and we always keep a look out for stations that provide gas. The big problem when we first came to France was finding a petrol station with LPG. There didn’t seem to be any until eventually, we realised that in France it’s called GPL! Duh!

Swimming

In the French alps this year we found a fabulous lake. It was in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. It had a parking place for camping cars, the French name for motorhomes and it wasn’t too busy.

Various French people arrived around 12 noon with picnic baskets for lunch and few had a pre lunch swim. The water in the lake was lovely and cool and it was wonderful to have a swim and then lie back on our towels and dry off in the sun.

Over on the other side a couple of fishermen dipped their rods in the water and waited patiently for the fish to bite. We read our books, competed against each other to finish that day’s sudoku and swam some more.

Later it’s time to find somewhere to stop for the night. Usually, we will stop by the lake or if we are trying to make our way to somewhere in particular, we might get a few miles under our belt before stopping again.

On our last trip we had planned one evening to visit a restaurant where we have stopped before. The restaurant, Micheline’s in the village of Berny Rivière, is not far from a large camping and holiday spot. Sadly, when we arrived we found it was closed and the owners had gone on holiday after the camp site, presumably the source of most of their customers, had closed at the end of the summer. We were very disappointed. We found a place to park, not far from another restaurant but then the heavens opened and an almighty downpour began. Oh well. I decanted some wine and Liz made us some food and just as it was time to serve, the rain cleared and the evening sun came out.

The downpours in France always make me think of something that happened to me years ago when I was hitch hiking in France. I was making my way to Paris in order to get the train back home and it began to rain. It was pretty heavy and I was sheltering under a small porch but then I noticed a bus top on the other side of the road. I ran across but just then the rain came down, or so it seemed, in one almighty whoosh and it was if I’d decided to run under a waterfall. I got to the bus stop completely soaked. The rain cleared and the sun began to beat down again and as I walked along, steam began to rise off me!

Evening

On summer evenings I will usually get out our table and chairs and our little gas barbecue and we’ll have some salad with sausages and whatever meat we have bought cooked on the barbecue. We might finish with some cheese washed down with a glass of wine. Lovely.

Later we’ll be off to sleep but making sure the van is parked properly is very important. A tilt to the left and Liz will be rolling over and crowding me. Over to the right and I’ll be crowding her. A slight tilt forward and we tend to slide off our pillows and down the bed. If we have to have a tilt its better to tilt back toward our pillows but we do have chocks which we can slip under the wheels to level us up.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

We usually relax in the evenings with a book or an iPad but looking around I’ve seen some fabulous motorhomes this year, some with impressive satellite dishes so the occupants can watch TV. We’ve even seen some vehicles with a trailer towing a small car so they can park up and then drive off into town.

Personally, I’m happy with a good book.


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A Bit of a Blog or a Blog of Bits (Part 3)

Sometimes, as a writer of blogs, I end up with a few bit and bobs of a blog that I know aren’t going to make it into a full blown blog post. So, what can I do except maybe pull them all in together and give them a title like A Bit of a Blog. See where I’m going here? Of course you do. Let’s crack on then. .

As I write this, I’m in France once again as Liz and I have decided to nip over to the continent. We came over earlier this year and have wanted to return for a while but various appointments and arrangements have been in place, keeping us at home but what the heck we thought, time for another trip in our motorhome.

September isn’t perhaps the best time to visit France. Yes things are quieter, holidays are over and the kids have gone back to school but the summer is largely over too. We had planned a week touring in our motorhome followed by a week in a French gîte which we have rented before followed by another week touring. As it happened, when we booked the gîte, the owner very kindly advised that the property was empty the week prior to us arriving and so if we wished, we could arrive whenever we liked.

As a member of the Order of Northern Tightwads, this of course was music to my ears. Free rental at a French villa with a swimming pool! Ok, no touring for us. We literally raced down to the villa arriving in a matter of 48 hours.

Our first day was wonderful. The sun poured down warmly, we swam in the pool and between dips, relaxed on our sun loungers. Day 2 at the villa was a washout, it rained all day, but happily day three was an improvement. So far, despite the mixed weather, I’ve managed to swim every day which has always been one of my goals on holiday; to relax but also to do a little exercise.

