Tag Archives: class 18

Wednesday 17th November 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but sitting on the settee in my little room in the Dekenstraat in Leuven. It’s that time again.

After having a really bad night yet again, I was up and about fairly early and it didn’t take too long for me to sort myself out, make my sandwiches and coffee and do a little cleaning up (only a little) before I headed off towards the railway station.

fish processing plant port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo November 2021Before I went too far, I wanted to check to see that the NIKON 1 J5 was working properly and the dull sky of the early morning was a good time to try.

At the viewpoint at the corner of the Boulevard Vaufleury and Boulevard des 2E et 202E de Ligne overlooking the Fish Processing Plant. The plant was illuminated as the refrigerated lorries were loading up and I reckoned that if it would produce something reasonable out of this, there would be no need to nip home and fetch another camera.

And when I looked at it later, it’s come out much better than I expected. I’ve said before that it’s not that the camera is a bad camera, it’s that I’m pushing it to the limits of its capabilities.

baie de mont st michel port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo November 2021The photo encouraged me to have a little tinker with the settings and try to push the camera on a little more.

Here’s a nice wide-angle photo of the northern part of the Baie de Mont St Michel. The light on Le Loup is quite clear, as if a little blurred (which is hardly a surprise in this light at this speed with a hand-held shot) and the street lights around the bay from St Pair to Carolles are quite clear too.

It seems to me that the repair that I’ve had done to the camera is working well enough and now I’m tempted to send away the old NIKON D5000 that has never worked properly since I dropped it on A CONCRETE FLOOR IN QUÉBEC

The steps down the Rampe du Monte à Regret are still closed so I had to walk all the way down the Rue des Juifs and the Rue Paul Poirier which adds a few minutes to my time. But in compensation, the climb up to the top of the hill was much easier than it was the last time I dragged a suitcase up here.

There were only one or two stops to catch my breath and in reality I suppose that I could have pushed on regardless had I tried.

gec alstom regiolis 84563 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo November 2021The train wasn’t in yet so I had to wait for about 20 minutes for it to arrive.

It was just a 6-car unit today and there weren’t all that many passengers on board. I had a pair of seats to myself and that enabled me to back up my computer in peace and quiet for a change.

There was even 15 minutes when I could have a comfortable little doze to make up for what I didn’t have during the night.

The train pulled into Gare Montparnasse on time and once more I tried the route all the way down the Rue du Départ to the metro entrance. It really is much quicker and easier than going down into the labyrinth and clambering up and down all these flights of steps.

There was only one person in the queue at the kiosk at the bottom of the steps at the Metro entrance so I thought that this would be the moment to buy another pile of tickets as I’m running low.

However the woman in front of me, a Spaniard, was having difficulty with her French and was there for ages trying to understand what the guy behind the window was trying to tell her.

Eventually I managed to be served and I dashed down onto e very crowded platform where I had to wait a few minutes until an equally-packed train came in. We all scrambled aboard and I was lucky enough to find a seat.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4551 PBA gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo November 2021At the Gare du Nord I was still earlier than I used to be despite the encounter at the ticket window.

Consequently, as you might be expecting, we had to wait for an age for our train. There was already one trainset standing at the platform, one of the TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt “Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam” trainsets, but it was too much to expect that this was going to be mine.

Our train was going to be a two-trainset unit and the rear portion arrived from Lille rather late and had to be cleaned and tidied before we could board it.

TGV INOUI 216 are TGV Reseau Duplex gare de lille flandres railway station lille France Eric Hall photo November 2021It goes without saying that I would be right down at the far end of the train. However, although it took me longer to walk right down there, it means that I have less distance to walk at Lille.

It’s one of the TGV Reseau Duplex trainsets, and so once again we are travelling in a hybrid train made up of two different types of trainset. That’s becoming more and more of a regular occurrence.

Although we were late setting out from the Gare du Nord, the train made up the time by the time we reached Lille Flandres railway station. That was good news for me because I wasn’t in the mood to run down the road.

And the walk to Lille Europe was easier than last time too.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4519 PBA gare de lille europe railway station lille France Eric Hall photo November 2021As I walked down the steps (the escalator wasn’t working) into the station at Lille Europe, the train for Brussels pulled in at the same time.

That’s not an issue because there’s a 20-minute wait while they uncouple the front trainset so there wasn’t any panic. The trainset that was left behind was another TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam trainset.

Our train set off on time and I had a nice relaxing journey reading a book on the laptop all the way to Brussels

We were a few minutes late arriving in Brussels so I had to run for my train to Leuven.

push me pull you gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo November 2021However I gave that up when I found that the escalator to the platform was out of order. I wasn’t up to running all the way up the stairs with my suitcase. Instead I went and waited for the next one.

That one was one of the pushme-pullyou trains that run between Eupen and Oostende and as usual, the locomotive was at the rear end pushing the train along.

It was only 10 minutes behind the one to Hasselt and Genk so I didn’t have to hang around too long and for a change at the Gare du Midi it wasn’t too cold and draughty standing on the platform.

class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station leuven belgium Eric Hall photo November 2021When we arrived at Leuven I had to hang a round for a couple of minutes to see what the locomotive was.

As I expected, it was one of the Class 18 electric locomotives behind (or in front of) which we travel most of the time. They provide most of the motive power to the long-distance Inter-City trains.

Once the train had pulled away I went to the supermarket at the back of the station for my drink and, for a change, my bread too. I’m not going to have time to go to the supermarket this evening so as long as I have my stuff for breakfast I’ll be fine.

cherry picker martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric Hall photo November 2021Outside the railway station across the road in the Martelarenplein, there was a cherry picker parked up.

That can only mean one thing – and that is that the Christmas decorations will be going up any moment soon. It’s that time of year already.

The walk down to my little room was easier than it has been of late, and as I arrived I bumped into the centre manager. We had a little chat. After all, it’s been a few months since I’ve seen him last.

After a little doze I had a shower and washed my clothes and then went out to meet Alison. We went back to her house for falafel and chips, and a nice long chat..

Now I’m back here and I’m off to bed. I’ve had a hard day and I’m exhausted as you might expect. A good sleep will do me good and hopefully I’ll be fighting fit for my appointment.

And an early trip out to buy a breadknife as there isn’t one here and I’ll be struggling to cut the loaf that I had bought.

Saturday 16th October 2021 – THIS NEW WAY …

… home actually seemed to work a lot easier than going home the normal way. So if ever my 07:17 from Brussels is cancelled in the future and I can’t have another cheap ticket any other way, I’m going to consider quite seriously going this way home again.

The alarm was set for 06:00 but it was pretty much a waste of time because I didn’t have much sleep at all. The heating made so much racket that in the end I went down and switched it off, and then I ended up with people talking outside my door for what seemed like hours.

Nevertheless I was up and about as soon as the alarm went off and it didn’t take me long to finish packing and to make my sandwiches. There was even time for coffee and toast for breakfast.

During the night despite the lack of sleep I’d been on my travels again. We’d been having a history class at University but the teacher hadn’t turned up so we’d been running it ourselves. He finally turned up and started, going round the class talking to each one of us. He mentioned to me about going round to teach his daughter guitar if I was free at 17:30 that evening. When I left work I went to park up somewhere to wait. After a while I thought that I’d better ring Laurence to tell her where I was, that I’d be late. She had obviously been asleep because she was very slurred with a tired voice. She just muttered something about the management but I didn’t hear a thing after that. Then I realised that I didn’t have my guitar so I thought that I’d better return to the office and fetch it.

We were all in a car somewhere. We turned up at a house where we were supposed to be. I couldn’t get my car into the drive because the cars were parked too far close up. I had my brother move his car but there still wasn’t enough room which I thought was really strange. Then I realised that the one on the left was too far over so I pushed that out of the way so that I could drive in. Parked in there was the red Opel coupé of a girl whom I knew, really rusty and rotten. Whoever it was with me said “no tax again”. I replied “it’s taxed until June”. Then I had a closer look and it was June 1988 in the window. I said “that sounds just like her, doesn’t it?”. We walked round the back of the house to go in ready to see the lighting of the Christmas tree.

07:00 is the latest time for me to leave my digs because there’s an express train to Brussels at 07:33. But I was on my way at about 06:50.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021The work that’s taking place in the Martelarenplein outside the station is another one of these tasks that seems to be taking forever. It’s been going on for a couple of years now and progress seems to be very slow.

The fencing is still all around the work so it’s very difficult to take a photo, and the dark early morning doesn’t help very much either, but I did the best that I could in the circumstances.

With having set out so early, I was well in advance of my timetable and luckily, there was an earlier express train, the 07:21, so I didn’t have to wait too long because it was absolutely taters out here and I wish that I’d brought a coat..

class 18 electric locomotive 1903 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021The train that came into Leuven was pulled by, despite its number, a class 18 electric locomotive of the type that we catch quite regularly.

In the darkness I couldn’t see anything of the journey, but we pulled into Brussels with 45 minutes to go before my train to Paris.

And sitting on a draughty station in this weather for that long froze me to the marrow. If there’s a waiting room at the gare du Midi I have yet to find it.

Luckily though, the train came in early and we were allowed to board pretty quickly, which was just as well

Thalys PBKA 4304 gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo October 2021The train that I’m on is one of the PBKA – Pars, Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam – trainsets, the one on the left in this image taken at the Gare du Nord in Paris.

having scrambled aboard the crowded train to warm up, I found myself sitting next to a Chinese student who was confused about the application of the Eurorail pass. He didn’t realise that there’s a supplement to pay on the TGV and so he was stuck for an excess charge.

This train is a direct one to Paris. No changing at Lille, which is good news for me because the walk is a painful one in my state of health.

As I have said before … “and on many occasions too” – ed … I don’t know why the train from Lille to Paris goes from a different railway station to the one that the long-distance TGVs use.

Much of the route to Paris was spent catching up with my beauty sleep so I was wide awake when we arrived in Paris. I had to show my vaccine passport on arrival and then go to look for RER track E.

It’s actually quite a walk but it’s on the level with no obstructions and on a really good surface so it didn’t seem like too much effort.

Down in the bowels, I didn’t have long to wait for a train. Much more comfortable than the metro, rather like a cheap mainline multiple-unit in fact, and it was only 15 minutes to the Gare St Lazare.

There was quite a walk from there too but once more, it was all on the level and going up to the station was on an escalator so there wasn’t any struggle with the baggage.

clocks outside gare st lazare paris France Eric Hall photo October 2021According to my notes, I’ve never been to the Gare St Lazare before so I went outside for a look around as I had some time.

This was quite interesting, all of these clocks. It’s a design by someone called Armand Fernandez, known as “Arman” and not “Arman in Havana”, and was commissioned by the French Government in 1985.

The station is pretty cramped in its surroundings by other buildings and nowhere is it possible to take a decent photograph.

gare st lazare France Eric Hall photo October 2021Inside the station though, it’s light and airy, having been modernised and upgraded about 10 years or so ago.

It’s not very easy to navigate though as the destination boards and platforms aren’t very clearly indicated.

And while finding where the platform that I need is one thing, finding my way onto it was something else completely.

There’s a “magic eye” that reads the QR code of your ticket, but the eye isn’t where you expect it to be and it took me 5 minutes and the assistance of a passer-by to enable me to find a way to pass the barrier.

56643 class Z 56600 electric multiple unit gare st lazare paris France Eric Hall photo October 2021My train is a newish double-decker multiple-unit, a class Z 56600 Electric Multiple-Unit “Regio 2N” double-decker built by Bombardier and entered service in 2014.

It has all mod cons and is very comfortable. Furthermore it’s non-stop to Caen and it doesn’t hang about either, with a top speed of 200kph.

It’s certainly worth remembering this route for the future if ever there’s a perturbation on my regular route. And if they do electrify my line, something that is under discussion right now, we might even see these in Granville which would be nice.

gare de caen railway station Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021At Caen there’s a one-hour wait for the train to Granville so I could go for a walk around outside.

No problems with photographing the station here because there is very little to obstruct the view. i’ve actually been here once before, but not on a train. I came this way on the bus once when there was a rail strike and we stopped here for a breather

It’s not the original railway station of course. Like so many others in the battle zone in Northern France, it was heavily bombed during the early summer of 1944 to prevent the rapid deployment of Axis forces by rail.

eglise st michel de vaucelles caen Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021Further down the street in the distance above the tram is a church that I think is the Eglise St Michel De Vaucelles.

There was a church on this site in the days of Charlemagne but there is no trace now of any remains from this period. The church that we see today dates from the early part of the 12th Century although it has been heavily modified since then.

It’s one of the starting points for the pilgrimages to the Mont St Michel.

