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Tuesday 31 May 2016

Off To Visit An Old Friend In Grenoble.

Journal  Part 21 -  Journey to Grenoble Day Two (April2014)
 Woke up and went outside to discover it was bloody cold – 3 degrees – and that I had a serious eye infection again in my right eye.
Could hardly see out of it and sometimes couldn’t. This was to prove to be a trial for the whole day’s drive. After a quick breakfast and a stare at the biggest and most expensive looking motor home I have seen so far. Dutch and the people looked stuck-up and unfriendly. Got to Le Puy quite quickly, a charming town dominated by a strange religious statue up on a hill in its centre. Also as we left the town there were plenty of examples of ‘puys’, the volcanic, cone-shaped hills dotted around the place. Heading across the mountains of Ardeche towards Valence, the road was full of camper vans and all the villages we went through (not that many) seemed to be full of cyclists and walkers enjoying the May Bank Holiday weekend.
I was glad when we reached the slope going down into the Rhone Valley though I had a scare when the engine stopped and I suddenly had no power and no steering on a nasty bend. Luckily I didn’t panic and got the motor started again. It hasn’t happened before or since but got me thinking of the need for quick reactions driving the Winnie. Drove through Valence and past the music shop of my old friend Fred which burned down recently. Good to see that he has got premises organised just down the road.
Le Puy, taken as we drove through.
Out of town following the river Isere the view is dominated by the Vercors Mountains which we have to go round before heading down towards Grenoble which was reached quite quickly. Alain came to meet me in a Casino Supermarket car park to guide me back to his where he parked me up a wide alley hat runs alongside the battered building that holds his theatre company and his flat.
After getting installed and his putting eye drops in my runny eye, guests for his 58th birthday party started arriving. I didn’t know anyone there but got talking to two ex-performers with the company, two ladies from Valence and a guy who had seen me play with Stradivarius with Alain back in the day. A small crop-haired older guy started rolling very strong spliffs and soon the four of us partaking of these went into quiet observer mode while the effects wore off a bit. Then we continued chatting while various people put on various bits of vinyl that Alain had left there to be played. Many of the guests were present or past performers in the troupe and were colourful characters.
The party or a bit of it.
Good fun.
Slept in till eleven the next day and then, after a simple lunch, took Eddy for a long walk along the Isere river and took a load of photos of the views around the town, snow covered mountains being the main attraction. In the evening we had a long aperitif whilst catching up on our lives since we had seen each other. And we chatted about Alain’s son Charlie who was at the party, a sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome, and surviving that quite well, now in his early thirties. Alain was interested in the fact that I had worked with many young people with this syndrome. We also watched film of his first child, Charlotte, a very talented singer/songwriter, daughter of his first wife Veronique who I had known well. He is on his fourth wife, a lady from Burkina Faso, and away in Spain, the relationship being in disarray. We finished chatting round 130 in the morning. Alain has meetings and such most mornings but a trip up into the Chartreuse mountains is promised for this afternoon.
Eddy enjoying being allowed indoors.
Eddy loves it here and being allowed inside. He has spent no time inside on this trip so far – all my friends seem to have 'no dogs allowed' rules. My eye is getting better slowly thank goodness.
My good old friend Alan. More about him in another post.

Monday 30 May 2016

Notes From My Travel Journal - Up Into The Queyras (April 2014)

Journal  Part 24 – The Queyras
We woke to brilliant blue sky with scarcely a cloud and I wanted to get off on the road for a day trip up into the Queyras, an area of the French Alps which is also a National Park. Just up the road from the camp site is the town of Guillestre, a town a few centuries ago that was pillaged by troops who had struggled across the Queyras and down the narrow gorge of the River Guils from what is now Italy. It is easy to see why the French built Fort Mont Dauphin, at the French end of the gorge: to make sure this attack couldn’t happen again.
I can imagine why they wanted to pillage after making that journey because they did it without the help of 20th century technology which created the need for passable roads and enabled them to be built. By the 20th century men may not have been able to move mountains but they could certainly move parts of them and the way the road through this gorge was made was a good example. 
No doubt in the 19
th century beginnings had been made so that the small towns further up the valley where the gorge had opened out could communicate with the rest of the world or at least the Durance Valley. And in places the road seemed little better than it would have been then. There has been no real widening of the road and the most of the tunnels have none of the 2oth century improvements such as being genuinely two lane or being lit up. So the drive is hard, intense care and concentration is needed and when you see the drop you know that going off the road meant certain death.

