Tag Archives: colosseum

Sunday 13th February 2022 – I DON’T EVER …

… want to have to do that again! NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET has got nothing on this!

But anyway, last night I was in bed by 22:00 with the alarm set for 05:00 and hoping to have a good sleep.

But that was some hope because I was off on my travels during the night and I must have gone so far that I really don’t know how I had any sleep at all.

At some point I was with a girl who has featured on several occasions in the past, usually with her brother who was a friend of mine and who both lived on a farm, but tonight she was with another girl – I don’t know who she was but I know that I know her. We were tidying up a pile of stuff, just generally chatting. The farmer’s daughter had to go out for something that just left me and this girl. The conversation turned round to that girl and me. I said that I don’t want anything to happen to her because I’m rather fond of her. This girl was rather surprised so I said “yes but I thought that most people knew that”. She asked if our farmer’s daughter knew that and I replied “of course she did”. “What did she do?”. “Nothing” I replied. “She had her own life to live etc”. I explained that we’d been out once or twice. She asked “what was she doing?” I said “it was just like this”. “Any snogging?” she asked. I replied “no unfortunately”. “Why on earth not?”. “I didn’t want to drive her away”. She wanted to know if she was married with kids. I replied that she was and had 2 kids. The conversation just drifted around like that. I thought that the farmer’s daughter would only be gone for a few minutes but it must have been ages that we were having this chat.

And before anyone grasps the wrong end of the stick, the fact that she is a farmer’s daughter has nothing whatever to do with Deep Purple.

Finally I was in the Army last night, looking through a pile of files and lists. No matter how hard I looked, all I could find were details of an assignment to the Entertainment Unit. They were all put in an envelope ready to be sent off to some kind of competition or show or something. There were all people there, including Jimmy Clitheroe but I couldn’t find anything in these service records and service history at all. This was really annoying. In the end there was a sergeant there who was responsible for the paperwork. I asked him and he pointed to these envelopes and said “but it’s all there”. I shouted that it wasn’t. I said that all it was was these application forms for this concert thing. I picked them up and dropped them in the bin. I told him precisely and in no uncertain terms exactly what I wanted. He started to go through the filing cabinet trying to find all this information.

Wherever did I find the time to go to sleep?

It didn’t take me long to tidy up and I decided not to make any sandwiches because I only get into trouble when I eat them and I’ll be home in time for a late lunch. So at 05:30 I had already handed in the key and was well off down the road.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022As I approached the railway station I went to have a look at the Martelarenplein.

We’ve seen this now every month for the last I don’t know how many years and and I have to say that for the last half-dozen or so months there seems to be very little, if any improvement.

Just like every building project in Belgium, they are really taking their time with this and at the rate that they are going, I reckon that I’ll be finished long before they are here.

05:50 when I arrived at the railway station so I had 19 minutes to wait in the freezing cold and wind before my train came in.

class AM96 electric multiple unit gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022The train this morning is the 06:09 from Landen to De Panne via Brussels Airport and the City Centre.

Today it’s one of the AM96 electric multiple units. Fairly modern, quite clean and comfortable and I’m quite happy to be aboard one of these.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I have mentioned their unique features before. When a train is made up of two trainsets, the rubber ring makes an airtight seal around the join and the drivers’ cabs swivel round out of the way so that you can walk from one trainset to the next.

We arrived at Bruxelles-Midi at 06:49, 28 minutes before my train to Lille. And this was when disaster stuck. There on the sign was “07:17 to Strasbourg via Lille cancelled”.

That was certainly a tragedy. With it being a weekend, the 07:47 direct to Paris doesn’t run either so that was that.

At the ticket office they proposed the following itinerary –

  • 08:17 to Lille Europe arriving 08:51
  • 10:42 from Lille Flandre to Paris Gare du Nord arriving 11:48
  • 12:59 Paris St Lazare to Lison arriving 15:31
  • 15:52 Lison to Granville arriving 16:43


Only three hours later than usual.

But if anyone thinks that I’m going to be waiting for almost two hours on a draughty, freezing cold railway station in Lille they are mistaken. I have another plan. But in the meantime I went to buy some food from Carrefour. I have a feeling that I might need it at this rate.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4525 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022Wherever I go, it has to start with the 08:17 to Montpelier via Lille

It’s one of the PBA (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) TGV Reseau 38000 trainsets and when I boarded it I could see exactly why my train had been cancelled. Two trainloads of people were “squeezed” into this one and it was still empty. I don’t suppose that they considered it worth their while to run the earlier one if it only had half the number on board that this one had.

There are a couple of small seats stuck in a corner by the baggage racks so I grabbed one of those and settled down while the train shot off into the void.

When it reached Lille Europe, I stayed on board. Next stop is Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and from there is a Reseau Express Regional (RER) D train that goes into the city centre and out to Orly. I can alight at Denfert-Rochereau which is 5 stops and 40 minutes away, and then it’s 3 stops on the traditional metro to Gare Montparnasse.

The chances are that with a good run I could still catch my 10:59 train to Granville.

So at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport I hurtled off the train and up to the RER platforms on the level above to find “No RER Service today to Paris”.

That’s all I needed.

Plan C involved legging it right across Terminal 2 (which is enormous) to the other side and the express buses that go to the Stade de France RER station. That’s on RER line D so I need to change at Chatelet. I would lose 5 minutes but who knows?

Strangely enough, whenever I’m at Terminal 2, I ALWAYS SEEM TO BE REQUIRED TO RUN.

airport express coach stade de france paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022at Gate 2F I leapt on board a waiting coach and we shot off round and round the ragged rock until we finally found the exit that took us out onto the motorway and into northern Paris.

And there we hit a pile of roadworks and a long queue of traffic and I watched the time on my fitbit melt slowly away as we tried to jostle our way into the only lane that was moving.

We eventually made it to the Stade de France railway station. My train was to leave Montparnasse at 10:59 and as I alighted from the bus it was 10:59 precisely.

Never mind, it was a good try. At least, with all of the running around that I had to do I must have lost a good few kilos.

train RER D gare de stade de france paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022Now that I’m here I may as well push on.

Down on the platform I waited for the train to come in. The next stop is the Gare du Nord anyway and that gives me plenty of opportunity to work out something else. There has to be a Plan D somewhere.

At the Gare du Nord I didn’t even come up into the daylight. Here is RER line E and the terminus of that is at Gare St Lazare (well, near enough anyway) so I may as well see what gives there.

printemps department store rue caumartin paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022Where the RER station emerges into the street is right at the back of the Printemps Department Store.

Round at the front is the Boulevard Haussman where you find the headquarters of SPECTRE and several other extremely exclusive premises. But as you might expect, I’m not going that way. I’m going in the opposite direction.

There may be a considerable amount of time to spare but I’m not going to go for a look around in Printemps. It’s the kind of place where people like us need a credit account in order to simply look in the window.

gare st lazare paris france Eric Hall photo February 2022When I was here last I didn’t have too much time to take a photo of the Gare St Lazare so here we are. We can see the clocks that we saw last time outside the building but from a different perspective.

And here, I had my only slice of luck today.

When I arrived I noticed that there was a train to Caen at 11:59, one hour earlier than the one to Cherbourg on which they had booked me. Now if there would be a train from Caen to Rennes that connects with it, I will be à la maison and sec as they say around here.

Sure enough, the train arrives in Caen at 13:58 and at 14:10 there’s a train departing for Rennes so I sallied forth into the ticket office with right and a certificate of cancellation on my side.

Bombardier Regio 2N 56670 caen normandy france Eric Hall photo February 2022Just by way of a change I met a very pleasant and helpful SNCF ticket agent who took one look at all of my paperwork (Government officials on the mainland LOVE paperwork and rubber stamps) and issued me with a ticket for the earlier train.

It’s one of the really comfortable and quick Bombardier Regio 2N electric double-deckers. I was in the front coach upstairs with about 2 other people so I could settle down with my bread rolls and have a crafty nibble.

When the ticket collector came round I showed him my original ticket and gave him all of the rest of the paperwork that I had and he hardly bothered to check them. I went back to eating my bread rolls and listening to Hawkwind again.

And I still think that the violin solo on STEPPENWOLF is one of the best that has ever been recorded.

Bombardier B82650 84555 gec alstom regiolis gare de granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022And here I am at Granville. My train is the Bombardier B825 on the left.

When I arrived at Caen it was already in and raring to go. It was quite full too and there are no luggage facilities, seeing as it’s a cross-country train. But I struggled aboard and eventually found somewhere for my suitcase and me.

There is no electricity on board these trains so I didn’t switch on the laptop. All the way to Granville I listened to COLOSSEUM LIVE on the telephone.

As I explained a while ago, I usually encounter interesting young ladies in peculiar situations whenever I listen to this album, such as in the High Arctic in 2018 and again a year later on the same ship in the same seat in the same place when I had two of the strangest encounters that I have ever had in modern times.

Today though, I’ve already had so many strange encounters, one way or another, that I probably wouldn’t have noticed another one by this time.

It’s no surprise that I dozed off for 10 minutes on the way home. And I immediately went off on a little wander. I was with another taxi driver and we were talking to a third. He had had the right to an engine in compensation for something but his wife at the time was now living with yet a fourth taxi driver and he had received this engine. He had fitted it into his car, “the T-reg”. I was surprised that after all of these years he was now back on the road but the reply was yes, it’s called “Creamony Cars” or something like that

Here at Granville on the right is the train that I should have caught. It beat me here (assuming that it was on time) by about 2 hours. And I don’t suppose that that was too bad because there was a moment when I was standing in front of the sign at the RER station at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport that I thought that I would never arrive at all.

The walk through the town was a nightmare. Even going down the hill was agony.

harbour gates closing port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022Climbing back up the hill up to my rock was even worse and it took me an age.

During one of my rather too frequent pauses during my climb I looked down at the harbour to see what was happening and I was lucky enough to see the red warning light flashing and the gates slowly closing.

So whoever might have been in the harbour loading up has now long gone and I won’t know who they are.

It was like Ice Station Zebra in here too when I arrived but ask me if I care. I made a coffee and collapsed into my chair.

No pizza tonight. I was too late to take some dough out of the freezer and it wouldn’t defrost so I had potatoes, veg and vegan sausage with vegan cheese sauce. It was lovely too.

Tomorrow is usually when I set an alarm for 06:00 and spend the day working on the radio but if anyone thinks that I’m doing that then they are mistaken. I’m going to bed and going to sleep until I awaken and hard luck on anyone who expects me to do anything. I’ve had a harrowing day.

Mind you, that could all change if TOTGA, Castor and/or Zero invite me to come with them for a midnight ramble. Imagine my sharing a room with Zero the other night and she not being there!

Wednesday 9th February 2022 – HERE I ALL AM …

.. not actually sitting in a rainbow, but sitting in my little room here in Leuven, after one of the most uneventful journeys that I’ve ever had.

man with giant teddy gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo February 2022One of the only two things of note about this journey took place in the Gare du Nord in Paris.

There, I came across a guy with an enormous teddy-bear strapped to his back, with the bear carrying a backpack.

Of course, it goes without saying that I went over to him and told him how much I admired his choice of travelling companion. And then of course that led to a discussion that involved STRAWBERRY MOOSE.

And that of course served to remind me that it’s been 18 months since His Nibs and I last went on an adventure, when we did our tour of Central Europe, and two and a half years since we last set foot on North American soil.

And like me, he’s getting itchy feet. We need to be on our way somewhere, moving about.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4520 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022The second incident of note took place on board my train at Lille Europe.

There was a couple sitting in my seat and at first they refused to move, insisting that the numbers on the seat in front related to their seats. It was only when I asked them if that meant that the people in seats 75 and 76 had to sit on the luggage rack that they reluctantly agreed to move.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered and would have sat somewhere else but there was something about this couple’s attitude that rubbed me up the wrong way and these days my good humour evaporates much more quickly than ever it used to, especially when I’m confronted by intransigent people.

Apart from that, it’s been a very fair day today. When the alarm went off at 06:00 I was (for a change) out of bed quite quickly, made my sandwiches, had a coffee and, to my own surprise never mind yours, steam-cleaned the kitchen, including washing the floor with disinfectant.

l'omerta fish processing plant port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022At 08:00 or thereabouts I left the apartment with my gear and headed off for the station.

First … errr … port of call was the viewpoint overlooking the fish processing plant where I checked the NIKON 1 J5 to make sure that it was working.

The fish-processing plant was this morning’s first subject. It might be early in the morning but there are plenty of people down there working as we can see. All of the lights are on in there and there’s a refrigerated lorry down there waiting to take away the catch.

And L’Omerta is still down there where we saw her yesterday, sitting on the silt.

dawn st pair Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022Although it was still dark, the sun was starting to rise.

The sky in the distance over at the back of St Pair sur Mer is becoming lighter with a beautiful pink tinge.

What they say around here is “Red Sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight. Red Sky in the Morning, Avranches is On Fire”.

And as I was on the point of taking the photos, most of the streetlights in St Pair sur Mer went out and what would have been a glorious photo suddenly turned into something rather more banal.

On that note I headed off down into town and then out the other side and up the hill to the railway station.

modernisation gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022It only took me 25 minutes to reach the station this morning, with only one stop on the way, which is progress of a sort.

And at the station, I had a surprise. There has in the past been some kind of vague talk about some improvements at the station and today, they had fitted out the entrance hall with a pile of scaffolding.

It looks as if it’s “all systems go” and it will be interesting to see what they’ve been up to when I come back next month.

You can see the yellow boxes there. They are for passengers to use to stamp their tickets before they board the train. All paper tickets have to have a timestamp on them to make them valid.

84571 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo February 2022Despite my being there early, the train was already on the point of pulling in, and that was a welcome sight. I didn’t have to sit outside in the cold.

Today I had a seat all to myself right next to the toilet so I didn’t even have to walk very far.

