Category Archives: UK

Monday 1st July 2019 – IT WAS SOMETHING …

… of a rather depressing night. I had a shower as soon as I got into my room and gave my clothes a quick wash and then, still dripping rather wet, I crawled into bed.

Bed is one thing. Sleep is something else completely. And so it was that I lay awake tossing and turning as the clock rolled on.

However I must have gone to sleep at some point because I was off on my travels at a certain moment. This was another thing where something went wrong. I was with Percy Penguin – at least, it was her but then again it wasn’t – and it was all about cars and so on. I’d arranged to meet Percy Penguin (who doesn’t feature in my notes half as often as she deserves) and I picked her up and we went for a meal. She was asleep on the sofa in this hotel. Everyone was gradually being served and in the end there was just me, another guy and Percy Penguin asleep on the sofa. A woman from the restaurant came out and said “I suppose that you three are all together”. I replied that we were all on our own, except that I might possible be with that girl there. Percy Penguin sat up so I sat next to her and we had the menus. We agreed on a starter and then we had to choose the wine for the wine list. I asked “what wine do you want?” as if she would know.She didn’t so I ordered a nice bottle of full-bodied red Burgundy. The waitress said “oh I don’t have a Burgundy”. I expressed my astonishment that a restaurant wouldn’t have a Burgundy. So I said “how about a Sancilly?”. I explained to Percy Penguin that that came from the area where I lived. The woman looked at me rather peculiarly so she went off to fetch it. Percy Penguin asked about the main course. We hadn’t ordered a main course.I said that maybe we do that a bit later after we’ve had the starter.She said that all the back of my head was oily. I said that I had been working on a car, lying underneath it. She wondered why I hadn’t had it washed. I said that it was almost time to come and pick her up. I hadn’t had time to wash.

At this point I sat up bolt-upright. 04:45. This isn’t any good at all. But nevertheless I was glad that I was awake because I wasn’t disturbed by the alarm on the Canadian phone that, not having adjusted itself to UK time, rang and awoke the Dead at 05:00

That was the cue for me to write up my blog notes for yesterday, which I hadn’t done, not having gone to bed until late.

Rosemary rang me at about 07:00 or so, so I went down to the hotel lobby to say hello. We had a chat and then she went off to breakfast and I went back upstairs to organise myself.

At about 08:45 we met up again, suitcases in hand, and headed off to the bus stop in the cold, cloudy, overcast weather. We just missed a 727 bus and had to wait 10 minutes for the one behind.When it turned up, I found out that my Pound coins were out of date so Rosemary had to help out with the fare.

We were dropped off at the bus station which is right opposite the docks. Finding the docks is one thing, but finding our berth was somewhere else. The first guy at the spoke to in the harbour was more interested in telling me off about crossing a forbidden line than helping us out.

He sent us to the ferry terminal where they were none-the-wiser. However they did suggest that we try elsewhere, being right back where we started by the bus station.

There was an intercom there so I tried to speak to someone but I couldn’t hear a word. Eventually I picked up the phrase “security lodge” and seeing a security lodge in the distance, we headed that way, apparently crossing yet another forbidden line.

This time we had been picked up on CCTV for a rather irate security guard in a pick-up came to tell us off. But when we explained what we were looking for he told us to follow him (not easy when you are dragging suitcases behind you and he’s in a pick-up).

Eventually we caught up with him and, much to my surprise, he knew where we had to go. But knowing is one thing, walking that distance was something else. After a very weary trudge we eventually found our berth.

Finding it is one thing – getting to it was quite another.Negotiating a security gate and moving a barrier, being stopped and searched by security, we were eventually allowed in and we were ushered on board The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour.

Much to my surprise, there were a few people whom I recognised from last year, such as Ashley and Yulya. And of course they asked the obvious question – “how’s Strawberry Moose?.

And they were delighted to hear that he’s once more managed to stow himself aboard. As I have said before … “and on many occasions too” – ed … he’s far more popular with the ladies than I am ever likely to be.

I found my way to my own cabin – right next door to the one that I had last year. And I dumped my stuff and made my way back to the reception to meet my fellow passengers. On this leg of the journey we are a grand total of just SIX. “One deck each” I quipped.

A delicious lunch was served, and afterwards Rosemary and I headed off into town for a walk. We found a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland where, at long last, I could activate my bank cards and change the PINS. And also to swap over my bad money for some good stuff.

We then went for a little wander around the Granite City for half an hour or so, and then headed back to the ship where I bumped into my room cleaner from last year.

Back on board, I had a shower, a clean-up and a change of clothes, doing a little washing along the way. I need to keep on top of my washing otherwise I’ll run out of clothes.

With plenty of time to kill before tea, we all had a chat about nothing much, and then came the safety briefing.
“One short blast on the ship’s siren means put on warm clothing”
“Two short blasts on the ship’s siren means come aloft”
“Three short blasts on the ship’s siren means put on lifebelts”
“Four short blasts on the ship’s siren means abandon ship”
“One long blast on the ship’s siren means that the ship’s siren is stuck”

Tea was even more delicious than lunch, and that was saying something. And then we sat around for ages watching all kinds of shipping leave the harbour – except us of course. This 22:00 departure time is turning out to be some kind of Spanish 22:00.

It was just after 23:00 when the tug pulled us away from the quayside, and then we pulled it forward out of the harbour. And as it attempted to disengage, something caught up somewhere and the rope snapped with an incredible force. Had we been a couple of decks lower, we would have been decapitated.

We watched Aberdeen disappear into the dusk and rain, and then called it a night. 128% of my daily effort, 9.4 kms walked. I’m ready for bed.

Sunday 30th June 2019 – SO HERE WE ALL ARE …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but sitting in the bedroom of a relatively comfortable hotel in, would you believe, Aberdeen.

And how unhappy am I?

Having made a special enquiry, and had it specially confirmed, that there was a hotel shuttle bus, necessary in view of the amount of luggage that I have and the state of my knee, I telephoned the hotel when I arrived at the airport only to be told “we don’t have a driver on tonight”.

So I had to hobble, dragging my load behind me, for about a mile up the steep hill to the hotel.

On arrival, in quite some distress with my breathing problems and the like, I was given a room on the second floor (despite having asked for a low floor) – and there’s no lift. So I had to drag my load up two flights of stairs.

