Sunday 26th March 2017 – I SHOULD HAVE …

… gone out this afternoon but for some reason or other I wasn’t feeling up to it.

I’d had a late night last night and had a little awakening some time before the dawn. But I went back to sleep again and the beauty of it being Sunday and no alarm was that it was 09:45 when I finally awoke.

To find bright blue skies and a gorgeous sunlight pouring into the house. In fact, the temperature reached over 20°C in the attic, without any heating at all.

A leisurely breakfast followed as I slowly came round to face the day, and then after a while I attacked the sorting out of the attic. Everything that I can think of taking – with the possible exception of some food to tide me over for the next few days, was all boxed up and ready to go. And seeing as it was a bright sunny day, I vacuumed the place again with the vaccum cleaner thingy that I have.

That took me up to 13:00 and I should be now have been at Le Quartier. But sod that for a game of soldiers. I wasn’t up to it and so I stayed here and had a butty and a rest to gather up my strength.

Liz, Ingrid and Rosemary were on line so I had quite a lengthy chat with everyone. And by this time it was 16:00. I can’t sit here all day idly doing nothing. I started to move the boxes from here and from the bedroom downstairs.

I gave Caliburn another tidying out and then put the boxes in the back. I fetched a pile of stuff from the downhill lean-to and put that in there too. 12 boxes in all, and all of that took well over an hour. By the time I had finished and crawled (and I DO mean crawled) back up to the attic I was finished. From deciding that I needed a coffee to actually summoning up the force to make it, it took me an hour.

But I’d had a visitor too. A young boy who told me that he was looking for diodes and things like that. But it looked mighty creepy to me.

Tonight I finished off Ingrid’s stuff (the lentil, pepper and tomato sauce stuff was even yet better tonight) and once I can do the washing up, I’ll be off to bed.

But I bet that it’s going to be another hour before I can summon up the energy to do that. I’m clearly not well, as we all know and I must stop harping on about it.

Saturday 25th March 2017 – I’VE JUST SEEN …

… the most extraordinary football match.

Puy-de-Dome League Division 4 and two teams – St Gervais d’Auvergne III at home to Charbonnières II. Charbonnières were streets better than St Gervais – they missed a sitter almost from the kick-off but took the lead after about 5 minutes with a soft goal through the St Gervais keeper’s legs.

All one-way traffic it was with Charbonnières making it look so easy, and only some last-ditch outstretched feet and some astonishing saves by the St Gervais keeper who, I reckoned, knew absolutely nothing about any of them, just being in the right place at the right time and diving the right way, prevented Charbonnières from running riot.

But it was all too easy for Charbonnières and after about half an hour they eased off for some reason or other, and I don’t know why. And then the inevitable happened. A harmless cross into the penalty area, the Charbonnières keeper palmed it away, the loose ball hit one of his own defenders on the back and rolled across the line into the net.

Stunned silence from the crowd.

In the second half, Charbonnières struggled to get going. St Gervais were quite awful but they were slowly growing in confidence, with the opponents becoming more and more frustrated.

And then it happened.

A cross from the wing into the centre of the field, a St Gervais player hitting it on the half volley, and there we were, a most unlikely 2-1 for St Gervais.

Even more unlikely was that St Gervais scored a third just minutes later!

As the game progressed, Charbonnières finally awoke and went back on the rampage, with some more outstretched feet and some very fortunate goalkeeping keeping them out. But they did pull one back from a free kick with just minutes to go.

In the final minute or so Charbonnières threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the St Gervais defence, and then we had a wild clearance out of the defence. The Charbonnières defenders had the idea of stepping up three paces to catch the St Gervais attacker offside.

But ohhh woe! Woe!

They were in the St Gervais half, and an attacker can’t be offside if he’s in his own half. The attacker picked up the ball, advanced totally unopposed on the Charbonnières goal and slotted the ball underneath the isolated keeper. 4-2.

And that was that. And the crowd are still shaking their heads even now.

The second match was between the St Gervais Second team and the First XI of Charbonnières, and this was much more evenly matched. Charbonnières took the lead with a good header, and as the game wound down towards the end, they slowed down the game. But two dramatic late goals from St Gervais turned the match around and Charbonnières then tried to speed up the game. But they couldn’t come back.

We had a few little niggles but all-in-all it was a good game.

But I’ll tell you something. I complained the other day about the lack of solidarity that I have received from most of my “friends” in the Auvergne. Today, there were several people whom I knew from Pionsat’s football team and while they all said “hello”, not one of them came to sit with me for a little chat, even though it’s been 18 months or so since I was last at a match and they all know about my health issues.

I’m really disappointed about that.

So last night was another bad night for me – awake in the middle of the night and then wide awake definitively at about 05:45. Up here in the attic (with a fire burning) long before the alarm.

After a brief rest I took a pile of boxes downstairs to Caliburn and loaded him up, and also put in some stuff from the verandah. Then I nipped off to the Intermarche at Pionsat for some bread and so on.

I didn’t do much when I returned, and after lunch I crashed out for an hour or so.

But before going to the football I removed almost all of the boxes from the attic and put them in Caliburn. That was heavy work and exhausted me completely. There’s still stuff to pack up here, but that’s Tuesday morning’s job.

And now I’m back from the footy I’m going to be doing the washing-up and then going to bed.

Sunday is a day of rest, but I bet that it won’t be.

Friday 24th March 2017 – CALIBURN HAS RETURNED!

And I should know, because I had to go and fetch him back. Of course that meant that I had to take back the little Skoda hire car but that’s no big deal.

Caliburn has had his rear end fixed (they even repaired the towing light sockets that I broke about 5 years ago but I didn’t say anything) and not only that, the nearside was stripped bare, all of the rust and stone chips ground out, the bare metal treated with anti-oxydiser, everything stopped, filled and sanded down, and a coat of primer then a coat of paint and then some varnish.

All of that came to a mere €283 – well, my bit did anyway – and I was expecting it to be more than twice that.

It’s true to say that you can see the join between the old and the new paintwork, but I’m not bothered about that. Caliburn is 10 years old and showing his age like I am. I just need him to keep on going for as long as I do without dropping to bits – that’s the plan anyway. Spending less than €300 to keep the bodywork together sounds like a good investment to me.