The first real sign of the imperious power of the 20th century is a high dam, built by Electricite de France (EDF) for generating power. The French have been good at this, much better than we are in Britain, and a large percentage of French electricity comes from these dams. And behind the dam was a beautifully blue lake and the road beside it was much better, no doubt improved at the same time as the dam was built and the valley bottom had been flooded. And this road was straighter and allowed the brain to relax a bit and not be so concentrating on driving well that it could observe and consider at the same time. Having seen quite a few almost without noticing them, I was struck, as I have been throughout my wanderings in the mountains, by the number of colourfully Lycra-dressed and helmeted mainly male cyclists heading up the same road as me. Some of them looked older than me yet I have to regard them almost as a different species. No way would I be attempting to cycle up this road, my Winnie hardly ever got out of third gear and a lot of the time struggled to get over 30 mph.
Suddenly there was a ridge nearly closing the valley and we were back to narrow hairpins as we approached the Chateau of Queyras, a beautiful structure looking most medieval but nothing like 19th Century which dominated the passage. Just before there was a big memorial to the French Resistance with loads of names etched in it. I can imagine that the German invaders must have had problems getting up into this area as there was no room for tanks and no way round, the mountains going up almost vertically at this point. Behind the castle, in the valley beyond the ridge, sat the old town, on the Italian side which suggests that the town would have considered danger to be coming from the French – the present Italian border is less than 20 miles away as the crow flies – and would suggest that this area was once not in France but in Piedmont, the Italian province just up the road.
And just up the road there were roads going off, this one to Briancon in the north and one to Italy in the east, but both passes were marked as closed. The small town of Aiguilles was just a few miles up the road and I decided to go to the end of the line, to the next village whose name I cannot remember but which was a ski station with chairlifts next to the road. Going on from here the road was declared unsuitable for vehicles over 3.5 tons, which the Winnie certainly is, but the track looked to have once been metalled and not too bad. I stopped somewhere there to take some photos and thought about having lunch but Eddy cleared off back towards the village and wouldn’t come back – he must have spotted another dog. I had to drive back and get him, the only incident that was not perfect and he got me angry, anger, an emotion I was rarely feeling these days.

A bit further and there was a sign saying 10kph for the next 6 kilometres, the end of the track which was indicated as leading to a viewing point for the surrounding mountains. We pulled over onto some grass and I hoped to see some marmots but instead we just had lunch then continued, only stopping to read a plaque that announced that this track had been made by the army in the early thirties to facilitate the movement of troops in this border country. After lunch we discovered why there had been a weight limit. There was a wooden bridge whose floor was planks. I went over this one very slowly.
We had been passed whilst eating lunch by several mini-buses of the sort they use for moving tourists about, the sort of tourists who are fit and are going to be climbing, walking long distances, white water rafting, kayaking, cross country cycling and other such activities well beyond me these days, if ever. They were parked up in this large area indicating the end of the track. So we turned round ready to head off back home and got out and took a load of photos. We spotted some huge boulders, the size of a small dwelling, which had obviously rolled down the mountainsides at some point. I would not like to have been driving when these came down. There were often biggish rocks by the road but none nearly as big as these monsters.
The journey back was fairly uneventful. I was more relaxed and really enjoyed the scenery. We spotted a young long-hair with a lovely dog picking up litter by the roadside, old men digging small patches of earth which had had all the stones removed at some point, the stones being used to mark out ownership. I spotted a marmot crossing the road and was sure I got it on camera but no.
We pulled over at a ‘tabac’, a licenced tobacconist. Getting hold of cigarettes can be difficult because, unlike in the UK, they are only sold in such licensed shops. In there I also bought a referee's whistle on a yellow cord to use with Eddy – I’ve tried it on every walk since and it seems to work, alerting him to come back to me and receive head strokes and be called a good Eddy.
Because of my low speed compared to locals, particularly school bus drivers and the like, I was constantly pulling off the road to let them speed on and received thankful signs from the other drivers when I did so. Then we were back, quicker than I thought and I couldn’t wait to see how my photos were. As usual, most the ones I had taken whilst driving were not brilliant, mainly due to my dirty windscreen.
When I took Eddy out an hour or so later, we got into a meadow where he could run around exploring while I sat down enjoying the view and the sun. I got to thinking about the book I am reading, about the authors presentation of the classical and romantic views of the world. This I remember had gone straight over my head when I was doing my business studies degree but been of great interest to me during my teaching course and even more so when I was studying for a M.Ed. By that time we were talking about the paradigms of objective an subjective realities and I was firmly in the subjective camp, particularly as a result of working with disturbed young people. I was fed up with the scientific, logical, mass-data approach which I had seen failing. I knew that reality changes from person to person, that for every event there would be as many perceptions as there were people involved and that clinical, behaviorist's approaches failed time after time with young people who fell outside of ‘the norm’. I had considered myself an outsider for years and saw nothing in life likely to change that view.

