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Motorhome Europe 1975-2021
You couldn't make it up...
I feel as a twig, being carried along a river. The twig has no real control over its direction, knowing this,
one may relax in that knowledge and accept life as it comes. (Barrie James)
'Freedom, Happiness and Motorhomes' are three words that are synonymous for many. For those who have read the adventures of Laurie Lee, the following will draw parallels. For those who have not, I recommend the adventures of this young man who walked around Spain in 1937 and wrote, (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning) I was one year old at the time...
Both Laurie Lee and Jasmine Harman (TV's 'A place in the sun') have, to some degree, inspired us, upon occasion, to leave the 'beaten-track' and explore places in Europe that tourists seldom see. Mostly, local people were unused to tourists and their helpful curiosity brought us to situations that, 'You couldn't make it up'.
The individual adventures are 'out of chronological order' and often the place names are forgotten. I can remember most of our vacations in motorhomes and since starting this project I am remembering more and more and as I review old photographs and 8mm movies, early events come flooding back. There have been dangers and unexpected incidents that we can never forget. I will try to make 'light' of these but you should be aware that camping away from camping-sites can carry risks.
I am often asked where do my aerial pictures come from? It started in 1966 when I became a pilot, Sylvia and I unscrewed the door off our little aeroplane, a Piper Tri-Pacer and flew along posh areas photographing farmland and 'rich' folks homes from the air. The business was a success, in those far off days there was no Google-Earth and people were fascinated by seeing their property from on high. Later we tried using a radio-controlled model aircraft with my camera taking 'still' pictures with an 'intervalometer'. Nowadays we have a tiny flying camera and with the blessing of the Civil Aviation Authority can enjoy all the benefits of the ubiquitous 'drone' which is the best, most stable aerial platform I have encountered. Modern technology is wonderful and with the aid of satellite navigation, gyroscopic-stabilisation of the camera I can send the drone aloft and it will remain geo-stationery while my wife views the downlink imagery and composes the photographs or video. Sylvia and I make a grand team except in the matter of rotating the aircraft. For example, my wife asks, "are you ready to pan 360?"
I say, "clockwise?"
Sylvia, "Yes." I start the rotation very smoothly,
Sylvia, "You're going the wrong way."
A gentle disagreement follows. After all these years this simple instruction is still misunderstood and we have now developed a system designed to avoid misunderstanding or a divorce.
Home sweet home. Of all the wonderful journeys we have made, no matter how perfect the weather, people and locations, after about three weeks, we always feel the gentle pull of our home, garden, grandchildren and the seasons... However, in the last few years, we have come to appreciate the wonderful short city breaks we have enjoyed in our motorhome in the winter which I hope to share with you later. I hope that you enjoy the book.
La Guardia de Jaen
The first time we drove through Spain we were fascinated by the castles and whitewashed villages on the tops of nearby hills, they blended beautifully with the brilliant dazzling small white clouds and deep blue skies. They were irresistible, even though we were en-route for another destination we could never resist leaving our track and wending our way up the winding hills to those fairy-like castle-like villages. We were never disappointed, each had its own character and they all had amazing views.
One such was La Guardia, it was a lovely place and the people welcoming and seemingly very happy. We parked in the old town square and wandered around this ancient town and almost felt as though we had come home. The day wore on and we decided we would like to unwind from our travels and spend the night there. It was whilst stocking up with a few groceries from a small shop that we asked, (well mimed,) to the shopkeeper if was Okay to sleep in our van for Una noche? Once more we were treated to the familiar, “Si Senor, no problem.” When parking in villages it was our practice never to take out chairs, table or extend the awning and keep a low profile.
That night we slept well and in the early hours I woke as I heard whispering. There were other ghostly sounds that I could not identify, rustling and then silence followed by an unmistakable, subdued chuckle, then a faint whiff of tobacco. Sylvia had heard them too and we wondered whether somebody was creeping around our van. I noticed the first signs of dawn from the skylight, we remained alert and my wife opened her curtain just a fraction, she gasped and then moved to another window. By now I was out of bed and dragging on my dressing gown. If our prowlers were intent on robbing us, one cannot give chase in pyjamas!
At this point my dear wife turned to me smiling and said, “You are never going to believe this...” I peeped through the other curtain, then another, then the windscreen and realised that we were smack-bang in the middle of a street market! As we fully opened the curtains we realised that the stall-holders were being very considerate. They were trying not to wake us as they erected their stalls. I notice that we were not quite surrounded, but that there was an avenue of escape in between the stall selling ladies underwear and another selling vegetables. On seeing the curtains open the folks could see us and some faces broke into smiles and we received several cheery waves. Normal conversation returned to the ancient square and the trading seemed to increase by the minute. Starting the engine I drove quietly through the market stalls in my nightclothes and we parked in a nearby clear space near to the footpath. Our friendly shopkeeper knocked on the door and asked if we were, 'Ok' for water?
Morning ablutions and breakfast over I stretched my legs outside and was soon visited by five little children about nine or ten years old. They examined us with warm brown eyes and smiled. I fished into my pocket for a coin and held it in my left hand, unblinking eyes watched carefully. I used an old magic trick called the French-drop to transfer the coin to my right hand. A nearby stallholder also watched with astonishment as I blew gently onto my right hand then slowly opened it. The coin was gone! The children's eyes grew even bigger and the looks of astonishment from them was wonderful to see. The stall-holder started clapping and the children looked at me with awe, I heard one say, “Magia.” All this was carried out without a word from me and in a clown-like manner I scratched my head in puzzlement. I now exclaimed, “Hah” and reached over to the nearest boy and produced the coin from behind his ear. Their reaction was everything an amateur magician could wish for and I presented the boy with the coin and soon the others gathered around him to examine it.
After a final walk around the village we returned to the van to find nine children patiently awaiting our return, all demanding that the trick be repeated again and again. We left the village with very warm memories and heaven knows how much money the children gained.
Finding Love in Lidl's...
