YouTube and The Final Cut

Ok, settle down, put your feet up. It’s time to reveal a great new slice of visual entertainment that has finally been released. Yes we know, I can hear you say, the new Bond film!  Bond film? No no, no. Forget about the Bond film, I’m talking about some serious movie making, my latest YouTube video!

Way back in the spring and again in the summer Liz and I motored off to France in our Ford Transit based motorhome. As usual I had my GoPro camera affixed to my driver’s window and along with my trusty Canon GX7 I built up a fair few reels of video footage.

I kept looking through it with a view to making it into some kind of video project but various things seemed to hold me back.

Firstly on our first trip to France we travelled through the French Jura and got caught in some spectacular and unseasonal snowstorms. I thought I had shot some spectacular footage only to find that the video files from that day would not play when downloaded to my laptop. I wasn’t happy.

My GoPro camera doesn’t seem to like to play ball when it has been left alone for a while and I’ve found just charging it up isn’t enough, It needs to be attached to my pc and and updated with the correct date and time and made a fuss of before it will function properly.

I slapped in a new memory card and the camera seemed in better shape for the rest of our travels but losing that video from the snowstorm still really winds me up. At one point it felt as though we were in a whiteout, the snow was falling so thickly it was like being inside a ping pong ball. Happily the snow cleared and an impressive army of snow ploughs and gritters cleared the area and we were soon back on route. No video footage though to liven up my videos.

Over the summer I started to put together a video but although I had a lot of film, not much of it was particularly inspiring and the loss of that snowstorm video really put a dampener on my enthusiasm.

Another thing that made the production difficult was that I like to use the old Windows Moviemaker which is why I’ve hung on to my old laptop. It’s easy to use and gives you a lot of control over your clips both visually and in terms of the sound track. The original soundtrack from the video can be edited as well as an additional music channel and a voice over channel. I tend to mix and match these channels so I can add a narration and music as well as adding sound effects all of which enhance the finished product.

Editing that sound!

Windows 10 comes with a new and completely different HD Movie Maker which I have never really got to grips with but I thought it was high time I did so I started the project off using the new software.

I have got the advanced rather than the free version and initially I found it pretty easy to use. Adding clips is pretty easy and they can be trimmed or split into two or more sections just like on the old program. There are various fades that can be used and just like the old version there is a music channel as well as a narration channel.

In the summer we visited the Retro Grand Prix in the village of Le Puy Notre Dame in France and I filmed a lot of stuff with my Canon GX7. The Canon is a really versatile camera both for still photography and video. In fact on the Internet it is noted for being the best vlogging camera around which is really why I bought it. Instead of bashing away at my laptop knocking out a new post every week I thought hey, I can just film a vlog instead. Well, I’ve since found it’s not so easy creating a vlog. To start with I’m not so good just talking off the cuff, I need to plan what I’m going to say which entails bashing away at my laptop once again. Vanity also comes into play as my youthful good looks are just not what they once were. Anyway, even though vlogging is not for me the GX7 is a great camera and I took some pretty good shots at the Retro Grand Prix with it so I decided that for my video project I would just concentrate on our trip there.

It’s vital to review your raw video footage first when creating a video project so what I tend to do is this; I’ll troll through everything I have shot and anything that I either like or think will add to the narrative I will add to the project. I tidy things up a little, eliminate the bad shots and then start to think about what I am going to say in the narration. What I usually do to start things off in that area is review the blogs I have written on the subject and start to see if they will fit the video. Then I will add to them and rewrite and finally a clearer picture of the project will begin to appear.

Next I usually record my narration direct to the video then export that as a sound file to my sound mixer where I cut out all my mumbles and ers and ahs, beef up the bass and the volume and then add it back to the project.