After dinner I watched a good recent film called The Railway Man, a moving, well acted film about the effects of war and about the healing power of forgiveness, for the forgiver and the forgiven. That led to more thought so I finished the night with some outtakes of Mock the Week, some of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) comments by this irreverent bunch of comedians. Late night followed.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Out Into The Desert.

Our gateway to the Sahara.

One of my trips to Morocco was a group trip, a couple of weeks exploring the country. We visited most of the interesting cities and visited the south, west to east. Now, I had never been on a group trip before, and, being a bit of a solitary traveller in my later life, wasn't sure it would be for me. But the group, heavily Australian, were lovely, the guides fantastic and the route took me to many new places plus, at the end, my old favourite, Essouaira.

Our waiting camels

But possibly the most exciting couple of days was when we went into the Sahara Desert for a 2-day trip, riding out into the desert on camels, spending a night out there and then riding back to our starting point. Among the things we learnt was that the whole area where we started from had suffered severe flooding a couple of years earlier which seemed beyond belief. Also, it was surprisingly chilly and, in fact, quite freezing when the sun had gone down.
Riding camels is not that difficult but rather uncomfortable, especially after the first hour. These beasts just plod on, following the leader and are very sure-footed even when going across the sloping side of a dune. We spent the time shouting to one another, taking photos and making sure we weren't about to fall off from our quite high perches.
But I know we were all very pleased when we came to our small Berber encampment in a fairly big flat space amongst the dunes.
Once dismounted and our belongings stowed away in the tents, the younger members grabbed some surf boards and started surfing down the steepest dunes, not for me. And two of our party climbed up the highest dune around and then came back to announce that Dean had proposed to Natalie and they were now engaged to be married; they both worked in the travel business and now have their first baby.
The happy couple.
When the sun disappeared the cold became quite noticeable and we all huddled into one big tent to eat the lovely food prepared for us by the unseen Berber womenfolk. This meal was followed by a spell outside round a roaring fire and our Berber guides and some others of their tribe, entertained us with some local music and we all had a good laugh, not at them, but at jokes told.
Me and my camel.
Then it was off to bed and I found that fully-clothed and with additional clothing and a hairy, thick Berber blanket, I was still too cold to sleep for ages. And then had to stumble our to find the loo in the middle of the night which was quite unfunny.
At first light we were up, had a hot drink and were back on the camels, heading for the simple inn where we were to have breakfast and head off to our next stop in our minibus. You can see how early it was by the lengths of our camel shadows.
I was jolly glad it was over when we got there, my bum was suffering from the hardness of the saddle and I was very much in need of food. But it was an experience I wouldn't have missed and will always remember. How people can live out in the desert is beyond me but its silent vista has to be seen to be believed.

Friday 27 May 2016

The Country Outside Europe I Have VIsited The Most.

A marvellous waiter in my favourite restaurant in Marrakech.

In fact it is a tie between the USA and Morocco, 5 times each, followed by Dominica and South Africa, twice each. Then there is a long list of once each - Egypt, Mauritius, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Gambia, Senegal and very quickly, Jamaica, Kenya and Qatar.
But Morocco wins because my last visit to the USA was in 1989 and I have no intention of returning, partly because I jumped bail, but that is another story of escape.
I first went to Morocco back in 1973 with my first wife and our three-year old son, Sam. Back then, there weren't that many tourists except people on the hippy trail which included us in a way. And in spite of many adventures (yet another escape story or two) I was very taken with the place and wanted to go back again.