We were in Spain near Valencia with our Autotrail Excel. I had recently acquired an app (application) for my Smart-phone. It was an 'instant' interpreter and there is a full video description elsewhere. I was dying to try it out and left my wife with her trolley at the wine section. Soon I saw a woman of about thirty years, very smartly dressed with good deportment shopping in the tinned-food isle. In my best schoolboy Spanish I said, 'Perdone Senora', She turned to face me, her smile was bewitching and in spite of my great age, I was attracted to her instantly. I asked if she spoke English, she shook her head sadly and, with the speed of a cowboy drawing his gun, I produced my iPhone. She watched as I spoke into it, then holding the instrument towards her we both clearly heard my question repeated in Spanish. "Can you understand me?" The result was profound, her face lit up and she took a step towards me whilst I offered the phone to her and mimed that she should she should speak into the device in Spanish, 'Si Senor it is amazing' her reply came out in English, thereafter we had a great deal of fun exchanging words and learning a little about each other. As the conversation progressed she left her trolley and clutched at my wrist for her turn to speak and marvelled at our ability to speak to people in fifty different languages almost instantly. We stood like a pair of excited teenagers as my wife and her trolley appeared in our isle. Like guilty lovers we moved apart as though we had been up to no-good... Sylvia, ever-cool, wheeled her trolley past us and with eyebrows arched and a slight smile murmured, "Are we having fun then?" I decided to introduce her to my wife and for the first time, Sylvia and Bernadette met, smiled summing each other up. Their body language was a mystery to me, each was courteously polite and we laughed at our fumbling, clumsy attempts to pass the iPhone to each other and although the meeting was fun, I felt a subtle, latent undercurrent that I suspected was beyond the comprehension of most men. I admit I was a little smitten, even at my great age, if a woman looks at me in a certain way, I act like a nervous teenager. As we drove away from the carpark I saw Bernadette driving nearby and, just for an instant, our eyes met and I found myself sighing a little... To this day every time I see a Lidl's store my heart seems to beat a little faster and my dear understanding wife looks at me thoughtfully... C'est la vie...
LOST - A nice house, A girl at Edinburgh University and a man with a pistol.
Once more we had trusted our out-of-date Tom Tom satellit navigator. We were on the Madrid ring road with our map indicating a campsite only five kilometres away. We followed the instructions and indeed, there had been a campsite, alas, it looked as though it had been closed for many years. It was a sad sight, the tarmac roads were cracked with weeds prolifrating, the office was overgrown with ivy.
With resignation we plotted our course for another camp-site as I started driving, the road started to change character, it was getting narrower, darker and grass was starting to appear between the wheel tracks. On occasions like this my wife becomes very pensive, she wears a fixed smile and appears to relax. I am not fooled, I know that she is very anxious and this only got worse as huge fleshy cacti and bushes closed in on our motor-home, and we could hear a gentle scraping along the sides of the van. Were they cactus? Were they Triffids? Were we doomed to be… ? Oh, I am getting fanciful again. I stopped, Sylvia looked at me with the same glassy smile that never quite reached her eyes.
We had been in situations like this before and a long reverse is never welcome. Our walkie-talkie’s are great for this job with Sylvia guiding me and we were not very overly worried, only in case we met a vehicle coming towards us..
I decided to travel a little further before backing up, when in front of us, the track alarmingly, disappeared into water. We thought this was a lake in front of us. I stopped the van pointing out to Sylvia, that from here on, 'maritime' rules apply. She was not amused. Removing my shoes I climbed down from the cab. As I paddled into the waterway to check its depth, I realised to my surprise that the riverbed was firm, smooth and felt like concrete, odd! I waded onward towards a curve in the hedging, casting an insincere reassuring smile over my shoulder noting that my wife was taking photographs of my watery excursion. It was getting dusk, there was not a breath of wind and it was still very warm. I explored a little further to realise it was a long concrete based ford. Returning more happily to the cab we drove carefully along and as the depth of water decreased, our spirits rose. We were driving a Cheyenne 696G and were very relieved when a semblance of a road appeared beneath our wheels. A little further along I heard voices, and around the next bend were three menacing looking men. Locking the doors, a tangible cloak of concern descended over the cab. We need not have worried they were simply surprised to see a huge motorhome emerging from the green watery wilderness and their faces changed to smiles as we exchanged 'Hola’s'.
It was getting dark by now and we were looking forward to parking and relaxing with a glass of red wine and dinner. There was no traffic by now except for the occasional donkey cart with a farm-hand. Nearby, along the sandy track, was a large house with a lay-by outside the gates. I rang the bell and a loudspeaker presented a woman’s voice. When I asked if she spoke English, she did and we were astonished to learn that she had been a student at Edinburgh University. She came down to meet us and we enjoyed quite a long chat before I outlined that our intended campsite was closed and that I would be spending the night in the lay-by and she was not to worry. Far from worrying she asked if we needed anything and we agreed to continue the conversation in the morning. Handing her some Scottish shortbread biscuits we headed inside the van.
Following a good night’s sleep we breakfasted preparing to continue our adventure. There was a gentle tap at the driver’s window and I regarded a middle-aged man who clearly wanted to talk to us. I opened the window, He had less English than I had Spanish but I gathered he wanted to sell me a gun! He said, “pistola good for you camping, make you safe”. Like most English people we had never handled a real gun and were fascinated as he removed the weapon from his jacket. It was made to appear as a golden fountain pen. It had never occurred to me that we might be robbed. He removed the single .22 bullet, handing me the gun through the open window. It was beautifully engineered and I examined it and explained that in England, if I was caught with a gun I would go to jail. He nodded and sadly replaced the gun in his pocket. He wished us a safe journey and walked away. As for Victoria, the young girl student, we corresponded online for about a year and have many happy memories.
Laredo. A rare astronomical event? Horses and the moon.
There are rare times and places when one's state of mind experiences well-being and total contentment. Alas, this state of complete happiness is elusive and can never be summoned at will. It was one such occasion when following a wonderful day in Laredo, in Spain, we had been horse riding with a twenty-year old blonde-haired, Spanish speaking, Russian stable-girl. The ride started with a gentle companionable walk through the woods then and down onto the vast sandy beach for a gentle canter. I was about seventy years old at the time and had not ridden for a number of years. My organs were thoroughly shaken.