Another important exercise in France is to get out and about and mix with the locals a bit. I’m not much of a lunch person, I kind of like my usual late breakfast but a few times on this holiday we’ve skipped breakfast and headed down to a fairly nearby restaurant, the Restaurant à La Gare, or the Station restaurant to you. It’s about a ten minute drive away from Parçay Les Pins where we are staying and it does a four course lunch (yes, four courses) for a measly 12.50 euros, including wine. Ok, the wine is vin ordinaire, the cheap French wine found in most places in France but to be honest, it’s the kind of wine I like, not strong, fairly tasty and hugely quaffable. I’ll have a glass with my starter which involves a trip to the buffet table for all kinds of salad, cold meats, pâtés and so on. Our basket of bread is routinely filled by the waitress who then brings the next course which is jambon (ham) served with either frites, rice or petis pois. Time for more vin ordinaire and by the way I went for the frites. Top up the wine for the cheese course and then there is the dessert. I fancied a little ice cream but instead I had meringue with cold custard (île flottante). I prefer my custard the English way, warm but what the heck, at 12.50 Euros each I wasn’t likely to complain.

The Queen

Last week on the 8th September the Queen passed away. I’m not a particular royalist and there is a lot I don’t like about the Royal Family but the Queen is someone I’ve always admired. She had a dignity and elegance never to be found elsewhere in the British political scene. Whenever controversy emerged she rose above it and stayed discreetly silent, whatever criticism arose in the news media.

She has been, I’ve always thought, the glue that holds together the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As long as I’ve lived, she has been the Queen. I wonder now, how the country will change?

Books

So, what else have I done on this trip? Well I’ve read books, after all reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures. I took it upon myself some time ago to read the entire library of Hamish Macbeth novels. They are not great works of literature but the world of books has everything for everyone and sometimes, I just like an old fashioned, easy going mystery read. Here in France, I’ve just finished Death of a Scriptwriter, the 14th entry into the series which wasn’t actually one of the best. The previous two were very good though, Death of a Macho Man and Death of a Dentist. If you are not familiar with Hamish Macbeth, he is a constable in a Scottish highland village. He likes to apply the rule of law in his own way, taking away the car keys from drink drivers before they leave the pub, giving various minor bootleggers a warning before removing their illegal stills and he’s not averse to poaching the odd salmon. The books are wonderful, quirky murder mysteries which Hamish always solves but tries to give credit to others in case his bosses think of promoting him and moving him away from his beloved village of Lochdubh.

A somewhat different kettle of crimefighting fish is private detective Philip Marlowe and a while back I picked up a Raymond Chandler anthology containing three of his Marlowe books, The Big Sleep, Farewell my Lovely and The Long Goodbye.

I wrote about the first novel, The Big Sleep a while back. It is a brilliant novel, one of my favourite ever reads and I particularly like the opening where he is engaged by General Sternwood to look into an issue of blackmailing.

Book 2, Farewell My Lovely, starts off well. It’s about Moose Malloy, an oversized fellow looking for Velma, an old flame. Marlowe gets in on the hunt as well as looking into another case and later finds both are related. I read the first part of the novel pretty much all in one go and enjoyed it very much. The next quarter was a little confusing. (During the filming of The Big Sleep the director and his stars wondered who killed the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur. They sent a cable to Raymond Chandler asking him. Chandler told a friend later ‘Dammit, I don’t know either!)’ Happily, in Farewell My Lovely, everything finally came together towards the end.

Dilys Powell called Chandler’s writing ‘a peculiar mixture of harshness, sensuality, high polish and backstreet poetry’ and it’s easy to see why. The Long Goodbye has been unputdownable. The mix of fabulous descriptive text and authentic dialogue has got me hooked and I love hearing about the Hollywood Hills, Mulholland Drive where so many film stars lived as well as Romanoff’s, the famous Hollywood restaurant.

Not quite sure how to finish off this blog post so let’s go with the trailer for The Big Sleep, the 1944 version starring Humphrey Bogart.


