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Wednesday 9th March 2022 – I HAD A STROKE …

… of luck this morning.

There I was going down the stairs towards the front door when out of the lift came one of my neighbours.

“Are you off to Belgium?” she asked
“Yes I am” I replied
“Come with me” she said.

She was on her way to work so she took me and threw me out about 200 metres from the station and you’ve no idea how much I appreciated it.

That’s because I’d had a really bad night. I hadn’t taken one of those pills before I went to bed and I don’t know whether that’s anything to do with it, but it took an age to go off to sleep and then I awoke again at 04:30 and that was that.

Despite trying my best, I couldn’t go back to sleep and so when the alarm went off at 06:00 I was up and about quite easily.

By 07:30 I was ready to leave so I loitered around until 08:00 and then went off out where I bumped into my neighbour.

concrete pad gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo March 2022Just or a change, I was at the station at 08:10.

That gave me plenty of time to have a look around to see what has been going on here. And this concrete pad is certainly new

It’s taken over two or three spaces of the railway station car park and unless I’m mistaken, it’s the area where electric cars could be charged too. So if they have been removed, where will the electric cars be charged now?

That’s something that is causing me a little concern. There’s a commitment to phase out new fossil-fuelled cars over the next 15 years or so and so they need to think long and hard about the necessary infrastructure and to have it in place long before the cut-off date – not leave it until the last minute.

And to install a whole new system of wind and tidal power generation. The wind doesn’t stop blowing and the tides don’t stop changing at night when everyone is asleep in bed and not using power. There will be tons of energy available to charge up vehicles if they organise themselves.

mural gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo March 2022Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that when we were here last at the railway station they had a pile of scaffolding up inside the building.

Now that they have removed it, we can see what they were doing. We now have a lovely mural of Granville as it was in the days when we had wind-powered “Newfoundlanders” sailing out of the port to the Grand banks of Newfoundland for the cod.

“The cod were in largeness and quantitie … that they stayed our ships” wrote Richard Hakluyt in the 16th Century when he was discussing voyages to “The New World” that went via Newfoundland.

But that was a long time ago.

84567 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo March 2022For even more of a change, the train was already in the platform so I took my seat quite quickly.

You might be thinking that that means that the train started off bang on time, but in actual fact we were 5 minutes late leaving.

The train was packed and I had a rather irritable neighbour so while I was able to update the laptop, I wasn’t able to do any work. I read a few theses about medieval castles in Cheshire instead.

By the time that we arrived in Paris we had made up a couple of minutes so I had time to pop into the ticket office at the Metro to buy another set of 10 tickets. I’m running rather low right now

225 TGV Reseau Duplex Gare du Nord Paris France Eric Hall photo March 2022Travelling to the Gare du Nord on the Metro was quite painless – especially since I’ve found my short-cut in the open air.

My train to Lille – Flandres was already in. It is, as you might expect, one of the TGV “Reseau Duplex” double-deckers. Old and showing its age but quick and reasonably comfortable.

As usual we weren’t allowed to board it. There’s an 8-car trainset that comes in later and couples up to the rear of this trainset and then all 16 cars go back to Lille. We have to wait until it’s all coupled up and ready to go before we can board it.

210 TGV Reseau Duplex gare de lille flandres lille France Eric Hall photo March 2022This is the power car of the second trainset, photographed at Lille Flandres as I was leaving the station.

Our train was a few minutes late leaving, like the one from Granville, but that didn’t matter so much as there was plenty of time to walk across the city from Lille-Flandres to the Lille-Europe railway station.

There was even time to find a quiet corner at Lille-Europe and eat my lunchtime sandwiches before boarding my train. But I had to keep an eye out for the railway police who were cautioning people for not wearing a mask. And it’s difficult to eat your butties whilst wearing a mask.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4525 PBA gare du midi bruxelles belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022When I descended to the platform, the train was already in. It’s one of the PBA – Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam trainsets on which we travel quite frequently.

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, it waits here for about 20 minutes before departing. It’s more-than-likely due to the timing of the various connections that it makes with trains along its route.

And it was packed too and someone had taken my seat which was a shame, for I had rather looked forward to being out of my brain on the 5/15. I ended up sitting elsewhere, hemmed in and once more unable to do any work. I listened to “Colosseum Live” on the phone instead.

2730 class 27 electric locomotive gare de Leuven railway station Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022At Brussels-Midi there was a train to Leuven already so I didn’t have to hang around waiting.

Running (as best as I could) down the concourse I leapt aboard with no problems and settled down for the journey to Leuven.

When we arrived, I nipped down to the head of the train to see what was pulling us along. It’s one of the old Class 27 electric locomotives and we’ve had a few of these just recently.

Considering that they must be getting on for 40 years old, they are still clocking up the miles on mainline services with little sign of slowing down.

At the back of the station is the little supermarket so I went there and bought the bread, vegan margarine and stuff to drink. It saves on the weight that I have to carry back from the big supermarket later this evening.

martelarenplein Leuven Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022Now here’s a thing!

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that for the last however-many years we’ve seen (or not seen, as they case may be) the Martelarenplein, the Square of the Martyrs, all fenced off and covered while they have been renovating it.

Today though, apart from just one small area, all of the fencing has been removed and we can actually walk across the square if we choose to do so.

Not for me right now though. I’m tired and exhausted and and I can’t wait to find my way to my little room.

And once more I’m up a couple of flights of stairs and that’s killing me. Luckily the manager saw me struggling up the stairs so that might hopefully mean a change of room in the future.

Despite a nice hot coffee, I crashed out definitively, and for a good half-hour too.

electric three wheeled vehicle Leuven Belgium Eric Hall photo March 2022You’ve no idea just how much difficulty I had trying to rouse myself to go to the shops for food.

Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did because I encountered this strange machine. It’s a three-wheeler and it’s probably electric because it was quite silent. But whatever it is, it was quite interesting to say the least.

At the supermarket I don’t know what happened there but the shopping bill was much less than it usually is. I don’t reckon that I bought any less than I usually do.

At some point I managed to find the time to transcribe the dictaphone notes. Last night started with a family thing again with my sister and her first husband. It was probably 01:00 and they were thinking about going to bed and I had all of my paperwork to do which involved those two. I had to set the time on Big Ben and a few other things too but I kept on having trouble seeing because the lights on this big tower clock were so dim that I couldn’t actually see how I was setting it. Occasionally it would all light up bright and I’d see that I’d done in incorrectly and had to go back but to be very careful not to wipe off everything that I had done so far – just go back 1 or 2 steps and start on. By now of course it was daylight. I could easily see what was happening and there were all kinds of things going on on this clock face – people laughing and cheering at it. In the end I had to set it by some kind of analogue means moving the hands because I couldn’t make it go correctly by doing it digitally. In the end I managed it but by now it was 06:40 and broad daylight. I had to be up at 10:00 and they had to be up earlier than that. In the end I said that I was going to bed. My sister’s husband said that he was going to lie in in the morning because he was exhausted. I thought “how does he think that I feel?”. On the way back they were rationing out some things for issue and showing me some kind of drink made by a well-known pop manufacturer in a very distinctive bottle. They said that last tie they had issued this it was 17 shillings and so many pence but now it’s just 4.5 pence and they can’t understand what has happened. I asked if it was generic stuff. They replied that it was so I replied that maybe the patent has expired so now it’s being cloned or something but they couldn’t seem to understand. Neither could I but I didn’t really want to because I was so tired

Later, I was in backwoods Canada or backwoods USA sometime in the 50s or 60s judging by the cars that were driving around. I was writing up someone’s memoirs from a set of old war letters, something like that. I’d gone to this house ad he’d let me have all of this communication and I was going through it making notes etc. Gradually one of two other people had let me have their stuff as well. The first guy was concerned that this was going to slow me down doing other people’s stuff as well but I explained that it was all part of the same thing. They gave me a time and said that I had to be finished by something like 18:15. He thought that time was dragging on but I said that I’d be back tomorrow and that seemed to be OK. Various people came to see me and talk to me about everything while I was there making all of these notes and what had happened in the past. It gradually worked out that I was writing stuff about current events as well for a more immediate publication. This was something that concerned all of the people in this area. But all of the cars were fantastic. Someone was driving a pickup where instead of having the pickup bed behind him it was something like an enormous American saloon convertible thing with just 1 seat for the person driving it and the pickup bed was at the side where the passenger would sit. There were all these kind of weird machines that looked like something out of the 50s and 60s

And then I was with Claude and Françoise last night in the Auvergne. They owed me some money and I had a few IOUs and we were settling up. While I was there I showed them how many US dollars I had. I explained about the time that I had to use the toilet in a cafe and I didn’t have any money to go in so I had to write out an IOU. I told them about a trip that I’d made to the USA with 2 girls. We’d roamed around the Midwest in a big American car which was a small Opel saloon from the late 60s, a type 1. On one occasion I’m not quite sure what had happened but these girls must have been in their night clothes in this diner. They had gone to the toilet to have a wash and brush-up but they came out in their night clothes as well. I asked what was going on so they said that they were going back to the car to change. I asked why they hadn’t taken their clothes into the ladies toilets and changed in there instead of doing it on the car park of this diner

Now that I’ve had tea I’m off to bed. I know that it’s early but I’m exhausted and I’ve almost fallen asleep twice. Hospital tomorrow so I’m lying in with no alarm.