The following week I again peddled my bicycle to the horse-hire place and the proprietor asked me to accompany him in his pick-up van to his stables whereupon I was asked to mount a different animal altogether and required to ride around the circular paddock at varying gaits. It was like driving an Aston-Martin after a Ford-eight. The creature was well-schooled and I was somewhat surprised that my aids were recognised by my new mount, after all, he was Spanish. My old skills, such as they were, returned and I felt as though I were at-one with the creature. At this point I realised that I was at one of those famous Spanish stables that practiced the higher arts of equestrian perfection. We walked, trotted, cantered and I finally tried a 'collected' canter.
The proprietor smiled and indicated to me that he did not want me to ride one of his 'hire-out' hacks but I should take this horse and enjoy myself. Incredible, I was to ride solo around the beautiful coastline, no insurance, no papers to sign and to take as long as I liked. I can remember a continuous intimate conversation with my mount during this memorable ride, we really had formed a rapport. Much later I realised that I had been in a state of reverie for some time, and we plodded gently along the water's edge for some time. 'Atlas,' his name, and I, were so attuned to each other that the tiniest thought, the gentlest movement of my legs or hands were in responded to at once. I did not know how long my day-dream lasted. But suddenly I realised I was lost, I could no longer locate an exit through the woods. (In later years I was to carry a cell-phone with a GPS and retracing my route would be easy.) Atlas stopped for a pee and I said to him in English, “Well my old friend, now it is your turn, go home, Casa,Casa,” Atlas's ears flicked forwards and I sat, utterly still as my mount confidently entered the woods and twenty minutes later arrived at the stables. If happiness could be weighed, I had a ton of it. I returned a year later and I am convinced he remembered me. Fanciful? Perhaps.
Near sundown Sylvia and I were now tired and contented, we sat on an old tree trunk and watched as the sun set as it had countless times before. There was not a breath of wind, even the cicadas ceased their chirping call and all bird song stopped as though not wishing to despoil this perfect moment of spiritual silence. A layer of cloud changed colour to a breath-taking range of pinks and greens. The sunset was magnificent and I have included a photograph of this unforgettable moment in time. We remained on the tree trunk until a gentle cloak of darkness settled and a whisper of chill evening air caressed our sun-warmed bodies. On returning to our motor-home we prepared for bed, and before drawing the blinds I, once more, observed that there was a brilliant full moon shining above a nearby olive tree. Something was wrong, very wrong, the moon's cycle should not be full at this time, nor should it be in that part of the sky. I now realised that it had been in that position for a few nights. I have some astronomical and navigation skills yet I was utterly baffled. I knew that I would not be able to sleep as long as this problem persisted. I decided to take a crude transit-bearing. I carefully lined a speck on the window with the olive tree branch and watched and waited as the moonshould have moved to the right. It did not. It was apparently stationary! This was impossible, I was seriously confused and I had not had a glass of wine...
Whenever I am faced with the inexplicable, I ask for my wife's advice, she listened carefully and joined me at the window. Sylvia uses common-sense, she hugged my shoulders and gently said, “Barrie, it's not the moon, it is those globular street lights... now drink your Horlicks and come to bed”...
Ring the church bell and summon the villagers to arms.
March, 2000. Spain. We were travelling in the north west of Spain. I was getting tired and becoming just a little hungry. Driving on 'B' roads can be an adventure, fun at first but after a while, rather tiring. I predicted that in the future all motorhomes would have automatic gearboxes. No more clutch and gear-changing work. (At the time of writing it looks as though I was wrong. It seems that electric vehicles are to be the future.) However, as we approached a little village near Vilar we decided to stop for a rest and have lunch. We parked near a small church, my attention was immediately drawn to the ropes that ran down from the twin silent bells mounted high on the church tower. Switching off the engine there was silence, so profound that we almost spoke in whispers. I looked out to sea, the tide was out and I could see figures who seemed to be taking something from the water.
Once more the ropes attracted my attention. As a child I have secretly harboured an unfulfilled desire to ring a real church bell. As I munched my salad my eyes returned to the ropes that seemed to beckon... It was a warm day and I dozed after lunch. Upon waking I looked at my wife with raised eyebrows as if to say, move on? She nodded, I held up one finger, “One moment, there is something I must do, you've guessed it. I jumped down from our van, walked casually towards the ropes, guiltily looked around and gave one a gentle tug.
In the quiet village the bell sounded very loud, I released the rope and quickly started back to the van. I was aware of a man walking towards me. I gave him an apologetic, slightly sickly smile and indicated that I was sorry, saying that I should not have disturbed his peace. To my surprise he smiled, waggled his finger sideways and then indicated that I should keep ringing.
I was surprised, shook my head and said, “Non Gracias.” Taking the bell rope the man started to ring the bell regularly then offered it for me to continue. I was confused, what was happening? Not wishing to offend him taking the ropes I imitated his rhythmic ringing and very soon we were joined by more villagers who chatted earnestly while scanning the sea and shore Even more people materialised and then two police Land Rovers arrived. Thoroughly alarmed now I looked anxiously over at our parked motorhome wondering if I could make a getaway before I was either lynched or arrested. I stopped ringing, considered running to the van, but the group quickly indicated that I should continue. What had I done? As I laboured I anxiously searched the faces of the villagers and saw no humour, in fact the opposite, they seemed angry and I wondered what Spanish law I had infringed. This was getting serious. One of the police officers walked slowly towards me, raised a hand and indicated that I could now stop. I noted the gun on his belt. Was I about to be arrested? Perhaps they had all the evidence they needed.
After a while I realised that the crowd's gaze was mainly directed towards the sea, where we could see about twenty women making their way ashore each carrying a large, woven basket. The women looked proud, defiant yet dignified holding themselves erect and aloof as though challenging the locals as they strode through the village. Some of the villagers began to shout and gesticulate as the women ran the gauntlet of the local people under the watchful eyes of the police. The unwelcome lady visitors walked away carrying their harvest. The people began to drift back to their homes, the police climbed into their vehicles and once more, tranquility reigned. One man stopped to explain to me that the women were from a nearby village and had absoluto definitivamente no right to take any shell-fish from this beach. It was causing bad feeling and was in breech of ancient unwritten laws. Mateo, for that was his name, went on to explain that he was on his way to ring the bells when he heard someone else had already started the alarm... Me. All was now explained. He smiled and I felt a great wave of relief flood over me and, feeling too mentally tired to journey further asked where the nearest camp ground was.