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A Few Holiday Reflections

It’s always a bit of a let down when you return home after a holiday. The weather isn’t that great, there’s a whole lot of washing to do of your holiday clothes. You start wishing things like, maybe we should have had another week? We were travelling in a motorhome and I start to think why didn’t we go there or go to see that? There’s always the next trip of course and the good thing is that as I’m now retired, I don’t have to go back to work. Anyway, while I’m feeling a little deflated looking out at the rather dull suburban view from my window it might be a good idea to take a look back at the last few weeks in France.

One of the things I’ve always liked about France is their laid-back lifestyle. Over there, and perhaps more so in the rural areas than the big cities, everything stops for lunch. No, not a quick sandwich grabbed on a 30-minute break, lunch times in France are something to be enjoyed and for care to be taken over. Shops close between 12 and 2 pm and it’s only in recent years that some supermarkets will stay open during those times.

At picnic tables all over france, the French descend on sunny days with huge containers of food and wine. Tablecloths are laid and the food is eaten and enjoyed at leisure.

Restaurants in France always have a plat du jour, a dish of the day and many are served as part of a formula menu comprising of starter, main, dessert and/or cheese. I always thought that the plat du jour was something a French restaurant had to serve but I couldn’t find any evidence of that on the internet so perhaps it’s just a tradition. Plenty of bread is always served with a French meal and it is usual for the waiter to top up your bread basket when he or she sees it is empty.

My favourite French restaurants are those which have a buffet starter. There is usually a small choice of main courses but over on the buffet table there will be a large selection of salads, cold rice and pasta dishes, pâté, cold meats in various dressings, shredded carrots and chopped beetroot. I try to avoid the various fishy dishes like cold rice and tuna but I usually find my plate piled with goodies.

House wine is usually served by the pichet, small jugs. Very small at 25cl and larger ones at 50cl. On hot summer days I tend to go for the house rose but more often than not Liz and I will share a pichet of red.

Cheese in a French restaurant with a pichet of vin rouge

Our first French meal this year was in the Buffalo Grill, a franchised restaurant you will see all over France. It’s like an English steak house serving steak, burgers, ribs and so on. A small salad in a bowl came first before our choice of mains. Mine was an excellent cheeseburger, Liz had a steak and the dessert was some ice cream.

In the town of Saumur, we had our first proper French lunch. The starter was the lovely French buffet I talked about above and the main was confit duck for Liz and a chicken in curry sauce for me. Curry is an unusual dish to find in France as the French don’t seem to go in for spicy food. The curry sauce was to me very mild and more of a slightly curry flavoured cream sauce. It came with fries and the traditional green beans and I have to say, I do love French green beans.

Curried chicken and frites

For dessert we ordered ice cream for me and cheese for Liz and we split the two between us. It was a lovely meal although perhaps a little too much for someone like me who rarely eats lunch.

Most weekends we scour the internet and find ourselves a few brocantes or vide greniers to visit. Vide greniers or car boot sales are usually part of a village fete and there will also be music, wine and food to be found. I remember going to one a few years ago which was interrupted by a pretty heavy shower of rain. In the UK, the vendors would have quickly packed up and been off but in France it was a different story. Plastic covers were quickly whipped out and people took shelter in the food and bar area. Liz and I stood at the bar and drank a glass of cheap red wine and when the skies cleared, we carried on looking for bargains.

I like travelling in our motorhome but after a few weeks living in a somewhat cramped environment I was glad to get to our French villa. I say our French villa even though it is a rental property. We have stayed here a couple of times before and it is ideally placed for everything we need although a bar or restaurant within walking distance would be nice.

The sun going down after a day by a plan d’eau

At the villa I usually try to act like a writer. I get up fairly early and after a cup of tea and a quick scan of my emails on my iPad I crank up my laptop and do some work on my writing projects. In my draft blog folder I’ve currently got eight blogs awaiting attention. Most are just ideas but some are partly written blog posts that need an injection of effort and inspiration to get them finished. The sequel to Floating in Space is still only half finished but I still chip away at it, a few pages at a time as well as a few other stories, screenplays and poems that all need urgent work.