There was all of my work to back up from the large computer and while I was doing that I listened to my Hawkwind “concert” again. I stomped all my way to Paris, except for the 10 or 15 minutes when I was … errr … resting.

We were bang on time in Paris and the trip on the metro to the Gare du Nord was straightforward, especially my little walk along the street and I can’t understand why I didn’t check this before.

There was a bit of a laugh though. The metro was crowded but I managed to find a seat. A woman grabbed the seat next to me and beckoned to her daughter, who was about 11, to come and sit on her lap instead of standing up hanging onto a strap.

“I think that that’s a bit too baby” I said, which brought a smile from daughter and a sigh from mother, and despite repeated entreaties, daughter steadfastly refused to sit on her mother’s lap all the way to the Gare du Nord.

tgv inoui 225 tgv reseau duplex gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo February 2022Having exchanged pleasantries with the guy with the teddy-bear, I went to find my train to Lille Flandres.

As usual, it was one of the TGV Reseau Duplex double-deckers, looking as if they are in need of a little paintwork these days. Nevertheless they are quite comfortable, even if there is only one power point per seat.

This afternoon I was lucky because I didn’t have a neighbour so we didn’t have to fight over the power point and I could carry on listening to Hawkwind and reading my story about a Michigan cavalry unit in the American Civil War all the way to Lille.

And for a change, I was on the lower deck. No fighting with the stairs

TGV POS 4404 gare de lille flandres railway station France Eric Hall photo February 2022At Lille I found that we had brought another trainset with us – one of the POS units from eastern France so once more it was something of a hybrid train.

In fact, it actually brought us because it was certainly coupled up at the front of our trainset and there weren’t any passengers at all on it, so I imagine they’ve taken advantage of our trainset to carry out a positioning voyage.

We were 8 minutes late arriving at Lille so we had to push on rather rapidly to Lille Europe for our train from Montpelier to Brussels. Some young woman was looking rather lost so I brought her with me and we had a nice chat. However when we reached the station she disappeared off somewhere else and that was that.

There were a couple of minutes to spare so I used them wisely in eating my butties, and then I had my little … errr … discussion on my train.

The journey to Brussels doesn’t take long so I didn’t mess about with the computer. I listened to an album that I’d stored on my phone.

Colosseum Live, one of the greatest live albums ever, and something bizarre usually happens to me whenever i hear it.

In the Canadian High Arctic in 2018 I had a strange encounter with an interesting young lady whom I met on board THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR while I was listening to it, and in The Canadian High Arctic in 2019 on the same ship sitting in the same seat on the same deck listening to the same album, I had an even more strange encounter with another even more interesting young lady, about which I’ll write one of these days.

However, to my dismay, nothing whatsoever happened this time to ignite my curiosity.

class 27 electric locomotive gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022A train to Leuven was already in the station when I arrived – a push-me-pull-you – so I scrambled aboard, and we set off, at a snail’s pace, down the line.

When I arrived at Leuven I went to see what was pushing us and to my surprise it was one of the old Class 27 locomotives. 60 of them were built in the early 80s and they were the first of the modern generation of electric locomotives.

“Powerful” is not the word to describe these locomotives. One of this class pulled a train of 70 carriages, the longest passenger train ever assembled in the world, so I’ve no idea what was the matter with mine going so slowly.

At the back of the station is the little Match supermarket so I went there to buy the bread and drink for the next couple of days and then headed for my room

cherry pickers martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric Hall photo February 2022In the Martelarenplein they had a couple of cherry-pickers but they were parked up and it wasn’t easy to see what they had been doing.

Back here I didn’t have an upgrade but instead I’m in my usual room up two flights of stairs that kill me having to climb them.

After a coffee I … errr … relaxed for half an hour and then walked down to Delhaize for my shopping. I bought everything that I need and even “won” a trolley token from one that had jammed in an abandoned trolley. A trolley attendant saw me wrestling with it and gave me one from his pocket.

At some point I finally managed to catch up with the dictaphone notes. I was up in the Scottish Borders last night with a couple of young girls whom I met there once upon a time, at the festival indoor. The two girls were dancing. They were carrying bottles of drink around and I’m not sure why because they weren’t drinking them. We’d filmed them dancing, as well as quite a few others. We were watching it, and I can’t remember now, but she was most offended when she saw them dancing with the alcohol and had quite a lot to say about it. There was something about food too, making queues for the food and serving the queue, how if you had your food in one room you couldn’t go into another but eat in that room etc, something to do with the fact that some parts were licensed as a takeaway and some weren’t. It was all quite complicated. We were talking about my flat-bottomed boat festival. The film went on to talk about it and said about how these two girls would be invited to attend as well but of course the older one by this time had been killed so it was totally irrelevant.

It’s surprising, this little voyage, particularly about the death of one of these girls. In real life I’d actually met them a couple of times and then after one of our meetings, the older one was actually killed. She was driving to work early one morning when a German tourist who had driven up from Dover through the night without stopping pulled off the M74 onto the wrong side of the road and hit her head-on.

In her ancient and frail Open Corsa, she didn’t stand a chance.

Regular readers of this rubbish in one of its many previous guises will recall that the after-effects of this accident were quite considerable and are still rumbling on today

Later on we were back at the Scottish Borders again later and there was another girl there in between the age of these two girls, probably about 15 or so. She was dancing as well but I can’t remember where this started or why it was significant.

My friend Marianne was in hospital so I’d been staying in her apartment. I’d been there for five months from September until February. There was some talk that she might come out very soon so I’d had to have a good go round and tidy everything up and make sure that everything was where it was supposed to be, all of her clothes and everything, find her bank cards, find her money and all that. It was extremely complicated. At one point I found her cassette player so I put some music on and was listening to that while I was working. When I’d finished in the bedroom I couldn’t make up my mind whether to leave it on or switch it off. In the end I switched it off but this was something extremely emotional, all of this.

I was with Lise last night (and who is Lise?), on my way home in a car. There was some kind of news report about an Italian who had done something and taken an Israeli person hostage. I was driving home and I came to the road junction which I thought that I needed but for some reason I couldn’t see clearly out of the car. I ended up driving past so I had to find a place to turn round. I came to a place in a village where I could turn round but parked in a field were a couple of steam traction engines, all overgrown and covered in weeds, creepers etc so I went to take a photo of them. No matter how I tried I couldn’t find a decent viewpoint. In the end, after a while, I gave it up as a bad job, went back into the car, turned round. Then I noticed several ruined buildings from the Middle Ages so I stopped to take a photo. All these kids swarmed around me and kept on standing in front of the lens so I didn’t have a clear shot. Then the camera wasn’t recognising the lens. This was proving to be extremely awkward. In the end I was having to push these kids out of the way but the more I pushed, the more they formed back and kids started appearing from everywhere. I never did take that photo.

And that wasn’t all either. But as you are eating your tea right now I’ll spare you the gory details.

Now that I’ve had my tea, I’m off to bed. It’s early but I’m exhausted and I have my hospital appointment tomorrow so I need to be fighting fit. 123% of my daily activity deserves a good rest.


Wednesday 12th January 2022 – THAT’S NOT SOMETHING …

… that I want to be doing too often.

When I went to bed last night at about 21:15 I didn’t think that I would ever go off to sleep – tossing and turning around for quite a while.

But when the alarm went off at 04:00 I was fast asleep. However I was up and about quite quickly. There was even something on the dictaphone but all that I remember about last night was that there were 3 or 4 of us waiting to board a bus or something. When it came in, one of the guys stepped aside to let us on. We asked him why he wasn’t going to board. He replied that he was waiting for someone who hadn’t turned up yet.

That was the only thing that I can remember from last night.

By the time that it came to leaving the apartment I was champing at the bit to be off. I’d long-since done everything that needed doing.

fish processing plant port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo January 2022When I left the building I went to the viewpoint at the corner of the Boulevard des 2E et 202E de Ligne and the Boulevard Vaufleury.

In order to make sure that the camera was working correctly I took a photo of the fish processing plant. Plenty of light coming from the inside and a couple of refrigerated lorries parked outside so there must be plenty of work going on down there this morning, despite the mist that’s hanging over everywhere.

It’s been said that every “floating” job in the fishing industry creates four or five jobs on land and that’s easy to understand when you find out what happens in places like a fish processing plant.

One of the things that I would like to do is to actually go for a wander around inside but even if it were possible, they wouldn’t allow it in the middle of a pandemic.

The walk up to the station was done in darkness and solitude and to my surprise it wasn’t all that difficult. The Aranesp injections must be working.

Bombardier B82792 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo January 2022At the railway station my train was already in and at the platform waiting.

But I wasn’t interested in that right now. I had to track down the guard of the train. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that yesterday I couldn’t change the ticket for the train to Caen because with the train being cancelled, they had cancelled all of the tickets.

She wasn’t about as yet, but I made myself known to the driver and explained my situation. He’ll tell the guard as soon as she arrives and if it’s an issue she’ll come to see me.

Bombardier B82647 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo January 2022As it happens, the photo that I took just now wasn’t actually “my” train.

Well, it is in the sense that it’s not just a one-unit train but a two-unit train. The one you saw earlier was the rear half but I’m going to sit in the front half. There aren’t any reserved seats on this train and the farther you are from the entrance to the platform, the fewer people there are to bother you.

They give up the long walk and plonk themselves down closer to where they entered the platform.

The guard did come to see me and I explained my situation to her. I showed the guard the receipt for the purchase of the ticket and she waved me on with no issues.

The train was empty when we set off but by the time that it arrived in Caen it was heaving with people whom it had picked up on the way.

Bombardier Regio 2N 56629 gare st lazare paris France Eric Hall photo January 2022There was an hour’s wait at Caen due to having travelled on an earlier train, but the trip to Paris was pretty painless and I really enjoyed it.

It’s a Bombardier Regio 2N trainset and there are 447 of these rolling about on the French railway network. First hitting the rails in 2013, they are clean modern, comfortable and quick and I’d travel on these all day if I could. It’s almost enough to make me think about moving to the Caen area just to have the privilege of travelling regularly on them.

The 2N by the way stands for deux niveau, or “two decks”. These are double-decker units and didn’t the UK miss a trick when it heightened all of its infrastructure to allow the electrification of certain lines, and not heightening it enough for double-deckers.

One thing that was very important was that I snapped out of the deep, black depression in which I’d been for the last week or so. As soon as I boarded the train I made up a playlist of all of my favourite stomping Hawkwind numbers, the ones that I would play if I could lay my hands on a guitarist, a drummer and a violinist, because Simon House’s violin-playing on tracks such as STEPPENWOLF and DAMNATION ALLEY is absolutely phenomenal.

And then you have the full-length version of SPIRIT OF THE AGE and any one of another dozen that I could mention.

Mind you, the bloke in the seat in front didn’t like my singing much, so that was rather a shame for him, wasn’t it?

gare st lazare paris France Eric Hall photo January 2022The train arrived at Gare St Lazare on time and I had another nightmare occurrence trying to make the automatic machine read my ticket before I could leave the platform.

And in the ghostly, eerie, empty atmosphere of the railway station I could take a better photo than the one that I took last time. I’m not sure where everyone is becuase it’s usually packed. Maybe they heard that I was coming.

The trip from Paris St Lazare to Gare du Nord was straightforward – except that the ticket machine didn’t like a couple of my Metro tickets. It’s clearly not my lucky day to be travelling around, with all of these ticket issues that I seem to be having.

Thalys PBKA 4345 gare du nord paris France Eric Hall photo January 2022There wasn’t long to wait at the Gare du Nord for my train to Brussels, and that’s one of the reasons why I came this way today

It’s a horrible station to hang around in, huge, cold, draughty and no shelter anywhere. When I saw the 2-hour wait for a train had I come to Paris on my normal train, I had blanched.

We were quickly ushered on board and once everyone was ready we hurtled off towards Brussels. Non-stop, direct, no messing around in Lille. That’s another good reason to come this way.

To my surprise we pulled into Brussels 2 minutes early. I wandered off to the Carrefour to buy lunch for a change. There’s usually some stuff there that I can eat, like some of their delicious buns.

Once I’d dealt with the question of food I was lucky enough to find a train almost immediately for Brussels Schuman.

Justus lipsius council of ministers of the european union rue de la loi brussels belgium Eric Hall photo January 2022When I arrived at the station I went up to street level and there was the building where I had spent 12 happy years of my life.

Well, not exactly because I was around and about in other buildings at various times, but that’s the Head Office. The very best ever thing that I did with my life was to fight my way into there. I often muse about how had I remained living in Crewe I’d probably still be driving a taxi or a bus.

Although I didn’t have an appointment at the bank, they saw me more-or-less straight away and sorted out my bank card issues. I should receive a new card in the post “within a week”.

Back at Brussels Schuman we had one of those conversations that you can only ever have in Belgium
Our Hero “do the trains still go from here to Leuven?”
Assistant at Information Desk “I don’t know”.

class am 86 multiple unit 931 gare de bruxelles schuman railway station belgium Eric Hall photo January 2022In the end a ticket collector pointed me in the right direction. Why I was having difficulty is that they don’t terminate at Leuven these days but continue on to Landen, so it’s “Landen” on the destination boards.

The train was one of the old AM86 multiple units and it came into ths station. These aren’t particularly comfortable and are rather lightweight compared to some of the SNCB multiple units but they have had plenty of use and they keep on going. Of the 52 that came into service between 1986 and 1991, there are still 51 of them running around, mainly in the centre of the country.

When the train pulled in at Leuven I went to the supermarket at the back to pick up some stuff and walked down here to my room. No upgrade again but I’m not all that bothered.

It’s freezing here in Belgium so I’m glad that I brought my winter woollies. I’m going to need them.

First thing that I did when I arrived in my room was to crash out, and that’s no surprise.