A big problem that appeared here was that when recording the narration on my new HP laptop on HD Movie Maker, my voice came out all tinny and clipped so it was back to my old laptop with the old Movie Maker and I recorded the narration again. Maybe the microphone is better on that older laptop. Next I produce the audio file in little sections, little clips, so I can move the narration about to fit the video. On the old Movie Maker this is easy as you can move the clips about with your mouse so they can be placed exactly where you want. On the new HD Movie Maker this is not possible although you have a delay button so you can move an audio file forward for however many seconds or milliseconds you want. Anyway after some time moving between laptops and editing programs I felt I was finally getting somewhere. Even so, a good few months had passed by at this point but I sometimes think it’s good to let a little time go by and so the project will coalesce in my mind resulting in what I like to think of as an organic result.

George Stevens was a Hollywood director who always edited his projects in a similar way. He directed among many other films Shane, the classic western with Alan Ladd and Giant the Rock Hudson/ Elizabeth Taylor film famous for being James Dean’s last film.

Stevens apparently received many threats on his life if he dared to cut any of Dean’s final scenes. He took his time and his films were always a masterclass in the art of editing.

Anyway, back to my little video. I finally reviewed the final cut and noticed that my narration, now slightly shortened after the excision of various mumblings now seemed to expose a typical piece of cheeky banter between myself and Liz. A little fun, but not something for the general public. Now on the old version of Movie Maker I could have faded out the video sound at that point but on the new version that wasn’t an option. I could either silence the whole clip but not fade it out. The solution was this: Silence the whole clip and add a sound clip, that of our motorhome exiting the car park of the french supermarket Intermarche, no doubt after purchasing a good few boxes of French wine ready to export back to Lancashire. A quick addition of some copyright free music from YouTube and there you have it, a new video for my YouTube channel.

Such a pity that Microsoft have seen fit to mess with Movie Maker. No doubt just when I manage to master the new HD Movie Maker they will replace it with something new.

It’s called progress . . .


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

France in Six or Seven Restaurants.

I was tempted to label this post as another of my ‘Sun Lounger Thoughts’ but as Liz and I have just returned from another motorhome trip through France and neither the sun or a sun lounger made much of an appearance, well then, I thought I’d give that a miss.

I do love France but sometimes I think my love affair with this country is waning. I love the relaxed lifestyle, the food, the restaurants, the innate calm of sleepy French villages but, I do miss the absence of nightlife. The nights when I would stay out till the early hours are long gone of course but I do like a nice friendly bar or a busy restaurant. In rural France those things are hard to find.  In our favourite French town of Doué la Fontaine it is hard work to get a restaurant table on a Saturday lunch time but on Saturday night, the bars close around 9 pm and the restaurants are empty except for a few English tourists.

Coming over on this latest trip Liz did her usual research and found a lovely restaurant in the town of Montreuil sur Mer, a short walk from an Aire du Camping Car. As we motored along serenely through France after exiting the Eurotunnel Liz was urging me to get a move on but I knew in my heart of hearts that like so many other plans earlier in the year, the restaurant would be either closed or one that did not open in an evening.

We arrived in pouring rain to find that a huge amount of cars were parked in this small town. We had decided, wisely I thought, to park up and check the restaurant was open before going to the motorhome parking area. I squeezed gingerly into a small space and then we donned our rain coats and went off in search of food. One positive sight, apart from the numerous parked cars was the various bistros and bars all with a thriving clientele.

We wandered eagerly through the old cobbled streets and finally came to the restaurant Liz had found on the internet. Yes it was open and yes there were people inside! We entered to a round of bonsoirs from the serving and cooking staff clustered around the open kitchen, A table for two? Have we booked? No but could you fit us in? Yes of course! Moments later we were seated in a lovely restaurant full of old world charm and plenty of happy faces enjoying their food.

Le Pot du Clape specialised in home made soups and French flans so we started with mushroom soup and I chose a flan Italienne and Liz ordered a Welsh, nothing to do with Wales but a sort of cheesy quiche. The food was excellent and we particularly liked the red wine served at room temperature unlike so many establishments which serve cold red wine.

The next day we motored on further south. The bar is sadly closed at our regular stopping place in Gizeux and when we stopped at Bourgeuil the hotel and restaurant where we dine regularly was also closed. Oh well, time to light the barbecue once more! While I’m on the subject of barbecuing I think it’s important to share these two universal facts.