After a little of that it’s time for a late breakfast, brunch might be a better word, and to have a swim and a read by the pool. I remember once reading about Noel Coward that while staying at his house in Jamaica, he rose at 8 am and worked at his writing until 12 when lunch was served. No wonder he produced a fine body of work while I have only produced one novel and one poetry anthology.

A big disappointment on this last trip was the failure of one of my video cameras, my GoPro Hero. I had intended to put together another travel video and at first, I thought it wasn’t going to be possible as I hadn’t shot enough video. However, looking back through my video files I see I’ve got hours of unused video from our previous trips so perhaps I can just cobble something together after all.

Looking back through some of my old video I came across what was quite a scary moment. We were travelling through the town of Rouen, a lovely old town but quite a busy one. I’m always a little nervous driving in big cities, especially in an area where there is lots of traffic and also when the road goes into multiple lanes. I’m pretty good at driving on the right-hand side but in multiple lanes I find myself drifting to the left-hand lane and I usually have to say to myself, Steve, get over to the right.

As you leave Rouen, there are numerous roundabouts and the French have come up with an interesting congestion busting idea. If you are carrying straight on you can duck under the roundabouts down a tunnel and in fact, Google maps which we often use, tends to direct you down into the tunnels. The big problem is that our motorhome is between 2.8 and 2.9 metres in height, just over 9 foot and the tunnels have a height limit of 2.6 metres if I remember correctly. One year I was getting flustered and ended up in the lane for the tunnel but then realised I wasn’t going to fit. Luckily there was an exit lane back to the main carriageway and after some scary reversing we managed to get out.

A big disappointment this year was not seeing much of my favourite cheese, Rondele Bleu. It’s a blue cheese produced in a light mousse style. I think we managed to buy the last tub in one supermarket and then failed to find it again in any other store.

Naturally, we brought quite a bit of French wine and cheese back to the UK but already our stocks are getting low. Time to plan another trip perhaps?


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Returning to France and The Kindness of Strangers

After months of waiting due to Covid, lockdowns and illness, Liz and I finally found the time to mosey off to France in our motorhome once again. It was a bit of a snap decision really but once we made it I checked the motorhome and its oil and water and generally got it ready for our holiday. The battery didn’t seem too good so I plugged in the charger and after a good 12 hours it still wasn’t looking good so we called the RAC and they came over and fitted a new battery on the morning of our departure. The fridge had already been switched over to gas to cool it down ready for an influx of various yummy foodstuffs but sadly when we set off and changed to internal power, the indicator didn’t light up on the fridge. We knew it worked OK on gas but as our trip on the channel tunnel had been booked, we had to set off and hope for the best.

We’d planned an overnight stop down south at a place called the Bricklayer’s Arms in Chipstead, Sevenoaks, a lovely looking village pub that allows people in motorhomes to park up as long as they buy beer or food. Various delays meant that it looked like we were going to arrive just before the food deadline of 9:30. We did but were advised that the kitchen had just closed due to it being quiz night. They offered to serve us a portion of chips each with our beers so we reluctantly had to settle for that. Had we arrived an hour earlier, for £15 we could have joined in the quiz and had a 2 course meal. Damn the M6!

The next day was pretty warm and it felt like the aircon wasn’t up to the job so we made a diversion to a garage Liz found on the internet for a regassing of our aircon system while we settled down with a cup of tea and a sandwich.

We were actually early for our channel tunnel crossing and we expected that as usual we would just be allocated an earlier train but sadly the prior crossings were fully booked but they told us to just go over to the embarkation area anyway and see if we could slip onto an earlier train. The channel tunnel of course isn’t a tunnel that you can drive through, all the crossings are made on specially built trains. After passing through customs, both British and French, we seemed to be waiting for forever to get moving and it turned out that the previous train had broken down. Anyway, we eventually crossed over to the continent about 40 minutes later than planned and headed for our first stopping place, a small motorhome aire based on a rural farm. We initially thought it was free but it turned out to be 10 euros per night. It had toilet emptying facilities and as our toilet was pretty full from a previous trip, that came in pretty handy.