By now it was lunchtime so I went back inside to eat my sandwiches and I actually treated myself to a mug of hot coffee. I’m really pushing the boat out these days, aren’t I?

bombardier 82792 gare de caen railway station Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021The train that I catch from Caen is one of the Bombardier units that we have seen quite regularly in Granville.

It’s quite bizarre because there are only four power points per carriage and they take some finding. I had to wait for half the journey before a seat at one of them became vacant.

But imagine that! Just four power points, and in the 21st Century too!

These trains are little branch-line rattlers and not as comfortable as the one on which I’ve just been travelling, but at least it does its job and brought me back to Granville.

marité philcathane belle france chausiaise port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021Coming back home was easier than it has been recently. I only had to stop four times coming up the hill to home.

One of my stops was at the viewpoint overlooking the inner harbour. Marité is down there of course, with the trawler Philcathane across the harbour on the other side.

Down here close to me are Belle France, the new ferry for the Ile de Chausey, and Chausiaise, the little Chausey freighter in orange, grey and white.

By the looks of things too, there’s someone having a go at mending his nets on the quayside too.

sailing school baie de mont st michel Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021Further up the hill at another one of my rest stops I could see that the sailing schools were in full operation today.

There are a couple of the yellw and orange ones having a sail about, but the black ones seem to be having a conference of some kind.

Arriving back at the apartment I made myself a coffee and reflected on how nice it was to be back home. And only four stops coming back up the hill with the load that I had in my suitcase was quite some progress compared to how I’ve been just recently.

Football later on, in the Welsh Cup. Colwyn Bay of the 2nd Division against Cardiff Metro of the 1st. A game rather short on skill and technique, but a proper cup-tie all the same played in front of a big, noisy crowd. Cardiff Metro had most of the play, missed a penalty, had a goal disallowed for offside and missed three or four absolute sitters.

Colwyn Bay, who were on the back foot for most of the game and only had one real shot on goal. And so, as you might expect, Colwyn Bay won the game 1-0 to move into the next round.

Now that I’ve had tea, I ought to be going to bed but I’m not tired right now. I’ll go to bed at about 03:00 I suppose and then sleep through until tomorrow afternoon.

That’s what usually happens.

Wednesday 13th October 2021 – IT REALLY TAKES …

… some believing that for the last four and a half years I’ve been flogging myself through the back-breaking, if not heart-breaking labyrinth that is the bowels of the Gare Montparnasse.

Let me give you the background to this.

The Gare Montparnasse is not the original site of the station. That site, where the legendary Granville train of 100-odd years ago failed to stop at the buffers and crashed into the street below is now the site of the Tour Montparnasse.

They moved the station back about 500 metres or so but they didn’t move the metro station, so you have to descent about 10 flights of stairs into the bowels of the station, walk 500 metres along a dingy corridor, and then climb and descend a succession of steps that take you over other metro lines, sewage pipes, water pipes and just about everything.

As I said, I’ve been doing this for four and a half years, sometimes even with some really heavy luggage and in my state of health and it’s been a nightmare.

But not any more.

Before I came away, I had a look at a street map and then at one of these live camera sites and I’ve had a change.

Today, I just went down one flight of stairs, outside the railway station into the open air for a walk of 400 metres down the Rue de Départ on the level to the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse.

There, I went down an escalator, then down one flight of steps and I was on the platform. As easy as that, after all of this struggling for all of these years.

While I was doing it all, I was keeping an eye on the times and I reckoned that I’d arrived at the Gare du Nord 2 trains earlier than usual too.

So this morning I was up at 06:00 after another bad night’s sleep but I was hard at it from the start, making my sandwiches, cleaning up the place, disinfecting the drains and even washing the floor. I must be feeling better.

Plenty of stuff on the dictaphone too. I was with Nerina last night and We’d been out for a meal. I’d been somewhere, the bathroom probably, and when I came back the meal was ready. The waiter gave me a warning about the bottle of wine. When I looked at it, it was €24:00. I thought that Nerina had been pushing the boat out a little. We had a lengthy chat about this and that, with Nerina working on the taxis and everything. We were talking about old times here and there, mostly about her old times, not very much about mine. I’d received a card from someone whom I thought at first was her but she handed me another one. I asked about this 1st card. We had a look at it but couldn’t identify anything. She had some fun trying to guess then I had to go to take some papers over to someone to check because it was about a job abroad. I asked about it and the subject of these people came up. I asked him about them but he didn’t know them very well either and didn’t understand what this card was all about. At some point I’d gone to the vehicle wholesalers. They had a Vanden Plas, a big 4.0 litre one and I wanted some parts for it. I wondered if my parts account was still valid after all these years.

I’d been skiing with a ski club, that one with Terry Large, I think. We’d been skiing in that mountain pass about which I dream occasionally. But when they were showing the films there wasn’t any snow there. There were a couple of army tanks going past. Someone went past in a big 4×4 pulling an enormous boat and managed to get it stuck. Everyone had to help it around this corner. I went up to see the film in the lounge after we had all come back and I couldn’t see very much of it because they had already shown it. We were only getting near the end. Then I had to pack and there were all kinds of things like oil cans, things like that that I had to fit into my suitcase. Then I thought that my bag, with all of my ski clothes in it, wasn’t there. I had to ask where it was but I couldn’t find the people to ask. Someone gave me a couple of e-mail addresses but I couldn’t understand them and they sighed with exasperation. In the end I copied them down. One of them said to tell one of these people who your sister is because he knows here and she was here a minute ago. I still didn’t have everything ready and I was worried about all of these cans leaking out in my suitcase and everything. While I was there someone talked to me about this pass. I said that I knew it very well because I only live 9 miles the other side at one time.

lorry emptying waste bins place d'armes Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021On my way out of the apartment, I was glad that I actually had my camera at the ready because the refuse lorry was there.

As well as the bins for the household waste, the glass and plastic etc, there’s also a big bin for the waste paper. This morning the lorry was there to collect it just as I was leaving the building.

Had I been 2 minutes earlier I would have seen him dropping the lot into the back of his lorry but instead this morning I just managed to catch him dropping the bin back onto the ground.

That was an exciting start to the morning. I set off to the station with a bounce in my step.

fish processing plant port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021Not that I went very far, trying to negotiate the pavement in the dark without falling over a bollard.

What caught my eye was the Fish Processing Plant, and what a hive of activity that was this morning. There has obviously been a good catch overnight because not only do we have 3 refrigerated lorries there this morning there is also quite a collection of other vehicles.

Continuing on my way through town towards the station, I reflected that taking a bigger suitcase with me, even though I’ve lightened the load, was a good idea. It was easier to pull and its bigger wheels were easier to manoeuvre. I actually made it to the station only stopping three times for breath.

SNCF Class BB67400 diesel 267455 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021When I arrivd at the railway station, my train hadn’t yet come in.

But we did have a visitor in there today, a locomotive that we haven’t seen here before. She’s 267455, one of the SNCF’s 228 Class BB67400 diesel locomotives.

Introduced between 1969 and 1975, they were the final evolution of the old Class BB67000s dating from the early 60s to replace what remained of the SNCF’s steam locomotives. For a great many years they were the mainstay of the heavy freight and passenger trains on the French non-electrified railway network.

But as for what she and her friend are doing here, that’s a mystery because we aren’t ever likely to see the kind of freight train coming here that needs a double-headed pair of locomotives like these.

gec alstom regiolis 84581 gare de granville railway station manche normandy France Eric Hall photo October 2021Before I could go and inspect the rear locomotive, my train to Paris turned up so I wandered off and clambered aboard. I was ready for a good sit-down.

My seat today was one in a four-seat place. While two of the seats were occupied, the one next to me wasn’t so once I’d updated the laptop I could have a decent sleep for a while.

The rest of the journey was spent reading an E-book about Polar explorers. One of these days, I’m going to make up my own map of the Frosen North and indicate thereupon all of the places of interest that the Polar Explorers of the Golden Age of Polar Exploration had visited.

gec alstom regiolis 84582 gare montparnasse paris France Eric Hall photo October 2021To my surprise, and everyone else’s, the train pulled in bang on time at Montparnasse, as you can tell by the clock.

From the platform I descended the flight of steps to the lower concourse and headed off into the wild blue yonder, boldly going where no man had gone before.

As I mentioned earlier, the journey was so much easier than going down into the bowels of the earth and fighting my way through the labyrinth to the metro station. I shall be doing this part of the journey again on a regular basis and I wish that I had done it before. I felt much more relaxed when I arrived on the platform.

Arriving earlier than usual at the Gare du Nord I had plenty of time to relax. I had a quiet sit-down on one of the benches to wait.

And that’s one thing that annoys me intensely – the waiting arrangements at the Gare du Nord. There isn’t a waiting room that I have found, in the traditional meaning of the words, and for one of the busiest stations in Europe the seating arrangements for people waiting for a train are really poor.

There can’t be more than 50 seats all told, and that is really sad. I remember how I was feeling after fighting the good fight through the underground and then finding that there was nowhere to sit to recover.

TGV INOUI 212 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo October 2021But one of the very few advantages about Covid is that because of all of the new procedures on long-distance trains, they are opening the gates early. I was one of the first on board.

Today’s train is, as expected, one of the TGV Reseau Duplex “double deckers” that are quite common on the French TGV network. They are starting to show their age now, which is probably why they are slowly being relegated to running the shuttle between Paris and Lille.

My first journey on one was years ago from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport when I was on my way to Montreal and I wish that I was on my way to Montreal again right now.

TGV INOUI 226 TGV Reseau Duplex gare de lille flandres railway station lille  France Eric Hall photo October 2021The other end of our two-unit train was another TGV Reseau Duplex, as I found out when we pulled into Lille Flandres railway station.

And then I had the walk across town and up the hill to Lille Europe Railway Station and that wasn’t as difficult as it has been of late either with my different suitcase.

But what I don’t understand is why the train actually goes into Lille Flandres and not Lille Europe. They share the same track up as far as the approach to the stations and then split off to go their separate ways. And what you have is a relentless stream of people swarming out of the one station and up the road into the other

TGV POS 4401 gare de lille europe lille France Eric Hall photo October 2021at Lille Europe I didn’t have long to wait at all for the train to arrive from the Midi.

The train, at least, my end, was one of the POS units that used to work the lines out to Eastern France until they were replaced by more modern stock a couple of years ago.

That’s something else that has always puzzled me because the Rhone Valley TGVs are the ones that probably have the highest use of all of the TGV network and certainly the route from Brussles (and sometimes Amsterdam) to Marseille is the longest route that the SNCF runs.

Consequently I would have expected that to have to most modern, up-to-date equipment.

But anyway that’s another story. Continuing with this story, there was no-one sitting beside me on the train to Brussels either so I could sit and eat my sandwiches in peace. My stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4513 PBA gare de lille europe railway station lille France Eric Hall photo October 2021The train that I was on was another two-trainset ones, and it was something of a hybrid, as I discovered at Brussels-Midi.

The front end is one of the Reseau 38000 PBA (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam) trainsets that seem to have cascaded down onto this line recently from their more habitual route.

Leaving the platform at Brussels Gare du Midi was a nightmare though. We arrived on the platform that is on the same island as the Eurostar to London so most of it is closed off and there is only one exit working.

push me pull you gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021As a result As a result I missed my usual 15:34 train and had to wait until 15:56. There are four expresses per hour to Leuven but strangely, they don’t run every 15 minutes. Three of them come in at 10-minute-or-so intervals and then you have to wait for ages for the fourth.

The train that came in was the one that goes to Eupen and that’s one of these push-me-pull-yous, basically because there is no run-round for the locomotive at the railway station at Oostende.

And I’m still unconvinced by the wisdom of the heavy locomotive at the rear pushing the lightweight front of the train forward at high speed, especially over points and junctions. But then it works for the SNCB so why not?

scrapped class 55 diesel locomotives haren belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021For a change just recently we took the old low-level line out of Brussels which means that we go past the scrapyard at Haren.

The next few photos show locomotives that were formerly in store at Charleroi and were moved here a while back. Someone had photographed them at Charleroi and wondered subsequently where they had gone, so I had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph them.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to do from a moving train, but I did my best and I’ll be uploading them to this Social Networking page in due course.

scrapped class 55 diesel locomotive haren belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021These are SNCB Class 55 diesel locomotives, the “second generation” of mainline diesels introduced by the SNCB in the early 1960s.

There were 42 of them built for the SNCB and they were the mainstay of the Belgian mainline network on the non-electrified lines and the international network until the early years of this century, when they were relegated to minor duties.

The bodywork of these machines was built by the Belgian company BN, now a part of Alstom, but the engines are real diesel engines, all 16 cylinders of them, built by General Motors

scrapped class 55 diesel locomotive haren belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021They are now being withdrawn from service and scrapped but their 60 years of service is a testimony to their reliability.

