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Saturday 12th March 2022 – AS BARRY HAY …

… once famously said at a concert that I witnessed at Scheveningen in 1993, “there’s one thing that I gotta tell you, man, and that it’s good to be back home”

And he’s dead right too.

And I’ll tell you something else for nothing as well in that in the past I’ve been happy to stay out for as long as possible and even longer, but this little apartment perched on my rock surrounded on three sides by the sea is the first ever place where I’ve been keen to return.

Anyway, I digress.

When the alarm went off at 05:30 this morning I was already up and about. Having sleep issues can sometimes be an advantage.

It didn’t take long for me to make myself ready to leave either.

martelarenplein gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022Down at the Martelarenplein – the Square of the Martyrs – now that they have almost finished the resurfacing after all these years there’s a really beautiful view of the railway station.

It looks absolutely magnificent lit up like this, with the modern trainshed illuminated behind it. The modern bus station to the left is a disaster and the least that is said about that the better.

The story behind the Martelarenplein is that it relates to the events of August 1914 when the Germans, in a fit of rage, totally destroyed the city and reduced it to rubble.

Hundreds of civilians were caught up in the orgy of destruction and massacred, or later killed in reprisals for what the Germans considered to be acts of terrorism – events that have a parallel with events that are taking place elsewhere in Europe even as I write this.

It totally dismays me that after all of the destruction that has taken place over the last 108 years, some insane madman is doing exactly the same thing and that we as ordinary civilians are powerless to prevent it.

537 am96 electric multiple unit gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022With my early start, never mind the 06:33, the 06:14 was in the station when I arrived and I had time to leap aboard.

The train was the one that goes to De Panne and is made up of an AM96 unit, one of the ones with the tilting cab so that passengers can walk through when another trainset is coupled up.

There was a moment of panic when my telephone told me that I didn’t have a ticket. It seems that I’d been disconnected from the SNCB website. And so I switched my phone back on and for some reason it wouldn’t accept my e-mail address.

Just as well that no-one came to check my ticket.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4538 PBA gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022When I arrived at Brussels-Midi I went into Carrefour to grab some bread for breakfast, and then went to hunt down my train.

It was already in the station and to my surprise we were even allowed to board. It’s one of the old TGV Reseau 38000 Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam trainsets and it was absolutely crowded. There wasn’t a spare seat anywhere.

Once I’d found my seat, I spent the journey transcribing the dictaphone notes for the last few days. And I’d actually done half of them by the time that we arrived at Paris.

Bang on time too, which was nice, and I didn’t have to wait too long for a metro. As a result I was out of the underground and walking down the road in the open air towards the Gare Montparnasse in quite good time.

And aren’t I glad that I found this easy, comfortable way in the fresh air from the metro station to the railway station.

With an hour or so to wait for my train, I treated myself to a coffee and a nice relax while I waited for things to happen.

84566 gec alstom regiolis gare montparnasse paris france Eric Hall photo March 2022No rpizes for guessing which one is my train.

It’s one of the GEC Alstom Regiolis trainsets that we always have. It was just a single 6-car trainset today and it was, like the TGV, packed out. No spare seats at all and I had a companion as far as Argentan.

Despite the abominable state of the track that had me thrown from side to side and made me realise why I never write anything while I’m travelling this route, I did manage to finish my dictaphone notes and I can tell you where I went during the night.

We were on a spacecraft last night. We’d started off with an equal number of each sex but many of the men had been killed when they’d landed on a foreign planet. Now there was just one man in charge and the rest were women and children. The children were gradually ageing and becoming young people. I was on board and we were still landing on strange places an being attacked by the local inhabitants and having to quickly close the door and scramble away. We landed on some kind of mountain and the guy said that he wanted to go to some kind of casino that night. A couple of us went for a walk around and we came to some kind of precipice where we could see straight down many, many, many thousands of miles below us a town that someone pointed out to us and said that it was Pompeii which was where this casino was. There was a huge, enormous palace construction somewhere that we could see and the person with us said that that was the palace of the Borgias. There had been some kind of incident with a loaf of bread as well that had been badly burnt on one end. I had that with me and I cut away the burnt end and I had both pieces in my hand. Then we went back to the spacecraft. When we went round a corner on this rocky path there was a girl, probably about 9, with blonde hair sitting there. She panicked when she saw us and couldn’t move. She had a cat with her. I tried to talk to this girl but of course she didn’t understand anything that I was saying so I started to stroke her cat. After a couple of times her cat started to respond to the stroking. I thought that if I managed to win over the cat I might win over the girl and we could rescue her and take her away in our spacecraft.

Later on we were out around Nantwich last night. We’d come down the Middlewich Road towards the Barony and turned right towards Chester when a strange machine went past. It had four huge wheels and it looked as if they had fish hook fastened to them. We could see what it was doing, that the fishhooks were digging into the ground as the wheels spun so that it go go past in all kinds of soggy and wet and muddy ground. It had a flat frame and someone was sitting on it working a couple of levers with handles and these wheels were really enormous, 4 of them, but very flimsy construction, very thin. We all made a few comment about that Somehow we all ended up in Crewe, near where the old Earl of Crewe used to be. There was some kind of discussion about Doctor Watson who had developed some kind of process that made eyebrows for children’s toys. He was talking about the method that he was using, that sounded quite logical in the dream but I can’t remember it. Sherlock Holmes had given him some advice and charged 2 guineas for the advice that he’d been given but Watson considered that it was really good advice and worth every penny because that was what made the difference between being good and being really excellent

A letter arrived for me from a guy whose surname was Ralf. I knew immediately what it was and I opened it. It was a time sheet and a cheque because I’d taken a lorry and a tanker for him overnight somewhere or other and that was my salary. It was the first-ever payment that I’d had for driving a lorry and that meant that I was a professional HGV driver. My father saw it but he didn’t think that it was enough so he telephoned this guy to tell him off. I had to wrestle the phone from him and tell Ralf to take no notice because I reckoned that it was OK and I wanted to drive for him again in situations like that. I was quite happy. He asked how it went and I said that we went along at a steady speed between 60 and 60 mph. Everyone else was going past me but the lorry was running so smoothly at that speed that I thought that I’d leave it there Everything else had gone fine and because I’d done it in the evening and overnight there was no traffic about so it wasn’t as if I was panicking or anything like that in traffic queues and so on. I quite enjoyed the experience. We chatted about a few other firms that we knew and seen on our travels and by the time the phone call finished I hoped that I’d made a good impression that he might call for me again if he had any more overnight jobs where he couldn’t find a driver.

We arrived at Granville bang on time and then, having called in at Carrefour for my mushrooms, I began the long, weary trudge back home – the trudge that is more than enough to finish me off.

And for some reason, my suitcase seems to weigh three times as much as it usually does. Never mind the apples that I brought back – I must have put the tree in as well.

bad parking rue des juifs Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo March 2022Regular readers of this rubbish that pathetic parking used to be a habitual feature of these pages, but I’m as fed up of talking about it as you probably are of reading about it.

However, sometimes the pathetic parking can’t be ignored, and this one here in the Rue des Juifs is one of those.

The reason why is that this is of course, as I have said before, a service bus route and there’s no conceivable possibility that an 8’6″ single decker service bus with an overhang front and rear can pass through that gap there.

But what does that matter to this delivery driver as long as he doesn’t have to walk more than two feet to deliver whatever it is that he’s delivering?

bicycle shelter place d'armes Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo March 2022One final photo to take before I stagger into my apartment.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we saw them erect a bike shed in the Place d’Armes and then dismantle part of it again. So while I was away in Leuven they have come back and finished it again.

The next photo of it that I will take will be when someone will leave a bike in it – unless I happen to catch some goings-on behind of of the type that used to go on behind the bike sheds that we had at school.

But those photos will only be available in a plain brown envelope.

Back here I made myself a coffee and when I’d finished drinking it I started to back up the big computer with the files off the laptop that i’d created or edited while I was away.

And it will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I crashed out for half an hour too. You’ve probably already noticed that I didn’t have my customary half-hour here and there on the way home.

Tea was the burger that I didn’t eat last night in Leuven, being out with Alison again. And they are quite delicious.

So now I’m going to relax for a while before I go to bed. I’ve done enough today and I think that I’ve earned my lie-in tomorrow. As long as I don’t have another ‘phone call when i’m trying to sleep.

Sunday 22nd August 2021 – AS BARRY HAY …

… once famously said – “one thing I gotta tell you man, that it’s good to be back home.

And indeed it is too. Even though I didn’t go to bed until 02:30 last night, I slept right the way through until 12:40 this afternoon without a single interruption. And I must have needed it too.

There’s some stuff on the dictaphone too. I was with 3 girls and I can’t remember who they were now, which is a disaster, but I do know them. We were in Canada sightseeing in my Passat. In the end we tried to find the big fort that was at the junction of the two rivers on the cliff where the place was being defended. After poring over a map I worked out where it was. A passer-by showed us where it was as well so off we set. We went for a good explore and then went through the forest on the other side of the river which would lead us out to the battlefield and so on. After we’d been there we said “let’s go and visit Liz and Terry because they are leaving”. One of the others said that and the other 2 couldn’t believe that they were leaving. Off we went in the car and came to their apartment. We could see Liz down at the bottom working on the garden so off we went down their garden. The other 3 girls had disappeared somewhere along the way. I said to Liz “can we come and visit or are you too busy?”. She had a dubious think and said “ohh okay”. I turned round anf found that the other 3 had gone so I said “OK I’ll round them up”. Somewhere along the line I had one of these pencil case purse type of things with a huge pile of cash in it and I can’t understand why. There had been some discussion about my cars. Someone said that they couldn’t see the word “Audi” on the clock. I said that it isn’t an Audi but a Cortina – no, it’s a Passat

First thing was of course the medication, and after I’d taken all of that I came back in here to check my messages, of which there were more than just a few.