We carried on the next day and made our way to a lake in Brûlon. We visited this lake 2 years ago, the last time we came to France and parked by the lake. There is a restaurant and campsite but when we checked at the campsite reception the staff told us we couldn’t park overnight by the lake but had to pay to book into the camping area. We checked with a few of the numerous other motorhomes parked by the lake and were assured that they had been coming here for years and yes, we could park overnight as they were certainly going to.

The lake at Brulon

This year, a new sign had appeared that advised motorhomes were only allowed to park by the lake from 07:00 to 23:00 hours. OK we thought. We’d park in the car park overnight and return to the lake in the morning, which is what we did. The only real problem was that the local youths and their 2 stroke 75cc bikes and scooters used to meet up late at night, do a few quick wheelies and then having thoroughly woken us up, ride off into the night.

One day, having departed to visit a vide grenier or pick up some supplies we returned and noticed another sign, no motorhome camping allowed except on the campsite. The campsite of course demanded payment to park our small motorhome and as this was in direct contravention of the Tightwads Society Prime Directive (I think I have mentioned before that I am a founder member) we decided to move on.

Liz, an absolute wizard with Google maps had found another lake just by the small village of Chantenay-Villedieu. The temperature was getting hotter and hotter so we decided to park up for a few nights, there being no restrictions and also a motorhome toilet emptying area with a fresh water tap.

A motorhome aire in Doué La Fontaine

Day 1 by the lake was quiet with the lake mostly to ourselves. A sign denoted bathing was OK 13:30 hours to 18:30 hours so at the appointed time, 1:30, we slipped into the cool waters for a swim. Later a number of anglers appeared and set about the business of catching fish.

Day 2 was pretty similar except that at about 3 pm when again, we had the lake mostly to ourselves a car hurtled up the gravel track and two youths alighted and jumped into the lake. I’ll call them Noisy Frog #1 and Noisy Frog #2. Noisy Frog #1 ran headlong into the lake and began shouting and screaming as if he had been thrown into an arctic pond. Noisy Frog #2 joined in with a similar reaction and this went on for some time, totally ruining my afternoon nap. Later Noisy Frog 3 arrived with Noisy Frog Dog #1. Noisy Frog Dog #1 ran around annoying everyone and despite various vocal commands delivered at full volume from the noisy frog contingent, the dog just carried on running around annoying everyone. Later as the temperature increased and more people arrived, the noisy people seemed to settle down until round about 6pm. At that time we had set up our little gas barbecue on a picnic table and the noisy frogs decided this would be a good time to start kicking a ball about right next to us. Liz directed some choice French at them and to their credit, they took their ball game and their dog to a safe distance.

The lake at Chantenay-Villedieu.

Day 3 was hot and another busy afternoon but we did have most of the morning to ourselves. We moved a little further away from the centre of the lake which meant a short stroll for our frequent dips (the temperature hit 100F) but it was a little quieter and my naps and reading were undisturbed. We had also noticed that despite extra signage going up banning all swimming, the local populace didn’t seem to give a flying monkey’s either way and went swimming whenever they wanted to. Naturally as it was so warm we joined them too having a night swim just before bedtime that night which was hugely refreshing.

We journeyed further south on a warm Saturday evening and we came into a small village where Liz had spotted a French restaurant with good reviews. Now I wasn’t getting my hopes up because in the French countryside, nothing much happens on an evening, not even on Saturday evening. The restaurant was closed and nothing was open except for a small bar which did not serve food. We stopped for a small but refreshing beer then carried on, eventually coming into the town of La Flèche. Not far from our chosen aire de camping car we spotted a Buffalo Grill Restaurant and decided to give it a try. Surprisingly it was open and very busy but most importantly it was air conditioned. We managed to get a small table and the fare was burgers and steaks, just like you might find in a British pub restaurant but of course with a French twist. Carafes of various sizes were available for the very nice house wine. A small salad came first followed by a steak for Liz and a cheeseburger for me. My burger was really nice, in fact it tasted like a much nicer and fresher Big Mac. Liz’s steak had to be sent back twice as the French like to cook a steak as little as possible. All in all it was a lovely meal.

