Retirement, Caravans and Some Holiday Memories

Just lately I’ve been getting an awful lot of congratulations. Some in person and others by text or email. You might be thinking what has Steve done? Won a prize, had a book published? A video getting honours in a film festival? No, none of that. I’ve retired. By rights I should be happy, after all I wasn’t so happy in my job and I’m glad I don’t have to go back in again. Of course, if my retirement had happened ten years ago perhaps, then I’d have a reason to be upset. I was a deputy manager working with a lot of colleagues who I also counted as friends and leaving was the last thing on my mind. These days, a lot of those friends have left and moved on to other things and my deputy manager status was lost when I had to reapply for my own job. So now that I am leaving, I should be feeling happy but I actually feel a little bit sad. Perhaps if I had an exciting new job to look forward to, I’d be feeling more positive but the thing with retiring, it means no new job, no new beginning, just an end.

My plan, and believe it or not because generally I don’t plan anything, my plan was to be off to Europe with Liz in our little motorhome but with her hip replacement operation coming sooner than expected and Liz still recovering, we are still here. At least I don’t have to go into work though.

When we finally get to go away there will be no checking of our route and worrying about getting back in time. Getting back in time for what? For work? A few years ago we thought about taking the ferry to Santander in Spain and working our way gradually back home through Spain and France. Covid put paid to that at the time but now that journey is once again a possibility. We could even just travel south in France until we find somewhere warm and relaxing. Breakfast in a French aire. A check of the map and then a few hours driving to a new location, preferably by a plan d’eau, a swimming lake. Time perhaps for a swim, a little relaxation in the sun before cranking up the barbecue. Yes, bring it on.

We did think long and hard before buying a motorhome. Getting a caravan was another possibility. Many years ago I used to have a static caravan. It was on a site in Lancashire, not far from Lytham St Annes and it was a nice relaxing place. There were no amenities such as a bar or restaurant but there were many good walks along the estuary and it was a short drive or bus ride into Lytham where there were, and still are, many lovely restaurants and bars.

Probably the thing I used to really like about it was how much it reminded me of the many family holidays we used to have as a child. We always stayed in a caravan in places not too far away like Blackpool, Morecambe, Rhyll, Prestatyn or sometimes we’d go further afield to the east coast of England. My mother always arranged those trips. We didn’t have a car so we would travel on a coach. There was mum, dad, me and my brother and Bob, our old dog. Bob was always a bit of an attraction to the other kids on the bus and we were always proud to tell them that Bob was ours. Frequently on those trips, Bob, who was not a good traveller would throw up. Then we disowned the dog and pretended he was nothing to do with us. Mum, who came armed for every eventuality always had some cloths ready to clean up the mess although once I remember her going forward to the driver who stopped and produced a mop and bucket from somewhere which she took from him and expertly mopped up.

Today I can still remember the smell of the calor gas stove. The thrill of renting a bicycle that was much better than my old tatty bike back home and racing round the camp. Sleeping in bunk beds and fish and chips for tea from the camp chippy.

My last caravan was really pretty well laid out. It had a central lounge, kitchen and dining area. At one end was the guest bedroom and small toilet, at the other end was the master bedroom with a connecting door to the pretty spacious bathroom and toilet. There was a nice garden and a shed where we kept our lawn mower and outside table and chairs. When I eventually sold the van there was a clause in the contract which said I could only sell back to the camping site unless I removed it and the price was much less than I thought it was worth. The only alternative was to take the van away. To do that would involve hiring someone to move it and then, move it where? I would have had to have found another site and pay the usual costs, transport of the van, new site fees, site tax and so on. After some haggling I gave in and sold the van to the site owner. Funnily enough, only today I read a blog about caravanning calling caravan site owners the New Robber Barons of the 21st century!

In England, motorhome owners have no choice except to stop at private camping sites, all of whom charge fees, some fair, some not so fair. One thing we have started doing is stopping for the night at pubs that allow campervans to park in their grounds free as long as you use the pub facilities, buy beer and food which I have always been happy to do.

In France, there are many free parking sites for motorhomes. Most are municipally owned with small charges for emptying your toilet and filling up with drinking water and I must tell you this story about one particular parking site and Bob the dog which I know I’ve told in an earlier post but it seems to fit in so well here.  A few years ago, Liz and I were motoring through France in our motorhome and we stopped in a pretty big town where they had a large municipal stopover for motorhomes.