As you can see, despite the fact that this nice modern hotel could be such good value for money (very rare in the UK)if it were to have staff and management wh actually cared about the customers, here’s one very unhappy bunny.

And the UK? I have said (on many occasions) that I would never ever set foot in this accursed country again, but needs must when the devil drives.

With it being Sunday morning I was hoping to have my usual Sunday lie-in but after last night’s quite dramatic crashing-out, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all by sitting bolt-upright at 06:44. Not what I intended at all.

Plenty of time to go off on a nocturnal ramble.

I was doing a coach tour again last night, down in the South of France and I was picking up passengers all over the place. I couldn’t find the paperwork for the moment telling me who and where I was picking folk up. So I was doing as fast as I can, and ending up at the final stop I was one person short. So I wondered where on earth I’d got this one person short. While I was waiting I was chatting to people and some woman came up to me to ask me what I thought of the passengers – what I thought of this woman, what I thought of that man. Despite my being very non-committal which I always tried my best to be I was shaking my head and pulling a face at some of them. I certainly hadn’t intended to do that. Eventually I found the piece of paper and found that I had left three people behind at Dijon and that was over an hour back. I thought “how am I going to explain this?” because I’d have to ring up the company to say that I didn’t get them and if I had the paperwork I could have done that. But Dijon is this thing and I might have to go all the way back and upset all of the passengers before I’d even started. One woman pulled the voyage list that I had to read it and of course i had to pull it back before she could as passengers aren’t supposed to read the voyage list with everyone’s name and address on it.
Later on I’d been in Crewe last night with Margaret Armstrong’s old Ford Cortina and parked it up in Bedford Street. I’d walked through the alleyway round all the backs of the houses round the back of Chambers Street and Catherine Street and all of those places, walking for a while around there. There were all kinds of exciting things round there, round Gresty Road where My sister used to live it had all been transformed with some kind of building built onto the backs of the houses over the back yards, and a derelict house that I had once looked at, that was all derelict too and the roof and attic too of this “new build” extension. And some weird semi-detached houses, quite modern design all covered in ivy, and some older semi-detached houses derelict and bricked up. Unkempt gardens and all kinds of things like that. There was a girl there, walking in my direction back to the car, on the phone so I passed her once, she passed me and I passed her again. As I got to the car she came over to me “you’ve got the zodiacs, haven’t you?” I said that they are actually on board the ship and that’s off the coast of Scotland at the moment”. “Well I want to make the white cloth to throw over them” So I said that I would get the measurements the next time that I’m up there, which will be in a couple of weeks’ time..

Firstly though, I had to find my medication. But I’ve packed it so well that it remains well and truly packed and I probably shan’t find it until I return home, whenever that might be, because now that I have my French Carte de Sejour I’m not in any hurry to go home.

After breakfast I attacked yesterday’s blog and then went out to the station. Now 09:30 so Subway should be open to buy something for lunch, and to buy my rail ticket. But much to my surprise, Subway was closed. And none of my raisin buns in Carrefour either so instead I had to go back down into the bowels of the station to the Delhaize and that came up trumps with a vegan falafel salad, demi-baguette and a fruit mixture thing. The guy at the till even found me a plastic cutlery set to eat it with.

So on the way back out, Subway was just opening up. That’ll teach them!

Back at the hotel I collected up everything, organised myself, grabbed my stuff and went off to pay for my two breakfasts. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I’ve paid the booking agency in advance for a couple of breakfasts in a couple of places, only for the hotel to have “no trace” of the breakfast payment. So now I pay on-site if I’m breakfasting.

Down to Brussels-Midi station in time to leap aboard a Nederlandse Spoorwegen train to Amsterdam via the airport. It threw me out here. And here I am, in the departure lounge of Brussels Zaventam Airport, waiting for an aeroplane. And I hope that the Big Old Jet Airliner will carry me far away.

I eventually found the flight desk, which was not yet open and so I had a lengthy wait, spent talking to a couple from Australia and a young guy who looked like a Pacific islander from Baltimore.

Check-in was quite straightforward and Security even more straightforward. If only it would be as simple as this in other airports. Now I’m sitting quietly waiting to find out which terminal my flight will dock at, and I’m clearly in Travelling Mode because I’m listening to Colosseum Liveand I’ll probably follow it up by listening to On The Road by Traffic. My two favourite travelling albums.

We we were eventually called to our aeroplane. It was now moored at gate A60 at the far end of the terminal from where I was so I had something of a hike, which will probably do me good anyway.

I didn’t have long to wait and much to my surprise we were very quick in boarding the ‘plane. There were only a handful of empty seats but it was only a small ‘plane. I asked the stewardess if it was a Fokker and she replied “no, it’s quite well-behaved”. But I made a note of its registration – PH-EXT. That tells me that It’s an Embraer 190.

The name of the stewardess was Suske so I asked her what she had done with Schanulleke. But as Kenneth Williams and Alfred Hitchcock once said, and as I have repeated on many occasions, “it’s a waste of time telling jokes to foreigners”.

Once the ‘plane took off I switched on the laptop, put it onto flight mode, and started to listen to “Lost Angeles” once more. But it was quite pointless because no sooner had it all fired up than I had to switch off because we had gone into the arrivals path. In fact, I think that we spent more time manoeuvring on the ground than we spent in the air.

It’s not all that far to Schiphol from Zaventem and I could have gone by TGV from Bruxelles-Midi but believe it or not, it would have worked out more expensive. And that’s something that I don’t understand.

And I’m pretty annoyed because I have to wait 5 hours or so for a connection. There was a flight that went my way that took off 5 minutes before we landed but, would you believe, it was delayed and I could in theory have gone on that had I realised and run for it.

So now I have to wait. I sat and ate my delicious falafel salad and bread.

To reach my flight I had to pass through passport control and for some reason I was grabbed for a security check. I always have bad experiences at Schiphol, as I remember from last time.

I was given the “works” and was preparing myself for the cavity search when they suddenly found what had drawn their attention to me. “No, those aren’t bullets in a magazine. They are AAA batteries in a battery holder”.

It was weird at the terminal. People were actually locked into their departure lounge and if you weren’t on that particular flight you were locked outside. I had to wait for ages until the departure lounge cleared and they tidied it up before I was allowed in.

