Notes and Reflections from a Sun Lounger

It’s been great to nip over to Lanzarote and escape the British winter and most of Storm Ciara although sadly we arrived back just in time to experience Storm Dennis. Watching the TV news about high winds, torrential rains and flooding was sad. How do you recover from having your house flooded? Well, I don’t know but it must be difficult.

The first two weeks of my holiday I didn’t even think about work for a moment then in the third week the spectre of home, bad weather and work began to appear like the ghost of Christmas past, wailing and rattling a lot of chains. It seemed like only moments later when I was whisked back to my desk at work and although Ebenezer Scrooge eventually woke up at home a changed man, I was feeling pretty grumpy as the spirits had ignored all my pleas to take me back to Lanzarote.

The weather in Lanzarote was wonderful, the skies were blue and the temperature kept to a steady 70F. After a few days of relaxation I began to imagine myself actually living in Lanzarote. One of our friends out there Kris, has made a life for himself doing various small jobs. He runs a Karaoke at various locations and also works as a pool cleaner and I started to think that maybe if I could have found some similar small jobs could I settle there? Perhaps. Of course I’d miss certain things, the hustle and bustle of Manchester, the seaside ambience of St Annes, English tea and so on. The flip side would be sunshine, a temperate climate and plenty of San Miguel.

Of course there are other factors to consider like where to live for instance? Property prices are looking pretty strong in Lanzarote. When we were there a few years back, building work seemed to have stalled on the island. There were numerous half-finished villas that looked to be abandoned, some with graffiti on them. There were new roads built to anticipate new homes but the building plots were lying vacant and the new roads complete with zebra crossings led to nowhere.

This year, new building work was evident and only round the corner from us, work was progressing on a stylish villa, even though the advertising hoarding announced that completion was due in 2017!

We used the local bus service quite a few times. It covered a circular route in the local area taking in Casa Carlos, a restaurant much favoured by Liz at one end of the route and the small town centre of Playa Blanca at the other end. The fare was a flat rate 1 Euro 40 although when we first arrived in the resort we decided to cover the entire circular route just to take in the local area. The bus driver was not happy. Apparently we had passed the terminus requiring us to pay again. The bus driver got pretty aereated until we coughed up the extra bus fare which was quite a departure from the usual laid back Canarian style . Still, being a one man bus driver is a pressurised job as I know only too well from experience.

We hired a car for a few days and the staff at the car hire place were the exact opposite of the bus driver, chilled out and laid back. When I returned the car they didn’t feel the need to check the vehicle over unlike every other car hire operator I have ever dealt with. I remember once arguing with a hire car man about a small mark, nothing more than a speck really, on the bonnet of a car I was returning which he claimed I had made. Luckily it was found on the previous driver’s paperwork. Our Canarian hire car man only asked if I had left some fuel in the car.

The one other mode of transport which turned out to be the cheapest of all was the local taxis. There was a busy taxi rank in Playa Blanca with a car always ready for when we had drunk our last San Miguel or last glass of red wine. There was also a smaller rank by the Marina for when we weren’t inclined to walk and there was even a local taxi phone line manned by English speaking staff. Transport in Lanzarote was frankly wonderful.

To be fair, we really didn’t need transport that much. The marina was only a short walk away and full of restaurants ranging from the expensive to the cheap. Our favourite was in the cheaper range, the Cafe Berrugo which served beer and wine and had a menu of British snacks alongside Spanish tapas. Most nights there was some entertainment and best of all when you asked for the bill the waiter would plonk down a bottle of caramel vodka on the table and a couple of shot glasses. I have to admit, I did like that caramel vodka.

One disappointment was the pool. It was a good size, it had both steps and a ladder and it was pretty deep, perfect in fact for some much needed exercise. The only real problem was that it was cold. Actually, not just cold but freezing, bone chilling, heart stoppingly freezing!

The first time we tried to swim in it, Liz realised it was far too cold and stepped out after getting in only knee deep.  Ah ha, I thought, this is my golden opportunity to go where Liz has feared to tread. As I slipped deeper into the icy cold I realised this wasn’t a good idea but on I went and with total disregard for the elements I splashed back into the water, completed a hurried 2 laps and was out of that pool like the proverbial wonga bird! It took a while to warm up, in fact I was so cold a kind of tingling euphoria came over me as I warmed up. I kept imagining what it must have been like for those on board the Titanic as they were forced into the icy waters, many to certain death.

Needless to say, I survived and gradually, by degrees the pool did get a little warmer. Not actually warm as such but at least I could swim without the threat of hyperthermia.

One final trip was the trip back home. The aircraft was full despite the time of year and although Liz and I were separated on the outgoing flight from Manchester, on the return flight from Lanzarote we were sitting together. As the aircraft took off I noticed a couple ahead of me reaching out and holding hands across the aisle. They did the same during the landing. Landing and take-off are the stressful parts of a flight and a little touch from your loved ones can ease the strain.