With all of this medication, I have to wait for about an hour before I can eat anything so it was rather a late lunch – or breakfast – today. Toast and porridge and coffee.

After my meal I paired up the tracks for the radio programme that I’ll be preparing tomorrow morning. And that reminds me – I mustn’t forget my appointment with the physiotherapist tomorrow afternoon, and to go and do some shopping too because there isn’t much here in the house.

Having dealt with that, it was time to go out for my afternoon walk around the headland.

people on beach rue du nord Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallFirst place to go to visit is the beach, of course. It’s been almost a week since I’ve seen it and it will be interesting to se how the tide has evolved.

Right now, the tide is quite far out, and there is plenty of room for people to be wandering around and lazing about down there, soaking up the sun. And plenty of people were making the most of the opportunity too.

No-one had actually made it right into the water this afternoon, and that wasn’t a surprise because although it was reasonably warm this afternoon, there was quite a wind blowing, as you can tell by the whitecaps on the waves down there.

yachts baie de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallWhile one of my eyes was looking around at the events going on down on the beach, the other one was looking around out at sea.

It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow anyone any good, as the old saying goes. And the proof of that is that despite the fact that the tide is well out and the harbour is inaccessible, there’s a yacht out there that is taking full advantage of the wind.

He’s going to have to stay out until the tide turns in about 5 hours time, so I hope that he’s stocked up with supplies while he waits.

There’s another one right out there near the horizon too, but I’ve no idea where he might have come from.

sparrowhawk pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallHaving dealt with the question of the land and the sea so far, it remains for me to check the air to see what’s going on up above.

Regular readers of this rubbish will have seen plenty of photos of the sparrowhawks that seem to congregate around the cliffs here. And there’s another one out there this afternoon keeping an eye open for something for tea.

A year or so ago, there was just one of them and then a second one came along some time later. Now there are four or five of them, so the cliffs are obviously a happy hunting ground, otherwise they wouldn’t be sticking around like they do.

f-gbai ROBIN DR 400-140B baie de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallAnd then of course, while we were dealing with that, we were overflown by a mechanical device.

This one is our old friend F-GBAI, the Robin DR400-140B that belongs to the Granville Aero Club and which we have seen quite regularly flying around the Baie de Granville.

She took off at 16:03 this afternoon, flew a short way down the coast towards the Pointe de Carolles, back again, did a lap around towards Coutances and then came back into land at 16:17. My photo was taken at (adjusted) 16:12 so I must have caught her coming back from down the coast.

ile de chausey baie de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThe weather was quite clear this afternoon and we could see quite far out to sea.

The ile de Chausey was looking quite splendid this afternoon although the houses at the foot of the lighthouse didn’t stand out as well as they have done for us in the past.

There wasn’t all that much activity out there at sea though. I could only see a couple of yachts and that was about my lot. None of the ferries were visible, which wasn’t all that much of a surprise seeing that the tide won’t be far enough in here at Granville to allow them into the harbour for another couple of hours.

beaches marker lights ile de chausey baie de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThe view down at the north-east end of the island was quite clear today as well.

With the tide being so far out, we can see the beaches there today, looking really nice. We walked along those when we were over there with the Spirit of Conrad. Most of them are leased out to seafood harvesters and where you are allowed to walk is controlled.

And you can tell how high the tide comes in by looking at the warning beacons on the rocks. Those rocks are well-submerged at high tide and the height of the beacons with give you some idea of just how much water will cover them.

police car parked on grass pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThe paths around the headland were quite crowded this afternoon.

The car park at the Pointe du Roc was completely full and everyone was having to park on the grass at the side of it.

You can tell that it must have been authorised because there is a police car parked on there as well. There were a couple of coppers walking around the lawn amongst the crowds but I’m not sure why. I didn’t actually see them do anything while I was watching.

Mind you, I didn’t wait around all that long. I’m trying not to draw attention to myself.

le loup baie de mont st michel Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallInstead, I went for a little wander around on the lawn on the other side of the car park.

le Loup, the marker light on the rock just outside the harbour entrance was looking quite attractive this afternoon in the sun. You can actually see how high the tide actually rises down in the bay by looking at the change in colour of the material with which she’s built.

There are a few people right out on the beach behind it, and in the background, we can see quite clearly the houses at Kairon-Plage and Jullouville on the side of the coast road down to Avranches.

On the skyline on the right-hand side of the image is that strange tower, and one of these days I’ll go for a wander round over there to see what it is.

man fishing pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIt’s Sunday in August, the height of the tourist season, so I was half-expecting to see crowds of fishermen on the rocks this afternoon taking advantage of it.

In fact, I only did see one of them out there. He was up to his knees in the sea casting his line out into the water, without having very much luck by the looks of things. As far as I could see, he didn’t have a net or a bag with him in which to keep his catch

As for commercial fishermen, or recreational fishermen out there in boats, I couldn’t see a one. There were a couple of small boats out there though, but they were quite far out and it wasn’t possible to tell who they were or what they were up to.

peche à pied pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallMind you, he wasn’t the only person out there fishing this afternoon.

A little further around from where our fishermen was standing, there were three young people scrambling around on the rocks, looking for all the world as if they were doing a bit of the old peche à pied, although the tide wasn’t far enough out to make a good catch.

No boats out there that were close enough to photograph and nothing else of any excitement going on, so I pushed on … “pushed off” – ed … along the path around the headland towards the port.

trawler trafalgar charlevy chantier naval port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallHaving been away from the town for a few days, I wanted to see what was happening down in the chantier naval.

There has been quite a high and rapid turnover of boats in there just recently so I was expecting to see a few changes in there.

However, there didn’t seem to be anything different in there. There was Charlevy of course, still there on her blocks on the right-hand side of the image, all masked off and with a nice fresh coat of paint.

The smaller fishing boat is there too in the centre of the image, up on blocks in front of the line of all of the others. There doesn’t look as if there is much room left to bring anyone else in if there is an emergency.

trawler trafalgar charlevy chantier naval port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallA little further along the path I could have a good look at the row of boats by the old dry dock.

There are five of them there, including the trawler Trafalgar nearest the camera. So there’s a total of seven boats in there right now, and that is pretty good going.

As I have said before … “and on many occasions too” – ed … it’s good to see such a busy ship repairers. It encourages people to bring their boats into Granville, knowing that they can be serviced and repaired here. Plenty of boats in the port is good for the town.

yacht chantier naval port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallJust before we went away, we also saw a yacht in the yard down here too, looking as if she was about to receive a paint job.

While I was out there this afternoon, I didn’t forget to have a look down there to see how she was getting on.

And by the looks of things, she’s getting on quite well. She’s pretty well masked off and she looks from what I can see that she’s already had a coat of paint on her superstructure. I’ll be very interested to see how she turns out when she is finished.

It’ll be quite exciting too, watching the portable boat lift coming to fetch her and take her back to drop into the water.

horse and carriage chausiaise ferry terminal port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallIn one of the earlier photos we had a good view of Chausiase, the little freighter that runs out to the Ile de Chausey and back.

At that time, I didn’t take a photo of her because I’d seen something else out of the corner of my eye and I wanted to wait until I could take the picture that I wanted.

There wasn’t long to wait, as it happened. Soon enough, a horse and open carriage came into view, carrying some passengers. It looks as if part of the entertainment for this Festival of Working Sailboats includes a ride ina carriage.

However, I’m not sure why this would be. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really have much of a nautical flavour about it.

hang glider pointe du roc Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere were bound to be further interruptions today, with all of this nice sunny but windy weather.

Sure enough, the Bird-Men of Alcatraz decided to come out and enjoy the weather this afternoon. One by one they came over the Pointe du Roc on their way down to the end of the headland.

There were all kinds of nazgul going by over head. This one is a two-seater, as you can see, and the person in the front seat seems to be filming the voyage as they passed by overhead. They will probably have a good film to show everyone when they return, thanks to the good weather.

crowds festival of working sailboats port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallAs I mentioned the other day, this weekend is the Festival des Voiles de Travail, the “Festival of Working Sailboats”.

Today is the climax of the event and so I was expecting to see crowds of people wandering around down there, and I’m not disappointed. The harbour down there was heaving with them this afternoon.

It was interesting to see the old marker buoys that were down there. I’m not quite sure what is the purpose of displaying them. I suppose that if it’s connected with the sea, it’s good enough to exhibit them

And that rectangle that we saw – it’s actually a water tank and there were some model boats going around it.

crowds festival of working sailboats rue du port Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallOne of the reasons why there were cars parked just about everywhere this afternoon is that the car park down at the port is occupied .

As part of the Festival, they have erected tents and booths on the car park, and part of the exhibition is being held down there. It seems to be quite popular too, with all of the people who we can see down there.

It’s a strange decision though – to hold an event in the centre of the town in order to attract tourists from elsewhere, and put the event on the car park so that they have nowhere to park so that they can visit it. They should have put these tents on the other side of the harbour where the gravel used to be stored.

jazz band crowds festival of working sailboats port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallOne of the things that we saw them erecting last weekend or whenever it was is a grandstand.

We now seem to have acquired a stage too, and there was a jazz band performing down there this afternoon to give the festival some kind of ambience and to entertain the public as they wander around.

All of the greenery down there was interesting too. We seem to have acquired a kind of desert island environment with sand and palm trees, presumably to give a kind of “Pirates” effect to that part of the exhibition.

If that’s the case, then instead of a jazz band, there ought to have been Roy Plomley, a gramophone record and 8 songs.

Croix du Sud 3 sailing yacht port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallBy the looks of things, we have a new sailing boat in the harbour right now, one that I haven’t seen them before.