On returning to our motorhome I explained to Sylvia what had happened, we knew that we would never forget this remarkable village and its traditions. Once more I remembered our personal prime directive, “When in Rome etc.” It was still good advice.
We found the nearby camping site. They were not open but a young man named, 'Jesus,' the owner, seemed to be expecting us, he opened the gates and invited us to stay for a couple of nights, evidently his father was the Chief of Police and the people thought I was something of a hero. Word travels very quickly in these villages...
Naked Girls juggling on a remote beach. (No hiding place)
Late summer 1980. Not wanting to travel too far from Laredo where we were based, we had arrived at one of our favourite beaches, Ajo in northern Spain. This is a huge beach, with towering cliffs and coves on either side. We had parked near the only other vehicle present, an old VW camper. As there was nobody visible on the entire beach I idly assumed it was abandoned. It was very hot and humid, I looked at the gleaming sea with longing and as usual Sylvia read my thoughts saying, “Why don't you put on your new costume and go for a swim in the sea for a while while I prepare some lunch?” As I hesitated she urged, “Go on, or you'll be under my feet otherwise.”
Ever since we had been married, Sylvia had chosen my clothes and guided me into fashionable ways. It seems that when we met, I was 'old-fashioned' and wore a very long macintosh (She called it, a flasher's mac) and, dare I confide in you, men's suspenders to hold my socks up. I have never lived this down. Sometimes I felt like a little action-man, who she could dress like a doll. Secretly, I have always enjoyed this attention, well most of the time.
On this occasion she produced a tiny, turquoise satin bathing costume. It was incredibly brief and although in those days I was rather slim, I never did feel really comfortable in it as it revealed far more than I would have wished. She insisted it was fashionable and that my old woollen, moth-eaten, baggy costume was a disgrace as I had had it for years. However, today it didn't matter, there was no one on the beach to notice my attire or discomfort and so I started out for the inviting sea. Little did I realise that I was about to experience a surprising and remarkable event that I will never, ever forget, nor do I wish to...
As I plodded through the warm sand towards the water I thought I heard a sound of distant girlish laughter. Had I imagined it? Was it a trick of the wind? Worse, was it in my imagination? It was gone. After all, there was nobody within half a mile of me and I recalled the call of the sirens to Ulysses and my mind wandered... there it was again... I stopped and carefully looked and listened. This was really quite unsettling and I searched the nearby cliff tops. There was no one. Confused and now quite alert I continued towards the surf with all my senses attuned, when I came across a secondary cove set back into the cliffs. I stopped, gaped, astounded at the unlikely sight before me. Standing there were three, pretty, twentyish, slim, naked girls juggling. Each was well sun-tanned and clearly having fun as the wooden clubs flashed across the triangle they had formed. Their professionalism was obvious, were they circus or street entertainers? I will never know.
One of the girls noticed me, they stopped juggling and smiled, beckoning me to join them. Eagerly they gathered around me chattering in Spanish. In those days there were no pocket interpreters so I said, 'non compendez' When she offered me her juggling club and indicated that I should try it out I then understood. I demurred but the girls insisted and she demonstrated, with one club, what she wanted me to do. As I took hold of it I found the club was heavier than I expected. For about ten minutes I struggled to emulate the girls' skilled, actions and failed and as I was becoming embarrassingly aware of the girls bouncy bodies and my own treacherous body and its signs of interest that was becoming all too apparent. I silently cursed Sylvia for her wretched choice of swimming garment for me.
I do not believe a man exists that under these circumstances would not have had the same reaction. My next actions have been criticised by many, mostly men, I handed the club back to the nearest girl, muttered my thanks to the group and walked away across the sugary sand back to my motorhome... As I approached the van my wife asked, “What took so long? Your meal has been ready for ages.” I replied lamely, “I've been practicing juggling with three young naked girls.”
“Very funny,” said Sylvia, “now sit down and eat your meal"...
I am not very good at keeping secrets from my wife, she can read me like a book and it was about six months before I told her the truth... again! Alas, no pictures...
“Thank heaven, for little girls...” (Maurice Chevalier.)
Magic on a clifftop
Many years ago, I learnt how to do magic tricks to impress my grandchildren. I never dreamed that I would demonstrate my newly learned craft to fellow campers. But that is just what I did, on a lovely campsite called, Rougenic inBrittany in what was to be my first and last public performance and one which was to had a frightening and astonishing twist at the end.
Brittany is convenient for us, as we live so close to the Plymouth and the Brittany Ferries terminal so, weather permitting we can sail on a whim (ah one of the many benefits of retirement.) In those days we visited this camping ground twice a year.
We have been on site for about six days and, as usual, had met up with old friends, and made some new ones. Motor-homers are, after all, a naturally gregarious group; note how we all seem to acknowledge each other when on the road.
On the evening in question we were invited to clifftop drinkies by an English couple who had a number of continental friends, one of whom was a concert pianist, three were from Germany and two from France.
The red wine and conversation was flowing nicely and although my fellow guests were foreign they spoke pretty good English. However occasionally there were funny misunderstandings. For example, the Frenchman asked why I had a sticking plaster on my elbow. I replied "Today whilst on our bicycles my wife was peddling too fast and in trying to keep up with her, I fell off my machine." The German raised an enquiring eyebrow and the Frenchman explained to him that my wife had been 'piddling' too fast!
At one point I mentioned my grandchildren and the new skill I was practising for their entertainment. At this a great deal of interest was shown and I was asked to show them some tricks. I ran through my repertoire and eventually came to my favourite, a miniature french guillotine. My host produced a carrot, which I placed into the neck rest of the machine. I operated the device, the blade dropped and dramatically cut the vegetable cleanly into two pieces. There was silence as my audience anticipated what the next question would be, most had their hands tightly and protectively close to their bodies, heads were lowered... "May I have a volunteer?" Nobody spoke or moved but then the German lady named Renata bravely offered her finger. You could hear a pin drop. Wine glasses were rested and most of our gathering leant forward to get a better view. Surreptitiously I checked and double-checked the safety-device because the blade really was capable of damaging a human finger. Satisfied, I dramatically banged down onto the blade-release. The blade flashed down followed by a scream of anguish from Renata, this was followed by cries of alarm from everyone present. Renata clutched her hand to her body. I will never forget the anguish I felt, my chest ached with anxiety and passing campers stopped and were equally alarmed at her dreadful primordial scream. A dog started to bark and another joined in. A small crowd was now gathering...