One. Always watch your barbecue because if you don’t it will burn itself out before you’ve had a chance to set the table and serve the salad.

Two. Never watch a barbecue because if you do it will just take ages and ages to get going and just when it finally reaches optimum cooking temperature well, it’ll probably be time for bed!

The view from our camping spot at Gastes.

Liz found us a super place to stop by a lake at Gastes. Nine Euros for two nights seemed pretty reasonable even to a tightwad like me so we found ourselves a nice spot with a view of the lake and parked up. The first evening was a lovely and warm one so out came the barbecue again. The next night was my birthday and there was a restaurant just by the motorhome parking area. We had a look in and there wasn’t much to the menu but the place was actually open with people inside eating food. Happy days!

That evening we got ourselves dressed up and meandered down looking forward to a birthday meal. However, the French restaurant curse struck again. They didn’t do food in the evenings! Quelle dommage!

I’m happy to report that we did finally finish the holiday with a lovely meal. We parked up in the village of Clérac in a lovely leafy aire. Sadly a bunch of noisy idiots in a clapped out campervan parked next to us and proceeded to annoy us no end with silly juvenile larking about. After a while they decided to move to the other end of the park and left us in peace. We walked into the village and found the hotel restaurant ready for business.

The Auberge des Lacs Bleus is well worth a visit if you are ever passing. The starter was an excellent cold buffet served with plenty of crusty French bread, next up was an escalope of chicken served in a tasty creamy sauce and we finished with some excellent cheese. The wine too was lovely.

Buffet starter looking yummy.

Of course I should mention the tasty food that Liz serves on board our motorhome. We have three rings on our small gas cooker and a grill but sadly no oven so cooking can be a challenge but even so we regularly find ourselves miles from anywhere enjoying a lovely English breakfast of bacon, sausage, mushrooms, egg and tomatoes, served with toast or fresh bread if there is a boulangerie nearby.

On one of our last nights in France we dined on Pasta Bolognese served with crunchy French bread and followed by an impressive cheese board sourced from the French supermarket Super U. Who needs French restaurants anyway!


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

 

More Sun Lounger Thoughts (Part 9)

Once again we have motored over to France in our motorhome (or camping car as the French call them.) The weather has been great, in fact a little too great as a heatwave has descended upon France making things rather uncomfortable indeed.

By the Lake.

As a result we parked up at the Lac d’Hommes, a lake with an artificial beach where the locals come to cool off. After a lovely cooling dip on a day when the mercury hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (don’t bother asking what that is in Celsius because I neither know nor care!) I settled back on a towel on our groundsheet. Sadly, sun loungers were not available!

I know I’ve said it before but lying in the sun as the water drips off you after a swim is one of life’s great relaxing experiences. Here by the lake lying with my eyes closed I am bombarded by numerous different conversations coming from the busy lake. I can pick out various words in French that I know and I try to put together conversations based on those few words. The language of children squealing with delight as they splash about in the water though is universal. At one end of the spectrum are screams of delight, at the other end are the tears of some minor mishap and they die down when mum or dad come to the rescue.

Names are shouted across the waters of the lake and one urgent cry I heard was that of ‘Jean-Michel! Jean-Michel!’ Strange how brothers and sisters the world over always refer to their siblings with their full and proper names. My brother always calls me Stephen. Not Ste or Steve but Stephen and my childhood friends, brothers Tony and Chris, always referred to each other as Anthony and Christopher.

We arrived at the lake about 11am and after a few days here I think I have got used to the natural rythym of things. There are a few families here when we arrive but the second wave comes after the French lunchtime ends sometime after 2pm. The final wave of lake goers arrive in the late afternoon, just as we are about to leave, young men and women who have perhaps finished work or college.