In the meantime they had changed departure lounges without saying anything and I almost found myself going to Glasgow. I had to hurry along down the corridor.

The place to Aberdeen was packed, and it was a big plane too. PH-BGK, a Boeing 737 called Noordse Stormvogel . They asked for volunteers to send their hand luggage into the hold and I volunteered. Less to have to carry around.

And it seemed that everyone knew each other. Probably Shell oil workers flying back to the platforms after a weekend off.

We had to wait for 20 minutes too. There was a connection that arrived late and some of our passengers were on it. And then when they arrived, we had to wait again for a free slot. However, we arrived in Aberdeen only a few minutes late.

Immigration was relatively painless and our bags were already out when we arrived in the hall.

And then I had my issues with the hotel.

Once installed in my room I had a nice, welcome shower and washed my rather sweaty undies, and now I’m off to bed. I’ve had enough of today. And this might be the last you’ll hear from me for a while, so don’t be disappointed. Check back regularly until normal service will be resumed.

Saturday 8th June 2013 – IT’S NOT EVERY DAY …

steam locomotive romney hythe dymchurch railway dungeness kent uk;.. that you are woken up by a steam locomotive these days.

But it does happen every now and again if you play your cards right. and so here I am down on the beach at Dungeness and, true to form, rattling past Caliburn in his nice little spec underneath the old lighthouse went one of the locomotives of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.

“Romney Marsh” I hear you say. That’s right. He played on the wing for Queens Park Rangers and later for Manchester City.

But anyway that was where I spent the night of Friday and Saturday although it was really Saturday morning when I arrived.

And I also told you a little fib about being awoken by a steam locomotive, because about 10 minutes earlier I had been burnt out of the van by the heat and that’s the first time that that has happened this year.

So Dymchurch and Romney Marsh – I was here for a variety of reasons.

dymchurch abandoned railway station kent uk

  1. it’s by the sea
  2. it’s the furthest south-east point of the UK, closest point to the Real World
  3. it’s something like “home from home” because keen readers of this rubbish will know that I’ve stayed here before
  4. I wanted to look for the remains of the old standard-gauge railway that ran down to here (and indeed I found plenty, including the remains of the platform and the base of the station buildings)
  5. Most importantly, though, it was only a short drive from where these famous roofing tiles were awaiting collection.

  6. On the way to the tiles I made a detour to the old Lydd-Ferryfield airport, the home of the service that used to fly you and your car across the Channel in a fleet of weird converted Bombay bombers to Le Touquet and now the home of a flying school and a few private planes.

    supermarine spitfire lydd ferryfield airport kent ukand once again, if your luck is in it’s really in becuse what should arrive at the same time that I did but a Mark XIX Spitfire, ex photo-reconnaissance, making an emergency landing with an overheating engine, according to one of the mechanics who had been called out.

    Having blagged my way out onto the tarmac for a closer look, even I was able to diagnose the fault – clogged radiators.

    Maybe a bird strike or maybe simple lack of basic maintenance, but there you are. No-one these days seems to be able to understand the principles of basic maintenance unless they have a computer handy.

    The pilot was quite garrulous though, and we spent most of the time chatting about the Lancaster bomber that I’m trying to save from disaster, with me trying to enlist his support.

    Afer picking up the tiles I went to do the rounds of the supermarkets and tool shops, being entertained by a Red Arrows just off the coast of Folkestone on the way. Pretty disappointing, because no-one crashed or landed in the sea, and we didn’t have a mid-air collision either. Not much point in having the Red Arrows if you ask me if they can’t entertain the crowds properly.

    In one of the supermarkets though, passing through the checkouts, I was asked if I had a bag. I replied that I did, but that she was outside in the car. And seeing as how it was Saturday night, while waiting on the ferry terminal I guzzled down the take-away curry that I had bought from an Indian in Folkestone.

    “Pushing the boat out” in many senses of the word.

Friday 16th December 2011 – JULIE’S MUM …

loaded caliburn ford transit… said to me that I could fit a few extra things in Caliburn, because her son in law (Rob) had told her that it would be quite empty coming back.

Well, absolutely. As you can see.

Shall we run through all of the stuff that isn’t there? Like no scaffolding for a start? No rolls of insulation?

As Clare said when she saw the photograph “it’s a good job that I forgot to ask you about the three-piece suite”. Plenty of room for that.

I left my hotel fairly early and did another trip around the supermarkets and tool supply places like Screwfix and Toolstation, all for stuff that I had forgotten.

Another trip down to my storage box and collect the last of the stuff that I had ordered. And my luck was in again – I managed to source another Ford Transit wheel for Caliburn’s winter tyres.

Northampton was next, and Michael very kindly sorted out a 98-litre immersion heater for me from his plumbing supplies place. This is for the solar hot water at home.

Rosemary had asked me to call at a place in London for 7 rolls of this space-blanket roof insulation, and then back out to Luton for Rob and Julie’s stuff.

No wonder I was exhausted.

I made it down to Pompey – Portsmouth – with time to spare – which surprised me totally. Enough time in fact to go to the chippy for another huge dollop of beans and chips all smothered in malt vinegar, just like the evening that I arrived, which seemed like a year ago.

Now I’m sitting in the queue for the ferry, which leaves at 23:59. I hope that there’s a nice corner for me to curl up into. I’m exhausted!

Thursday 15th December 2011 – A WISE DECISION …

… staying here.

Not the least of reasons being that I’m warm and comfortable and at a reasonable price too.

It means that I can load up Caliburn a lot earlier than I would otherwise have done. And so I’m not rushing around panicking at the last moment like I always seem to do.

Having picked up the scaffolding yesterday I can run off to Manchester today, do a trip around Trafford Park for Screwfix and Toolstation for more stuff. Including a 35-litre plastic water tank.

As you might remember, the metal drum for my home-made immersion heater melted through while I was in Canada in the autumn. I’ve decided to build the next one with a plastic container. This is a cold-water container, it’s true, but I’m hoping that it will withstand a regular 60-70°C heat without too many problems.

I’d love to find a copper container somewhere, but I’m not sure how I’m going to do that. Eventually though, I’ll be lucky enough to find a good 50-litre copper immersion heater, and I can then make a new mounting plate for the element.

