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 Once that vital research has been done and locked into my personal sat nav, that malfunctioning out of date device I refer to as my brain, well then that’s my exploring done.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. Lancer was the Secret Service codename for President Kennedy and I have to say I do always think about going. 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.

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.

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

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

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

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

Work.

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

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

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

Tea.

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

Bread.

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

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

Fish and Chips.

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

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

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

Facebook.

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

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

The Chinese Guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

Motorhomes, Weddings and the Curse of Mobile Wi-Fi!

Holidaying in a motorhome is a great adventure; the open road, the open country, the sense of freedom, the feeling of self reliance. The joy of stopping where and whenever you like and switching on the gas, making tea and watching the sausages sizzle satisfyingly in the frying pan. Believe me, it’s a great feeling.

The flip side is baking in the 90 degree plus heat of a French summer and finding that your motorhome provides no shelter, in fact, it’s even hotter inside than outside.

The good thing though is that you can drive away, find a nearby lake or plan d’eau, park up and jump straight into the cool water.

On this eleven day trip we have meandered slowly through the towns and villages of north-eastern France. On our first night we parked up outside our favourite French restaurant in Zutkerque, Le Mas Fleuri, where we ate and drank heartily of the simple but wonderful food they serve. Monsieur Le Patron assured us that he would open his doors at 8 in the morning so we could avail ourselves of his restaurant toilets. What a lovely gesture indeed.

The next evening we arrived in Berny-Rivière and visited another old watering hole, Chez Micheline, where we had a superb pâté to start with and for me a rather tame pizza which was a poor choice on my part. It was the night when the French won the World Cup and they drove around beeping their car horns and waving excitedly back at us when we beeped ours. The TV in the restaurant bar was tuned naturally to the football station and everyone there was clearly overjoyed. The atmosphere was wonderful.

Grave of Wilfrid Owen, Ors, France.

Travelling through north-eastern France you cannot help but recognise many of the names on the road signs. Cambrai, Arras, the Marne, Verdun and so on, all are famous names from the First World War and as you travel further, it is inevitable that you will see signs for military cemeteries. The country is littered with these cemeteries, some huge and impressive and some small but all quiet, silent and filled with a sadness for a generation lost in the carnage of war. At each one we visited there are many graves labeled simply ‘A Soldier of the Great War. Known unto God.’ Soldiers whose remains were unrecognisable in death, their documents and serial numbers blown to pieces in one of the many artillery bombardments on the Western Front.

We went to the village of Ors to find the grave of Wilfred Owen, one of the outstanding poets of the First World War. He is buried in the village cemetery at Ors where there are a number of soldiers’ graves. It was sad to see that he died on the 4th of November, 1918, only a matter of days before the armistice. He was only 25 years old and interestingly for me, was a member of the Manchester Regiment. Manchester of course being my home town. We left Ors saddened by the events of a hundred years ago.

One interesting aspect of using a motorhome is how you become aware of your consumables, not only power but water. Power was not a great problem due to our solar panel but water was an issue, especially as we drank more and more in the high temperatures. It was great to find that in France, motorhomes are welcome in many places and there are plenty of municipal motorhome sites where you can dump waste water, empty your toilet and top up your drinking water.

On our first stop at one of these sites we set about our first toilet emptying. I successfully removed the toilet container, emptied it, swilled it out, added some fresh water and the toilet liquid that helps break down the waste. It was all a little pongy but not too bad. The next day when we were preparing to leave, a French motorhome arrived next to us. We murmured a few bonjours at each other and the French driver set about emptying his toilet, however we weren’t prepared for the horrendous stench of what smelled like the entire contents of a Paris suburb being flushed away. We rapidly battened down the hatches and fled.

The one disaster of this holiday was our mobile internet connection. I had got myself a mobile router arranged and a data SIM courtesy of Three.co.uk. I tried everything out in the UK and everything seemed OK. Fast forward to France and nothing worked. In desperation I made an expensive call to the Three network and when I finally got through they assured me my SIM was registered OK, roaming was set up so everything should work, only it didn’t. Next step was to buy a French data SIM card, slip it into my router and hope for the best. Did that work? No. We tried the SIM in Liz’s iPad and finally got a connection. The router was at fault then. Back in the UK I had a moaning email all ready to complain to the manufacturer but then I thought I’d have one last try. Going through the instructions once again using a magnifying glass -they were written in very tiny type for some reason- I noticed a password I hadn’t seen earlier, typed it in and my little wi-fi router finally connected. If you happened to be on the Fylde coast that day and heard a piercing scream, well you can perhaps guess who was responsible.