She’s called Croix du Sud III and was built in 1934. She was built as a fishing boat and when she retired, she passed through several pairs of hands before being bought by the town of Cherbourg in 2003.

She was completely overhauled as soon as she came into the hands of the town, and again during the winter of 2015-16 and is now the “official boat” of the town. She now represents the town at all kinds of maritime events, and that’s probably why she’s here at the Festival.

Croix du Sud 3 sailing yachr port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallThe harbour gates are closed so she can’t go outside.

As I watched her, she was doing a series of figure-eights, taking passenger around the harbour. She is completely sold out, by the way, so I couldn’t have a trip on her even if I so wished.

And that was really all that was happening, so I decided to go back home and have a nice cold strawberry smoothie.

You are probably wondering why I haven’t gone down there for a closer look around and ro take a few photographs. The fact is that I didn’t feel as if I could face the walk back up the hill afterwards. I really am in a right state, aren’t I?

Back here I spent the rest of the day going through the photos. As well as today’s, there were those for the previous two days too, which I’ll bring up to date when I’ve transcribed the dictaphone notes.

After my lunch i’d taken out the last pizza dough and it had been defrosting during the afternoon. Now it was ready to be kneaded and rolled, put on the pizza tray and left for an hour to rise. When it was ready I assembled the pizza and then baked it.

It was delicious and really tasty, despite it being rather low on ingrdients. No dessert of course because I wasn’t hungry – my appetite is still down from where it was.

And now that I’ve finished my notes I’m off to bed. There’s an early start in the morning and a radio programme to prepare. I need to be on top form.

Saturday 17th July 2021 – AS BARRY HAY ONCE …

… famously said – “one thing that I gotta tell you, and that it’s good to be back home”.

And having spent a couple of hours collapsed on my chair in my office, I can’t do any more than agree with him

This morning was a dreadfully early start – 04:25 when the alarm went off and I crawled out of bed feeling pretty awful, as you might expect.

There were my sandwiches to make and my packing to do and then a pile of cleaning up, and to my surprise it was all of 05:15 when I’d finished so I reckoned that I might as well head off for the railway station.

martelarenplein gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric HallOne thing about the camera on my telephone is that it’s not very good in the dark.

One of the construction projects in the town that has been going on for far too long with little signs of finishing is the rebuilding of the Martelarenplein, “Martyr’s Square”, outside the railway station. This is something that has been dragging on for years and it looks as if it will be going on for a long time yet.

It’s difficult to understand why these projects take so long to complete. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that there have been endless projects of all sorts going on here and which have dragged on and on and on.

class 18 electric locomotive 1812 gare de Leuven railway station 	Belgium Eric HallIt was 05:35 when I made it onto the station, to find that the train to Oostende was running late.

As I arrived on the platform so did the train and here’s a rather blurred photo of it, because the ‘phone isn’t up to very much in this kind of light.

The locomotive is one of the Class 18 electrics, the workhorses of the Belgian railway system, pulling a rake of double-deck coaches. I found a quiet spec in the front compartment over the bogie, and settled down for my trip into Brussels.

And no-one came to bother me, not even a ticket inspector. He was probably asleep in his compartment somewhere near the rear of the train.

sign about train cancellations gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric HallWe pulled into Brussels-Midi just after 06:00 and while I was here I had a look at the indicator board to see where my train might be.

But this notice caught my eye and it was worth photographing. The railway network in the east of the country has been badly hit by the flood and there are piles of trains that have been cancelled as a result.

“If you are implicated in this notice, please don’t come to the station. Postpone your journey” – in other words, there are no alternative means of transport to connect up these towns. That tells you all that you need to know about the damage to the transport infrastructure.

The trains to Germany were cancelled too. With Liège 6 feet under water and the Rhine and its tributaries overflowing, all of that has taken a knock as well and it will be a while before these services are reinstated.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4513 PBA gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric HallLook at the time now!

It’s 06:37, I’ve been here for half an hour already, and my train has now come in. It’s one of the PBA – Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt trains that is running the 07:17 to Strasbourg. I take it as far as Lille Europe where I change trains.

We weren’t allowed on the train for 10 minutes while they cleaned it, and then we could all pile aboard.

And those of us on the platform side of the train were treated to the sight of a bag-snatcher snatching a bag from the train on the other side, the 07:00 to Marseille. The security staff managed to recover the bag but not the thief. The police turned up a couple of minutes later, presumably to make further enquiries.

We set off bang on time and I tried to work but there was no electricity on the train and the battery flattened itself quite quickly and that held me up.

At Lille Europe we all piled out and then there was the stagger across the town to Lille Flandres railway station.

TGV Reseau Duplex 225 gare du lille flandres france Eric HallThere isn’t much time to cross town before my train is due to leave. It was already in the station and the platform when I arrived.

It’s one of the TGV Réseau Duplex trainsets – at least, this end of it is, and I don’t know what’s on the front of it. I eventually found my carriage but these are quite cramped and there isn’t much room in the overhead luggage racks for all the stuff that I was carrying, so I dug myself in in the little phone lounge at the top of the stairs and there I sat.

It’s not possible to work there though so I spent most of the journey asleep. But at least the laptop and the telephone could recharge themselves while we were on the move to Paris.

TGV POS 4406 gare du nord paris france Eric HallAt the Gare du Nord in Paris I could have a look and see what the front trainset of my train to Paris was.

It’s one of the TGV POS units that used to work the eastern part of France and into Southern Germany until they were replaced by the next-generation machines.

Wandering off under my heavy load, because you won’t believe just how much this medication weighs, I made it to the platform of the Metro just as a train pulled up and to my surprise there was an empty seat right by the door.

It whizzed me off to the Gare Montparnasse where I wandered about aimlessly in the ill-signposted station until I found the correct escalator to take me up to the fourth floor from where the mainline trains depart

84572 gec alstom regiolis gare montparnasse paris france Eric HallMy train always departs from the platforms at the far end of the station so I wandered off that way.

There was one of the Normandy trains in at the platform and I assumed that it was mine. And there was an empty seat in that little corner that I discovered a few weeks ago from where I could keep an eye on things.

15 minutes to go, the platform number flashed up on the display screen and it was indeed my train that I had seen, so we all piled on board.

And I do mean “all piled” too because there wasn’t even one empty seat on the train. Travelling to Granville on a Saturday morning in summer with everyone going on holiday is not a very good idea. Of course I’m not usually here at this time of year – I’m usually wandering around Canada somewhere at this time of the year.

We were so crammed in that it wasn’t easy to work this afternoon on the train, but what I dd manage to do for yesterday’s journal entry is now on line and I’ll finish off the rest of it tomorrow maybe.

84567 gec alstom regiolis bombardier 82648 gare de granville railway station france Eric HallIt was quite a transformation when we arrived in Granville – bang on time with no obstructions or delays. Cold, damp and cloudy weather had given way to brilliant sunshine.

So while I stopped to organise my luggage I took a photo of the trains in the station. My train was a combination of two trainsets – I’d been in the rear one and here on the right is the front one.

To the left is one of the Bombardier units that works the service between Rennes and Caen and on which I’ve travelled a couple of times going to Coutances and St-Lô.

So into the heat I set off. Not down through the Parc de Val es Fleurs because I couldn’t manage the suitcase down the steps. Instead I went down the Rue Couraye into town.

old cars renault 8 rue couraye granville france Eric HallAnd I’m glad that I did because once more I came across another old car.

And this one is a real old car as well – A Renault R8. This was the car that was launched in 1962 with the aim of replacing the famous Dauphine and stayed in production until 1973 in France, although the model continued to be built in other countries until as late as 1976.

One of my teachers, Mr Firth, at Primary School had one of these and that one must have been one of the very first right-hand drive ones to roll off the production line. He took me to play in a football match for our school, my only representative honour, in early 1965.

old cars renault 8 rue couraye granville france Eric HallAs I was taking a photo of the car, some tourist walked right in front of me and spoiled my photo. I had to retake it.

But the whole town was heaving with tourists, getting in everyone’s way. At one point I ran my suitcase over the foot of someone who was obstructing the pavement. They really get on my nerves.

The crawl up the hill in the Rue des Juifs was appalling and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I felt every step of the way in this heat and I don’t want to be doing this again if it keeps on like this.

Taking the bus is a sign of defeat, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, but one of these days pretty soon I’m going to have to throw in the towel. All of this medication is killing me

marite victor hugo port de granville harbour france  Eric HallOne of the places where I stopped to catch my breath was at the viewpoint overlooking Marité‘s place in the harbour.

People were streaming on board so it looked as if she was about to go out for an evening sail as soon as the harbour gates opened. I wasn’t going to wait around. Once I’d recovered my breath I carried on up the hill.

Here at the apartment I collapsed in my chair and here I stayed for a couple of hours. And then I managed to find the energy to put away the cold food and to drink the coffee that was in my “Adventure Canada” thermos flask. Still quite warm despite having been made over 12 hours.

Tea tonight was out of a tin, and then I came in here to write up my notes. And now I’m off to bed. I’m exhausted, I really am, and it’s just as well that I’m having a lie-in tomorrow. I need it.

Thursday 9th July 2020 – ANYONE CARE TO …

normandy trader english channel granville manche normandy france eric hall… guess who this is heading our way this evening?

While I was out on my evening walk I noticed it way out to sea and so I took a photo of it with the aim of enlarging it when I returned home to make sure that I was correct.

And just in case you haven’t already gathered, I’m now back home in my cosy little apartment in Granville after my journey back home on the train from Leuven

normandy trader port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallHowever, as it happens, I didn’t need to wait until I returned home to find out, because as I was running back home after my trip to the viewpoint at the Rue du Nord, into the harbour she came.

Sure enough, it’s our old friend Normandy Trader coming in from Jersey.