Later on, I went round to rescue Percy Penguin from work, and enticed her back to my lair to see where I was staying. She doesn’t live too far away from here. I had thought about taking her out for a meal, but when I asked her if she fancied some coq au vin, she got into the back of Caliburn.

But tomorrow I’m back on the road. I’ve a long way to travel and a lot of things to do.

Wednesday 14th December 2011 – HAVING SLEPT …

… in the warmth and comfort of a hotel room, I was up and about quite early and fit for almost anything – if this stinking head cold will let me.

So having gathered my wits which, let’s face it, doesn’t take as long as it might these days, I was off to Liverpool.

As you know, I’m spending a lot of time working on my house and even though I own half a scaffolding, I can never seem to be able to use it as it’s always out doing other stuff.

That’s a situation that is really getting me down so I made a decision a while back that I would buy two bays of scaffolding and keep them just for myself at my house, for use when I want to and at no other time.

And, of course, now that I’m no longer sleeping in Caliburn this trip, I can load him up.

But I had a stroke of luck on the way. Passing a Ford breaker’s down some dingy back street in Speke I noticed a Ford Transit being dismantled. Stopping for a look, it still had one wheel and tyre on it, and the tyre wasn’t too bad.

Not a major manufacturer, it has to be said, but not a remould either. But it wasn’t the tyre that I was really interested in anyway.

Regular readers of this rubbish will know that, being fed up of having to swap tyres over every Spring and Autumn, I’m trying to collect a spare set of wheels so that I can have winter tyres fitted permanently.

This wheel and tyre will do nicely for a spare, and the original spare wheel can come and be rotated onto the road. And so after much negotiation, folding stuff changed hands and there we were.

Even more skilled negotiations down at the Scaffolding place. We had a lengthy chat and I bought what I needed. But because I had my SIREN (French trade registration certificate) with me, I could buy it VAT-free for export. So that saved me a bundle.

Yes, having been lucky with my B&Q trade card when I was here earlier in the year, I brought my SIREN with me so that I could capitalise on whatever other opportunities come my way.

Surfing around on the internet a little later, I noticed that Macclesfield were playing Chelmsford City in an FA Cup replay. That’s not too far away and if I can put my skates on, I can make it. Years since I’ve been to Moss Rose.

So, just like Janet in Tam Lin, off I went, as fast as go can me.

I missed the first five minutes which was no real problem (finding a parking place was, however) but found a comfy seat in the stand behind the southern goal, chatting to a local kid.

But what a dreadful match it was. Macclesfield Town could have played with Stevie Wonder in goal and it would have made no difference because the Chelmsford City attack was woeful.

Chelmsford City had two players – Akurang and Modeste – who looked okay (so it goes without saying that they were both substituted) and Macclesfield had a full-back called Carl Tremarco who was easily the best player on the pitch (and he scored the goal).

As an aside, for anyone who might be interested in football trivialities, Macclesfield’s goalkeeper José Veiga is an International for the Cape Verde national side.

On the way back I found a chippy so had a huge helping of chips and beans to keep me going until breakfast.

And I’m glad that I’m not sleeping out in the van tonight. It’s absolute taters and I’m not well.

Tuesday 13th December 2011 – WELL, THAT’S THAT THEN!

Last night I parked up at the side of the road for a good sleep. But unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that.

Firstly, we had a heavy, torrential downpour of freezing rain that lashed the van for quite a considerable period during all night.

Added to that, we had a temperature that plummeted through the floor and it was as cold as Hades.

I’ve slept in the cold before and it doesn’t bother me, but I think that I’ve picked up a bug or something because I spent most of the night shivering.

So with a streaming head-cold, feeling absolutely whacked and not in a good mood, I hit the shops today.

Benchdollar as usual for another load of pipe clamps. Switchblade steel supplies for a load of aluminium profiles – all kinds of stuff like that. A couple of supermarkets too like Tesco’s and Morrisons, and a rummage around in my storage box to see what the Postman had brought me.

But later on, with the freezing temperatures and my streaming cold all combining to make me thoroughly miserable, I was idly surfing through the net when it came to my attention that the “Travelodge” at Poplar Motors had rooms available, and at a bargain price too.

Feeling rather under the weather like this – and there’s a lot of weather to be under right now – I’ll do myself a mischief if I keep on sleeping in Caliburn.

Poplar Motors is ideally situated for where I want to be and what I want to do, and so now I’m shacked up in a warm, comfy room with central heating and I’m not moving for the rest of the night no matter what happens.

Monday 12th December 2011 – I’M CURRENTLY …

… at Tibshelf Services, on the M1 not too far from Mansfield. And I’ll be moving off in a bit to find somewhere to sleep for the night.

caliburn overnight parking A43 towcester ukLas night though I was parked up in my quiet little hidey-hole on the A43 near Towcester.

It was flaming cold too, seeing as how Brain of Britain here had forgotten to plug in his heated seat pad into the bed and I didn’t enjoy it one little bit.

But a nip down to the Motorway Services at Rothersthorpe for a good hot wash and scrub soon brought me back to life again and I was on my travels again.

But Towcester plays a big part in urban folklore from when we were young adults, and it concerns my friend Alvin.

Where we are on the A43 in the road that goes east-west. Back in the early 70s the A5 went through the town north-south and drops down from quite a steep height into the town, and then climbs back out to the south.

Alvin was on his way to London to see his girlfriend Anne on his old Triumph 500 and as he breasted the rise, he put the bike into neutral and coasted all the way down the hill into town.

He climbed a good way back up the hill under his own momentum and then put the bike into gear, opened the throttle to hear the comforting roar of the engine, and then dropped the clutch.

And nothing.

He tried another gear – and still nothing.

He eventually discovered that the chain had come off the bike. And after a good search, he eventually found it. Right back at the top of the hill way the other side of town. So much for his early start.

As for me and my … errr … somewhat less-than-early start, I started off at Radio Spares in Corby. Another pile of stuff that I needed from there today.

Up the road to Ilkeston and Vehicle Wiring Products. Stuff that I forgot last time, and stuff that I worked out that I have needed since. This is a handy port of call for anyone with all of its motor vehicle electrical accessory fittings.

Finally of course, I spent a couple of hours in the IKEA near Ilkeston. Another trolley load of panels, a big bag of furniture screws and fastenings, a few plastic boxes and some general bits and pieces for this and that.