Later on I found the strength from somewhere to struggle down to the supermarket for the rest of the shopping and then back here to make tea.

Now that’s done, I’m off to bed regardless of the fact that its only 21:30. And with the alarm set for 08:30 I’m going to sleep until I wake up. I’m surprised that I’ve kept going as long as I have, with 137% of my daily exercise total done too.

But one thing is for sure, and that is that I’m going to stomp all my way home to Granville on Saturday. Every since back in my early teens when I discovered Radio Luxembourg, music has been my only constant and steadfast companion and immersing myself deeply into it has sometimes been the only thing that has kept me going.

One thing that I need to do is to have a rethink about the direction in which my life is going because things aren’t working out right now. Somehow I need to pay much more attention to the inner me and that almost inevitably involves music.

On THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR I was happy spending most of my time listening to COLOSSEUM LIVE and ON THE ROAD by Traffic and things only changed (for the better or for the worse, depending on how you look at things and I know how I look at them) when I stopped listening and went to do something else.

Perhaps I ought to listen to more music. I dunno.

Thursday 25th March 2021 – WHAT A HORRIBLE …

… night that was!

demolition st pieters hospital brusselsestraat leuven belgium Eric Hall… while you admire the photos of the roadworks and demolitions that we have been following over the last few years, I’ll tell you all about it.

And if you want to know more about the photos as you pass by them, click on the image aside and a new window will open up with an enlarged photo and a caption.

But I spent most if not all of the night battling with cramp. I’ve had some bad nights just recently with cramp, and some worse nights too, but none were as bad as last night’s attacks.

demolition st pieters hospital brusselsestraat leuven belgium Eric HallIn fact, even when it started to grow light I was still awake in agony having already hopped around the rom to free everything off at least half a dozen times

When the alarm went off I was in no condition to leave the bed and in fact i totally ignored all of the alarms. Instead, I stayed in bed until about 08:20 and it’s been a while since I’ve done that in the week.

But at least I managed to drift off to sleep at some point and I even managed to go off on my travels. And that reminds me – if you missed last night’s voyages they are on-line now too

sint Jacobsplein leuven belgium Eric HallGreenock Morton were playing in a football match last night and were attacking the opponents’ goal. The team that they were playing had a couple of old Morton players in it like Gregor Buchanan. They were attacking the goal and they should have scored three or four in this one particular movement. They were trying to force the ball over the line. One of the Morton players even managed to lift it over the bar from standing on the goal line, there were that many bodies in the way and he had to get the ball over them. Interesting though was that all of the players were just like wraiths, something that made me wonder if the opponents were not in fact Wraith Rovers, just a ghostly outline rather than actual real players whom I could see. I remember shouting encouragement from the terraces but funnily enough I was the only person doing it and it sounded terribly embarrassing

biezenstraat leuven belgium Eric HallLater on there was a roundabout that had been built by Crewe and on this roundabout heading towards the town was my former friend from Stoke on Trent on a motorbike carrying a 5-gallon container of diesel. I was going the other way on a motorbike. Behind him on my old Honda Melody was Zero. She was only about 10 but she was riding this Honda Melody. I pulled up alongside the guy and we started to have a bit of a chat. The girl said “look here!” and she went off on this motor bike, did a couple of sliding turns, came back and slid to a halt. The bike toppled over and she got off and came to sit in between the two of us, telling us all about riding her motor bike. I asked “have you been taking Strawberry Moose out for a ride?”. she replied “yes”. The guy was saying that she’d held him tight while driving. She replied “ohh no! He’s been for a ride with me properly on it”.

And that brought back many happy memories of when I was living with Laurence and 8 year-old Roxanne 20-odd years ago and I taught Roxanne to ride the Melody

Sint-Hubertusstraat Leuven belgium Eric HallComing downstairs was something of a stagger.

My knee was certainly better but it wasn’t that good and I still couldn’t put too much weight on it and I needed to grip onto something to haul myself up into a standing position.

But I did eventually reach the ground floor and I attacked the dictaphone to see where I’d been during last night and the night before. And to my surprise, I had travelled quite far as you have probably noticed if you’ve read all of my notes.

monseigneur vanwaeyenberghlaan leuven belgium Eric HallLater on, I took my courage in both hands and limped off down to the supermarket.

The Delhaize rather than the Carrefour because it was closer and I wasn’t up to going the extra distance. But I did what shopping I needed to do and staggered back.

Despite my injury and despite the load that I was carrying I made it back without too much of a problem, and then made myself some toast for a rather late breakfast.

There was time for a shower and some clothes washing, and then I headed off to the hospital.

It was a depressing walk down to the town because I really wasn’t feeling like it but I did it all the same.

photographer taking photos grote markt leuven belgique Eric HallAs I passed through the Grote Markt I stumbled upon a young photgrapher doing her stuff.

As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, another one of the regular features on these pages is photographers taking photos. There’s usually one or two appearing every now and again.

Having seen that, I carried on with my walk past all of the building work that has been going on over the last couple of years that is progressing rather too slowly for my liking.

new pipework near the herestraat leuven belgium Eric HallUp at the hospital there was yet more excitement.

It was not easy to see what they were doing but they had a digger out there digging a trench along by the lagoon over there and they have a great long length of large-diameter rubber pipe that I imagine that they will drop into the trench when they have done it.

But as to its purpose, I’ve no idea. And the guys were too far away to ask.

At the hospital I had a Covid-test and then they could treat me for my illness. The wired me up and plugged me in and gave me my intravenous drip.

The doctor came to see me and I told her about my “incident” yesterday and all of the cramps that I’ve been having.

As for the fall, there is no damage and all of the muscles and ligaments are working fine. As for the cramps, she doesn’t think that they are cramps but what her translation from the Flemish was “wandering leg” – she didn’t know its precise English translation and I didn’t understand the Flemish.

Anyway, she’s prescribed me a pill that will ease the cramps and help me have a decent sleep. It takes a while to work so I won’t see the results for a couple of weeks.

Kaatje came to see me too and we had quite a chat. She told me about her holiday plans for a cycling tour with her friends. When she came into my room I was listening to COLOSSEUM LIVE – one of the top five live albums ever and which always brings back memories of the High Arctic and THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR

She asked me about it and I told her that it dated from 1973. “I wasn’t even born then” she replied. I keep on forgetting how old I am, although the events of yesterday and today have aged me by 20 years.

The doctor came back with my test results – blood count down to 8.9 which is no great surprise is it? And then I cleared off to pick up my medication.

herestraat leuven belgium Eric HallOutside the hospital there was a bright blue sky but some really filthy dark black clouds.

This was creating some really strange lighting effects so I took a photo of it. Unfortunately the camera was not able to reproduce the effect which is rather a disappointment so you’ll just have to imagine it.

But at least, the photo from this angle gives you an idea of how far out of town the hospital is and how far I have to walk to come here. As an aside, having gone to the shops this morning as well I’m now on 191% of my daily total according to my fitbit and that’s impressive for someone with a damaged knee.

monseigneur vanwaeyenberghlaan leuven belgium Eric HallOver the last couple of years we’ve been watching the slow rebuilding of the Monseignur Van Waeyenberghlaan and you have already seen the work that they have been doing.

The upper end of the avenue is now complete and the traffic is now able to circulate around there too part of the way down.

People on foot are able to circulate down there too so I continued on my way down the avenue and back towards town. In an hour’s time I would be meeting Alison for a chat and a coffee.

demolition kapucijnenvoer leuven belgium Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall having seen the demolition of St Pieter’s Hospital, and I posted two new photos earlier.

The demolition work has also been taking place around the back so I went to see how they were doing with that little lot.

Whatever it is that they were demolishing, they have now demolished it and the rebuilding has started. That looks as if it might be a subterranean car park down there and to the left there’s a piledriver that will be sinking the foundations of whatever will be going on top.

Alison and I had a good chat and a little wander around and then we went back to the car park underneath the Ladeuzeplein.

crowds monseigneur ladeuzeplein leuven belgium Eric HallBelgium temporarily relaxed its Covid restrictions a couple of days ago but now they are retightening them again.

There were plenty of people out and about making most of the warm weather and the end of the relaxed restrictions and they were having a little party on the Ladeuzeplein.

Just for a change, it seemed that social distancing was being respected. In fact we saw several stewards who were presumably enforcing them. And as we watched, a police car pulled onto the square and drove around to make its presence felt.

university library monseigneur ladeuzeplein leuven Eric HallThere was a really fine night tonight and I’m not surprised that so many people were out there.

The moon that was shining up above the University Library was particularly splendid. It was just the kind of thing that was crying out for a photograph so I obliged, even if the NIKON 1 J5 is not the most ideal camera for this kind of thing.

We picked up Alison’s car and she drove us back here to my little place. With not having had a coffee while we were out, I made one here and we had a nice long chat. And then I accompanied her to her car.

After she left I wrote up my notes of the day’s activities and now I’m off to bed. I’ll try one of these new pills to see where they gat me. No alarm in the morning – I’m going to have a nice lie-in. I always feel a little groggy after my treatment and the rest does me good.

Thursday 23rd January 2020 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not sitting in a rainbow but sitting in a posh living room in a duplex apartment here in Leuven.

The one thing about being a very regular customer of these apart-hotels is that if there’s a higher-grade accommodation vacant, they give me a free upgrade and I’ve struck lucky this visit.

A lovely big double bed, nice and comfortable. All I need is a nice and sweet young lady to share it with me and I’ll be well away. Ohhh yes – even at my age I can still chase after the women. I just can’t remember why!

The only down side is that I have noisy neighbours who seem to be partying. But I can’t hear a thing because I remembered to bring my really good headphones with me and with Colosseum Live going full-tilt into my ears I can’t hear a thing.

But that album has its downside, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall. Although it’s one of the top five live albums ever recorded, it was the one that was going round and round on an endless loop while I was on The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour in 2018 and 2019.

Of course it immediately brings back all kinds of memories, mostly good but some quite bad and there are people like The Vanilla Queen and Castor and Pollux going through my mind as I listen to it.

Somewhere I read something along the lines of “anyone who spends any time in the High Arctic will come back a different person” and that’s certainly true.

Just for a change, this morning I was up quite smartly and it didn’t take me long to get everything ready for leaving. I’d had a shower last night before going to bed so I didn’t even need to deal with that.

Plenty of time to go a-voyaging too. The first little trip had something to do with the website and about how I’d changed round the radio programmes or something like that so that there was a whole new series of numbers starting on 1st January 2020 on the first January of the year with all kinds of different – there were two different strands of numbering now one of which was the radio concerts and one of which was something else but I can’t remember any more about it now unfortunately
Later on, there was a huge dispute between us over something or other and it led to someone coming storming round to our house going to throw a cup of cold tea over everyone. I had a cup of cold tea ready and he came storming in. I told him to sit down but he said “I’m going to throw this cold tea over you. What are you going to do?” I replied “I’m at my house. I’ll throw a cup of tea over you and you’re the one who is going to have to suffer”. He looked at me for a minute and then said “I can see that you aren’t going to flinch. You are brave enough”. I asked “so how are we going to sort this out?” He said “we need foue elastic bands like this size” and he showed us one of them. Of course I didn’t have any that size so I had to go across the road and ask one of the neighbours. We were in Vine Tree Avenue at the time during all of this.

Back in the Land Of The Living, I finished getting ready. The rubbish went out of course and then I followed it up to town.

bad parking rue lecampion granville manche normandy france eric hallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that bad parking plays a prominent role on these pages.

Hardly a day goes by without me seeing some new depths to which the general public has sunk and here’s another prime example. We’re at the roundabout at the end of the rue Lecampion and this motorist has decided to park his car right across the entry to the new block of flats.

The motorist in the big SUV can’t get his car out of his own car park because of it, and I would have loved to have had the time to hang around and see how this story would unfold.

Alstom Regiolis gare de granville railway station manche normandy france eric hallInstead I headed off to the station and there I was treated to the delight of the train being already at the platform.

No coffee though. Once again the coffee machine is out of order and this is really annoying. How am I expected to go on a journey like this without being armed?

The ticket-stamping machine was having issues too and it took several goes before it would accept my ticket and stamp it.

Bang on time we set off and I fell asleep. A right deep sleep too and it took the ticket collector a good minute or so to awaken me from the dead to check my ticket.

We were 15 minutes late arriving in Paris but it didn’t quite matter so much because, as predicted, out train now arrives in the main station rather than in the vaugirard annex and that saves me a considerable amount of time.

The metro was running too and was quite rapid, so I had a good half-hour to spare before my train to Lille.

That half-hour was spent in a queue at the SNCF office. I’d had an e-mail yesterday telling me that my seat had been changed and I would have to make further enquiries.

inoui tgv reseau 226 gare du nord paris france eric hallEventually I managed to make someone deal with me quickly and, armed with a new seat number, I could take my seat on the train.

It’s one of the older “Reseau” TGV trainsets, number 226 which puts it in the first wave that were delivered between 1995 and 199.

Nice and comfortable they are, and I could sit and eat my butties and fruit in comfort, which is always nice. And have another little doze too. I’m not in any great rush to do anything.

Due to “affluence on the line” our train was 20 minutes late arriving in Lille- Flanders.

With only 15 minutes (and having to cross town to Lille-Europe) between trains, you might think that I would be panicking by now.

But not a bit of it because if there was “affluence on the line” for us, there would be “affluence on the line” for the Marseille – Brussels train that would be folllowing behind us too and that was the one that I was catching.

inoui tgv reseau 38000 gare du midi bruxelles belgique  eric hallSure enough, that one was half an hour late so I had plenty of time to ring up the hospital and check my appointment time. 13:30 it is tomorrow.

The trainset that came for us is a model that we have seen before on a regular basis because it’s this type that does the Paris-Brussels service, The Thalys PBA trainsets, albeit in a different livery.