Last night was not so good. I went off to sleep easily enough but was awake by about 04:30 and struggled to go back to sleep again. By 06:30 I was up and about, and drinking my morning coffee when the alarm went off.

It was cold, damp, wet and miserable too, and so I lit a fire. I’ve decided that I need to keep warm no matter what while I’m here. It’s not as if I’m short of wood, as Terry keeps on reminding me.

I didn’t do much though this morning – spending a lot of time thinking about this and that and tidying up a pile of files on the computer that I have here – the old one with the smashed screen that I use as a desktop computer with added mouse, keyboard and external screen (the HDMI socket of the DVD viewer in fact).

Lunch was the rest of Ingrid’s delicious soup and then gathering my wits, I decided on a plan of attack. I fought (and I DO mean “fought”) my way into the verandah and the lean-to.

And there I really did hit the depths of despair because everything that I had set aside all those years ago – everything from Expo, the crockery and cutlery that I had bought specially – well, it’s all in a lamentable state having been stored in the verandah and the lean-to for 6 years. I should really have unpacked it all years ago, but I really didn’t have anywhere to put it.

Anyway, that really depressed me. I started dumping stuff into plastic bags to take to the tip – piles and piles of it – but that was soul-destroying and I lost all enthusiasm. The freezing cold and driving rain didn’t help matters either. I ended up with nowhere to put anything.

Instead , I went and fetched Caliburn, and then came up here for a warm by the fire and some more of Ingrid’s pepper, lentil and tomato sauce to go with my pasta.

Now I shall endeavour to fight off the depression that I’m in and go to bed. And hope that I can sleep too. It’s been a long hard day and the next four days are going to be even worse.

Thursday 23rd March 2017 – COURGETTE LEEK AND POTATO …

… soup for lunch. Tea was lentil, pepper and tomato sauce for my pasta, all followed by a raspberry and banana dessert.

The Lap of Luxury, you might think, and indeed you would be right because I had a Meals on Wheels service today. Ingrid came round with a pile of goodies that she had made this morning, especially for me!

Last night, my bunged-up nose and me were in bed early enough and I was soon asleep curled up under the quilt. I had to leave the bed at one point, but here’s a thing – when I went back to sleep it was until the alarm awoke me. And it’s been a while since that has happened.

Pouring with rain outside and cold, wet and miserable inside. I held off for a couple of hours but there’s no point in killing myself for no good reason – I ended up lighting the fire. And it soon became warm in here too. I meant to do some more packing but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm (no big surprise here). I just sat in the warm.

Ingrid came round at lunchtime with my food parcels and in exchange I gave her the big vegetable steamer that I was intending to use on my woodstove. No point in my keeping that now – it may as well go to a good home.

After Ingrid left, I carried on with a little (just a little) desultory tidying up but not making progress, and at 16:00 I rang up to enquire about Caliburn. Apparently he’s still not ready and won’t be done until tomorrow afternoon. And so I curled up in the warmth again.

I had my tea, with grateful thanks again to Ingrid, and then a little relax before going to bed.

But I need to organise myself much more than this. It’s all very well saying that I have nowhere to put anything until Caliburn comes back, but while this s true, I could be doing other stuff. But the weather is getting me right down. I can’t do anything when it’s cold, damp and wet.

I need a change.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017 – ONE THING …

… about being in bed early is that there I was, out like a light, with just the odd bit of tossing and turning, and that was how I stayed until about 06:40. Totally painless. And with the early morning sun streaming into my room, I felt so much better than I did yesterday.

But it had been freezing in the night. The windows in the attic roof were all iced over. But nevertheless it was reasonably warm in the attic while I had my breakfast.

And then I had some work to do. The technician was due to arrive and so it was a good reason to do a little tidying up. And with the bright sunlight I could use the vacuum cleaner too. That didn’t take too long at all.

When he arrived, he told me that the fault wasn’t at my place but at the exchange (GRRRR – after all that!) and in fact, when I looked, I noticed that I had a connection. he helped me configure it and then cleared off. And, as luck would have it, I received a message from Orange to say that as the fault was not on my premises, I wouldn’t be charged for the call-out.

And so as I settled down again, I had a phone call from Ingrid. She had to go to Marcillat and so I invited her round for a coffee – that’s the least that I can do. And that meant that I had to tidy up here in the attic too. I need to be pushed like this.

Anyway, she came round and we had a coffee and a good chat, and then, much to my surprise, she made me a sandwich. And, while I was eating that, she fetched me up a huge pile of wood. Saying that I was overwhelmed is the least of it.

We nipped into Pionsat for the Bank appointment and then came back here for another coffee before she hit the road back to Biollet. I made some tea and then, still struggling with my cold and cough, I headed off to bed.

My bed is absolutely beautiful and it’s soooooooo comfortable, and it’s a shame that I can’t take it with me. It’s out of the question for me to struggle with it out through the window here and down the scaffolding. I remember the issues that I had trying to get it up into the bedroom.

I shall have to think of a Plan B, and I have one in mind

Tuesday 21st March 2017 – AS FOR LAST NIGHT …

… it was nothing like as good as the previous one.

But then again, there’s a good reason for that. And that is that somewhere in the middle of it all I had a very severe attack of cramp. And severe it was too -it kept me awake for ages while I tried to calm it down. And then it would go, so I would turn over, and it would come back again. This went on for hours, I reckon.

And then, I was awake at 06:00 – such are the perils of having an early night. I really do need to get my life back on track.

After breakfast I had a little relax and then slowly headed off into Pionsat.

First port of call was the Intermarché and a loaf of bread for he next couple of days. Man might not be able to live by bread alone, but I can if I have some stuff to go on it. Next port of call was the bank because I need to make some kind of financial arrangements for my future. They fixed an appointment for tomorrow at 16:30.

But outside, I bumped into Simon. Long time no see indeed but news of my impending demise had even filtered through to him. He invited me for a coffee and I agreed – but a little later as I still had two things to do.

The most important was to contact my internet supplier and have a moan about my Livebox not working. After much binding in the marsh they agreed to send out a technician to sort me out. At my charge of course, but some things you need to do. That’s tomorrow morning too.