We found ourselves a spot in this busy place and the parking bays backed onto a grassy area with picnic tables. It was really quite a lovely spot. Liz began to sort out our food while I took plates and cutlery over to the table. As I approached, I had a sort of odd feeling that something was about to happen and there was a really friendly dog who greeted me like a long lost friend. He wasn’t jumping up or anything but he was pleased to see me. Anyway, we brought the food and wine over and sat down and the dog sat just by me.

I looked at the dog and held out my hand and said ‘Gimme your paw’ just like I used to say to Bob our old family dog. Now I’m not sure what I expected to happen but the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand, just like old Bob used to do. It was rather satisfying to have the dog there by my side while we ate. Occasionally I slipped him some food just like I used to do with old Bob. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, the dog was nowhere to be seen. He had vanished into the warm evening and I wondered whether it really had been Bob, reincarnated and come back to check on his old master.

Just writing about these things has got me all geared up ready for our future trip. Driving is a pain in the neck these days in places like busy Manchester. On the much quieter roads of the Loire for instance, driving is still a pleasure. I look forward to chugging along watching for the road signs and the names of the French towns. I like the quiet stopping places and the peaceful aires where we can stay for the night. I like too the sleepy French villages and the small markets where we buy local bread and cheeses. Of course, who can forget those wonderful restaurants and eating in the open air. The small starters of cold meats and crudités. The appetising mains, le plat de jour and the cheese course. The glass of rosé to start with and the pichet of vin rouge.

Hopefully, I’ll be seeing all those again soon.


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Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 13

2021 has been an odd year for me and for most people too I expect. I’ve spent half of it in lockdown and the other half nursing a sore neck and shoulder. Finally, though, the lockdown has eased, things are getting back to normal and Liz and I have jetted off to Lanzarote, one of our favourite places.

Of course we should have been here back in January but Covid 19 and the lockdown put paid to that. Still, here we are, the sun is out and we are ready to enjoy.

In the film The VIPs, Margaret Rutherford observes that flying is a very strange form of locomotion. I tried to find the clip on YouTube but failed but here’s something that will give you a general flavour of her flight.

Flying today has hardly improved. To board a flight these days you must travel vast distances across Manchester Airport, be X rayed, checked and double checked. Asked numerous questions and because of Covid 19 be asked to prove you have been fully vaccinated and fill in passenger locator forms explaining where you will be and what you are doing. These forms cannot be done well in advance, they can only be filled in 48 hours before you travel adding to the stress of the departure. Will I manage to do them in time? Will I be able to print them off? Well, we are here in Lanzarote so we must have filled them in correctly as the Spanish airport staff looked at them and declared us fit to enter their country.

Then of course there is the stress of the flight itself. Flying by budget airlines it is easy to see that cramming that extra paying customer on board takes priority over comfort, so naturally we are squashed into our rather small seats, sold microwaved cheese and ham toastie snacks and tea in cardboard cups at ridiculous prices which, outside of the aircraft, one could normally buy an entire box of tea bags, a loaf of bread, and large portions of cheese and ham. After that the staff continually try to flog us perfumes and other duty free goods that we really don’t want.

One day I’d like to travel on a flight just like the ones I have seen on films, you know, with big comfy seats and lots of extras. In the film Die Hard II, while Bruce Willis is sorting out a bunch of terrorists down at the airport, his wife is travelling on an aircraft with lots of leg room and can even make phone calls from her seat. OK, terrorists have taken over the airport below and her plane is running out of fuel but at least she is comfy and I’ll bet she wasn’t charged £4.50 for a cheese and ham toastie.

The pool, a Lanzarote evening, an aircraft tea and the setting for evening food and wine.

After the stress of travelling, it was nice to settle down in our lovely rented villa and begin to enjoy the delightful weather. In Lanzarote, the weather is always perfect, or so it seems to me. It is not too hot and not too cold. As I write this the temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For those of you who prefer Celsius that equates to about 21 of their degrees but either way, it a very pleasant temperature indeed. Perfect for lying in the sun, (a favourite pastime of mine) reading, (another) and swimming (yet another one)!