For the final part of our three week holiday we had rented a villa in the small village of Parçay Le Pins. It’s a rather lovely place with a nice pool. We’ve rented the place before and Liz noticed there were four days free so she negotiated us a short stay at a knock down price. Despite me taking out all unnecessary goods from our motorhome before departing from the UK, we found a bag of charcoal in there so we decided to use the villa’s barbecue and have ourselves a ‘proper’ barbecue which was rather lovely.

Out in the French countryside I’ve always liked sitting outside watching the sun sink down and the stars emerge whilst sipping a glass of vin rouge and nibbling on some French cheese. My video camera had conked out while at the villa and my back up camera switched on OK but then didn’t stop until my memory card had been filled with one endless shot of driving through the French countryside. Oh well, so much for the video version of this post then!

Somehow, sitting there contemplating life and the universe and my favourite French cheeses and red wine, it didn’t really seem to matter.

The Kindness of Strangers.

Unlike Blanche Dubois, I’ve never relied on the kindness of strangers but that problem with the motorhome fridge I mentioned earlier was really bugging me. I wasn’t sure what to do except for a cursory check of the fridge itself and its various switches and connections. We decided to put a post on the Facebook motorhome site that we belong to asking for information. A few people answered saying to check the fuses which sometimes blow after a new battery fitting. Where were the fuses though? Other Facebook motorhomers advised that they were behind the driver’s seat in a rather difficult to access position. I checked the fuse and replaced it. No change. Another site member mentioned that there was another fuse box, under our bed. Nigel, one of the admins for the page was very helpful and during our night stopover we lifted up the bed, found the fuse box and changed that one too. Still no change. Nigel then mentioned that as he was in France already, staying at his French property, we were welcome to come and visit him, stay the night in our van on his drive and he would help us solve the problem.

We thanked Nigel and agreed to come and visit. Nigel and his wife were waiting for us with both a nice bottle of red and his barbecue warming nicely. They made us welcome, we had a nice evening together and it didn’t seem to matter that the fridge had starting working again all on its own.

The next day we said goodbye having made two new friends.


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Thoughts From A Sun Lounger Part 12

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these sun lounger posts. The simple reason is that just lately I’ve not been anywhere near a sun lounger to have any sun lounger thoughts. However, the sun has finally appeared over North West England, the temperature has gone up and finally it has been time to drag the sun lounger out from its winter hiding place. As the lockdown is still ongoing despite a recent thaw it has not been possible to drive over to France or fly to Lanzarote and take in some sun so the only sun lounging I’ve been doing lately has been in our own back garden, thinking idly back to those halcyon days before Covid 19 when Liz and I were free to roam the continent in search of wine, bread, French restaurants, Spanish Tapas, the sea and the quiet of the French countryside.

The French countryside really is huge and I do love the quiet. Silence is pretty hard to find these days, especially in a big city like Manchester but in rural France, the absence of sound is something pretty profound. Close your eyes while lying on a sunlounger and it takes a while for a city boy like me to take in the silence. No traffic, no shouting, no electronic noises, just silence. After a while new sounds begin to emerge, the sound of birds perhaps, the sound of a gentle breeze, a tractor out in the fields or the faint rumble of one of my favourite sounds, the drone of a small aircraft.

I conjectured in an old post that perhaps in a previous life I was a pilot. A barnstormer in the American west perhaps or a pilot from the Royal Flying Corps. I read a book once called Soul Survivor, a story of reincarnation; a small boy troubled by incessant nightmares of being trapped in a burning aircraft. As time went on the boy remembered more of his nightmares, details of his aircraft, the aircraft carrier he flew from and the pilots he flew and died with. It was quite a story and when the parents of the boy traced the actual pilot who the boy claimed to be, the similarities between the boy and the World War II fighter pilot were amazing. I do love the sound of small aircraft though and just lately, lying in my sun bed, the sound of small aircraft flying from nearby Blackpool airport awakens a distant memory inside me. Perhaps it is the memory of being a young plane spotter at Manchester Airport many years ago, or is it the distant memory of another life?

One time in France we were relaxing with our barbeque just by a plan d’eau after an afternoon swimming and we heard the familiar drone. This time it was a paraglider drifting serenely across the blue sky.

Another simple quality 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 on one memorable evening, I noticed a 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.