After last night’s disaster, I need all the beauty sleep that I can get.

Saturday 15th January 2022 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not actually sitting in a rainbow, but sitting in my nice comfortable chair in my office thinking that Barry Hay was absolutely right when he said “there’s one thing that I can tell you, man, and that is that it’s good to be back home”.

And after one of the most uneventful journeys that I have ever had too.

In fact the only thing that went wrong during the trip was that the ticket collector caught me having a crafty bite out of my butties. Since 3rd January 2022 it’s against the law to eat on public transport. So he had a good moan at me about it.

The morning started quite bizarrely because although the alarm was due to go off at 05:00 I had left my bed a long time before hand and was busy drinking a coffee and making my sandwiches when the alarm did go off.

Despite the somewhat reduced sleep, I still managed to go off on several voyages during the night. I’d picked up my daughter (!!!) from Crewe Railway Station and we had to go to Edge Hill in Liverpool to catch a boat so we hired a car and drove there. Everyone else stayed on the train. At Edge Hill we had to board this boat to go across the ocean but I can’t remember where now. It involved stepping onto this beach where there were 3 wild animals, an elephant, a tiger and a third animal. The tiger was extremely playful but nevertheless it unnerved me quite a lot as I was trying to walk around this island. It kept trying to pretend to stalk me by getting behind me and attacking me. I had to turn round to face it and chase it away. Then the elephant joined in and started to push me around with its tusk. This was starting to become really out of hand. I had the feeling that this elephant, if I let it, was going to do far more than just play around with me. I told the person who was with me, whoever it was, that if they didn’t do anything to control these animals the elephant was going to have a bullet through the brain. They insisted that it was just being playful but it wasn’t very playful as far as I was concerned and I was determined to deal with this elephant permanently either by having it taken away or else by the fact that I was going to shoot it and I’d do the same to the tiger as well if they didn’t organise themselves any better and control their animals

This was the dream about the “Hawkwind” group about which I’d been thinking. There were a couple of girls called Aral or Araf, something like that, who had joined as well but that was all it was really, about the two groups and merging together to perform those Hawkwind tracks that I had mentioned and I can’t remember anything else about it (and I’d love to know what I missed recording that made me dictate this in this particular way).

I was in Canada last night. I’d just arrived. I’d been to a car auction and there was someone there trying to sell one of these minivan things. He didn’t want very much money for it – about £700 or £800 – but it was a non-runner and needed a lot of work doing to it. It was really only suitable for using as a shed or something. There was a big argument going on between a woman and the auctioneers and a couple of other people about this. The next lot to be offered was an old panel van, the type from the 1940s or 50s. I was talking to the girl. This had no engine in it or anything like that so I said “well if it’s only for a garden shed this is what I’d use as it has no windows in it for a start. It turned out that she was only looking for $50 for it and that was much more reasonable.

Then I ended up at my niece’s house. She was saying something like they could only have one egg delivered by the ‘phone. She gave me a letter than hadn’t been opened and asked me to deal with it. It was something about some company stopping deliveries to the house. I rang them up to find out what had happened. It turned out that there had been a delivery to the house 2 years ago but no-one had signed for it so they were recommending to courier companies that they no longer delivered here. That would stymie just about everything for what was going on in Canada with her and so on so I rang up the tyre depot to speak to her daughter. I asked if she knew anything about this company. She replied that that was the company she dealt with. I asked her about this parcel. She said that she remembered it so I told her that she had to ring them back straight away and explain the situation to them otherwise we aren’t going to have any more deliveries. That will bring the business to a halt. She sounded drunk on the phone, something like that, and I couldn’t get any sense out of her. I carried on talking to her but it was still extremely difficult. Trying to give her the phone number was extremely complicated because she wasn’t paying any attention to anything that anyone was telling her. I thought “this is going to end in tragedy, isn’t it?”

martelarenplein leuven Belgium Eric Hall photo January 2022There’s a reminder alarm that goes off at 05:30 but at that time I was already down the street on my way to the railway station.

Of course I can’t go and look for a train without checking on how the work in the Martelarenplein is progressing. And the answer to that is, unfortunately, “slowly”. They don’t seem to have made very much progress at all since we were here four weeks ago.

It’ll probably be just the same when I come back here in four weeks’ time, if I do. At the rate at which I’m going, I’m not convinced that I’ll still be here in four weeks’ time. I feel as if my battery has gone completely flat.

557 am 96 multiple unit gare de leuven railway station Belgium Eric Hall photo January 2022There’s a choice of three trains to take me to Brussels – the 06:08 stopper, the 06:11 that goes via the airport and the 06:31 direct, all of which arrive at roughly the same time so it makes no difference really which one I catch.

However, the airport train was one of the very comfortable AM96 multiple units. It was already in the station too and looked quite warm and inviting – it was absolutely taters outside – so I clambered aboard that one.

Having gone the long way round, it was 06:58 when it pulled into the Gare du Midi and that left me 45 minutes to wait for my train to Paris. I can cope with that, even if I can’t find anywhere warm and comfortable to sit. I hate these huge, draughty stations where you can’t ever keep out of the wind.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4538 PBA gare du midi brussels Belgium Eric Hall photo January 2022Much to my surprise, the train was announced a long time before the usual 15 minutes. And even more surprisingly, we were actually allowed to board it.

It was quite empty this morning so we had plenty of space to spread out. Not the usual “crammed in like sardines” situation. I made myself comfortable and listened to my Hawkwind concert – the one that I had prepared on my way to Brussels on Wednesday.

And during the journey I did some more work on making notes on the Flatey Book and I could have done more than I did but to tell the truth, I had something of a “relax” for part of the journey.

At the Gare du Nord it took me a few minutes to find a metro ticket that worked, and then I was able to board probably the most crowded metro train that I’ve ever seen

place du 18 juin 1940 paris france Eric Hall photo January 2022At the Montparnasse metro station I came up into the Rue du Départ, plumping for the easier walk on level ground rather than up and down the steps in the labyrinth.

Behind where I come out of the bowels of the earth is the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Place du 18 Juin 1940. I wlked from down that way somewhere when I did my TRAVERSEE DE PARIS during the strike of public transport.

The walk in the opposite direction was quite straightforward and it’s quite depressing to think that I hadn’t thought about walking on the surface beforehand.

At the station it was much quieter than when I was here four weeks ago and I even managed to bag a comfortable seat with a power point.

84564 gec alstom regiolis gare montparnasse paris france Eric Hall photo January 2022No prizes for guessing which one was my train to Granville.

And even more so when the red lights came on with about 15 minutes to go before we were due to depart.

When the train was called, we trooped off to find out seats. Mine was right down at the far end of the train near the driver. And once again, the train was empty. 12 carriages and I reckon that the passengers on the train could have had a carriage each.

On the way home I listened to my concert again and read a book about a cavalry unit from Michigan during the American Civil War. And tried rather unsuccessfully to eat my sandwiches.

84559 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo January 2022Our train was made up of two 6-car units and I’d been in the front unit. I hadn’t photographed that in Paris so I took a photo of it on my way out of the station at Granville.

First stop was at the Carrefour down the hill from the station. A pizza isn’t a pizza without mushrooms on it and they sell 250-gramme punnets at €0:99 so if I can’t go to LeClerc for my loose ones, I’ll pick them up here.

And that reminds me. I’ve run out of pizza dough so I need to make some more tomorrow.

The town was fairly quiet this afternoon with no tourists and I took the back way home anyway so I had even less to worry about – except for the ambulance that nearly ran me down in a back street. And then reversed back to have another go seeing as he had missed on the way past.

replacing bricks on wall rue des juifs Granville Manche Normandy France Eric Hall photo January 2022Going up the hill towards home dragging my suitcase behind me was something of a struggle and I was glad to stop halfway up and eat my butties.

There was also some work on the wall in the Rue des Juifs that I’d missed. Some of the capping bricks had crumbled away and they have now been replaced. I suppose that they will be back on Monday to point them.

Back here I had a coffee and collapsed into my chair without moving for a good couple of hours. All of this travelling is exhausting me and the final climb is killing me off, I reckon. And if they can’t find the problem at the hospital, I suppose that I’m going to be stuck like this.