Tibshelf is another Roadchef Services, like Sandbach, and so its internet connection is quite reliable. It gave me an opportunity to check up on some stuff here and there.

So now I’m off in the general direction of Stoke on Trent and to find a place to kip down for the night.

Sunday 11th December 2011 – HAVING MADE …

… good time last night and covered a lot of ground, and being to cold to sleep for too long, I was up and about today in plenty of time.

st valery en caux franceOf course, it goes without saying that I’m open to all kinds of sightseeing opportunities when I’m on my travels, so when I saw a sign for “St Valéry-en-Caux”, I was off.

St Valéry-en-Caux has something of a reputation dating from World War II and the Fall of France.

The town was the site of the “last stand” of the British Army on Mainland Europe in June 1940

st valery en caux franceThe British Army’s 51st Highland Division had been detached from the rest of the British Expeditionary Force in order to go to assist the French at the Maginot Line.

They had thus escaped being encircled and trapped in Dunkirk, and they retreated to the west.

The plan was to evacuate them from St Valéry-en-Caux – not the ideal place but the only place possible that had not been overwhelmed or threatened by the Germans’ rapid advance.

The navy duly arrived on 10th June, but the troops had not yet arrived. And having suffered an aerial attack, they pulled back offshore.

The soldiers arrived shortly afterwards and hastily threw together a defensive perimeter around the town to protect the evacuation, but the Germans were too quick.

The arrived hot on the heels of the Highlanders and overwhelmed the perimeter quite quickly.

By the time the ships returned next day, it was already too late. The fighting was all over and practically the entire 51st Highlander Division had been led off into captivity.

memorial 51st highland division st valery en caux franceIn 1950 a memorial stone to the 51st Highland Division was erected on the cliffs on an eminence that dominated the town.

That’s it up there on the skyline in the centre of the photograph.

The erection was, apparently, something of a ceremony, with the pipers of the Black Watch playing “The Last Post”.

st valery en caux franceI actually saw a photograph of the town on that occasion, and it didn’t half look a mess – even 5 years after the end of the War.

The town was fortified quite heavily by the Germans as part of “The Atlantic Wall” so it’s no surprise that heavy fighting took place around here later in the War.

The amount of destruction in the town, and the fact that the fortifications escaped so lightly, is some kind of testament to German thoroughness.

st valery en caux franceThat is of course one reason for visiting the town. There are plenty of others too.

It’s quite a historic place, being first mentioned in a Charter of 990, although legend has it that the town actually dates from the 7th Century when a religious institution was founded here as part of the plans to evangelise the coast.

Nothing has been seen to confirm this, and no trace of a likely building has ever been discovered.

Chapelle Notre Dame du Bon Port st valery en caux franceFirst port … if you pardon the expression … of call in St Valery-en-Caux has to be the Chapelle Notre Dame du Bon Port – the Chapel of Our Lady of Bon Port – the “Good Port”.

This magnificent wooden structure, designed by Raymond Jules Lopez, and situated in the … errr … Place de la Chapelle.

It dates from 1963 and replaces a much older chapel that was destroyed during the war.

Chapelle Notre Dame du Bon Port st valery en caux franceAnd in an irony that seems to have gone right over everyone’s head, the stones from the original chapel – about which nothing much seems to be said – were used for a very secular purpose – to build the casino in Veulettes sur Mer.

Its stained-glass windows, designed by André-Louis Pierre, are said to be magnificent and are best viewed from inside, something which I was very keen to do.

And so in a situation that somehow only I seem to be able to manage to conjure up, the church is closed today and the doors are locked.

Maison Henri IV st valery en caux franceThe most magnificent building in the town is what it known as the “Maison Henri IV”.

Built in 1540 by the wealthy Guillaume Ladiré, it earns its name from a story that suggests that the French King Henri IV spent a night here in 1593.

It’s said by many to be the finest “Normandy-style” half-timbered house in the region and who am I to disagree?

Yet another claim to fame possessed by the town, and about which people are quite reticent, is the fact that a major rail crash took place here on 17th January 1945.

The fact that it happened in wartime and involved armed forces means that it never received the publicity that it might otherwise have done had a news blackout not been in force.

A train loaded with American soldiers was coming into town when a brake failure cause it to overrun the buffers at the station. 89 American soldiers were killed and 152 injured.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s a transatlantic telephone cable – the TAT 14 – between North America and Europe that runs out to sea here. According to the American Secret Service, this is a vital communications link and so the area is considered by the US military to be a “strategic point”.

We all know what that means. Iraq and Afghanistan were considered by the US military to be “strategic points” too.

Blimey! Is that the time?

My ferry leaves in 90 minutes and I have about 50 kms to travel. And to check in, and to board. And I’ve never been to le Havre so I don’t know where the port is!

I shall have to put my skates on!

nissan pao grey import le havre franceMade it to the port and on the ship with half an hour to spare (good old Caliburn) and I’m glad that I did because just look at my travelling companion!

It’s one of these Nissan Pike-style retro cars made in Japan in the late 80s and early 90s. This one is the Pao – the estate-car version.

Rare as they come, I’ve never seen one before and I probably won’t ever see one again because these had a very limited production run – and that was for Asia only.

nissan pao grey import le havre franceThey don’t have a class type approval and so were never officially imported into the UK.

Only individual cars can be brought in – the so-called “grey imports” – and they need modifications before they can be used on British roads.

You’ll notice the add-on rear foglights underneath the rear bumper, for example. That’s a real give-away if you want to see if a car is an official mainstream import or a grey import like this.

le havre franceAs for me, having parked up Caliburn and photographed the Pao I went hot-foot, or chaud pied as they say around here, up to the deck to see what I could see.

Having spent my early afternoon in St Valery-en-Caux rather than Le Havre, I hadn’t seen too much of the city, so I needed to see what I could see from on top.

First thing to see of course is the River Seine – the town is situated right at the mouth of the river.

le havre franceIt’s not really a historic place as such, like many French towns and cities. It’s effectively a “planned town” built on the orders of King Francois 1st in 1517.

With the expansion of France’s maritime power in the 15th and 17th Century, the town was intended to take advantage of its ideal situation here.

