Thoughts From A Sun Lounger Part 12

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these sun lounger posts. The simple reason is that just lately I’ve not been anywhere near a sun lounger to have any sun lounger thoughts. However, the sun has finally appeared over North West England, the temperature has gone up and finally it has been time to drag the sun lounger out from its winter hiding place. As the lockdown is still ongoing despite a recent thaw it has not been possible to drive over to France or fly to Lanzarote and take in some sun so the only sun lounging I’ve been doing lately has been in our own back garden, thinking idly back to those halcyon days before Covid 19 when Liz and I were free to roam the continent in search of wine, bread, French restaurants, Spanish Tapas, the sea and the quiet of the French countryside.

The French countryside really is huge and I do love the quiet. Silence is pretty hard to find these days, especially in a big city like Manchester but in rural France, the absence of sound is something pretty profound. Close your eyes while lying on a sunlounger and it takes a while for a city boy like me to take in the silence. No traffic, no shouting, no electronic noises, just silence. After a while new sounds begin to emerge, the sound of birds perhaps, the sound of a gentle breeze, a tractor out in the fields or the faint rumble of one of my favourite sounds, the drone of a small aircraft.

I conjectured in an old post that perhaps in a previous life I was a pilot. A barnstormer in the American west perhaps or a pilot from the Royal Flying Corps. I read a book once called Soul Survivor, a story of reincarnation; a small boy troubled by incessant nightmares of being trapped in a burning aircraft. As time went on the boy remembered more of his nightmares, details of his aircraft, the aircraft carrier he flew from and the pilots he flew and died with. It was quite a story and when the parents of the boy traced the actual pilot who the boy claimed to be, the similarities between the boy and the World War II fighter pilot were amazing. I do love the sound of small aircraft though and just lately, lying in my sun bed, the sound of small aircraft flying from nearby Blackpool airport awakens a distant memory inside me. Perhaps it is the memory of being a young plane spotter at Manchester Airport many years ago, or is it the distant memory of another life?

One time in France we were relaxing with our barbeque just by a plan d’eau after an afternoon swimming and we heard the familiar drone. This time it was a paraglider drifting serenely across the blue sky.

Another simple quality in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city, things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky on one memorable evening, I noticed a particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

One of the great things about the summer has to be the barbeque. Liz makes the most amazing salads to go with our food; homemade slaws and various mixes of crunchy green leaves and sliced tomatoes and onions to go with our burgers, sausages and steaks. I love it when the coals are hot and ready and the meat sizzles when it hits the barbeque. I do miss our French meals though. We had a brief visit to France in 2020 between lockdowns and I remember one lovely meal sat outside a hotel restaurant we have visited a few times. I had a cool French rose served with a starter of crudités and pâtés and fresh bread. Afterwards with a bottle of red came the main course, a nice steak. I have to say I worry about ordering a steak in France. The French tend to undercook a steak so I always ask for it to be cooked well done rather than my usual medium. The thing is, will the chef think that those stupid English want their food cremated as usual and actually give me a really well-done steak instead of a medium? Perhaps I should just ask for the omelette with fromage?

One of our favourite restaurants is in the north of France, not far from Calais. We found the restaurant just by chance, miles from anywhere. Liz and I stopped for an early evening meal one day and we have returned many times since. For starters I chose celery soup and Liz ordered the pâté.

I was a little disappointed with the rather small empty dish that was presented to me but then a huge tureen of soup arrived which was wonderful and produced about four small servings, one of which went to Liz while I sampled her pâté which was full of rustic flavours and was perfect served with fresh French bread.

The main course was a simple omelette, light and fluffy with a fresh salad and Liz’s fish was lovely with a creamy curry like sauce, unusual for French country cooking.

Anyway, as the weather had improved it was time to take a run out in our motorhome. Looking on the internet motorhomes don’t seem to be too popular lately, especially here in St Annes which is a seaside destination in its own right. Not as brash as nearby Blackpool with its Pleasure Beach and kiss me quick hats but also not as posh as Lytham thinks it is. On the internet I have read a lot of resistance to the holidaymakers arriving here parking up by the sea front. Why don’t they go elsewhere ask bloggers on one of Facebook’s St Annes pages, taking up all the parking spaces? Well, why should they? Motorhomers pay their road tax too and are entitled to park anywhere that is legal, just like a car. One comment said that if we can afford a motorhome then we can afford to stop at a caravan park? Again, why pay to park on a caravan site when the beauty of a motorhome is that we can stop anywhere and spend the night in the back of the van?