The villa is lovely, fairly near to the marina with its bars and restaurants but still in a quiet area. Over the way a new hotel has sprung up, still in the early days of the building process but the builders are remarkably quiet given the huge size of the project. When we came here back in January 2020 I noticed that quite a few building projects seemed to be under way. I remarked last time that work had recommenced on a villa behind a huge advertising hoarding announcing ‘opening in 2017’. That was 2020 but the Spanish are not ones to rush things. They have a similar philosophy to my own, there is always mañana.

Today’s surprise event came after a naked swim in the pool. We were drying off in the sun when we heard the call of the lesser spotted pool cleaner. ‘Morning! Pool cleaner!’ They were gracious enough to make a hasty retreat while we made ourselves presentable.

I have brought a small collection of books with me so hopefully I will be able to create another Holiday Book Bag blog post, something I have not done for a very long time.

Well, that’s about it from me this week. What should I do now? Have another swim, read a little or just decant some vino tinto for later?


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https://youtu.be/JzJA9YIAGls

Lockdown and the Winter Holiday Blues

Anyway you look at it, this whole Coronavirus thing is quite frankly, a bit of a bummer. I might even go the whole hog and say a lot of a bummer. Of course, there is the tragic side of the virus, people dying in their hundreds and indeed thousands across the globe. Some fools even protest and say it’s a conspiracy and that the government is trying to control us! If they are it’s no mean feat for governments across the world to agree and work together, even if it’s just to keep us lot, the public, under their thumb. That control does come at a price though. Already businesses are closing and going under. Many pubs and restaurants may not survive and those who are self-employed may suffer the most as in many ways they fall outside the various schemes the government has concocted to help workers.

It is a sad time for me just now as months of planning and expenditure have failed to come to fruition. Last Saturday was the day we should have jetted off to Lanzarote for a month in an exclusive villa with a heated pool a mere stone’s throw from all the bars and restaurants we love at the Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca. We found the place last year when we stayed at another villa, a slightly disappointing one just around the corner from our new find. Last year’s villa was OK if a little bare. The cupboards were sadly empty, there was nothing, no salt or pepper, no washing up liquid or any of the staples you expect to find in a rented villa.

There was not even a welcome pack, so everything had to be bought from scratch, even a scourer to clean our dirty plates. The pool had no cover so every day when the 70 degree temperature warmed the water up to an almost acceptable degree, that heat would then dissipate into the cool Canarian evenings. Still, those freezing dips in the pool gave my body a freshness and vitality I had not experienced before, even if that extra energy was only employed to get the hell out of that pool as soon as possible.

The barbecue was in working order and plentiful supplies of red wine were freely available from the local shop. Our favourite tapas bar was a ten minute walk away and Playa Blanca itself was within easy reach via a short bus ride so despite the lack of scourers, things were not too bad at all.

Some months back we began to get an inkling that perhaps our holiday for 2021 might not be on the cards. First, we went into tier 3, then 4. In tier 4 foreign travel was not allowed except for certain circumstances. Of course, that was only advisory. We could still go away, couldn’t we? A negative Covid test was required and conveniently a testing station was set up at Manchester Airport, so we began to fool ourselves into thinking we can still go to Lanzarote. After all we had been isolating and wearing masks and consistently washing our hands. Then came the final blows: The flights were cancelled and Boris Johnson, our revered leader introduced a new lockdown. No winter sun for us, no tapas, no watching of the sun slipping behind the hills as we sipped red wine. As I said at the beginning, Bummer!

Looking back at my snapshots and old Facebook posts from last year was probably a mistake. There was the delightful Chinese restaurant we used to visit in Playa Blanca itself, eating lovely Chinese food with an ocean breeze wafting over us in the semi open dining area. Casa Carlos was Liz’s favourite restaurant over at the other end of the bus route. It wasn’t my cup of tea as the menu focussed mostly on fish and not being a great fan of fish I always felt the steely glare of Carlos after he would finish proudly reeling off the various fishy specials his chef had created, only for me to usually plump for a pizza. Sorry Carlos.

My favourite place down by the marina is the Cafe Berrugo where many of the locals come. They serve various rustic tapas dishes as well as burgers and chips to satisfy common English tourists like me and it’s nice to relax there in the evening with a glass of wine or two.