Then, Renata showed us her hand, there was another gasp as we all saw that indeed one finger was missing at the first joint. Shocked and confused I then realised that there was no blood. Our gathering leaned concernedly forward and as one man rushed forward to help, Renata's anguished face slowly turned into a sly smile saying in English with a German accent "Many years ago in Berlin, I lost zis finger in a machine but see, today I used ze ozzer one." Concern turned to relief then laughter. I still felt sick and it took a while to recover. Who said Germans did not have a sense of humour?
The contents of the wine bottles sank lower, as did the sun. I am always thrilled to see the sun finally dipping into the sea and was now enjoying the general air of companionship, warmth, content and reflection. One by one we dispersed, although Sylvia and I were not drunk, just a little tiddly, we were quite content and walked hand in hand back to our great little home on wheels, our Cheyenne 696G, pondering the evenings events.
The last thing I remember was Sylvia murmuring, " It's a good job you did not choose the concert pianist." and giggling as I fell asleep...
Fruit girls. Valencian Coast - Spain.
We were driving our motorhome, along the coast road northwards from our Peñíscola (pronounced: Pen-yi-cola) campsite on a day out. We had passed numerous 'dirt' roads leading off from this main road and we had noticed that at the end of almost every one of them, we could see an empty plastic garden chair. My wife said, “We don't get that sort of service in England.” I raised an enquiring eyebrow and with great authority she went on, “Obviously this is a bus route and the chairs are there for people waiting for the bus.” It sounded quite logical and I forgot the matter, until I came across another dirt-road turnoff, this time the seat was occupied by a pretty young woman wearing the briefest of clothing. I wanted to look more closely, alas I was driving and had only a fleeting image of the girl.
Shortly afterwards further along our route we observed a beautiful Oriental girl, sitting in another chair with a parasol, who raised her hand in greeting as we passed and instinctively I waved back... Unbidden my foot had eased off the throttle and Sylvia turned to me. My dear wife often anticipates my thoughts and is usually right, firmly said, “No”.
Me, “No what”?
Sylvia, “You are not giving her a lift.”
Me, I replied lamely, “I wasn't ….” my words tailed off as around the next bend was another tall young woman, this time standing by her chair. She wore the briefest denim shorts I have ever seen, her skimpy top was barely obscuring her nicely proportioned bosom, revealing a bronzed midriff. She was quite pretty, with magnificent legs. Her stance was the sort of pose that one may see on a fashion catwalk. Statuesque, Yes, that was the word I was searching for. It is a good job I had slowed a little as I was now being able to take in more detail.
Sylvia commented, “She is asking for trouble dressed like that, you never know what weirdos there are about.”
I dutifully agreed and the journey continued. Over the next few miles we noticed a number of other chairs, sometimes occupied, some with two women chatting together, others were empty.
My wife with a sudden burst of understanding exclaimed, “I know what it might be, they are waiting for the school bus for their children to come from school.”
Shortly afterwards I had to leave this fascinating road and the subject was dropped, for the moment.
Back at our campsite later that evening as we shared wine with several of our camping neighbours, I mentioned how very pretty the young mothers were in Spain. We had noticed them along the roads. At this, there was a silence. Husbands and wives exchanged brief glances, I was uncomfortable, what had I said? What was I missing? It was the German who replied. Everyone was listening intently. My wife and I sat wondering what faux pas we had committed. The man placed his glass onto the table and assumed an important stance as though addressing a backward child. In heavily accented English he said, “Barrie, Zay are not young mothers... Zay are young ladies who would like to enjoy your company... Zay are ze Fruit girls.” I looked askance at my wife and, as usual she was ahead of me. Slowly it dawned upon my poor old brain what the man meant. He was now in full swing and continued, “In Ze old days all zese girls were Spanish, now zay are from all over Eastern Europe.” He drew another breath, but his eye caught his wife's expression and his voice tailed off...
The situation was totally de-fused by our French neighbour who nodding, observed, “He seems to know a lot about this matter,” at this we all broke into smiles and laughter, except one! Once more the wine flowed and our good spirits returned.
I was getting tired, perhaps a little tiddly but there was something I did not quite understand and murmured, “Why are they called, fruit girls?” It was the Frenchman's wife, Danielle who answered me, she leaned towards me, smiled gently and said,“Most of those dirt-roads lead to fruit farms, therefore...”'Maintenant, je comprends, merci.'
Red wine and Georgette...
Farms are often quite nice places to stay. Early one evening as we were nearing Fougeres we took a wrong turning, in the distance could see a farmhouse. It was typical of French architecture, a very long farmhouse with barns and out-buildings nearby. We turned in to ask if we could spend the night. I noted that there was something different about this farm, there was no welcoming dog barking. Later I was to be astounded at the contents of the barn
Without wishing to be boringly philosophical I have always felt that there was some, 'super-being?' guiding me. When things go wrong, it later transpires that it was for the best and I was now better off... This visit was one I will never forget. The door was answered by a tall, smiling, handsome Frenchman. I requested that if possible, we would like to spend the night on their land as we were completely self-contained in our motorhome. At this point the man was joined by his wife, who on hearing our request, smiled and opened her arms as if in welcome. We introduced ourselves and learned they were called Jean-Pierre and his wife Georgette. After a few minutes exchanging pleasantries we returned to our van and prepared for our evening meal.
I said to Sylvia, “What a nice couple, he reminds me of Basil Faulty (of TV fame) Sylvia interjected, “and she was very pretty.” I nodded non-committally like a dutiful husband, whilst silently agreeing with her.
At this point there was a knock on our door, I opened it to see Jean-Pierre. In quite good English he said, “Soon tonight our friend is coming for a little meal, she is our best friend, we 'ave wine, can you like to come?”
We were delighted and agreed a time. I decided to shave and Sylvia changed into a dress. We looked at each other and Sylvia noted, with feigned surprise, that I had applied a little 'after-shave'... I casually remarked, “Oh well, we want to show them that we are civilised.”
On entering the kitchen we noted that the laden table, very typically French, with long opening drawers. There were no chairs but long benches without backrests running down along each side.