And while her loading bay isn’t particularly full this evening, there are quite a few passengers – maybe as many as a dozen – standing on the deck just in front of the wheelhouse.

It seems that she’s as busy doing these repatriations as her friend Thora

As for me, I was doing my own repatriation this morning, heading for home after my stay in Belgium.

The alarm went off this morning at 05:30 and within minutes I was up and about. I made my sandwiches, packed my bags and so on and was well on my way having dropped the key off at the office.

roadworks Martelarenplein Leuven, Belgium eric hallBy 06:00 I was halfway down the road towards the railway station and that’s always a good sign.

When I was here last they were digging up the surface of the Martelarenplein to make some kind of underground parking and I was intrigued to see how they were doing with it

But as it happens, it’s all well fenced off and it looks in any case as if they are now at the stage where they are starting to resurface it. It seems that I have missed all of the excitement.

railpool bombardier traxx f140 gare de leuven railway station belgium eric hallIt was about 06:05 when I walked onto the station platform.

There’s a stopping train that goes out at 06:17 but an Intercity non-stop goes at 06:24 so I decided to wait for that. So while I was waiting I admired the freight trains that were passing through the station – dozens of them.

This locomotive is quite interesting. It’s one of the Bombardier Traxx F140 locomotives, although I can’t tell from here which model.

They are owned by a company called Railpool and that’s an interesting company. It was created by two German banks and owns all kinds of rail equipment including 42 modern electric locomotives that it leases to rail operators all over Europe whenever they have a shortfall of equipment.

sncb class 13 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station belgium eric hallThis locomotive is much more regular though.

It’s one of the SNCB’s Class 13 electric locomotives of the late 1990s with a maximum speed of 200kph. But they weren’t without their teething troubles due in the main to electrical interference from their equipment that disrupted the signals.

The class 18s, of which we have seen an awful lot, have come in and taken their place on the headline routes, pushing them back onto secondary duties. But they are proving to be remarkably resilient.

sncb am96 electric multiple unit gare de leuven railway station belgium eric hall5 minutes earlier than planned, my train came in.

It was one of the AM96 multiple unit sets that do the express working to Blankenberge and are quite interesting because when two are coupled together and the bellows seal them in, the cabs pivot out of the way so that you can walk through from one unit to the other.

We arrived in Brussels without any issue and much to my dismay the seats in the waiting area were all taped off. And I had about 45 minutes or so to wait for my train and I didn’t fancy standing for all that time.

Luckily this train came in early too and I had to run almost the whole length of the train to find my seat.

man not wearing face mask tgv brussels belgium paris france eric hallBut as I mentioned on the way out to Leuven on Monday, I’m appalled by the casual manner of some people in the way that they are wearing their face masks.

Seeing someone with their nose uncovered is quite par for the course, but this guy here on the train from Brussels to Paris went the whole way, 300-odd kms, with his face mask around his chin and nowhere near his nose and mouth.

His friend sitting next to him didn’t have his face mask on either when i went for a ride on the porcelain horse. I really don’t know what these people don’t understand about a pandemic.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt gare du nord paris france eric hallWe arrive in Paris Gare du Nord bang on time which is always good news, and I found a different way to the Metro.

Down in the bowels of the station at the line 4 platform I didn’t have long to wait before the train came in. And then I was whisked off through the catacombs down to Gare Montparnasse.

They’ve been working on that for a couple of years and it’s nearing completion. As a result I had to think for a minute about how to find my way to the train shed.

One good thing though is that we no longer have to go all the way down to the platforms at Vaugirard. Our train can fit into the main hall.

An hour to wait before my train but luckily I found a vacant seat so at least I was in some comfort

84561 gec alstom regiolis gare de granville railway station manche normandy france eric hallWe were called to our train about 20 minutes before it was due to leave, and that must be something of a record

Having stamped my ticket in the machine I scrambled aboard and found that, once again, I had a travelling companion. As I have said before, I don’t understand this social distancing thing in the station if we are all having to sit cheek by jowl in the train.

At L’Aigle there was an “incident” with a passenger and the police were called. I’m not sure what that was about but it didn’t take long and we were soon on our way. So much so that we actually arrived in Granville 5 minutes early which was quite impressive.

cherry picker clock mairie cours jonville granville manche normandy france eric hallMy route home was interrupted by a visit to the Post Office. A recorded delivery letter had come for me while I was away on my boat and I hadn’t had to pick it up.

So while I was passing through I called in for it. And outside the old tourist information office there was a cherry picker with a couple of guys on it working on the clock that’s there.

It’s been stuck at about 01:50 for as long as I can remember so it looks as if they are finally going to to do something about it.

And not before … errr … time either.

As Barry Hay once famously said, “one thing I gotta tell you, man – it’s good to be back home!” and he’s perfectly right too. I’ve lived in a great many places in my life and here in Granville is the only place for which I’ve ever felt any kind of emotion that might be described as “homesickness”.

Usually the kind of “homesickness” that I’ve felt is the kind of sickness that you have when you are sick of a place, but not here.

The travelling takes quite a lot out of me, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, so I didn’t do much. I sat and vegetated for a while.

At one point I was tempted to go and lie down on the sofa and watch a film. In fact I actually got as far as switching on the DVD player before I overcame the impulse.

Tea was actually the same as last night, which is hardly surprising because I used the stuff that I brought back from Leuven – pasta, veg and the second falafel burger – but this time with spicy tomato sauce.

The last slice of apple pie that was in the fridge too with some of the soya coconut dessert.

speedboat waves high winds english channel granville manche normandy france eric hallNone of the foregoing prevented me from going out for my evening walk and runs.

What actually did put a stop to it was the gale-force wind that had sprung up in the latter part of the afternoon. You can tell what was going on out there by looking at this speedboat that was moored offshore with guys in there fishing.

The swell of the waves was such that it was hiding the boat at times. That can’t be comfortable for anyone out there casting his hook and line into the sea, and I wouldn’t like to be the neighbour of any fisherman there right now.

chantier navale port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallOut of the wind I managed to run along the top of the cliffs on the south side of the headland.

This takes me along the path overlooking the chantier navale where I can have a good look down to see what’s happening there. And once more we have a full house of 6 boats in there receiving attention.

As I have said before … “on many occasions” – ed … it’s good news for the town that they can keep so busy down there. It encourages people to bring their boats here

fishing boat baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france eric hallEven though I was out of the wind on this side of the headland, others were not quite so lucky.

This little fishing boat out in the Baie de Mont St Michel is having quite a battle with the elements as it struggles to make it back into harbour.

It’s not really the weather to be out there in a small boat like that I reckon. I’m glad that people have so much faith in their equipment.

sunset english channel ile de chausey granville manche normandy france eric hallMy run down the Boulevard Vaufleury was OK but as I rounded the corner I was hit by the full force of the gale and that brought me to a dead stop.

It was so powerful that I had to walk on round the next corner before I could continue my run to the viewpoint in the Rue du Nord. Unfortunately the sunset tonight wasn’t all that much to write home about although we did have a nice TORA TORA TORA moment.

No picnickers down on the beach tonight, which was no surprise in this wind. I for one wouldn’t be down there.

normandy trader port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallFrom the viewpoint I set out to run back to the apartment but as I passed by the end of the Boulevard des 2E et 202E de Ligne I could see our visitor had arrived.

The little fishing boat was coming into port, but she was following in the wake of Normandy Trader who had now made it into port.

You can see the crowds of people huddled on the deck just there. That must have been a really uncomfortable crossing standing on the deck all the way across the English Channel from St Helier in a wind like this.

normandy trader port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallNormandy Trader fought her way into the harbour and went off to moor at the quayside underneath the large crane that would unload her.

As for me, I ran off back to my apartment to write up my notes.

First of all though, there was the dictaphone to see if I had been anywhere during the night.

We had been at school last night and we ended up in little groups of about 10 of us doing something on Geography, talking about Iceland, places like that. One girl I particularly wanted to be with she ended up being in another group of 10 which quite disappointed me. I was with someone else in a pair in our group of 10. On going through the names I saw that one particular was in our group and I thought “why didn’t I get myself into a pair with her? Good Lord! I must be really slipping these days! I thought that there would be plenty of time to do that but then I realised that it was right at the end of the school year. For some reason the school year had gone really quickly and there wasn’t much time left. I was leaving anyway at the end of the year and all these opportunities I’d missed yet again.
Later on I was going back home from my holidays and we were having a look at my photos. Someone was saying somethign about the state and condition of places that I had been to. I said that I’d been to a lot worse than this and I had to search through my computer to see if I had any older photos. I came across the photos of 2002 when i was in the USA so we started to look through those. there were some really nice ones there but there were some really dreadful places that I’d seen. “Someone else said “yeh. I used to go on the Fred Trueman Estate or something in Crewe back in the 70s and God! That was a bit dire as well” and we ended up having a chat about all of that

Unfortunately I didn’t finish all of my notes. I ended up falling asleep, which is no surprise. So I’ll have to finish them off in the morning.

And it will be late too because I’m not setting an alarm. I’m always exhausted when I come back so I’ll be having a lie-in.

Monday 27th January 2020 – IT WAS HARD THIS MORNING …

… to get out of bed at 05:30 but I managed it – only just.

And by the time the third alarm went off at 05:45 I was already on my way down the road having rinsed my empty bottles, packed my rucksack and put the key to my room in the key disposal box.

sncb am 80 multiple unit gare du midi brussels belgium eric hallWhen the first of the normal series of alarms went off at 06:00 I was sitting in a train at the station in Leuven.

It’s an elderly AM80 electric multiple-unit. Covered in graffiti and not very clean at all. But the fact is that it’s here, it’s leaving at 06:04 and it’s travelling non-stop into Brussels.

That’s good enough for me.