The town square in a town out in the sticks

This didn't happen for many years till I returned with my second lady partner and her three teenage children in 2003, thirty years later. And the country had really changed. Now there were loads of tourists and the country had modernised somewhat. And we had some adventures too.
I've since been back three times by myself, although once was a group trek so I wasn't really alone. That was a great holiday because we really visited all parts of Morocco and with great guides. I realised that I was most impressed by the Berber population and the High Atlas and the land further south. I have been back to Essouaira three times since my first visit back in the early 70's and that seaside town has at least tripled in size being now a popular seaside destination for the middle classes of Marrakech, a mere 4 hours drive away on the new motorway.

Essouaira, behind the port

I always go nowadays either in late November or late February when the weather is fine but the place is less crowded and Essouaira is a good base for renting a car and exploring more of the south of the country. I have always found good guest houses but next time I will probaby try AirBnB. Because there will be a next time, quite possibly the coming winter when I always like to get away to somewhere a bit sunnier and warmer and to see different things. I might even drive down there in my own car which allows me the alternative of sleeping in it, particularly when away from my base.
But, for now, here are some photos from my last trip in 2013, a break I took from looking after my mum (Social Services replaced me, they gave me 70 days off a year, much needed).

The beach in Essouaira.

So, enjoy the photos and you can look forward to more and a more detailed account next winter. And, if you are thinking of taking a trip to Morocco, I thoroughly recommend Essouaira as a destination. It's beautiful, friendly and not expensive (outside of summer holiday dates). And if you like sea food and the beach, it's the place for you.

Monday 23 May 2016

Extract from My Travel Journal 2014 (photos will be added).

Journal  Part 10  -  On the road to a remote valley in Spain.
I felt so happy as I drove up the hill out of Najac and headed across the plateau and down to Laguepie. I was a little nervous: my route was in my head but not on paper and the map I had was not really detailed enough but I quite liked having to puzzle my way forward and felt ready for anything perhaps except for another breakdown.

I think this was taken at Gimont.

My first destination was Gimont, a small town on my route which I had chosen because it had a municipal camping car site with electric hook ups and water. It was only about 150 kilometres from Najac by the route I had studied on Google maps – it reckoned 2 and a half hours drive. So setting off just after midday was fine, planning to stop for lunch after about an hour. The route initially followed the Aveyron once I got down to Laguepie and was a road I knew quite well. It got me thinking about my ex-wife and how she was doing after having her gall bladder removed on Monday.
We stopped for a quick lunch by the river still in the Aveyron gorge with Eddy having a little wander but never going too far from Winnie. Then we were soon at Negrepollis where the gorge entered the plain and it was here going through a small town that a lorry forced me right over to the side of the road and my top mirror was smashed off as it hit a low branch of a platain tree. It was my first example of how lorries don’t give a toss and just keep beetling towards you even if you a bit wide.
I knew we had to get round Montauban, quite a large town, by taking the free motorway towards Toulouse but to come off it quite quickly and take the route nationale main road through Grenade. I started to worry I had missed the turning and took one only to find myself in a morass of suburban villages and then a large forest where again, the road being narrow, I was nearly forced into the roadside ditch by an oncoming lorry. Maybe I had been going too fast to in my anxiety to find my route again.
Suddenly I saw the name Beaumont which rang a bell and I set off in that direction on a busy route departmental, a secondary road. Here the amount of traffic was spoiling the drive as it dipped up and down cutting across several river valleys. If I had continued on this road, I discovered later, I would have got to my destination. But I saw a signpost to Grenade and took it not realising till later that I was going back on myself. On this winding road I was actually forced into the rough by a speeding truck and nearly lost control of my vehicle. I decided then and there that in future I would use major roads for all my journeys and only use minor roads when it was necessary to get to my final destination.
The last part of the journey was on a major road and I quickly got to Gimont, traversed the town and saw the camping car aire on the right side of the road just over the river. Traffic was heavy so I went on to the next roundabout before turning back and entering the site only to find it full (it was marked in the site guide as having room for ten camping cars and there were nine already. I was forced to stop on a sloping bit of land but was so happy to be there, I didn’t care and immediately took Eddy for a walk by the lake next to the site with its geese and ducks and fishermen.
When I returned, the camping car by the entrance had gone and two kind people helped me reverse into the slot which was much more level. Attached Eddy took on the role of camp guardianwhile I chatted with the owner of the next camping car. Him and his wife were on their first overnight stay having just picked up the vehicle. Like me they intended to live in it for a few years and it turned ot he had owned the restaurant in Laguepie where I had eaten a couple of times over the years. Small world.

The beach at Biarritz, 100 metres from the campervan park.