Out of the window has gone my usual winter fitness regimen. I know that me and fitness are not two things that anyone who knows me would usually put together however, in Lanzarote I forswear biscuits and chocolate and swap chips and potatoes for lashings of salads. I swim every day and return to the UK in February at the peak (if such a thing is possible) of my fitness.

Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote, a place for lovely walks, views and restaurants.

I read once that Noel Coward learned early in his adult life the joys of ‘wintering’ in warmer climes. He usually wangled an invitation from one of his rich friends to spend the summer in the south of France or somewhere considerably warmer than England. Later when he bought his house Firefly in Jamaica, he spent the winter there. He would rise at 8 and work on his latest play or book until lunchtime when he would then join his friends for a swim before luncheon. What a perfect arrangement I have always thought, and Noel Coward went up highly in my estimation the first I heard of it.

Casa Carlos: Fishy food, salad and pizza!

My personal routine on holiday goes something like this. I’m usually awake pretty early, generally around the nine o’clock mark, (nine o’clock? Early?) sometimes slightly later. First thing on my personal agenda is making a brew and bringing it back to bed. While we sup that I’ll usually check my emails and schedule my twitter posts for the day which consist of the usual calls for fellow Twitter users to either (A) read my blogs (B) watch my videos or (C) buy my book. Undeterred by the wave of disinterest that these tweets will create I will usually finish my tea and then perhaps saunter over to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. The knowledge that Noel Coward would have written an entire new act in his latest play by now spurs me on to lay the table for breakfast which Liz will be preparing as we speak. Later after my bacon and eggs have been digested the time will have come for a post breakfast cuppa, or emergency back up cuppa as I sometimes call it.

Washing of the pots completed, my first swim of the day will be due and to get myself in the mood for writing I usually find that a good idea is to settle down by the pool and have a read. As things warm up another swim will be in order and then my favourite part of the day, relaxing on my sun lounger and feeling the sun gradually warming and drying my body. That’s usually when ideas start to develop in my mind and after a while I’ll feel compelled to nip inside, crank up my laptop and actually write something. Noel Coward would surely be proud.

Post Brexit Europe is in the news as I write this. It seems that a UK trucker had his ham sandwich confiscated as he entered Holland. The Dutch customs officials were not happy that the driver had the audacity to prepare some ham sandwiches for his journey and had them wrapped neatly in silver foil on his dashboard ready for a bit of a snack later. Meat apparently cannot be imported into Holland and quoting Brexit the official whisked away the driver’s sarnies. Now this could have a severe knock on effect for me because when Liz and I travel to France in our motorhome, we usually take with us some bacon (in my book an absolute priority) and various other meats. We will also have a couple of steaks in the freezer ready to slap on a barbecue at any given time. On one occasion we took some meatballs and pasta in tomato sauce anticipating a quick stop over to heat up, eat and then get back on our way towards the south of France.

Confiscating a driver’s sandwiches though, surely that must be grounds for war or at least for the firing of various warning shots over the channel. Presumably in pre-EEC days our truckers and holidaymakers popped over the channel to Europe without any undue issues and many of these current problems will hopefully be teething troubles. In the meantime, I’ll be checking the motorhome over for any secret compartments capable of storing my bacon.

And just in case there are any Dutch customs officials reading this: we usually make up some egg sandwiches for our journey so get your beady eyes off my sarnies!


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Birthdays, Highlands and Hamish Macbeth

Last week was my birthday week and Liz suggested a trip up to the Scottish Highlands. The Scottish Highlands I thought, is it hot there? Can you sunbathe and swim in the sea? Well, you can although I wouldn’t advise it in October. The thing is with the current lockdowns in place all over the country and indeed the world, jetting off to somewhere warm isn’t much of an option. Anyway, our much under used motorhome was sitting on the drive just waiting for an opportunity for a run out so off we went.