At the Gare du Midi I went into the Carrefour, bought myself some raisin bread for breakfast and then went to sit down to wait until my train is called.

sncf tgv reseau 38000 gare du midi brussels belgium eric hallWith half an hour to go before departure, I took the initiative and went myself to look for the train on the off-chance that it might be ready.

And sure enough, here it is sitting on the platform ready to go. It’s one of the “Reseau 38000” PBA (Paris Bruxelles Amsterdam) trainsets built for the start of thatservice in 1996.

To my surprise the door was open and I was able to go in and find my seat – a good 25 minutes to go before departure.

A ticket inspector came by and I thought that he was going to heave me out but he simply checked my ticket and that was that.

As for the journey itself, I have no idea at all about it because I slept for most of the route. This early start caught me up good and proper.

We arrived about 10 minutes late but that didn’t inconvenience me at all. The Metro was quite rapid even though it was crowded and I had to stand all the way, and I arrived at Montparnasse a good hour before my train was due to leave.

With the new timetable, it now arrives and departs from a platform in the main station complex rather than the Vaugirard annexe. In some ways that’s a good thing because it saves me a 10-minute walk, but in other ways it’s not so good.

That’s because Montparnasse is a huge, windswept desolate, cold station whereas the Vaugirard annexe had a nice draught-free glass waiting room where it’s reasonably comfortable to sit.

But hunting around, like you do … “like YOU do” – ed … I found an ideal hidey-hole where I could even see an electronic departure board.

With 15 minutes to go, my train still hadn’t been posted so i went to look for it. And I found it sitting at one of the platforms. Meantime, the PA announcer was telling us that “the departure details are currently unavailable” – which was the craziest thing that I’ve ever heard seeing as at the time she was making the announcement I was actually looking at it.

GEC Alstom Regiolis gare de granville railway station manche normandy france eric hallEventually we were called to the train – exactly where I said it was – and we could board it.

For part of the way, as far as L’Aigle, I had a very charming young female companion but after she left, I dozed off and there I stayed, fast asleep again, almost until we reached Granville.

Bang on time into the station we were, although it took me a few minutes to get my things together. And then I headed off into the rain.

circus marquee chapiteau cirque parc de val es fleurs granville manche normandy france eric hallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that a couple of weeks ago a notice had appeared in the car park of the Parc de Val es Fleurs to the effect that a chapiteau – a marquee – was to be erected there.

Just for a change I came back home that way to see if there was anything exciting happening. And sure enough, we did have our chapiteau in all of its glory, surrounded by a load of caravans.

It’s a circus, apparently, and even as I watched a huge pile of schoolkids filed their way into the chapiteau. They were obviously going to be treated to a matinée performance all to themselves.

joly france spirit of conrad charles marie port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallNow here’s a thing!

For the last I don’t know how many weeks we’ve seen Spirit of Conrad up on blocks in the chantier navale. But no longer, by the looks of things.

Here she is, in the inner harbour with Joly France on one side of her and Charles-Marie on the other side. But no Aztec Lady. It must have been her that we saw heading out into the English Channel in the wake of Normandy Trader the other day.

Barry Hay once famously told us “one thing that I gotta tell you man – that it’s good to be back home!” and he’s absolutely right. A year or two ago, for the first time ever in my life I felt the pangs of homesickness after I’d been away from here for a couple of months.

This place really is my home and I was glad to be back here, even if it was absolutely freezing cold with no heating having been on. And to my delight a parcel for which I had been waiting since the end of November has finally arrived, at long last.

Nevertheless I sat down in my nce comfy chair and did nothing until tea time. I’m entitled to a relax after my efforts of today.

For tea, in the absence of any special willpower just now, I grabbed a frozen curry out of the freezer – the left-over leftovers from a few weeks ago. With rice and veg, including sprouts and spinach, it was delicious. And followed down by fruit salad and lemon sorbet.

trawler english channel granville manche normandy france eric hallThe rain held off tonight for about 5 minutes after I set out for my evening walk – and then I caught the lot. All of it!

The tide was well-in and there were several trawlers out there heading in to harbour with their catches so I took a pick of one.

The lights of St Malo were looking quite good tonight too but the wind was far too strong for me to take a steady shot with the camera. The tripod wouldn’t have fared any better either – the wind would have had that over in a matter of seconds.

fishing boats chantier navale port de granville harbour manche normandy france eric hallBut round by the chantier navale I could take a photo of the inmates there.

No Spirit of Conrad of course – just a couple of fishing boats and another one right at the back. But the photo is no good because of the wind and rain. I wasn’t going to stay out long.

Getting back into the rhythm, I managed my little run just to keep up with my progress. Whatever else I do, I have to concentrate on getting fit no matter how much it hurts me. I do actually feel much better with having less weight to carry around these days.

So having written up my notes for the day, I’m going off to bed. Tomorrow I’ll be getting back into the routine. There are two and a half radio programmes that need finishing and that’s the priority task for this week.

So I need to be on form.

Tuesday 14th August 2018 – AFTER ALL …

… of my vicissitudes just recently, I am now back home. And quite right too. Despite liking as much as I do going off on my travels, it is, as Barry Hay once famously said, “good to be back home”.

Last night was a very bad night. I was so wound up and tense that I couldn’t go off to sleep and I certainly remember it being 04:40 and I was still wide awake.

But I must have gone to sleep at some moment because the alarm awoke me at 06:20.

Liz and Terry must have been tired too because it took a while for everyone else to begin stirring, but eventually we were all downstairs having breakfast and a cosy chat with plenty of coffee.

Terry unloaded his van and I loaded up Caliburn with the things that were coming with me, and I set off for home.

On the way back, I had a couple of stops to make. Firstly, there was some shopping to do at LeClerc. Not much, but it needs to be done.

Secondly, there was an address in the town that I had to visit.

solex moped granville manche normandy franceMany years ago I helped a Swedish friend (I can’t remember her name now but her daughter was called Pernilla) move house to a place near Limoges. And in the undergrowth were the remains of a 1960s Solex moped.

I liberated it and brought it back to the farm but I never did anything much with it. And recently I met a man in Granville who restores them.

I have no plans whatever to do anything with it and it’s no use to me, so seeing as he can do some good with it, he may as well have it. It’s good to make friends and contacts.

Back here I had a good chat with Brigitte on the car park, and then came upstairs to make my butties. And then to sit on the wall with my butties. No lizards though because someone else was sitting in my usual space and I had to go elsewhere.

Back here, my exertions of the last few days caught up with me and I ended up crashing out for a couple of hours. And on the bed too. Flat out was hardly the word and I missed my afternoon walk.

Tea tonight was a pizza seeing as I had plenty of stuff lying around that needs eating. And I managed my walk this evening too, although it’s now getting dark quite early. It was dark when I went out at 21:00.

So now I’m still pretty tired so I’ll be having an early night. Tomorrow I’ll start unloading Caliburn and arranging things in here.

Tuesday 10th July 2018 – BARRY HAY …

… once famously said “one thing I want to tell you all, and that it’s good to be back home”.

And so as I staggered in through my front door at about 21:50 last night I did have to say that I couldn’t have agreed more with him, even though I was confronted by the European Cardboard Box Mountain.

So having crashed out good and proper last night at about 21:30 after my marathon session around the northern half of the Somme front line, I was up and about at about 05:40, long before the alarm.

I’d even found time to go off on my travels too, where I ended up in a comfortable household with a woman from Shrewsbury (and who could pronounce it correctly too) and her two teenage daughters. It started off by my having received a huge packet of documents – deeds for Reyers, deeds for Expo, life assurance policies and the like. It turned out that I had finally become fed up of my bankers and closed my accounts. I needed to file the documents away safely and so I reckoned a safety-deposit box that I had in a bank would do. But then it turned out that I had of course closed the bank account so I wouldn’t have access. A self-storage unit might do, but I didn’t think that that was permanent enough. So o the way home I stopped, parked my car (which was pale green) on a bad corner and applied some kind of dry shampoo to my hair (it was long) to clean it. But cars kept on bumping into mine and pushing it further around the bend so in the end I had to abandon the procedure (and the top off my shampoo tube which I had dropped on the floor somewhere) and drive the car away. I passed several petrol stations where I could have obtained some water to rinse my hair but later found that I could comb it out – except for where it had been badly applied and I ended up looking like a pineapple. This woman was going through her paperwork too, and reckoned without actually saying it that although she came from a good family background she had been adopted. I was explaining about how I’d been born on one side of Shrewsbury (which I hadn’t) and how I’d lived fora while on the other side of the town (which stretching the imagination a little, you might say is true).

Somehow I still didn’t feel in the mood to do too much so I had a shower and a tidy up, packed everything away, said goodbye to the most bizarre landlady I had ever met in my life (and, believe me, I’ve met a few) and loaded up Caliburn – who still had his wheels on which surprised me greatly.

And I forgot to take a photograph of the hotel too.

It was looking miserable and cloudy, and I could even smell the rain, but anyway I set off on my travels, remembering this time to stop at the LeClerc that I had found yesterday evening to pick up stuff for lunch (but forgot my breakfast too while I was at it).

Dodging the roadworks and following the diversions, I eventually arrived at Albert and called in at the Super U to find some breakfast. But not before I was accosted on the car park by someone who was clearly looking for a job. Much as I admired his initiative, I couldn’t do anything for him of course, but this is the second time (the first being at Soissons a good many years ago) that I’d been propositioned like this.

Breakfast was taken at the side of the road in Albert and then I went for a wander around the town.

Albert is of course famous as being the main British assembly point behind the lines, and for the fact that it was visible (or, at least, the spire of the church is visible) from the German lines at la Boisselle. Consequently it was under heavy artillery fire throughout the war.

There’s the famous church of course, with its statue of Mary perched on top, offering up Jesus to the clouds. And the legend that God would reach down and take up the baby if a virgin ever walked past.