This last week we motored off to Yorkshire and stopped for the night in Skipton, a lovely town with some nice old pubs and many attractive barges moored by the side of the canal. We parked for the night on the nearby car park in the company of quite a few other motor homes. The charge for a night’s stopover was the princely sum of five pounds, although after nine am the parking meter wanted more money for a further daytime stay. We stayed a few hours for breakfast and to visit the nearby market which was pretty quiet early on but later when we left about noon everywhere, including the car park, was packed.

Liz’s cod dish: Looks pretty yummy

The next night we found a great pub in the village of Egton, the Horseshoe Inn. They told us the pub was fully booked for diners that night but we could stay free of charge and drink in the outside bar. When we arrived there had been a cancellation so we were able to drink and dine before wandering a few yards back to our motorhome.

In France, many towns and even villages sport their own motorhome stopping places with facilities to empty toilets and top up our water tanks. Many places like this are free, although some charge a few euros to top up with drinking water.

Yes, we’ll be sorely missing our visit to France this year. Of course, if we were still part of Europe that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s the fault of all those Brits who chose to leave the EC in the referendum. Let me see, who do I know that voted to leave, fed up with Brussels and its stifling bureaucracy?

Ah yes, that would be me . .


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Another Slice of My Locked Down Life

The lockdown has almost come to an end here in the UK this week. There are still some restrictions and it’s still advisable to continue wearing a mask in public and to keep washing your hands. If anything, at least we may benefit from the increased hygiene standards in future. I’m lucky in that I haven’t had the coronavirus but not only that, the winter is usually a bad time for me because I always, always end up with the flu or at least a very bad cold. This year I haven’t and that must surely be due to the continued hand washing and mask wearing.

What is also interesting is that we are now ok to fly to Australia and New Zealand. That’s great but the flip side is that those two particular places aren’t willing to let us in yet. Oh well!

The bad weather here in the UK is getting me down. We can’t go out much and inside it’s the usual routine, surfing the internet and watching TV. We decided to take a chance on the weather one day and combine the dropping off of Liz’s car at the garage to fix a faulty electric window, with a short trip to a pub that has outside dining. Liz had contacted the pub, the Midge Hall in Leyland beforehand to ask if we could stay the night in the car park in our motorhome. The landlord seemed ok with that so we parked up in a nice corner. I was glad to see that the pub had a couple of outdoor covered areas. One looked like it had either been made especially for the current coronavirus situation or had been nicely adapted from a former smoking area and another one just by the pub entrance. The ruling that week was that pubs and restaurants can open but customers must stay outdoors.

The Midge Hall

We had arranged to meet Liz’s cousin and her husband there and we had a lovely evening as well as a nice meal. The weather was warmish and it did cool off later but not unbearably so. We dined early so we didn’t stay out late, but it was good to be out and about again and good to be social, to sit at a table with friends just having some chit chat.

Our motorhome hasn’t had much use lately and it was good to get some miles under the belt on the van and give the battery a good charging. We saw quite a few motorhomes on the road and each one we saw, each one, gave us a wave. Their occupants too were glad to be back on the road I suppose.

Just recently at the Oscars, the big movie winner was Nomadland. Nomadland is set in the USA and is about a woman whose husband dies and then she loses her job because the sole employer in her town closes down. She sells up and decides to buy a van to live in so she can travel the country searching for work. I’ve not seen the film but it certainly looks interesting and I look forward to watching it when it either comes out on DVD or I see it on TV. The last Oscar winner I bought on DVD was The Shape of Water. It was universally praised but the fact is, it’s an utterly dreadful film and I’m hoping Nomadland will be better.