Compare this to the British equivalent of these machines built by the North British Railway Company. The “Buy British” campaign in that period led to a company with very little experience of building diesels trying to build an equivalent machine “under licence”.

Because the loading gauge on British Railways is smaller than in Europe, the engines had to be mounted upside-down which meant that to perform even a simple maintenance task like to change an oil filter, the engine had to come out, so the downtime was enormous.

With the substandard design, substandard materials and substandard assembly procedures the project was a dismal failure. Breakdowns were common and even led to a fatal accident as a train gave out on busy main lines and was hit in the rear by a following train

The result was that not one of the British equivalents lasted any longer than 10 years.

class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric Hall photo October 2021When we arrived in Leuven I waited on the platform for the train to depart so that I could see what was pushing it along.

No prizes for guessing, of course. It’s one of the Class 18 electric locomotives, complete with recruitment posted for locomotive drivers. Business must be booming on the SNCB.

Here at Leuven I tried something else new. With plenty of space inside my suitcase I went to the supermarket at the back of the station and bought my drink there. It fitted nicely into my suitcase to bring down here, and it was at that point that I discovered that my laptop will also fit in there.

As a result it was a much easier walk down to my little room than it has been of late.

A little later on, having recovered my breath, I wandered off down to the supermarket for the supplies. And seeing as I’d already bought the drink and that I don’t need any fruit as I have an early start tomorrow, the walk back with a much lighter load than usual was much easier.

So having been fed and watered, I can no go off to bed and have a good sleep. Tomorrow I have no fewer than 3 appointments at the hospital as they continue to probe my case.

Friday 17th September 2021 – AFTER YESTERDAY’S …

… exertions it was no surprise to anyone that I was in bed by 20:45. But the difficulty whenever I do that is that I’m usually awake quite early and so I never seem to take advantage of it.

But if anyone thinks that I’m going to be out of bed at 05:40 and doing things when there’s no alarm set, they are totally mistaken. Even 07:20 was rather early but there’s no point in staying in bed if I can’t go back to sleep

At 09:00 I nipped downstairs to the “Match” supermarket in the basement for my bread for lunch. And some drink too. I’ve already finished off the 1.5 litres of iced tea and 2 litres of banana-flavoured soya drink that I brought on Wednesday night.

Back up in my room I finished off my notes from yesterday and then had a listen to the dictaphone to see where I’d been during the night. I was with a couple of friends and we were discussing, of all things, rape. The girl said something like “rapists should all go on strike and down tools”. I replied that if all rapists downed tools, there wouldn’t be any such thing as rape at all. And despite the gravity of the subject, I was pretty impressed that I could come out with a pun like that while I was asleep.
Later on there was an issue about a socket not working. I immediately reckoned that there was a bad joint somewhere and the first joint that I tested came apart when I pulled it I was with a guy whom I knew so I asked him if he would hold a lamp at the socket while I held the wires togeter to see if this was the bad joing in question but he refused. I had to run off and try to find a light with a plug that would fit in the socket and try it myself.
Even later Rosemary was asking me about the Battle of Rhedae. I knew that it had taken place on the outskirts of Clermont Ferrand (which it didn’t – I was thinking of the Battle of Gergovie) so I went to fetch my Michelin guide to the Puy de Dome and had a good search through but couldn’t find it in there, which was no surprise seeing as Rhedae, which is these days believed by many to the the town of Quillan, is in the Razès in South West France.

class 18 electric locomotives gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric Hall photo September 2021While I was busy working I was keeping an eye on what was going on outside down on the station.

At a certain moment a train from Oostende pulled into the station just as a train from Eupen and Welkenraedt pulled in on its way to Oostende.

But of them were powered by the typical Class 18 electric locomotives. The one from Eupen, furthes away from the camera, is being pulled by a locomotive whose number I can’t see, and the one from Oostende, closes to the camera, is being pushed by locomotive number 1819.

aeroplane going in to land brussels airport zaventem Belgium Eric Hall photo September 2021What else I could see from my window were aeroplanes flying from right to left just above the horizon.

Way over to the left is the Brussels National Airport at Zaventem. All of these aeroplanes are on the flightpath going into land there and there were quite a few too. At one stage I counted one every three or four minutes.

When I lived in Schaerbeek back in the early 1990s my apartment looked out right across to the airport way out in the distance and the aeroplanes that came in to land were clearly visible at night with their landling lights illuminated. They would come into land right in line head-on to my apartment and the view was fantastic.

universitaire ziekenhuis Leuven Belgium Eric Hall photo September 2021Another thing that you could see from my window up here on the 5th floor was the Universitaire Ziekenhuis Leuven, the University Hospital of Leuven.

That’s the building, or buildings, I should maybe say, over there on the skyline on the right-hand side of the photo. And this photo will give you some idea of the size of the hospital. It’s one of the biggest in Europe, if not the World.

The thing that impressed me about this hospital is that while most hospitals give instructions zbout how to arrive there from the town centre, this hospital give directions from the airport.

It’s truly a cosmopolitan hospital and that’s what I want. Many hospitals and medical services are quite chauvinistic about their treatment, but not so the Belgians. They aren’t afraid to mention medical research that is being undergone in other countries.

class 21 electric locomotive gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric Hall photo September 2021Another thing that I noticed pulling into the station was a rather elderly Class 21 locomotive.

These first came into service in the mid-80s, with 144 taking to the rails. There are Class 11s, Class 12s, Class 21s and Class 27s, with the latter being the most powerful and the former being the least powerful.

They were built by the Belgian BN/ACEC combine which is now no longer in business. And so since the Class 18s have arrived, these are gradually being withdrawn and dismantled as a source of spares for the big Class 27s.

Something else that came through the staion that I wasn’t quick enough to photograph, much to my regret was one of the new Bombardier-Alstom “M7” double deck multiple units that are currently on proving trials on the Belgian network. That would have been quite a thing.

With a nice quiet day I ought to have done so much more too but unfortunately much of the time was spent curled up on my bed having a little relax. No point in fighting it.

Later in the evening I caught a bus that took me out to Alison Wonderland, as her new home is called. She had some falafel left over from her barbecue so I cooked it while she went to the fritkot down the road for a bag of chips.

We had a nice meal and lengthy chat, and instead of singing for my supper I helped her move some heavy furniture around.

Once I’d recovered my strength Alison drove me home. I was totally exhaused and so with an early start tomorrow, instead of writing up my notes I crawled into bed and that was that.

Tuesday 17th August 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not actually sitting in a rainbow but sitting in my little room in Leuven in Belgium.

Just for a change there were very few problems as far as the journey went but I have had a fraught time and I can’t go on like this for much longer.

This morning started fair enough as I was awake as soon as the alarm went off and there was some stuff on the dictaphone. There was something happening last night about Channel swimmers and there was even a dog that swam the Channel but in almost every one of these cases they were carrying drugs and the bag of drugs would split in their stomachs and almost all of them would die from drug overdoses just as they reached shore

Because of my condition I was having to move. They had offered to treat me at Chester General Hospital so I went to live in Connah’s Quay. That was several trips of 150 miles to organise everything . While I was there the new ferry out of Connah’s Quay, Castell Alun I think, was sailing through the sky brightly lit by the moonlight. I went to make myself a mug of hot chocolate which was just powder and boiling water. While I was there some people were walking past my house. They were talking about whatever it was that had to be 94 inches wide rather than 84, and they didn’t know where they would find something like that size. I didn’t know what it was that they were talking about because they certainly wouldn’t find a lorry that width.

To my deep regret I didn’t step back into that epic and memorable dream where I left off yesterday, and wasn’t that a disappointment?

Having tidied and cleaned up the living room yesterday for when the nurse came, it didn’t take too long to prepare everything ready to leave. Taking the rubbish outside was exciting though – I can’t believe that there was so much and I’m surprised that it didn’t walk out there all on its own.

In the absence of the NIKON 1 J5 I took with me the old NIKON D3000 fitted with the old 15-110mm lens.

houses on brittany coast Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIt’s not as easy to pack as the Nikon 1 but a lot smaller, easier and lighter than the big NIKON D500.

First thing that I did when I was out there this morning was to take a few pics with the camera to make sure that it was working correctly.

The weather was really cloudy with just a few gaps in the clouds where the sun was streaming through. It was illuminating a couple of houses way over on the Brittany coast and so I reckoned that that was a good enough object to try out the camera.

And despite the haze on the water across there, it’s not too bad an attempt for a 9 year-old camera and lens of doubtful quality

joly france belle france ferry terminal port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallMeanwhile close to home, there was some activity doing on over at the ferry terminal as if they are preparing the boats for the morning crossings.

To the right of the image is one of the Joly France boats. She’s the one with the rectangular windows in “portrait” format and that tells me that she’s the older one of the two.

As for the one in front of her, hidden by the jetty, it’s difficult to say who she is. The brightness of her colours seems to suggest to me that she’s the brand-new Belle France but that is a mere assumption on my part.

It’s not the little freighter Chausiaise at any rate.

festival de voiles de travail port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallSo having made sure that the camera was working sufficiently well, I set off for the railway station

What has been catching my eye for the last few days has been the appearance of all of these tents and other weird things that have sprung up all over the harbour.

The tents now have their sides fitted so they are going to be some kind of exhibition rather than somewhere to shelter from the rain.

And the purpose of that rectangular enclosure is still something that I have yet to discover.

victor hugo festival de voiles de travail port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallDown on where the fishermen keep their gear and on the car park next door, they have erected a few marquees too.

There’s what looks like the hulk of a very small and old wooden boat.

Incidentally, I found out what it is that is to happen down there because there was an advertisement in a shop window that I passed. It’s the Festival De Voiles De Travail, the “Festival of Working Sailing boats” starting tomorrow and finishing on Sunday.

And it doesn’t make much sense to me to have a Festival to entice crowds down to the town and then erect it on the car park so that they can’t park their cars anywhere to visit it.

police blocking road rue couraye Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallFor a change I decided to go to the station via the town centre rather than the park because I didn’t think that I could get up the steps at the end.

Mind you, I was wondering whether I would be allowed to walk up the Rue Couraye because as I turned the corner into the street I encountered a police barrage and they were directing all of the traffic down a side street.

It’s not the done thing of course to photograph the police in the execution of their duty unless there’s a very good reason but of course I was more interested in the guy drinking his coffee outside the café on the corner, which I could photograph having been allowed to pass beyond the barrage.

broken down van rue couraye Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallOf course you are all wondering why there might be a barrage across the road.

It didn’t take long for me to discover why either. There’s a large van that has broken down on the road junction and as I passed the driver, he was busy telephoning for a dépanneur.

While I was recovering my breath from the climb so far I could take a photo of it, and then I could press on. But it was a long, hard climb up the hill for some reason today and I really didn’t feel anything like as well as I ought to have done or indeed have done in the past.

This was a really difficult walk.

84559 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallWhen I arrived at the railway station, my train was already there so I could go along and find my seat. And I needed it too because I was exhausted.

My knee gave out while I was trying to climb into the carriage and it really was a most undignified entrance as I fell inside, dropping all of my luggage, and then trying desperately to stand up again.

Eventually I found my seat and I could set about updating the portable computer with the files that I’d copied earlier off the big computer.

And I had a very cute and charming young companion on my trip to Paris but unfortunately she wasn’t the chatty type so we didn’t say very much at all to each other.

84584 gec alstom regiolis gare montparnasse paris France Eric HallMuch to my surprise, and yours too after all of the recent events, we arrived at Gare Montparnasse bang on time to the minutes.

The next bit wasn’t quite so easy because there had been an abandoned piece of luggage found by the entrance to the metro and so it was all closed off while they fetched someone to examine it.

It took them about 15 minutes for them to clear the problem and we could advance. Everywhere was crowded as you might expect although I did just about manage to find a seat.

And that was just as well because trying my best to rush down the long corridor and up the steps had finished me off.

224 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallMy late arrival at the Gare du Nord meant that I didn’t have too long to wait for my train to Lille Flandres.

As usual, it’s one of the TGV Reseau Duplex double-decker trains, and in order to board it we had to show our vaccine passes and then our rail tickets, which meant that juggling two different screens consecutively on the mobile phone wasn’t an easy task when you have a handful of luggage.

The voyage was quite uneventful and we arrived at Lille on time. But by now the cloudy day had turned to light rain so walking down the road to Lille Europe was at least quite refreshing, even if it was not easy

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4517 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallAs I walked onto the railway station at Lille Europe my train pulled in at the platform.

It’s one of the “Paris Brussels Amsterdam” or PBA Reseau 38000 tri-volt trains, and inside it was chaos as no-one was sitting in the correct seat. But I quickly turfed out the people from my seat and took my place.

For a change I was on my own on this train so I could stretch out on my way to Brussels.