With it being such a magnificent target, the Germans naturally aimed at it, but after it had been hit and almost fallen (and French engineers had chained it to the tower) another legend grew up that differed according to whoever you spoke to.

Either

  1. whichever side that knocked down Mary would lose the war
  2. the war would not end until Mary had been knocked down

As it happens, it was the British who knocked it down in March 1918 when the town had fallen to the Germans in the Spring Offensive.

From Albert I headed off to Dartmoor Cemetery a mile or so to the east of the town.

This is a famous cemetery, and for a couple of reasons too. Firstly, it’s the last resting place of a couple of people called Lee. They are father and son who fought side-by-side on the Somme and were killed on the same day almost in the same place.

The second reason is that it’s the site of the grave of Harry Webber.

In 1914 his three sons joined up for the War and were accepted as officers. Harry Webber then petitioned the War Office, offering to serve the British Army in any capacity they liked, so that he would have the privilege of saluting his three sons.

After all, he had plenty of free time, having just retired from the Stock Exchange at the ripe old age of 65.

Despite being refused on many occasions, his persistence led him eventually to be appointed as a Lieutenant Transport Officer to one of the Regiments on the Somme.

And it was there on the Somme that he was killed by a shell.

Aged 67 at the time of his death, he is the oldest known battle casualty of the War.

Next stop is Mansell Copse and the Devonshire Cemetery.

Here, the Devonshire Regiment had to charge down a hill, across a railway line and up the other side into the German trenches at Mametz. And while the artillery had blown away most of the wire and most of the defences, there was a well-protected machine gun built into a substantial cross in the civilian cemetery halfway up the other side.

Captain Martin, who was said to be a keen modeller, went home on leave just before the battle and made a clay model of the battleground, and on his return just before the battle told his colleagues where he thought the machine gun would catch him and his men.

And sure enough, after the battle had passed over the spot, they found his body exactly where he had predicted.

The War poet William Hodgson wrote
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,

And I suspect like most sensitive people, he maybe had an idea that he would be one of them.

He was a Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment and he too met his death in the attack on Mametz on 1st July.

At Carnoy, in the village square, this was the casualty treatment centre for this part of the front.

General Rawlinson had asked for every ambulance train on France to be standing by behind the lines to evacuate the wounded. There were 20 of them, but the Quartermaster-General sent him just three.

As a result, some wounded men had to lie here in the open for as long as five days before they made it back to a hospital.

One soldier, with a slight wound to the foot, discovered when he arrived at a hospital after all that time that the wound had turned gangrenous and his entire leg had to be amputated.

That’s one of the reasons why the cemetery at Carnoy is so large, but only a handful of graves are “unknown” – they mostly all came from the casualty clearing station, having died in that five-day period.

One Captain, Captain Neville, was in charge of four battalions. He gave each one a football and ordered each battalion, at the start of the battle, to kick a ball all the way to Berlin.

Two of the footballs made it back to Blighty, but Captain Neville didn’t.

Up on the ridge at the top of Carnoy, I’m standing on the German front line looking right across to the Devonshire’s trench at Mansell Copse.

Somewhere not too far from where I’m standing, although I can’t see it because of all the wheat, it the crater caused by the Kasino Point mine. This blew away a large proportion of the German defenders and as it was blown late, took the defenders completely by surprise.

This was one of the reasons why the attack on this section of the line was so successful, and the village of Montauban, a couple of kilometres behind me, fell quite quickly.

The British front line soldiers were through quite easily, and sat waiting for the second line and the cavalry, because they had completely broken the front and there was nothing now between them and Berlin.

But at this moment, unfortunately, General Rawlinson lost his nerve. Having heard of the disasters on the other fronts, he could not believe that there had been a breakthrough here at Montauban and refused to order the second line and the cavalry forward.

He noted in his diary as early as 12:15 on that day that “there is no hope of getting the Cavalry through today”.

Meanwhile, the British first-line troops were sitting staring at empty fields and empty forests, and did so for two days, and when Rawlinson finally did order his reserves forward, it was too late.

The Germans had refortified the line by this time and the slaughter started again.

Had Rawlinson only kept his nerve, the War could have ended 12 months earlier. But then that was Rawlinson’s big failure. he hated Kitchener and had no faith whatever in, in fact he had nothing but contempt for Kitchener’s “New Army” of civilian volunteers. They may not have been as well-trained as his beloved regulars but they certainly played their part.

And he was a born-and-bred infantryman too and had no understanding of and no faith in the cavalry either, and no concept of the panic that a well-handled cavalry division could create behind enemy lines.

Not quite relating to the First Day on the Somme, I went just down the road to the Military Cemetery at Guillemont Road.

One of the people lying in here is Raymond Asquith. He was the son of Herbert Asquith, the British Prime Minster at the time.

So having concluded my visit to the Somme Battlefield, the next question was bound to be “what to do next?”

Heading towards home was the obvious answer and I decided that I would at least reach Rouen before I thought about a place to stay.

But Amiens was awful. There were roadworks all the way through the centre and what should have been a 15-minute drive turned into over an hour.

And from then on it just seemed to get worse.

I had to stop not far outside Amiens for lunch. and also a little half-hour doze. And as usual, I felt a little better after that.

But my better humour didn’t last much longer. Not long after my little pause I came across yet ANOTHER “road closed” sign, and we disappeared down yet ANOTHER enormously long diversion.

But it’s an ill-wind that doesn’t blow anyone any good, and we eventually ended up just a couple of miles away from the autoroute that runs down the coast from Abbeville. So at least I was able to hot-foot it to Rouen and make up a little lost time.

But I lost it all in Rouen because, once more, there were road works just about everywhere and we crawled through the city and it took us ages.

Just WHEN are they going to build a by-pass around it? It’s totally crazy having all of this traffic on the city streets.

On the edge of the city I put in some diesel and then settled down on the autoroute just to get clear of the place. Caliburn was running quite well with just a little vibration that’s sprung up from somewhere, and we were bowling along quite nicely, so I just kept going.

Still three hours to home though, but only 2 and a bit via the motorway if you don’t mind the péages.

And one of my friends had told me a very useful tip. I’ve been paying “Class 2” for Caliburn because he’s over 1m90 in height, but apparently vans of Caliburn’s size are really “Class 1”, and apparently I ought to argue.

So at the first péage passage, Caliburn was classed as “Class 2”. So I pressed the button and explained. Sure enough, the tariff changed over to “Class 1”.

At the second péage, still “Class 2”, but as soon as I pressed the button to call, the tariff changed automatically to “Class 1” and a voice from Control said, before I’d even had time to say anything “I’m sorry. I’ve changed it for you”.

So this is a well-known phenomenon that doesn’t even need explaining, and when I think of all the times that I’ve travelled on the péages in a van and all the excess tolls that I must have paid and how I’ve been ripped off, and how the autoroute companies have been there ripping off van drivers for 15 years.

They must have made millions out of van drivers illegally over the years.

By the time that I reached Caen I really was flagging but I decided that with just an hour or so to go, I’d keep going. If I really felt bad I’d stop for another doze at the side of the road.

But here we are, back at home. 500 or so kilometres with just a brief doze and another stop for fuel. A far cry from when I could do 1000 kilometres non-stop without batting an eyelid, even after a full day’s work, but it’s still the longest day that I’ve had for several years, and it’s also after a good day out around the battlefields.

I ought to be really proud of myself, but to be honest, I’m just too tired to care right now.

Wednesday 25th April 2018 – I DON’T KNOW …

… whose silly idea this was but a flight at 06:15 in the morning should have given me a clue.

And so it was with a really heavy heart that I hauled myself out of my stinking pit at … errr … 02:00 following the cacophony of alarms and people knocking at the door.

But still I’d had plenty of time to go off on a journey during the night.

I was living in a village with a group of North Africans and the old lady of the village who had been wandering around came to see me in the house where I was living and then wandered away. In this village were two cows and they were both having some kind of psychological issues so I had to go to see an animal psychiatrist to make an appointment for one of them. So we had a little chat about this cow and then I decided that I would go home. But this cow decided that it would follow me and I don’t get on very well with large animals as regular readers of this rubbish will recall so I was rather put out by this. I had to dash home, reach the safety of the inside, lock the door and then park up a revolving door so that entry would be impossible but I could still get in and out of the house – something that was very complicated. And I had to do it pretty quickly too as I didn’t want to have a confrontation with this cow. But as I was trying to arrange the revolving door all of the villagers turned up. They had heard somehow that the old lady had been here and they wanted to come in to talk to her. But of course she wasn’t here, and I was wondering how I could tell them without arousing their anger or suspicions because I could see that although they looked reasonably good-natured, the wrong kind of word in the wrong kind of place could really upset them and we could have an “incident” here. It was all starting to become rather worrying.

The bus was due to leave at 02:41 so I had reckoned on it being here round about 03:15, so no-one was more surprised than me to find it outside the hotel when I hit the foyer at 02:15. Any chance of picking up some food at the all-night bar at the side of the pool promptly evaporated.

We were crammed like sardines into the bus – not a spare seat anywhere – and it took a mere 40 minutes to reach the airport on the way back. We must have come to the hotel via the scenic route.

Just by way of a change, I was one of the first to check in and was thus rewarded with an aisle seat. And passing security was something else. Bells and buzzers going off like nobody’s business but no-one seemed to care at all. That’s what I call a “progressive” attitude.

Take-off was timed for 06:15 but by that time we were probably already 500 feet off the ground. The plane was up there with us too and I for one am not at all used to this idea of people being early – especially in countries that are much more laid-back and in which time is of lesser importance than elsewhere.

We were in another elderly Airbus A320 that had Spanish signs plastered all over it, presumably from a previous employment, and which could have done with a really good clean, especially in the bathroom, of which only two out of three were working.