I was up quite early – Eddy has been waking me up at 7:20 most mornings, then lays across me for a cuddle for 15 minutes or so, then we get up if we have to. The drive to Biarritz, my next destination, was quite a long one – 5 hours according to Google, but quite straightforward and all on major roads. We drove down to and through Tarbes, quite an attractive city and then headed for Pau, stopping for lunch on a wasteland just before that city. Pau took a while to get through and was very Spanish looking as in having street after street of 6 storey apartment blocks. I didn’t see anything particularly interesting there and was glad to get out of it. I had one slight square when some idiot unloading a small builder’s truck, hauled a long plank right out in front of me – I missed it by inches. Next stop was Bayonne which I knew was the first of a series of towns which were literally next to each other on my map. I hit Bayonne at the time of the evening rush hour and was forced to crawl along for quite a while. Then we were going past Biarritz which I remember Google had said to do, quitting the main road to go back towards the town to find the camping car aire which I did quite quickly. It held 20 camping cars and looked pretty full but I found a space which I managed to back into with the  help of a guy from Stoke, a retired lorry driver. I couldn’t quite reach the electric hook up or water from where I was so I immediately took Eddy off to find the  beach which was even nearer than the advertised 5 minutes.
It was quite late in the afternoon and the sun was low but it looked lovely, the sandy beach, the rocks on each side of the cove and the mountains in the distance to the left, my first clear view of the Pyrenees. We stayed down there for a while and I got into conversation with a lady who turned out to be the wife of the Stoke ex-lorry driver.

Sunset at Biarritz

When I got back to the site as I was wandering around I got into conversation with another English couple. They had been living in their camping car for a couple of years but had hated Morocco where they said they were never left in peace by the locals wherever they stopped. I was not surprised, you have to have a good technique, friendly but firm to deal with this sort of opportunism and for this, speaking French is more than helpful.
Suddenly a man appeared with two big brutes of dogs, making Eddy look quite small. He was quite aggressive in attitude and was living in the oldest looking camper on the site with his ponytail, the worst side of French political hippies. Still Eddy put up a good show when attacked by one of the dogs which was off a lead and the man grabbed his dogs and left unamused.
I was in no rush the next day as Google said my drive to Vilario en Navarre, my final destination was just under 3 hours away. If only I knew. So me and Eddy had a good walk on the beach while I topped up the electric and then I added some water into my tank. At eleven some uniformed men came round to collect 10 euros for having stayed overnight and reminded me that 2 nights was the max – if I’d have left a bit earlier… Then all was ready, battened down and off we went. The road behind the remaining French towns was full of roundabouts but very pleasant with occasional views of beaches and the delightful basque-style houses with their brightly painted wooden beams.
I never saw the frontier, just suddenly realised that everything was written in Spanish (and Basque) and it was very different, busy, chaotic and scruffy and increasingly industrial. The roads however were all good and motorway-like, the main problem being roads entering from both sides. Why do the Spanish like 6 storey apartment blocks, particularly along both sides of main roads where they create canyon-like effects?

Resting by the roadside.

Now I knew that Google had had some problems finding my destination and that it was a bit complex near the end. I had copied out the directions for the last part of the journey, from leaving the motorway, and I hoped that would do. In San Sebastian I took the motorway, direction Pamplona, and also immediately we were climbing up into the mountains, at times only managing 30 mph. There was not much traffic so I was able to enjoy the views that became more and more stunning.
We stopped for lunch at a belvedere with views right down into a valley below and the mountains beyond and I tried not to worry about finding our tiny destination. Setting off again I was looking for the exit given by Google without success and eventually turned off because we were nearing Pamplona. I stopped at a service station and bought a map my first experience of dealing with the Spanish language for quite a time – I understood nothing. Comparing the map and my notes it seemed I had to take direction Estilla off the motorway and then take a left to the little village, not that the village was marked on the map, too small.
So, I found the road to Estilla which proved to be very narrow and after a few miles started to climb steeply and like a snake.
After a bit of this, we took a short break and Eddy enjoyed mountain forest for the first time in Spain. Then we climbed and climbed to a pass that was marked at 1600 metres and then we had the same in reverse but not quite so long as it ended on a forested plateau. There were no appropriate roads leading off to Vilario so I kept going and entering a small village I called out to a man on foot who proved to be the village baker. Generously, he took me into his bakery, got on his computer and printed out the route. Nothing like I had got and happily only about 20 kilometres to go. Down to the main road at Estilla, turn right, keep going until the small village of Acedo and turn right at the entrance to the village.

