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!


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More Random thoughts from a (French) Sun Lounger

sunloungerlogoI really do love France. I love travelling here, driving down the picturesque country lanes. I love the quiet sleepy villages. Driving is a joy here, even on the major roads. OK, I’m sure that in Paris or any of the other major towns driving is just the usual nightmare that it is in London or Manchester but here in the countryside, driving is just a joy.

What is a little annoying is the French system of signing. I’m talking about traffic signs, directional signs. You follow the signs, for instance on the way here we followed signs for the town of Nevers for a while, then we were looking for a right turn and none appeared. OK one did appear but it was unsigned. After a while we realised we must have missed something, so we turned back and guess what, coming from the other direction the road is signed for Nevers but not from the original direction. Maybe there is someone in the French road sign office thinking ‘Ha! Got those English idiots again!’

On holiday in France Liz and I spend a lot of time at the weekend at vide greniers (car boot sales to you) and brocantes, a sort of antiques/ flea market. It always surprises me how well attended these events are in the French countryside and bad weather does not seem to put people off at all. In the UK the first sign of rain or even dark clouds and it’s ‘get the stuff in the van -we’re off!’ The French are made of sturdier stuff and if it rains, OK, get the covers over the goods and it’s off to the wine tent for some vin rouge and some frites while it clears up. I often wonder though, if there isn’t a fete or vide grenier on, what do French people do? They certainly know how to keep quiet! Read this previous post for a few ideas on what they get up to!

The French have a strong connection with food and in particular bread or ‘le pain’ as they call it here. On arriving at our gite in the french village of Germigny L’Exempt we began to unload the car and numerous neighbours came out to talk and advise us. One French chap came over, said bonjour and proceeded to babble away at a ferocious pace in his native tongue. It took me a full ten minutes before I could stop him and say I didn’t speak french that well. ‘Je ne parle pas bien francais!’ Did that stop him? Well, for a moment, then he began again only at a slightly reduced speed. Did we have bread? If not he had some to spare for this evening but in the morning we had to be at the bakers by twelve otherwise, well various dire consequences were explained, none of which I understood, but of course a Frenchman must have bread.

Here in France it reminds me of the UK twenty years ago. Shops closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Unthinkable isn’t it? Over in Calais they tempt British day trippers over to huge hypermarkets and wine stores selling so called ‘duty free’ merchandise at inflated prices. Stores may be open on Sunday there but here in the countryside that is not the case. Of course the bakeries do open on Sunday morning. After all next to liberty and fraternity it is bread that really matters to the French.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

Anyway, one last thought about France. Why is it that whenever I arise from the swimming pool (it’s quite a nice pool, check out the picture) wet and dripping after a welcome cooling dip and looking for my towel, some irritating French fly seems to want to buzz round my head? Just by our gite, there is a road that brings traffic in to our small village. As you approach our holiday home there is a rise and one can see a car rise up and then dip down again as it comes towards us. As I am about to get out of the pool I can just imagine a Frenchman and his son, heading back home with the thought of lunch on their mind. As they crest the small rise the boy looks out at a man rising from a swimming pool and then turns to his father and asks, “Why was that man waving his hands about and doing a dance when he gets out of the pool?”

The father thinks for a moment and then replies, “Il est Anglais!” (He is English!)


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Tasting the Tapas in Lanzarote

snaplanzaThis is week five for Liz and I staying here near the Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote. We’re here for six weeks in total, a nice break away from the snow and ice of the UK. The temperature here is in the early seventies and this last week it’s been a bit cool and cloudy which, I have to say, has played havoc with my swimming and sunbathing routine.

We’re away  from the centre of Playa Blanca by the Marina which is good because like a lot of Spanish resorts, the centre of Playa Blanca is a full of ‘British’ pubs and bars and restaurants offering British beer and meals like chips, egg and beans and so on as their staple fare. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against chips, egg and beans, as a matter of fact it is one of my favourite meals but I can make it myself back at home or go to any pub or café to get it. When I travel hundreds of miles I want something different, not something I can have any day of the week back home. It’s the same with beer. Why would I want a pint of British beer or lager when I can have something different? Of course, all the major brands of beer can now be found all over the world. My local pub has San Miguel on draft! The fact is that the whole world is getting smaller and more international by the day. Not so long ago my cousin was in New York tweeting he was at a bar drinking a pint of Boddingtons, the definitive Manchester ale!

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Tasty nibbles at Café Berrugo

I do like my food and dining out can be such a wonderful experience. All you need is a great location, great staff and of course, great food. As we’re here in the canary islands it seems fair to step away from UK pub food for a while and experience proper Spanish tapas. Tapas as you may know is Spanish for small plates. Small plates of food that is, so not long after arriving Liz and I went to our ‘local’ café, a place called Café Berrugo. Now at first I wasn’t sure if this place was a real authentic Canarian eating house. Why not? Well, with items like chips, egg and sausage and hot dog and chips on the menu that was something of a giveaway but actually when we come here of an evening, most of the clientele are local Lanzarote people and if you look closely at the menu there is a nice tapas section which a lot of the Brits seem to ignore. Anyway, we knew that tapas is small dishes so we ordered this lot: Garlic mushrooms, Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce, garlic prawns, Canarian boar with peppers and onions and a portion of, well I am a Brit after all, a portion of chips. (That’s fries if you are reading this in the US.)