At Brussels they had a barrage as the police were checking vaccination passes. The queue stretched for miles and it wasn’t long before people began looking for a by-pass. I followed them through as well and left the queue behind.

big wheel foire du midi brussels belgium Eric HallUnfortunately the delay meant that I had missed my usual train to Leuven so I had to wait for about 15 minutes for the next one

While I was waiting, I was sitting on a concrete kerbstone watching what was going on all around me. It’s the time of the year right now when we have the Foire du Midi, the big funfair that takes place outside the Gare du Midi.

They have a big wheel too just like the one that we have at Granville and from where I was sitting I could see it going round. There are usually a few other large attractions too but they were out of my view unfortunately.

And it’s much more interesting at night too when everything is all illuminated.

push me pull you gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallEventually my train pulled up, and it was another one of the pushme-pullyous that we have on the Oostende-Welkenraedt route as there is no run-round for the locomotive at Oostende.

It’s brought with it the rain too, as you can see. Luckily I’m underneath the platform canopy but you can see how much is teeming down by looking at the photo. It’s raining cats and dogs right now.

This train was pretty packed too but with being at the front of the train I could grab a seat quite easily before the crowds who had swarmed on board at the centre of the train filtered down my way.

There are a couple of single seats right by the door so I grabbed one of those and I wasn’t bothered by anyone else.

1882 class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric HallAt Leuven I could wait and photograph the locomotive that was pushing our train.

It’s one of the class 18 electrics – the workhorses of the SNCB these days, and why is it that there is always someone who makes a special effort to walk in front of you when you are photographing something?

The rain was coming down quite heavily by now and I struggled to reach my little room. And I had to come up the stairs on my hands and knees as it was the only way that I could get myself up them.

There is shopping to do as well so after a rest of about 90 minutes I headed off down the road. Just as far as Delhaize because I didn’t have the strength to go to the Carrefour.

And I only bought stuff for tea and a loaf of bread for toast in the morning too. I’m having to do my shopping in two loads because I don’t have the strength to carry everything back up the hill in one go.

Now that I’ve had tea and written my notes, I’m off to bed. No alarm in the morning because I need a good lie-in to recover. And then I’ll have to go down the road and buy the stuff for lunch.

What a state to be in!

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.

Monday 31st May 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow, but sitting on my seat in the office in the comfort and security of my own home. And am I glad to be back after all of this?

Blasted out of bed at 05:00 by the alarm, I’d made a coffee, filled the flask, made my butties, packed my bags and cleaned the digs by 05:30 and I was ready to roll. But it was far too early because I didn’t want to loiter about on the draughty Brussels Midi station so I relaxed for a while

At about 05:55 I hit the streets and walked off down to the station. And I’m not used to it being so bright so early.

martelarenplein gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will remember the Martelarenplein – the Martyr’s Square – just outside the railway station.

A lot has been said, mainly by me, of the pedestrian pace at which Belgian (and French) builders seem to work. Much of that is reflected in what’s going on here. It’s been under repair for a good couple of years and by the looks of things they are still a long way from finishing it.

Surprisingly I was on the station for just after 06:10 which meant that I had the choice of a couple of trains that were running earlier than the one that I intended to catch, and that’s always good news.

1904 class 18 electric sncb locomotive gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric HallThe train that I caught was the 06:19 to Oostende and that is my favourite choice of train if I’m ever allowed to choose.

It’s a rake of double-deck coaches pulled by one of the top-line electric locomotives of the SNCB stable, and I’m not disappointed. Despite its number, this is one of the Class 18 locomotives built by Siemens between 2009 and 2011. There are 120 of these locomotives in total and they have displaced almost every other type of electric locomotive from front-line duties, although we’ve ridden on a few others just recently.

There was a lady ticket inspector and she seemed to be quite satisfied that I’d correctly installed the SNCB app on my mobile phone and displayed the ticket correctly. I’m making great strides with this technology stuff, aren’t I?

The train pulled into Bruxelles Midi bang on time and to my surprise my train was actually indicated on the departures board. So I went up to the platform and there was a TGV already there. Not mine though. This one was going to Marseilles. Mine would be a-cumen in once this one had cleared off, so an attendant told me.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4539 gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric HallShe wasn’t wrong either. About 10 minutes later our train did indeed pull in.

It’s one of the TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt trainsets, the PBA (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) sets that we have occasionally, and the fact that it’s pulled up so far down the platform seems to suggest that there will be a train set coming from Amsterdam that will be coupled up at the back.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we saw them coupling up on another occasion that we were here just recently.

The train was actually quite empty and we all had plenty of room to spread out which was nice. I could get on with some work. And once more, the electronic ticket on the SNCF app that I presented to the inspector passed muster too.

And to my surprise, I passed muster at the Paris Gare du Nord Railway station as well. The gendarmette who inspected my Covid declaration from the hospital and my carte de sejour and waved me through without comment can detain me for further questioning any time she likes.

The metro was crowded – it seems as if despite the President’s entreaties, France has gone back to work. The casualty figures show me that this virus is very far from being beaten here and it’s all going to end in tears.

84556 gec alstom regiolis bb7200 507219 nez casse gare montparnasse paris france Eric HallAt the Gare Montparnasse what I reckoned would be my train was already in. It was the only Normandy train in sight.

Parked next to it is one of the BB7200 class of electric locomotives, the nez cassés or “broken noses” of the SNCF railway system. These, and their half-brothers used to be the mainstays of the high-speed long-distance SNCF railway network but now they are used for less glamorous purposes since the arrival of the TGVs.

It’s a long walk from the metro station to the railway station (they moved the railway station so that they could build the Tour Montparnasse on its site) and so I was exhausted. But I found some more seats that I hadn’t noticed before and one of them was vacant so I could sit in peace.

It is indeed my train – the back half of it in fact because it’s 2 trainsets coupled together. And I’m sitting in the rear trainset. The train is busy but I could still have a pair of seats all to myself which pleased me greatly.

And here’s a surprising thing. The ticket collector came up to me and instead of asking to see my ticket he asked “what’s your date of birth?”. So I replied and he said “bon voyage, Monsieur Hall”. This SNCF app clearly does more than it lets on that it does.

In the past that kind of thing would have bothered me greatly but everyone’s privacy has long since been eroded away. 30 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing like I do but the authorities know where I am and what I’m doing no matter how hard I try to disguise it

84559 gec alstom regiolis Bombardier B82790 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallWe pulled into the railway station bang on time too and found ourselves parked up next to one of the Bombardier trainsets that works the Caen-Rennes line. At least I could photograph the front trainset from here

It had been a pleasant journey and to my surprise, despite the 05:00 start I’d only dozed off for about 10 minutes. But I’d only had some hot coffee, not anything cool to drink, with me and so having set out at that time, I now had a thirst that you could photograph.

That was what I would call rather bad planning, but seriously, you’ve no idea how much stuff I usually have to bring back and I simply couldn’t carry any more. I had quite a job carrying this lot.

Going down the steps to the Parc de Val es Fleurs was okay but even on the flat I was struggling. I wasn’t looking forward to the hill up to my place. But I cheered up watching a grockle try to park his motor home in a completely empty car park. I really don’t understand some of these people.

water leak rue des juifs Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallAt the foot of the Rue des Juifs there were temporary traffic lights and water all over the place. It looks as if there has been a burst pipe.

But surprisingly, despite the emergency and the big hole and the traffic lights and the vans, there wasn’t a single workmen (and not a married one either) about anywhere. It was about 14:15 so they all should be back at work after lunch.

The hill up the Rue de Juifs was not something to which I was looking forward. It’s pretty steep at the best of times and here I was, loaded up, not in the best of health, and I’d had an emergency operation a week or so ago and the stitches were still in.

But I shan’t get home just standing here looking at it. There’s no other solution but to press on.

people playing bowls bar ephemere place pleville pelley Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallIt’s most unlike me, I know, but I had to make several stops on the way up to catch my breath.

One of these stops was looking over to the Place Pelley where they usually play boules. There’s quite a crowd down there right now, presumably also taking advantage of the bar ephemere, the temporary bar in the shipping container that comes here in the summer and which we saw them unpacking a couple of weeks ago.

If I had had any sense I’d have come home that way and stopped off for a cold drink but I was in a hurry to go home. I took a deep breath, girded up my loins and continued on my weary way back homeward.

builders compound place d'armes Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallAnd what’s going on here then?

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we have seen over the past few weeks a corner of the car park of one of the other building in the Place d’Armes used as a builders compound but they all cleared off just before I came away and left the place empty.

But it seems that there is some more work going on somewhere presumably in the old walled city and they have set up the compound again. I see that I shall have to go for a walk out that way one of these days and have a good look to see what’s going on, and where.

You’ve no idea the size of the sigh of relief that I emitted when I sat down in my chair in the office, back home. It’s been a long hard slog in the 12 days since I was last here and I don’t want to have to go through all of that again. I transferred the files over and merged everything in – that’s the limit of the work that I did.

And despite the short night, I did actually manage to go off on a couple of nocturnal rambles here and there. And more than just a few too. I’m surprised that I kept going for as long as I did today.

First off was about a boy who lived just up the street from me when I was a kid. Last night he got divorced. I’d forgotten to tell everyone on the day but about a day or so later I remembered it. Anyway we were sitting around the table at lunch ansd he came along with his ex-wife and sat down at our usual table. A couple of other people who were usually there picked up their knives and forks to go away and he sent some kind of scathing comment after them. Of course I didn’t say anything at all. He looked at me and started talking to me about how well I knew Sandbach. I said “yes, I knew it quite well”. He asked “enough to take me somewhere tonight?”. I replied “yes”. So he mentioned a street called Volunteer Avenue (that’s in Nantwich by the way, not in Sandbach). “Do you know where that is?”. I said “yes” so he added “you can take me there and there’s a lot of money in it for you” – something to do with jewellery. He said “we have to leave at 04:00”. That was a bit inconvenient for me but I’d go because I don’t believe this story about money than anyone else. So I leased some sort of dummy office and fitted some kind of dummy recorder because I expected some kind of strange visit. While I was out fetching a coffee and people were talking to me a girl who I’d known and I knew her very well too (and I wish I’d remembered who she was) just walked up to my office as if she was going in. I thought “what on earth is happening here?”. She saw me so I said “what are you doing here?”. She replied “I’ve come to see if such-and-such an office is convenient for me and my boss”. “Really?3 I asked. “Why don’t you go in and have a look?”. “I can’t” she replied. “I don’t have the keys. It says that it’s locked for painting”. So I asked “why did you come here if it was locked for painting?”. She stammered some kind of silly answer at that point and I thought “yes, this is all just so crazy”.

Next up, I was in an office somewhere. I was overhearing a conversation from another desk about a woman who was trying to arrange some kind of exchange visit with a Government department in Germany about tourism. My ears pricked up and I said that I would be extremely interested in that. This woman looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. She had a little chat with me while she was having a chat with this other person. When she’d hung up on this other person she said ‘here’s my number” and it began with 5 zeroes, not 0049 as you would expect, and then a couple of other numbers “and I’m on extension 37 at the moment but this afternoon I’ll be on extension 38. Why don’t you give me a ring?”. So I asked her name and said “yes, OK”. I don’t think that my employers would agree to it but it was still an interesting thing to overhear.

Later on we were a group of impresarios organising musicians and dancers and all that sort of thing for different concerts all over the place. Roxanne was there and I told her a joke about Aunt Mary – Aunt Mary had died and it was actually quite funny but the answer to this was silence, which was one thing that no-one would ever have got. Roxanne delighted in telling it to everyone. We were trying to get this act together with these 3 or 4 dancers and so on. Roxanne told this joke to TOTGA but she didn’t understand it. There was something about ballet in it and I surprised TOTGA and Roxanne by actually being able to do these ballet steps without even thinking about it

Tea was burger and pasta followed by chocolate sponge (to my surprise it’s sill good) and coconut soya dessert.

And now having written my notes, I’m off to bed. And quite right too. I’m absolutely whacked. Tomorrow is Welsh lesson and then I have to look at these hospital appointments and condense the timescale because I have no intention of being away for another 12 days, that’s for sure. I can’t keep on going like this.

Wednesday 19th May 2021 – YOU’RE PROBABLY WONDERING …

… about why it’s taken me so long to put my notes of today’s travel on line.

The truth is that last night with 164% of my daily total of effort recorded on my fitbit, I crashed out completely at about 21:15 and crashed out properly too – in bed under the bedclothes and out like a light. I vaguely remember waking up again at about 23:20 but that was my lot until 05:20 the following morning.

And that’s another mystery, isn’t it? Whenever I do go to to bed really early I can’t seem to make the most of it and end up waking early, except on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago.

But returning to our moutons, as they say around here, Wednesday is the day that I travel to Leuven. I was up and about at 06:00 as usual as the first alarm went off.