As more and more ships were sailing, and the ships themselves grew in size, the port of Rouen was overwhelmed. Goods could be unloaded here and trans-shipped by barge up the Seine to Paris

le havre franceMind you, that’s not to say that there was never a setttlement here. Evidence has been uncovered suggesting settlement from the dawn of European humanity.

More-or-less continual occupation from Neolithic times is suggested.

There was an Abbey here in the immediate vicinity at the time of WIlliam the Conqueror and there were certainly a couple of small fishing villages here when Francois I became interested in the site.

le havre franceBut like most things, it was the era of the Industrial Revolution that saw the spectacular growth of the port.

Continual development has been taking place over the last 180 years, and it’s now one of the major ports of the country.

There’s a considerable amount of heavy industry as you might expect. Oil refineries, cement works and all of that, all based on the raw materials that are brought in.

le havre franceMammoth cruise ships call here today as you can see.

But that’s just a sad reminder of the days when the great French transatlantic liners of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique sailed from here.

And the huge ship-building works – the Ateliers et Chantiers du Havre – closed down in 1999. That was a major blow for the town.

le havre franceThe city was totally destroyed by the Allied air forces during the war – and the rebuilding has not been kind, as you can see.

The worst of the air raids took place on 5 an 6 September 1944 by the RAF Bomber Command.

They dropped a total of 10,000 tonnes of bombs on the city, destroyed 12,500 buildings and killed over 3,000 civilians. 350 boats and ships were sunk.

And all to no purpose either because the port had already been badly damaged and the German defenders were camped well outside the town.

The reason of this destruction has always for the French been a total mystery. Many conspiracy theories, such as the wish to damage French post-war maritime commerce, have abounded ever since.

In the lounge of the ship for five and a half hours of one of the most comfortable crossings of the English Channel, I was in Pompey – or Portsmouth to the uninitiated.

Out of the docks and round the back streets is one of the best chippies in the whole of the UK and I felt so much better once I’d wolfed down a helping of beans and chips liberally doused in malt vinegar.

The M27 and the M3 to Winchester took me to the A34 to Oxford, and then the A43 as far as the edge of Towcester where there’s a quiet lay-by for the night.

And guess who forgot to plug his heated seat in so that he could warm up his bed?

Wednesday 15th June 2011 – I HAD A POLICE …

… errr … interaction this evening.

There I was, clambering into the back of Caliburn this evening to find something, and a police car pulled up alongside me.

One of Cambridge’s finest rolled down the window – “is this your vehicle?”
“As a matter of fact it is” I replied.
So he rolled up his window and drove away.

How did he know that I was telling the truth? And what would he have done if I had said that it wasn’t?

But never mind the police interaction – I’ve also had some bad news.

The guy with the digger in Baacup phoned. The money hasn’t appeared in his bank account yet. Obviously I can’t go to pick up the digger so I shall have to hang round here for a while longer.

Not that it worries me – I’m deeply engrossed in The War in the Air and I wouldn’t care if I had to stay here for another 5 years until I finish reading it – as long as it keeps warm.

No use going to the Services on the M10 this evening if they are closed. I went to the big Tesco’s just outside the town and here I got into trouble.

I’ve … errr … misplaced my portable hard drive (that’s possibly where all of the missing photos went to) and the hard drive on the laptop is pretty full. And there’s nothing that I can delete off it quite yet.

Tesco’s has a good electrical and electronic section but it’s upstairs – and that’s all chained off. But no-one was watching so I hopped over the chains.

Nevertheless, I was accosted by the manager on the way down and he had quite a moan at me. But by then it was too late and a new portable hard drive was in my sweaty little mitt. So now I’m fixed up.

And I hope that this blasted money is there tomorrow morning. My trip back is tomorrow night (well, Friday early morning) and I want to be on it. I don’t really want to loiter around here any longer than I have to.

I’ll be stuck here for the weekend if I don’t pick my trailer up.

Tuesday 14th June 2011 – I LEFT YOU …

… last night as I was pulling up outside the Library at Cambridge University.

Today, I was battling, and battling unsuccessfully as you might expect, with one of the most classic examples of incestuous Academia that you would ever have the misfortune to meet.

There’s a really big car park at the University Library, as I knew. What I didn’t know is that it’s locked during closing hours. Parking in the street outside is controlled during working hours, but it’s a nice wide verge with plenty of free spaces and in a quiet area.

The plan would be therefore that I would park up for the night outside in the street, wake up really early, and be queueing in Caliburn at the gate to the car park when they came to unlock it.

strawberry moose cambridge university library UKHere’s Strawberry Moose queueing up to enter the library.

He was quite keen to teach a couple of courses at the University until I explained to him that the word is Lecturers, not Lechers.

Rather like the time that he tried to charter a plane to come home from Canada – but changed his mind when they told him that it was spelt L-E-A-Rjet.

So in I walked to the University library.

And I had a reason to be here too. Someone in Pionsat had heard of a story that an Eton teacher by the name of William Johnson Cory had visited the Auvergne and made a reference to the Chateau de Pionsat in one of his letters.

Before setting out, I had done some research into the aforementioned and discovered that on his death in 1892 he had bequeathed his letters to the Cambridge University library.

So here I had come to read them.

But I was failing to take into account the incestuous nature of Academia at the UK’s top-drawer University.

Yes, his papers are here. But no, I can’t see them.
“Why not?”
“Are you from the University?”
“No I’m not”
“Well, you need to have a letter from someone connected with the University validating your research project”
“But I’ve just come from France – I don’t know anyone here.”
“Well we can’t let you consult our papers until a researcher connected with our own University has had the opportunity to examine them”
“You mean that no-one from the University has examined them yet?”
“That’s right”
“And they’ve been here since 1892?”
“Yes”.

No wonder that mainstream Academia has such a poor reputation when the Universities are prepared to sit upon piles of unrecorded papers until the cows come home rather than let researchers from outside their own sphere of control have a peek.

Who knows WHAT treasures these Universities might be sitting on? When you read in some of these journals things like “a rare 7th-Century poem by Caedmon has just been discovered in an Oxbridge Library” you can understand why, now.

But I had nothing better to do and nowhere else to go, so I raided the University library just the same, seeing as I was in.

And here I hit the jackpot.

On the shelves was an original version of all of the volumes of Sir Walter Raleigh (not him, the other one)’s The War in the Air – totally original and un-defaced, even with all of the maps and plates. And I’ve never seen that before.