Traffic was quiet on the M6 north so we made good time, arriving at our designated stopping place in the early evening. Park4Night is a great app to use for motorhomers telling us about handy stopping places nearby. We stopped in Lanark for the night just by the Loch and used a local chip shop to get our tea. Fish, chips and mushy peas seemed to take a hell of a long time and a great deal of commotion seemed to be aroused in the back office of the chip ship. However, finally our food arrived and we nipped off smartly back to our stopping place by the loch. Communicating in a Lanark chippy wasn’t easy, especially for the Italian guy who took my order. He had to go from Scottish/English to Mancunian/English which must be hard for any foreigner, especially so for an Italian living in Scotland. That is probably why I ended up with baked beans with my chips instead of peas. Beans with fish and chips is an insult to any northerners palate so the beans were stowed away for breakfast. The fish and chips were good though.

The next day, despite the rain, we made our way steadily to Loch Lomond where we stopped for the night. The Balloch House inn apparently welcomes motor home stop overs as long as they use the pub so we booked in for our evening meal. My meal, actually my birthday meal was nice but Liz’s wasn’t so good. New social distancing rules meant we could only stay for 90 mins in the Balloch House but round the corner we found a nice socially distanced pub serving some great beers.

Mallaig

Day 3 found us arriving at Mallaig, the quiet fishing village where we could board the small ferry to the Isle of Skye. Skye was a spectacular place, starkly beautiful and it reminded me so much of Lanzarote with deep valleys and great hills and mountains reaching into the sky. We found an excellent parking spot, again recommended by Park4Night which was conveniently just across from a fantastic chip shop. Fish, chips and peas was our evening meal again, although this particular chip shop served haddock rather than cod. The food was excellent and though it was a little pricey, the portions were huge. The view from the car park across the bay at Broadford was one we could only really appreciate the next morning.

The view across the bay.

The rain finally eased off the next day and we explored Skye bathed in warm autumn sunshine. We made a quick stop to pick up some Isle of Skye black pudding and after some more exploring we left the island over the bridge to the mainland and went in search of Plockton.

The splendour of Skye

Plockton is a small highland village where the TV series Hamish Macbeth was filmed. Macbeth is played by Robert Carlyle and he is the village bobby in the small fictional village of Lochdubh. Macbeth is a laid-back relaxed character. He is not averse to poaching the odd salmon and he likes to apply the rule of law in his own way. He avoids promotion as all he wants is to remain in his beloved village. The TV series is actually completely different to the books on which the series was based which was a little of a surprise to me and most of the characters in the series are the invention of the TV writers and not M.C. Beaton who wrote the books. I’m not sure how happy I would be if someone made a TV show out my book and then proceeded to change all the characters, still I did enjoy Hamish Macbeth as a TV show. It was an oddball quirky little drama which ran for only three seasons. I’m sure I once picked up a copy of one of the Hamish Macbeth books. Pity I can’t remember what I did with it otherwise I’d add a review.

I’m always surprised when I come across a location that I have seen before on TV because film seems to make things look bigger. Plockton was small and narrow in real life although on television it looks considerably more spacious. Years ago I visited Portmerion, the Welsh location for the TV show The Prisoner. The Prisoner was a hit TV show in the late sixties starring Patrick McGoohan as number 6, a former spy who resigns and who is whisked to a secret village where number 2 constantly asks the question ‘why did you resign?’.

It was a great series featuring elements of sci-fi and espionage and although outwardly a thriller there is much more to The Prisoner, and its counterculture and fantasy themes gave it a cult following which has continued to the present day. All the exteriors were shot in Portmerion and when I visited in 1986 or 87, number 6’s cottage was used as a shop by the Prisoner Appreciation Society. Like Plockton everything seemed smaller but I did recognise a lot of places used in the TV show.

Hamish Macbeth is completely different. I love the oddball characters like TV John, so named as he was the first in the village to get a TV set. The other villagers who meet regularly in the village pub are just as oddball as John but Hamish himself, torn between two women, Isobel the local journalist and Alexandra the author, is probably my favourite. He expertly solves various minor crimes and issues in the village, making sure visiting officers get all the credit so he can escape promotion and remain quietly in the village he so loves.

Plockton itself is a tiny village with a small harbour. We parked up at the car park while I went for a wander about. I found the row of cottages where Isobel, the town reporter lived but the village pub, a white building in the TV show eluded my searches. There was a pub, a grey building with an outside seating area looking over the bay, but it wasn’t the one I knew from the television. As we drove off, we passed another couple of pubs, neither of which was the TV village pub but I could imagine having a pleasant evening in Plockton with a nice pub crawl thrown in too.