My friends' happy valley.

Easy as anything and I found myself going up the very narrow forested road, nearly missed the right turn to Vilario and recognised from Sam’s photos the high cliffs surrounding the valley. Pol had told me to cross the bridge and park there which I did. There were quite a few people about and some dogs. There was one lady with a baby who spoke English and offered to take me up to Pol and Fina’s house. I got out with Eddy who was immediately attacked by a large dog, a cross between a boxer and a Doberman to look at him. It took a while to end the fight which I thought was a draw although the next day I heard that the other dog had three bite wounds and Eddy had none. The other owner was fine about it blaming her dog for its aggression.
Having been shown their house, there was no-one there but I found a note from Pol saying he was working on a balcony 4 minutes to the north-west near the charcoal burner’s. After having found the village mainly by using my head, here was another test which, having initially gone north-east, I solved. It was suggested I could park up behind the church on a flat concreted area which was in fact the Basque squash (its got a name) court in season.

Parked behind the church on the Basque squash court.

We managed to get Winnie up there and I was presented with an incredible panoramic view of the whole valley and the cliffs of the surrounding mountains. Stunningly beautiful. I’d arrived and I didn’t want to leave, at least not in a hurry.


Musical Activities These Days

Besides having a virtual band, NAGAS2, our new album KARMA VORTEX is just out on most digital sites, I find time for other musical ventures. One of these is putting together short tune mixes for MiXcloud, the mix tape site.
See :
I also do some DJing and am doing so this coming Friday at Camping Des Etoiles near Najac for a private party.
Then this afternoon I am having a first session with a local singer/guitarist to see if we can put a set together for a local street festival later this year based on the square where I live.
Having spent most of the winter arranging and mixing our latest album, I am quite keen on getting some new music together and have some ideas I want to try out.
If you want to hear the music we have put together Kenneth Higgins, Nueng and myself, as Nagas2, best place to go and have a good listen is
And there are quite a few videos up on YouTube too.
But I do get reminded of my last band LASTWIND too. I'm sending a copy of our LIVE album, recorded whilst on tour with HAWKWIND in 2006, to a fan tomorrow. I get similar requests quite frequently : you can find Lastwind's music at, on YouTube.
And of course you can find both groups on SoundCLoud.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Earning Money From My Ride.

My wonderful 5-seater, Dacia Lodgy Mark2 MCV diesel 1.5 Eco2 estate car

I was up early again today, two days running, both around 8. There was a good reason though and that was first delivering my car for rental at the railway station and then, today, going to collect it. My client lives 3 stops down the line at La Guepie (the village outside of which the last governor of Hong Kong has his holiday home, or one of them at least). He has an electronic problem with his car which is taking time to fix. So he rented my car to go and do a big shop at one of the big supermarkets out of town, then go to a meeting in Montauban, a quite big place, well 4 times bigger than here at least. Then home for the evening and returning the car to me before taking the next train back. It cost him 42 euros for the rental through and I get 28 euros (the rest covers the insurance and the web site's small cut.
Then on Sunday evening another man is picking up my car leaving the next morning to drive up to Bourg en Bresse, about 500 kms north of here. He's returning the next day and will return my car just before going to work at 16h. He's a chef in a brasserie about 150 metres from here and has a beaten up wreck of a car which he didn't want to risk on such a long drive. I'll be earning 85 euros from this one.
This system is great for both parties. Having this source of extra cash relieves a lot of the concerns of living on a small pension (830 euros every four weeks). This is week four coming up which is where any shortfalls really hit. If I hadn't got this extra I'd have been eating out the cupboard (and freezer) where there are always things specially for stand-by - fish fingers and french fries in the freezer, Chinese noodles, baked beans, tinned cassoulet and paella and packeted soup. Reduced tobacco consumption (good thing?), reduced driving, no GnT, etc. and of course, absolutely no going out.
And for these clients of mine, having people like me around allows them to rent a car at a cheapish rate (if you are happy with old Peugeot 205's you will only pay 10 euros a day) and with no big deposit to leave (no deposit at all, you simply pay for what you've ordered in advance and pay any extra like excess kilometres, at the end of the rental).
Living in a rural area, even in a small town, everybody considers a car to be essential. And it is, for getting to work, if your job isn't near your home, sometimes for taking children to school, for emergencies, to visit family. Outside of big towns and cities, public transport can be sparse at best. We are lucky here that we are on a continuing train station from where you can get to anywhere in Europe probably, if you have the time and the money. And many students and workers use it to get into town.
Car-sharing is well advertised around here which can help solve the getting to work problem. And the one sort of bus service that really exists here is the school bus. Anybody wanting to continue their education after 15 and who lives within 30 miles of here pretty much has to come here: and for most children from 11 upwards have to be bused to the 'college' which will be in one of several neighbouring villages.
Otherwise, lots of people have cars who only have to use them one or two times a week or less, like me generally. So, why have one? Why not just rent one when you need one? After all, after the house, the car is usually the second highest regular expense for any household. When I moved into the centre of Bristol I got rid of my car and lived car less until I moved to Devon in September 2010. I could walk most places I needed to go to in the centre, including work, and if I was going out of town I rented, about once a fortnight. The money I saved!! And all that extra walking was good for my health.
Well done (and a couple of other similar websites) for making it easy for renters and people who want to rent. Everybody gains and nobody is ripped off and everybody is happy. And isn't that how all commercial transactions should be.