I had another seat up at the front against the aisle which was just as well because these Nouvelair jets are all rather like sardine tins and we are crammed in tightly. But then, as I have said before, it’s not as if we are going across the Atlantic on it, and the lack of comfort is adequately reflected in the lack of price.

We were served a breakfast – of an omelette and there was once more no vegan option despite my having requested one. But that’s not new, is it? What is new though is that I had missed my opportunity to stock up on stuff from the all-night restaurant.

At Brussels Airport I was first off the aeroplane, and by a long way too. And first at the baggage carousel too. Even more surprisingly I was down in the bowels of the station just as a train to the city was about to leave, so I hopped aboard.

But it was all to no avail because it pulled into Bruxelles-Midi at 11:15, just two minutes after the TGV that I usually catch had pulled out. And there was a wait of an hour and a half for the next one. I must say that I hadn’t expected to be on the 11:13 at all, but it was such a disappointment to be so near and yet so far.

At least it gave me enough time to go to the supermarket for a baguette for lunch and to pick up some of the nice raisin buns that they have. Remember that I had had no breakfast and I’d already been on the go for … errr … nine hours.

TGV gare du nord paris franceThe TGV was pretty full and I seemed to have been given a seat next to the person who had all of the luggage. And he was most upset about having to move it, and even more upset when I told him where to stick it.

Not too many people these days seem to know how to use the luggage racks in the train.

You’re probably wondering what the yellow box is in the foreground of this photo.

There are several of them scattered about all over the SNCF railway stations in France. They are called composteurs and you stick your ticket in there to composter it before you board the train.

What the machine does is to insert a time and date stamp on your ticket so that you can’t claim a refund on it as “unused” at a later date. And it’s an offence to travel on the SNCF with an uncomposted ticket.

There’s always an announcement as the train is pulling out of the station to the effect that “if you have forgotten to composter your ticket, please see the conductor immediately”. He’ll growl at you and stamp it by hand, but he’ll do much more than growl at you if he catches you before you catch him.

I didn’t get much of a sleep on board the train, and that was a disappointment. I’ll probably catch up with it later but at a most inconvenient time, I suppose.

Travelling through Paris was pretty straightforward. Line 5 to the Gare de l’Est and then Line 4 down to Montparnasse. But it’s a nightmare trying to get to the ticket office in the station there but it’s even worse just now because they are carrying out renovations there and building a commercial centre.

And the queue for tickets! It took ages to work our way down it to the front – and to find that the next train is the 16:43. There was an earlier way to get to Granville, going on the TGV to Rennes and then on the train to Caen but leaving at some tiny wayside station and catching the bus. But that’s like going in a big letter “Z” and costs a fortune, not to mention all of the effort.

So I went down to the platform for my train and made my butties instead, fighting off the pigeons.

SNCF gare de granville railway station manche normandy franceThe train that we should have caught is the “return” from Argentan but that was running 50 minutes late so they prepared an idle multiple-unit standing in a vacant platform. Even so, we were still 20 minutes late leaving. And as it was a 6-car unit instead of a 12-car unit we were crammed in there like sardines too.

As the train emptied out I finally managed to doze off. But not for long though – only about 10 minutes I reckon.

I can see that I shall be paying for all of my efforts in due course

We arrived back at Granville bang on time – the driver must have done well to catch up the missing 20 minutes along the way. But it was a long, sad, weary way back home dragging my suitcase behind me up the hill and with the pain in my legs.

It’s good to be back home, as Barry Hay once famously sang, but I would much rather be in Tunisia. It took me a couple of hours to sort myself out and then I made some tea out of a tin.

But what an effort? What a surprise? Who would have ever thought that I would have made it to the desert?

They say that the best things come as a complete surprise and this is certainly true.

I’m now off to bed. With no alarm call either. Just watch me wke up at 05:00 tomorrow morning.

Saturday 16th December 2017 – AND AS BARRY HAY …

… once famously said – “there’s one thing that I want to tell you, man, and that it’s goof to be back home”.

Mind you, I nearly didn’t make it, because I didn’t have a very good day.

Sherlock Holmes – or rather Arthur Wontner – did the trick last night. I managed about 2 minutes of the film before I was away with the fairies. All of my walking – 155% of my daily exercise – had seen to that.

Mind you – if I do lay my hands on the person who decided that it would be fun to slam all of the doors in the building at 04:18 this morning he would be someone else who will be drinking soup through a straw for the foreseeable future.

None of that prevented me from going off on my travels though. I was in some kind of warehouse plece with a few other people chasing after a long-haired cat – a black mangy type of animal – with the intention of stroking it. But it disappeared from my view and I couldn’t remember what it was that I was supposed to be chasing and found myself chasing after a large wasp. Just imagine trying to give that a stroke!

This morning I wasn’t feeling so good. I had a bad attack of nausea that made me quite unsteady on my feet. But I managed to calm myself down intime to go searching for a bakkerei. I trawled the streets for 15 minutes before I found a supermarket, and only realised on the way back that had I turned right out of the alley instead of left, the first door in that direction would have sold me a baguette.

I made my butties for the journey but had run out of time so no shower – I can wait until I return home for that.

The train to Brussels was pretty uneventful but the bad news there was that to catch the earlier train would have cost me an extra €46:00. That’s not part of the plan at all so I sat down quietly in a very cold, draughty waiting area and read my book for a while.

The Thalys was one of the older generation of trains with everything manual and I couldn’t make the wi-fi work. But that’s not the end of the world at all really. I have plenty of other things to do.

Apart from visiting the bathroom I slept almost all of the way to Paris, and then I managed to cross Paris on the metro without any incident – and isn’t that a change for just recently?

The walk down the platform to Vaugirard was pretty uneventful, except that some woman was urging her mother on, in the most ungracious terms, to hurry for the train. Mummy was about 80 and so this situation brought back some memories from a previous existence.

They missed their train but there was another one in half an hour so they had to run all the way back to the ticket office to swap tickets and then run all the way back.

The look of despair on this old woman’s face was something that I shan’t ever forget.

But Vaugirard was packed out completely. I’ve never seen it so busy. Apparently it’s school holidays starting today. I grabbed a seat in the waiting room next to a nice girl who was going to Granville from Martinique for Christmas – the last seat available. We had quite a chat and I had to fight people out of her seat when she nipped to the bathroom.

The train was packed to the gunwhales with people and once again, I slept most of the way back. But on the station I bumped into my girl from the waiting room and I wished her a Merry .

Then began the long trudge back here.

It was cold in here, which is no surprise, but I had the heating on full blast while I watched Bangor City beat Cefn Druids on the laptop. The little laptop because the big one decided that it would do an upgrade as soon as I switched it on, and that took hours.

Tea was once more out of a tin, and then I went for a walk – for no good reason other than the fact that I was at 89% of my daily activity. I might as well wind it up to 100% – as it has been for every day this week.

Now it’s an early night. i’ll watch a film too. That seems to be working well right now.

Saturday 14th October 2017 – DESPITE THE FACT …

… that the hotel was not as quiet as I would have liked when I returned from the football, I was dead to the world all through the night until the alarm went off this morning.

And I wasn’t alone either.

I was on my travels last night with a couple of young girls and we were nipping about from island to island something like as if we were out on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Yes, I know where I would much rather be right now.

I had some things to do on the laptop of course and then I stuck myself under the shower. Yes, I quite like this hotel.

The next problem was to find my prescription. As you might remember, I could only obtain half of the stuff that I needed at the chemists. But despite having a really good search of my affairs, I couldn’t find the things. In the end, I just went out for bread at the Moroccan bakers across the road and that was that.

With a couple of minutes to go, I turned out my affairs yet again and there they were – in the wrong pocket of the backpack. And then we had the confusion about trying to find the key to the room, which I had had in my hand not five minutes ago.

I dashed over to the chemists across the road but it was an old prehistoric place run by an old prehistpric woman and there was no chance of her having the stuff in stock.

She assured me that there was a chemist on the Gare du Midi but could I find it? I had a good look around but I couldn’t see it anywhere. In the end I gave up and went to pick up my ticket for the train.

TGV paris gare du nord franceAs luck would have it, there was a seat available on the earlier train at 10:13. It would cost me €29:00 extra as there’s no Senior Citizens discount on that train, but Senior Citizens discount is available in First Class and that would cost me €30:00 with a free breakfast included.

High time that I spoilt myself a little, and the carrot cake was delicious.

And here’s a surprise. Dragging my oversize suitcase off the train, a passing policeman asked me if he could carry it for me. That’s a first, sin’t it?

It took a while to find the ticket office in the Metro at the Gare du Nord, In the end I located a ticket machine and it was reasonably straightforward to obtain a ticket. It’s the line 4 southwards from there that takes me all the way to the Gare Montparnasse.

But struggling through the automatic gates with the suitcase was something – the suitcase made it through but I was trapped. Nevertheless I managed to fight my way out.

There was a train pulling into the platform just as I arrived so I was able to wedge myself in a corner with my bags right by the door. A handy little place to be where I can just fall out of the door when we arrive.

I don’t remember the route from the Metro to the railway station being as complicated as it turned out to be. About four flights of stairs to negotiate with no lift, ramp or escalator either.

escalators and stairs paris gare montparnasse franceAnd then the climb up to the railway station itself involved several flights of stairs going upwards. This time there were some escalators, but only for people travelling down.

And I’m still trying to work that one out.

Having picked up the ticket from the machine I could make my way right across to the fartherst part of the station complex – the platforms at Vaugirard where my train should be waiting. And with me being an hour early, and being in possession of some bread and vegan cheese, I could make myself some butties.

sncf gare granville manche normandy franceThere was quite a crowd of people waiting for the train – in fact, it was quite full. But it was a pleasant run through the Saturday afternoon sunshine. I had plenty to do on the return trip, but I dozed for most of the journey.