And then round to Clare’s. She had been concerned about me when I was missing the other week and had even gone round to my house to see if I had arrived there. I had to express my gratitude and offer a bottle of wine in recompense. It’s the least that I can do in the circumstances.

I had a good chat with Simon and Desirée at their little office. I’m amazed at how domesticated and suburbanised Simon has become since he married. It’s clearly doing him good, so good luck to him.

Back here, my exertions finally caught up with me and I was stark out for a few hours. And then I began a little desultory packing, with a pause to watch a film. That took me nicely up to tea time, when a couple of handfuls of pasta, some vegetables and tomato sauce did the trick. I wasn’t all that hungry.

And then, bedtime. No idea why I’m so exhausted. It’s not as if I’ve spent too much time running around today – physically, that is.

And so I have realised, rather unfortunately, that I’m not going to be able to keep on going out here. I don’t even have the energy to pack up this place. Or anything like it. I am just not up to it. Even climbing up the stairs into the attic is killing me.

I shall have to take what I’ve got in Caliburn and head off to find some peace and solitude somewhere.

What a shame!

Monday 20th March 2017 – NOW I KNOW …

… why I spent all that money two years ago buying that new bed and expensive mattress and all of that nice bedding. For I was out like a light last night and had one of the most comfortable sleeps that I have had in years. So much so that in fact I was rather reluctant to leave it.

Even more so when I saw what the weather was doing outside. Cold wet and grey, just like I was feeling in fact, so no change there.

But anyway, I managed a decent breakfast – muesli with soya milk, an apple puree thing and grapefruit juice all washed down with coffee of course. And then gathering my wits as well as a few things here and there, Caliburn, Strawberry Moose and I hit the streets.

We ended up at Evaux-les-Bains where I took Caliburn to the menders. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that back in October in Brussels, Caliburn was the victim of a Belgian driver who didn’t know where the brakes were on his car. Anyway, today he goes to be mended.

And not only that, there’s some rust creeping through that’s making him look a little untidy, and so he’s having that attended to. He’ll be 10 in a couple of weeks time and, unfortunately, he’s starting to show his age. But then, aren’t we all?

They had a little Skoda Fabia for me to borrow while he’s being fixed (that’s why I’m having his body done right now – while I have free access to a hire car). It’s not a bad little car but it’s very plasticky and I can’t see anyone having 10 years out of one of these. But it’s free for five days so good luck to me.

Once I was properly organised I went round to Ingrid’s at Biollet. Ingrid was the only one of my Auvergnat friends who came to see me while I was really ill (of course, never forgetting Jean-Marc who drove all the way from Macon to see me, for which I will always be grateful) and it’s only right that I go to thank her. Generally-speaking, my Auvergnat friends turned out to be one big disappointment. When the going got tough, they certainly got going – but in the opposite direction.

And after all that I’ve done for them too.

Ingrid and I had coffee and a good chat which was very nice, and then I had to go to Montlucon to change my Livebox – that seems to be the reason why I’m not connecting to the internet. And Ingrid offered to come too for the ride and the company which was nice.

Changing the Livebox was a matter of minutes and then it was lunchtime. We repaired to a cafe across the street which fixed us a couple of salads and the dressing was superb.

By now, the sun was out and it was a glorious day – far too nice to go back home, and so I proposed a trip to Clermont Ferrand. Something that I needed to do there and now seemed like as good a time as any. We had an exciting time trying to find the Prefecture, and an even more exciting time trying to find the car afterwards. But it was only 5 minutes at the Prefecture and we spent the remainder of the two hours sitting in the sunshine at a cafe on the Place de Jaude. And very nice it was too.

I stopped for a coffee back at Ingrid’s and then headed for home. The Skoda is a nice little car but it’s not for me – I’ll tell you that for nothing. And back here I crashed out. It had been a long tiring day and I’m not as young as I was.

And the new Livebox?

That’s not perishing working either!

Sunday 19th March 2017 -THAT WAS SOMETHING …

… of a disturbed night’s sleep what with the livestock in the roof. And there I was, thinking along the lines of Marshall Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke, and “Sunday is the one day of the week a man can get up at noon and sit around with his boots off without anybody hollering at him about it”. First Sunday for almost 18 months that I hadn’t set an alarm, and there I was, wide awake and up and about at 07:30 in the morning. I’m hoping that this isn’t going to be a regular occurrence.

After breakfast, morning was quite steady – at first – and then round about 10:00 I sprung into action. By 12:00, everything not needed in the back of Caliburn had been taken out, and all of the food, clothing and other items that will be accompanying me on the next stage of my journey – because there is going to be a next stage on my journey – were all arranged neatly inside. It’s amazing, all of the space, once I managed to sort it out. And I counted almost 30 of those black plastic crates that I had systematically looted and pillaged from the rubbish bin at the supermarket in Leuven.

After all of that, I needed a sit-down. And having relaxed, made some butties and set off for the football. None at Pionsat of course, but there was a double-header at Le Quartier. Mind you, their ground was deserted at 13:00 so I went for a drive down to St Gervais d’Auvergne. Nothing going on there either so I had my butties by the lake.

Back at Le Quarter at 15:00 for the second match, but there was sill no-one there so I nipped up to Pionsat to see what was happening. Apart from a new Salle de Fêtes being built on the site of the old Maison Ducros- Maymat there was nothing going on there either.

And so back here, I checked on the internet and it seems that I have the dates incorrect. No matches this weekend – it’s next weekend when it’s all happening. D’ohhhh!

And so I made up my bed in the bedroom. even if it’s colder down there in the bedroom, I’ll snuggle up under the quilt and sleep in the quiet and in the comfort tonight. I deserve that at least. And while I was in there I began to pack away some clothes too. No time like the present.

Tea was a vegetable chili and rice, and now it’s bedtime. I’m hoping for a better night than last night.

Saturday 18th March 2017 – LAST NIGHT …

… was something of a restless night for me. For a start, I wasn’t hungry and so I didn’t have anything to eat. And then I couldn’t go to sleep for ages either. By 06:00 I was wide awake and working on the laptop.

Nevertheless, I did manage to go on my travels during the night. I’d been to some kind of city where the railway lines had been moved out of the centre to the edge of the place, and the interior where the rails and the stations had formerly been was now all overgrown and being used by the locals as a kind of park. There were some arches over where the railway lines had been – brick arches of the kind that might have been built by the Romans and in very poor repair. I kept trying to take a few photos of them but people kept on getting in the way and it was just so difficult to have a clear shot.

