About Grace Lessageing

Writer of novels, short stories, flash fiction, blogs. Leader of a creative writing group. Ex infant teacher. Living in Christchurch UK.

Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

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The Ghastly Gathering…

Veteran regular readers of this blog may recall that here in our family residence we collect and curate an esoteric and hideous assembly of keepsakes [more here. ]

Our most recent expedition, which involved 15 countries threatened to be fertile ground for additions to the naff shelves.

A  nervous, hasty flit through Albania yielded nothing, owing to our not having stopped long enough to forage but since Northern Greece and The Peloponnese had been our goal it seemed fitting to acquire a suitably awful object derived from there. How appropriate, then to arrive at Nafplio and discover a wealth of such items! Nafplio is a veritable hotbed of ‘gift’ shops. After some deliberation we settled on this:

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-A fir tree, a church and an egg-timer all in one, it is also a fridge magnet! Were I ever to become a habitual user of egg-timers what better place to keep it than on the fridge? Sadly though I am neither a user of egg-timers nor is Husband a devotee of fridge magnets [a small collection of these was unceremoniously dumped many years ago when Husband confessed his abhorrence of them] so this cunning little object resides on the naff shelves, nestling among the other horrors.

I felt that if we were to obtain something dreadful anywhere it could be Bulgaria, judging from the appearance of its towns and shops. Belogradchik’s fortress and stunning rock formations are not universally known and the surrounding few cafes and gift shops are few and a little desultory. The coffee and snack selection was underwhelming. But a tiny shack with artisanal stuff yielded this:

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I am at a loss to explain what it is-or what the significance may be, as no explanation was forthcoming-or at least not one that we were able to understand. In the context, however of the naff shelves it is perfectly at home.

The greatest prize was won in the wonderful Market Hall of Budapest, where the first floor houses a plethora of magnificent souvenirs so that we were almost spoilt for choice. Once we’d spotted this particular item [shown below] we were in no doubt that it couldn’t be bettered. There was a range of Russian dolls but Husband, a die-hard Rolling Stones fan took a shine to this portrayal of his idols, looking as little like their namesakes as Lady Gaga to Saint Theresa:

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Sir Mick, here on the Russian doll bears a passing resemblance to Jon Hurt. And I can’t help wondering what Keith, Charlie and Ronnie would have to say about their diminished status-Charlie in particular since he has dwindled almost to nothing and manages to surpass only the tiny guitar-doll:

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And yesterday I was able to add another new contribution, kindly donated by Offspring, a gem gathered from a visit to Rome:

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Lovely!

 

Last Gasp-Germany

There is much to love about Germany; black forests, picture perfect , historic towns, grand rivers bordered by gorges and fairy-tale castles, exciting cities like Hamburg and Berlin, charming, engaging and eager-to-help citizens. But not the motorways-oh no. The motorways are strings of roadwork-riddled tedium, clogged with miles of crawling, wheezing lorries spewing fumes and large, gas-guzzling speed machines reduced to inching along with everyone else.

The drive to Wurzburg was one such journey, with roadworks every 10k and frustrating traffic queues at every junction. And once we’d arrived there was further idiocy from the Tom Tom, which led us around the city in ever decreasing circles with no sign of the camper stop, even though it was flagged on the tiny screen. At that point when we were about to give up I spotted the parking place-beneath the bridge and by the river, a smattering of vans and motorhomes in position.

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But it was perfect. And at the end of the parking lot was a restaurant serving German favourites, fat sausages, pork cutlets and servings of sauerkraut-an antidote to the annoyances of the day. Across the river the lights of Wurzburg twinkled and now and then a seemingly endless barge chugged past.

Next day we set off across the idiosyncratic footbridge into town.

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Wurzburg is home to ‘The Residenz’, [more here], a baroque folly of huge proportions which Husband visited many years ago in a previous life, BM [ie Before Me], and of which he has eulogised on a number of occasions.

Since we are not great breakfasters we strolled the picturesque town a little and settled on coffee and apple strudel at an outside table on a pleasant corner before tackling ‘The Residenz’. Our coffees came though not the strudels. We waited, expecting a slice to appear and after a few minutes two large, rectangular plates arrived laden with warm, sticky slices of strudels, pots of ice cream, pots of cream and a small heap of fruit compote. This is how you know you are in Germany-they are not into skimping where desserts are concerned.