My place here was quite comfortable too and I even managed to doze off for half an hour or so yet again.

sncb inter city genk gare du midi bruxelles belgique eric hallIn Brussels I only just missed the 15:58 – I had my hand on the door when it pulled away.

But there was another one right behind – the 16:13 to Genk. It’s one of the push me – pull you train sets and coming into the station in reverse so I didn’t get to see the identity of the locomotive pushing it.

So by 16:50 I was in Leuven after a relatively painless, straightforward voyage for once and wasn’t I a happy bunny?.

Having organised my room I went shopping at Delhaize. Tons of stuff for the next few days to keep me out of mischief and I shall have to add “herbs and spices” to the list of things that I bring with me from home. I’ll make up a sachet of oregano, basil, tarragon, garlic, chili powder etc and put it with the coffee.

So tea tonight was a vegan burger with mixed vegetables, spinach and pasta, all tossed in a tomato sauce and it was delicious. Pudding was peach halves with mango sorbet.

The party next door seems to have finished so I can go to bed. Nothing much to do tomorrow morning so I’ll have a lazy day before I head off to the hospital round about 12:30, something like that.

I wonder what they will tell me.

Wednesday 16th October 2019 – SO HERE I ALL AM …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but sitting in one of the departure lounges of the worst airport in the world, with the rudest staff I have ever met. I hate this place with a passion that cannot be measured on any scale that is known to Mankind but here I am. I’ve decided that it’s time that I was moving on before I put down roots.

And roots indeed. The last time that I slept in my own bed was on 26th June – that’s 16 weeks or so ago and while I’m not going home just yet I ought to be getting a little closer to it.

A lot of water has passed underneath the bridge since 26th June, that’s for sure.

Talking of passing water, I had another bad night last night. A whole succession of cramps in the calves and shins and it kept me awake for an eternity. I took advantage of the wakefulness by going down the corridor, but I would much rather have had a decent sleep instead.

I suppose that I must have dropped off at one point though. Or maybe more because there are several recordings on the dictaphone that I don’t remember making. Anyway, at about 07:15 I was wide-enough awake to push on with things.

No breakfast though. I repacked the suitcase and bunged another pile of stuff into it (and it registered 19.7 kilos at the airport’s weigh-in machine so I’m clearly getting back to normal) so that the backpack is at least manageable.

At 10:30 I set off for a walk, leaving my baggage behind for a moment. All the way up to the top of the town where I met Josee. I had done a little research in the area and discovered a little Lebanese restaurant in the basement of the shopping precinct so I took her there for a meal. And it turned out that she was well-known to the proprietor.

Later on, I had a leisurely stroll around the town and visited a few buildings that I had seen on my travels in the past. The big one near rue Sherbrooke that I had seen on several occasions is in fact the former hostel for the Deaf and Dumb of the city.

Eventually I rescued my suitcase and by 17:00 I was on the 747 bus to the airport. And it was then that I realised that I had left behind my raincoat and my aniseed balls. The objects and items that I have abandoned behind me on my travels could have filled another suitcase.

It was a good idea to go early to the airport because the traffic was horrendous. It’s a working day of course so we had the rush hour to deal with and there were queues everywhere. Our bus even lost a mirror against a lamp-post trying to squeeze past a queue of traffic turning right.

The departure check-in wasn’t open yet so I had a sandwich at Subway and then handed back my card for the USA. I won’t be going there for another while unless something quite dramatic happens.

Security is always extremely stressful here so I don’t propose to talk too much about it, even though I’ve had much worse passes through airport control than this. Now I’m sitting quietly waiting for my flight to be called.

But before I go, let’s talk about music. For no reason at all a track suddenly popped into my head out of nowhere. It’s Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams and regardless of how apposite the lyrics might be vis-a-vis my own personal circumstances and how I have lived my life, then just as Colosseum Live reminds me of almost every late and lonely night that I have ever spent on board The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour, this particular track reminds me of just one particular night that was later than most and which I didn’t ever want to end.

I wonder if it means anything to anyone else.

That brings me round to the music that I am listening to now. Tom Petty has come round on the playlist and I have Into The Great Wide Open going full-blast.

Not a good idea right now of course. Far From it, in fact.
I heard you singing to no one
I saw you dancing all alone
One day you belonged to me
Next day I just wouldn’t know
One day all the rules will bend
And you and I will meet again

“One day all the rules will bend and you and I will meet again”. Nothing is more certain than that. You just have to believe.

“How could I get so close to you, and still feel so far away?”

Quite!

Friday 11th October 2019 – REMEMBER YESTERDAY …

… when I wrote about the evil (because there is no other word to describe it) humour in which I found myself?

Today I was rather hoping that I might have been over it, put it all behind me and moved on. But looking back over some of the stuff that I had written in an internet debate this morning, that’s clearly not the case because much of what I wrote, even though it reflected my true feelings, can best be described as “incendiary”.

It’s no surprise either because there was that much turmoil going on in my head that even at 01:30 the thought of going to bed hadn’t even occurred to me. I spent most of the night wide-awake.

There was some sleep of some kind though, because there are one or two items on the dictaphone. And when I get round to listening to them, it should be extremely interesting to say the least.

The alarms went off at the usual time but I didn’t. 07:15 again for me and this is getting monotonous. The school run too this morning and for a change I had Hannah’s Golf diesel.

So that’s now everything around here that I have driven at one time or another, and my favourite is still Rachel’s Golf estate, although the VWs are far too low for me and difficult to get out of.

Rushed off our feet again today. The place is closed for the weekend and on Monday so everyone wanted their supplies and work done today. I ended up shunting cars around, hauling bags of feed about and going to the bank.

And I’m right about tiredness too. Despite my dreadful night I kept on going all day with only a brief pause, not like yesterday when I was stark out. I was expecting to be much more exhausted today.

Excitement up on the railway line at the back of the depot. The old station was formerly a tractor-pulling venue but it’s up for sale. It seems that the fixtures and fittings have been sold and there were people up there dismantling the grandstand in order to move it to Grand Falls.

This evening there was just Darren and me. He had an omelette and I found some leftover vegan meatloaf in the fridge, followed by apple crumble.

later, I was reviewing some postings from my Arctic voyage. A few (well, one particular) memory came flooding back to me and so I decided to listen to some music to distract me and to soothe my fevered brow. It wasn’t a particularly good choice though. I played Colosseum Live, which will forever be associated in my brain with late, dark, cold nights on board The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour in the High Arctic, and that is exactly what I’m trying to put out of my mind.

Yes, events in the High Arctic have scarred me somewhat and I can’t chase them out of my mind. It’s all very well listening to Joachim du Bellay and that I should be “Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage”, I’m more inclined right now to the words of the Duke of Marlborough who, on his way to fight at (thinks) Malplaquet, said “God knows I go with a heavy heart, for I have no hope of doing anything considerable”. Or even John Major’s legendary “When your back’s against the wall it’s time to turn round and fight”.

On that note, I’ll go to bed, I reckon. I’ve had a hard couple of days now that demons whom I thought that I had laid have now come back to haunt me. I have to remember, I suppose, that today I really should have been in hospital having a blood transfusion – having already missed three. Bit I’m missing this one too.

Who knows what state I’ll be in when I finally return home?

Perhaps I need some more music
All of the sudden she disappears
just yesterday she was here
somebody tell me if I am sleeping
someone should be with me here
I wanna be the last thing you hear when you’re falling asleep….

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

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

And how unhappy am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of time to go off on a nocturnal ramble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I had my issues with the hotel.

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

Wednesday 10th October 2018 – WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Yes, there I was at the station here in Granville at 13:55 when the Paris train pulled in and disgorged a pile of passengers, amongst them my friend Josée from Montréal.

She’s on holiday in France for a few weeks and is calling by to inspect my premises and see how things are.

I must admit that I’m very popular these days. When I lived back on the farm for 9.5 years I didn’t even have a handful of visitors. I’ve had more than that in just the last months since I’ve been properly installed here. Either I’ve become much more popular in my old age or else the sea has an attraction all of its own.

It was early (for me, anyway) when I went off to bed last night. And I was stark out pretty quickly too. But it didn’t last and by 23:35 I was awake again.

From here on I didn’t think that I had gone back to sleep again but I suppose that I must have done because the alarms awoke me at the usual time.

It took me a while to heave myself out into the Land Of The Living and even longer to drag myself into the kitchen. But at 08:35 I was standing under the shower having a good hose down. Have to look … “and smell” – ed … my best, don’t I?

The washing machine had a good run out too with the clothes and the bedding. I have special new sheets and quilt cover etc for visitors – after all, no-one would like to sleep in any bed covering that I have slept in, no matter how many times it has been washed.

Tidying up was next – the place now looks as if someone normal lives here – and I even found time to vacuum the floors, clean the sink in the bathroom and to clean th toilet.

By now the washing was finished so seeing as it was a really windy day, I hung everything up to dry in the window in the bedroom, having opened the window first of course. After all, it was a nice sunny day outside as well.

Shopping was next on the agenda so Caliburn and I hit the road in the direction of LIDL and Leclerc. Nothing of any importance (except a magnetic strip for the knives for whenever I install the third stage of the kitchen) but it was still a substantial bill. My living standards are improving, as well as having to buy enough food for two people for a few days.

jaguar mark 10 granville manche normandy franceWhile I was at Leclerc I’d nipped across the road to the Sports shop to look at the rucksacks, but I was sidetracked by a car on sale at the executive car sales place.

It’s a Mark 10 Jaguar from the early 1960s and I’ve seen much worse examples of these than this one.

In fact, when I had my taxis I had one of these that was a total wreck. We had a Daimler 420G that was intended to be used for weddings, and had the same running gear and other parts that were fitted on the Mark 10s.

jaguar mark 10 granville manche normandy franceSo when we were at McGuinness’s scrapyard in Longport once and someone was bringing in a Mark 10 for scrap, we did a quick bit of negotiation and it ended up on my trailer heading for my little yard in Crewe.

The intention was of course to break it for spares but I ended up being overtaken by events.

But as for this Mark 10 here, these are huge cars as you can see, they take a lot of maintenance and have a tendency to evaporate overnight into a pile of iron oxide.

Someone has had a good go at stopping this one – but for how long? It would be well beyond my capacity these days to keep it on the road.

When Josée arrived, we went the pretty way back to the apartment and she immediately fell in love with it. We made a big salad with all kind of stuff going in it and it was delicious. We did well there.

After that we went for a walk around the headland and a little rest at the halfway point where I took a few photos of her (on her ‘phone) looking out to sea in a thoughtful pose.

A little later we went to the bookshop in the rue des Juifs. Josée always likes to buy a book from each place that she visits.

On the way back we stopped at the bar in the old town for a drink and she had something to eat. I think that she needs to brace herself for a vegan diet over the next few days.

The eveing’s plan was to watch a film and so I chose Louis de Funès and Les Folies Des Grandeurs – one of my most favourite de Funès films. But Josée is still in jet-lag so she went off to bed after 20 minutes.

I won’t be long either. I may as well take advantage of the possibility of an early night too, but not before I’ve finished listening to Colosseum Live.

I’m back here again, aren’t I?

Tuesday 18th September 2018 – AND SO I WENT …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… to bed quite early (and missed all of the excitement too!) and crashed out almost immediately. The record that I was playing Colosseum Live"now THERE’S a surprise" – ed … was still playing when I briefly awoke, so I quickly turned that off and fell back into the Arms of Morpheus.

It didn’t take me long to go off on my travels and a big Hello! to The Vanilla Queen who made her debut. “Vanilla Queen” indeed, living up to her alter ego! The stress is clearly getting to me, that’s for sure.

With having to be up and about so early I was awake at about 04:30. And again at about 05:15. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that and so I Arose from the Dead and started to tidy up and pack.

We’ve now entered Kangerlussuaq, the “Big Fjord” and so I took a few photos. No sunrise today unfortunately and not really all that much else to see. So I toddled off to breakfast where I had a lengthy chat with Dave about Glasgow and GreenocK. Heather came to join us too for a short while.

Afterwards I finished packing my possessions and then I had to wait around for ages to see what was happening.

Before I could check out. We received a USB stick with all of the voyage details thereupon, and I was able to go back upstairs to upload the photos of Strawberry Moose in his kayak.

Eventually we were called down to the zodiacs and were transported to the shore. We passed by Linda, the cruise director, and I’m afraid that I couldn’t resist it. I said to her “I suppose you’ll give me that e-mail address tomorrow”.

I really am wicked! But serve her right.

A fleet of buses was awaiting us – some modern monstrous machines and also a couple of really elderly vehicles, including a Kassböhrer-Setra and, much to my surprise, a DAB-bodied 1984 Leyland bus.

We went past the ruins of Kellyville, an old American radar base and then up the hill to the old American submarine radio base. Long-since dismantled, you could see how tall the antennae must have been by reference to the concrete base and the size of the cable stays. They were massive.

Much to my surprise the diesel generators were still present – a couple of really old straight-eights. I was about to give them a good look-over but before I could do so we were summoned back to the bus.

Back down the hill again and past the cupola for the gun that defended the port installations and the runway for the airstrip at Kangerlussuaq in World War II. In (and out) of the town to look at the Pride and Joy of the urban area – the new bridge that replaced the one that was washed out in an ice-flood in 2012.

We were told of the volume of water that passes through the bridge at the height of the melt-water season and I can’t remember now what our driver said it was but it was certainly impressive. Today we had a floating plaque of ice that was jammed up against the culvert with all of the water passing underneath.

He showed us the site of the old bridge and explained that if we were to dig down in the collapsed morass we would probably be able to recover a digger that was swept away in the confusion.

Up to the top of the mountain on the other side.

There was a beautiful view of Kangerlussuaq from the top, as well as the old radio and radar installations from the Cold War. Some of the equipment is now utilised by the Danes to pick up the data that is transmitted from weather satellites that pass overhead.