PS All the photos today were taken today and show my car, my house and the first scorching day of this hit 30C this afternoon and was already above 27C at 10. You'll see the Globe terrace where I have my proper coffee most mornings, the river Aveyron, the Salle des Fetes, the cathedral, what remains of the old town walls and our two bridges, one for vehicles, one for pedestrians only.

Friday 20 May 2016

My Life Can Get Very Busy

Enjoying myself clubbing in 2008.
Sorry, I was going to continue about Eddy yesterday, but time slipped away as it has today. One of the main reasons has been my car, that is, the renting out of it through, one of the things I do to make my money go a bit further. And, suddenly, after a few quiet weeks, I had two bookings arrive, one for today and one for Monday and Tuesday. Great news!! I was feeling rather broke as it is the end of the month for pension arrives in my British bank account in a week and then takes a couple of days to get into my French account, here in Euroland.
So, I will be receiving during the week just over a hundred euros which will get me through till then. One problem I have is that the pound has steadily been losing value against the euro this last year and I think this is going to continue until the results of the famous referendum are known. Then it could plunge even further or go back up again and I'm hoping for the latter. I hope we stay in because it really makes no sense to leave. We are part of Europe being only 25 kilometres away and our days of Empire are well behind us. Loads of Europeans live in the UK and loads of Brits live in Europe which makes sense to: I don't really believe in borders, I consider myself a human being well before being European, and European well before being British. As DNA has showed, we all tend to be from a mish-mash of origins because the UK has a long history of receiving refugee immigrants (until perhaps latterly).
Enjoying myself clubbing in South Africa in 2010 in the same t-shirt.
Anyhow, renting my car means cleaning it inside and out which is quite time consuming due to the amount of his coat my Eddy manages to leave inside it. In fact, he leaves it everywhere he goes and must moult at least a couple of kilos the twice a year when he changes his whole coat. And, having had to park on the edge of the square lately due to construction vehicles taking a lot of space, the outside was well covered with pigeon shit.
Enjoying the sun on my balcony in Bristol 2009
Well, I got the job done but finished quite late and no energy for any typing. And today I've been busy promoting my band, NAGAS2's, new album, KARMA VORTEX and arranging for its point-of-sales to be much broader than for the last album, adding iTunes and Amazon among several others. It all takes time. Anyhow, after a lovely walk with Eddy round the old town and a bit of shopping, I've just found the time before cooking my dinner. Tonight, more episodes of House of Cards following the President's assassination attempt and if I can make it, Later with good old Jools. And tomorrow the Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Man Utd. I grew up very close to Selhurst Park so I've always had a soft spot for the Eagles so I'll be hoping that they manage to see off the hated Reds!!

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Man's Best Friend.