By the Sea

One day we left the lake behind and moved towards the coast and the somewhat cooler climes of the French Vendée. Relaxing once again on our towels and groundsheet on the beach, the only thing I could hear when I closed my eyes was the crash of the waves on the beach. It was a hugely relaxing sound, very, very loud although we were about 100 yards from the sea.

Later we walked down to the sea wanting to swim but the breakers came in very fast. As we paddled barefoot out into the sea the sand gave way to a stretch of shingle and when I hopped from one foot to another to try and get away from the unexpected sharp stones, one huge wave knocked me right over and I fell over into the water momentarily shocked and confused.

I pulled myself up feeling rather silly and made my way back to the sand. No swimming today.

Le Puy Notre Dame.

One of the reasons we came to France so early this year was to watch the Retro Grand Prix at Le Puy Notre Dame. It’s a vintage motor race through the streets of the village with pre war motor cars and motorcycles. The cars assemble in a makeshift paddock then make their way to the track, actually the village streets, lined just as they were in the past, with straw bales. Motor racing in the pre-war years was a different thing to modern formula one. Huge steering wheels without power steering, narrow wheels with tyres made for normal motoring, cloth helmets and goggles.

The stars of those years, people like Tazio Nuvolari, Prince Bira, and Henry Segrave were a different breed to modern drivers. Still, whatever the era, racing drivers the world over love the speed, the competition and the winning although winning a race in some of the classic cars we observed at Le Puy Notre Dame must have been a formidable achievement.

In between the races we settled down for some french sausage and frites washed down with a 2 euro glass of beer. I fancied another but we had come on the day of late racing; the activities start in the late afternoon and go on until late in the evening so I had to forgo that extra drink so we could drive off to find a quieter place to stop the night.

In the Heat.

The heat of this summer heatwave is really hard to deal with. The usual frenchman or woman will just stay inside, after all, french houses are made with the heat in mind. Their stonework hugs the cool and their white exteriors reflect away the heat. A frenchman goes inside to cool down but in a motorhome, the interior is even warmer than the outside. Despite trying to park in cool shady places the motorhome is always hot and so we can only sit back and suffer the heat.

Shall we leave the doors open asks Liz? No, of course not I answer. Suppose someone comes in the night to rob us! However, what happens when the sweat is pouring down our faces? We leave the doors and windows open and security goes out of the window.

We stayed at one motorhome aire where there were showers. Showers, what a luxury. I don’t think I have enjoyed a shower so much ever. I was hot and bothered and sweaty and nothing seemed to combat the heat but after a cool shower, feeling cooler and fresh, suddenly all was right with the world!

Two things are always on my mind as a motorhomer; where can I stop the night and where can I empty my toilet? I worry about those things and it is always a great feeling to find somewhere to settle down for the night. We do consult various guide books and web sites like Park4Night and so far things have been fine.

On this trip one other thing has also worried me. Will we have enough water to drink? I find myself remembering something that happened years ago, cycling with my friends in the peak district and gasping, absolutely gasping for a drink. We stopped at a shop and I remember buying a big bottle of Dandelion and Burdock, my favourite childhood drink. We stepped outside the shop and my friend took a big gulp of his drink and me? Well I opened my bottle and drank the whole lot down in one long guzzle. I can still remember the feeling of refreshment that I felt back then, it was so wonderful.

Anyway, time to get that Pepsi out of the fridge!


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

Cameras, Cards and Motorhomes.

My holiday in France this year was pretty different to the one I’m used to. No French villa, no poolside sunbed. Although I did manage to get through four books from my holiday book bag ( I have to admit I only finished three of them) I didn’t do much writing at all.

It’s not quite so easy writing in the hot confines of a motorhome. No cool kitchen or dining room like in our last rented villa. A motorhome too is about movement, about travelling. It’s about spending one or two nights in one location and then hitting the road, looking for that next location and then the next. I enjoyed it all, don’t get me wrong but the lazy relaxing holiday is probably the one for me.

