Brief Encounter-with the Press

An interesting thing happened on the way to the library.

On Monday afternoon I set off towards our local High Street in order to attend my monthly meeting of our writers’ group, The Spokes, which meets on the third Monday of each month. The meeting date had taken me by surprise, being only two weeks in to October because the first Monday was the first day. The result of this was that my reminder email to our group was not sent until very late on Sunday night.

When I reached the High Street, market trading was well underway as usual for  Monday, but with the addition of a large, white, double-decker bus, next to which a small group of elderly people bearing leaflets was busy faffing around.

On the bus’s side slogans of the  ‘Brexit means Brexit’ type had been placed.

That the bus was parked there in my own High Street provoked feelings of outrage in me, so that I was taken unawares by the reporter and cameraman who stopped me as I walked further along trying to process what I’d seen.

The reporter proffered her fluffy microphone, ‘What do you think of all this?’ she asked. I assumed she meant the bus. ‘I’m furious,’ I replied, ‘about that bus parked in my town!’

You must understand, reader that in order to sacrifice myself on the altar of the media I had to overcome my total rejection of photos of…me. The cameraman’s lens was only a few menacing inches away from my face. Horrors!

The reporter continued. ‘What do you think about the current Brexit situation?’

‘I’m a remainer’, I said. ‘I voted ‘remain’ and I would still like to remain in the EU’.

She leaned towards me. ‘Nigel Farrage is in that pub’.

Nigel Farrage!!! 

For the benefit of overseas readers, Nigel Farrage was the former leader of UKIP-[The UK Independence Party], a virtually single-issue party devoted to the sole aim of extracting the UK from the European Union. Not only is Nige a Member of Parliament [currently some other cobbled together anti-Europe mob] but has also had the gall to take a place in the European Parliament! 

I frowned into the reporter’s mike. ‘I don’t even know what Nigel Farrage is FOR,’ I said. Then I told her they were all right wing scum. At this point they left me and continued up the High Street.

I went on into the library and to our writers’ room [we are The Spokes], which is on the first floor and overlooks the High Street. I opened the window to get a bird’s eye view and was joined by a fellow Spoke. After a few moments we were treated to this view:

Farrage

 

Farrage is the character slightly left of centre in his trademark trilby hat. A closer inspection of the scene shows that his motley collection of ‘followers’ [not many] is, on the whole elderly and a little decrepit looking.

Later Meridian news aired a snippet of the interview, cutting much of it. While I’d hoped nobody I knew had seen it, it became clear from social media that a lot of people had, which was mortifying. The camera had indeed been much too close for comfort. Ho hum.

But I thought of the chip paper analogy and felt comforted. And I did get to say my bit…

Advertisements

The Husband Post

Regular readers will know of Husband. He gets frequent mentions in posts, mainly due to being my significant other and travel companion, so that the events I’m involved in tend to involve him, too.

When you think of how detailed and intricate individual personalities are it’s surprising that any relationship endures beyond a week or two, let alone years. But, given a moderate number of interests in common and similar backgrounds after a few years people grow alike. I could never imagine sharing a small space like a camper van for weeks on end with anyone except Husband, and while we do have differences of opinion [who doesn’t?] we seem to manage.

We did not meet as fresh-faced teenagers, up-and-coming twenty-somethings or even high-achieving thirties career people-no we met as world-weary forties veterans of previous marriages and relationships, so the entire enterprise was a triumph of dogged hope over experience.

First impressions are telling. When we met, on a cold winter’s night in a pub, the attributes in Husband’s favour were:

  • His open, friendly, unpretentious, chatty manner.
  • His offering of crisps alongside the glass of port he bought.
  • His brown, leather, lace-up shoes. Men’s shoes are crucial to a first impression. Had he worn trainers, reader, he’d have been put down to experience.

During the first weeks Husband was unerringly persistent [in the face of my haphazard lifestyle at the time-another story]. On the way back from one of the first dates, his car [a Vauxhall Astra with a coat hanger for an aerial] developed a flat tyre. Without hesitation he pulled into a lay-by, whipped out the requisite equipment and changed the tyre so that within minutes we were on our way again-and all this late at night, too!

Husband Facts:

  • He is a devoted fan of Gloucester Rugby
  • He was a keen runner when younger, ran a number of marathons and now enjoys walking and cycling, except in cold weather-when his hands get cold.
  • One of his favourite activities is pottering about making what he calls ‘modifications’ to his pride and joy-the van.
  • He is a domestic god-and does not shy away from such chores as hoovering, washing windows and cooking.
  • He likes old rock/blues music, in particular The Rolling Stones but is not a fan of cinema. [He can be persuaded to watch a Bond film on occasion].
  • He likes beer [also red wine].
  • He is Dr Husband, having completed a PhD, post degree, a label I’m always hoping to capitalise when booking airline tickets but as yet with no success. His thesis, leather bound and languishing, as it has for years, on the bookshelves details his many experiments coating grains of wheat for some obscure purpose. I’m sorry to say I have not been able to read it.
  • Despite his impressive qualifications in botany, the number of garden plants Husband is able to name would fit easily on to an average sized postage stamp.