First task was to make myself a coffee, and then make a thermos flask of coffee for the journey. Those water bottles that we received for our expeditions on board THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR really are the business.

Making my sandwiches and so on for breakfast and lunch was next, the sourdough and the ginger beer needed feeding too so I attended to that. It will be interesting to see if there’s another eruption of the sourdough while I’m away. To be on the safe side, I’ve put the jar in a bowl to stop it going everywhere.

Having done a few more bits and pieces I headed off down the road towards the railway station, realising after about 200 yards that I’ve forgotten to pack any clean clothes. Too late now to do anything about it now.

people on terrace rue lecampion Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallDown in the town I noticed a few changes hat have taken place since I was last here. Cafés can now open their terraces to the general public.

Many of the city centre cafés don’t have terraces of course but the local council has given them authorisation to set up ad-hoc terraces on the street in front of their premises. And even though it’s a cold, damp 08:15 or thereabouts on a midweek morning, there are a few clients who couldn’t wait to sample the delights of which they have been deprived for so long.

Draymen too delivering beer barrels and crates too. That’s a welcome sign too.

But I still think that it’s far too early to be opening up like this with casualties the way that they are. I can’t help having the feeling that it’s as if the Government has given up the fight against containing the virus and relying on the vaccination programme. This is all going to end in tears.

beach cabins on lorry cours jonville Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallBut there are other more positive signs of summer too, as I noticed further along at the junction in the Cours Jonville.

As I waited to cross the street one of the Council lorries pulled up in front of my. It was pulling a trailer and was loaded up with the beach cabins off the Plat Gousset.

At the end of the season the cabins are taken off the promenade to keep them safe in a compound in the Council’s maintenance depot. They don’t leave them on the promenade through the winter

Regular readers of this rubbish who will recall having seen the winter storms smashing their way onto the promenade at high tide will not be surprised by this. Coming back at the start of the season and finding a pile of matchwood waiting for you isn’t the way to run a seaside resort.

gec alsthom regiolis 84555 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallAt the railway station my train was already in and waiting for me so I could go and find my seat and sit down. And that was just as well because with not feeling very well, the walk up there had thoroughly exhausted me.

It was only a 6-car unit too – just one of the GEC Alsthom Regiolis sets that we usually have – so it was pretty crowded this morning. I had a companion sitting next to me, but that didn’t stop me sleeping for the first part of the journey.

The rest of the journey was spent updating the laptop. This morning before setting out I copied onto a memory stick the files that had been updated on the big computer since my last trip to Leuven. I have one of these tiny 64GB memory sticks attached to my keyring which I use as I travel about to copy files from one computer to another.

The Gare de Montparnasse was still quite empty – full life hasn’t yet returned to Paris (and quite right too) – and it was easy to find a seat on the Metro train to the Gare du Nord. I always walk down to the end of the platform at railway stations because I’ve noticed that the crowds seem to congregate at the middle so the ends of the trains are usually much more empty.

At the Gare du Nord there were very few people around yet again so I took full advantage by buying another carnet of 10 tickets. I seem to be going through them quite quickly these days.

TGV Reseau Duplex 216 gare du nord paris France Eric HallAs I arrived upstairs at the terminus where I catch my train, a train from Lille pulled in and I reckoned that this will be mine going back out again.

We won’t be allowed on it for quite a while because they have to clean it thoroughly these days before we can get back on, so I spent the time looking around. I can tell you a little about my train while we are waiting.

It’s one of the old TGV “Reseau Duplex” double-deckers that they use on high-volume routes. The first time that I had travelled on one was a few years ago when I went from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on my way to Montreal, and doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago, the way things have been this last year or so?

sncf locomotive 522228 class bb 22200 gare du nord paris France Eric HallWhile I was looking around I came across this beautiful machine.

Anyone who has travelled on an express train in France before the days of high-speed high-capacity multiple-units will have been on a train pulled by one of these. It’s locomotive 522228, one of the class of BB22200 locomotives that flooded the SNCF network back in the old days and are the epitome of French long-distance travel.

The Nez Cassées or “Broken Noses” began to be introduced in 1975 and a total of 205 were introduced. Some of them have even been timed at travelling in excess of 200 kph. But in 2012 they began to be withdrawn for breaking and that marks the end of this era of traditional travel. And that’s a tragedy

TGV Reseau Duplex 215 gare du nord paris France Eric HallEventually the details of our train were posted up on the board so we could all swarm down to platform towards our seats.

As you might expect, mine is down at the far end of the train, which I suppose isn’t too bad because it means that I don’t have so far to walk at Lille Flandres. It’s a train of two-units coupled together and, surprisingly, we have two units of consecutive numbers.

This wasn’t quite as full as the rain on which I’d come from Granville so I had no neighbour. I could eat my lunch in comparative comfort and read my E-book.

It’s a book written in 1918 and talks about the early history of flight, AIRCRAFT AND SUBMARINES: THE STORY OF THE INVENTION, DEVELOPMENT, AND PRESENT-DAY USES OF WAR’S NEWEST WEAPONS by Willis J Abbot and makes several claims about powered flight taking place before the Wright Brothers but by people other than the usual suspects Gustave Whitehead and Richard Pearse.

It’s a fascinating read about submarines because there is little research that has been done into the German U-boat campaign of 1914-18 compared to what was done in the Second World War and the massive tomes of CLAY BLAIR

Interestingly, there’s an obscure reference in Abbot’s book to the fate of the Hunley – the world’s first killer submarine. He says that divers a couple of years after the end of the American Civil War found it still embedded in wreck of the Housatonic, although no mention of that was made when Itzé and I WENT TO VISIT THE HUNLEY after it had been recovered.

Our train pulled into Lille Flandres railway station bang on time and so I set off in the damp atmosphere down the road towards Lille Europe Railway Station.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4518 SNCF TGV POS 4403 gare du lille europe France Eric HallOur train was already in the station but there was 20 minutes before our train was due to depart so I had plenty of time to take a photo of it.

Once again it’s a train consisting of two train sets. Mine is 4518, one of the TGV Reseau 38000 tri-volt trains, the same type as the Thalys PBA trains that work between Paris, Brussels and occasionally Amsterdam. It’s coupled up to 4403, one of the POS units tat formerly worked the eastern TGV network.

its neighbour 4402 is the train that holds the world speed record for conventional train travel, having reached 574.8 kilometres per hour on 3rd April 2007.

push me pull you sncb locomotive gare du midi brussels belgium  Eric HallThe train that took me on to Leuven from Brussels Gare du Midi was one of the SNCB “push me pull you” units with the locomotive pushing it from the far end.

And I was lucky to catch it too because there was another barrage at the station with the police checking the travel papers of people getting off the train. I was paperless, as you might expect, so I had to bluff pretty hard to be allowed officially to enter the country.

But I know what to do for the next time that I arrive in the country, and I can see that I shall be having to change my travel habits.

But anyway, they let me in and I could head off for my train.

sncb series 55 locomotive 5503 haren brussels belgium Eric HallFor a change, our train took the older route that passes by the huge railway rolling stock depot at Haren, and alongside the area where they park the redundant locomotives prior to scrapping.

Amongst the locomotives in there today is 5503, one of the Class 55 diesels of the SNCB. This was a generic design used by many railway companies in Europe, and this particular model was built by BN, a Belgian company now part of Bombardier, and powered by General Motors EMD engines.

It’s a testament to the efficiency and reliability of the GM engines that 60 years after their introduction there are still plenty of them still in existence. The British version of these, powered by the unreliable and inefficient and, for all intents and purposes, irreparable North British engines that were cheap licensed copies of a MAN diesel engine, never even made 20 years.

To give you some idea, because of the narrow British loading gauge, the engines had to be mounted upside-down so that to even do a simple job like draining the oil and changing the filter, you had to take the engine out.

sncb automotrice am75 haren brussels belgium Eric HallAlso ready to go to the breaker’s yard were a few of the AM75 multiple units.

When I was working for that American company 15 years ago I would have been pleased if one of these had arrived at Jette railway station to take me off to work instead of one of the ancient units that usually took me, but these days they are long obsolete.

Introduced in 1975, there were 44 of these train sets introduced. There are one or two of them still circulating around on the network round by Antwerp and Charleroi and are the oldest multiple units left in action on the SNCB railway network, but I suspect that they won’t be around for much longer.

But I’m interested to see what the next generation of multiple units will be like.

sncb class 18 locomotive 1886 gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric HallAt Leuven I could see which locomotive had been pushing us towards Eupen.

It’s 1886, one of the Class 18 electric locomotives. There are 120 of these locomotives, built by Siemens between 2008 and 2011 and replaced a variety of different locomotives from previous generations built in the 1950s and early 1960s.

From the railway station I staggered off to my accommodation. And it really was a stagger too because I didn’t enjoy the walk at all. And I didn’t have an upgrade today. The place is busy so I’m in a single unit, although bigger and with a double bed, something that you don’t have in a basic single unit.

My trip to the shops was later than usual, and for 2 reasons too. Firstly we had a torrential rainstorm and I wasn’t going out in that. And secondly, I needed all of this time to gather my strength.

roadworks naamsestraat naamsevest Leuven Belgium Eric HallBecause I wasn’t feeling very energetic, I took the shorter route along the ring-road to the supermarket, and ended up at the junction of the Naamsestraat and the Naamsevest.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve seen the roadworks at this junction for the last couple of times that we’ve been here, and there still appears to be no change. They aren’t making much progress here, which seems typical these days with building work, and I wonder how they are progressing with the other work we’ve been watching.

Anyway, at the Carrefour I did my shopping. They had burgers on special offer and also some reduced vegan sausages so I bought them for the next few teas But I forgot the vegan mayonnaise for my sandwiches which was a shame.

roadworks naamsestraat naamsevest Leuven Belgium Eric HallOn the way back I passed by the roadworks again, which we can see now from a different angle, and then headed on for home

The walk back with the shopping exhausted me and the climb up the stairs to the 2nd floor finished me off. I made myself some food, a burger with pasta and veg, and that was that. I’d had enough for today and so I was going to go bed straight away. I can finish my notes tomorrow.

it’ll also give me a chance to listen to the dictaphone to see where I went during the night because there was a file on the dictaphone to indicate that something had happened during the night.

Nerina was actually involved in this although I didn’t have the chance to see her. I had to go to see someone who had built some kind of magnificent motorbike and was busy building – I dunno, circus or fairground attractions out of old cars and so on so I thought that I go and talk to him about perhaps getting a bike or doing some work or something. He lived on Stoneley Road – no, not Stoneley Road – near where the Hunters Lodge is. So I went down past Nerina’s but she wasn’t there, and I got to this house. I knocked on the door but no-one came. It was a bungalow and the front door was at the side of it. I put my head into the garage but there was nothing in there but I was tempted to go for a really good look around, which I did. When I came out I bumped into a couple who were most surprised to see me. I was most surprised to see them – it didn’t half look suspicious. I explained what I was doing. The guy started to be really aggressive in a light-hearted, funny way saying things like “when they said this kind of thing to Clement Freud on 20 Questions he became most upset, things like that. This went on for a couple of minutes. I ended up being cornered by this man and woman. She was telling me all about the stuff that he was building but e guy was being all aggresssive. Suddenly they ushered me into the house. There in the living room was a load of people all wearing black, motorbike types in black t-shirts, black leather waistcoats and so on and they had all kinds of things in there like cars that were turning into circus attractions, that kind of thing, all together. Someone I knew who was a friend of mine, either my former friend from Stoke on Trent or Rhys (yes, you have a mention, Rhys), said something about having to go and tax his motorbike. I made some kind of comment about my motorbike needing taxing as well, even though it wasn’t MoT’d. That’s where it ended.

The hospital tomorrow, and they are going to be checking my heart. At least I have one, which shows that I’m not a Tory. And I’m thankful for that.

Friday 29th January 2021 – HERE I AM …

… back home again after my marathon voyage.

The journey always takes a lot out of me but usually I’m back by 14:30 so I have a few hours to recover before I can deal with whatever needs dealing with. Today though was rather different.

This morning not only did I beat the third alarm, I beat the second one too. I had a quick whizz around the pad and tidied everything up, washed up, made my sandwiches for the journey and then packed my stuff for the road.

sncb class 18 electric locomotive gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThe rain wasn’t all that heavy which was very good, and a quick walk brought me to the station in time for my train – the 07:22 which was the first one on my list.

It was another one of the expresses from Welkenraedt to Oostende – a rake of modern double-deck coaches pulled by one of the SNCB class 18 electric locomotives. Nice and comfortable and quite rapid and much better than one of the elderly multiple units that sometimes travel on the line.