And I found some beautiful glacier-polished rock right on top of the mountain. It looked really splendid.

Back down to the airport – the largest in Greenland with the longest runway – another Cold War legacy. Plenty of time to kill before take-off so I went to watch the Air Greenland planes take off. This is the only airport in which the big jets can land so they unload and turn round here and there are endless shuttles of smaller planes that feed the passengers in and out and on and beyond.

I took the opportunity to eat my packed lunch too. Not that it took me all that long. Laszlo and I clearly have different ideas about the size of my appetite.

Still hordes of people congregating around so I spent quite a while chatting to Sherman, Michael, Christopher and Tiffany. They were sharing out the crisps which I thought was quite nice of them.

Eventually we made our way to the departure lounge and I had another stand-off in what laughingly passes as “security”.

“Empty your pockets!” barked a woman with a badge.
“Would you mind saying ‘please’ to me when you address me” I replied.
This led to an extremely warm 5 minutes until she buckled under.

And now our plane is 90 minutes late. isn’t that a surprise? It’s so late that the second plane has in fact arrived first.

I thought that it would be absolutely awful watching the others depart before us, but they sat for half an hour on the tarmac without moving – and then the rood opened, the stairs came out and the pilot descended.

The cynic in me started to work out all kinds of depressing scenarios and in the words of JRR Tolkein “all are dark and unpleasant”.

We were later told a story of what had happened. Apparently some kind of aeroplane had come to some kind of grief on the runway. Our plane couldn’t land and so had flown back to Iqaluit.

But none of this explains why plane 2 had managed to land on the runway, and why another aeroplane from Air Greenland had managed to land. And why they hadn’t grabbed one of the towing dollies that I had seen in action earlier and yanked the plane off the runway.

20-odd years of working in the tourism industry has imbued me with a desperate sense of cynicism that will one day surely be my undoing. However, I am guided by the comment that “a cynic is someone who sees things as they are, not as they are meant to be”.

And seeing the n°2 aeroplane take off before our (earlier) one had landed did nothing to dispel my feelings.

The tour company offered us a meal of sorts. And after much binding in the marsh they managed to rustle up a salad for me. A blind man would have been pleased to see it, I suppose.

But the biggest laugh is yet to come.

After the meal they gave me a bottle of water – unopened and sealed – out or the restaurant so I strode back into the waiting area. And they wouldn’t let me pass with it and we had quite an argument about it.

But behind me were the tour managers with 200 of the identical bottles of water and they passed those into the security area, right enough. And so we had another argument about that too.

In the meantime, the clock in the waiting room had ceased to function. That’s always a handy stand-by when people are feeling the drag of waiting around. They don’t notice the passage of time if the clock isn’t working.

The plane finally arrived at about 20:35 – a good 15 minutes after the “latest update” time and well over 4 hours after its due DEPARTURE time. And in the meantime Sherwin had given us an impromptu concert to pass the time. One suspects that a certain well-filled brown envelope had changed hands at some point. We even had Latonia singing along.

And once the aeroplane had landed, they started up the clock again.

I really must develop a more positive attitude, as I have been saying for quite a while.

Departure time should have been 16:30. We took to the air at 22:15. That was me thoroughly depressed.

What depressed me even more was when I talked to the cabin crew. They told me that there had been a “maintenance issue” and that, together with the associated paperwork, had delayed the take-off

Clearly someone is being … errrr … economical with the truth somewhere.

And I felt really sorry for The Vanilla Queen. She lives in Iqaluit but was having to take the charter flight to Toronto, and then make her way home via Montreal. So where do you think that we stopped for a refuelling break?

Much to my surprise they actually did have a vegan meal on board. And even more surprisingly, it was quite reasonable too, as far as airline meals go.

But that was as good as it got. My good humour that had been slowly disappearing over the last few days – well, the last vestiges have disappeared into the ether now. As Doctor Spooner once famously said, “I feel like a hare with a sore bed”.

I tried to settle down to sleep but no chance of that. I shall have to stay wide-awake with only my good humour to keep me company.

I don’t think.

Thursday 13th September 2018 – WITH THE TIME-CHANGE …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… today it’s thrown out my sleep rhythm yet again and now I’m not doing even as well asI have been doing just recenly.

No chance of getting out of bed on time today. I had to wait until all three alarms went off before I stirred my stumps.

And I’m glad that I did because the view was splendid. The rising sun, a clear blue sky, and icebergs. Thousands of them. Small sharp growlers and massive mega-monoliths, and all sizes in between.

So enchanting was it that not only did I forget my morning coffee and leave it to go cold, but I forgot my medication too.

At breakfast, I had dozens of people coming up to me to congratulate Strawberry Moose on his outfit and his dancing last night at the Viking Disco.

I tell you – he’s far more popular than I ever have been. My morale has been totally undermined, being upstaged by a moose!

After breakfast (which I took with Heather) I went back to my room and crashed out for an hour or so. During that time I was interrogated by Laszlo (the maitre d’hotel on board ship) as to why I hadn’t done my homework. And so I dashed off some work in rather a hurry and sure enough, I saw him a little later while I was in the company of another girl (and who it was now I really can’t remember) and just as he was about to talk to me about my homework – or rather, the lack thereof – I handed him my papers. It wasn’t without an air of disappointment because I’m sure that I could do better than what I did but I was far too concerned with my new companion than with anything else.

Once I was back in the Land Of The Living we spent the morning photographing icebergs, of which there were more than enough, in Melville Bay, said by some to be the most treacherous waters in the Arctic but we had a good passage. And each time that I said to myself that I had more than enough photographs of icebergs, something even bigger and better would go sailing past.

It was probably the most astonishing spectacle that I have seen – some kind of nautical danse macabre of solid masses of fresh water that fell to earth as rain probably 20,000 years ago and which we as humans are cascading into the sea in the matter of a generation.

Lunch was again taken at The Naughty Table (I really don’t know why I’m so popular with some people – I’m not the kind of company that I would choose were I ever to have the choice) and then this afternoon we had another series of lectures.

The photography was once more something that attracted my attention and I sat right the way through it. I’m not sure why though because there wasn’t an awful lot that I didn’t know. But I ought to be doing something, I suppose.

But I was annoyed completely by one of my fellow group members. Someone went to sit on an empty seat in front of someone else and asked if they might be in the way of this woman, as a gesture of politeness and nothing more. Her response was “you’re right in my way” in such an aggressive tone that it startled some of us.

I’m not sure why she didn’t just sit in the seat in front if she was so concerned about having The Perfect View. “Hmmmm. American …” I mused to myself.

A little later I sat in the corner doing some of my own stuff, looking at someone who was quite obviously totally iceberged-out and I was listening to a couple of staff rehearsing for a concert in a few days time. But I had been slowly noticing my change in mood as I drift into a deep depression and this is usually the signal for a bout of ill-health to come on.

I can read the signs now, I reckon, so I headed off to my room while I was still able to do so and crashed out on the bed. An hour or so later I awoke with a panic attack (which I haven’t had for quite a considerable while) which led immediately to an attack of cramp.

Somehow I had it in my head that I had missed my evening meal so I dashed upstairs to find that my body clock had pushed the time on a couple of hours. Still 90 minutes to the evening meal. I’d had a good sleep but the deep depression was still there and I couldn’t shake it off or snap out of it.

I suppose that it was inevitable that I would sink into the pit at some time during this voyage. I’ve been hovering on the brink for the last 10 days after all.

Back at The Naughty Table for tea. I had a vegetable samosa which was delicious and when I return I’m going to make a few if I can. They were that nice and it’s high time that I set to with a will and expanded my culinary repertoire.

I’ve finally found a lounge where there is a good selection of power points. It’s rather public so it isn’t much good for during the day unfortunately but in the evening it seems to be fine and the view is impressive. Once more, I’ve put Colosseum Live on the playlist while I get on with some work.

Not that I was there for too long though. We had a change of time zone last night and moved the clocks back one hour. This evening, we have to do the same again. So once the fatigue started to creep in I decided to call it a day.

No point in waiting to see if there would be any northern lights tonight either. The sky had clouded right over and it was really difficult to see anything at all. Certainly no Arctic twilight either. I did make it onto the bridge though and we are steering course 133° – that’s almost directly south-east.

The kids were still up though. They had been for their hot tub splash and were having fun in the rear lounge. Good luck to them, say I. I stayed for a few minutes and chatted about nothing in particular – I’m usually far too unsociable, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall.

And so to bed. Not much sleep tonight so I’ve just pulled the alarms back half an hour. I’ll do the other half-an-hour tomorrow night and see how that fits in with everything.

Tuesday 11th September 2018 – SOMEWHAT OPTIMISTICALLY, UNFORTUNATELY

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

That’s the verdict after last night’s sleep – if sleep is the correct word. It was about 00:30 when I went to bed and the first thing that I needed to do was to confront the demons because they were at it again last night. In fact it took ages for them to calm down and go to sleep.

Once I went off, it was just until about 04:30 or something. The ship was slowly changing position and the captain was using engine power to maintain station. As a result, the engine noise was constantly increasing and decreasing.

That film had affected me too in some degree because I was off on my travels with a couple of my fellow-voyagers would you believe, scrambling through deck rails and onto the shore.

Despite being awake early, it was somewhat later than normal that I arose from the dead and with an early start this morning (breakfast at 07:00 instead of 07:30) there wasn’t much time to do as much as I wanted.

Breakfast was taken in the company of Chris the expedition photographer and Natalie the yoga girl. She freely admitted that it wasn’t my company but the company of Strawberry Moose that she was seeking, which rather spoiled my morning somewhat … "as if …" – ed.

Just as we were about to dress for our landing, it was announced that it had been postponed until later. Firstly there was too much ice, and secondly, there was a polar bear guarding the entrance to the beach. We needed to wait until he moved.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually it was announced that the bear had managed to make a kill out on the ice and there it was staying until it had eaten it.

Not only that, by now the tide had turned and the ice that was lodged on the beach was floating and being tossed about in the wind and waves. It’s not the kind of weather for going off to the shore in a zodiac so our landing at Grise Fiord was yet another event cancelled.

I tried my best to encourage some kind of intrepid voyage to shore but they weren’t having any of it. And once more, Lieutenant Skead’s words about Collinson came right into the forefront of my mind – “An ordinary yachtsman might have taken his craft east, and his wife and daughters to boot. I’m afraid to think of what we shall do if we meet with difficulty“.

It’s quite true that safety should be a very important requirement but this is an expedition, not a cruise. And we’re in the High Arctic, not the Gulf of Mexico. If people are uncomfortable with the conditions then they shouldn’t be here. They should go back to Hicksville and let the rest of us get out on an adventure.

Abandoning yet another good rant for the moment, we did end up going on a zodiac cruise around the ice floes. No shipwrecks and nobody drownding, in fact nothing to laugh at at all.

I took a pile of photos, although nothing like what I was hoping for. There were a few spectacular ice formations but nothing that really floated my boat. All in all I was rather disappointed.

What disappointed me even more was that having decided to leave Strawberry Moose in the cabin, everyone was asking me where he was. As I said the other day, he’s much more popular than I am.

Not half as disappointed as I might have been though, because we collided with several ice-floes and that vould have been extremely exciting had one had sharp edges.

Back on board again, and I hope that we don’t go out anywhere else today because while I was showering I washed all of my expedition gear seeing as it was still early morning. It might take a while to dry so if we do travel out this afternoon i’ll freeze,

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed then Mohammed must go to the mountain. The Inuit people from Grise Fiord whom we were going to see over there came over here (in zodiacs, not kayaks) to entertain us. And it was all rather too touristy for me.

One of the original settlers here gave us all a talk on the origins of the settlement, and it was just as depressing as every other story that I’ve heard about the relocations.

I buttonholed him after the event. A 22-litre can of petrol costs about $25 – a subsidised price. I’m not quite sure why fuel up here would be subsidised when they have just cut the budget for the fuel boat in Black Tickle.

(looking back at this later on, I can see that for some reason or another I’d descended into a really wicked, bad mood. The first time for quite a while, isn’t it?)

Lunch was taken in the company of Latonia and a guy called Peter. I’m afraid that I rather upset him because when we were discussing the failure of this expedition and he said that we could always come back next year, I replied that I couldn’t come back.
“Why?” he asked. “Are you dying?”
And I’m afraid that I rather shocked him with my answer. But this is what happens when you are feeling irritable and in a bad mood.

I reminded Latonia once more that I wanted to talk to her about Labrador, and she promised once more to make some time for me.

We said goodbye to our visitors after lunch and also said goodbye to Grise Fiord. The most northerly permanently-inhabited settlement in Canada. Then I retreated to my room for some peace and quiet. And so peaceful and quiet was it that it wasn’t until 70 minutes later that I awoke.

And did I feel any different after my little rest?

I certainly did. I felt much worse.

We seem to be flying a new flag at the rear of the ship. I can’t be sure of course, but I don’t remember this one at all. I shall have to make enquiries of the crew at an appropriate moment.

There was a presentation on the Predators of the Northwest Passage and I caught the end of it, and this was followed by a little photography session. We were sailing past what looked to me to be like the farthest northern end of Devon Island and a couple of beautiful glaciers presented themselves.

That was enough for me though. I had nothing much to do really so I sat in the lounge and did it. This Peter guy with whom I had lunch came to sit with me and we had a really good chat and a natter about nothing much in particular.

Just to liven up the voyage, they had a singles party where the aim was for all of the people travelling alone to meet up. About a week or so too late in my opinion – this is the kind of thing that should be done on or about the first full day of the voyage. By now, it’s more than likely that you will have met someone, if that is one of the aims of your voyage.