This was the book commissioned by the British Government as the Official History of the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF) from its inception until the end of World War i.

I’ve been trying to find a copy of all of the volumes but the only ones that I have ever seen have had their maps and photograph plates removed, and the books are of much less interest without those.

But here I was in my element.

Later that evening I went for a drive to the outskirts of town where I cooked a meal (not practical to do that in the street right outside the Library) in a layby.

Having eaten, I then went on to a Motorway Service Area on the M10 – quite a drive and after all of that, the internet was down.

So I came back to my my spec outside the Library and had an early night.

Monday 13th June 2011 – CALIBURN …

CALIBURN river ise FORD TRANSIT SWIM geddington NORTHAMPTON uk… went for a swim today.

We were out and about this afternoon in Northamptonshire meandering pretty aimlessly here and there in the general direction of Cambridge and we saw a sign for “Ford”.

With a sign like that of course we had to go for a look and Caliburn really fancied a swim. And he quite enjoyed it too

caliburn overnight parking a6 ambergate derbyshire ukLast night I found a good spec on the A6 near Ambergate in Derbyshire. This was where I bedded down and I had the Sleep of the Dead.

Not for long though. The arrival of the Roach Coach at 07:30 and the noise that it made as it installed tself soon woke me up.

Once I’d summoned up the courage to heave myself out of my stinking pit and grab a coffee from the aforementioned, I moved on to Ilkeston.

Here at Vehicle Wiring Products I bought a pile of 6mm “red” and “black” cable and a pile of other bits and pieces for back home. 6mm because it has to handle high current at 12 volt so I need to avoid voltage drop as much as I can.

And red and black cable?

I’m heavily into colour coding, especially in electrical wiring. It saves all kinds of unpleasantness. I’m trying to keep to blue and brown for 230-volt so I buy as much of that as I can. But for 12 volt, it’s red and black. No mistake with the colours.

The polarity of red and black speaks for itself, but with brown and blue, the bRown goes to the right to where the fuse is in a British plug, so it’s positive. The bLue goes to the left where there’s no fuse, so it’s negative.

And that’s why I use British plugs and sockets, not European ones. British plugs are fused and so that avoids all kinds of embarrassment if I’ve made a mistake with the wiring.

After that, I moved myself on to the M1 where I stopped at Leicester Forest East for a shower, a shave and to wash my clothes. High time that I did all of the aforementioned seeing as I’d been living in a van for a fortnight. Even I was starting to notice.

And I dunno what was going on at Donington Park last weekend but the services were crawling with Goths and the like. Had there been a rock concert down the road?

Next stop was Corby and Radio Spares where I bought a few more bits and pieces. It was a good job that I had forgotten to buy the 7-core trailer wire at Vehicle Wiring Products because it was on special offer at Radio Spares.

25 metres for £25 which is a bargain, and it was a desperate shame that there was only one roll left.

eleanor cross geddington northampton ukOn my way to Northampton I took a detour to visit the town of Geddington (which was where Caliburn went for his swim)

Several claims to fame, has Geddington, including the most magnificent Eleanor’s Cross.

The Eleanor concerned was Eleanor of Castille, wife of King Edward I “LOngshanks”. She died in Lincoln on 28 November 1290, and her body was embalmed and brought to London for burial in Westminster Abbey.

eleanor cross geddington northampton ukThe funeral cortège was an elaborate affair and took 12 days to reach Westminster Abbey.

At each place where the coffin rested, an elaborate cross was subsequently erected.

The Eleanor Cross at Geddington is considered by many to be the best of the three that remain, but even so, it is believed that there was an upper part which is now missing.

St Mary Magdalene, Geddington, NorthamptonshireBut I haven’t finished yet. There’s the church to see.

And the St Mary Magdalene Church is extremely special because it has every grounds to consider itself as one of the oldest churches in the UK (although there are a couple known to be older).

I’m not talking early crusader, or Norman Conquest either, but quite possibly 250 years older than that.

St Mary Magdalene, Geddington, NorthamptonshireChurches in the immediate post-Roman days were generally built of wood – that was because they art of building in stone had left with the Romans.

And that’s why there aren’t any still in existence today. I certainly can’t think of one, except maybe the church in Greensted, Essex, where bits of a 7th-Century wooden church were discovered in a later wooden church..

It was only gradually that the technique of stone-building was reintroduced to the UK and dates from the late Saxon period.

saxon stonework St Mary Magdalene, Geddington, NorthamptonshireAnd sure enough, if you look at the end wall here, you’ll see the primitive stonework over the arch, and the building lines where more-modern stonework starts when the church was enlarged.

Taylor and Taylor, in their Anglo-Saxon Architecture date the primitive stonework to the period 800-950.

While others might disagree with the dating, one thing upon which all of the experts agree is that it is certainly Saxon stonework, and that’s what it looks like to me too.

At Northampton I had to go shopping for Terry, so Ipicked up Terry’s orders from Screwfix, Toolstation and a couple of other places and then took the opportunity of doing some food shopping at the Morrison’s there.

By now it was early evening and so I headed off to Cambridge where I tracked down the University library.

That’s my port of call for tomorrow

And I almost forgot to tell you about the bridge too, didn’t I?

Geddington is situated on the River Ise (the river that rises in the field where the Battle of Naseby was fought in 1645) and is a very good fording place (as you have already seen, thanks to Caliburn).

This is where the cortège of Eleanor of Castille presumably crossed.

But with the improved stone-building techniques of post-Conquest England, stone bridges were constructed and fords fell out of fashion.

1250 park horse bridge river ise geddington northampton ukThe one here was built some time round about 1250 and is what’s known as a “pack-horse bridge” – with refuges for pedestrians as you can see.

It was rebuilt in 1784 – at least, that’s a date that’s carved onto some of the more-modern stonework – and was listed as a Grade II listed building on 25 February 1957.

It’s in excellent condition and it’s quite safe for Caliburn to drive over. But he thought that it would be much more fun to swim the river

Sunday 12th June 2011 – WE’VE DONE IT NOW!

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that Terry and I have been hunting for the last couple of years for a decent mini-digger. We’ve made all kinds of enquiries but the end result always was that we could never find anything that we wanted.