I suppose there is something romantic about living a nomadic life in a campervan or motorhome, stopping at a great location and then moving on when you feel it’s time to go. I’ve always loved our trips to France and we’ve found some great spots, all by lakes, plan d’eau they call them in France, lakes where you can swim. I have to say I find myself worrying sometimes; I like places where there are other vans and that always gives me a better feeling of security. Sometimes in the dark of the night when we are alone at a deserted spot and I hear noises I start to worry. The flip side is that after a day reading and swimming, it’s great to light the barbecue and settle down with a sizzling steak and some wine. Another lovely moment was last October on the Isle of Skye when we found an excellent but pricey fish and chip shop just by our park up point.

Parked by a lake in France

Could I live like that permanently? I’m not sure. In France I could perhaps drive further south when the weather turned cold and even spend the winter in Spain. That would have been easy pre-Brexit but I’m not sure how it would pan out now. A while back I started reading a blog about a woman who chose to live in a van for a year in the USA. Her big problem was the winter. I forget which state she lived in, although it might have been Oregon. The blog was called I failed at van life. Here are the 11 biggest mistakes I made. The biggest mistake was her choice of van. Looking at the pictures on the blog she chose a pick up with a camper unit bolted onto the back. She had to exit the car to go into the van area and there wasn’t a lot of space but the thing she really couldn’t take was the cold. When I say the cold, there were a few pictures showing her in what looked to me like arctic conditions. The flip side was also the heat of the summer. Think it gets hot in your car in the summer? Imagine trying to live and sleep in those stuffy conditions. Difficult but at least in our van when we experienced the heat of a French summer, we were able to stay outside until the temperatures eased but even then, the van interior was still warm and sleeping was difficult. On a couple of really hot occasions Liz wanted to leave the van door open at night but security conscious Steve didn’t. I fell asleep with the door closed but I’m pretty certain that soon after Liz opened it up. Happily, there were no roaming villains operating in the Loire at the time and we both survived.

Another easing of the lockdown came this week on the 17th when we could actually enter the interior of our beloved pubs and restaurants. Liz and I had a booking at a place called Ego in Lytham for the 17th, made many months ago and it was wonderful to sit at our regular table and be served by Ego’s friendly staff. The steak was excellent and the surroundings were warm and convivial.

Anyway, the next day it was time to forget about the cold because Tuesday the 18th emerged warm and sunny, the perfect day for some light gardening and a bit of a read out on the patio. Could even have been barbecue weather. Pity it was my back to work day!


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Lockdown and the Winter Holiday Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casa Carlos: Fishy food, salad and pizza!

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

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

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

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

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


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Birthdays, Highlands and Hamish Macbeth

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

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

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

Mallaig

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

The view across the bay.

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

The splendour of Skye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, the joys of having a motor home.


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The Ups and Downs of Motorhoming

I remember once staying at a caravan site somewhere in France. It was only a short stay, just a matter of days. I think we had travelled from the Loire up towards Calais and had a few days to spare before going onboard the shuttle for our trip under the channel and back to the UK. As I lay reading on my deck chair, an impressive motorhome pulled up opposite us in the camping area. This huge motorhome backed into place. The driver ambled out and set up his deck chairs, table and awning. Then he rolled out a huge TV dish, linked up to some distant satellite and finally sat down to relax.

The Germans had arrived.

I remember thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t mind a set up like that myself. Fast forward a few years and Liz and I have our own motorhome. Not quite like the German version, in fact it’s a pretty small motor home. It’s based on a Ford Transit, has a small bathroom and toilet, a kitchen area with a fridge and three ring cooker and a permanent double bed. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in someone’s wardrobe as there isn’t much space but it’s been fun pottering about France, Belgium and even Spain on a couple of occasions.

I do find myself worrying though, have we enough drinking water? Where can we empty our toilet? Luckily in France, there are numerous municipally owned aires de camping car where we can stop, sort those things out and camp for the night. In England, motorhomes are seen as pariahs. Nobody wants them on their doorstep. In lovely St Annes where we live, there is motorhome parking by the sea front but every time I click onto the St Annes Facebook page there are complaints about motorhomes. They have taken over the car park some say. A local restaurant owner says his customers can’t park because of the motorhomes. I sometimes visit that particular restaurant but I never drive there, I like my wine too much! Anyway, don’t motorhomes bring revenue to the town? Don’t motorhomers use shops and bars and restaurants, just like normal people?