All went well despite some high winds on our final approach to the airport. We went quickly through passport control and as we entered the arrivals hall there waiting for us was our taxi transfer man, waiting just like they do in the movies holding a little card with our name on. He took us round to the car parks where much new building work was going on. Finally we arrived at the taxi and soon the driver had cranked up the heating and we were exiting the airport.

Many years ago as a schoolboy my friends and I knew every inch of the airport. We knew the main entrance, the rear entrance. We knew where the runway went over the main road on the way towards Wilmslow. We knew the tiny lanes behind the airport and all the little places where we could park our bikes and watch the aircraft landing and taking off.

I remember that as we drove away from the airport car park I was looking out of the window for something familiar, some old lane from the past, some old back street that I had once cycled along.

Maybe I’m getting old but nothing at all seemed familiar.


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.

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 in that pool! It took me a while, 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 it was 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.

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.

 

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 (part 2)

As you read this I’m heading towards the end of my holiday in France. It’s been an interesting trip, a true road trip and one where there is no destination because it’s the journey itself which is the beginning and the end of the whole experience.

We arrived on the European continent in Zeebrugge in Belgium, motored serenely down to France, from the dull and cool northern France to the snowstorms of the Jura and French Alps where my trusty GoPro camera let me down mightily, deciding not to record the epic snowstorms we had to endure in order to visit Liz’s sister.

We arrived in one piece and were glad for some warming food and wine but then moved on to warmer climes in the south of France and then onto Spain.

Spain was nice but not totally our cup of tea, well, it might have been had the weather be more welcoming, and warmer. Back towards the north then we went as we noticed warmer weather was on the way to the Loire, one of our favourite places in France.

One major stop was at the Lac d’Homme in the Loire, a beautiful lake with lots of parking areas. There was nothing to say that motorhomes could park here overnight but then again, there was nothing to say you couldn’t, so we did!

It’s rather lovely just to settle down and relax after a lot of driving and the lake was a lovely quiet place. The first night we stayed we awoke the next morning to a lovely chorus of birdsong. Wonderful!

Sorry there’s not more to this post but we are currently in a bad mobile WiFi area.

Hope to be back with you next week with a more substantial post.

Best wishes from France!


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


More Travels in a Motorhome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A busy motorhome stop at Pelissanne.

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

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

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

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


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

Summer Holiday Reflections


I know I’ve waxed lyrical about lying on a sun lounger but another favourite pastime of mine on my French holidays is just sitting outside of an evening and watching the sun go down, a glass of wine not too far away of course. As the sun dips down over the horizon it’s time for the local bats to make an appearance and whip across the patio whizzing from the trees to I don’t know where but making a fleeting but strong impression on my mind.

The pool is all covered up and the barbecue cools quietly in the corner as I take a sip of my red wine. All is well in the world. Well, it was, a few days ago when I wrote that, now it’s just another holiday memory.

The last few days of a holiday are always the worst, a countdown to packing up and getting ready to leave, checking what time the ferry sails and considering which route to take to the port, what time to leave and so on.

After a pleasant trip to Caen we boarded our ferry, had some food and settled down in our cabin for a nap before the long drive up north in England.

Driving.

Leaving Portsmouth we headed to Southampton and then north on the A34 dual carriageway. Leaving the port was a little like a grand prix start as various vehicles of all shapes and sizes passed through the passport checks and then sprinted away to the motorway. A large contingent of that traffic made their way up the A34 and up ahead of me as well as behind were a great number of cars. The A34 is an unlit dual carriageway and we all motored along at a good pace, 65 to 70 mph. After a while the traffic thinned out and up ahead of me were two pilots or pathfinders, lighting up the dark road ahead. Gradually, one pilot turned off leaving just one car ahead, then he turned off too and it was just me, leading the pack. Now being in front on a dark unfamiliar road at night is not so easy. There was plenty of traffic on the other side so use of my full beam headlights was limited and gradually my pace slowed a little.

Once someone behind decided to take a look at taking the lead but once off my tail in the outside lane he slowed right down and I overtook him back and once again I took on the pathfinder role. Later a guy doing well in excess of 80 came hurtling past, lit up the road for me but then disappeared over the horizon but after a while another vehicle came to the front, overtook and upped the pace a little and we carried on as before, my pathfinder lighting up the road for me.

Personally, I think that unlit motorways and A roads in the UK are an unnecessary hazard and I honestly think that perhaps Highways England would be better spending their money on street lighting rather than so-called Smart Motorways. However, the journey home was a good one, the rain held off and road closures were few. We motored up north serenely taking in the M40, the M42, the M6, the M55 and finally home. There were a number of mandatory 50 mph sections on the M6 due to roadworks but in a way they were helpful, almost like the safety car in a Grand Prix when, on a long journey, the driver can relax, check engine temperatures and oil pressure and so on before resuming 70 mph again.