Anyway, I had breakfast, in company with plenty of other people and a pile of dogs – it seems as if there was some kind of Canine Convention going on here just now. And then, as usual, I had things to do on the laptop.

Having survived the initial attempt to turf me out of my room, I decided not to push my luck and by 10:00 I was on my way. First stop was the LeClerc supermarket for bread and a few other bits and pieces to set me up for the next few days. I had a chat with Ingrid on the telephone too and we arranged to meet up on Monday for a chat and so on.

And then – I’ve put this off for so long but I can’t keep on doing it. I headed for home. It’s been a long time since I’ve been down these roads. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been something of a disciple of Wilfred Grenfell, who sais that “when two paths are open, always take the more venturesome”. But I have to go home sometime.

When I finally arrived, I could see that it was clear that the gales and tempests that have battered the centre of France have given here a pretty good battering too. But there’s no real damage or anything and, to be honest, it was good to be back. The good news is that the rodent-proofing that I carried out here in December seems to have worked and there’s no obvious signs of any damage. It was 16.1°C in here too so that was good – saved me having to light a fire.

But the bad news is that the storm has done something to the internet connection and that is down. It looks as if I’ll be taking Ingrid to Montlucon on Monday to swap my Livebox over for a new one. Anyway, I had a nice sit-down and relax for the afternoon, and kicked my mug of coffee all over the floor breaking off the handle of the mug, as well as washing the floor..

One of my plans for tonight was to go down to Pionsat to watch the football. But to my astonishment, not only is Pionsat running just one team this season (instead of the two last season and even three a couple of seasons ago), the team has declared a general forfeit and abandoned all of its matches. I don’t know what to make of this. It’s all rather astonishing as far as I’m concerned.

So anyway, I made myself something quick out of a tin to eat and then settled down on the sofa tonight, trying to sleep amid the sound of the animals scratching away in the roof.

As Golden Earring once famously sang, “You know it’s good to be back home” but I have been realising day by day while I’ve been away that with my declining health (because I can see it declining every day) my long-term future lies away from here.

Friday 17th March 2017 – THAT WAS ANOTHER …

… Sleep of the Dead last night. Totally painless it was too. And I was off on my travels. I had taken a job a a tram driver and after being trained, I took to the rails. On my first journey I couldn’t pull in at a tram stop as there was a lorry parked in the way so I had to go past and reverse back in (yes, on rails, this was!). But in reversing in, I switched the points and so on setting off again I was going down the wrong road. I couldn’t reverse back either because by now another tram had pulled up behind me. And so I’d somehow managed to bring the whole city’s tram network to a grinding halt.

Breakfast was quite quiet – just two of us there – and then I came back to finish off some work before hitting the road. But I had the wanderlust and so I didn’t hang around long. I was soon on my way.

hotchkiss old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceMind you, I didn’t manage to travel very far at first. As I was driving past some kind of farm-place, I noticed the rear end of an old car poking out from under a lean-to.

At first glance I thought that it might have been a Morris Oxford MO – the “Big Minor” of the late 1940s and early 1950s of which my father had two when we were kids – KKB547 and LDM819. It’s only natural therefore that I pulled up to make further enquiries.

hotchkiss old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceFirst thing that I noticed was that it was not a Morris Oxford MO at all but a fairly-similar-looking Hotchkiss saloon of a similar period. And that was something that quite amazed me because I’d never seen one of these before.

Secondly, it wasn’t alone either. There was a second one here too. In a much-more-complete condition. And both of these vehicles had quite a considerable amount of company.

old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThere was a sign on the premises – “Private Property – Visits Tolerated Under Supervision Of An Occupant Of The Premises” – and you’ve no idea how long it took me to actually find someone who looked as if he belonged to the site.

Just as I was giving up all hope, a young guy turned up in an old (as in 1990s) Citroen. We had a little chat and eventually he gave me the necessary authority to go for a wander around with the Nikon D5000

delage old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceAnd this is what I found underneath the lean-to in total. An absolute treasure-trove of vehicles.

We have of course the blue Hotchkiss on the extreme left of the photo. That’s exciting enough, and I have no idea what the beige car might be on the right – and there was no-one around to ask. But as for the other two, these are Delages and I would take the big one – which I think might be an S6 – home with me in a heartbeat. It’s gorgeous.

old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceBut then of course, that’s not all by any means because the place was littered with all kinds of stuff. Stuff that the owner thinks may be of less value but which for someone like me, are absolutely magnificent machines.

This is a chassis and bulkhead of something and I’ve no idea what it might be, or have been. But it’s not the kind of thing that I would leave lying around like this.

old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceAnd that’s not the worst of it either. Because there are tons more stuff just lying around littering the yard.

This looks as if it dates to the 1930s and according to what I could make out, it might be a Talbot or maybe an ancient Hotchkiss. But that’s a sheer guess on my part because I couldn’t find any indication at all as to what it might have been.

old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceAs for this vehicle, it looks as if it’s even earlier. At least it has had a tarpaulin thrown over it to save it from the weather.

Again, I don’t have very much idea of what it might be – it’s certainly something that I don’t recall ever having seen before. It’s possibly a Hotchkiss but then again, what would I know about it?

talbot old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThis car is much easier to identify because there’s quite a prominent bonnet badge on the radiator.

It’s a very sad-looking Talbot, from the days when Talbot knew how to make cars rather than assemble knock-down Chrysler rubbish. It still has some of its paint and with a good little bit of elbow grease and plenty of time, someone could actually make something out of this if they would only get a move on.

delage old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThis is even much more like it and this ought to be dragged under cover out of the weather as soon as possible.

The radiator badge gives away the identity of this vehicle. It’s a Delage of course, probably from the early 1930s and this is another vehicle that would find ts way down to my barn in the Auvergne if I were in a position to do something about it.

delage talbot delahaye old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThese three vehicles are extremely exciting too. We have the Delage in the far distance, and the vehicle in the centre of the photograph is the Talbot.