Tea was some of those small breadcrumbed soya fillets with veg and potatoes. Really quite delicious. I needed that.

And now I’m off to bed. I’m absolutely whacked after my early start and my trek home. A good sleep will do me good, so just watch someone phone me up or something.

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.

Saturday 17th July 2021 – AS BARRY HAY ONCE …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 16th June 2021 – NOW HOW ABOUT …

hellmans vegan garlic mayonnaise leuven belgium Eric Hall… this to go on my lunchtime butties?

This is something quite new in the shops. I’ve never seen it before. And I shan’t have to worry about visits from vampires during the night because I tried some of it with my pasta and vegetables and believe me – it took the varnish off the door when I breathed out. This was definitely a good buy and no mistake. It’s the kind of thing that will put hair on places I don’t even have places.

But be that as it may, let us return to our moutons as they say around here.

That is, around France, because Im not in France right now. I’m actually in Leuven because it’s time to visit Castle Anthrax again.

At 06:00 when the alarm went off, I leapt out of bed – sort of, something like – and the first task of the morning after the medication was to peel, dice and then blanch a kilo of carrots that I’d bought on Monday. And then I put them to drain in the sink.

Secind thing was to make a coffee and then make some sandwiches etc for my lunch. Packing my stuff and then giving the kitchen a good clean and disinfecting and, of course, taking out the rubbish before it walked out on its own.

At 08:05 when I went out this morning it was already scorching hot. Heaven alone knows what it’s going to be like at 15:00. But heaving my pack up onto my back I set off down the hill in the Rue des Juifs.

street repairs rue des moulins Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallDown in the town there was already some excitement going on in the Rue des Moulins.

They had a concrete cutter and a digger down there, sticking a pile of earth in the back of the lorry down there, and the workmen are busy admiring the hole that they have dug. For a moment I was wondering if I should go over and fall in with them but instead I pushed on.

At the railway station, my train wasn’t in yet so I had a nice relaxing sit on a bench on the platform while I waited for the train to come in.

GEC Alstom Regiolis 84581 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallThere wasn’t all that long to wait. The train pulled in round about 08:45. Just one six-car unit instead of two six-car units coupled together.

Climbing aboard, I went off to find my seat. For some reason or other that I don’t understand, they had me sharing a 4-seat combination with a couple of other people. No chance of my supporting that idea so I grabbed an empty seat where I could sit all on my own.

Having had a very late night last night, I wasn’t up to doing all that much but I did managed to copy onto the laptop all of the files that I’d backed up onto my memory stick. And the music ones took some sorting out. I’ll have to research the albums that I cropped the other day and work out which song goes where.

Our train was delayed at Argentan and so we arrived 10 minutes late at Paris Montparnasse. But there was no delay on the Metro and I arrived at Gare du Nord with plenty of time to spare.

TGV INOUI 206 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallJust as I arrived at the station concourse the train from Lille Flandres was just pulling in.

It’s one of the TGV Inoui Reseaux Duplex trains that we travel on regularly – one of the double deckers, but we aren’t allowed to board it yet. There is going to be a delay because these days they give the train a deep clean before we’re allowed on.

As soon as the cleaners had finished they announced the train, and there was a mad scramble of passengers towards the gate. And there as a slight delay from my part because it took me a minute or two to work out how the rail ticket on my phone works.

TGV INOUI 206 211 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallThe train is actually two eight-car units coupled together and so it goes without saying that I was in the second half down at the far end of the platform.

And you’ve no idea of the confusion that I caused trying to find my seat, because it didn’t exist. Even the ticket collector couldn’t find it.

On close examination however, we discovered that I’d gone into the wrong carriage. I’d gone in through the correct door but at the top of the stairs I turned right instead of left and hadn’t noticed that I’d walked over the bellows into the next carriage.

But once I was sorted out, I had a good sleep all the way to Lille Flandres.

We had a curious incident after we left the station. Some woman was asking some passers-by “which is the way to Lille-Europe?”. I told her “follow me, I’m going that way” and she did – for the first 100 yards and then she shot off ahead.

She must have known the way after all for she was standing outside the station smoking a cigarette when I caught up with her.

The train wasn’t in yet so I was able to sit down and eat my sandwiches in comfort

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4523 PBA gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallWhen the train pulled into the platform we all swarmed down the steps.

It’s one of the tri-volt TGV Réseau 38000 train sets, known colloquially as the PBA, or “Paris Brussels Amsterdam” sets. This time there was no problem finding my seat and I spent most of the journey reading an e-book while my neighbour spent most of the journey speaking to someone on the telephone.

At some point I must have dozed off because the rattling over the points as we came into Brussels awoke me. And so I packed my things.

Having gone through all of the procedure about Covid tests, Passenger Location Forms and the like, there was no control at all at the railway station and I felt quite disappointed.

There was a train to Leuven and Liège on its way into the station so I ran off to platform 15.

am80 automotrice 390 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThe train was another one of these disreputable Am 80 automotrices or multiple units.

Old, tired, dirty and graffiti-ridden, they should have been put out to grass a long time ago from that point of view. But they are quick and reliable, and perform a lot of long-distance work like Brussels to Luxembourg and the one on which I’m riding – the Belgian Coast to Liège.

If these trains were cleaned, the graffiti was removed and they were given modern interiors with a modern seating configuration, they could keep going for another 40 years.

When the ticket collector came down, I couldn’t find my ticket on the SNCB app on my phone. Luckily the ticket collector could. We learn something new every day.

martelarenplein leuven belgium Eric HallThe heat at Leuven was searing and I burnt myself on the metal handrail on the steps down from the passenger walkway

But from up there, there was a good view down onto the Martelarenplein. I’ve taken a few photos of that just recently but usually from ground level. This is the first opportunity that I’ve had of taking an aerial view and so I wasn’t going to miss it.

The heat was really oppressive as I struggled around the ring road to the Dekenstraat. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. At one point I was overtaken by some weird kind of solar bicycle but he cleared off quickly before I could photograph it.

At the Dekenstraat I found my room – another one of the upmarket duplexes. They are very good to me here, giving me a free upgrade whenever there’s one vacant.

Having sorted myself out I sat down to do some work. There was something on the dictaphone from the night but the only thing that I remember about it was being on a bus coming out of Hanley down the Etruria Road. Suddenly it had to manoeuvre into the outside lane, round in front of a couple of cars then off to the left down a slip road onto the “D road”. The slip road had all kinds of houses alongside it and it was cold and foggy and it hav been snowing heavily. I asked the driver what was happening. He said that the police had told him to go that way so that he didn’t have any other choice. I asked him “what about the people who live in Longport and places like that?” He replied “that’s rather a shame but the police have told me to do this and this is what I have to do”. Then I awoke in a really cold sweat again. There was much more to it in this dream and I think that my ex-friend from Stoke on Trent appeared in it somewhere

Having finished that I had more things to do but instead I crashed out on the sofa. I awoke with a start at 18:45 and there was shopping to do so I had to nip out smartish because they close at 20:00.

road works naamsestraat naamsevest leuven belgium Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve been watching the roadworks down at the junction of the Naamsestraat and the Naamsevest.

They are now at the stage of resurfacing the road so I reckon that in another three or four years they might actually have it finished. We all know how quickly they work here in Belgium.

Normally I would be going to the Carrefour but I didn’t have the strength tonight so I ended up at Delhaize. And I was only just in time too because as I was queueing up to pay, they switched off the lights in the shop.

In order to get back up the hill and return to my digs I had to have an energy drink. But I made it back and made myself tea – falafel burger with pasta and veg – with the latter all mixed up with that garlic dressing. Pudding was pineapple slices with sorbet.

There was the intention to write the journal entry for today but instead I fell asleep again. When I finally awoke I just went to bed to sleep it off. I can write up my journal tomorrow.

Monday 31st May 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 21st April 2021 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not stting in a rainbow but sitting in my little room in the back end of Leuven, comfortably installed as usual.

When the alarm went off at 04:25 I fell out of bed, fully-dressed because I was taking no chances last night and set about organising myself, making sandwiches, a flask of coffee, checking the packing and steam-cleaning the toilet which was in something of a deplorable condition (I’m letting the housework fall behind again unfortunately while I battle with other things).

Bang on 05:10 I it the streets and headed off to the station. In the pitch-black too as most of the street-lighting was out and I had one or two narrow scrapes, putting my feet on steps that weren’t there, that kind of thing.

82645 82790 Bombardier B82500 gare de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallWhen I arrived at the railway station, I was early and my train hadn’t yet arrived but there were some others in.