It arrived at Brussels-Midi with 90 minutes before my train was due to depart but after an hour or so the platform for the train came up on the display screen so we could go up to the train.

tgv thalys pbka 4331 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallOur train to Paris this morning is one of the PBKA (Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam) units and either it was a short train or else (more likely) a unit is to come in from either Amsterdam or Cologne and couple up behind it.

And wasn’t I disappointed? Having read all the Official Notices for travelling, had a Covid test, filled in piles of paperwork, had all my documents to hand, there wasn’t a single policeman about to check my right to travel.

Our train left on time and, even more surprisingly, arrived in Paris Gare du Nord on time. During the trip I had dozed off for a couple of minutes and they had to wake me up to see my ticket. There wasn’t even a wait at the Metro because I arrived on the platform at the same time as a train.

TGV Atlantique series 24000 trainset 386 gare de rennes railway station France Eric HallAt Montparnasse there was an hour to wait before we could all pile on board our TGV. This is one of the “TGV Atlantique” Series 24000 units.

Some of these are over 30 years old but you wouldn’t think so by looking at the interiors because they are quite clean, tidy and comfortable. And even more interestingly, between 1990 and 2007, it was one of these train sets (admittedly a shortened unit) that held the world railway speed record of 515.3 km/h.

This one unfortunately took two hours to travel all the way to Rennes, which is not really surprising as it also stopped at Le Mans and Laval. But two TGVs in a day – I’m really living it up, aren’t I? T

gare de rennes railway station France Eric HallWe pulled into the railway station at Rennes at about 14:00 – – only the second time that I’ve been to the railway station there. Plenty of time to go for a wander around and photograph the town from the overbridge.

Despite the time available, I didn’t go far and for a couple of good reasons too. Firstly I had a rather heavy load to carry around with me and secondly, the railway station is such a maze that to find out where I would find my connection took me a good bit longer than it ought to have done.

By the time that I had reached where I needed to be it I was glad to sit down.

rail replacement vdl coach gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere was no train back home this time. There was a coach connection to Granville and I had to wait for 75 minutes for it.

To wait for the bus I had to go to the Gare Routier or “bus station” which is presumably built in what might have been the old goods yard sidings a five-minute walk away from the station.

We had to wait outside in the open air for it to turn up but by now it was sunny and reasonably warm for the time of the year. And although the journey home on the coach was comfortably, it still took about two hours to reach Granville railway station.

cow and penguins on roundabout place pleville Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere’s no carnival this year in Granville dur to the virus but that hasn’t stopped the town from decorating the place.

A brisk walk from the station and through the back of the town brought me to the viewpoint from the Rue des Juifs where, looking over to the roundabout at the Place Pleville I could see a cow and several penguins loitering around there watching the traffic.

It’s certainly something different to liven up the time a little and bring a smile to the faces of the general public. It’s making me wonder what the theme of this year’s Carnival would have been had it gone ahead.

pointing rampe du monte regret Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallA little further on along the Rue des Juifs I came to where they had been doing the pointing at the Rampe du Monte Regret.

During the whole week in which I’ve been away, they haven’t made as much progress as I might have expected . No-one engaged in the building work that I have seen over the last week seems to be in an awful hurry to complete their tasks.

My brisk walk brought me back home at just about 18:00, having been on the road for just about 11 hours and I knew all about every minute of it. For a couple of hours I vegetated in the chair and then grabbed a frozen meal out of the freezer.

Later on I had a listen to my dictaphone to see if I’d been on my travels during the night. I was at home and there was a sports match about to come on the TV. Terry and Liz – Liz had asked me if I could buy her some special cheese from LIDL. She had given me the packet and I’d managed to get one or two bits for her which I’d left on the kitchen table in my house but my brother was coming round so I went outside and hid, with the idea that he would go past, find my house with everything all laid out in there and so on and the sports match ready. He’d be wondering where I was and I could creep up and surprise him. He walked past, it was about 19:10 and just then the bus came past, a Crosville bus. So I hopped on board and went to sit upstairs. It started to drop a few people off but instead of going into the village of Shavington it shot off down a back lane somewhere and ended up on the road between Crewe and Nantwich via Willaston. All the roads had been realigned – it wasn’t the same road alignment. Everyone was wondering why he hadn’t gone to Shavington. He said that he was going to Shavington but he was just going to drop someone off in the country lanes first. We thought that this was going to be a hell of a long way round to get home if he’s going to be doing things like this

Bed-time now and I have to be up early in the morning as I need to go shopping. But i’m not going to be fit for much for the ret of the weekend. At least, if I can change my appointment to Thursday, come home on Saturday, I can have a complete lie-in on Sunday and I won’t have so much stuff to carry around with me.

And I’ll look forward to that.

Monday 25th January 2021 – ONE TRAIN …

gec alsthom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall… per day to Paris in a pandemic, that I can understand. But just WHY does it have to be at 05:55?.

And in news that will come as something of a shock to regular readers of this rubbish (because it cane as quite a shock to me), not only did I beat the third alarm this morning, I was actually out of bed and leaping up and down (but not actually waving St Cecilia’s knickers in the air) even before the FIRST alarm went off.

During what there was of the night, I’d even managed to go off on a voyage too.

I hadn’t seen Caliburn for ages and then I realised that he was in the garage being serviced and I hadn’t been to pick him up since I’d been back from holiday so I was debating whether or not to go round – and suddenly I was there as if fate had already decided for me. I backed him out of the garage where he was being serviced and went to pay the bill but they hadn’t finished putting the wheels on. A brake hub had been stuck inside a wheel and they had to prize it out. That meant doing some grinding down and filing. They showed me what they had done. They went to fit the wheel back on but one of the wheel nuts was cross-threaded so they had to go off and find another one and I had to wait. In the meantime it was lunchtime and I’d gone into the waiting room with them. There was a big bag of chips that they were handing out between themselves. Someone opened a packet of pasta but it was so full that he went outside to tip some away into a bin which I thought was a strange thing to do. They were all organising themselves like this while I was waiting for Caliburn to be ready.

What this goes to prove is that many of my usual difficulties in rising from my bed in the morning are not actually connected with anything physical, and this is quite bewildering.

But there I was, up and about and starting on my household chores as the first alarm went off.

:, didn’t take me long to do what I had to do, and to make a flask of coffee in the Adventure Canada water bottle that I was given on The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour.

Having done the necessary, I hit the streets and headed for town, fighting the howling gale all the way.

trawler leaving port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallAs it happened, I wasn’t the only one who was up and about that early either.

The harbour gates must have only just opened because there was a whole stream of fishing vessels heading out to sea.

And while I’m on the subject, regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I mentioned on Friday that I was surprised to see all of the fishing boats in port and not out at sea.

There was a very good reason for that, as I subsequently found out and forgot to mention. It seems that on Friday all of the fishermen had a meeting in town to discuss the next steps in the escalation of the fishing dispute with the Channel Islands.

If it comes to a showdown with the British Government and the British Government decides to employ its fleet of … errr … four gunboats to protect its territorial waters, then knowing French fishermen as I do (after all I live in a town full of them), my money will be firmly on the fishermen.

It wasn’t easy to make my way to the station because most of the street lights had been switched off and we were in the pitch-black. I just encountered a couple of council workmen on my way out there.

The train wasn’t in – mainly because I was there by 05:30, but it soon pulled in and we could board it. It was a full-length train of two units coupled together, but we didn’t have reserved seats. I chose a place right at the front – less distance to travel at the other end.

The weather had been very mild in Granville and has been for the last while. But once we headed inland towards Paris it changed quite rapidly.

snow on railway station platform flers Normandy France Eric HallWe started to pick up the snow round about Villedieu-les-Poeles and the further along the route, like here for example, at Flers, the snow was quite heavy and had stuck to the ground.

Much to my surprise, despite the ridiculously early start, I didn’t crash out for a minute but managed to stay awake for the whole of the journey to Paris, reading a report of the discovery of a mass grave on the outskirts of Weymouth containing 52 decapitated Norsemen from the late 10th Century.

And as for my coffee – I tried some at about 07:30, just about three hours after I had made it. And it was far, far too hot to drink. That was quite unexpected.

gec alsthom regiolis paris gare montparnasse France Eric HallBang on time – 09:14 – we pulled into the Gare Montparnasse and I could take a photo of the unit on which I travelled – the one on the left. The photo that I had taken earlier was of the unit at the other end of the train.

Even though the rush hour wasn’t quite over, the Paris Metro was comparatively quiet. It was a quite rapid trip to Paris Gare du Nord and I was surprised about how empty the place was. I could even find a seat.

The effects of the virus and the amount of working from home has calmed down the amount of commuters quite considerably.

TGV Reseau Duplex gare de lille flandres France Eric HallThere wasn’t a great deal of time for my connection to Lille As I walked into the station they were just allowing the passengers to board. I didn’t even have time to photograph it – that had to wait until we arrived at Lille Flandres Railway Station.

The train was another double-decker TGV Reseau Duplex – two units again (ours was the left-hand one) and it wasn’t all that busy either. I could spread out a little and sample my coffee yet again. And after 6 hours in the flask it was still too hot.

Plenty of time for a change in Lille so having had a good clamber about on an overhead walkway to take my photograph, I could have a pleasant if cold walk down the road to Lille Europe Railway Station.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThe train was actually in the station when I arrived so I had to wait until I arrived at Brussels-Midi until i could photograph it.

But it was a pretty busy train without many spare seats. Luckily I had no neighbour so I could spread out and I even managed to doze off for 10 minutes or so. And the coffee had cooled down enough for me to be able to sip it. Not gulp it – just sip it.

And now I can call myself one of the statistics on the Belgian Government’s list of Covid-testees.

When we arrived at Bruxelles-Midi we had to pass through a checkpoint and show our papers. It’s a good job that I had prepared my Travel request. And I was directed to the Covid-testing point outside the station.

And having a Q-tip shoved up my nose is not a very pleasant sensation at all.

Another task I had to perform was to post off the Certificat de Vie that I had signed by the French police the other day to prove that I’m still alive. The Tour de Midi – the headquarters of the Belgian pension service is just across the road from the station.

sncb class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric HallBack in the station again I had to run (as best as I could) for my train as it was just coming into the station.

It’s one of the Oostende-Welkenraedt trains and these are quite comfortable so I didn’t want to miss it if I could help it.

By now the coffee was cool enough so I could actually drink it so I had a nice comfortable ride to Leuven and a pleasant walk down to my hotel room.

Here, I sorted myself out and had a little sit down for a while to recover my strength. And having done that, I headed out for the shops.

house renovation dekenstraat leuven belgium Eric HallDown at the end of the road here I went past the house renovation that we have seen before.

It’s now been about three months since they’ve been doing the facade of the building, to my certain knowledge and I really don’t understand why this sort of thing takes so long.

The bill at the Carrefour was quite expensive, but then again food is much more expensive in Belgium than it is in France. And I was glad to be back in my room with my food. I was ready for something to eat

Writing out my notes took longer than it might have done, due to the fact that I … errr … had a little repose. But now I’m off to bed. Welsh lessons in the morning so I need to be my best.

And after the very long day that I’ve had, I’m ready for bed too.

Friday 6th November 2020 – AND THAT WAS …

… more difficult than it ought to have been too.

And when the TGV broke down somewhere in the wilderness I really did think that I’d had my chips too.

This morning I totally ignored the alarm yet again and had a lie-in until about 07:30. More stuff on the dictaphone of course that I transcibed after I returned home.

We were in the USA last night. I can’t remember exactly what we were doing but it involved my father and a whole group of other people whom I knew. There had been some big kind of political debate. Some politician had made a disgraceful affair and all the other politicians were standing up for him. Someone went to get into their car but found that the locks had been changed. This evil politician had gone around changing everyone’s locks on everything. At that stage I became quite simply fed up and beat both of them into a pulp. I had to sell someone about something or other and I can’t remember what. It was to do with a car needing work or something. I got into my car which was a very new one. I managed to get in and drove away from the scene. As I came up to a set of traffic lights a police car pulled out of a side road right in front of me, blocked the road and put his stop lights on. When the traffic lights changed he went off presumably to drive round the block to come up behind me. But it was a really inconvenient place to stop. There was an abandoned fuel station just across the traffic lights so I pulled over there, of course bitterly regretting what was going to happen next – I was in no illusions. There were a couple of guys there getting petrol out of this abandoned fuel station. They said something about parking there. I said “that’s all right. I’m waiting here to be arrested”. They looked at me a bit wide-eyed so I said to 1 of them “yes the police are coming to arrest me”. He thought that he had better get a move on and do what he’s doing quickly and get out of the way. Just then I saw a group of my friends coming along. They were carrying an engine lift, tools and everything as if they were going to lift the engine out of a car somewhere after what I’d said to them. I thought “this policeman is taking his time isn’t he? I could nip off if I wanted to leave my car there.” But did I want to leave my car there? Did I want to nip off? Did I want to go? There was a cheap Honda Acty microvan things parked up and I was having a look at that.