One of my dad's favourite sayings, strangely not from the Bible, was,"The more I see of people, the more I likes me dog." He had dogs all the time I knew him, normally big dogs, and either Collies or German Shepherds. In fact, I heard my mother say,"He knew that Bobby (a pure-bred 'Lassie') was going to be his last dog and when he died suddenly at 7, dad never got over it." And dad died of pancreatic cancer a few months later.
And, I've carried on the family tradition when I could i.e. lived in the country. Eddy, my present companion, and he is that, is an Akita/German Shepherd cross (as far as the vets can tell) and I rescued him from the very lovely Ferne Animal Sanctuary, near Chard in Dorset, just over 5 years ago. I was told he was not an easy dog, being an aggressive dominant with other dogs and being very wary of adult humans, particularly men who moved their hand near his head, or young, noisy children. He had been found wandering the streets of Swansea by the police who had been called to get him. He had obviously been badly treated and probably abandoned. All this prior to his 14 months in captivity, well looked after but kept away from the pack.
In the Lake District a few weeks after I got Eddy: although not in the picture, there were a lot of people and dogs about, hence the muzzle.
And once he had been delivered to me, I was living in a small bungalow across the road from my mum's at this time, I had a difficult first couple of months. The older man next door was a dog portrait painter; he had painted a couple of my dad's. He loved dogs and hearing that I had got one he bought some dog biscuits to give him. First time he tried, Eddy nearly bit his finger off. A short relationship that was.
Seaton as a town, has a large dog population, all sorts of twee tiny dogs belonging to the older but mobile population of this retirement town and the bigger, mongrel population belonging to the workers (and unemployed). So walking Eddy in town, on the seafront or beach, along the clifftops, around the bungalow estates, was a series of skirmishes where Eddy would be straining on his leash to dominate the other dog, however big or small, with the other dog yapping and approaching Eddy, the smaller, the closer, and the other owner (generally) going into a dramatic state of panic. I could usually avoid contact by straining my muscles to prevent 45kgs of muscle from steaming ahead, jaws wide open. But, as sometimes happened, and the other dog was off the lead and came in foolhardily close, there would be a thunderous growling noise accompanied by high-pitched keening, whilst bodies rolled around on the floor, their precise positions being difficult to ascertain, as we, the owners/managers strove to excitrait them.
Out walking with my good friend, Jo Fox.
Generally the most damage done was to my ears and once or twice I later had visits from the Town Dog Police, in plain clothes but carrying identification anyone could have made at home these days. These ladies were officious, patronising and plain rude and, knowing exactly what had happened I was confident in telling them about their qualities. I later got my comeback when they gave me a fine for letting my Eddy defecate on, or on the side of, a public footpath: in fact, it was in tall stinging nettles a good yard away where no sensible human would have ventured. When I asked for their proof it was a photo taken from the other side of the harbour, of MY CAR, not a creature that craps!
Joking aside, it was clear that working on his behaviour was crucial: his level of sociabillity and his obeying of commands needed constant improvement. This sort of breed of dog, often used to working with one other human, of a large, physical make-up, are not naturally sociable, not like many breeds, and, particularly when removed from mother and siblings at an early age as is the trend, this job falls on the owners, and if they are poor and badly informed, the male, in particular, will become an aggressive dominant, with other dogs, but with humans too if we are not careful. My father had a big Welsh Border Collie when I was a teenager. He was fine with us all most of the time but the only person he would let in the front door was my dad. My dad was the pack leader, and Laddie was the number two: the rest of us had to use the back door.
Lying on top of Sez.
Eddy knew very few commands when I got him but I got him to learn loads more, and new places, things to do, ignoring people, ignoring other dogs (starting with a long way away, then the other side of the street...), learning when out in the fields, off the lead, not to clear off, to come when told (unless on the trail of a rabbit, etc., ) and other less important things, just to improve his idea that sounds meant things and were linked to specific acts. And he could be brilliant for ages and then suddenly do something which had become out of character, like turning round and nibbling on the ankle of some poor person who was walking to close behind us. A muzzle was suggested by the police and other people but my vet said muzzling him would be admitting defeat because being muzzled tends to make them worse, more aggressive. And, things were slowly improving. When we later lived with my mum, three carers per day came to the house to help me looking after mum, and there were loads of different women involved. Eddy was fine, sociable, loving a cuddle, with virtually all these women from day one, except for two who both stated before coming in that they were scared of dogs and could I lock him away. Strangely these women were both English and the ones who got on fine with him were all Eastern Europeans except for a couple of other local girls. What Eddy needed was more company so he could see how enjoyable it was.
Everything changed when, just before and just after my mother's passing, I had visitors, friends and also sons, staying in the bungalow. Eddy was so happy to have them around, even my two son's who were not that happy about him.
Eddy the other week, in front of Frank's house, where he stays when I have to go away without him.

More in the next post as Eddy and I hit the road for Europe.