There were a couple of other trains there at the platform waiting for what I really don’t know. These are Bombardier B82500 multiple units and part of the huge modernisation plan of the SNCF over the last 10 or so years. From Granville they usually work the route between Caen and Rennes

When you hear people complaining about the filthy, unreliable trains of the SNCF you can tell that they haven’t set foot on a train in France for the last 15 years at least. There has been much more investment in French railways than in the UK for a start.

84565 GEC Alstom Regiolis gare de Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallAbout 5 minutes after I arrived, my train pulled into the station. It’s one of the usual GEC Alstom Regiolis trains introduced over the last 5 years or so, just in time for me.

This one is 84565 and it must be based here in Granville because I’ve travelled on it on several occasions. There was only 1 unit of 6 carriages and despite it being the only train of the day to Paris it was quite empty.

On the way into Paris I spent the time of the journey going through the computer and sorting out the music, and then going through and attacking a few of the duplicate files that have accumulated on various hard drives.

We arrived in Paris bang on time. The station wasn’t all that busy and I managed not to fall over today. I was quickly onto the Metro and reached the Gare du Nord with plenty of time to spare before my train left. So much so that they hadn’t even affixed the platform number and I had to wait for that.

213 TGV Reseau Duplex gare du nord paris France Eric HallOnce they posted up the platform details I could go off and look for my train.

Once again, it’s one of the “Reseau Duplex” trains that work the like from Paris to Lille Flandres. A double-decker, which shows just how far ahead Continental thinking is of British thinking, and I’m on the upstairs deck in corridor seat.

The train was pretty full this afternoon too. There’s a neighbour too in the adjacent seat but he had nothing to say for himself. And neither did I because, unsurprisingly, I fell asleep for part of the journey and the ticket collector had to awaken me.

The ticket collector gave me some good news too. The validity of my Senior Citizens’ Railcard has been extended by three months to make up for the disruption to travel.

But bang on time yet again we arrived at Lille Flandres railway station and I had to set off for my trek to Lille Europe and the TGV to Brussels.

sculpture place francois mitterand outside gare de lille europe France Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve seen plenty of weird and wonderful things on our travels.

In front of the Lille Europe railway station is the Place Francois Mitterand, named after the Socialist politician who, despite anything that General de Gaulle’s partisan supporters will tell you, was the longest-serving President in French history.

It’s a dreary, desolate, windswept place with little to relieve the monotony. For that reason they sometimes decorate the Square with all kinds of weird and wonderful artefacts, and today it’s the turn of these rather interesting artificial flowers to relieve the monotony.

But I didn’t hang around long to admire them. I had other fish to fry.

4515 TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt gare de lille europe France Eric HallWhen I arrived at the railway station at Lille Europe, I found that my train was already in at the platform even though there was 25 minutes before it was due to leave.

There’s no time like the present, so I wandered down to the front of the train to take a photo. It’s a rather weather-beaten and weary TGV Reseau 38000, the same models as the Thalys PBA (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) trainsets on which we travel occasionally from Brussels back to Paris.

Having taken my photograph I went and found my seat. The train is again a “short” one, just one unit of 8 coaches instead of the usual 2-unit trains. And although it was busy, there was enough room for most people to sit by themselves.

Arriving once more on time, I went to look for my train to Leuven.

nederlandse spoorwegen class e186 locomotive 9184 1186 003 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThere was a few minutes to wait so I could have a look around and see what was going on at the adjacent platforms. Just across the way was this Nederlandse Spoorwegen trainset doing the run from Brussels to Amsterdam.

These are some comparatively old-style carriages with a modern class E186 electric locomotive at each end in a kind of push-me pull you arrangement. The locomotives are built by Bombardier and are based on the TRAXX designs that were developed for the Deutsche Bahn 20 years ago.

Even though the Nederlandse Spoorwegen units are quite modern, they may not be around for much longer. Word on the streets suggests that the Dutch are working on some high-speed multiple-unit train sets. These will be sold back to the leasing company who will redistribute them around other railway networks that use this type.

320 am 80 multiple unit gare du midi brusseks belgium Eric HallThere was just enough time to photograph the Dutch train before my train to Leuven pulled in.

It’s another one of the rather disreputable AM80 multiple unit sets – 40 years old and covered in graffiti. Old vinyl seats and lino on the floor.

But considering their age and what appears to be their general lack of care and attention they still rack up the miles on a lot of long-distance work that would have seen off many a more modern unit

The train was pretty busy too but again I was lucky to to have a seat to myself. And we arrived in Leuven without any inconvenience at all.

To my delight, my key was already in the safe so by 13:30 I was sitting down in comfort on the sofa eating my butties. And then I dozed off for half an hour. And I didn’t regret it at all after my exertions today.

fire damaged house dekenstraat leuven belgium Eric Halllater on I nipped out to the shops, but I didn’t get too far – in fact a house next-door but one to the complex where I stay.

There’s been a fire here, as you can see, and the building is boarded up. Nevertheless you can see the scorching on the brickwork above the door and the windows. It must have been quite a serious blaze.

The sign affixed to the wall next to the door states “declared uninhabitable since 26th March 2021” an I wonder if that’s because of the fire, or whether the fire is as a result of the property being declared uninhabitable.

So musing on that, I carried on my way towards the shops.

house rebuilding dekenstraat leuven belgium Eric HallOf course I had to pause to take a look at the house at the end of the street here.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I have passed a considerable amount of comment on the slow rate of the various projects that are being undertaken here and there around the city. And despite the time that this building has taken to be renovated, it’s still not finished.

It beats me what takes the time with all of this work. They used to build railway lines in far less time than this with just picks and shovels. I shudder to think of how they are proceeding with the demolition of Sint Pieters or the refurbishment of the Monseigneur Vanwaeyenberghlaan.

crowds st donatuspark leuven belgium Eric HallMy route took me past the St Donatus Park, one of my favourite places in the city.

One of the things that I like to do is to go in there for a wander around but this evening wasn’t quite so pleasant because I could hear the noise from a couple of streets away. I knew that it was going to be busy, and not just with inflatable figures either.

And sure enough, there were hordes of people making the most of the warn evening weather. Not much social distancing and even fewer masks too. It looks as if Belgium has suspended many of the health rules relating to the Corona virus. I wonder if they will end up regretting that.

medieval city walls crowds st donatuspark leuven belgium Eric HallWhile I was here, I took a photo of the crowds from this angle.

One of the things that I like about this park is the fact that there are several remains of the old city walls here. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we’ve seen quite a few photos of them, but we haven’t ever seen a photo of them from this angle.

The gate at the far end was closed so I had to retrace my steps to leave the park. My route to the supermarket thus took me down the street and the short cut through the old Beguingage.

My luck was in when I was there. There were several vegan burgers and the like reduced by 50% for a quick sale so I bought a couple of packs to eat while I’m here. IN fact, I ended up spending rather a lot of money today.

road junction naamsestraat naamsevest under repair leuven belgium Eric HallOn the way back I went to look at the roadworks taking place at the junction of the Naamsestraat and the ring road.

When I was here last month they were already attacking it, and I suppose I was being rather optimistic to think that they might possibly have finished. The place is in quite a mess with all kinds of confusion with various side streets and pedestrian crossings closed off.

It took me a good while to find out where to cross. And then I had to fight my way through the hordes of pedestrians, cyclists and moped riders battling for the same amount of restricted space and I was nearly run down a couple of times. But lugging my heavy load on my shoulders I finally made it across.

ambulance Erasme Ruelensvest leuven belgium Eric HallWhile I was on my way home from the Carrefour I’d seen fleets of ambulances with their blue lights flashing, roaring down the road.

And a few minutes later they cam roaring back, still with their blue lights flashing. But where they are going on the return journey I really don’t know because the hospital is in the other direction.

Back here I made tea. Burger with pasta and veg in tomato sauce, followed by apricots (once I’d fought my way into the tin). And having written out my notes, I’m now off to bed. I’ve had a very long day and I’m exhausted. There’s plenty to do tomorrow before I go to the hospital too so I need my beauty sleep.

Need it more than most people in fact, and for the obvious reason too.

So much so in fact that it was a couple of days before I managed to listen to the dictaphone to see if I’d been anywhere during the night. Someone had died in a log cabin and I was investigating this with someone. We found a group of people and it was quite obvious that the story that they were telling us was false so we urged one of these guys, telling him that telling a false story was likely to be very dangerous because if we could prove that it was false it would discredit the rest of his story and he would end up being hanged. In the end he agreed that he had fired the shot as he had entered the room but fired into the darkness and gave a few other indications that admitted that he was perfectly correct in what he’d said, and whoever had killed him had been in there beforehand and they were making their escape when he and his party pulled up.

Wednesday 24th March 2021 – WHAT A HORRIBLE …

… day I’ve had today.

Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong today and I’m thoroughly fed up. Instead of arriving at my room at round about 16:30 it was 20:45 when I limped miserably through the door.

The day started off OK with me being out of bed just after the first alarm and I even had a shower and fed the ginger and the sourdough. For some reason though I didn’t do any tidying up. I just didn’t feel like it and that was the start of the day going wrong.

But anyway I set off into town and the railway station.

unloading lorry port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallRegular readers of this rubbish will recall that yesterday we saw a lorry at the loading bay in the inner port dropping off a pile of stuff.

This morning there was another one there dropping off another big load of stuff down there, as I noticed as I walked past. It’s almost a certainty that one of the Jersey freighters is on its way in and my money is on it being Normandy Trader.

Having observed it all for a few minutes I headed off down the hill and through the town, going the back way to the railway station again.

84563 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallMy train was already in the station when I arrived so I clambered aboard. Today, it was just 6 carriages, not twelve as usual, and it was pretty empty.

And then all our problems began.

We ground to a halt somewhere along the way and sat there for 50 minutes. It seemed that a car had tried to beat the barrier of a level crossing but failed. We had to wait until they had come along to drag the car away before we could proceed.

As a result, we were an hour late arriving in Paris Montparnasse and I had missed my connectons to Belgium.

And here things became even worse. As I was going down an escalator my legs simply gave way underneath me and I fell heavily to the ground. And I didn’t even have the strength in my legs to pick myself up. A couple of passers-by had to help me very shakily to my feet.

The pain in my right leg right now tells me that my right knee has collapsed.

Having missed the 13:15 to Lille, the next train was at 15:42 and that filled me full of despair. This is what happens when you try to travel in the middle of a pandemic.

TGV Reseau 213 gare du nord paris France Eric HallIt was necessary to wait almost 2 hours, two hours that I couldn’t really spare, before we could board our train.

It’s one of the TGV Reseau double-decker units on which we travel quite regularly to Lille. This train wasn’t particularly busy either and everyone had a seat to themselves. It left Paris a few minutes late but pushed on quite rapidly and we made up the time. We arrived in Lille Flanders railway station bang on time.

Now I had to walk across town to the Lille Europe railway station and in my state I wasn’t looking forward to that. It was something of a disreputable stagger down the street for my part.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4518 gare lille europe France Eric HallThis is the front end of the train that I was going to catch to Brussels. It was two units coupled together and I was in the rear one.

And I was really glad to see it because I discovered to my dismay at Lille Europe that my next train out of Lille Europe to Brussels was at 18:11. A wait of about 80 minutes. That wasn’t at all what I wanted to hear but there was nothing whatever that I could do.

When I was in Paris I’d looked to see if there was a “Thalys” direct to Brussels. Indeed there was but that meant waiting around at Paris even longer and an extra cost of €68:00 to save about 20 minutes.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4510 France Eric HallAnyway, my train turned up on time.

Like the front end, the rear end is another one of the PBKA Reseau 38000 units. I suppose that they have been decanted onto this route seeing as much of the TGV network has closed down under the new Covid restrictions.

This train was quite empty too. Despite it being the only train for several hours, it was almost empty too. I had a nice little sleep on board for 20 minutes until we arrived in Brussels and I awoke with rather a start as we pulled into the Gare du Midi.

Being now hopelessly late I had a look in the tow supermarkets in the station for some food as I was in no state to walk all the way down to the ones in Luven later and they would probably be closed by the time that I arrive.

But with nothing at all that I could buy so I went up to catch my train the Leuven.

multiple unit am80 automotrice gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallIt’s another one of these disreputable AM 80 automotrice multiple units that must be the next sets to go for the chop, old, dirty and graffiti-ridden as they are.

But it was on time, such as it was, and brought me on time into Leuven where negotiating the steps in the station was not the easiest thing that I have done.

Luckily the chip shop around the corner was open so I grabbed a bag of chips and headed for my room. And here I had to wrestle with the door of the safe in order to extract my key. It was not easy as the combination did not accord with the one that they sent me.

But in the words of Marshall MacMahon, “j’y suis, j’y reste” – “here I am and here I’m staying”. I’m not up to going anywhere right now as I’m in agony and I’ll have to do better than this tomorrow if I’m going to make it to the hospital

There’s shopping to do to and I’ve no idea how I’m going to manage this. All will come clearer tomorrow after I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’m going for that right now.

In fact I had to wait until the following morning before i could listen to the dictaphone to see where I’d been during the night. I started off with Marianne going to North America. I pulled up on the airport car park like we would do every 4 weeks when we went. The first thing that we noticed was that there were 2 cars, an MGB sports car and another one that were there the last time that we went. Marianne said “ohh look! There they are again”. “Yes, they are probably saying the same thing about us”. We went into the airport, sat down and had to wait. I noticed that there were a couple of other couples whom we knew by sight who had been with us on previous voyages there. Marianne asked for a breakfast so I went to find the cafe kind of place. They made some toast and a couple of other things and some coffee and I had a slice of toast as well. I took them back out and dropped them on the table but she wasn’t there. She was off doing something. I put the stuff on the table and went to the bathroom. In there I met 1 of the guys whom I’d just mentioned who’d been with us before, and we had a little chat. I looked in the mirror. My hair was overgrown, needed cutting and I was dressed so untidily, shirt and tie everywhere. I thought “God I really could have done with tidying myself up before I’d come away but it’s too late to worry about that now. I went back outside and Marianne had this huge fried breakfast, mushrooms, bacon and egg, beans, sausages, everything and I wondered where on earth she’s got that from. But she was there tucking into this breakfast.

Later I was in New York going to pick up THE GOOD SHIP VE … errr … OCEAN ENDEAVOUR. The night before, I’d met a couple of people, I’d been staying in a …. and so on. We all had to bring our baggage around on board ship the next day. The next morning I was up early and I bumped into a young Japanese American boy who had flown in from South Africa. We had had a chat about the flights to South Africa, all kinds of things. There was a third person who was not actually going with us on this trip. The 2 of us, we set out to go somewhere. Off we went and walked around the town a little looking at the sights. We somehow became separated – he wandered off with this other person. I thought that I had better start back to the ship. I couldn’t realise or remember what time I had to be back. I had this feeling that I was going to be horribly late so I started o panic a little. I ended up in Crewe at the top end of Victoria Street thinking to myself that I would have to get to the boat. it was just them that Julie Driscoll started to sing “Wheel’s On Fire”. As I was walking down Victoria Street I could hear that song playing.

Before that there had been something about the Army. A couple of us had been in the Army and we’d been rounded up to go somewhere. We weren’t particularly military and the Sergeant-Major who was with us was a bit of a swine. It was quite obvious that we were rubbing each other up the wrong way with the way that we were behaving because we had no military precision whatsoever and he was extremely annoyed by this. The place was a total tip and we wanted it tidying up but it was one of those places that was so untidy that we didn’t know where to start. When we first got to this place there was a girl there and we helped her with one or two things and then she went. Then it came round to the time ready to go early in the morning so we started to tidy up. There was some kind of hoist or breaker that we had to bring upstairs. We went downstairs to look for it but down there was even worse with tools and machinery everywhere. We couldn’t find what we were looking for. There were a few things that might possibly have been it but he didn’t seem to think that they were. This ended up being rather a hunt for this rather than a tidy-up. This girl came in and asked if anyone could fix a light for her because the plug wouldn’t reach. The Sergeant and I went to do it. We managed to find an extension cable that we had to cut into 2. This place was just not being tidied up and it was now 17:00 and the next group of people would be arriving imminently. We didn’t have this place tidied at all and it was really looking a mess.

Saturday 27th February 2021 – THAT WAS A …

sncb class AM08 multiple unit gare de leuven railway station belgium Eric Hall… long, long day!

And to give you some kind of clue about it, if you have a look at this image here you’ll see the time that this train is leaving the railway station at Leuven to make its way out to Halle.

It wasn’t even my train either. It was advertised as “Brussels” but it went along the city-centre avoiding lines past Merode, Schuman and that way. I had to wait another 20 minutes for my train to pull into the station.

Having gone to bed at some kind of relatively early hour (like 23:10) I staggered out of bed a couple of minutes after the alarm went off at 05:00. There were my sandwiches to make for lunch (and I’m glad that I did – read on), the packing, some tidying up, and then I could head off to the railway station.

sncb class AM96 multiple unit gare du midi bruxelles belgium  Eric HallIt was at 06:16 when a train to Brussels Midi came into the station. With it being Saturday morning, a lot of the early commuter trains aren’t running.

It’s one of the AM 96 multiple units, te ones with the doughnut ring around the front that make them airtight when two or more are coupled together. And an added novelty, when they are joined in tandem, the driving cabs at the join pivot out of the way so that passengers can pass from one unit to the next.