One highlight of the French countryside is the local fair which usually includes a vide grenier; a car boot Sale or literally ‘empty loft’ to you. At these events there is always a bar serving draught beer (pression) or wine. At the food counter there is usually a barbecue which involves sausages cooked on the hot coals or rillettes, a sort of pâté served sometimes with warm bread.

Personally I love the frites; chips to you and me or fries to our American friends. There are generally three women on the serving desk, sometimes more. One will ask you what you want, in our case something like deux barquettes de frites, two trays of chips. The first lady will repeat this to the second lady who will pass this on the lady running the caisse, the cash till. She will ask for perhaps three euros which will be echoed by the other women. The cash will be handed over and finally the change will be passed via the three women. All this time no attempt will be made by either of the women to actually serve the frites, that job will be handled by three other women who will barack the group of chatting men, the chefs, because they have cooked too many sausages and not enough frites!

A quiet camping place by a lake at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Another problem we have run into in Europe is filling our gas cylinder. We use LPG and have a refillable tank of gas. In France though LPG is called GPL and on our first trip in the motorhome we must have passed numerous petrol stations looking for one that sold LPG when we must have passed plenty of garages advertising GPL!

Our first European LPG top up took place in Spain and it was here I realised that the connections for gas in Europe are different to those in the UK. Despite not speaking much Spanish except for buenos dias and vino tinto, we managed to get the filling station staff to assist us. They had a connection convertor and we were able to fill up. Now Liz has picked up a handy conversion pack so now we are able to happily top up our gas wherever we are.

In a previous post I complained about the slowness of the service at a French McDonalds. The great thing about the motorhome is that we can stop, switch on the gas, fry up a couple of sausages and make tea in the time that the French McDonalds’ staff are still thinking about what to do. I’m not knocking French McDonalds, the concept of fast food is lost on them. Then again, if you’re in France why would you want to go to McDonald’s anyway? I think we went there last year because we wanted to make use of the free Wi-Fi.

In France my expert navigator, Liz, will usually sniff out a welcoming plan d’eau, a lake where you can swim and relax. Lac De Hommes is one we have visited frequently over the last two years. The first year was great, we found ourselves a nice corner parking spot and camped over for a few nights. We spent our time reading quietly by the lakeside, popping in for a swim whenever it became too warm. Later we either barbecued or ate salads parked in our small corner. The following year we arrived to find that barriers had been erected over our parking area with a height limit that prevented us from parking. Clearly, someone not a fan of motorhomes had taken over management of the site.

Sunset at Les Sentiers du Rochereau

Still, there are other lakes we have found and some just waiting to be found and happily, just around the corner from that particular lake is the small village of Gizeux, where there is a small aire de camping car a short walk from a nice village bar. When we went in 2019 the bar had sadly closed but my spies in the area have recently advised me that it is now open for business once again.

Another lake we found recently was at Brûlon in the department of Sarthe. A lovely lake with a man made beach. There is a campsite there but we chose to ‘wildcamp’ in a nice spot ideal for relaxing and a short walk to the beach. Also nearby was a cafe which served restaurant style food with a rather lovely house red.

The lake at Brûlon.

The day will come, soon I hope, when we can return to France.


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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! It took me a while to actually get into the pool, stepping gingerly in one step at a time but I finally did it. You might be thinking well, bet it was okay once you got in. Wrong! It was cold and just got colder, in fact I felt a bit like those crazy people who jump into the sea en masse on New Year’s Day. Glad it was warm and sunny when I got out but it took a while to get my body back to normal operating temperature I can tell you!

One final observation about our rented villa. Liz and I have rented a lot of places in our time, some small, some large, some expensive and some very expensive. Some come with a welcome pack for the new visitors, I remember once in Portugal staying at a huge villa which we had rented off-season and with a nice discount, finding a lovely welcome pack consisting of wine, bread and orange juice. In some places, in the cupboards you might some a leftover packet of pasta or cereal or something. Our present place came with nothing, not even salt and pepper or a kitchen cloth, all of which we had to buy.

I noticed too there was no visitors comments book either, very convenient indeed for the owners.


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

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.