Travelling south on the A82 (I think) we came across a monument to the commandos of World War 2. The commandos trained in the Scottish Highlands and the memorial is not far from Achnacary Castle where the commandos were based. The memorial is a sculpture by Scott Sutherland and as usual in these sort of places, I was humbled by the courage of these courageous men who fought and died to preserve freedom. In comparison, I’ve been rather lucky. I’ve not been called to fight in any wars, I’ve not suffered prejudice or been sent to a prison camp, in fact I’ve enjoyed a pretty easy life really. It’s not been that exciting and a lottery win would have been very welcome but at least I’ve been safe.

Coming further south towards Loch Lomond once again we found another lovely stopping place. A few other people stopped also for a photo opportunity at the Loch Tulla viewpoint. We took photos as well but we were lucky enough to be able to put the kettle on and have a steaming hot cup of tea and a corned beef sandwich.

Ah, the joys of having a motor home.


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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.

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.

 

Woody, Marcus and such Small Portions!

I’ve just returned from yet another jaunt to France, a short one this time, six days in Liz’s motorhome, meandering around the Loire area, which we both love. One of our aims was to spend our nights ‘wild camping’, that is to say camping wherever we could without using commercial camping sites.

France is actually very motorhome friendly with many municipal sites providing free camping and toilet emptying facilities free of charge with optional charges for things like fresh water or electrical hook up and so on. We found a lovely spot by a lake, actually a plan d’eau, called Lac du Homme. In the summer when we visited it was a busy bustling place with a bar and restaurant and many spots for bathing and picnicking. The french take their picnics seriously and always bring huge hampers of food, always covering the many wooden and stone picnic tables with table cloths before opening up their bundles of cutlery, plates and food. At the Lac du Homme there were also quite a few areas with barbecue facilities dotted about, all that was needed were the hot coals and some steaks and burgers to cook.

Now in early October a last burst of summer had come and the restaurant and bar were boarded up for the winter. Most of the time we had the lake to ourselves, joined only by the few occasional visitors. The last two days were so hot we even ventured out onto the man-made beaches for a refreshing dip into the cold, very cold, waters.

One of the great things about being at this quiet lake was not only the quiet, calm and relaxing atmosphere but also the chance to read. I read a great deal but at home and at work I tend to read in short bursts, on my dinner breaks at work, in quiet moments in a morning or before I go to sleep. Holidays are when you can really get to grips with a book, really read it through without having to put the book down and go back into work. On this short break I finished off a book I was reading at work, The Assassination of Princess Diana’ (more about that in an upcoming post) and started on one of the P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. It was amusing and interesting and thoroughly English but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

One other book I read was one of last year’s reads, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Marcus was an emperor of Rome and when he was compelled to go out with his armies to do battle he spent many hours alone in his tent compiling a series of philosophic writings that became known as the Meditations. Marcus was concerned with the force of nature, the force that drives the universe and all its  workings. Nature for him was probably more akin to God than what we understand nature to be but his thoughts and ideas are very moving, even more so as they were written prior to the year 180, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of his thoughts are about life and death, simple things like a man who enjoys a long life and a man who experiences a short one both lose the same thing when they die. Death is a natural state he explains. Why fear it when everyone who has ever lived before us, has experienced it. To those of us who hunger for fame (potential authors perhaps) Marcus asks what is the point? One day you will die, one day those who remember you will die so one day your fame will vanish when no one remembers you. Time, says Marcus, is like a river, for as soon as something happens, the river of time carries it away, then some other event comes, also soon to be washed away.

In the opening of Annie Hall, one of Woody Allen’s most popular films, he talks about life in this way: “There’s an old joke, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Woody Allen and Marcus Aurelius, both philosophers in their own ways.

I’ve spent a lovely couple of hours this week watching To Rome with Love, one of Woody Allen’s more recent films. Woody, if you have read one of my earlier posts about directors, is my all-time favourite director. I love his subtle observations about life and love, and his humour. What is a little sad lately, is that Woody’s image and persona have been challenged by his adopted daughter Dylan, who claims Woody assaulted her when she was young, 7, I think, and that he should be arrested and prosecuted. Woody stands by an investigation into the charges from 1975 that exonerated him but of course now, in the age of digital media, Dylan is able to go straight to the people with social media and put forward her case.