They are actually quite comfortable for multiple-units and they are quite often used on long-distance routes where passenger numbers don’t warrant a locomotive with carriages.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4524 gare du midi bruxelles belgium Eric HallWe pulled into Brussels bang on time and I noticed that my train, the 07:17 to Strasbourg, was already in the station. It’s one of the TGV Reseau 38000 units that we travel on quite regularly.

Strangely, and rather uneasily, there were several other TGVs there too. The 06:06 to Marseilles hadn’t left yet and the one after that to Bordeaux was still at the platform. That didn’t seem at all normal to me and I suspected that there was something afoot.

As we waited for them to open the doors so that we could climb in, a hostess came by. She told us that someone had trespassed onto the railway at Ruisbroek and been struck by a passing train. Nothing was heading south towards Lille until the mess had been cleared up.

With nothing else to do, we boarded the train – and waited. And waited.

After about an hour or so they announced that the 06:06 TGV would be leaving “imminently” so we all piled out of our train onto that one. I’d probably missed my train from Paris to Granville by now so it really didn’t make much difference but moving anywhere was better than not moving at all.

We’d been on that one for about an hour or so when they announced that this one wasn’t going to go out either. They would be laying on a fleet of buses to take us to Lille.

But no chance of that. We’ll be there for ever. One thing about train apps on mobile phones is that you can check for other alternatives. And in 5 minutes time there would be a train leaving Brussels for De Panne (coincidentally, the same train that I’d come into Brussels on, but 2 hours later) and 5 minutes after that train were to pull into Gent St Pieters, there’s a local stopping train via Kortrijk to Lille-Flandres.

And then 10 minutes later, there’s an express train from Lille-Flandres to Paris Gare du Nord.

That was enough information for me. I grabbed my things and ran.

sncb class AM96 multiple unit gare de lille flandres railway station France Eric HallAnd here’s my train from Gent to Lille, here in a platform at the Lille-Flanders railway station.

It was one of those mornings when I was fated to travel on a whole fleet of AM96 multiple units. The one that took me to Gent was an AM96 but I wasn’t able to take a photo of that because it was already on the platform when I arrived there and it pulled out almost as soon as I climbed aboard.

And then this one is an AM96 too, but a rather special one, for a few of the fleet are dual-voltage machines designed to run on the French and on the Luxembourg railway networks as well as the Belgian network so that they can operate some cross-border services like this one.

No-one controlled the passengers on either of these two trains – no ticket inspector or anything so I didn’t need to argue or negotiate, which is always good news.

TGV reseau duplex INOUI 210 gare du nord paris France Eric HallThere were ticket inspectors on the turnstiles to the platform where the train to Paris was waiting but they didn’t need much persuading to let me on board.

The train was one of the Reseau Duplex double-decker trains, nice, fast and comfortable. Up on the top deck there’s a kind of small sofa at the top of the steps intended for people to make and receive phone calls instead of doing so in the main seating area disturbing everyone.

They aren’t booked out to passengers so I made a beeline for the sofa and that was where I stayed for the entire journey in relative comfort. A ticket collector came by so I told her my story and she didn’t seem to be bothered at all.

All in all it was quite a painless journey from that point of view.

From Paris Gare du Nord I took the metro to Paris Montparnasse and then went to the station offices to tell them my tale of woe. They weren’t too bothered either particularly. It goes without saying that I’d missed my train but they gave me a ticket for the next one. It meant a wait of about 1 hour and 50 minutes but there wasn’t really any alternative.

84565 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallThis train was pretty busy. Luckily they had given me a seat so I was fairly comfortable on the way home.

While I’d been waiting I’d eaten my sandwiches so I spent most of the journey home editing my Greenland photos. It’s nice to have a laptop that is powerful enough to do all of that kind of thing. I managed to shift quite a few by the time that we pulled into the railway station at Granville.

It was 17:45 when I returned home – 3.5 hours later than I was intending. And more than 12 hours after I’d set out from my digs in Leuven. No wonder that I was pretty fed up. It meant that I hadn’t had my couple of hours chilling out before I had to start to do things.

Tea was out of a tin and then I listened to a repeat of my “Strife” concert. If you missed it, it’s available AS A PODCAST.

And now I’m off to bed. I’ve had a very long day and I’m exhausted. And no day off tomorrow as I’m having visitors.

Friday 29th January 2021 – HERE I AM …

… back home again after my marathon voyage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’ll look forward to that.

Monday 25th January 2021 – ONE TRAIN …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 3rd January 2021 – THERE ARE NO …

… dictaphone notes tonight.

And that’s for the simple reason that not only did I not go on a nocturnal voyage, I actually didn’t go to sleep. I had what they call around here a nuit blanche.

It was just after midnight when I finally went to bed, having packed away everything, and with having to get up at 05:00 I didn’t even undress. I just lay on the bed in the hope that I would drift off to sleep.

However it wasn’t to be and when the first alarm did go off at 05:00 I was actually up and about making my sandwiches.

sncb class 18 electric locomotive 1830 leuven railway station belgium Eric HallIt didn’t take me long to leave the apartment and having deposed my key in the key box, I headed off to the station carrying my rather heavy load.

And just look at the time on the noticeboard over the top of the head of the passenger to the right of the train. This is my train coming into the station and it’s just 05:33. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been out and about at that time. Our train by the way is one of the SNCB workhorse locomotives, a Class 18 electric locomotive taking a train to Oostende.

The train didn’t hang about for very long in the station. It soon cleared off to Brussels and for the first time since I don’t know when, my ticket was checked by a guard.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4518 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallIn the Gare du Midi in Bruseels my train to Lille (actually, to Strasbourg but I was getting out at Lille) was already at the platform.

It’s one of the Reseau 38000 TGV trainsets on which we travel quite frequently and while there was an hour to go before it was due to depart, the doors were locked so we had to loiter around for ages in the freezing cold.

And freezing cold it was too. 2°C it was yesterday evening and I imagine that it’s colder than that right now. And just look at the time here too.

We left on time and arrived in Lille on time too because I had just 20 minutes to cross the town from Lille Europe railway station to Lille Flandres. I’ve no idea why they do this at all because there is no margin for error. And there were hordes of people flooding off my train up the road into town and the Paris train.

What would they do if the brussels train would ever be late? Would they leave everyone stranded in Lille or would they hold the Paris train? I can’t see why they can’t set the Paris train to depart from Lille Europe.

TGV Reseau duplex 210 gare du nord paris France Eric HallThe train in Lille Flandres is one of the TGV Reseau Duplexes, the “double deckers.

We all piled into the train and bang on schedule it set off like a rocket. And for the first time so far today, my eyes started to sag and I drifted away for a minute or two (and really, only a minute or two too).

Our train made it to Paris Nord a couple of minutes early, and that’s a rare event too. And so I took a phot of it and then headed off for metro line 4, carrying my heavy load. There was plenty of food left over from my stay in Leuven and I wasn’t going to leave any of it behind.

The metro wasn’t all that busy and there were no delays or anything like that. One thing that I like, and one of the (many) reasons why I chose Granville as a place to which to retire is that the trains from Paris to Granville depart from the Gare Montparnasse which is on the direct line from Paris Gare du Nord and there’s no need to change trains in the bowels of the city.

There was about 50 minutes to wait at the Gare Montparnasse and once more we weren’t allowed to board the train to wait in the warmth. These big railway stations in Paris are open and really draughty. There’s no-where to go that’s out of the cold.

When the train set off I settled down comfortably and even dozed off for a few minutes, only to be awoken by the ticket collector. And then I couldn’t go back to sleep again, although I was in no state to do any work or anything. I did manage to eat my sandwiches though.

84559 84579 gec alstom regiolis gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallKeeping up what seems to be becoming a habit, we were early into Granville and our train, the one on the left, found a berth next to one of its brothers in an adjacent bay.

Struggling under the weight of my load I headed for home and arrived here bang on 14:30. I’d left one of the radiators working but even so it wasn’t all that warm in here and I had to wind up the heating. With a coffee I came and sat down on my chair but although I didn’t go to sleep, I didn’t do very much.

Later on when I recovered my strength, I went into the kitchen.

First off, I fried a couple of large onion and plenty of garlic in a saucepan (not a frying pan).

When they were brown, I tipped in all of the rest of the mixed frozen veg from Leuven and all of the frozen broccoli except for four stalks, and stirred it all in, along with a mixture of herbs and spices.

When it was all nice and browning, I tipped in the rest of the soya cream that I’d been using for my mince pies before I went away and added some water too, and left it to simmer for half an hour while I took out a pile of rubbish to the bins outside.