We waddled along to The Residenz and yes-it is an impressively large edifice, matched by a suitably sumptuous interior that reminded me of Hampton Court-boudoirs within bedchambers within salons within chambers, the lot embellished with more golden curlicues than you can shake a stick at. The vast, ornate stoves in the corners of every room took my eye but of course with high ceilings and rooms of such size they’d have been essential.P1050621

The gardens were as expected, formal, dotted with statues and fountains and a labour of love.

Next morning we were off again, following the Main River to Ettelbach, a jolly town where pigs seem to be a theme. The heavens opened on to our riverside site but the expedition was drawing towards the end as we headed on to Belgium, Luxembourg and Calais.

Back again at the new camper park adjacent to Calais’ ferry port the evening sun beat down and we took ourselves to the sea front for a last supper while the ferries came in and went, disappearing over the horizon into a pink, candy floss sky.
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Waiting in the ferry lines and seeing the arrivals pouring down the ramp gave me a pang of regret, for while I was looking forward to going home and familiarising myself with our house I knew I’d miss the thrills and spills of exploring.

So it was ‘au revoir’ Europe. Can’t wait for next time…;)

 

Austrian Salvation

Last week’s instalment described Grace and Husband’s predicament worsening as their expedition was interrupted by Husband’s faulty inner plumbing…

The Austrian town of Sankt Polten is undistinguished in any historic or geographical sphere although I imagine the residents enjoy a good standard of living. It is pleasant enough, surrounded by attractive landscapes and served by excellent facilities. But for us its overriding, stand-out feature was a large, modern teaching hospital situated slap-bang in the centre and crucially offering an Accident and Emergency department.

I felt a simultaneous wave of relief [that we’d brought up-to-date EHIC cards] and anxiety [that we wouldn’t be able to park the van]. The hospital sat among the streets and offered parking-but of the underground sort. The height barrier was 3 metres. We could do it.

We stepped out of the lift into something akin to the inside of a space ship with a reception desk. At Accident and Emergency I proffered Husband’s European Health Insurance card and passport and answered a few questions-posed in perfect, classy English. ‘You will be seen in 15 minutes; take a seat back there’ smiled the nurse. ‘Back there’ was a small portion of corridor with no more than 8 waiting patients. As people came and went I realised that of course, if waiting time is 15 minutes a vast aeroplane hangar full of chairs is unnecessary.

A trio of medics took us to a room and quizzed us further then we were taken to the urology unit across a courtyard. The accompanying nurse exclaimed, ‘you’re from Christchurch-it’s a lovely place!’

Upstairs in the urology department we waited for a short time before being taken into a consulting room where Husband was quizzed, taken samples from and examined by ultrasound so I am able to say, now [having watched the screen] that I know my husband inside and out…

One prescription for antibiotics and one doctor’s letter [for home] later we were on our way. The staff at this modern, state-of-the-art hospital had been charming, fast-acting and efficient and I silently thanked fate for our having entered Austria, for having been unable to access near-to-Vienna sites and finishing up at Sankt Polten.

It only remained for us to hand the prescription into the pharmacy-of which there were none in the hospital; the chemist’s lay in a pedestrian precinct. I left Husband in the van, parked in a small lane off the precinct and dashed in for the medication; again, while I was dismayed by the throngs waiting with prescriptions those in front melted away in moments. All the medication was stored in a wall of small drawers behind the counter-so no rummaging was required.

Twenty four hours later we were in Germany [Wurzburg] and Husband was feeling much, much better. What, we wondered would have been the outcome if we’d been in Bulgaria? And what would be the outcome if this potentially dangerous health problem occurred next year, when we are no longer ‘Europeans’ in the proper sense, when we have no European Health Insurance Cards? I imagined the nurses shrugging, showing us the exit. It was a sobering thought.

 

Hungarian Calamity [Part 3]

 Last week’s episode saw Grace and Husband lodged [eventually] in the Budapest Ibis hotel, leaving their trusty home-on-wheels outside ‘Schiller Fiat’ at the mercy of the repair shop.

Szentendre is a small, arty town on the picturesque part of the Danube known as the Bend. We arrived there in our newly-repaired van late on Friday afternoon, ignorant of the fact that a big festival  of culture was scheduled for the weekend.

