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.

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.

Rumours, Motorhomes and the Red Carpet Treatment

Motorhomes.

As you read this I will hopefully be making my way to France via the channel tunnel in Liz’s tidy little motorhome. This is not -as you might be thinking- my summer holiday. In fact its my pre-summer holiday! Yes, we are off to a wedding in the Alsace region of France and have decided to make the trip in the motorhome and make things into a mini holiday, a nice precursor to our main holiday also in France later in the year.

We have already had a trip to Scotland in the motorhome but this trip to France is one I’m really looking forward to. I really do love driving through France, exploring sleepy french villages, antique shops and of course, restaurants. If no restaurants appear on the horizon, which I seriously doubt very much, we can always park up and slap some sausages into the frying pan. Things taste so much better when cooked out on the road.

The forecast in France is not looking that great for the first few days which might come as something of a shock to our system as for the last few weeks the UK has been in the middle of a major heat wave. Garden hoses and sprinklers will soon be banned I’m sure and apart from having some trouble sleeping in the warm nights things have been very nice in the UK. We’ve had plenty of barbecues and for most of the time I have been wandering about in the same pair of shorts and an old vest, occasionally interchanged with a smart pair of shorts and a smart polo shirt when I have ventured out into town.

The weather has had quite an impact on our laundry as I have given up wearing socks for the duration of the heat wave. Shoes have been replaced by sandals and jeans have been pushed firmly to the back of the wardrobe. When the washer has been taken for a spin it’s so hot that the washing is dry in no time at all.

Many people have mocked me in the past for buying a convertible motor car. ‘When is he going to use that in rainy UK’ they may have thought? Yet how I laugh when I motor serenely by, roof down, sunglasses firmly fixed in place as I offer a cool wave to my friends, boiling in their conventional motor vehicles. I have heard some talk of ‘air con’ but what on earth is that? Must be bad for you and it really can’t compare to having the roof off your car and being bathed in fresh, warm, natural air, can it?

The Red Carpet Treatment.

Last week our friend Veli who runs the Anotolia Turkish Restaurant in St Annes invited us to the launch of his new venture the Anatolia Sea View Restaurant down on the seafront. Veli must have some good contacts because also in attendance were the local mayor, the local MP and various minor celebrities from the north-west, including Bobby Ball whom UK readers may remember from the comedy duo Cannon and Ball back in the 80s. Anyway, it was nice to step along the red carpet and be handed a glass of bubbly by our favourite waiter Zoltan and nibble at various Turkish delicacies from the buffet.

Rumours.

I never used to be a great album buyer, in fact back in the 70’s and 80’s I was always a singles man but I do have a few vinyl albums in my collection. In the CD age I have built up quite a substantial CD album collection and it’s always nice to pick up a CD version of a classic vinyl album and I did plan at one time to gradually update my album collection from vinyl to CD like that, record by record. Then again, by the time I’ve finished I can imagine the CD will probably be defunct and some new technology will have replaced it.

What is interesting these days though is how bands tend to update their work and issue new versions of their classic stuff. We can now get classic albums ‘re-mastered‘ and with other versions of the original tracks. That is all very well but what it really means is that the record company can now add on a few extra quid to the price tag.

On the BBC a while ago I watched that late night show about classic albums and the subject happened to be Rumours, the hit Fleetwood Mac album. Rumours, in case you didn’t know, was released in 1977 and reached the top of both the US and UK charts. Four tracks from the album were released as singles and all did well in the charts. The BBC show revealed how the album was made and the personal relationship issues that fuelled the creative song writing. Following on from that I decided to do a search on Ebay for Rumours and spotted a ‘new’ version of the album for sale.

The version I saw on Ebay was remastered and claimed to be a deluxe and special version but after further searches and examinations, I now see that for a few quid you can get, quite cheaply, the basic CD version of the original album. Also available, a little pricier, is the ‘re-mastered’ version. For a little more money the remastered 2 disc version can be bought and for even more money, a remastered special 3 disc version. The 3 disc version was too pricey for me but after a few Ebay bidding excursions I managed to get hold of a reasonably priced 2 disc version. Now I had planned to save it for our journeys in France however, in France, as much as I enjoy driving there I do have to concentrate on what I’m doing because it involves driving on the wrong side of the road. In the UK I feel I’m something of an ‘automatic’ driver because I rarely think about my driving, I’m just on my personal auto pilot and my inner driver takes over. Not something that’s a good idea in France.