Telephone Boxes.

Back in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set, there was a long row of telephone boxes just by Piccadilly gardens in Manchester. Telephone boxes were once everywhere but today, when the mobile phone is the main instrument of communication, telephone boxes are few and far between.

In a small village in France, we came across this once lonely and unused telephone box, now transformed into a small library. Take away a new book to read but remember to leave your old ones behind for other phone callers  -sorry, readers- to use.

Writing.

One of my objectives on this holiday was of course to produce more writing and push one or more of my numerous writing projects towards completion. As you may have guessed if you have ever read any of my other post-holiday posts, that goal was not met although I did manage to knock out my usual Saturday posts whilst I was away and stack up a few draft posts into the bargain. My one deadline, that of a Saturday morning at 10:00 AM UK time is really what motivates me and keeps me going. Pity I don’t have a similar deadline for my books!

I am always wary of blogs that give tips for writing or blogging. They ask you to subscribe and then hit you with a full blogging/writing course with a bargain price tag thrown in towards the end of their patter. One great writing blog that I do enjoy is one by Kristen Lamb and one post that pinged into my inbox the other day was this one:

https://authorkristenlamb.com/2018/09/stuck/

One of the tips for writing when you get stuck was this, instead of writing so much then flipping back and forth changing and editing, try writing a fast draft. Yes, head down, laptop open and just steam ahead. No stopping to check or to edit or to rearrange. Full speed ahead, nail that draft and then look back, rearrange things and edit. Great idea, I just need to get into full steam ahead mode first. Of course one thing is worth remembering:

No unfinished-but-perfect book has ever hit the New York Times best-seller list, but a lot of crappy finished ones have.

Last year I remember reading about Noel Coward, either in his autobiography or some other biography. Coward spent a lot of his time in the winter months at his house ‘Firefly’ in Jamaica. There, Coward would go to his study at 8 AM and write through the morning until 12 when he would join his friends for a swim and then lunch. Ian Fleming had a house nearby, ‘Goldeneye’ where he wrote many of the James Bond books.

Perhaps that’s the answer to my writing issues! I need to spend the winter in Jamaica!


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!

Thoughts from a Sun Lounger Part 8

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

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

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

Work.

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

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

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

Tea.

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

Bread.

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

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

Fish and Chips.

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

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

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

Facebook.

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

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

The Chinese Guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Northern France, Video and a Supermarket Car Park

As you read this Liz and I will be making our way back to France for our proper summer holiday. The excursion in our motorhome a few weeks ago was mainly to attend a French wedding but it was also a chance to do a little exploring. In northern France the landscape is littered with many reminders of past conflicts but one you will come across time and time again are the many immaculate cemeteries maintained by the War Graves Commission. The price of world war comes heavy.

I won’t say too much about the trip because all my thoughts and observations are mostly in the video below.

It was a sad but moving experience, especially seeing so many graves of unknown soldiers. One particular gravestone I went in search of was the grave of Wilfred Owen, the famous Great War poet. He is buried in the small cemetery in the village of Ors and lost his life only a matter of days before the end of the conflict.

I do love the sweet satisfaction of putting together a short video but I often wonder if is it better to write my narration first and then put my video together to fit the words or just make the video and write the narration later. In actual fact the end result was a bit of both.

My ‘action cam’ video camera packed up during the trip, or at least I thought it had. Back home in the UK I plugged it into my laptop and realised that at some point I had left the camera running endlessly and all the space on the memory card had been swallowed up. For this next trip I have taken the plunge and got myself a ‘proper’ GoPro camera, a much more sophisticated version of the cheap action cam I have been using. I was a little disappointed to find that this version, despite the GoPro reputation and extra price tag, does not have a viewing screen in the rear of the camera. After further inspection of the manual I see that the device has an ‘app’ which you can download to your smartphone and see exactly what is being filmed and operate your camera remotely. Check back here in a few weeks to see whether I managed to shoot anything interesting or if I come back with another memory card full to the brim with exciting footage of the car park at Intermarche.

I shot a whole lot of in-car footage last year in France and put it all together in yet another video. I did the narration armed with a few notes and just rambled on into the microphone. On reflection I might have been better writing out a proper script but you can make your own mind up by checking out the video below.

Anyway, we are all packed, ready to return to France this time in a car rather than a motorhome so I hope that by next week I should have some more sun lounger thoughts to share with you. Our previous trip to France in a motorhome was fun but there was always that sense of travelling but never arriving. Still, maybe that’s the essence of a road trip, at least according to that old saying it’s better to travel than to arrive. This time we hope to arrive at our rented villa in the Loire sometime on Saturday afternoon. I can see it all now: A quick flurry of unpacking, a refreshing dip in the pool, the decanting of the red wine, that agreeable hiss as our steaks are slapped on the barbecue . . bring it on!


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