A big disappointment on this holiday was also the reliability of my GoPro Hero camera. I’ve got 2 action cameras; one is a cheap imitation of a GoPro camera. It works fine but sometimes in the heat of the moment, especially when driving, it’s easy to stay too long on the power button and click into another mode like a still picture mode or a time lapse mode. The GoPro hero is great in this regard as it can be set for instant shooting. Once set up all you do is press the top button, the camera begins recording and beeps to acknowledge that (3 beeps). When you are done, click the same button once again and the camera beeps again (5 beeps) and you know recording has shut off.

I had not used either camera for a while but made sure they were both fully powered up and even had a long lead to connect the GoPro to the cigarette lighter socket and a new memory card. Everything seemed outwardly OK but the files from days 2 and 3, when later downloaded to my laptop would not play. What is even more annoying is that on day 3 as we drove down (up actually) into the Jura and the French Alps we were engulfed in a huge snowstorm which would have made great video. Alas none of those recordings were usable nor were the next day’s video with some spectacular views as we headed towards the south of France.

All of this brought back memories of the film era and so many disappointments of photographs that I knew were going to be amazing but after a visit to the photo lab were found to be too bright or too dark or blurred or, in one sad episode, completely blank. On that last occasion I remember going to pick up my prints and finding that the bill was rather cheap. ‘Is that right?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes’ said the rather smug girl at the till and I did wonder why my prints were not on the counter in front of me while I pulled some notes from my wallet. As soon as she had my money she handed over the prints wallet with the news that my film was blank and must have somehow been exposed. Nothing to do with them of course. A heated debate followed. The manager appeared and declared it ‘obvious’ that the film was exposed when removed from the camera incorrectly. I felt on the contrary that it was ‘obvious’ the photo lab had cocked up. Either way, I found somewhere else to do my developing and printing after that.

A GoPro Hero similar to mine.

Getting back to my video cameras, I did notice when downloading the footage that the date on my GoPro Hero had somehow reverted to 1899 instead of 2019 so that may have been the root of the problem. I updated it and later bought another new memory card and I did manage to record some more video but nothing as spectacular as the video that I should have had. Some other mistakes on my part led to me using up the memory card prematurely because I had left the GoPro running too long on a couple of occasions. In fact in one instance I have a good 30 minute sequence of the corner of a lay-by when we stopped for a brew and a sandwich. The latest video I had looked forward to producing may now be condemned to a fate similar to the latest Woody Allen film: Never to be released!

That brings me now to pre-paid Euro cards. Heading to France my wallet had a hefty chunk of cash Euros but just to supplement that I had a post office card which you can top up with a currency of your choice, in this case Euros. My biggest expenditure on the trip, apart from food and drink was fuel and we tended to always make for the supermarket fuel pumps which, as in the UK, are usually much cheaper than Texaco or Esso or all the other brand names. Each time though my Euro card was declined and I was forced to use my credit card and pay whatever arbitrary exchange rate was available that day.

Strangely enough, those same stores were willing to accept my Euro card in payment for food and groceries. Many petrol stations in France though are automated ones; perhaps that was the issue.

On the positive side though, one great advantage of a motorhome is simply this: As you motor down the Autoroute following the sun, you begin to feel the pangs of hunger and the need for a good old British cuppa. After a while a lovely layby or country aire surrounded by trees and birdsong appears. You stop, crank up the gas, gently fry the sausages on the stove while the tea brews and now, miles from anywhere, you can relax with a cup of English tea in one hand and an English sausage butty in the other. Wonderful!


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

More Travels in a Motorhome.

This week Liz and I have been once again off on our travels in our motorhome. We set off on April 1st and rather than endure the long haul south to Folkestone and the horrendous traffic queues and delays we decided on another route, the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

This involved only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lancashire over to Hull. One interesting aspect of this was although Yorkshire folk and those of us from west of the Pennines are sworn enemies, we are both northern and so a little northern humour and banter was the order of the day at Hull when we arrived at the port and I took a wrong turning and also when I stalled our vehicle as we were boarding the ferry. The ferry itself was also a delight. The bar was very northern in atmosphere and there was a ‘turn’ as we say ‘up north’, a vocalist and her keyboard man who knocked out some very nice songs indeed.