The objective of our trip to France was the wedding of Liz’s nephew Michael to his bride Anaïs in Alsace. The wedding venue was high on the top of a mountain, well it seemed like a mountain to me. Actually it was a very big hill accessible only by a mountain track normally used only by goats. It was a bit of a scary trip uphill but we somehow made it and a very nice time was had by all. The bride and groom made their vows, a number of speeches were forthcoming, happily for me there were even a few in English. A great deal of alcohol was consumed as was a large barbecue consisting of three medium sized pigs and a small lamb and plenty of salad and wine. This being France a halt was called during the proceedings for the serving of the cheese then after a suitable period the music and dancing commenced.

The Bride and Groom watch a special dance performed by their guests.

At the wedding one surreal event occurred which I must tell you about but first I need to introduce this week’s classic film which is Romancing the Stone. Not a classic in the same sense as Casablanca perhaps but still a pretty good film, well worth watching the next time it comes up on TV. If you’ve not seen the film it stars Michael Douglas as Jack Colton, an American adventurer in Colombia who is helping out novelist Joan Wilder, played by Kathleen Turner, whose sister has been kidnapped by a nasty drug cartel. At one point in the film the couple are lost in an unfriendly village full of aggressive gun-toting individuals. They are directed to the house of one fellow in an attempt to get transportation. Negotiations are going decidedly nowhere and fingers are on triggers when the gang boss eyes the novelist and asks ‘Joan Wilder? Are you Joan Wilder the novelist?’

OK, fast forward to France at the wedding on the top of the mountain and Michael, the groom if you remember, introduces me to one of his French friends and this fellow does a double take and asks ‘Steve? Steve Higgins, writer and blogger?’ I was so surprised I nearly tripped backwards and went splat right into the buffet table. I mean writing a blog post every week hardly makes you famous does it?

Anyway, when I had calmed down it turned out that many moons ago Laurent, as the French chap was called, and I had both commented on some long forgotten family Facebook thread and he had checked out my profile and found my Facebook writers’ page titled ‘Steve Higgins writer and blogger‘. ‘Have you read Floating in Space?’ I asked. ‘I will when the french version is available’ he replied.  Yes, he might have to wait a while for that one!


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.

Adventures with an Action Cam

One of the great web sites of the modern digital age has to be Ebay. I spend a lot of time there, idly searching cyberspace for things that I want and sometimes, things that I don’t even know that I want. Do you ever look at your purchases and think, why did I buy that? Did I really want that? Was it just an impulse buy? It’s much easier to put something down if you are actually in a shop and say to yourself, ‘I really don’t need that’ than it is on the Internet.

Having said that I have picked up quite a few bargains on Ebay. We wont go into the numerous leather jackets, shirts and shoes that I have bought online and that don’t fit me even though they are clearly marked XXL and that when tried on, it becomes apparent that a dwarf pygmy wouldn’t fit into them, let alone someone of my considerable bulk. XXL it seems to me, is a term open to interpretation.

One thing that I did buy on Ebay and that I have had lots of fun-filled hours with is my action cam. My action cam is only a cheap one, made in China, and it’s a cheap copy of the much more expensive Go-Pro camera and only cost £20 compared to the huge cost of a proper Go-Pro camera. Mine does the job and takes some interesting pictures strapped to my bike handlebars or on my car window or wherever I choose to stick it.

On our recent holiday to France I spent a lot of time filming through the car window on our way down south from St Annes in Lancashire to Folkestone for the shuttle over to Calais and then on down through France to our rented gite in the rural Cher region in central France. There were, of course, the usual problems endemic to shooting ‘live’ action. The battery ran out at various crucial moments of interest and on other occasions I didn’t pause it properly so I shot an endless half hour of hum drum motorway and then, when we arrived at somewhere very lovely and photogenic I pressed the record button to begin filming but actually paused a recording I didn’t realise was already in progress. C’est la vie as the French say.

On my YouTube page I now have three short action cam films. A Trip Around the Block on my bicycle, my first foray into action cam film making. Second, a short underwater film of me taking a swim, not in the blue seas of the Mediterranean or some exotic fish filled lake but actually in our holiday swimming pool. Yes, I know what you are thinking but the lure of messing about with a video camera underwater was just too much! Anyway, now, coming to a computer screen near you, in colour and with the added attraction of a special written commentary spoken and verbally crucified by me, I give you, A French Journey . .

In case you didn’t catch this on an earlier post, check out this cycling video:

And last but not least, here’s my underwater video:


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information. Click the picture below to go straight to amazon!

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!