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 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.

Wedding days, Cumbria, and what to do with those Wedding Snaps!

Wedding day!

Tania and Alex

Well, you can’t beat a good wedding but weddings are hard work,  what with the planning, the arranging, the compromises, the cost, the logistics, and of course all the attendant stress that comes ready built in; very hard work indeed!

The wedding I went to at the weekend had a lot of great elements and the one important thing that only nature can provide; good weather! I shouldn’t complain really but I was sweltering in my three piece suit and a couple of degrees cooler would have been nice but that would be quibbling. The day was wonderful and one that all went to plan as far as I could see anyway.

Another fact that comes built in at a wedding are tears. I am referring to tears of joy of course and the bride and her Mum did their fair share as well as others. I doubt if there was a dry eye in the place during the speeches when it’s traditional to ponder in public about the subject of love and loved ones, those who are with us and those departed. On this occasion, the mother of the bride did a speech herself as her husband had passed away some years ago and her performance as she balanced emotions and stage fright was outstanding.

The one disaster, well for me anyway, came part way into the evening when I took a glass of red wine to my mouth,  inexplicably missed and as a result poured red wine all down my shirt. Anyway, I nipped round the corner to my room, luckily we were staying at the venue and soaked the shirt in cold water which I think was the correct remedy for the situation, changed shirt (to a less formal shirt I should add) and was back at the reception within fifteen minutes. My fiancée Liz, and also the mother of the bride, who seems to like me in my three piece attire was not amused that I had ditched my splendid outfit (jacket waistcoat and tie had seemed a little superfluous by this time) but of course you can’t please all the people all of the time.

The only other problem came earlier. The wedding cupcakes were painstakingly assembled in the reception room by bridesmaids and friends only to be told of a rule, well a law actually, that food could not be placed on the tables until licensing hours! First I’ve heard of that so the cakes had to be hastily removed! The thing is the wedding was in Cumbria and my experience of Cumbria people is that they don’t necessarily care about things like rules or laws.

A couple of years ago Liz and I stayed in the small town of Wigton. We had rented a small cottage for a few days and the first day we went to the local chippy for some old fashioned fish and chips, then decided to wash it down with a pint in the pub next door. When we stepped inside there were a number of locals smoking away, happily flouting new anti-smoking laws. We ordered our beer and one of the group asked if we minded them smoking and if we did then they would go outside. Actually we did mind them smoking but being British and not wanting to upset the regulars of a pub we reckoned we would be visiting regularly during our stay we said ‘OK, go ahead and smoke.’ Just as we were about to ask if the pub served food a couple of other locals arrived with fish and chips from the chippy, sat down at a table to eat and called over pleasantly for two pints of bitter! Yes, that’s the way they do things in Cumbria!

Not long ago I asked my Mum what had happened to her wedding pictures as I don’t remember seeing any. She replied, rather shame facedly, that after a row with my Dad she had taken her wedding pictures and ripped them up! Still, she continued in her marriage to my Dad, happily I might add, until his death in 2000. My wedding pictures are still intact in a box somewhere in the loft although my marriage ended in divorce many years ago. So, perhaps my advice to Tania and Alex should be to rip up their wedding pictures! Not so easy in the digital internet age!

If you liked this post then why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more info!