A little later I was a kid, a teenager doing something with a house. We’d all been working on bits of it and I’d been painting the bedroom. The 1st coat hadn’t worked properly because some filling needed doing on it. I’d done most of that and painted what I’d already done. It hadn’t appeared too badly and I was reasonably pleased with it. Then the tutor came in and started to give me instructions about what he wanted me to do next but I reckoned that in view of the time factor it would be a good idea just to fill the rest of the wall where it needed filling and paint one coat over it to see where it was low. We could fill it again to make it up in the meantime and the coat of paint would be on it ready for the top coat. We had a lengthy discussion about that and in the end he agreed to let me do it as I wanted. He told me that I would have to put a curtain up somewhere over one part where the walls were uneven but I thought that that was going to be a silly idea – it would just draw people’s attention to it but he was pretty adamant so in the end we agreed that we would talk about this again. I did the calculations that by the time I had finished this room putting these coats and this filler on I would have had my A levels by then in which case no-one would be in a position to contradict me at all and I really could then do it as I liked.

There was also something where I was doing something with a pile of musicians – it might have been Man or something like that. We were just sitting around talking about drugs, all this kind of thing. Deke Leonard saying that he hadn’t shot up for a whole 15 concerts but was quite busy taking the weed – the same with a few of the others. I said that I didn’t even know whereabouts to go to get it. I wouldn’t have a clue. They said “that girl who came to your party in your building. She sold us a bag”. I thought that was a bit if a shame because I liked her. Then we ended up at someone’s house after this – it might even have been this girl’s. It was a much nicer apartment than mine, on the floor below from where I was living. We were all getting ready to go places and were sorting through a pile of things and having to tidy everything up. I was sorting through these stones, I’ve no idea why. Some were precious and some weren’t and I was getting it all wrong. There were 3 gear lever knobs from a vehicle in there. It was a really confused thing that I had to sort through. Someone came over to give me a hand. He clearly knew what he was doing. I had to resort what I’d already done because it wasn’t right. I ended up going for a walk around and having a look at her garden which was really nice. On the way back I saw everyone else coming for a walk around the garden. I thought that I might as well have waited until they decided to come rather than go out on my own.

After that I was taping a Man concert, trying to get that organised but it was again something that I was only doing half-heartedly and missing most of the joins, thinking that I would have to go back and check it over again. The question of London came up, the question of a restaurant in the basement of a hotel that we go to near the railway station but it had moved down to South London. A girl I was with suggested that we should go there and have a meal. I thought ” that’s a long way to go for a meal and come back. It’s not as if it’s at the railway station where it used to be where we could be in and out in an evening. With this we have to hike most of the way across London to get to it and it’s not going to be the same, particularly with only another two weekends to go…

If that’s not enough, then later I was walking along Crewe Road into Sandbach and as I was passing the houses at the end of Park Lane I was thinking that I had to go to the bank. But the bank wasn’t where it is but in the street that runs about half a mile to the south – Hassall Road – so I had to find my way around like a deviation. In the end I got to 3rd Avenue and I remembered that I could walk through there that way. I walked down there – there were some kids playing netball in the school plating area there and a couple of boys playing football. I went on and came to a set of steps that I had to walk down. There were two young girls there who were rolling balls down it. Obviously whose ball rolled furthest down the most stairs won. They had a rake that they were using to pull the balls back up. One of them was pulling a ball back up and the rake swung back over her head and nearly impaled me as I was waling past so I made some kind of light hearted remark about it and they laughed. Then I noticed in one of the swimming pools in the back garden of a house round there was a skeleton so I asked “is that your last victim?”. They laughed again. By this time a woman had come down. She thought that it was funny as well so we had a chat. We got to the bottom and there was a really deep puddle. She was talking about the gypsies who lived in Sandbach and how they had sometimes washed their clothes in it. When we reached the bottom she said which way she was going, and I thought that this was the other direction so I said goodbye to her. I turned left and she went a little further on and she turned left too. We bumped into each other again. I said “I thought that you were going the other way”. She said “no, this way. I have to fetch some money from the bank”, a different bank. She started to ask “where shall we go from here?” so I said “hurry up and get your money” so she dashed inside the bank.

Later on I stepped back into this dream. I was walking back to the bus. I got on the bus by the centre door and for some reason I didn’t want to sit down at the front so I chose a seat right opposite the centre door where I didn’t have to go very far. Then this woman appeared, the one with whom I’d walked just now. I was hoping that she would get on the bus and come to sit next to me but that was when I awoke.

But back in Belgium I had a nice little relax instead (and I felt that I needed it after all of that) and then a really good tidy up before setting out for my journey home.

SNCB Siemens Class 18 electric locomotive Leuven Belgium Eric HallThere was already a train in the station going to Brussels but as I wasn’t able to run for it with the load that I was carrying, I let it go and waited for the next one.

This one was pulled by one of the Siemens Class 18 electric locomotives that work the line from Eupen and Welkenraedt to Oostende. We travel on these quite often.

Unfortunately I wasn’t very lucky with this one because it was pulling a rake of older-generation carriages – the type with the old PVC seats, that sort of thing. It would have been really nice to have had one of the usual sets with the modern cloth upholstery.

But I’m getting greedy. At least it was on time both here and in Brussels.

Thalys PBKA 4301 Gare du Midi Brussels Belgium Eric HallThere was an hour to wait, sitting on a draughty platform on Bruxelles-Midi but luckily this train, one of the PBKA units, came in early so having had our tickets checked, we could scramble aboard.

Even though there are only three trains per day between Brussels and Paris right now, this one was pretty empty. Fewer and fewer people are moving around. In fact, the railway station was like a ghost town.

There was a police patrol on the train too, and we all had our identities and movement forms checked. Luckily all of my papers were in order, and I’m glad that I went through all of that trouble 18 months ago to obtain a French identity card.

Then we had the engine failure. All of the lights and power on the train went out and we ground to a halt, down from 300kph. All hope of catching my connection – the only one to Granville today – seemed to vanish before my eyes.

20 minutes later, they managed to fire it up again and we limped into the Gare du Nord.

Leaping from the train I hared off through the station to the Metro where, luckily, there already was a train at the platform so I leapt aboard and we shot off to Paris Montparnasse, where we arrived with 25 minutes before my train was due to depart.

Just three people in the SNCF offices as well so I went in to see about organising a refund for the tickets for the trains that were cancelled And to my surprise, they cancelled the tickets for the current voyage (which was in fact more expensive) and endorsed the tickets for the cancelled train giving me authority to travel.

84573 GEC Alstom Regiolis Gare de Granville Railway Station Manche Normandy France Eric HallWe were allowed on this train early too, which was very pleasant. In fact, it took me by surprise as I was in the middle of eating my butties.

Once the train set off, I curled up on my seat and slept for an hour or so. I’d already had a couple of dozes prior to this but this was a good ‘un. I didn’t feel a thing.

For some reason though, the seats didn’t seem to be as comfortable as they have been in the past. It reminds me of that really uncomfortable flight that I had back from Canada two or three years ago where I just couldn’t settle down comfortable.

Our train arrived early too, so I even had time to nip into the Coccinelle Supermarket for some bread seeing as I don’t have any here.

place general de gaulle Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallOn the wat back I walked past the Place General de Gaulle.

You wouldn’t believe that it’s Saturday night right now. This lockdown is clearly working. I was picturing tumbleweeds and all that kind of thing coming blowing across my path as I walked by.

However I made it home without too many problems and made myself a bowl of soup out of the freezer, which I ate with the bread. And then I released the valves on the kefir and even though I took great care, I still ended up with a face full and a bath full. It wasn’t ‘arf lively after having been left alone for a week or so.

It’s good to be home anyway. I like my little apartment. I’ll have a good sleep and pleasant dreams (I hope) and then I need to go out tomorrow and buy some food. No Caliburn so that’s going to be an interesting trip.

Thursday 12th December 2019 – WELL I NEVER …

… ever thought that I would make it to Leuven today. But here I am none-the-less, sitting in my little room in the Dekenstraat waiting for tomorrow and my rendezvous with doom at Castle Anthrax.

It all started so well too this morning, even though I was the first to realise that on a day of “National Action”, the situation can change in the blink of an eye.

Last night I wasn’t in bed as early as I would have liked, what with having a few things to do, but nevertheless I comfortably beat the second alarm call this morning, never mind the third.

During the night I’d been on my travels too. There was something going on about something to do with the radio last night. We were in Granville and it was to do with the copyright. Someone said that I had gone on for an hour doing something yet according to my calculations it was less than 10 minutes. But they insisted that it was an hour. Ann Myatt was there and she was getting involved in this argument about copyright and I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

No time for breakfast or anything this morning. I made my butties (I’d bought an extra dejeunette yesterday) and generally packed my things for the trip. As well as that, I took all of the recycling down to the bins.

thora normandy trader port de granville harbour manche normandy franceEventually it was time to hit the streets so valiantly braving the rainstorm I set off.

The first thing that I noticed down in the harbour is that there had been a shuffle-round of the ships. Thora had moved place and that Normandy Trader was now in the unloading bay underneath the crane next to Marite. She must have slipped into port under cover of darness too.

And all that I can say is that Normandy Trader must have had a really rapid turn-round.

alstom regiolis gare de granville railway station manche normandy franceAt the station, much to my surprise, my train was in and waiting. Yes, start with some good luck because I didn’t expect it to hold out.

And I was right too.

Firstly, the station coffee machine was out of order. That always puts a dampener on any of my travels, that does.

Secondly, I don’t have much time to traverse Paris, and no Bourvil to carry my suitcase either so when they announced that “the train will be making a few additional stops” my heart sank into my boots.

eiffel tower paris franceThe weather was quite miserable though. There’s a good place to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower from the train and I was in a good place on the train to seeit and photograph it.

But not today though. There was a pile of damp mist and low cloud obscuring it and the photo was a waste of time.

12:05 is the arrival time of my train in the Gare Montparnasse-Vaugirard in Paris. We finally pulled into the station at 12:20. And with my train out from the Gare du Nord at 13:15 I needed to get a wiggle on.

No chance of the metro though. All closed off and boarded up with the strike.

Still, there’s always the Bus 39 so I hurtled off outside to the bus stop to find that everyone in the whole wide world had had the same idea. When the bus eventually came, we all piled in and were crammed in like sardines. I’ve never ever in my life been in such a crowded bus.

It wasn’t to last though. After about 5 or 10 minutes or so the driver announced that he wasn’t going to go to the Gare du Nord but his “colleague behind” will be doing the trip. We all had to alight knowing full well that we had been sold a pup, but there was nothing that we could do about it.

No “colleague behind” either. We were standing there like piffy on a rock for about 15 minutes until a 39 came by. It was already heaving but nevertheless there was a mad scramble and once the lucky first 10 had wedged themselves aboard, he closed the doors and off he shot, leaving the rest of us behind.

After about 10 minutes I realised that any further wait was pointless. I’d been keeping my eye open for a few minutes and then, sure enough, a taxi with his flag up came by. I let out a yell and he pulled up. Grabbing hold of the door to claim it, I shouted to the people at the bus stop “taxi share to the Gare du Nord?” but they all looked at me as if I have two heads – which I probably have. No-one came to join me so I set off alone with the driver and badger that lot!

Finding a taxi was one thing – getting to the station was another. Everything was conspiring to be in our way today and we eventually reached the Gare du Nord at 13:35. It cost me @24:00, which was not, I suppose, too unreasonable for Paris on a day of General Strike.

Next stop was at the Thalys office to negotiate a new train, but it turns out that it’s not them but the SNCF that I need to see (exactly the opposite of the situation last time) so I wandered off to their office.

tgv inoui gare du nord paris franceAnother lengthy wait but it was worth it because there was just one more train out to Lille – at 14:45 – and I managed to blag my way onto it, free, gratis and for nothing.

While I was waiting, I’d done some research. My new train is due to arrive in Lille at 15:48. There was a local train from Lille going across the border to Tournai in Belgium at 16:02 (arriving at 16:34) and an SNCB train from Tournai to Brussels at 16:44 (arriving at 17:48)

Having found my seat, I settled down and dozed off (and who can blame me after my exertions?).

I awoke some time later to find that our train was stationary in the countryside. “Obstruction on the line” was the reason. By the time that it was removed and we had set off again, I could see all of my hopes melting away into the distance. And when we finally arrived at Lille, it was 16:20 and my train had long-gone.

But I’m nothing if not determined. Browbeating an attendant, she sent me off to the SNCF offices to see what they could do. They could find me a Local train to Tournai at 18:08 but from there I would be on my own.