Off to sleep Monday night and we awoke in the morning in Belgium. There was no knocking on our cabin door by ferry staff, eager to get in and clean up for the next batch of passengers which is what we are used to with Brittany Ferries. No, with P & O everything was a little more relaxed. A little, dare I say, ‘northern’!

Belgium was looking rather sad and was covered with a grey low cloud and persistent drizzle but things brightened up as we swept into France.

After a few hours we stopped for the night at a ‘Routier’ which in France is a sort of restaurant come Truck stop. We were able to enjoy the usual lovely starter, a small plate from the buffet comprising salad, cooked meats, pates, pickles and so on. The main was a choice of two dishes, Steak or pork. The cheese board was as usual wonderful, this is France after all, and for dessert I chose ile flottant which was a meringue in a sort of cold custard. Nice and all for 13 Euros including wine.

The next day we motored on south to visit Liz’s sister who lives in the French Alps. She had mentioned the previous day that it was warm up there, 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees F for all us non metric folk!) and apparently she had been swimming in the local plan d’eau, a small lake. However, on the day we decided to visit a major snowstorm blew into the Alps. Conditions were very, very Arctic indeed, in fact at one point we were almost in a ‘white out’ situation where only a thin ribbon of tarmac was discernible through the blizzard. If similar conditions had descended on the UK it would have resulted in a total grid lock on the roads there. Here, in France though, the locals were ready for bad weather and a small army of snowploughs were at work clearing and treating the roads.

Our big mistake was following the advice of the lady from Google maps who sent us up a small mountain which gradually became blocked with snow as we rose higher. Thick snowflakes were falling and as we approached the highest point, I stopped to avoid a large mound of snow and my wheels would not grip the tarmac to carry on ahead. A snowplough motored serenely past going the other way and I managed to roll back onto the snow free side of the road, turn in a small area where the road was wider and go back the way we had come. Back down the mountain we located the Autoroute where constant ploughing and treating had kept the surface clear and we finally got going once more. The route across the A40 was spectacular, changing from tunnels to bridges and more tunnels.

I clicked on my Go Pro camera which I had stuck to my window but sadly when I later transferred the files to my laptop they wouldn’t play. Of course, all the boring stuff I shot on the M62 in the UK was fine but the really spectacular views didn’t come out. It was rather like years ago when you took your camera film to be developed just knowing what great shots you had taken and for one reason or other they just didn’t come out. I was not happy. I hadn’t used the camera for a while but I had charged it up and fitted a new and better memory card. Oh well, that’s technology for you!

The next day it was cool but sunny and most of the snow had vanished. We motored on further south and stopped in the small lakeside town of St Chamas. We were hoping to stop in the camping car area but sadly it was under renovation but we managed to find a spot in the local car park.

Driving a motorhome makes you very aware of consumables like water and gas and also of the waste products you are creating. I’m not sure actually how much our toilet holds but I do find myself worrying about it getting too full and wherever possible we try to use public toilets. The great thing about France is that they actively welcome visitors in motorhomes and provide a lot of facilities for them, toilet dumps, waste disposal, drinking water and so on. Back home in the UK it is almost impossible to find such amenities unless you pay to go on a camping site.

A busy motorhome stop at Pelissanne.

After a wet evening in the town of Pelissanne where we were able to empty our onboard toilet we carried on to a lovely motorhome site situated in a olive oil farm near the town of Trouillas. The site was completely free and there was a shower and washing area available. The staff encourage campers to visit their shop and purchase some of their lovely olive oil products but otherwise, stopping here is completely free.

Day 9 of our trip saw us head further south and cross the border into Spain. In fact as I write this in a quiet motorhome parking spot in Cantallops across from what I hope will be a lovely restaurant, the clouds are clearing and the sun has appeared.

Fuel is much cheaper over in Spain, pity I filled the tank up in France! While I’m on the subject of money, in the UK I had got myself a post office card and topped it up with Euros. It’s quite handy for most purchases except in the french service stations where it has been declined it all but one so far.