We’d been reprieved. After saying the repair would take one week Schiller Fiat pulled out their Hungarian finger and mended it next day. I couldn’t escape the feeling that some pressure had been applied by the insurer-after all they’d have needed to keep us in the Ibis for the week.

We happened upon the Szentendre site, spotting a sign on the roadside. But it was a welcome haven after the trials of Budapest; quiet, with only one, Dutch motorhome for neighbours.

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Husband sank down into a chair in the shade of a tree and went immediately to sleep. Two days of rising early and making his way on public transport to the garage and back [a one and a half hour journey using Metro/tram/walk] had taken a toll. Later, when dinner was ready he was still asleep. When roused he ate only a little and went back to sleep. He was hot and clammy. He was not well. We would not be attending the folksy events that the town offered.

I set about getting water and analgesics into him, judging that he’d become dehydrated. In addition to all this, his inner plumbing was working overtime. As I’ve suffered with cystitis enough times to know it needs addressing early, I set off next day to the nearest pharmacy to try and explain the problem to non-English speakers. When I returned a woman from the insurers phoned me, wanting to quiz me over a ‘customer satisfaction’ questionnaire I’d completed while in the Ibis; wanting to offer us £30. £30? At my reaction she doubled it to £60. I explained that Husband was my priority and I’d have to consider my response on our return to the UK-which, under the circumstances was, I felt a restrained response [for me].

Whilst the plumbing continued to mal-function his temperature and well-being had improved enough to travel onwards, which we did, with eyes on Vienna.

As we neared the site near Vienna it became clear that a huge, sporting event was underway and soon, as we tried to gain access to roads around the site we discovered it was a triathlon, which didn’t bode well for getting on to the camp site. ‘Had we reserved?’ asked the woman at Reception.

The next site, further away but still accessible to the city had one pitch in what looked like a garbage dump in a corner. The third, near the town of Sankt Poulten, from which a train ride to Vienna was still feasible had room.

We settled in, relaxed, cooked, ate. Later, Husband told me he’d prefer not to go into Vienna next day. He was still feeling under par. We would move on towards Germany and Vienna could wait for another occasion.

Unhooked, everything stowed, waste emptied, step in; we were ready to go. Husband emerged from our tiny bathroom cubicle looking grave. ‘Bad news’ he grimaced. ‘Things just got worse’. And they had. I got out my laptop, Googled, ‘hospital Sankt Poulten’. Like I said-you don’t mess with these things…

 

 

 

Hungarian Calamity [Part 2]

Last week’s post saw our intrepid travellers, Grace and Husband marooned in their camper van in supermarket ‘Auchan’s’ car park a few miles north of Budapest…

We lunched in the car park, keeping an eye on the access road for a pick-up truck and bickering a little [Husband wanting to reverse to be located more easily, me wanting to let things be].

My phone rang. ‘My neem ees Eleezabet’. We confirmed that I was me. We went over the vehicle’s vital statistics. ‘Pleeeese beee patient’ pleaded Elizabet, before ringing off. Time crawled on…

Husband went for a stroll around the shopping centre and returned. I went for a stroll into Auchan and returned. Time passed. Slowly. Elizabet called again. ‘Eees veery imbortant about your vehicle’ she reiterated, and I gave her the dimensions once more. ‘I ‘av to find a veehicle to peek you up’ she said.

We waited.

At half past four a rescue truck appeared, driven by a white-haired, boiler-suited, moustachioed Hungarian, looking apprehensive. He’d struck unlucky, summoned to collect a Ducato van and ignorant foreigners. It took time to attach the van to the truck then we clambered into his cab as he nodded and gesticulated.

Waiting is exhausting, so by now, as we swept back towards Budapest and an unknown garage we looked forward to a respite, an opportunity to set reparation in motion. We trundled along some minor roads in a small industrial estate before coming to a halt in front of ‘Schiller Fiat’. Boiler-suit got out, uncoupled us, said ‘Schlafen’, placing his hands by his head to mime sleep and left. It was 5 o’clock. The garage had closed at 4.30pm.

Having gnashed teeth and torn hair for a few moments we deliberated our options: bed down on the sloping forecourt at the roadside/lock up, pack essentials [into shopping bags as no suitcases] and stagger to the nearest hotel [found on Husband’s phone]/wait for something to happen/phone the insurers-again.