This weekend Husband is reaching a ‘milestone’ birthday. It is probable that he will be grumpy about this post, but that is a risk I’m taking and hope to be forgiven. For those who follow and have read of him, here he is:

Graham train

Happy Birthday Husband-here’s to the next adventure!

 

Picture-free Posts

As a child I learned to read early, almost immediately I started school, at four and a half. And this was in spite of the deadly reading schemes that abounded at the time [in the 1950s]. Two years ago I wrote about reading schemes [ ‘Reading the Years’ ]. Reading is a fundamental, key skill and once you’ve acquired the key everything else in life is unlocked.

During my career as a teacher of young children I met many parents who’d say, regarding the process of ‘hearing’ their child read at home, that the child was not ‘reading’, rather describing the pictures and we’d have to explain that the pictures are the clues, the scaffold that supports the decoding process. Take the scaffold away and the structure may collapse.

And as an early, able reader myself I must confess that I wanted pictorial content in my reading matter until I was around ten or eleven years old, despite being able to read quite sophisticated books.

And these days the genre of the graphic novel has its own following, albeit niche.

As fully literate adults, however we should be able to read without pictures, which is why I am interested in how it is that blog posts with pictorial content produce a greater footfall than those without. I assume that one of the many reasons for tabloid popularity and the more contemporary ‘youtube’ is the lure of pictorial content as opposed to pure text.

A substantial portion of adults never reads for pleasure, four million according to a 2013 report.

Each week I post something in the region of 500 words-most of it, admittedly, drivel. A great deal of it is travel-related and of course it is entirely suited to photographic inclusions. I post a link on to social media. There is footfall from the WordPress community and there is a little footfall from the link. The ‘likes’ are on Facebook, rather than under the WordPress post itself, which is preferable.

But I know that those ‘likes’ on social media are from some who’ve viewed the photo accompanying the link without following the link to read the post! I know this because comments pertain to the picture and not the body of the post. Aha!

So this week’s post is entirely without pictorial content. And next month, being November will be Fiction Month, when I will be posting short stories, some in instalments. Short stories, completely without cost, for the whole of dull, cold, miserable old November, to curl up next to the fire and read!

Fiction Month is the exception to the non-pictorial rule, inducing more traffic than most months, which is heartening! Someone, somewhere out there is happy to sit down and read a story, even in these times of tabloid immediacy.

How We Roll Back…

We’ve spent a lot of time visiting south west France now, which means familiarity with the route, as well as the entire area. Nevertheless we still search for new ways to get there and back [avoiding motorways and their tolls]. A few weeks ago I wrote how we set off, where we like to embark, the entire routine.

So then, after a few weeks ‘bimbling’ [Husband’s word], we have to turn the van northwards and consider how we might return. We select a day. On this occasion, Husband came up with a plan to return overnight in a cabin, which appealed until we discovered that the ferry sets off late, leaving little or no opportunity to schmooze in the restaurant and bar. Who wants to drive on, locate the cabin, clean teeth and get straight into a berth?

These days it is neither necessary nor desirable to scramble up the length of France in one, long day and we prefer a gentle, staged journey – still attempting to find hitherto unexplored places.

We opted to return from Ouistreham [Caen] knowing there is a very convenient aire next to the ferry terminal for our last night. We decided to spend a couple of nights at Dinard, which is only a couple of hours away and left us time to explore as well as execute the all-important pre-return shopping spree that is obligatory at the finale of all trips.

P1060319

Dinard is situated across the bay from St Malo and probably suffers for it’s glamorous, historic neighbour but we’ve stayed at St Malo enough times. A look at one or two lacklustre ACSI [off season discount card ] sites confirmed that the municipal site at Port Blanc would be a good choice and so it was-with an uninterrupted view of the beach and bay from our van.

The weather by this time had become blustery and drizzly-a reminder that we were on our way home.

The site offered  a bar and pizzas-surprising at this end of season period but not an option for us [I am unable to eat pizzas]. A five minute walk up the road led us to a lively area with bakeries, bars and brasseries. On Sunday afternoon a small stage was hosting a display of line dancing-

P1060293

The restaurant we chose was old fashioned but proved popular, as after we’d been seated every table was occupied.