At the evening de-briefing session we had the usual gnashing and wailing from the Septics on board about how badly-treated they were on this day a few years ago. And I walked out in disgust. The Septics still don’t understand how much the rest of the world hates them and their arrogant, egocentric narcissic ways. Not a word about Iran Air Flight 655 that the US military shot down in Iranian airspace on 3 July 1988 – the event that started off all of this.

This led us on nicely to the evening meal. I shared a table with a woman whom I had met a few days ago at the special table to which I had been invited and we chatted about loads of things, such as maple syrup. It was all go.

To wind up the day there was a sing-along concert in the lounge with Sherman Downey. We started off with about 50 people but by the end of the evening there was a stalwart half-dozen or so. But amongst the entertainment, Strawberry Moose took the floor and entertained the crowds.

It’s late now but I’m still here, sitting down and writing my notes and listening to Colosseum Live again.

And who knows? I might even have an early night too. But not before my midnight walk.

There’s a faint glimmer of twilight on the horizon but not enough to activate the camera. And we’re heading on a direction of 69° – that’s in a vague east-north-east direction.

It looks as if 80°N is not going to be reached.

Saturday 8th September 2018 – IT REALLY DOES COME TO SOMETHING …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… when a person living in an isolated Arctic community on a remote Island in the Far North tells you, without any prompting at all, that the British are totally out of their minds about Brexit.

But never mind that for a moment. I’m wondering what would have happened had I not had a severe attack of cramp round about 05:30 or so – the first that I’ve had for a few days. Whether I would have slept on until 06:00

However I did stay in bed until the alarm went off. No polar bears to entice us out this morning. And after the medication I went for a walk. Not without an element of some panic because I appear to have lost my woolly hat – the one that goes on my woolly head.

Not that that’s too much to worry about because I’ve lost count of the amount of things that I’ve lost already and then subsequently recovered in my room. Nevertheless it won’t be long before something goes missing completely. You can bank on that.

I took my evening walk to the bridge last night. Imagine me – in short sleeves at midnight in the High Arctic in September. Binnacle pointing to 180° – in other words, due south.

But no midnight sun last night. And that’s hardly surprising because for the morning we are swathed in fog again. This weather is really getting me down but then again what did I expect up here in the High Arctic? Some explorers have been stranded for four or five years by the capricious ice and, as we know, hundreds have failed to return.

If it were a cake-walk to come here, it wouldn’t be half the adventure that it is now, would it?

I had breakfast this morning with a couple of members of staff – Christopher the geologist and young Michael the ship’s “go’fer”. He’s excited because Pond Inlet is his home village and the captain has invited his family on board for lunch.

As for our plans today, I’ve no idea what they might be. This morning, anyway.

This afternoon we’re visiting an Inuit community – the one at Pond Inlet and that seems to be a waste of time in my opinion because not only is it not a traditional Inuit community but more of a modern resettlement town, but we arrived there on a plane the other day so we’ve been here. And there are still plenty of other places to visit.

The cynic inside me is once more wide-awake and telling me that maybe someone on board the ship has an aunt who runs the local gift shop or something like that.

But on the other hand, for the last week or so Chris Farlowe has been singing to me “Don’t Start Chasing Happiness – Let It Take You By Surprise. Don’t Go Casting Shadows …”. I suppose that I ought to be adopting a more positive outlook, even if I don’t feel much like it right now.

One positive outlook is the fact that we have seen yet another candidate for Ship Of The Day. It’s useful having an AIS beacon reader on board, so I was able to discover that she is the MV Golden Brilliant.

She’s a bulk carrier of 41500 tonnes, built in 2013 and registered in Hong Kong. She left Gijon in Spain on 26th August and is en route for Rotterdam, and taking a major deviation to a stop called “Camni” in the fleet database – clearly some port that doesn’t have an AIS logger.

Its AIS track puts it up here anyway, so it’s the correct ship, and someone in the crew tells me that there’s a mine out here – the Mary River Iron Ore Mine.

This would seem to place Camni at Milne Port Inlet, 71°53’N 80°55’W, so that seems to fit the bill.

Although I didn’t take too much interest in many of the proceedings today, there was a brief class giving some kind of outline of the Inuit language, so I wandered in for a lesson. It’s really quite simple and some kind of, I suppose, shorthand symbols for the syllables, of which there are probably in the region of 60 – 20 consonants each with three vowel sounds, ee, ah and ooh. And every word is made up of one or more symbols, with various accents to emphasise or detract the sound.

That took us nicely up to our arrival in Pond Inlet. We had a discussion about the town and were given a slide show of the town with the various buildings that might be important.

Pond Inlet is situated at 72’42” north. It loses the sun in mid-November, and you have to wait until February until it comes back.

It was named by John Ross in 1818 for John Pond, the Astronomer Royal of the period.

And good-oh! It’s the village brocante this afternoon. How exciting! Mind you, the cynic inside me won’t be at all surprised if this has been arranged because one of the locals has heard that a cruise ship is coming in with a pile of gullible tourists and the rest of the villagers have a load of rubbish that’s awaiting disposal.

What was this about adopting a more-positive outlook?

The most important, certainly for Strawberry Moose, is the fact that Pond Inlet is the home of the most Northerly Tim Horton’s in the whole world.

If that’s not a good destination for him to make a public appearance then I don’t know what is.

Lunch was taken with the couple who seem to be quite interested in me, the fools. It was nice of them to ask me over to sit with them. I don’t understand my popularity these days.

But only with certain people. I am definitely persona non grata elsewhere, something that is entirely my own fault. It’s a desperate shame, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk.

We all piled aboard the zodiacs and headed out to the town. There was some kind of ad-hoc immigration control in place on the beach but of course none of that prevented His Nibs from gaining a foothold ashore.

An Inuit lady called Joanna was there to give us a guided tour of the town, not that there was an awful lot to see.

The first thing that caught my eye was all of the shipping containers all over the place. In that respect it’s very much like South-Western Newfoundland where the bodies off the old Newfoundland Railway wagons were auctioned off and now litter the countryside just about everywhere.

True garden-shed engineering.

And I had quite a laugh at the bus stop too. As if you really need a bus around a community of about 1600 people. Especially when there are so many cars all around the place. That was also something that astonished me.

It is however the time that Arctic cotton is in flower and that’s a useful commodity out here. It’s really a bunch of flowery seeds rather similar to how a dandelion works, and they are used here to make wicks for qulliqs – the soapstone oil lamps – and similar things.

The Catholic Church was quite interesting, if not tragic. It’s apparently the northernmost Catholic church in the world and a comparatively recent construction too. It will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this rubbish who will recall the almost-inevitable fate of most buildings out here in Canada.

What is the tragic part is that when it went up, it took with it the Catholic priest, Father Guy-Mary Rousselière who was probably the greatest of all of the anthropological and archaeological amateurs in this region, along with almost every single item of his work. All that remains was whatever he had managed to publish during his lifetime.

We were shown a sled that was built up on another larger one and which was built up on a third even larger. It was even covered in. The idea is that in the winter the father of the family would tow it behind his skidoo and if he kept on going at full tilt he could leap over small crevasses in the ice and the sled with all of the kids inside wouldn’t ground out.

There’s an RCMP post here too and it has at one time held as many as 21 detainees at one time. This must be a record for a small town like this.

Another asset of the community, now long-closed and replaced, is the Hudson’s Bay outlet. It’s now being used for mechanical repairs and is guarded by a couple of large dogs who have clearly seen better days.

All of the stuff littered around in the wooden crates is the stuff that has come up in the recent sea-lift.

The biggest employer in the town is the Canadian Government and they have some offices here. These ones here are the offices of the Canadian National Parks Service for the Sirmilk region, which is where we are right now.

There are several traditional habits that are still carried on here. The mothers still carry their babies with them in the hoods of their parkhas and it was quite amusing to see the tourists surrounding one of the aforementioned in an attempt to persuade her to allow them to photograph mummy and offspring.

I’m not sure where the quad fitted in with the traditional habits though.

One of the attractions of the town is the half-built sod house that is used to explain to visitors how the original inhabitants of the area lived. Today, they use 4×2 wood to build the frame for the sealskin roof, but in the past they used whalebone.

Lying around were some bones from a bow-head whale, the type of bones that would have been used in the olden days before wood became available.

They were brewing up too and making bannock. The latter isn’t for me, seeing as they use lard in the peparation, and a new kettle of water hadn’t boiled yet. But I was discussing Labrador Tea with Joanna and she, ferreting around in the box, came up with a teabag of Labrador Tea. And I shall be trying that tomorrow.

Of course, Strawberry Moose had to have a photo opportunity at the sod house, didn’t he?

There’s an Anglican Church in the community too and Joanna was regaling us with tales of the religious wars that used to go on here as each church tried to pinch the other church’s congregation.

One of the guys with her told us a story about how the boats have “evolved” over the years. Up until almost maybe 50 or 60 years ago, the Inuit umiak, made by a company in Trois-Rivières, would be quite common. But people slowly moved over to more modern “European” boats made of industrial materials.

And now the race was on as everyone tried to out-do his neighbour with e bigger, better, more powerful boat.

But the problem was that the smaller and lighter the boat, the easier it is to haul it out of the water in the freeze when the Inuit were on their travels. But with the bigger, heavier boats, they can’t and they are losing countless modern, heavy and expensive boats being crushed in the ice.

There’s quite a big school here in the settlement, and it flies the Nunavut flag. There’s a red inukshuk on it that divides the flag into two – one half white and the other half yellow. I was unable to discover if the colours have any significance.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall me complaining about the price of goods in Labrador but it has nothing on the price of goods here.

When you start to see a pack of toilet rolls, €2:49 in your average LIDL, on sale here at $36:99 you’ll understand the difficulty of supplying a remote community out here in the Arctic with just one sea-lift per year and the rest of the time flying it in by air from Ottawa or wherever. And this is just one example of countless similar prices.

But some other people don’t have the same issues. Pond Inlet is home to the world’s most northerly Tim Horton’s, and I unveiled His Nibs in here for a photo session. In no time at all we were surrounded by other locals who wished for a photo opportunity with himself. And I can’t say that I blame them.

What was depressing about all of this was the ship’s kitchen staff all congregating in a corner eating a bought pizza. What does that tell you about the cooking on-board?

I was told that there’s a scenic viewpoint here too and so I wandered that way to see. The North Pole is a mere 1932 kms from here and this may well be the closest that I shall ever be to it, unless things change dramatically.

It might also be the closest that His Nibs gets to it too, so he needs to have yet another photo opportunity too.

My reverie up here was broken by the sound of an aeroplane. Another Air Tindi plane has come in to land and presumably unload whatever it is that it’s bringing.

From here I went for a walk around the town (I decided to miss out on the brocante) and had a few chats with the very friendly locals. The number of times that someone stopped me to offer me a lift was incredible.

And it was here that I met my very vocal local yokel. He was renovating the old ice-hockey arena and had indeed been responsible for building the new one.

We discussed all kinds of things here and there, including the effects of a temperature of -50°C on engine and hydraulic oil and the monstrous folly of Brexit. I did also express my dismay that a cruise ship on a regular route around the High Arctic was manned … "PERSONNED" – ed … by Filipinos and Indonesians and the like, and not Inuit.

His opinion, which I simply relate without making any comment at all, was that the Inuit wouldn’t do the work, and he cited several examples from his own experience.

I carried on with my walk, found the health centre and the school (again) and ended up at the new arena so I nipped inside for a look. In the Community Centre there was an exhibition of Arctic sports so I stopped for a while to watch, but I was roasting in there so I went out for a walk.

At the Library and Information Centre a little girl fell in love with Strawberry Moose so her mother agreed that she could be photographed with him – provided that she could join in the fun too.

And why not?

A few other locals took photos of him too, and someone produced the Centre’s own mascot, a seal, who also wanted to join in the fun.

By now it was time to return to the ship so down we went, passed through Immigration which was now Emigration and sped back to the ship, having to do a U-turn as two of the passengers had forgotten their lifebelts.

I had a shower and washed some clothes, and then waited for the call for tomorrow’s briefing. But in the meantime crashed out and so I missed the first 10 minutes, of presumably all of the important stuff.

Tea was a riot though. The waiters were horribly confused and I’m still not totally convinced that I received what I ordered. And my table companions for today were extremely garrulous, which was very pleasant.

Later tonight, there was an impromptu concert. There’s a folk singer-musician, Sherman Downey, on board and one night he’d overheard another passenger playing the piano. A girl could also sing reasonably well so they had been rehearsing informally and decided to give a concert. I’d been asked but obviously with no bass on board it was rather difficult.

The surprise of the night was that we found another girl vocalist – Natalie who does the yoga. And while it was rather hit-and-miss, she had all of the emotion and it looked and sounded quite good. One photo that I took of her came out really well and really captured the emotion of the moment.

And if that wasn’t enough, we discovered a mouth-organ player in the crowd so by the end of the night we were all rocking away, and quite right too.

We have an elderly blind lady on board, and she had asked for a special request. So when they played it, I went over to her and invited her to dance. We did a kind of jazzed-up waltz which fitted the music, which is just as well because it’s the only dance that I know.

At one point we must have hit the open sea in the Davis Straight because we were swaying around quite considerably. It certainly added a certain something to the dancing.

My midnight ramble was once more taken in a tee-shirt (much to the astonishment of Tiffany wrapped up on the deck as if in a cocoon) and we are heading out at 4° on the binnacle. That’s definitely north, so if all goes according to plan we might be pushing on.

I hope so, because these continual delays are really getting on my nerves.

Thursday 6th September 2018 – DESPITE MY …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… rather late night last night looking at the midnight sun, I was still awake before the alarm went off. And much to my surprise, I find that I’m starting to rely on this and include it in my timetable, and that’s something that will never do because in the long run it’s all going to end in tears.

However, I did stay in bed until the alarm went off, and then I was straight out and on deck with the crowds who were also up there early. Our captain had managed to find the pack-ice. My fellow-voyagers were all trying to see the wildlife but as for me, it’s not my thing at all, unless it’s a polar bear of course.