And I ran out of stuff to drink too. That was something of a tragedy and no mistake.

The one problem with the local buses is that no-one in the town seems to know how to organise a timetable correctly. The buses run every 50 minutes, and I don’t have a problem with that, especially as it only costs €1:00 a trip, but when the train arrives at 17:03, what’s the point of having the buses arrive at 16:53, meaning that you have to wait 40 minutes for the next one?

But apart from that, the whole thing is quite painless and by 18:15 I was back in my apartment having a coffee.

Despite everything that I needed to do, I couldn’t keep going. I was in bed by 20:30 and that was that. The whole thing has taken far too much out of me.

But as Barry Hay once famously said – “Something I gotta tell you, man – it’s good to be back home”.

Wednesday 9th December 2015 – I’VE BEEN OUT …

… on my travels today – the first time since I came back from hospital last Friday.

In fact, I was out on my travels during the night too. I was working in an aeroplane hangar and one of the jobs that I had to do was to fit a new wheel and tyre on the undercarriage of ar aeroplane. In fact, the wheel bore a very great resemblance to the wheel and tyre that I fitted the other week on my wheelbarrow. And each time I fitted it, the air pressure went down and the tyre went flat. Eventually I had a good listen and I could hear the air escaping from a puncture in the inner tube. But like a good Civil Servant that I was, I’d been told to put this particular wheel and tyre on the aeroplane, and so I did. Fixing the puncture was obviously too much like hard work.
But from there we moved on a little and I was part of an undercover police force that was investigating the theft of a very dangerous chemical from this hangar. It was one that dissolved almost everything with which it came in contact (so how did they find a container in which to keep it?) and was on the Top Secret list. And as we were searching this hangar for clues, there was a man, badly eaten away by the acid and with bits of his body like his left thigh missing and with yellow skin, trying desperately to hide from our view underneath a 50-gallon oil drum that was lying on its side. But having failed in our search, we did however know that something had been posted to someone, put in a letter box somewhere. We were all crushed inside an old Ford Y van, a red Post Office van, and we were looking at all of the letters that had been collected from various letter boxes. All of a sudden, one particular letter caught my eye so I opened it. It was addressed to a cycle maker, and seemed to be some kind of coding in a five-letter group on an old blue order form. We sent a woman with the order form to give to the cycle maker to see what happened, which she did. And a couple of days later, she was called back and gived a brand new specially-made kids’ cycle painted green and white and she looked totally ridiculous on itn being a rather large woman. But we were no further forward and so we retired to plot our next move.

And this is when the alarm went off and I had to struggle to find the phone which, in the meantime, was waking everyone in the house. And I was thinking what another good sleep I’d just had.

After breakfast and the visit of the nurse to give me my injection, I had a shower and packed my bag and then Terry and I set off for Montlucon, stopping on the way at Pionsat for fuel and my order from the pharmacy.

At Montlucon we went to the hospital for my 11:00 appointment, which turned out to be about midday before I was seen.

The good news is that I don’t have leukaemia. The bad news is that I have a form of lymphoma. There are several types of this illness, some of which are quite aggressive and others not so. It seems that I have one of the lesser kinds. There is a whole range of reasons why this might have occurred, and one of these reasons is due to something to do with an aggressive protein, and my blood count shows that there is a protein that has gone off the scale in the blood count. It’s not the “usual suspect” in this respect, but nevertheless it merits further enquiries and so I’m due for further tests.

But as an aside, two points raise their ugly head. If it is a protein issue, there are not the facilities to treat it at Montlucon and so I will have to go elsewhere. It looks as if I’ll be on my travels again in the New Year. And in the second case, I seem to be full of ganglions. Not that they are dangerous apparently, but their presence has certainly been noted and in all kinds of places too.

On the way back we stopped for a late lunch and then went to Neris-les-Bains in search of chocolates for Liz because it’s her birthday today. After that, I went back home, for the first time for almost three weeks.

We’ve had plenty of sun, plenty of wind and plenty of excess solar energy, 694 amp-hours in just 19 days and that’s impressive for a period approaching the winter solstice. I also had a good rummage around and found a spare door lock, and I fitted that onto the front door so that it can be opened from the outside. This might come in handy if people other than me need access to the house.

I hung around here for a while too because, although it was cold, it was nice to be on my own for a while and relax in the relative comfort and security of my own surroundings. As Barry Hay once famously said on the beach at Scheveningen about 25 years ago “I tell you what man, it’s good to be back home”.

I started up Caliburn, threw some spare clothes, soya milk and vitamin B12 drink into the back and set off for Liz and Terry’s. First time Caliburn has had a run out for a while of course. And I mustn’t forget Strawberry Moose who has been invited to spend Christmas away from home.

As I drove back here, I remembered thinking “wouldn’t it be nice if the next round of tests were to reveal that I don’t need these twice-daily injections and the district nurse didn’t have to come round so often” and then I thought “blimmin’ ‘eck – it’s 19:00 and if I don’t put my foot down I’ll miss the nurse!” I had completely forgotten.

But I was back first and here I am at Liz and Terry’s. All ready for Round 2, and trying to work out a cunning plan about going home. I managed to take a huge load of wood upstairs to my attic without stopping, and that was certainly better than before I went to hospital, so things are looking up. I’ll see what my next couple of blood tests tell me and then I’ll make a decision.

Sunday 17th May 2015 – WELL, WASN’T THAT EXPENSIVE?

There I was, deep in the arms of Morpheusin the small hours in my little rest area at the side of a Swiss Autoroute when there was a banging on the door and a cry of “Kontrole!”

Yes, the Swiss police are not noted for their sense of humour but then they do have a job to do, I suppose, and I duly presented my papers.

While they were being checked, I had a lengthy chat with one of the other officers about this and that, and then it came down to the crunch “where’s your vignette?”

If you use a Swiss autoroute you have to buy a special sticker to give you the necessary entitlement, and in all my years of travelling I’ve never ever bothered with it. But sooner or later I was bound to be picked up, and sleeping in a rest area on the autoroute made it an odds-on certainty.

No complaints from me about it, although it stopped me going back to sleep again. And while I was lying there in half a daze, it occurred to me that I’d carried on a conversation for about 15 minutes in German without even pausing for breath. Things are looking up!

overnight stop rest area autoroute switzerland may 2015Next morning in the bright sunshine, a took a photo of the rest area just to prove that I had been here, and then I made myself a coffee. Nothing else though, because I realised that I had forgotten to buy anything for breakfast

I was definitely having a bad morning.

The irony of all of this is that just about 15 minutes later, The Lady Who Lives In The Sat-Nav directed me off the autoroute and into the Jura mountains for a leisurely drive home, most of which was completely uneventful except for at the boulangerie where some woman moaned like hell because I had the nerve to complain that she had blocked me in on the car park. Silly four-legged animal well-known for giving a high-quality dairy drink!

My road back took me via Macon and that gave me an idea. I telephoned my friend Jean-Marc who lives up in the hills at the back of the town to see if he was in for visitors, and to give him an opportunity to flee the country before I arrived.

We first met when we were both 16 – Crewe was twinned with Macon and we exchanged families during one summer. I went to live there and he went to live in Crewe. And we met up again last year under the most bizarre circumstances, as long-term readers of this rubbish will well-recall.

We had a long chat and discussed old times for quite a while, and drank a couple of cups of coffee, for which I was very grateful.

And then I had a completely uneventful drive back home, arriving at about 20:05.

And as Barry Hay once famously said during a live Golden Earring concert on Scheveningen Beach back in 199(3?) – “let me tell you one thing, man, it’s always good to be back home!”

Friday 10th October 2014 – I MUST HAVE BEEN TIRED LAST NIGHT.

10:45 when I heaved myself out of the stinking pit, and had the ‘phone not rung downstairs at that time, I would probably still be there now. Terry said that he had never known anyone sleep that long, which just goes to show that he’s clearly not kept himself up-to-date with these pages, and that he’s never gone two days with just a fitful doze or two in between. But then again, my lifestyle has always been somewhat extreme compared to the norm, I suppose. Not many people would put up for a minute with what I do just for pleasure.

After breakfast, we had a long chat about things around here and when Liz came back we had lunch. Then, on their way to see Rob and Julie, they dropped me off here.

Caliburn started with just a glance at the ignition key – good old Caliburn – but we are having some issues here right now. I have (once again) left the fridge plugged in permanently while I was away, instead of in the overcharge circuit, and so with the bad weather for the last three or four days that they have had here, the batteries are right down. And with the forecast weather for the next few days, there won’t be much chance of topping things up for a while so I’ll be on short rations again. I really must remember to sort out the fridge properly each time that I go away. I did exactly the same thing last year, you might remember.

The battery in the laptop went flat after a couple of hours’ work and so I was wondering how to charge it up. By then of course, it was late afternoon and in the pouring rain I wasn’t going to be doing much else so the idea came to my mind to go to St Eloy to do my shopping. It would fill in the time this evening, save me a journey tomorrow, give Caliburn an airing and also charge up the laptop. Problem solved. Wasn’t I glad that I had bought that 12-volt charging lead a few months ago?

At LIDL I met Amondine from the Anglo-French group. She was there with her children doing her shopping and we had quite a chat. All in all, at the shops, I spent €21 for a week’s supply of food. That’s much more like old times.

Back here, the internet is down, so I discovered. Dunno what has happened here. I just did a few other bits and pieces and went for an early night. I’ll resolve this issue tomorrow.

Or maybe some other time.

I dunno.

But as Barry Hay once famously said at a concert at Scheveningen Beach, “I’ll tell you one thing, man. It’s good to be back home”.