But the vehicle closest to the camera head-first against the outbuilding is, according to the casting on the engine, a Delahaye. Unfortunately, this is quite far gone and it would take a brave restorer of vehicles to have a good go at this. But it certainly deserves it.

delahaye old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceAnd this is perhaps the saddest vehicle of them all, I reckon. It’s a 1930s Delahaye which is comparatively complete, but yet seems to be too far gone for anyone to do very much with.

This is really a tragedy because while it might not have the class of the 1950s Delage that is underneath the lean-to that we saw earlier, it is just so nice and deserves so much better than this.

talbot old cars cosne cours sur loire nievre franceBut it’s not all doom and gloom. The lean-tos and sheds are jam-pack full of bits and pieces and even old cars that it is absolutely impossible to access. I could have spent all day here.

Instead, I’ll poke the lens of the camera through the bits and pieces and show you what I mean. This is a Talbot and at a rough guess it’s from the late 1920s, and it’s under cover out of the weather. And for that I’m extremely grateful.

And if you have more luck or knowledge than I have in identifying these vehicles, let me know. All the information that you can let me have would be most gratefully received.

deer chevreuil cosne cours sur loire nievre franceAnd I wasn’t alone while I was admiring these vehicles. This deer came to join me. Personally, I reckon that she must have been attracted by the presence of Strawberry Moose sitting in Caliburn outside – you never know.

Anyway I couldn’t hang around here all day, much as I would like to. I had things to do, places to go, people to see.

My journey took me along the side of the canal and the western banks of the River Loire until I headed off through the Foret de Troncais.

meaulne cher franceBy now the sun was out and the sky was clear and blue – not as nice as yesterday but nevertheless …

I stopped for an hour or so at Meaulne for a butty, to read a book and to tidy out a pile of rubbish from Caliburn. You’ve no idea how much rubbish has accumulated inside him since I hit the road for my appointment with destiny … gulp … 12 months ago

Back on the road I had yet more things to do and this involved a trip around a fewplaces in Montlucon. But it looks as if one of my projects is about to tomber à l’eau, for all kinds of reasons.

Now I’m in an IBIS Budget on the outskirts of Montlucon. I’m going to gather my wits and then head home tomorrow. First time for three months and I’m not looking forward to it, to be honest.

Thursday 16th March 2017 – I THOUGHT THAT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO SEE …

hotel des gatines cosne cours sur loire nievre france… my hotel.

It might not look very much from the outside but I’ll tell you something – and that is that it’s the first time since about 1990 that I’ve made a conscious on-the-spot decision to stay over for a second night in a hotel.

The staff is extremely friendly, the breakfast is adequate, the room is clean and tidy and the bed is one of the most comfortable that I’ve ever tried. And being right out here in the countryside, I didn’t hear a thing during the night.

The one problem with going to bed early though is that one has a tendency to wake up early too, and by 06:00 I was wide awake. I had to wait for breakfast though, which I’d booked at 07:30, and so I had the pleasure of David Bowie reminding me that it was 07:00 with his “Wake up, little sleepy-head. Shake off your clothes, get out of bed!” followed at 07:15 by Billy Cotton going “Wakey waaaaaaa…. KAY!”. Ohh the joys of “Audacity” and the ability to customise my own sound clips.

After breakfast, I sat outside in the sunshine and attacked some work that had been building up. That gave me an opportunity to have a rest and relax for a few hours. And then I hit the streets.

First stop was through the town and out the other side to the Auchan supermarket to negotiate some food for lunch. I had a good look at what was going on in there too because I wanted to see what was on offer because, as you know, I have some cunning plans. Finding the entrance to the car park was quite the thing though – it wasn’t all that easy.

old car peugeot 203 briare loiret franceonce I was back on the road, I didn’t get very far. Only just about into the département of Loiret, where I came to a shuddering halt.

Here on the side of the road, jealously guarded by Rover, was a Peugeot 203 sitting here dans son jus as the French say. My ideal kind of vehicle and had it been a pick-up or even a van, I would have gone straight home for my trailer to tow it away.

old car peugeot 203 briare loiret franceIt’s actually at the entrance to a car body repair shop, and it does serve a purpose just sitting here outside. That’s because inside, there are several other vehicles, including another Peugeot 203, that have been restored.

The garage proprietor explained to me (we had a very lengthy chat) that he has some excellent staff working for him and when times are slack he doesn’t want to lose them. So he picks up vehicles like this and his staff work on them whenever there’s a pause in the work.

It keeps them employed, and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their skills by bringing something like this back to life.

pont canal de briare loiret franceBut before long, in the beautiful sunshine, I arrived in Briare – or to be more precise, Briare-le-Canal – which was my destination for today.

And I had good reason to be here too. Being a Pisces and at home whenever I’m close to water, there are not many places closer to the water than around here. I have one beautiful river – the Loire, of course, and no less than three canals.

And not only that, a magnificent structure designed by Gustave Eiffel. The Pont-Canal (or aqueduct) de Briare, and it’s one of the most impressive of its type in the whole world.

pont canal de briare river loire loiret franceBut first of all, it’s lunchtime and I attack my butty with gusto. And I’m not alone here either because I’m joined by a woman from Paris in an old Fiat Multiplas who seems to travel just as I used to in North America, with everything inside and even a place to sleep.

She reckons that she’s even been as far as the North Cape in Norway travelling like this.

I have to say that I was very impressed, because it’s rare to see someone travel like that these days, and a single woman even more so.

pont canal de briare loiret franceSo having had my butty and a good chat, I went for a wander around. A slow wander, it has to be said, because the day was really hot. Easily the best day of the year to date.

So to let me put you in the picture, let me tell you a little about the history of where we are. Everything here is centred around the first of the canals to be built here, and that goes back to, would you believe, the early 17th Century.

pont canal de briare loiret franceWe mentioned yesterday when we talked about Cosne-sur-Loire that the river here was a major transportation route, right back as far as history records. Roman roads were of course very well-known and very well-built, but technology didn’t exist for the transport of large amounts of items.

We saw, when we were in Clamecy a few years ago, how the timber from the Forests of Morvan was cut down and floated off to Paris where it was used as firewood.

pont canal de briare loiret franceIn any case, the techniques of road-building were for all intents and purposes lost once the Romans had passed on, and what passed for roads in early medieval days were nothing but beaten earth and descended into an impassible morass at the first sign of heavy rain.