It sounded like a reasonable option to me though – at least I’d be on the right side of the border. But I was convinced that I could do better.

Off down the road to Lille Europe – the big new TGV railway station. It took ages to find my way in, due to all of the reconstruction, but eventually I made it to the SNCF office. After yet another long wait, I was told that they could get me on a TGV direct to Brussels – the next one being at 20:08. And the receptionist wasn’t very pleasant either about that.

Another option is the Eurostar office. I’d seen that there was a Eurostar from London to Brussels, calling at Lille-Europe at 17:30. I tracked down the Eurostar office and went in there with my sob story. The girl there listened, looked at me for a moment, had a little think, and then simply stamped my ticket “bon for voyage 17:30” – free, gratis and for nothing as well! She told me that I would have to make my own seating arrangements.

eurostar gare lille europe railway station franceAnd she was right too. The train was heaving and it took me ages to find a free seat. Probably the last one on the train.

But what was interesting was the ticket control on the station. It wasn’t the railway company as such that did the ticket checking but a couple of security guards. They were wandering up and down the platform checking people’s tickets on a rather ad-hoc basis rather than at a barrier at the head of the stairs, which would have been the most logical place to control the passengers.

They had a brief glance at my ticket, saw the rubber stamp from the girl in the office and that was that.

gare du midi brussels belgium We pulled in to Brussels-Midi at 18:11 and I had to wait until 18:28 for my train to leuven.

But no matter what, I wasn’t going to wait on the platform. There was one of those bitter, biting winds that finds its way through your clothing, your skin, your flesh and your bones. I came down onto the little walkway underneath the platforms where I could admire the station and the crowds of people.

Brussels-Midi is a very old station in the sense that it hasn’t been modernised any time recently, so it has a quaint kind of character all of its own that many main-line stations have lost.

class 18 electric locomotive december leuven railway station louvain belgium Bang on time at 18:28 our train pulled in and I was well on the way towards Welkenraedt.

Today we had one of the Class 18 electric locomotives, one of the workhorse classes of the Belgian SNCB that pull a great many of the long-distance trains around the country, even if their introduction to the railway network was not without its issues. But now you see them all over the place.

We finally pulled in to Leuven at about 19:00. And when you think about this, then despite all of the issues that I’d had, I was only two and a half hours later than normal. And Had I gone via Tournai on the train that I had planned, I would have been just 15 minutes ahead.

Now I’m settled in. Too late for the shops, I’ve had beans and chips for tea and now I’m off to bed. After all of that effort I think that I deserve it too.

How close was I to having my chips today?

fishing boats unloading port de granville harbour manche normandy france
fishing boats unloading port de granville harbour manche normandy france

christmas lights rue lecampion granville manche normandy france
christmas lights rue lecampion granville manche normandy france

Wednesday 20th March 2019 – AND HERE I AM …

… back in the comfort and safety and privacy and warmth of my own home.

And how much I like being here too. i’m glad to be back.

However, as seems to be usual these days I had yet another bad night. I always seem to whenever I’m travelling. Going to bed early doesn’t help, especially when you have found the radio alarm clock and set it to work, so that you can watch it tick on past 03:35.

But at some point I must have gone off to sleep because I was awoken by the alarm. and I’d even been on something of a voyage too – doing something with the Wales football team from last night.

Once I was awake, I didn’t hang about. I was up (almost) immediately and with everything already packed, I was on the road even before the alarm at 06:20 went off.

class 18 electric locomotive gare de leuven belgiumAnd to such an extent that never mind the 06:42 train – I was on the 06:32 to Oostende.

You can see it pulling in, 2 minutes late, being pulled by one of the Class 18 electric locomotives from 2011

As a result, I was in Bruxelles-Midi station even earlier than normal. I had plenty of time to go to Carrefour for my raisin buns for breakfast.

4538 Thalys TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt gare du midi brussels belgiumSurprisingly I didn’t have too long to wait at Bruxelles-Midi even though I was in early.

We were called up to the platform somewhat earlier than usual, and when we arrived on the platform we found that our TGV was already in.

It’s another one of the Reseau 38000 “PBA” (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) transets, number 4538

My neighbour was a nice young lady but she was extremely taciturn. She just sat gazing out of the window all the way to Paris Gare du Nord and I had a little relax.

At Paris, I dashed down into the Metro and leapt aboard the train, only for it to be held up at almost every station. In fact, the journey that usually takes me about 45 minutes took just about 65 minutes. It’s a good job that the TGV arrived on time.

My train to Granville was on time too. My neighbour was an elderly lady who needed quite a lot of attention which meant that I didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted to do.

But in my reading of “Wineland the Good” by Arthur Reeves, I came across something quite interesting. Reeves refers to some documents relating to the discovery and voyages to Vinland – the ‘Breve Chronicon Norvegiae’ – that were discovered in the files of the Earl of Dalhousie and which dated to the mid 15th Century.

Dalhousie is of course not too far away from Roslin and the presence of these documents up the road may well provide some kind of link that led to the voyages of Henry Sinclair and their relation to the strange carvings at Roslin Chapel.

gec Alstom regiolis 84559 bombardier x76500 76619 gare de granville railway station manche normandy franceDespite almost everything, our train pulled in at Granville bang on time.

Here it is in the station, parked up next to the train to Rennes – one of the Bombardier X76500 series of multiple-units.

As an aside, I’ve discovered that I can actually catch a train from Granville to St Malo if I change at Dol de Bretagne. And there’s talk about laying on a direct train some time in the future.

loading supplies normandy trader port de granville harbour manche normandy franceThis time I managed to walk all the way back home, admiring Normandy Trader being loaded up at the quayside as I did so.

There seems to be an enormous amount of goods down there waiting to be loaded up on board. That should keep them out of mischief for quite a while with all of that.

Seeing as there were some men around there today, I should really have gone down to talk to them.

repointing medieval city walls granville manche normandy franceFurther up the hill, I noticed that they were working on the city walls.

Part of the pavement has been closed off for as long as I have been there due to some loose stones that have been falling out of the wall, and I had heard some story that they might be doing some work on it.

So it looks as if they have already started. Probably hammering the loose stones back in and repointing the walls.

And as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, I spent a couple of summers doing that on my house and it’s a long, heavy, difficult job.

Back here I had a really good relax for a couple of hours before attempting the unpacking. Definitely feeling the strain.

Tea was easy too. One of the portions of shepherd’s pie out of the freezer with veg and gravy. However, the slice of chocolate cake that i’d left out of the freezer had turned. But those in an airtight container in the fridge were fine and there was some soya dessert left.

night st martin de brehal granville manche normandy francelater on, I went for my walk around the headland. It was quite pleasant out there but yet again I was the only one out there.

There was still a touch of light left – enough to take a few photographs of the coastline, like this one of St Martin de Brehal.

It’s come out really well, all told and I’m quite pleased with it.

So now I’ll go to bed. There’s not much food in here so it’s a shopping day tomorrow. A nice walk up to LIDL I reckon.

I’ll see how I feel.

night donville les bains rue du nord granville manche normandy france
night donville les bains rue du nord granville manche normandy france

night st malo brittany baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france
night st malo brittany baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france

night cancale brittany baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france
night cancale brittany baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france

night baie de mont st michel jullouville granville manche normandy france
night baie de mont st michel jullouville granville manche normandy france

night trawler baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france
night trawler baie de mont st michel granville manche normandy france

Tuesday 2nd October 2018 – AND SO BACK AT CASTLE ANTHRAX …

… and start as you mean to go on.
Our Hero – “I seem to be half an hour early today”
Ann the Receptionist – “no you aren’t. You’re several weeks late!”

As might be expected after all of my sleep yesterday, I found myself wide-awake at 03:15 this morning. And by 03:40 I had given it up as a bad job and was sitting on the bed working.

That had still given me plenty of time to go off on a nocturnal ramble. Back on The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour and back in the High Arctic again, only this time in the company of a couple of my spurious characters and it’s not very often indeed that they ever see the light of … errr … well, you know what I mean. Yes, two people, who shall be known as, say the QC PQ and C, for want of any other name, were out there last night on a voyage and not necessarily doing what they do best either. All in all, it was something of a cosy voyage being out there retracing many of the steps that were traced a couple of weeks ago and in interesting company too.

Yes, I’m feeling all broody again, aren’t I?

I’m not sure whether it’s nostalgia for the voyage, a desire to return to the High Arctic (which is by far and away the most splendid place on earth), an unwillingness to go home or trepidation about my appointment with destiny at Castle Anthrax later this morning tha has got me going like this.

Or maybe I’m just lonely. Mustn’t rule that out either. But as they say in France, it’s better to travel alone than be badly-accompanied. And I wouldn’t have done half of the things that I have done had I had anyone else to think about too.

While there’s a kettle in the hotel room, there isn’t any coffee. And so those little tubes of coffee that I keep in my backpack for emergencies came in very handy here. That was a handy bit of inspiration, that was and no mistake.

It was also a very good job that I was up and about early too, for I would never have been able to sleep through the racket that my neighbour made after he awoke at 04:20.

A shower at 07:00 and a general organisation of myself, and then off to catch the train. Not forgetting that I needed to have my rail ticket for tomorrow printed out. The receptionist here duly obliged.

At the Carrefour in the Gare du Midi I picked up some raisin bread for breakfast and then as there was a Leuven train already in the station I leapt aboard.

And then my leisurely walk to my appointment with doom.

As well as the interaction with the receptionist, I had an interaction with a young nurse.
“Your heartbeat is very fast today” she remarked.
“You lean over me one more time like that” I muttered to myself “and it will beat even faster”.

She had her revenge. She was very rough with the catheter tube.

As a punishment for missing an appointment they kept me waiting for a while before they hooked me up. And once I was hooked up I went off. Out like a light – well, as far as possible as it is to go with people buzzing around me.

And despite what you might think, after all of the good food that I have eaten on my travels, I have LOST 3kgs in weight. I shall have to go back to the Arctic, won’t I?

world war 1 notices leuven belgiumFrom the railway station I trudged my weary way across town towards the hospital.

And ground to a splendid halt in the Grote Markt bu=y the big cathedral.

It’s soon going to be the centenary of the Armistice, and there was a display of notices to the population from the First World War.

world war 1 notices leuven belgiumLeuven was occupied by the Germans in late August 1914 and was a major victim of the German policy of “Frightfulness”.

The town was sacked and then set ablaze. The huge Medieval library and all of its contents dating back to the 6th Century were burnt to ashes.

The population lived under a most repressive Martial Law. Hostages were taken and were shot for the slightest “provocation” by the civilian population.

It was a nightmare time for those who lived here.

At the hospital, they did their tests and gave me the news. As expected, the blood count is down and the protein loss is up. And for the first time, a doctor has admitted that they are concerned about my lack of response to the treatment.

So back in 4 weeks by which time they might have come up with A Cunning Plan.

On the way back I called at Delhaize for some fruit and tomatoes for lunch tomorrow, and then The Loving Hut for more vegan cheese and sausages (and where I was recognised by the cashier). Finally Kruidvat for some gelatine-free sweets.

sncb class 18 locomotive gare de leuven belgiumback at the Leuven railway station, and I didn’t have to wait long for a train back.

It’s one of the Class 18 electric locomotives and is probably about 8 years old, although it doesn’t look it.

She brought me to the Gare Centrale for 18:10. I’d arranged a meal with Alison at The Moon but she was delayed as there was no bus. They are all on strike.

But she arrived soon enough and we had a beautiful vegan and gluten-free meal. And I took the opportunity to discuss with her an incident that had happened to me several weeks ago and had left me feeling totally puzzled. And I wanted a woman’s point of view.

Much to my surprise (because things don’t usually happen like this) she immediately saw my point of view without me even having to prompt her. I was convinced at the time that I had been correct in my understanding, and Alison’s opinion was that, if anything, I had been far more restrained that she would have expected in a similar circumstance.

So I dunno.

tintin rue du midi brussels belgiumWe had a coffee and I showed her my prize photo, and then she took the train back out of town to the railway station near to where she works. During the bus strike, the train is the best solution.

I walked home past the big Tintin mural and had a strange encounter with three guys in the street. I know what they were after but they weren’t quick enough.

Back here I had a chat with Liz on line, and then with Alison who by now had made it safely home. A little crash out and now I’m off to bed.

We had a coffee and I showed her my prize photo, and then she took the train back out of town to the railway station near to where she works. During the bus strike, the train is the best solution.

I walked home and had a strange encounter with three guys in the street. I know what they were after but they weren’t quick enough.

Back here I had a chat with Liz on line, and then with Alison who by now had made it safely home. A little crash out and now I’m off to bed.

It’s been a long day and tomorrow I’m heading home.

I wonder what I’ll find back there.