I’m much more interested in the landscape and the historical aspect of it all. But the land was rather far away and swathed in fog, and we’ve yet to touch on the historical aspect, at least from my own point of view.

It was at this point that I realised that I hadn’t had my medication and so I went back down to my cabin.

Breakfast was the usual. Bran flakes with raisins and fruit, with toast, coffee and orange juice. And then I made an appointment to see the Cruise Director about an issue that has suddenly developed.

I was going to add “unexpectedly” but regular readers of this rubbish that I write will recall the fact that the only thing unexpected about all of this is that it’s taken so long for me to get myself into trouble.

After this, I’ve been keeping a low profile. After all, it’s not like me to court controversy, is it? After all, Henry Hudson was cast adrift by his colleagues and subsequently lost on an Arctic voyage after one such confrontation.

Back on the ice and watching the wildlife. At least – they were. And later we were all given a lecture on bird-watching. I had plenty of those from Nerina when I was married, as you can imagine. But again, I wasn’t all that interested. The only birds that I am likely to be interested in watching aren’t likely to be found in the Lancaster Sound.

Later, there was a talk on navigating the North-West Passage. I was really looking forward to this but once again, I was confounded. Rather than a discussion on McClure and Franklin, with maybe Amundsen thrown in for good measure, we had someone else from the staff going on an ego-trip about how he once sailed around the passage in a catamaran.

I really don’t know where they find these people. But the ordinary punters quite like it. So I suppose that we have to cater for them. After all, they are in the majority.

But I’m not here to listen to that, as you know. I’m all out to hear how the ancient explorers did it, and then to go out and do it with them.

We took a diversion up Burnett Inlet to have a look at what wildlife we might see up there.

Someone saw a few walruses, and, well, I suppose that they were once I magnified the image.

Someone else saw a dozen or so musk-oxen on the slope leading up to the glacier. And all that I can say is that I’ll have to take their word for that.

I managed to see the seal though. So at least that’s something. It would have been nice to see a polar bear stalking him but I suppose that that’s a luxury I’ll have to do without.

We settled down for lunch but we weren’t there long. The cry went up “beluga whales on the port bow” so we had another “Gold Strike at Bear Creek” moment as everyone dashed outside.

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t recognise a beluga whale if I were to trip over one on my doorstep, so I didn’t really know what I was shooting at. But later on and the end of the evening, several things that I had photographed that I thought were ice – floes are in fact the aforementioned. So how about that?

Of course, Vera Lynn would have no such difficulty. As everyone knows, she was once a cook on a whaler up her, and the legendary cry from the crew of her boat of “Whale Meat Again!” still echoes out across the icebergs… "are you sure about this?" – ed.

As we exited the Inlet, I was convinced that I saw something black on the horizon that I was convinced was a ship. No-one else could see it, even with binoculars, and were of the opinion that I was hallucinating.

But anyway I took a photo of it and with a little judicial “crop and enlarge” I could certainly see something.

And when I enlarged it even more, I’m even more convinced that it’s another ship.

Back to lunch, and I suddenly came over all peculiar. I’d noticed yesterday evening that I was having a shaking fit which I put down to something that I must have eaten, but it certainly erupted while I was trying to finish my lunch. It’s not very often that I have to walk out on a meal but I did today.

Later on we went into Stratton Inlet, and the cry went up “walruses on the starboard bow” so yet another “Gold Strike At Bear Creek” moment as everyone dashed upstairs.

This time I was lucky and actually managed to see them. And I’m glad that I did too, because there were a couple of dozen of them – dominant males, females, and loads of pups splashing around in the water.

There were several workshops going on later in the afternoon. I was torn between the Geography of the North West Passage or the Camera demonstration and lecture, and chose the latter.

To be honest I didn’t really learn much, except that my equipment is total garbage and my technique is even worse. Seeing other people’s gear and the output that they can obtain makes me want to delete all of mine and send them to the recycle bin?

I’m totally demoralised.

The day’s ice report hadn’t come in and so we all went for a sail in the zodiacs. I had the camera and the zoom lens with me and took a few pics, a couple of which came out okay, but still not good enough for what I want.

When we arrived, we were told the bad news. The channel ahead is blocked and we need to retreat to go around another way.

And this is really bad news for me because the four places that I had wanted to see had now all been by-passed. We aren’t going to reach a single one. I’m now totally inconsolable. I may as well get off at the next stop and fly back home for all the good that this trip has done me.

I was reminded of a quote from a certain Lieutenant Skead who accompanied Collinson on his leisurely stroll around the fringes of the ice back in the 1850s. He said An ordinary yachtsman might have taken his craft (there) and his wife and daughters to boot. I’m afraid to think of what we shall do if we meet with difficulty

However, a little bit of research did tell me that in November 2015 our captain had almost sunk the ship in the Antarctic after a rather injudicious encounter with an ice-floe and this had cost the company a considerable amount of money and prestige.

It’s quite apparent therefore that he’s going to be even more cautious whenever he encounters any ice, and that can only be a disastrous thing from our point of view.

All afternoon, I’d been trying to have a crash out as this illness slowly takes hold again. But each time I’ve gone to lie down, and there were dozens of such moments, something else has come up to disturb me. And so it was this evening as I was invited to sit at the top table.

Everyone is supposed to be dressed to impress but badger that for a game of soldiers. I’m here with three tee-shirts, two fleeces, two pairs of trousers and several undies – washing them in the shower as I go along.

Talking of washing clothes, I’d had another bad attack out there on the way back to the ship in the zodiac. Still quite shaky, I went back to my cabin and had a nice hot shower and a clothes-washing session.

They say that you aren’t allowed to wash your clothes yourself, but the small print says quite clearly “with detergent”. I’m using the soap provided in the dispenser. That will keep my clothes going for quite a while.

After tea I came back and started to work on my photos and to write up my notes – constantly being distracted by thing happening outside, like a glorious sunset, a rising crescent moon as thin as a rake and, despite what everyone has been saying, another ship on the far shore.

Not to mention a wonderful Arctic daylight at midnight
“A wonderful Arctic daylight at midnight?”
“I told you not to mention that!”

And there’s already a record that has been chosen that sums up my currently manic-depressive mood. For the last few days I’ve had Colosseum Live going round and round in an endless loop, especially “Skellington” and “Lost Angeles” which somehow seem to be quite appropriate right now.

There’s one bit in “Skellington” about “Make damn sure your reflection can look you in the eye”. Hmmmmm.Quite!

And I’m going to check the binnacle in a moment because there’s something bizarre going on with the way that the ship has been manoeuvring in the last half-hour or so.

Saturday 21st April 2018 – NOW, THAT WAS A LONG …

… day.

My alarm went off at 03:55,followed by a ‘phone call at 04:00 to awaken me.

But I didn’t really need much awakening as, true to form, I had had a disturbed night – just as I usually do when I need to raise myself early.

But I’d still managed to go off on a really long ramble. However, I’m not going to tell you about it and you will thank me for that. You’re probably eating your tea or something.

So alarm at 04:00 and at 04:05 I was tucking in to breakfast. Not a big choice out here (no surprise there of course) and it didn’t take me long to eat. And then I was in my room preparing to depart.

sunrise sahara desert tunisia africa05:00 saw us all pile onto the bus and we set off from town to the Chott-el-Jérid, the big salt lake outside town, deep in the Sahara desert where we waited to see the sun come up.

It was a little chilly at that time of the morning for those of us in just tee-shirts and there was a little breeze. Quite unexpected in the Desert you might think, but it’s a well-known phenomenon that has caught out many a traveller.

The sunrise itself was not as magnificent as watching the sun rise across the Bay of Piraeus in Greece back in 2013 but nevertheless, seeing the sun rise over the Sahara Desert has to be an experience and it was something that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

place des martyrs douz tunisia africaFrom here we drove on, deeper into the desert and eventually we arrived in the town of Douz – a town known from antiquity as “The Gateway To The Sahara”

We weren’t actually stopping here, just passing through, but at least we went past the famous statue in the Place des Martyrs.

I’m not sure who the martyrs were, or why they were martyred, but there were certainly a few confrontations with Authority here a few years ago that ended up with a couple of people getting a 15-year holiday at the Government’s expense.

old cars peugeout 404 pickup douz tunisia africaWhile we admire the local scenery and the exciting artisanal works of art, let me tell you that had you had come here years ago you would have been amazed at all of the hustle and bustle in the streets.

That’s because Douz was a focal point of the camel trains that worked their way across the various routes of the desert bringing in just about everything from all corners of the World.

There’s still a huge market here, possibly the only relic of those glorious days of commerce, and had we come here on a Thursday, it would have been the market day for camels and donkeys.

And then I could have gone out on my ass.

camels oasis of douz grand erg tunisia africaWe stopped on the outskirts of the town for what was the highlight of the trip.

We were going to visit the Grand Erg – the Sea of Sand that covers the south-western quarter of Tunisia – a trek into the desert, and on a camel too.

That is to say – not all of us on one camel but on one camel each, which is probably just as well.

camels oasis of douz grand erg tunisia africaAnd so having changed into native Touareg dress I leapt aboard my camel, which I named Sopwith, and I was off.

But I got back on again and in company with about 30 others we headed for the interior. 07:00 is the best time to do this because it’s light but not hot, which I can perfectly understand.

Although if this wasn’t hot I don’t know what is and I’m glad that I wasn’t out there at 13:00

camels oasis of douz grand erg tunisia africaIt was a bit of a disappointment in one sense because we were only out for an hour and a half or so.

But on the other hand, I’m glad that it was only an hour and a half and not any longer because I don’t know how Lawrence of Arabia must have managed with four years on the back of a camel.

And now I understand completely just why John Wayne always walked like he did in all of his westerns

camels oasis of douz grand erg tunisia africaBut very bad planning here on my part.

One of our party, with a blonde-haired wife, was offered 26 camels for his wife. “Make it 30” he said “and she’s all yours”. And received a dig in the ribs.

Nevertheless, it made me think that I should have invited Nerina on this journey. I could have made myself a fortune here, particularly with the camel market in the town on a Thursday where I could have cashed out.

camels oasis of douz grand erg tunisia africaAnd that wasn’t the only excitement either.

See the horse ad rider over there on the right of this image? One girl of our party – a youngish blonde – was whisked off on the back of it and was galloped off into the distance at a rapid rate of knots.

“That’s the last we’ll see of her” we said. “She’ll wake up tomorrow morning someone’s harem, yashmak glittering in the breeze”.

And serve her right too

Our route back to the camp took us past the site of where a previous tourist had told his guide that he wasn’t going to leave him a tip for his services.

And then we all dismounted (which pleased me greatly), handed back our Bedouin gear and boarded the bus. And let me tell you that getting on and off a camel is no mean feat either.

I made a quick little excursion back into the desert to grab some sand in a plastic bag that I had brought with me. I mean – it’s not every day that you get to go into the Sahara Desert.

motorcycle pickup oasis of douz tunisia africaBack on the bus we set off for the coast.

And I have seen some interesting vehicles on this voyage that you are never likely to see in Western Europe, like the motorcycle pick-up just here on the roundabout. Plenty of them wandering around in Tunisia and I can think of 100 uses for something like that down on my farm, not that I’ll ever be back there again but that’s another story.

And the silver-grey Renault. You probably won’t have seen one of those either, and I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Djebel Dahar mountains tunisia africaOur guide told us that we were going to go through the Atlas Mountains, but that’s somewhat stretching the truth.

The Atlas Mountains finish just after the border with Algeria and in the north of the Country. The mountains that run down the middle of Tunisia here in the south are part of a chain called the Djebel Dahar.

They may not quite be the Atlas Mountains, but they are spectacular nevertheless.

nomadic herdsman Djebel Dahar mountains tunisia africaAnd it was around here in the foothills of the mountains that we encountered our first real tribes of nomadic Bedouins.

They are still living pretty much as their ancestors did in Biblical days, like this man here out on his ass checking on his herd of goats, sheep and camels would have done 2,000 years ago.

And there were plenty of them, nomads, sheep, goats and camels, trying their best to eke out an existence here in the desert. And It can’t be easy.

artificial terracing Djebel Dahar mountains tunisia africaAs we climbed up into the mountains, at a certain point there was clearly some artificial terracing here where there was some kind of oasis or well.

I was sorely tempted to cry out “Romans” because if anything looked like a Roman vinyard terracing, then this would be it. Facing directly south into the sun.

There was a Roman town – Turris Tamalleni – in the vicinity where the Romans had installed some kind of artificial irrigation system, and vines were known to be an important crop from North Africa.

tamezret tunisiaIt was about 10:00 when we arrived on the edge of a small town called Tamezret.

It’s a Berber village with about 500 people, only a fraction of the population that it would have had in the past as its importance as a caravan halt in the pass through the mountains has long-gone.

However, the village is heaving during the summer because it’s the custom for people who originated or who are descended from dwellers in the village to return here in the middle of August where there is some kind of homecoming festival.

One of the more famous emigrés from this region went to live in Spain, and he became so famous that the Italian compose Rossini wrote an Opera about him – “The Berber of Seville” … "are you sure about this?" – ed

tamezret tunisiaIt has a special claim to fame too in that as well as the original Berber language still being spoken here too, the years are calculated by the original Berber calendar – not the Christian calendar and not the Muslim calendar either as you might otherwise have expected.

So accordingly we are now in the year 2968, and I bet that that’s confusing for some. Particularly considering that just now I mentioned something about going back in time 2,000 years.

zraoua tunisiaAnd how I would have loved to have found the time to have visited the ancient town of Zraoua.

This was formerly one of the most important towns in the region but for one reason or other it’s practically deserted now. It has however survived quite well considering the events that have happened around here in the past, and has been used as the site of several French-language and Arab films.