One of the great things about the summer has to be the barbeque. Liz makes the most amazing salads to go with our food; homemade slaws and various mixes of crunchy green leaves and sliced tomatoes and onions to go with our burgers, sausages and steaks. I love it when the coals are hot and ready and the meat sizzles when it hits the barbeque. I do miss our French meals though. We had a brief visit to France in 2020 between lockdowns and I remember one lovely meal sat outside a hotel restaurant we have visited a few times. I had a cool French rose served with a starter of crudités and pâtés and fresh bread. Afterwards with a bottle of red came the main course, a nice steak. I have to say I worry about ordering a steak in France. The French tend to undercook a steak so I always ask for it to be cooked well done rather than my usual medium. The thing is, will the chef think that those stupid English want their food cremated as usual and actually give me a really well-done steak instead of a medium? Perhaps I should just ask for the omelette with fromage?

One of our favourite restaurants is in the north of France, not far from Calais. We found the restaurant just by chance, miles from anywhere. Liz and I stopped for an early evening meal one day and we have returned many times since. For starters I chose celery soup and Liz ordered the pâté.

I was a little disappointed with the rather small empty dish that was presented to me but then a huge tureen of soup arrived which was wonderful and produced about four small servings, one of which went to Liz while I sampled her pâté which was full of rustic flavours and was perfect served with fresh French bread.

The main course was a simple omelette, light and fluffy with a fresh salad and Liz’s fish was lovely with a creamy curry like sauce, unusual for French country cooking.

Anyway, as the weather had improved it was time to take a run out in our motorhome. Looking on the internet motorhomes don’t seem to be too popular lately, especially here in St Annes which is a seaside destination in its own right. Not as brash as nearby Blackpool with its Pleasure Beach and kiss me quick hats but also not as posh as Lytham thinks it is. On the internet I have read a lot of resistance to the holidaymakers arriving here parking up by the sea front. Why don’t they go elsewhere ask bloggers on one of Facebook’s St Annes pages, taking up all the parking spaces? Well, why should they? Motorhomers pay their road tax too and are entitled to park anywhere that is legal, just like a car. One comment said that if we can afford a motorhome then we can afford to stop at a caravan park? Again, why pay to park on a caravan site when the beauty of a motorhome is that we can stop anywhere and spend the night in the back of the van?

This last week we motored off to Yorkshire and stopped for the night in Skipton, a lovely town with some nice old pubs and many attractive barges moored by the side of the canal. We parked for the night on the nearby car park in the company of quite a few other motor homes. The charge for a night’s stopover was the princely sum of five pounds, although after nine am the parking meter wanted more money for a further daytime stay. We stayed a few hours for breakfast and to visit the nearby market which was pretty quiet early on but later when we left about noon everywhere, including the car park, was packed.

Liz’s cod dish: Looks pretty yummy

The next night we found a great pub in the village of Egton, the Horseshoe Inn. They told us the pub was fully booked for diners that night but we could stay free of charge and drink in the outside bar. When we arrived there had been a cancellation so we were able to drink and dine before wandering a few yards back to our motorhome.

In France, many towns and even villages sport their own motorhome stopping places with facilities to empty toilets and top up our water tanks. Many places like this are free, although some charge a few euros to top up with drinking water.

Yes, we’ll be sorely missing our visit to France this year. Of course, if we were still part of Europe that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s the fault of all those Brits who chose to leave the EC in the referendum. Let me see, who do I know that voted to leave, fed up with Brussels and its stifling bureaucracy?

Ah yes, that would be me . .


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The Ups and Downs of Motorhoming

I remember once staying at a caravan site somewhere in France. It was only a short stay, just a matter of days. I think we had travelled from the Loire up towards Calais and had a few days to spare before going onboard the shuttle for our trip under the channel and back to the UK. As I lay reading on my deck chair, an impressive motorhome pulled up opposite us in the camping area. This huge motorhome backed into place. The driver ambled out and set up his deck chairs, table and awning. Then he rolled out a huge TV dish, linked up to some distant satellite and finally sat down to relax.

The Germans had arrived.