We opted for calling the insurer, bypassing Elizabet and going back to the source-Adam, [who’d gone off duty and been replaced by Ali]. I explained our predicament. We sat back to wait. Time passed. We made tea. Ate bread and cheese. Sniped a bit. Yawned.

In a compound next to the forecourt a security man was locking the gates up. ‘That’ I told Husband, ‘is where our van should be’. Once or twice a taxi came past, prompting a slight stir, which ebbed away as it went out of sight. We drank beers. Waited.

Elizabet called to tell us a taxi was on its way, prompting us to watch for it. The several taxis that passed were not ours. We rang back, got  someone else. ‘Eet is not appropriate for meee to speeak to you’ she said.

It was dark. At some time after 8.00pm a taxi appeared from the gloom and pulled up. On arrival to the IBIS hotel in central Budapest we approached the check-in desk with our shopping bags of essential items and were met by the first smiling competence of the entire, dismal day, then dispatched to a small room, basic but adequate. We showered and staggered across the alleyway to a comfortable café where I cast caution to the still night and had two large glasses of wine before retiring to the narrow bed in our stuffy little room.

To be continued. Check in next week for Hungarian Calamity Part 3…

 

Hungarian Calamity [Part 1]

Budapest. Full of Eastern promise; the streets lined with ornate statuary, outrageously opulent architecture from myriad eras and cultures. Onion-topped, gilded, tiled, carved, stuccoed and frescoed to within an inch of its life. Every corner housing a kebab shop yet room for a ‘Tesco Express’.

This is grandness on the top of the scale, except that the opulence falls short at the campsite gates, where a ‘refurbishment’ [something we’ve seen a lot of, this trip] meant porta-cabin showers and no functioning washing machine. The women’s showers, complete with flimsy curtains opened on to a car park, offering no privacy to those groping for a towel. Ho hum-

After some deliberating we navigated by Metro to the centre of the city, where ‘hop on hop off’ awaited, touristy but acceptable to anyone who has a great deal to see and not much time to see it.

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Budapest is made up from two cities-‘Buda’ on one side of the Danube and ‘Pest’ on the other. ‘Buda’ houses the opulent palace and the castle, ‘Pest’ accommodates the glitzy shopping streets, the cathedrals, the buzzing restaurants and cafes and the outrageous parliament building, like a fanciful wedding cake on speed.

After an afternoon of sightseeing, hopping on and off, we were left waiting for the last bus up at the area of Heroes’ Square, where there is a zoo and the old Thermal Baths-an amazing sight in themselves, both the outside and the interior.

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We’d only nibbled the edge of Budapest’s sights, nevertheless as we relaxed on the top deck of the bus [relieved to have caught it] we felt ready to move on. Palaces, castles, monuments and statues are delightful but there are only so many iconic structures anyone can cope with in one visit.

Since Budapest is choc-full of Turkish-style cafes and restaurants we opted for a self-service kebab house, where a plethora of delicious looking concoctions lay behind the counter and judging by the popularity of the place it was a good decision.

One leisurely beer later we made our way back.

Next day, with grocery shopping in mind we set off towards the ‘bend in the Danube’, stopping off at an ‘Auchan’ supermarket [of which Hungary has many] to stock up. Once we’d swung out of the car park and located the correct road an ominous ‘thump’ became audible, seeming to emanate from the passenger side wheel arch. Horrors!

‘It’s the road surface’ bluffed Husband [more confident than he felt, I assumed] and ‘No’ from me [not confident]. Having managed to secure a safe place to pull in we conducted a brief examination which revealed…nothing. The noise persisted, prompting us to find yet another safe place to stop-a car park at the next ‘Auchan’ supermarket [as I said, there are many].

I struck out to ascertain our whereabouts before phoning the roadside rescue arm of our insurance, then spoke at length with ‘Adam’ who dithered with a blithe lack of concern whilst scrutinising Google maps to search for us. I scrambled out of the van to provide him with a list of the stores surrounding us: H&M, Bauhaus, Auchan… ‘Is there a cinema complex?’ he interjected. I sighed. ‘There are no leisure facilities, Adam. It’s a shopping centre’. He deliberated some more while I cast around. ‘There’s a MacDonalds’ I told him. ‘Bingo!’ he said. ‘I’ve got it!’

To be continued…