Someone who has defended Woody Allen is Moses Farrow, Woody and Mia’s adopted son. He has claimed in a blog post that his mother Mia was abusive and domineering and referring to the details of Dylan’s claims that there was no railway in the attic-supposedly where the attack took place- and that the attic was only a crawl space, not a place where father and daughter could play.

Many actors and actresses have come forward saying they will never work with Woody again and his reputation seems to sink lower every day and the body of work he has produced is now, by association, tainted. There is even a possibility that his latest film may not be released. I am a big fan of Woody Allen and although these revelations did not put me off watching To Rome with Love, it does set off a small alarm bell in the back of one’s mind. Did Woody do it? Did he molest the young Dylan? Well, two people know for sure: One is Dylan and the other is Woody. Woody claims Dylan’s claims were fabricated by Mia Farrow, his one-time partner and the mother of Dylan as part of a war of hate aimed at Woody because he became involved with another of Mia’s step daughters, Soon-Yi, and in fact, later married her. Mia, according to Woody, has brain washed Dylan with her abuse claims, so if that is true, then only Woody himself knows the truth. It seems to me that if Woody was an abuser then he would have abused other women and as no one else has come forward then that means Woody is innocent -doesn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t expect to see Jimmy Saville on old episodes of Top of the Pops, or Gary Glitter for that matter. Their actions and behaviour have airbrushed themselves out of history. Still, I will be very sad if they stop showing Woody’s films on TV.

Getting back to our trip to France, it was my birthday while we were away and it was nice to celebrate it in the sunny Loire valley instead of cold and rainy England. On our previous motorhome trip we had a lot of issues with mobile wi-fi which can be a bit of a pain when you have a blog deadline for Saturday morning. I wasn’t happy with Virgin media because my mobile data didn’t work in France, despite an expensive phone call to Virgin. Anyway, they sent me a new SIM card and I was happy to find that on this trip my mobile phone connected to the internet without problems. I even found that I could connect my iPad to my mobile and use my mobile internet on my pad, so much easier than writing a blog post on your phone. Of course I had written my last post about Comics and Superheros in advance and had it scheduled but even so, I always like to tinker with my posts right up to that last moment.

After we returned, Liz and I went to a birthday meal for Liz’s sister-in-law who has a similar birth date to me. One of the other guests, a young girl, asked me about my birthday and how old I was. I was reluctant to say but finally answered 62. “62?” She said, “I didn’t think you were that old!”

Maybe that’s a good thing, that I look younger than I actually am and in fact that comment was really a boost for my personal image but there’s no getting away from that figure of 62. Still, here is one last quote from Marcus;

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.


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.

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.

Some Random Sun lounger Thoughts (part ?)

As I  have probably mentioned, Liz and I are on holiday for five lovely weeks in France and the other day it was with some trepidation that I heard the bat phone ring. Yes, the bat phone, that urgent direct line back to the UK and stevehigginslive.com tower, the hub of the stevehigginslive.com empire.

I answered and at the other end of the phone was one of my deputy managers advising me that an issue had occurred with last week’s Thoughts from a Sun Lounger post. As my usual readers will know, this is part of a regular series in which I expound on the often random thoughts that occur to me in that chilled, relaxed and generally other worldly state that I enter when lying on a sun lounger, fresh from a bout of gentle swimming in the pool.

‘What was the problem?’ I asked.

Turns out there was a mistake in last week’s Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4, despite extensive checks by the blog titling and numbering department. Perhaps they were getting a little lax up there in stevehigginslive.com tower while the boss was away but for whatever reason, Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 had been inexplicably named Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 when there was already a Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 in existence!

Mon Dieu was all I could say, as after a few weeks in France, I was fully immersed in the French idiom, culture and customs as well as the gallic language. How many waiters could have guessed that Monsieur, the suave homme who deftly requested ‘une table pour deux‘ or ‘une bouteille de vin rouge au restaurant’ was in fact an English tourist? I know the baseball cap with ‘Team GB’ emblazoned on the top gave the game away a little but what the heck.