There was thus no possibility of sending heavy loads by road, and so rivers became the only reliable method of transport.

pont canal de briare loiret franceAnyway, we move forward to the start of the 17th Century and the decision by Sully, the First Minister of King Henry IV to improve business between the different regions of France. Da Vinci had come up with the idea of canal locks and so Sully decided that a canal should be built to link the valleys of the River Loire and the River Seine, incorporating Da Vinci’s ideas.

Construction began in 1604 and after a pause following the assassination of the King, the canal was finally opened in 1642. It was one of the very first in Europe to use locks.

parallel canal pont canal de briare loiret franceAs boats became bigger and bigger, and traffic became heavier, navigation on the River Loire in places became more problematic. As a result, a canal was built in places parallel to the river to avoid the most difficult stretches of the river.

This section here that we can see runs (or rather, ran, because some of it has been abandoned) from Chatillon sur Loire to a short distance beyond Briare where it joins up with the original entrance to Sully’s canal.

pont canal de briare loiret franceBut commerce, evolving as it does, required a new navigation system and this led to a modernisation of Sully’s canal and a “regularisation” of the route. This led to a new trace being built, and this required an aqueduct across the River Loire and the parallel canal.

In 1889 a decision was made to build the aqueduct across the river, and Gustave Eiffel and his company was brought in on the project, with construction of the metalwork entrusted to Daydé & Pillé. Construction began in 1890 and the first boat, the Aristide, crossed over on 16th September 1896.

pont canal de briare loiret france662 metres long, the aqueduct is, and it’s absolutely beautiful. It became registered as a national historic monument in 1979 and what surprises me is that it took so long for its importance to be recognised.

And important it is too, because For many years it was the longest metal canal aqueduct in the world, maintaining its place at the top of the list until as recently as 2003 when it was overtaken by a new aqueduct in Germany.

pont canal de briare loiret franceAnd so I went for a beautiful walk across it and back along the other side today in the glorious weather. And I have to admit that I spent a good few minutes sitting on a bench, catching my breath watching a member of the Water Board painting the decorations on the pillars.

A coffee would have been nice too but astonishingly, there wasn’t very much in the way of cafés open. Just one in fact, but it was the kind of place where you needed a bank loan to buy a drink.

pont canal de briare loiret franceI just don’t understand people who are in business. Hordes of people wandering around and yet no-one seemed to be too interested in taking their money. Any self-respecting café owner should have looked out of his window, seen the beautiful day, seen the hordes milling about, and set out his stall accordingly.

It really is astonishing, the money-making opportunities that are being overlooked these days. No wonder there’s a recession at the moment.

Anyway, I headed back to my hotel and a lengthy chat with the landlord, putting the world to rights. And then back to my room for a doze followed by the remainder of my meal from last night. Potato salad is a very good standby and I’ll be doing this again.

Now I’m having an early night yet again. I need it.

Wednesday 15th March 2017 – THAT WASN’T A VERY NICE …

… night at all.

Not for any shortcomings of the hotel, I hasten to add. This was in fact one of the better Première Classe hotels (but still not as good as the one at Maubeuge last year of course) but nevertheless it took me an age to go off to sleep and then I tossed and turned a good while during the night.

A hot shower brought me round – sort-of-ish, and a good breakfast followed. I had a rest for a while afterwards, and then edited some music tracks so that I have some custom alarm calls and ringtones on my new telephone.

cora supermarket auxerre yonne franceFirst stop was the Cora supermarket around the corner. And here was a thing.

Those of you with long memories will remember back many years ago about the Morrisons supermarket at Reading where the car park had a height barrier “to stop travellers entering the car park”, but also keeping out anyone with a high vehicle.

Here, they seem to have the same issues, but nevertheless they have managed to make a parking space for high vehicles and here’s a rather dirty Caliburn to prove it.

I’ve hit on a new plan for eating out in hotels, which I’ll explain later. It involves a visit to the shops and the purchase of certain items. But while the supermarket was good and objects at a reasonable price, the woman on the check-outs was useless. Far too busy talking to her friends in the queue to concentrate on what she was doing and as a result she was making mistake after mistake. Not a very good advertisement at all for the store.

railway museum toucy yonne franceHaving given Caliburn a really good wash, I had a slow drive through the countryside towards the south-west and into the watershed of the River Loire.

Destination was the town of Toucy, still in the département of the Yonne. I’d driven through here on several occasions 9 or 10 years ago and I’d noticed the old railway artefacts here in the town. Today was the day that I had decided to come to see what was going on

railway museum toucy yonne franceThe place was all locked up, and looked as if it had been that way for 10 years. Everything was rusting and decayed, including these beautiful diesel multiple-unit panorama cars.

The driver’s cabin is very interesting, isn’t it? But that kind of thing would never work in the UK with the restricted loading gauge on British railways.

The only British railway network with anything resembling a Continental loading gauge, the Great Central, was closed down in the 1960s.

railway museum toucy yonne franceThis was probably the most short-sighted of all of the short-sighted railway “economy” measures of the Beeching era, and replacing it today for the HS2 network is costing the UK billions and billions of Pounds.

That’s the trouble with the UK of course – it’s all down to short-term economies and there isn’t an ounce of long-term vision in anything that the country does.

And they are going to find out that for themselves once Brexit begins to bite.

railway museum toucy yonne franceBut leaving aside yet another good rant for a while, I carried on with my wandering around the railway … errr … museum.

As you can see, the exhibits, such as they are, have clearly seen better days and there doesn’t look as if there is anything going on here. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the way of restoration or renovation taking place on the … errr … exhibits here. They are just parked up and abandoned.

railway museum toucy yonne franceThis is probably one of the saddest exhibits here on the site.

I don’t know anything very much about French railway locomotives and the like, but this looks as if it’s something quite unusual and interesting – far too interesting to be just stuck here in a siding and left to rot away.

It’s all quite depressing, wandering around here and seeing all of this.

yard shunters baudet donon roussel railway museum toucy yonne franceThese little locomotives were quite interesting. Yard shunters, I reckon, and made by Baudet Donon and Roussel in the early 1950s.

