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.

A Few Unconventional Thoughts about Time

quotescover-jpg-88bTime, there’s a thing. I have a theory about time and it’s this, it’s that time flows differently in different places. OK; sounds a bit mad doesn’t it? Let me explain further. Take somewhere like France. Dotted about France are innumerable war grave cemeteries. The conflicts of the first and second world wars left their mark on the landscape in various ways and even today farmers in the Somme and other places continue to dig up artillery shells and other reminders of the past.

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

Batterie Todt, Pas De Calais

On many occasions when trundling through rural France I’ve come across many bunkers, fortresses and other sites. In northern France Liz and I stopped at a war grave cemetery that was picture perfect in its own way. The lawns were incredibly neat, and the hedgerows immaculately trimmed. Sadness pervaded the site like a scent coming over from the adjacent fields. Throughout there is a feeling of peace, of slowness and a feeling that time has stopped here or perhaps just slowed. That’s not strange when you think that time must have speeded up during the action of the first and second world wars, so it seems only fair that nature must compensate, that time must slow later to make up for the fast and frantic earlier time. You can imagine the pace of things even a hundred years ago: The early morning bombardment, the whistles blowing as officers called their troops to go over the top. The advance parties who made ahead to cut the barbed wire, the troops walking apprehensively forward until they walked into the deadly machine gun fire that cut most of them down. Many found their final resting places in these cemeteries, places that are now quiet and peaceful with a silent beauty, timeless and moving with the beat of nature as a backdrop, the humming of the insects, distant cows mooing, and the birds flying past.

Many soldiers’ bodies slipped deeper into the mud of places like the Somme and remain there still. Others have no resting places, their bodies blown to pieces by artillery shells, their names marked on marble walls forever missing in action.

War memorial, France, 1940

War memorial, France, 1940

At one place, travelling from St Quentin to Soissons we stopped by the road to find a huge sword standing in the rock. Like a giant Excalibur, it stood there waiting to be pulled by some giant hand, bearing silent witness to a long ago battle from the Second World War.

We once visited Compiegne, the place where the armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. The famous railway coach there is not the authentic one. No, that one was where Hitler forced the French to surrender in the early days of World War 2. The coach was then taken away to Berlin where the Nazis destroyed it in the closing stages of the war to stop its return to France. The coach that stands here now in Compiegne is a similar one and it’s easy to imagine the scenes all those years ago, the French accepting the German surrender in 1918, then years later Hitler and his gang pressing their terms on the French.

I’ve never been to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland but whenever I look at one of those TV documentary programmes where TV cameras return to the site, it doesn’t look like a place of mass destruction. It looks calm, serene and another silent witness to the death and destruction of the past. Time ran faster here when the Nazi death machine was in full swing. Now time flows peacefully past over those who come to learn about what has gone on before. This must indeed be a sombre place to visit but Auschwitz is not only a memorial to those who had their lives snuffed out in such a terrible fashion but a reminder to all of the dangers of prejudice and hatred. Time hangs heavy over this place but the evil that built and maintained this death camp has long gone.

All the places mentioned here have had their moments in the spotlight of world history. They all lived through times of accelerated pace when time flowed swiftly. Perhaps it’s their time now for a quieter pace while time flows slowly . .


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In The Wars

Just lately I’ve been in the wars a little. My trusty mountain bike was stolen a while ago but I have an older bike in the garage so the other day I dug it out, cleaned it up and pumped up the tyres. After fitting a new inner tube and giving the bike a good oil and clean up I was ready for a quick test spin and luckily, as it turned out, popped on my helmet and gloves. As I went down the avenue I noticed I hadn’t tightened up the handlebars enough, so I turned round and headed back. My big mistake was in not getting off the bike and walking back because the front wheel turned sharply, I turned the handlebars, and of course nothing happened, except that I ended up in a heap on the pavement. Still, I had my helmet on, no head injuries and my natty little bike mitts had prevented any cuts on my hands. As I pushed the bike back home I noticed my leg hurting a little and later on my ankle swelled up. A two hour visit to casualty revealed no broken bones but I was pretty happy no one was around that afternoon to video my escapade and post it on you tube!

Now here’s my other scary moment; I’ve had a little mark on the side of nose for a while, two years actually and it’s a sort of red mark, it doesn’t hurt but every so often it gets inflamed and starts to bleed. Anyway, I went to the doctors about it and they sent me to a specialist who said it’s a rodent ulcer! Sounds pretty nasty but a quick look at the internet shows that it’s nothing really scary and hopefully it can be sorted out soon but the doctor decided to cut a slice of it off and send it for a biopsy. Now it didn’t hurt much as they gave me a local anaesthetic but, that needle going in was another story! That really hurt. Later, my nose swelled up and started throbbing. Anyway, you can get the picture, me looking a bit of a mess and feeling a little sorry for myself, so much so I called in sick at work. Not like me at all.

Now, a couple of days later I was feeling a little better and ready to go back to work so Liz and I went for a drink to the Links, a local pub. Monday is open mike night at the pub so we sat back and enjoyed the various singers. Now, there were three distinct groups at the Links that night. The regulars who of course are always there and never seem to me to care whoever is singing as long as they don’t interfere with their drinking. The second group was the Open Mikers, a regular group that we see at most of the various open mike nights in the St Annes area and also tonight, a third group, the outsiders. The outsiders we had never seen before. They were made up of two singing groups and a small band of their supporters. Now their performers were actually really pretty good, especially one young guy who had a great singing voice and sang some really good foot tapping songs. The thing that really bugged me though was that when the Open Mikers were playing the Outsiders sat at their table and paid little interest, unless one of their own people was performing, then they crowded the stage and gave support and applause. Hats off though to The Open Mikers, who supported and cheered whoever performed, whether good or bad, part of their group or not.

776px-Battle_of_Broodseinde_-_silhouetted_troops_marchingAnyway, I seem to be taking my time getting to the point but that night at the Links pub was the 4th August which just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, or World War 1 as we now know it and on that night there was a lights out memorial over all the UK. At ten o’clock the pub lights dimmed and we stood for a minute’s silence, observed I might add by ninety-nine percent of the bar. It was pretty moving really, remembering those who taken part in this conflict, some who died during it in dreadful conditions, and some who lived on to return to their families. It certainly puts my whingeing about falling off my bike into perspective.

One of those who returned was my Grandad, George Higgins, who was in the Royal Horse Artillery. When my Dad, fresh from school started out as a milkman, with a horse and cart rather than an electric van I might add, his Dad, my Grandad, came to visit him at the stables where his horse was kept. He checked the horse out, paying particular attention to the horse’s teeth.

They knew how to look after horses, those Great War veterans.


If you liked this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page or the icon below to go straight to amazon!