Anyway, I fired off a hot email to the blog titling department and began a full review and overhaul of the current blog titling and numbering procedures and now, after a full investigation, I can confirm that Sun Lounger Thoughts part 4 has been fully amended to Sun Lounger Thoughts part 5.

Woody Allen

This year I have not brought along my trusty Nikon DSLR to France but have concentrated on my video cameras. Filming, as you may know, is pretty easy in this digital day and age but the tricky stuff comes with video editing. The other day I finally finished off a short project that has consumed me for a while. It’s a short spoof on Woody Allen’s movie Manhattan, not the entire movie but the opening section where Woody is narrating the beginning of his novel.

I thought it would be a great idea to do something similar but about Manchester, my home town and also the location of the action in my book, Floating in Space.

I re-wrote Woody’s monologue with Manchester, rather than New York in mind and recorded it on my laptop. Next, using my Magix audio cleaning lab, I cut out all the bad bits, mumbles and murmurs, mixed in some royalty free music and added it to one of my old videos about Manchester. Next came a little juggling of some of the visuals, the addition of some more relevant stuff and after quite a few weeks of editing and re-editing I finally got something that was halfway towards what I wanted.

Just in case you have never seen Manhattan, here’s Woody’s original and much better opening.

Action Cam

Finally, I must tell you about my action cam. I shot a short film about cycling a while ago but I wanted to go a step further with the camera. I had it attached to the window all the way down here from the UK to the Cher region of central France. That edit however, must wait for another day, because as the camera has an underwater housing I thought it would be great to make an underwater film!

Now, I can see you, the reader, thinking: What is he going to do? Some underwater shots of the Loire? No. Some scuba diving perhaps off the coast of the Vendee? Nah! What I did was this, I took the camera into the swimming pool with me! Swimming pool? Yes, I know it’s not exactly coral reefs and exotic fish but photography can be a lot of fun especially if you are 60 going on  . . .15 . . .

Well, I enjoyed it anyway!

Floating in Space is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or a traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

The Holiday Diary of a So-Called Writer!

Somebody once said that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. The other thing that comes to mind are holidays. Yes they too must come to an end sooner or later. The time will come when you have to say goodbye to your holiday home or hotel room and hand it over to some other lucky holidaymaker. As you, the reader reads this, I will be well into my first day back at work, yes, Saturday – what a day to go back to work!

All holidays end with a certain amount of sadness, saying goodbye to new friends and acquaintances. Leaving behind memories of lovely places, beaches, or resorts. I’ve spent almost a month in France; three weeks in the Cher region and a final five days in the Loire valley in a place called Doué la Fontaine.

a so called writer!I began my holiday with a few set tasks to complete; in fact, here’s a quick scan through my itinerary, both the planned version and the actual:

08:00 AM Planned. Into the lounge with my laptop for some creative writing. Starting off with any blog post ideas then straight into my follow-up novel. Hoping to get a good few pages cranked off.

08:00 AM Actual. Sleeping.

10:00 AM Planned. Cup of tea and slice of toast.

10:00 AM actual. Still sleeping.

11:00 AM Planned. Cup of tea.

11:00 AM actual. Cup of tea.

11:30 to 12:00. Planned: More writing.

11:30 to 12:00. Actual: Sip tea while checking e-mails, surfing facebook and pinning various pictures to Pinterest.

12:00 to 01:00 Planned: Lunch.

12:00 01:00 Actual: Breakfast.

01:00 to 02:00 Planned: Swimming.

01:00 to 01:30 Actual: Swimming. 1:30 to 02:00 reading.

02:00 to 16:00 Planned: writing.

02:00 to 16:00 Actual: Dozing, reading and swimming.

16:00 to 17:00 Planned: Swimming

16:00 to 17:00 Actual: Swimming/ reading/ sleeping.

17:00 to 21:00 Planned: Barbecue preparation, lighting, cooking and dining.

17:00 to 21:00 Actual: Pouring of wine, barbecue preparation, lighting of barbecue, pouring of more wine. Drinking wine. Cooking and dining. Drinking wine.

21:00 to 22:00. Planned: Editing and review of days work.

21:00 to 22:00. Actual: Wine, chatting and Facebook surfing.

Looks like the follow up novel may have to wait until next year. C’est la vie as the french say.  . .


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.