One more thing though, I really am not happy about that video!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information. In the interview below I talk about the background to the book, publishing and the trials of marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grave of Wilfrid Owen, Ors, France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Four Random Thoughts on a Sun Lounger

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Lying on a sunbed under a blue sky and a hot sun must be one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things I can think of. The only sound is the rippling of the water in the heated pool and the rumbling of my own thoughts and I am thinking that as I write this it’s the last day of my holiday and in a few days time I’ll be back at work again, ploughing through a thousand e-mails, if not more.  Tomorrow someone else will be sitting here, in my villa, in my seat, drinking wine from my glass and contemplating the blue sky that I so love. I particularly like the heated pool and it has been great to swim every day and my fitness levels must have improved. A few years back I hurt my neck and it’s hard for me to twist and take a breath in the water so what was so good for me was that I was able to swim the whole length of this rather small pool in one breath. When we stayed in Portugal last year and had a big pool I was struggling to get to the other end underwater!

Two

One other thing that I enjoy when lying in the sun is listening to music on my MP3 player. As much as I have embraced technology I have been a bit of a late starter when it comes to MP3 players. It was only about two or three years ago that I changed from a car with a tape player to one with a CD player and since then I have had to start making CDs to play when I’m motoring rather than the tapes I’ve been making ever since cassette tape recorders appeared in the early seventies. Of course, once the CDs are copied to your PC it’s a pretty easy matter to then pop them onto your MP3 player. Quite recently I came across some software that has enabled me to digitise some of my old tapes and vinyl records. One of my favourite tapes was something I concocted over thirty years ago and has soundtrack music from my favourite films and TV shows along with some of my favourite dialogue too, things like Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront, James Garner and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, and Michael Caine in Alfie. It’s almost surreal to lie here under the warm sun listening -not to the latest downloads but to a compilation I put together over thirty years ago!

Three

This is a lovely villa, near to the bars and restaurants and from the balcony I can see the flickering of the flags on the boats in the harbour. At our favourite bar the Café Beruggo, the staff turned out in force to say goodbye which was really nice. Of course the last days of a holiday are always sad and it’s hard to hand over the property to the next holiday maker. It was just as hard when I was much younger and the holidays of my childhood were spent in rented caravans in places like Skegness, Prestatyn, Blackpool and Rhyl. I remember one such holiday when my brother and I ran excitedly through the caravan park following instructions on the lines of ‘go to the third row, turn left and your caravan is at the end with the red roof.’ Well, we went past lots of modern looking caravans, turned left but the one at the end was an old van, looking for all the world like one of those caravans you see seemingly abandoned in some corner of a farmer’s field or on a construction site. That couldn’t be our van? Surely not! When my dad tried the key and it worked, we entered into this old and rather dingy caravan in a state of disappointment and settled down for our week’s holiday. It was so ancient that it had gas lights that were lit by a match. The van filled with that aroma of calor gas that I always liked and I remember playing cards and board games at night lit by the glow of those lamps. Those were the days when Mum booked the holiday from a classified advert in the Manchester Evening News so we never knew what to expect. That particular caravan was a disappointment but there were others that she booked that were wonderful.

Four

One final thought on caravans. Once, a few years ago, Liz and I stopped for a few days at a caravan park in France. Our van was opposite the touring section and I remember one day, sitting in my deck chair in the sun reading a book when a foreign motor home trundled over and parked up opposite. The motor home was towing a small car which was unhooked and parked. Then a huge awning was wound out from the motor home, a ground sheet dropped down, and various items of garden furniture appeared. Not long after that our new neighbour rolled out something that looked like a circular wheelie bin. As I gazed on over the rim of my paperback the top of the object opened and a huge satellite dish that surely must have been NASA surplus stock was raised and aimed at some distant TV station. The Germans had arrived.


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my novel ‘Floating In Space.’ Click the links at the top of the page to find out more.