Having left it for a half-hour or so, I whizzed it all up with the whizzer and it made one of the most delicious cream of vegetable soups that I’ve ever tasted. I treated myself to a bowl as a snack.

For tea, I had a roast dinner with the seitan slices that were left over from Christmas with roast potatoes and a pile of Christmas vegetables that I’d frozen before I went away along with the broccoli that I’d set aside earlier. And I deserved it too. My New Year’s Eve meal was nothing much to write home about at all.

So now I’m caught up with my notes from this trip I’m off to bed. There’s an alarm tomorrow and I’m back at work. My Christmas break didn’t last long, did it?

Monday 28th December 2020 – HERE I ALL AM …

… not exactly sitting in a rainbow but pretty near enough. I’m curled up around a radiator in my little home from home in Leuven where I’ll be staying until Sunday.

And much as I like Leuven, it’s a pretty dismal state of affairs because firstly Alison is stranded in the UK by the new Covid rules and my appointment has now been pushed back until Thursday as I discovered today. So I could really have spent an extra two days at home, travelled on Wednesday and come home on Saturday thus saving a third day out.

But you live and learn.

What else you learn the longer that you live is that you can do it when you really try and so not only did I beat the third alarm, I was up and out of bed and running around while the 1st alarm was still ringing. And so plenty of time to tidy up, have a shower, take out the rubbish, back up the computer, send off a pile of radio files, make some sandwiches for lunch and cut a large slice of fruit bread to take with me for breakfast – pretty good and nourishing stuff, this fruit bread.

Tons of stuff on the dictaphone too, And what surprised me was that I was able to leave the bed so early with all of this going on. I’m surprised that I’d even made it back home.

I was having to make tea for Marianne last night and the guy she was having to sit with who was ill so I made them a kind of roast dinner as best as I could which didn’t look too bad. But I realised that on his plate I’d forgotten the gravy so I mixed up a white sauce and put it on his plate and went to add the gravy powder to mix in, but first I added chocolate powder. I thought “that will never do” so I scraped it off the plate and put another lot on. The next thing that I tried to put on was coffee powder and hat didn’t work either. It took about 3 or 4 goes for me to actually get his sauce right
Before that, I’d been out for a walk and there were a couple of people loitering around so we had a bit of an ad-hoc game of football and it was quite pleasurable. I came back into the house. Later on that evening when I was writing up my notes I couldn’t settle and I couldn’t make myself comfortable, moving from 1 chair to the next and 1 machine to the next, then trying to find some paper to write it out in longhand. In the end I settled on a shorthand notes reporter’s diary but found out that it was full. All the time my brother was asking me questions about this and that and I was trying to answer him as well, and I was trying to write out this report and I wanted to embellish it, to make it look a lot more than it is but I could never do it. I was getting so confused by the fact that I just couldn’t get comfortable and couldn’t make a start and couldn’t get anywhere with this
Art one time a girl dresses as a ballerina appeared on the scene and you could see according to the effort that she was putting into it and the way that she was walking and holding herself that it was a great big effort. I hoped that she would hold out physically and with the virus because it would be very sad if she were to succumb to it with all of this effort.
Later on I had to go and pick up Alvin from Hampton Close. I had my motorbike, my old CX and I decided that i’d go and pick him up. That went OK for a while until I got to Chester and I thought that I’d better programe the route to Hampton Close on my GPS because it’s years since I’ve been there. I spent ages fiddling around trying to make the GPS work. I had to drop off something at someone’s place and coming back I couldn’t make the GPS work. It took ages with all of this messing about to get it to go. The bracket broke off it and when I made it work I couldn’t programme it. It was all a nightmare, this journey was for some reason. Suddenly it worked and it was 18 minutes to there but I only had 15 minutes left but I thought that that’s not too much of a problem. He’s not going to be that concerned. Then I noticed on the back of the butty box the L plates had all faded off and you couldn’t read that it was an L plate. I was worrying about that for a while but suddenly realised that I didn’t need L plates on it because I had a full licence. Yes, I had to post off Ann’s present, that’s why I’d stopped and had to take it to the post office. Then Alvin came. he was there. I told him the story of my adventures which he thought was hilarious. We mounted the bike ready to move off to wherever we were going to next.

I’d gone out for a walk and I was the other side of Sandbach close to the motorway. I’d taken the wrong route which I’d taken before which was a dead end and I had to retrace all my steps. This time though I thought that I’d push on and climb up this embankment at the side of the motorway into a field and walk along the field at the edge There’s bound to be a bridge that goes over at some point I walked on and by now the motorway had transformed into a canal so I was walking along the towpath of an abandoned canal. It gradually came into a little village. I was really enjoying this walk and thought that this is going to end bu around Middlewich way. It’s a long way home but it will be really nice and i’ll stop for an ice cream. I walked through this little village. There was a shop there with its shutters half down. I thought an ice cream would be nice but i’ll push on to the next village. At this point there was some guy messing around in the road. He couldn’t make up his mind whether to go left or right so I swerved round him, making some kind of remark but banged my hip on a parked car. he didn’t say anything aboutt hat but he was going on and on about what he was doing. So I dropped in that I was working on the radio and things that I was doing that I’d inflated. Then he had to go and sort out a puncture in his car so I took him as a passenger in mine which was strange because I’d been walking up to this point. There were 3 of us in the end in this car. He was still going on about his radio and I was still going on about mine. He was saying “that’s a fine hobby to have”. I said “it’s a bit more than a hobby”. We reached Middlewich in the end and he told me where he wanted me to drop him off. he asked how much he owed me for the ride. I replied “nothing. I hope that someone would do the same for me some day if I ever need it”.

But the walk around Sandbach and Middlewich reminded me of a walk that I’d been on during a nocturnal ramble when I’d set out to walk from Chester to Nantwich via, of all places, Wrexham. Or as the skunk said when the wind changed – “it all comes back to me now”.

christmas lights rue lecampion Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallHaving organised myself as much as I could, I headed out for the railway station.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we haven’t as yet seen the town’s Christmas light in all their glory but this morning they were illuminated. My route took me up the Rue Lecampion and we can see here exactly what they have done as far as this street goes.

In fact, it’s all rather underwhelming, isn’t it? I can recall the decorations from last year being so much better than these. It looks as if the town has been on an economy drive this year.

christmas lights place generale de gaulle Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallA few days ago in the daylight we had a trip around the back of the kiddies’ roundabout in the Place Generale de Gaulle to see what they had been doing there.

This morning, the Christmas lights were illuminated here too and we can see how they are getting on now. On the left illuminated by a pink light is supposed to be a wooden polar bear, and I suppose that a blind man would be pleased to see it. And strangely enough, a couple of Christmas trees further along weren’t lit up at all. That’s a strange decision.

The newspaper offices at the end of the street are all rather garish and somewhat tasteless but I don’t suppose that there is any particular reason for them to bother themselves too much.

christmas lights cours jonville Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallFinally, I walked along the Cours Jonville.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that a few weeks ago we saw the electricians stringing up the light in the trees down here with a cherry picker. With the lights being on, we can see their handiwork today. It’s all nice, bright and airy, but it doesn’t exactly inspire the imagination, does it? The could have done much more than this with the facilities that they have.

But I wasn’t going to hang about and argue. By now the rain had started again so I pushed off towards the railway station. And the farther I went, the more and the harder the rain fell.

gec Alstom Regiolis 84574 gare de Granville railway station Manche Normandy France Eric HallBy the time that I reached the railway station I resembled something like a haggard, drowned rat. But at least my train was already in the platform so once I’d stamped my ticket I was able to clamber aboard and find my seat.

Today I was right by the rest room and right in front of the luggage rack so it was something of a convenient seat. No-one sitting next to me either so I could eat my fruit bread and fruit in comparative quiet and luxury.

To while away the journey I uploaded all of the backup files that I’d done this morning and then started to go through to identify duplicate files and remove the earlier versions

snow near vire Normandy France Eric HallIf you think that the rain that we were having was pretty rough, we weren’t having it as rough as some people were.

By the time that our train reached the region in between Vire and Argentan the heavy rain had turned to snow and thrre was a lovely white colour in the fields all around the train as we sped on to Paris. It didn’t hold my attention for very long though because I dozed off to sleep. And when I awoke again near Versailles we had long-since left it behind.

We reached Paris more or less on time and compared to how it has been just recently, it was quite busy. And we had to wait a while for a Metro which was something of a surprise.

And somewhere along the route a couple of cleaners climbed into the train with a cleaning machine the size of a small zamboni. That disrupted everyone on board.

TGV Reseau Duplex 213 gare du Nord Paris France Eric HallWe arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris with plenty of time to spare and I was luck enough to find a seat straight away where I could sit in comparative comfort until our train was called. These big French mainline stations are draughty, windswept affairs with very little public seating.