In the end we decided that we would have to pay more than we wanted and buy something newer, but that never worked either.

That is, until today.

I went to Bacup to see a digger, a 2007 Takeuchi and while it was dearer than we were ever expecting to pay, in the end we’ve bitten the bullet and gone for it, faute de mieux – in the absence of anything better.

The cash will be transferred over on Monday and I’m picking it up on Wednesday night after I collect my new trailer.

Did I tell you about that?

caliburn overnight parking bacup burnley lancashire ukAnd so last night after dropping off Caroline I had a pleasant drive around the back of Manchester, Rawtenstall, Rossendale and all of that.

I found a nice quiet lay-by in the pitch-dark somewhere up on the moors between Burnley and Bacup and settled down for a nice, quiet sleep.

And a nice quiet sleep it was too. I didn’t feel a thing.

caliburn overnight parking bacup burnley lancashire uk wind farmPretty windswept it was too up on this hilltop, as I was to discover when I finally awoke.

And that’s hardly surprising, given the glorious view. That was Burnley down there in the valley on the previous photo and on this photo, there’s a wind farm for you to admire.

So a nice drive on into Bacup where I met this digger guy, who took me to see it in Accrington where it was digging out someone’s footings.

Once I’d recovered from the shock of committing myself to spending all of this money, I went to Preston – or rather, the Tickled Trout in Salmesbury – to see Sandra.

We had a really good chat about one thing and another and It’s nice to learn that in OUSA – the Open University Students Association – things are carrying on just as I left them.

Chaos, panic, disorder – it’s all still going on.

This evening I’m on the M1 at Tibshelf Services. I’m moving off in a minute to find somewhere to bed down for the night as I need to be in Ilkeston early in the morning.

Saturday 11th June 2011 – HIS NIBS IS AT IT AGAIN!

caroline strawberry moose caliburn sandbach cheshire ukHere you can see him dipping into his Auntie Caroline’s cod and chips.

To pass the evening, I went to see Caroline again.

We ended up going out to the chippy (not half as good as a traditional Belgian fritkot), I have to admit, and that was where His Nibs joined in the (af)fray.

But Caroline’s cat Bigsy is very poorly and she might not pull through. I wanted to make sure that I saw her and gave her a stroke.

So after many vicissitudes, not the least of which was parking up for the night in a zone where there was no mobile phone signal (something that only I can do), I finally made contact with whatsername and, sure enough, my wallet was there.

That was just as well as I would shudder to have to think what I would have had to do had it not been there.

She was making breakfast for the family (it was quite early) I was also invited to eat there and that really put an end to my journey to Ilkeston and Vehicle Wiring Products, as they would have been closed by the time I would have arrived.

Instead I went to DK Motorcycles in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

As well as selling road-going machines the company also imports classic motorcycles from the USA. They arrive in all states of repair and I always like to go along if I can to see what’s arrived.

They had a few mint Hondas, including a couple of rare 1970s 350-fours as well as a pile of other stuff as well that was fit for renovation, including a 95%-complete Honda 160.

As an aside, I passed my motorcycle test on a Honda 160 belonging to my mate Ray Stigter.

Many of the machines that arrive there are only suitable to be broken up for spares and I always go to chat to the guys there because many of you might not know that I own probably one of the rarest of all Japanese motocycles – a CB92 “Benly” from 1961.

It’s basically complete and after we assembled it we even had it running after a fashion, but that was back in 1974 and that is a long time ago.

It desperately needs an overhaul but spares for it are impossible to find now – hence the regular visits to DK Motorcycles.

They might one day have one in that is only fit for dismantling but to date the guys in there freely admit that this is one motorcycle that they have never ever seen and don’t ever reckon that they will do either.

One regular feature of this blog in its previous incarnation was something to do with poorly-sited solar panels.

badly sited solar panels keele staffordshire ukBut we gave that up when we were overwhelmed with them. Some of these solar panel salesmen have no shame of course.

We’ve seen some dreadful ones on our travels in the past but this must be pretty near the bottom of the pile.

It’s all about the salesman’s income and nothing whatever to do with the reputation of the product that he’s selling

Lunch was at Waitrose in Sandbach and then I went to B&Q in Crewe to see if they had the doors that I need for my house. My house is dark and gloomy due to the small windows and if I’m putting partition walls in, this will cut the light down further.

What I need is some dirt-cheap glass-panelled doors and finding them in France is impossible. However B&Q does a nice cheap line in exactly what I want.

The door that I fitted into the attic came from there and you can see what a good job it does as well – hence a requirement for another half-dozen to match.

B&Q came up trumps in more ways than one.

  1. they had enough in stock.
  2. they had some that were only 650mm instead of 750mm and that’s what I need for the bathroom and the office.
  3. with my trade card I had almost £100 off the retail price – £240 for 6 instead of about £335 or so.

When you think about it … “you are always thinking about it” – ed … that’s just 20 weeks of rental on my mailbox paid off in one swell foop.

You can see why it’s important to have a UK address if I am buying stuff over here.

Now Caroline and I are having a coffee on Sandbach Services. In a short while I’ll be dropping her off at home and making my way in the general direction of Bacup.

I have to go to see a digger there tomorrow morning.

Friday 10th June 2011 – I FINALLY MADE …

… it down this afternoon to see this boss of The One That Got Away who had been hankering after seeing me.

And the reason for my visit was quickly unveiled.

It seems that his company has won a contract to supply and fit out a new village hall on the Staffordshire Moorlands, and it all has to be off-grid.

Off-grid is not something in which they have any expertise and so it seems that I’ve been drafted in on this project as well.

I’m not sure what the payment might be, but “panels at cost” is a good inducement for me to become involved in it, if nothing else.

We then spent until some ridiculous time this morning catching up on all the old times that we knew when she worked for me as a kid back in the 1980s, and discussed everything that has happened to us since we last met quite a long time ago.

It was lovely to see her again after all of this time and I was sorry to leave.

Terry rang me up as well during the day. He wants me to go to look at a digger in Accrington or Bacup or somewhere like that tomorrow, and then I need to be in Ilkeston as well to pick up some stuff from Vehicle Wiring Products.

But I’m not going anywhere until I’m reunited with my wallet, which I hope is still at whatsername’s. If it isn’t I am going to be having more than just a few problems.