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Garlic mushrooms and bread.

Now the thing is, at this cheap and cheerful café the portions are pretty big so we ended up fairly stuffed after that veritable feast but we managed to scoff it all and wash it down with a nice bottle of Spanish red and the excellent staff offered us a nice free liquor to finish off.

Another night we decided to go up market to the Blue Note bar and restaurant and once again we went for the tapas. I only ordered five as part of the five for twelve euros deal and decided to have two as starters and three as a main meal. Now the thing was that here at the posh end of the marina, tapas clearly does mean small plates, or perhaps tiny plates would have been a better description. The chorizo sausages were nice but as there were only three small sausages I didn’t quite get to gauge the flavour. Same with the meatballs, there were only three of them. Anyway, it was all very lovely with nice staff and a picturesque setting by the marina with a small jazz trio playing away. I recommend it highly, unless you happen to be really hungry!

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Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce and a plate of serrano ham.

So after that little bit of research it seems that tapas do not come in a standard size. If you ever visit Lanzarote and happen to be staying near the Marina Rubicon at Playa Blanca remember this; if you’re not too hungry then have your tapas in the posh restaurants by the marina but if you are feeling even a little ravenous, go down to Café Berrugo!

 

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Happiness is Blogging in Lanzarote

I think I’ve finally sorted out my scheduling issues as my last post was published (successfully) on a Saturday in line with my new posting philosophy; a new blog every Saturday! Anyway, I arrived in Lanzarote on the third of January for a long six week break so I’ll have plenty of time to write!Photo0007

Recently I applied for a managerial promotion and even though I was unsuccessful I did get the opportunity for a temporary promotion as my own manager had been seconded elsewhere. The extra money came in very handy over Christmas but my blogs have suffered. When it’s a little quiet at work I always take the time to try and write something, not always a complete blog but at least something that I can use and work into a blog at a later date. As a manager though that whole concept went right out the window because there was always something to be done; something that needed sorting out. I did get a big bonus in my pay packet but believe me, I really did work for it. Anyway, plenty of time now to relax in the warmth of Lanzarote, contemplate where I went wrong with my manager application and to work hard at blogging and promoting my book, Floating In Space.

I do hate the cold which is one reason why I’ve flown away from the cold of the UK in January. Here in Lanzarote it’s like an English summer’s day; warm but not too warm. Dinners outside on the patio, barbecues, and a lovely warm heated pool. Getting here though wasn’t that easy. Blackpool airport closed down recently which was only ten minutes away from us so instead we had to trek to Manchester Airport, that huge bustling place a good hour’s drive away. Checking in our suitcase wasn’t so bad but the hassle of passport control and the hand luggage check; what a nightmare. We’d left a bottle of water in our bag so that came back to haunt us, my laptop and Liz’s I-pad (which have to be x-rayed separately of course) ended up in one area and our ‘suspect’ case in another surrounded by security people who then emptied my water away and squashed my sandwiches! Not happy! Al-Qaeda have a lot to answer for!

Anyway, getting back to Lanzarote, did I hear people say –six weeks in Lanzarote?

Yep. Six weeks away from the cold and hopefully at the end of those six weeks, that will be six weeks’ worth of blogging, of promoting my book, of e-commerce and networking and even  hopefully some good work gone into the follow up to Floating In Space. In my first week I’ve done a huge amount of networking and almost trebled my twitter followers. For a newcomer to self publishing it’s a pretty hard learning curve and there are plenty of blogs out there telling you how to get more followers, how to get more likes and so on. Click here to see a pretty interesting one but at the end of the day it’s you who has to do the work: You who has to make your blog successful.

I’ve noticed on twitter there are plenty of people and companies claiming they can tweet your book and get you a guaranteed thousand followers or more but it all comes at a price. Is it worth it? Well, if it brings in followers and they read your blog and buy your book or whatever product you are selling then great, but if not then that’s more money spent on a wasted avenue. Here’s an interesting post by an author who hit number one on the amazon best seller list and seemed to make his major breakthrough by showcasing two books together and alternating each book as a freebie download over a set period of time. Looks like it worked for him.

Happiness is a warm gun, or so said the Beatles on the white album but for me after a morning writing it’s a glass of red wine on a warm summer’s evening, my favourite salad (onion and tomato) and something cooking away on the barbecue (courtesy of Liz) or the prospect of a short walk down to the marina at Playa Blanca for an evening meal.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, think it’s time for a swim!


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