I remember thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t mind a set up like that myself. Fast forward a few years and Liz and I have our own motorhome. Not quite like the German version, in fact it’s a pretty small motor home. It’s based on a Ford Transit, has a small bathroom and toilet, a kitchen area with a fridge and three ring cooker and a permanent double bed. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in someone’s wardrobe as there isn’t much space but it’s been fun pottering about France, Belgium and even Spain on a couple of occasions.

I do find myself worrying though, have we enough drinking water? Where can we empty our toilet? Luckily in France, there are numerous municipally owned aires de camping car where we can stop, sort those things out and camp for the night. In England, motorhomes are seen as pariahs. Nobody wants them on their doorstep. In lovely St Annes where we live, there is motorhome parking by the sea front but every time I click onto the St Annes Facebook page there are complaints about motorhomes. They have taken over the car park some say. A local restaurant owner says his customers can’t park because of the motorhomes. I sometimes visit that particular restaurant but I never drive there, I like my wine too much! Anyway, don’t motorhomes bring revenue to the town? Don’t motorhomers use shops and bars and restaurants, just like normal people?

One highlight of the French countryside is the local fair which usually includes a vide grenier; a car boot Sale or literally ‘empty loft’ to you. At these events there is always a bar serving draught beer (pression) or wine. At the food counter there is usually a barbecue which involves sausages cooked on the hot coals or rillettes, a sort of pâté served sometimes with warm bread.

Personally I love the frites; chips to you and me or fries to our American friends. There are generally three women on the serving desk, sometimes more. One will ask you what you want, in our case something like deux barquettes de frites, two trays of chips. The first lady will repeat this to the second lady who will pass this on the lady running the caisse, the cash till. She will ask for perhaps three euros which will be echoed by the other women. The cash will be handed over and finally the change will be passed via the three women. All this time no attempt will be made by either of the women to actually serve the frites, that job will be handled by three other women who will barack the group of chatting men, the chefs, because they have cooked too many sausages and not enough frites!

A quiet camping place by a lake at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Another problem we have run into in Europe is filling our gas cylinder. We use LPG and have a refillable tank of gas. In France though LPG is called GPL and on our first trip in the motorhome we must have passed numerous petrol stations looking for one that sold LPG when we must have passed plenty of garages advertising GPL!

Our first European LPG top up took place in Spain and it was here I realised that the connections for gas in Europe are different to those in the UK. Despite not speaking much Spanish except for buenos dias and vino tinto, we managed to get the filling station staff to assist us. They had a connection convertor and we were able to fill up. Now Liz has picked up a handy conversion pack so now we are able to happily top up our gas wherever we are.

In a previous post I complained about the slowness of the service at a French McDonalds. The great thing about the motorhome is that we can stop, switch on the gas, fry up a couple of sausages and make tea in the time that the French McDonalds’ staff are still thinking about what to do. I’m not knocking French McDonalds, the concept of fast food is lost on them. Then again, if you’re in France why would you want to go to McDonald’s anyway? I think we went there last year because we wanted to make use of the free Wi-Fi.

In France my expert navigator, Liz, will usually sniff out a welcoming plan d’eau, a lake where you can swim and relax. Lac De Hommes is one we have visited frequently over the last two years. The first year was great, we found ourselves a nice corner parking spot and camped over for a few nights. We spent our time reading quietly by the lakeside, popping in for a swim whenever it became too warm. Later we either barbecued or ate salads parked in our small corner. The following year we arrived to find that barriers had been erected over our parking area with a height limit that prevented us from parking. Clearly, someone not a fan of motorhomes had taken over management of the site.

Sunset at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Still, there are other lakes we have found and some just waiting to be found and happily, just around the corner from that particular lake is the small village of Gizeux, where there is a small aire de camping car a short walk from a nice village bar. When we went in 2019 the bar had sadly closed but my spies in the area have recently advised me that it is now open for business once again.

Another lake we found recently was at Brûlon in the department of Sarthe. A lovely lake with a man made beach. There is a campsite there but we chose to ‘wildcamp’ in a nice spot ideal for relaxing and a short walk to the beach. Also nearby was a cafe which served restaurant style food with a rather lovely house red.

The lake at Brûlon.

The day will come, soon I hope, when we can return to France.


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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.

 

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.