It’s a little-known fact that this company is actually the successor of the company founded by Gustave Eiffel, he of the tower fame. The company branched out into the construction of railway locomotives and multiple-units, and quite a lot of the company’s equipment found its way onto the French railway network during the period of modernisation after World War II.

yard shunters baudet donon roussel railway museum toucy yonne franceThese little machines weigh a mere 14 tonnes, are just under 6 metres in length and flat-out, they will travel at all of 16kph.

Mind you, with a Renault 60 horse-power PETROL engine, 8-speed gearbox and chain drive, you aren’t going to get much more out of her.

They were the first locomotives to come of the new SNCF standardisation process after the War and replaced all kinds of assorted yard shunters, including horses and, in at least one case, oxen.

They were essentially a temporary measure and withdrawal of the class started in 1979.

railway tourism bicycles museum toucy yonne franceRailway tourism seems to be the up-and-coming thing these days, and this can be accomplished in many different ways.

You might also remember when we were in New Brunswick, Canada, back in October last year, that we saw that old railway bicycle that I admired so much. Combine the two together, and you’ll end up with something like this.

Mind you, it would be really exciting meeting another similar vehicle coming the other way on a single-track line. “Survival of the fittest” is what springs immediately to mind.

narrow gauge railway museum toucy yonne franceThere’s a pile of narrow-gauge railway equipment here too, and they have laid some kind of track to accommodate it.

It looks very much like mining or quarrying equipment to me, although there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of mining around here and I’ve no idea where there might be a quarry.

But like everything else around here, it’s all lying around abandoned and there’s no signage or anything to indicate what all of it might be

One thing is quite clear though.

In the past, I’ve been totally scathing of what passes for “preservation” of railway and other historical artefacts in North America. Having seen what is (or isn’t) going on here, I’m going to have to keep my mouth closed, or else start eating some rather large helpings of humble pie.

MAN van hool alizée toucy yonne franceI couldn’t leave the site though without taking a photo of this sorry machine.

It’s a Van Hool Alizée of the mid-1980s, lying here abandoned in the yard, and it brings back many happy memories for me. 25-30 years ago, I was earning my living travelling around Europe in one of these with piles of tourists when I worked for Shearings Holidays.

Beautiful machines, especially when built on a Volvo chassis, but this one is rear-engined so at first I thought that it might be a Scania. However,it turns out to be a MAN and I never had the opportunity to drive one of these.

Ohhh happy days!

medieval castle guedelon yonne franceAs you may (or may not) know, I have a degree in Historical Technology and just down the road from Toucy is Guedelon.

Guedelon is an extremely interesting place and very high on my list of places to visit because what they are actually doing is building a Medieval castle from scratch.

Not only that, they are using nothing but construction techniques of the period, including man-powered cranes and the like.

medieval castle guedelon yonne franceYou can imagine therefore that this was a place that was also very high on my list of places to visit, and so I set off chaud-pied, as they might say around here, to see what I could see.

But regular readers of this rubbish will know exactly what I discovered when I arrived here.

That’s right. The place is closed “for the season” and despite all of the people wandering around the site pretending to work, it wasn’t possible for me to gain admittance, even just for the purpose of taking a few photos.

That was something that I found extremely miserable.

fourgon incendie delahaye B163 cosne cours sur loire nievre franceHowever, it’s not all doom and gloom because as I arrived at Cosne-Cours sur Loire, I encountered this magnificent beast, and it’s another sad and sorry machine having been abandoned to the elements, despite its rarity value.

It’s a Delahaye fourgonette – I reckon a type B163 – and it’s the type of chassis preferred by the French fire brigades in the early 1950s for the building of specialist vehicles.

But it’s rather a shame to see it sitting here out in the open in a field like this. As I said – I’ll have to stop criticising the North Americans.

river loire cosne cours sur loire nievre franceBy now, it’s time for (a very late) lunch and so I head into the town. The River Loire passes by here in all its magnificence and there’s a nice park across the river from the town that’s a very suitable place to stop.

And, as you have probably noticed, the clouds have gone, the sun is out and there’s a beautiful blue sky to sit and watch me as I eat. It’s a marvellous afternoon and I intend to make the most of it.

cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThe town itself is another one of these beautiful, cramped Medieval cities that has unfortunately seen better days.

There seems to have been a settlement here in Prehistoric times and there was certainly a … errr .. Gallo-Roman settlement called Condate here.

With its comparatively easy crossing of the Loire here, it was the centre of several confrontations throughout history. As far as the British are concerned, its claim to fame was that during the Hundred Years War, Henry V was marching here to meet the Burgundian Army in 1422 when he caught dysentery and died.

His premature death effectively marked the end of any serious hopes that the English might have had of making a permanent conquest of France.

By the 17th Century there was a thriving metallurgical industry here and this was the basis of the wealth of the town. It manufactured fittings for the French naval industry and these were shipped out down the Loire to the naval shipyards downriver.

rivier loire cosne cours sur loire nievre franceHowever the French railway network caused a decline in navigation on the Loire and the metallurgical industry closed down in the 1870s. Some vestiges of the industry lingered on for a while but it all eventually petered out and led to the slow decline of the town.

Today though, it’s the second-largest town in the département of the Nievre after Nevers and as a result it’s become something of an important regional administrative centre.

suspension bridge river loire cosne cours sur loire nievre franceThere’s a beautiful suspension bridge here across the river and this is what had attracted me to the town. I’d never had the time to stop here before.

Unfortunately it’s not the original bridge here. That dated from 1833 but unfortunately that was destroyed during the Second World War. The bridge that’s here today dates from the 1950s but nevertheless, it’s still a magnificent structure and the setting here is tremendous.

US Army 1944 Dodge lorry hotel des gatines cosne cours sur loire nievre franceHaving had a nice walk and a good relax to read my book, I headed off to my hotel. It’s a little place right out of the way in the countryside about 2 miles from the river.

But I’m not alone here- not at all. There’s a 1944 Dodge Lorry – a veteran of the US Army parked here in the barn by the side of my room. It’s certainly the right hotel for me, isn’t it?

And my room is nice and cosy too. This was a good choice.

Tea tonight was something so simple that I’m really surprised that I have never ever considered it before. It’s so easy too, especially in a hotel bedroom and I shall be doing this kind of thing more often.