Georgette indicated where we should sit which was facing the three of them.
At this point we were introduced to Maria. I stood up, reached across the table to shake her hand and then sat down again, leaning backwards, I fell... Alas, I was not used to not having a backrest, so tumbled over backwards, legs and feet in the air before hitting the floor with a thump. It was then I discovered there was a dog, it was a little terrier who thought I wanted to play. Hastily picking myself up, I was about to apologise when Jean-Pierre said in a mock, lugubrious tone, “Ahh... Maria... she often has zat effect upon men...” We all burst out laughing and found that the incident was a wonderful 'ice-breaker' to start the evening.
During the conversation after dinner Jean-Pierre explained that he and his wife were wine exporters, and the wine we had consumed that evening was one that they supplied to Tesco in the U.K.
Later in the evening as I drained the wine remnants from the wine bottle into my glass, at this, all conversation stopped. I paused, frozen, still holding the bottle over the glass... What had I done wrong? It was then kindly explained to me that no wine connoisseur would ever, ever, empty the dregs into a wine glass.
Back in our motorhome we could not recall the French word for sediment or dregs but instead we immortalised the action by calling it, “Never drink the Georgettes.”
The following morning Jean-Pierre asked if I would like to take a selection of French wines home. It was not a hard sell and we readily agreed.
Jean-Pierre asked if I was interested in aeroplanes, when I said I was, he confided that he had a surprise for me in the larger barn. We walked up the dirt roadway towards the building and Jean-Pierre opened the door with a flourish. I was amazed. Therein parked neatly, was a number of very well-looked-after light aircraft, some of them microlights. I recognised most of the craft and stood gaping at them in awe, still recovering from this totally unexpected revelation. Jean-Pierre explained that he was a student-pilot and nearing his first 'solo', that he now rented out 'hangar' space for many owners. Later on he showed me his grass airfield which he kept in very good condition even sporting a thirty-knot orange windsock, telling me that many English pilots landed regularly on this airstrip. I really did not want to leave, but I knew that if I stayed I would spend too much time hoping to meet other pilots and talking about this wonderful hobby of flight.
Over the years we kept in touch and eventually learned that Georgette had died. Thereafter we heard little from Jean-Pierre. However, thanks to that evening we will never forget the gentle woman whose name was now forever synonymous with wine protocol
A winery inside a Cathedral?
(El Pinell de Brai)
In 2017, heading homeward from Valencia, we followed the River Ebro and after passing Xerta we travelled north along rural roads that were completely devoid of traffic. Farmland dominated the horizon for 360 degrees, the temperature was about 25c and with no wind. The road seemed to go on forever and I asked my navigator, my wife, not to determine our position on GPS as this journey was becoming an adventure of mystery, we were on new territory. We could see snow-covered mountains to our rear but wondered just what was ahead.
We stopped mid-morning and I decided to launch our drone, (I hold a CAA licence for aerial commercial use). Walking down a track at the edge of a field of almond trees and well away from the road we sent the drone vertically upwards until it reached the International aviation ceiling of 400 feet whereupon it ceased climbing and remained utterly stationary whilst relaying 'high-definition' pictures down to us. I rotated the machine through 360 degrees very slowly and we watched the 'on screen display' with fascination as our horizons expanded. Ahead of us, in the distance we could now see a small town with a cathedral-like building dominating. Three minutes later we landed the 'flying-camera' and went inside our van to view the video.
The images were brilliant and being interested in the old town we had seen, we continued our journey towards it with happy anticipation. After a few miles we came upon our 'Cathedral'. We found out later it was, in fact, a place where wines and olive oil had been produced since 1922. We were in the La Terra Alta area, Catalonia.
believe that the Chinese people are correct in that they ascribe certain days to carry out one activity or another and other days not to. I often find that my life enjoys periods of happiness, where everything seems to go right and other days when lots of little things go wrong.
Today was a happy day, especially as on arrival, we discovered that it was the annual open day for the factory.
We joined a large number of folks wandering around inside the building, we were surprised to find that the interior had huge pillars and church-like high vaulted ceilings. Engineers would have been fascinated with some of the ancient machinery on display that had been used to process the olives in the past. Nowadays more modern machines are used but even though they are probably more efficient, they lacked the attraction of the giant cog-wheels, chains and levers of yesteryear.
I asked if we could take videos of this interesting place and once more we heard the familiar, “Si Senor, no problem.” We were granted complete access to all parts of the building and recorded some wonderful video and photographs of the history in their museum and of the processing of their products.
There was a well stocked shop with available samples and upstairs a very busy restaurant. Outside, in the sunshine people sat happily chatting, drinking and eating. How could we not join them?
Readers will 'wonder' about my drones and where to use them. In their short lives drones have earned a dreadful reputation amongst the general public. To this end, may I give you a little history on how we got into Aerial photography? 1966 I had acquired a PPL (Private Pilots Licence) I could now carry passengers in any type of airplane that I was checked-out in, but not for money. I was not even allowed to ask them for fuel money. In order to take commercial photographs from the air I had to take a CPL holder as 'pilot in charge' (Commercial Pilots Licence.) This rule still applies to this day.
Sylvia and I removed the door from the rear of our little four-seater aeroplane, a Piper Tri-Pacer and with Sylvia navigating, my friend acting as P1 I was free to film from the rear sear of the aircraft. With a seat-belt on! Remember in those days there was no such thing as Google-Earth and few people had ever seen their farms and homes from the air. The pictures sold well and our hobby of flying and photography were now combined. We would develop the pictures in the 'loft' and offer the prints to landowners and homeowners alike.
I always used a Leica camera and still do to this day. The film was Kodak Panatomic X and my lens a 135mm. Now days we use a Professional drone and my wife edits the videos. I was 79 when I filmed the Devon A38 bypass in Torquay and the CEO mentioned to us one day when we were walking to our 'Popemobile' in our Orange jackets and blue hardhats, that we were the only two, pensionable aged, workmen on the site that walked hand-in-hand. Thereafter we kept our distance from each other...
The business was getting too busy and I have now sold the business to another company but still kept a drone for my holidays.
Over seventies learn navigation. Circa 2016.