Today’s train is one of the usual TGV Reseau Duplex double-decker trains, old but comfortable and rattle along at a rapid rate of knots towards Lille. it was crowded too, although once again I was lucky enough to have a double seat all to myself so that I could eat my sandwiches in comfort.

And that bread that I made the other day is delicious. And furthermore, there’s half a loaf awaiting me in the freezer for when I return, along with the leftover frozen leeks, broccoli and endives.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4525 Gare du Midi Brussels Belgium Eric HallWe were a few minutes late arriving in Lille Flandres Railway Station so we had something of a scramble across town to the Lille Europe railway station for the TGV coming from the Midi that was going to take us on to Brussels.

By the time we arrived, the train was already in the station so making sure this time that it was in fact the correct train, I dashed on board to grab my seat. This time I wasn’t quite as lucky. I had a neighbour which meant that unfortunately I wasn’t able to spread myself out very much.

One thing that I forgot to do with this one was to check the times so I couldn’t tell how the journey went. But it passed off without any incident.

multiple unit automotrice AM80 303 Gare du Midi Brussels Belgium Eric HallArriving in Brussels I was in time for the 15:37 to Leuven and Liège. That was late pulling into the station and with a technician scrambling around in the drivers cab, it was very much later pulling out.

It’s one of the old, dirty graffiti-ridden AM80 multiple units and it’s high time that these relics of a bygone age were put out to grass somewhere but it brought us into Leuven and now that the rain had stopped I had a nice walk down to my hotel in the Dekenstraat.

For a change they’ve put me in a different room than usual, but it’s still an upgrade so I’m not complaining. And there was a little Christmas present for me too which was a lovely little touch.

Later on I went to the Carrefour and stocked up with shopping, but I forgot a few things like the vegan mayonnaise so I’ll have to go again. And I failed to notice that the tinned apricots didn’t have a ring-pull so I had to hack my way in as best as I could.

Having fallen asleep already while typing out my notes, I’m off to bed. No alarm – I’m having a lie in tomorrow. And then I have several days of Welsh homework to catch up with. There will be the dictaphone notes too, and another trip to the shops for the stuff that I forgot so it isn’t actually going to be very much of a day of rest

Friday 30th October 2020 – OUCH!

gare du nord paris France Eric HallThat was an expensive day today!

So while you admire a few more photos of the outside of the Gare du Nord in Paris before they start on any redevelopment, you’ve probably gathered that I’ve been on the move today.

What with France going into lockdown, and the word on the streets (thanks, Alison) suggesting that Belgium might be following suit imminently, I reckoned that if I don’t go to Belgium right I won’t ever go at all

Hence my frantic rush around yesterday to change all of my tickets and organise all of my paperwork ready to travel this morning while I still can.

gare du nord paris France Eric HallMuch to my surprise this morning, I was very very close to beating the second alarm, never mind the third alarm. That’s progress, and it goes to show that I can do it when I really try.

Pleny of stuff on the dictphone too, as I was to discover when I had a listen to it later. I must have travelled quite far during the night.

I was with Mike and Jerry and all of that lot. We were doing something in he mountains. There was a catalogue that I was thumbing through, trying to get ideas for Christmas presents and I got to this illuminated map of the far north of Canada and the entrance to the North West Passage round by Bellot Strait, that area round there. It was a crystal, cut-glass etching upright on a plinth. I thought that that was wonderful so I said to Jerry “here’s what I’m going to get for you for your Christmas”. They all came over and were all poring over this and having a good look at it, working out where they could go to get one, all this kind of thing; It was powered by an old mobile phone thing that you plugged into it bit it really was something impressive

Later on there was something else going on about a girl and boy. They were staying in my apartment. The girl was asleep in bed and all this time this boy was sitting by her, looking at her, making sure that she didn’t fall out, something like that. When she awoke it developed into a kind-of romantic scene between the 2 of them. I was rather disappointed that she’d decided on him but I thought that they would make a very nice couple anyway so I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Somawhere along the line we were working out some kind of calculations for something or other. I remember saying that we had to add two on for something, but then thinking that there was a load of other little things, fixtures and fittings, tha kind of thing.They would all need costing into this as well. I didn’t really know how much they were going to be and this was going to confuse the issue a lot

This morning, I finished off the packing, took the rubbish out, washed the bins, did some tidying up vacuuming, and even washed the floor round by where the kitchen is, to make sure that everything is clean and tidy for when I come back.

Having fed the sourdough and put it in the fridge, I bleached all of the drain outlets and then hit the streets.

neptune port de Granville harbour Manche Normandy France Eric HallThis morning proved that I had been right about something.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that a few days ago we saw piles of roadstone gravel being delivered and I predicted that very soon we would be having one of the gravel boats in shortly to take it all away.

And sure enough, as I headed down the Rue des Juifs into town, I glanced over the wall and there moored at the quayside is Neptune, one of the three or four that come in here every now and again.

When I first came here, there was one in the port every month or two, but this is the first since March and before that it was almost exactly 12 months ago. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing one again.

84569 GEC Alstom Regiolis Granville Manche Normandy France Eric HallFor a change, I followed the road along the Boulevard Louis Dior and through the car park of the regional offices of the département, that way to the railway station.

The coffee machine was once again out of order and he train wasn’t in either which meant that we had to wait around on a windswept platform until it finally arrived. Another one of our usual GEC Alstom Regiolis multiple unit.

Just a one-unit train today instead of the usual 2-unit ones, and even so, there was still plenty of room for us to spread out. I had a seat all to myself and spent most of the journey copying files from a portable drive onto the little Acer laptop.

Bang on time in Paris. probably a little early in fact as we had to wait for 5 minutes for a slot to get into the station. Not many people in the Metro either – in fact there was only one person in the queue for Metro tickets at the Gare du Nord so I went and bought another pack of 10.

gare du nord paris France Eric HallNot that I need them yet but usually there’s a queue a mile long and I’m always pushed for time when I need to buy some more, so I may as well get ahead while I can.

There was half an hour before my rain was due to depart so I went outside to take a few more photos of the exterior. As there are plans for the redevelopment of the station, I wanted to make some kind of record of how it looks.

It will be a big shame if they do any damage to the main train shed; It’s a wonderful example of 19th Century railway architecture.

TGV Duplex Inoui 207 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallBy now it was time for me to go back into the station and see about my own train.

Much to my surprise, they had already started boarding. That’s not like them at all. Usually it’s 15 minutes prior to departure and not a minute before. And so I quickly took a photograph of our train – one of the TGV “Duplex” double-decker train sets.

Then on to the platform through the electronic gates that check your ticket, and how I wish that they would install them at Lille Europe, for reasons that you will soon find out.

TGV Duplex Inoui 215 Paris Gare du Nord France Eric HallThis is a double train-set and of course, my seat is in the second unit. Right down the end of the train too in the wagon just behind he driving unit. At least it means that I don’t have to walk far at the other end of the journey.

And despite it being a double train-set, i was pretty empty too. Lockdown is clearly working in France and potentially in Belgium and very few people seem to be travelling about.

The journey was pretty uneventful and we arrive in Lille Flanders on time as well. I’m not used to this at all. And then there was the usual inconvenient walk down the road to Lille Europe to catch the train from Montpelier to Brussels.

TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt 4512 gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallThere was only a wait of about 10 minutes before the train came in so we were soon on our way.

And herein lies the problem.

When I went to the railway station at Granville to change my ticket from Saturday to today, the booking clerk typed out the details and handed me the ticket. And like a fool, I didn’t check it.

When the ticket collector checked it, he noticed that instead of 14:45 she had typed 15:54, and so of course it wasn’t valid for the train that I was on. After quite an argument and despite using my best persuasive powers I was still stuck with a penalty fare of €70:00.

And serves me right for my awn stupidity.

multiple unit sncb am80 automotrice gare du midi brussels belgium Eric HallOnce again, there wasn’t long to wait in Brussels for my train to Leuven.

and to my dismay it was one of the ancient, elderly AM80 multiple units. These machines are on their last legs, with old vinyl seats and linoleum floors, and covered in graffiti inside and out. Not a very good advert for the Belgian railway system I imagine that they will be the next batch of machines to be replaced.

Within an hour I’d arrived at Leuven, walked down to the Dekenstraat, picked up my keys and installed myself in my room. Another upgrade this time – business must be quiet.

Later on I went to Delhaize for my shopping where amongst other things I bought a tin of baked beans. That was because the fritkot down the road was open, so tea tonight was chips and beans. Delicious.

Tomorrow I’m having a lie-in. I’ve done enough these last few days so a rest willdo me good. I hope that no-one comes along to spoil it.