So, on my last block of night shifts before journeying away, I cranked up the old motor, slipped CD1 into the player and set off for work. It was good. Not quite as good as my Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits CD but good all the same. CD2 was similar but was mostly alternative versions of the same tracks. Verdict: It was an OK album but not head over heels brilliant. Glad I didn’t fork out for the  3 disc version!

Anyway, here’s one of my favourite tracks.


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

Cars, Codes and Coming Home

The end of a holiday is always a sad time, even more so when you’ve been away for a whole month. Our flight to Lanzarote was pleasant and comfortable but the return journey was on a different sort of aeroplane, one in which far too many seats were crammed in together and the flight was very, very uncomfortable. They just don’t make planes suitable for big people like me.

Anyway, our flight arrived in Manchester 20 minutes early and just as we passed through passport control we picked up a call from our lift; he had arrived and was in position at the drop off point just outside the Jet2 building. Happy days! A quick visit to the toilets and we made our way over but guess what? Our driver was nowhere to be seen.

We waited and waited and eventually gave him a call. The police, who are very sensitive regarding parked cars around the airport these days, had moved him on and he was about to turn round and come back. The big problem was that just up the road, a host of roadworks were in place denying traffic access to the roundabout. The only alternative was to carry on ahead on the M56 motorway so Jay, our driver was forced to carry on to the next exit and then turn back, a diversion that took him about 20 minutes to negotiate! When he finally arrived back we were cold and shivering, unused to the current February UK weather.

My lovely old motor, my Renault Megane convertible had been parked up for a whole month and I did notice, last I time I drove the car, that it wasn’t starting quite as promptly as it usually does. When I returned home my faithful motor was there just as I had left it, ready, or so I thought, to go. I sat down, felt the comfy leather seats, slipped in the key and everything lit up just as it should do. The only thing was that when I pressed the starter a groaning noise issued forth from under the bonnet and after a brief turn of the motor a red battery light began to flash on the dashboard.

There was nothing for it but to put in a call to the RAC. It was, they told me, a day of exceptional demands on their staff so my recovery agent would be on scene with me in anything up to 4 hours! Luckily, I had parked on a neighbour’s drive a few doors down the road so I went home to await the call from the RAC man who promised to call me when he was a few minutes away.

Almost three hours later, it was dark and cold and the RAC man arrived, promptly diagnosed a dead battery and offered me a deal on a new one with a five-year guarantee. I coughed up my credit card and not long afterwards I was back on the road. Later that evening I decided to take a run down to Manchester and spend some time with my elderly mother. Now one of the things I love about my car is the perfect opportunity it offers to listen to music. In fact, I think that listening to music in the car is really the only way to listen to music; clear and uninterrupted and driving seems to somehow put one in the perfect frame of mind to listen and enjoy music.

Driving to Manchester is a good 90 minute drive, mostly on the motorway and like any long journey I popped in a CD, slipped into first gear and settled down ready to chill with some of my favourite music, in this case a compilation I made myself from the Kate Bush double album Aerial.

Nothing appeared to be happening and I glanced over at my radio screen only to see not ‘CD loading’ as I expected but a flashing message saying ‘input code’! Yes, as the battery had been disconnected the radio had reverted to that regrettable situation, one I had not experienced for many moons, of requiring a security code to be input. By this time I was just joining the motorway and could only emit a silent scream of agony, compelled to continue my journey in silence instead of the musical interlude I was so looking forward to!

A few days later, back in St Annes I scoured through my collected motoring invoices and came across my original purchase note for my car. Was there a car radio code? No! A search on the internet provided various hits for people who would find my code for a price, the cheapest was in the £30 region. I did come across a forum where someone said Renault main dealers were happy to supply radio codes but the next comment was ‘no they won’t’

Anyway, undaunted I called the Renault dealer where I had bought my car some ten years ago. The lady who took my call transferred me to another lady and lo and behold, within moments I had the radio code! So, thanks to Blackpool Renault dealer Arnold Clark and that very nice lady, I was able to take my next journey with the chilled out sounds of Kate Bush playing on my in-car stereo. Pity I was on my way back to work!


Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.