I met an elderly couple, Brian and Wendy on a Cornish campsite. They had recently bought a sat-nav. (Satellite Navigation System) for their car. They had heard about these wonderful accessories, seen them advertised and visited their nearest shop. The shop assistant had impressed them with its amazing 21st century capabilities and they decided to buy one there and then. Brian said, “I am glad we are keeping up with technology.”
Arriving home, they carefully unpacked their new acquisition with the instructions. After reading them over a cup of tea, Wendy commented, “I am no wiser...” her husband agreed and as they now found that they were quite unable to operate it even after studying the handbook again they became even more confused and with resignation, consigned the sat-nav to the glove compartment of their car where it remained until we met on vacation.
The couple had a Range-Rover for towing their caravan and after listening to their tale of sat-nav woe I offered to teach them. I explained the system and took them, step by step through the programming process. They were attentive pupils and seemed to have absorbed all the information I had imparted so I decided to accompany them in their car for their practical experience.
We programmed a nearby town into the device and once we started off, they were captivated by the soft female voice (English Jane) from the machine and astounded that she seemed to know exactly where we were at all times. The journey continued as we followed the audio and visual instructions until I deliberately left the indicated route whereupon the track on the screen changed colour as the satnav, in an instant, recalculated an alternative route to our chosen destination.
Wendy looked at me with incredulity and said, “My... it's like having a local person sitting in the car with one.” I agreed, her husband remarked, “She's sounds very nice and very well informed.” I think they thought there was a girl sitting in an office somewhere directing them. I tried to explain it was a 'computer' generated voice but realised that it would be simpler to explain that at another time. As an exercise I decided that they must now get us back to our campsite entirely by themselves, and watched as they re-programmed the new destination, this time as a postcode. Jane then asked them to start their new journey saying, “At the end of the road, turn left,” they were delighted and pointed out to me that henceforth all of their touring would now be so very much easier.
After lunch they again drove from the campsite and I could easily guess where they were going. Later they returned with happy faces and told my wife that the journey had been a success and I was a wonderful teacher. I blushed and muttered my thanks. They told me that the following day they were planning a much longer trip to an obscure address in Truro. I was pleased for them, they had been good students.
On the morrow they started out and cheerfully waved goodbye. I was astonished to see them return less than an hour later looking crestfallen. I asked... and they said that the woman's voice (Jane) had completely stopped talking and after driving for a few miles, they decided to return to the last place where her voice was heard. Once more the voice refused to function so they gave up and returned to their caravan. As we shared a cup of tea with them, Wendy, suddenly placed her hand to her forehead then got excitedly to her feet and almost ran to their car. We looked at each other in wonder, she returned a few minutes later and triumphantly exclaimed that she had found the problem... The sat-nav's plug connection to the cigarette lighter had never been connected that morning!
The following day they set off once more on a navigation exercise, this time wearing confident expressions.
Navigation has always fascinated me and before we would part company and exchange email addresses I helped them to download another app onto their iPhone called, 'Locater.' We use this a lot on our travels although there are many other apps that will help one find where you have parked your vehicle. As a demonstration we pretended that their parked car was 'home' and pressing a button to establish its position, the three of us then wandered around the campsite, huddled together, watching the iPhone as the screen's arrow pointed unerringly back to their car and also displayed the distance off.
Evidently the sight of three elderly people wandering around the field, all huddled over a smart phone had aroused curiosity and later a couple wandered over to casually enquire “We couldn't help noticing...”
Later I found that Brian and his wife were having fun finding out the direction of their home and how far away. Before we left for our next destination they proudly stood and pointed to the whereabouts of distant places, “London is over there, Glasgow is there, Paris is there... I do love happy endings, don't you?
Barbecue fish (tempus repit)
We were staying for a couple of days at a campsite near Benicarlo in Spain and I was feeling expansive. I reflected, that after fifty years of marriage my wife had always done the cooking. It was time for me to shoulder the burden of preparing a meal for her. I cycled to the nearest supermarket and headed for the fish counter, there I chose two large likely fish, I think they were bass. The insides had been cleaned out but their heads remained, with accusing eyes staring at me.
Back at the motorhome, I took a small 'throw-away' portable barbecue, I placed it onto a stone and lit it. Sylvia regarded me from behind the book she was reading and I saw her take a breath prior to speaking. I said, 'Please, let me do it, all of it,' she nodded with understanding and returned to her book. I wrapped the fish into aluminium foil and placed them with reverence onto the little pyre and entered the van to prepare the wine and bread and butter that was to accompany my offering. I noticed that other campers were also preparing their evening meals and felt that I was doing my bit. After the cycling I was hungry and looking forward to the feast. I placed a tablecloth onto the table with the wine-glasses and cutlery and included a vase with a few wild flowers. Throughout, Sylvia concentrated on her book but I knew she was watching... I was on trial! Time passed slowly, very slowly and I thought that it was taking a very long time for the fish to cook, I gently opened the foil, noticing that the creatures were much as I had left them a hour or so ago. I whistled quietly and behaved as though all was well. I gently shook the barbecue and indeed it was starting to glow more. Other campers seemed to have finished their meal and it was now getting dark and chilly. Casually I retrieved my coat from the van and continued my vigilance by the fire as the first shadows of doubt crept into my mind. At this point Sylvia placed a hand on my shoulder and asked if all was well. I had been kneeling by the cooker for a long time and was now having to use a torch to see what I was doing. I was cold, tired and disillusioned, damn the cooking, I should have chosen a simple 'ready' meal from the supermarket, but no, I had to choose a dish that I had seen prepared on television. They had made it look so easy!
I was relieved when my wife gently said, "Let me have a quick look to see how they are doing" I moved aside and after a brief examination she declared, 'They are cooking, but very slowly, they are very large fish and you are slow-cooking them'. We returned to the van and had a cup of tea, two hours had elapsed and I was cold, hungry and fed up. Then I noticed a wonderful smell and rushed to examine my fish, gently parting the foil we saw that indeed they were nearly ready, like a surgeon with a scalpel I gently probed them whereupon the flesh slid from the bone in a most satisfying manner. Time to warm the plates again, my spirits soared, the smell was amazing. Foolishly I smiled and said 'goodnight' to the rising moon and carried my prize into our cosy van, Sylvia had provided some salad and lemon and we ate probably one of the tastiest fish suppers we have ever had. The wine, the warmth and our beloved fish was well worth the wait. Later I reflected how lucky I had been and inwardly promised that henceforth I would stick to what I know.