But that will have to be for another day, if there is one.

dar ayed tamezret tunisiaIt might still be quite early but we had in fact been on the road for about 5 hours already and I for one was certainly ready to … errr … stetch my legs and have a coffee.

So we pulled up at a roadside place called Dar Ayed on the edge of town for a 15-minute pitstop and a good look around.

It’s actually a hotel, café and gift shop. And that’s hardly surprising because it is weren’t for the tourists there wouldn’t be anything here at all

dar ayed tamezret tunisiaDar Ayed has a claim to fame in that there’s a watch tower here that surveys the mountain passes that lead to here from the west and the south.

It’s a magnificent building, and if it’s the original (which somehow I doubt very much) it’s been superbly maintained and restored.

One of those places where we … "well, one of us" – ed … have to climb up to the top for a good look around

dar ayed tamezret tunisiaIn the past, being a Berber was not a healthy lifestyle choice, with the Arab invasion from the east of the 8th Century and pressure from the other nomadic tribes from the West.

A good look-out was thus clearly important and no-one can complain about the view from here. You could spot from miles away people coming to Tamazret from the south and you would have plenty of time to organise your defences or call the people in from the fields.

solar water heater dar ayed tamezret tunisia africaIf you look over there, you’ll see the road by which we arrived at Tamezret.

It came through the pass there to the west and you can see the road winding away in the distance towards Douz and Tozeur. Plenty of opportunity for someone up here to spot groups of travellers heading from the interior.

I suppose that these days the guy in the watchtower shouts down when he sees a tourist coach in the distance, giving the people in the kitchens plenty of time to throw another dozen burgers onto the barbie.

And do you like to solar water heater on the roof? There are also some solar panels. Things are looking up.

tunisian berber cliff dwelling matmata tunisia africaTHis area is quite well-known for its cliff-dwellings. Not like the Pueblo cliff-dwellings of New Mexico, but cliff dwellings nevertheless.

The cynic inside me suggested that the tourist guide on our bus had his grandfather living in a cliff dwelling around here because he took us to see one near Matmata where there was a Berber still in residence.

And for a dinar, of which there are about three to the Euro, we could go in for a look around.

tunisian berber cliff dwelling matmata tunisia africa33 cents isn’t expensive by any means, and I’ve paid much more money than that to see some even worse ruins.

And what was pleasantly surprising was just how cool it was inside. Apparently the temperature inside the cliff is pretty constant summer and winter and it’s very rare that you need any heating.

And this comes as a total surprise to people who have moved out of the cliff dwellings into more modern accommodation where you need air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter.

fig tree palm tree date tree tunisian berber cliff dwelling matmata tunisia africaThe palm tree and the fig tree (or is there a date tree) are quite interesting.

The ground isn’t level here, it’s all on something of a slope and so when there’s a rainstorm (which there is occasionally) all of the water that falls on the property runs down to that bottom corner.

And so his little orchard is to all intents and purposes self-watering.

lunch stop hotel matmata tunisia africaBy now my stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut, so it was just as well that our guide announced that it was lunchtime.

We ended up at a hotel on the edge of Matmata where a meal had been arranged for us. And our arrival had been clearly awaited by others too because there were yet more of these youths with their scrawny misshapen animals expecting you to want to have your photo taken with them – at a fee of course.

One poor girl had some boy place some kind of vulture on her shoulder while her attention was elsewhere, and you could have heard the scream back on the coast.

lunch stop hotel matmata tunisia africaThe Hotel Matmata had clearly seen better days, but I’ve stayed in worse places in western Europe than here.

In any case, we were only going to eat here. Couscous and vegetables and I traded my chicken for someone else’s helping of bread so I was quite happy with that.

And fresh fruit for pudding too. Just like being back at home, except that the fresh fruit really was fresh.

matmata tunisia africaAt Matmata we are effectively at the watershed of the Djebel Dahar mountains. And so just around the corner as you leave the town there is probably one of the most stunning views in the whole of North Africa.

It’s one of the best views that I have seen in recent times. We are probably about 50kms from the coast at this spot and I reckon that on a clear day with no haze you would be able to see it too.

As you know, Jersey is 54 kms from Granville and I can see it with my naked eye from a height of 60 metres, never mind 600 metres.

stone avalanche walls matmata tunisia africaAnd if you remember the terracing that we saw a short while ago which I reckoned was Roman, we might have to think again.

There are rows and rows of similar terraces just here too, but these are facing northwards so very unlikely to be vines.

Speaking to the tour guide, he reckons that they are avalanche walls, to protect people passing down the valley (before the road was built) from falling stones. Mind you, that’s a lot of effort.

Remember the silver-grey Renault that we saw in Douz, and I said that we would say something about it later?

renault symbol matmata tunisiaThat’s because just here I found an example parked right where I could take a photograph of it.

It’s a Renault Symbol, and as I said, I bet that you haven’t seen one of these before.

The story goes that Renault introduced the new generation Clio in 1999 as a car for the world market, but while it sold very well in some markets, it bombed in others.

Subsequent enquiries revealed that many countries in the world aren’t too keen on hatchbacks, but prefer a proper “three-box” design. Renault dealt with the matter by taking a Clio, sticking a boot on it, and calling it the Symbol. It’s only offered for sale in North Africa, certain countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

signpost tripoli libya libyan borderWe had a pretty uneventful drive down the hill all the way to the coastal strip, and here we encountered our first clue that we are near the Libyan border.

Tripoli is a city, and the capital of a province in Libya and being so close I would have liked to have gone for a wander down the road in that direction but there was an army checkpoint further down the road, so maybe not this time.

However I was quite intrigued by the Mercedes in the photograph. It’s carrying a German “export” numberplate. I’d seen several vehicles over here with European numberplates and I was wondering how they arrived here. I wonder if Caliburn fancies a trip out some day soon.

Incidentally, where we are is not very far from what is known as “The Mareth Line” – the version of the Maginot Line that was built here to protect the French colony of Tunisia from invasion by the Italians in Libya at the start of World War II, and later heavily defended by Rommel and the Afrika Corps against the 8th Army.

sncft metre gauge bombardier MX624 general electric gabès tunisiaOn the outskirts of Gabès we came across the railway line – the metric-gauge line that links the town with Tunis and also the phosphate mines in the interior.

There are a couple of nice locomotives there too It’s difficult to identify them as trying to take a photo with a telephoto lens while passing over a level crossing is not easy. But the front one may well be a Bombardier MX624 and the rear one could be any one of three or four different classes of General Electric machine.

Nice to see one of my former employers doing the business here.

illicit fuel sales gabès tunisia africaNow here’s an interesting photograph. This is not a Tunisian petrol station, but on the other hand it is.

Tunisia has its own oilfields, but very little capacity for refining. So almost all of its oil is exported abroad in crude form. The country then imports refined petrol and diesel from other African countries.

But with the various difficulties that the country is facing, the country is obliged to import the cheapest fuel that it can find on the open market and that fuel, to put it frankly, is rubbish,

Being so close to the the Libyan border where we are, where the fuel is of first-class quality, there’s a huge black market in Libyan (and Algerian) fuel. And it shows you just how tenuous the Government’s control of the southern part of the country is when you see the fuel sold openly on the side of the road like this.

beach mahres tunisia africaWe made it as far as Mahres before the urge to stop for a coffee overwhelmed us.

While the others rested in the shade of a roadside café I took my coffee outside and went for a wander on the beach.

It’s not exactly what you would call a major tourist attraction here, being somewhat off the beaten track, but it was quite interesting nevertheless.

fishing port mahres tunisiaTHat’s not to say though that the place isn’t popular. It’s another one of these towns to where in the summer the emigrés will return and then the beaches will be heaving with people.

I think that what puts off the westerners from coming here is the fish port and the fish processing. That’s a comparatively new, or maybe I should say modern phenomenon, having been opened in 1987.

There’s a big natural gas plant up the road too which doesn’t help.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaNow, hands up if you know where this is.

I mean – you might not actually know where it is, but I bet that you have all seen it at some time or other.

And where you will have seen it is firstly in the film Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. It’s in here that the climax of the film takes place.

popular front of judea colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaYou’ll recognise the view right down there at the bottom of the steps too.

That’s where the Popular Front of Judea was sitting in Life of Brian because the amphitheatre scenes in that film were filmed in here too.

And so it’s all of this that makes it probably the best-known of all of the Roman amphitheatres

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaWhere we are is in the town of El Djem, better-known as the Roman town of Thysdrus and home of what many people consider to be the most remarkable and most intact of the amphitheatres of the Roman Empire

You need to remember that back in Roman times this area was much more humid than it is now and the coasts of North Africa supplied the greater part of the agricultural produce consumed by Rome.

Thysdrus was the centre of olive oil production for the Roman Empire. As a result, it was a very propsperous area and the remains of the many Roman villas that have been discovered in the vicinity bear this out.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaThe city was one of the three most important cities in Roman North Africa and consequently the population was to be favoured when it came to issues of recreation.

The Amphitheatre, with a capacity of 35,000 spectators, making it possibly the 3rd largest in the Empire, was built on the orders of the Proconsul Gordian before his (very brief) reign as Emperor in The Year Of The Six Emperors.

It is said to have replaced an earlier Amphitheatre and while no remains of such an earlier one have been found, aerial photography seems to suggest that a stadium corresponding to the type that was used for horse racing may well have been situated on the outskirts of the town.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaAs for “Gladiator”, regardless of any historical accuracy Russell Crowe would have felt quite at home here because that type of fight often took place in the amphitheatre.

Another person who would have been quite at home here was Charlton Athletic, for the kind of chariot races in which he participated in Ben-Hur took place here too.

Although if they made the film today they would have to call it “Ben Them” of course.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaAnd of course we had Christians being thrown to the lions too. Whenever that took place, the trench in the middle of the floor was covered over with woden planks (the metal grille is a recent innovation) so that the Christians couldn’t escape by jumping into the cellar.

On the other hand, when there was a gladiator fight, the trench was left uncovered with the lions roaming about freely down below,

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaThe object of the Gladiator fight was, if not to kill your opponent, to knock him down into the cellar where the lions would take care of him.

The lions were kept in cages down below and there was a marvellous story once told that a group of people was invited to witness a spectacle here but because there was no other accommodation for them, they were told that there would be some space for them in the cages of the lions.

Of course, after the lions had been removed. But I bet that they worried all the same.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaThe amphitheatre was designed to be four storeys high but there is some dispute about whether it was actually completed.

It’s known that work stopped here earlier than expected after the troops of Capelianus of Numidia overthrew Gordian and his supporters after a reign of just 21 days – told Gordian to get knotted probably, and that the amphitheatre has been badly damaged on several subsequent occasions, but whether or not it reached the full four storeys in that corner cannot be definitely confirmed.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaThe reasons for the destruction of that side of the amphitheatre are threefold

  • It was used as a fortress by the locals to defend themselves against the Arab invaders in the 8th Century and was damaged when the latter stormed it
  • It was likewise used when the Ottomans came here in on several occasions as fighting swept back and forth across the coastal plain in the 16th Century, and on one occasion cannons were used against it.
  • After the final capture of the amphitheatre at the beginning of the 17th Century it was pillaged for stone to build the city and the Great Mosque at Kairouan


colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaIt was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and quite rightly so because it’s the most astonishing surviving historical object on the whole coast of North Africa if you ask me.

I was really glad that I had had the opportunity to come here., even if we did only have about an hour to explore the amphitheatre. I could quite easily have spent all day here.

But that’s the problem when you travel in a group like this. You are tied to other people’s arrangements.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaDespite the limited amount of time and my own little health issues, I made it right the way up to the very top of the amphitheatre and was able to look down on the crowds in the street.

Tunisia had just qualified for the World Cup or won a football match or something, and there were crowds in the streets and in cars sounding their horns and waving flags about.

And why not? It doesn’t happen every day, at least over here.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaAnd I’m glad that I made it right to the top, because the view from up here really is excellent.

It’s a shame that there’s so much haze because the view of the mountains over which we have just driven must have benn spectacular.

What’s also spectacular is how they have managed to maintain so much of the grid pattern of streets. But whether this is a Roman influence or some other influence I really couldn’t say.

colosseum el djem amphitheatre tunisia africaLeaving the amphitheatre later I noticed that the sun had finally moved round so that I could take a photo of it.

It’s rather disapointing when there’s only one really good viewpoint and the sun is streaming full-on into the lens.

And while I was taking this photo an old bright yellow Motobécane moped went past, still with the otiginal yellow and blue “La Poste” stickers. I bet that he didn’t ride that all the way from France.

Back on the road again heading for home. I make it 12.5 hours that we’ve been on the road already and there’s still a long way to go.

old cars IVECO OM el djem tunisia africaAnd amongst the things for which I’ve been keeping an eye out are old or unusual vehicles.

And while this lorry here, which I reckon might be a very early FIAT IVECO or very late FIAT OM, might not be quite so interesting, the cab in the middle is, I reckon a cab off an old OM lorry from the 50s or early 60s

And that makes it quite interesting.

By now I’d settled down to doze in my seat as we headed northwards. We successfully dodged the Police speed traps (although some motorist in front of us didn’t) and eventually those of us from the Sousse area were thrown out into the bus that was to take us back to our hotels.

And I can see now why it was so late in arriving yesterday morning. It took hours to negotiate the traffic around the various hotels all around Sousse. But I had an opportunity while we were stuck in various traffic queues to admire the shipping in the harbour. I shall have to come back.

I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I returned. It was a good job that there was still some food left, even if I did struggle to eat my tea (I was starving but also very tired), forgot my jacket in the restaurant and came back up here where I crashed out completely.

It’s a long time since I’ve been this tired.

And here’s 4641 words to keep you out of mischief. you lucky people. While you read it, I’m going to go to sleep.