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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Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 10)

Liz and I have chosen to escape the British winter for a short while and decamp to the Canary Islands, actually Lanzarote, for three weeks. Of course, to get here involved flying and flying can be a stressful mode of transport. This time, even the journey from home to Manchester Airport was equally as bad. Our taxi arrived on time and the driver seemed to be a friendly sort of fellow but then as we got under way I sort of half noticed, and I should interject here that I had set my alarm for 6 am that morning and had started to nod off in the taxi, that the driver had elected to take the M61 and M60 motorway route rather than my preferred M6 and M56 route.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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