Half a tin of potatoes, half a tin of mixed vegetables, half a tin of mushrooms and some lettuce all mixed up in salad dressing. Followed by a soya dessert and a chocolate soya drink, with one of these packets of fruit-and-nut mix.

Simple, effective and healthy. You can’t say fairer than that.

And I’ve had a shower, washed my undies and now I’m settling down for the night. See you in the morning.

Tuesday 14th March 2017 – YOU MIGHT …

… or, more likely, might not … be wondering where I’ve been for the last few days. Well, almost a week in fact.

The truth is that I have had a very (un)pleasant stay amid the local facilities of the town of Verdun.

No, not the Nick, Rhys, the local hospital.

I was rushed in there on Wednesday night/Thursday morning after the landlady of the Hotel du Tigre found me flaked out in my bed having had the most serious relapse to date. She promptly called for an ambulance.

There was no internet in the hospital and somehow my telephone had become damaged so I was out of touch.

Anyway, they threw me out this morning and a taxi took me back to the hotel.

I’m still not 100% fit – far from it, in fact – so I had a slow, steady drive southwards and ended up at Bar-le-Duc where I bought a baguette and made myself a butty.

On my way through the town I’d seen an “Orange” boutique and so when it opened after lunch I trotted off round there to see what they could do about my phone. I’d managed to clean it up and dry it out but the keyboard wasn’t working, so I hoped that they could do something about it.

Nothing that they could do on the spot so repair would involve sending it away, and the hourly charge was something rather ludicrous. However, my contract has only one month to go before renewal and on renewal I would be entitled to a new telephone at a discount price. One or two deft keystrokes and I suddenly found myself the owner of a brand-new Samsung Smartphone, for all of €44:00. About half the price of the postage and minimum repair charge.

Later on, I was back on the road and had a gentle drive across the northern Burgundy mountains as far as Auxerre. This is where the new telephone came in handy because a quick search on the internet told me where the Première Class Hotel was situated – it’s quite a way out of the city.

Hopefully I’ll have a good sleep and a decent breakfast and make myself ready for the next stage of my journey.

Tuesday 7th March 2017 – WELL, I SAW A SIGN …

… and it said “Verdun”.

That’s another one of the places on my bucket list to visit before I go off to visit the hereafter, and there’s no time like the present so here I am.

papillon d'or arlon belgium march mars 2017But before we start, let me show you a photo of my room at the Papillon d’Or from last night and this morning. It’s a lovely room and a lovely place, and the breakfast was really nice too.

But the landlady clearly has a finely-developed sense of humour. There are two mattresses on the bed of course, and one (the one upon which I was sleeping) was thicker than the other.

And so in the middle of the night I rolled onto the other one, but it wasn’t where I expected and so I awoke in a panic, thinking that I was falling out of bed.

So by 06:00 I was wide awake and went for a shower as early as possible.

I had a slow recovery and by 09:30 I was on the road. And by 10:00 I was waiting in the queue at the IKEA on the border between Belgium and Luxembourg. It’s sale day today, there’s free coffee, and a €15:00 gift voucher for anyone spending more than €100 in the store. I need all kinds of new stuff for my new kitchen, wherever that might be, and so with some judicious purchases, I came out with €101:35 of new utensils, saucepans and the like.

But the most surprising thing of all this that I bought cost me €39:00 and I’ll post a photo of it in due course. Let’s just say that it will revolutionise my hotel-camping.

silly sign ikea arlon belgium march mars 2017But the prize for one of the silliest signs ever must surely go to this one here.

It says, with absolutely no trace of irony “no spring-cleaning without a cup of tea”. However, as we all know, putting me with something light-coloured like this is a recipe for disaster.

The sign really ought to read “no cup of tea without spring-cleaning”. That’s much more like it where I am concerned.

fire on border belgium luxembourg march mars 2017I had a glance out of the fire escape window while I was wandering around. Over there is the border between Luxembourg and Belgium and there seems to be some kind of “incident” going on out there.

It looks like a fire to me, with all of that smoke.

And you’ll notice the weather. It’s foul out there with the rain pouring down like nobody’s business.

I had lunch and then I hit the road. Straight into a traffic queue that lasted for 7 kms. I despaired of this and took a detour out of the traffic, and that was when I picked up a sign for “Verdun”.

It’s a nice cheap hotel, the Hotel du Tigre (named after Georges Clemenceau, the French politician) and I’ve just had one of the best pizzas that I have ever eaten. And tomorrow I shall be off to visit the battlefields of Verdun. I’ve never been here before.

And Caliburn and Strawberry Moose have been able to cross off “Luxembourg” of their list of countries to visit.

Another milestone achieved for them.

Monday 6th March 2017 – I PAID …

… for all of this effort over the last few days.

Despite the bad night and waking up at 06:00, I was down for breakfast at 07:00 feeling fairly okay. But coming back I was overwhelmed, as if the exercise was too much, and I had to go and lie down, aching all over and feeling really bad.

Nevertheless I made it down to pick up Hannah but I clearly wasn’t on form. We took the main-line train to the European Parliament where she went off for her guided tour. Being young, Canadian and still a student, she needs to make her CV as impressive and completely different from anyone else’s if she wants to have a good job, and so I pulled a few strings the other week and managed to organise a guided tour around the Parliament.

I wasn’t up to it and so I rode herd on the luggage and read a book.

When she returned, she noticed my distress and decided that we may as well go to the airport then rather than a couple of hours later. And so we walked up to Schuman, I picked up my bank cards, and then leapt on board the Express bus (with a certain amount of confusion about the pricing structure).

Once Hannah had disappeared into the bowels of the airport I headed back for the bus to Leuven. There are two per hour, at … errr … 33 minutes past and … errr … 35 minutes past. How about that for planning? And none of them goes via the hospital.

I ended up at the station and I nipped off to find the Ibis Budget, seeing as how I really was feeling bad. But for some reason or other it was … errr … €74 tonight. Why is that?

Instead, I took a bus up to the hospital, liberated my discharge papers, sorted out my medicines, and then headed for Caliburn. And we hit the road.

I’ve ended up in a B&B near Arlon on the Luxembourg border. It’s cheap but good. There’s no food in the vicinity so I had to drive about 100 miles to find a fritkot.

Now I’m off to bed. I deserve it. I hope that I feel better tomorrow.