P1060295

Dinard is a hilly seaside town reminiscent of Scarborough, with an air of faded elegance-enormous old hotels, a smattering of art deco, luxuriant gardens and promenades as well as ice cream parlours and bars. There is evidence of an interest in the arts, with a film festival running and some impressive sculptures dotted along the prom.

P1060324

We walked back to site via a path around the sea wall which wound around the town cliffs, narrow in places and in a bracing wind, but thrilling and with dramatic views.

P1060329

We left Dinard to scoop up items on our wish-list from a Carrefour complex the size of five football pitches then drove up our well-trodden route to Caen and to our customary spot next to the ferry. We dodged the motorhome-bore [‘I’ve Been Everywhere, Man’], showered and went to get a meal. next day the ferry’s engines woke us at 6.30am, just right for packing up and trundling the 500yards into the check-in queue. Drive on, climb up to the coffee bar, grab coffee and croissant, settle into a couchette. That’s how we roll back…

Mangez comme les Francais!

P1060214

One aspect of life the French have perfected is the art of dining out. And anyone who wishes to observe the French at this only needs to visit a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon to understand how seriously mealtimes are treated. Every bistro, brasserie and café is packed.

But restaurants are not the sole venues for the French penchant for large, family gatherings to share food and company. Any park, aire, picnic area, seaside bench, canal side or car park will be packed with groups of friends or family sharing a meal.

And this Sunday meal will not be some hastily wrapped cheese and pickle sandwich, a packet of Golden Wonder crisps and bottle of coke. Oh no. This will be a proper full-on, sit-at-a-table, cloth, knife and fork, wine and glasses, side salad, napkins, several courses kind of meal. During a cycle ride from Jard sur Mer to La Tranche sur Mer we passed a large family party seated at two tables [one for adults, one for children] made up of all manner of picnic tables. Everyone had a seat and a laid-up place-and all under the trees in the woods by the beach.

So how, then did the French acquire their reputation for sylph-like, uber-cool, modelly bodies? It is my theory that they [the women, especially] chain-smoked their way to skeletal skinny-ness. In any case the same cannot be said these days, for the French are no longer slender wraiths like Coco Chanel and Francoise Hardy but have become as chubby as every other nation.

Their haughty, sniffy attitudes to cuisine have taken a slight tumble, too since they embraced MacDonalds and took to fast food. Yes-you’d still be hard-pushed to find a better cooked steak than in France, but along every street there is a pizza joint, a burger bar, a kebab shop, ice creams galore and the inevitable chi-chis, galettes, crepes and doughnuts.
P1060216

And what is more-the French are not averse to strolling along with a bag of chi-chis [for the uninitiated these are strips of fried dough rolled in sugar-sometimes dipped in melted chocolate] munching as they go.

Pockets of resistance do exist, though. A mayor on Isle d’Oleron, Gregory Gendre is fighting to keep MacDonalds off the island [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/24/choose-a-side-fight-keep-france-ile-doleron-mcdonalds-free ]

Most days we endeavour to choose and buy fresh produce and prepare meals in the van, [see last week’s post for the shopping experience]. We like to make the most of such delicious items as the huge, luscious tomatoes, sweet, juicy melons, smooth, creamy cheeses and salty Toulouse sausages, sometimes using the deli counter to buy slices of thick quiche or pork cutlets.

But when in France it would be sacrilege not to dine out on occasion so every few days we do. I indulge in my very favourite French menu: oysters/steak/crème brulee, and very delicious it almost always is.

 

 

 

Housekeeping Secrets along the Road

         P1060204

           Any lengthy foray into Europe requires aspects of domestic life to be undertaken; there is no getting away from it. Laundry, cleaning, shopping and [depending on circumstances] a degree of food preparation and cooking are all part of an extended expedition.
Luckily most sites offer the necessary facilities for such mundane household tasks as washing clothes and bed linen, with washing machines and driers commonplace-for a price. In spite of this we travel with spares for bedding and towels. We also have a line, clothes drier, pegs, washing capsules and hand-wash detergent. How organised we are!
Vans are equipped with fridges [ours will function perfectly well for a couple of days without electric hook-up] although they are seldom as large as in the average kitchen, so we supplement it with a cold box and aim to shop every 3 or 4 days, which often, though not always coincides with moving from one destination to another.
We don’t leave home without a basic ‘store-cupboard’ of ingredients; mine include: mixed herbs, English mustard powder, Oxo cubes, peppercorns, gravy powder, olive oil, cornflour, tomato puree, tinned vegetables, pasta and rice. We take industrial quantities of tea bags owing to the poor quality of ‘Liptons’ from which 2 bags are necessary to make one, weak cup of tea. Anything else is widely available in the supermarche.
Wandering around a French supermarket doesn’t feel too much of a chore as long as certain aspects are understood. A trolley needs a euro coin to be released; we are fortunate to possess 2 plastic, pretend euros that for some inexplicable reason we call ‘sniglets’, given to us at ‘La Chaumiere’, a Flanders site that is unique for a number of reasons. The supermarket car park must be accessible by van [ie no height barrier] and must have enough space. We look for an area where other vans are parked. Then we ascertain whether fruit and vegetables must be weighed and labelled before the checkout, as nobody wants to arrive with half a trolley-load unprepared.

P1060203

 

Larger ‘hypermarkets’ will often have large vats of delicious concoctions such as paella that can be bought and re-heated. There will also be huge fish counters with mountains of mussels, melancholy crabs and lugubrious lobsters as well as acres of assorted cheeses. So there is never any need to go hungry-

P1060201P1060202

At the boulangerie a modicum of restraint is always required. Some days we allow ourselves a pastry. I attempt to confine myself to croissants but am inclined to succumb to the pleasures of ‘pain au raisins’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ [Husband’s favourite] on occasion. The French have a proud tradition of ‘artisan’ bread and the array of different types of baguettes or grands pains can be confusing.
Last [but not least] is the beer and wine supply. I confess to being a lightweight these days and may choose a single bottle of white for myself. Husband favours ‘Leffe’ beer and red wine. In these alcohol-enlightened times, even in France the supermarkets are beginning to offer ‘sans alcool’ varieties, which can be very good.
Intermarché, Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefor, Super-U and the ubiquitous Lidl. We wonder what their British equivalents might be? Leclerc would seem to be the equivalent of Sainsbury’s, Super-U more of a Tesco?
For many the demands of shopping and preparing meals while away would not constitute a holiday, but they have not sat outside on warm, light September evenings with beautiful views, sampling the produce that is on offer. And when we feel like it-and the location provides a choice of venues [as last night] we dine out.

The Lure of Simple Pleasures

            P1060116

            We’ve been spending a few days at a favourite site here in South West France. Situated on the Atlantic coast on the peninsula created by The Gironde, Le Gurp nestles in pine woods by a beach that stretches on almost as far as the eye can see, stroked by azure Atlantic rollers crashing on to the sand in frothy crescents.
This camp site is almost entirely visited by German holiday makers, who flock here for the waves, which are perfect for surfing and for its proximity to the beach, which is surveyed by lifesaving personnel and has soft, white sand, a couple of showers and a car park. The proliferation of Germans [and surfers at that] makes for a Boho, hippy atmosphere where strings of bunting, flags, drapes and all manner of camper vehicles abound-like a Mad Max movie.

P1060120

           Sites vary as much as hotels do. If your preference is for infinity pools, spas, cocktail bars, beauty salons and karaoke you could have it. If, like us you prefer a beautiful location, a clean, warm, efficient shower, security, space and the basics Le Gurp is the place.
We happened upon it the first summer we travelled to the Gironde with a tent, twenty or so years ago. The site we were on, near to Soulac [having supposedly booked to no avail] was tightly packed with chalets and boasted raucous entertainment each night. During a cycle trip we found Le Gurp beach and site. Could we book? No-it is a municipal site but is vast. There was plenty of space so we moved.
From the site a network of tarmac cycle tracks radiate through the pine forests to tiny, pretty villages like Grayan et l’Hopital and Talais or bustling seaside towns like Montalivets [which has an extensive and boisterous Sunday market] or Soulac-which is touristy but pleasant. On our first visits here we were runners, jogging every morning along the forest tracks in hot sunshine as many continue to do. Later [and older] we took to cycling. On the way to Montalivets by bike you’ll go past the tight brush-work fencing of ‘Euronat’-supposedly Europe’s largest naturist holiday park, although anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of naked tennis or boules-in-the-buff will be disappointed. If you’re bent on spotting unclothed bodies a stroll along the beach in either direction will reveal plenty of devotees-but it’s not a pretty sight!
A short walk [or shorter cycle] over the hillock from the camp site towards the beach takes you past a surf shop, a small supermarket, a newsagents/beach shop, a boulangerie, a launderette and several bars and restaurants-not a massive development but everything, in fact that the average German camper needs or wants.
During the day tiny children play among the pine trees, peddling madly around the tracks on bikes and ganging together to play with sticks and pine cones before being taken to the beach. Here there are no organised activities, there is no pool, nothing but a couple of swings and a climbing frame to amuse them-and so they amuse themselves. Camping is surely the best holiday a child can have?
In these late summer evenings, the sun sets like flames through the pine trees and as twilight descends the site comes alive with twinkly lights from tents and vans. There will be an occasional gentle strum of guitar and groups of al fresco diners will sit up chatting into the night over bottles of wine. You could sit outside with a glass or two or stroll over to one of the beach bars for a late drink. Wonderful.

P1060121