Back in the UK we were entertaining friends one evening and over dinner, the subject of cooking arose, fish in particular. I mentioned with casual authority and the air of a gourmet-cook, that in order to achieve a perfect fish grill, one required patience and understanding of the culinary-science behind the heating of seafoods. I glanced momentarily at Sylvia who leaned towards me and whispered, 'It's a wonder you are not struck down!'
A miniature bird?
In late spring 2016 we were on a campsite just outside Laredo in Spain.
We had stayed at this campsite before and so far it had been an enjoyable but unremarkable holiday. Our favoured plot was facing west and very near the water's edge. This was important for me as, most evenings, the sunset was spectacular. About an hour before this anticipated event, I took my camera and walked quietly along the edge of the shore observing the busy lifestyle of the butterflies, wasps and other feeding insects in the afternoon's warmth. I do not know why I was surprised but I found most of the activity was taking place on the privet bushes. I had always only associated privet with hedges in suburban England.
I had a wonderful view of the insects most of which were in full sunlight and seemingly unaware of me.
I was able to bring my lens to within a few inches of a bee to watch as she packed the pollen dust onto her knees making her appear to be wearing jodhpurs. I took a few photographs and almost sprang back in alarm as the bee was chased off by what appeared to be a small bird filling my field of view. On further inspection I realised that I knew of no bird could be that small, it was an insect, but one that I had never seen before. It hovered for a few brief moment with all the precision of a dragonfly in front of each blossom, extended its long proboscis, I am no entomologist but it appeared to suck-up the nectar then quickly move onto the next blossom.
I was pleased with my pictures and as you can see, most unusual. I was anxious to show my pictures to Sylvia and was on my back to our van and in so doing so I met a young couple, fellow campers, who were preparing a barbecue. I stopped to show them my captured image as I thought it was so unusual.
They both examined the pictures and the girl said, “A moment please,” she moved to her van. She returned with, of all things, a large reference book on insects and thumbed through the pages. It was quite a big book and not one that most people would own. Ignoring me, they both studied the book carefully, then nodded to each other in agreement. The man turned to me and said with quiet conviction, “It is a humming-bird Hawk-moth.” I was amazed.
When I asked if insects were their hobby, the girl told me that they were entomologists!
I was astounded. I recalled, as Humphrey Bogart once said,“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...”
I marvelled at the odds. What were the chances of meeting an English-speaking entomologist, just when you need one, on a campsite in a foreign county?
This was not the end of our insect experiences.
Motorhomes, pet dogs and a strange procession.
Whilst travelling towards Bilbao, my wife noticed numerous white, woolly balls in the pine tree tops. She thought they looked like little nests especially as little holes could be seen in some of them. We stopped the van when we could, and using binoculars to view them we were still no wiser. Alas, we were in the wild and there was no entomologist in sight, in fact, there was no sign of anybody, but there was, the ubiquitous, 'Google'.
We searched though this remarkable service to eventually discover the dangers of the Processionary moth caterpillars in Spain, and more significantly, if you visit during the spring time. The processionary moth caterpillar is often mentioned in forums especially by dog owners who have seen them on their walks and are warning others of the danger.
It's a real threat too. We don’t usually associate caterpillars with the potential to kill, but these creatures have caused the death of many dogs and other animals and have made their presence felt amongst their adult owners too. If they are seen in the UK the authorities have to be informed so the caterpillars can be eradicated, quickly before they multiply.
If the caterpillar is stressed or threatened it can, 'eject its hairs' like little harpoons and can penetrate exposed skin. Dogs are particularly susceptible as they will pick up the hairs on their paws and then lick them as they start to itch. This then leads to the hairs being transferred onto the animal’s tongue and can result in itching, swelling, vomiting or even death.
There is much more information on this subject on Wikipedia and it makes interesting reading.
What are they? The pine processionary moth flies around May to July and only lives for about one day during which time it must mate and lay its eggs in the foliage of a pine tree. A single female can lay up to 300 tiny eggs and it takes around a month for them to hatch.
Once they have hatched, the minute caterpillars have five growth stages called ‘instars’. During their third moult or instar they build the white cotton-wool like nest and continue to feed on the pine leaves until the fifth instar. This usually happens any time from February to April.
At this point, the caterpillars (procession del pino) make their way to the ground in a long chain searching for the next place in their life cycle. This behaviour gives them the name of the ‘processionary caterpillar’. You can recognise them by their distinctive orange-brown colour and blue bands.
Eventually they will disperse to burrow just below the ground where they will pupate. Before this happens they can be a danger to humans and other mammals. It is the hairs of the caterpillars that can cause problems. If they are touched or poked they cause a nasty rash and give off dust that can cause respiratory problems. They are particularly toxic for children and animals.
What you should do if you find them If you become aware that you have these caterpillars on an urbanisation then you should inform the community of owners and they should be removed. In some areas the council will remove them but where this isn’t the case you should engage a specialist. You should not attempt to move them yourself as it is a job for an expert.
If you do touch one and become itchy you should consult a doctor. The rashes can be very painful and irritating and can last for a few weeks.
If your pet is infected you can usually tell because there will be small white spots in the mouth and on the tongue and the animal will become distressed and possibly drool. If they remain untreated, animals can die as the tongue will swell and in some cases has to be cut or amputated. If you know your pet has been affected then you should go to the vets immediately, where they will probably be given a cortisone injection.
You should also be careful of any nests the caterpillars have left in the trees. These will also contain some of the hairs that the larvae have left behind. You should not try to cut down the nests or burn them yourself as the hairs can become airborne.
They are considered to be a real pest, a threat to the pine-trees and of course, a danger to animals and humans. If you know of someone new to the area who may not be aware, it is worth warning them of the danger.
Motorhome chases a wild pig and van sinks...
March 2000, we were in our Compass Calypso touring rural France - near Fougeres. We had not seen a car for miles when suddenly a wild pig sprang out and started to run along the track in front of our vehicle. I maintained a slow speed, and the creature repeatedly glanced over one shoulder and then the another as it bounded ahead of us. I tried to maintain a distance that would not alarm it unduly whilst I mischieveously wanted to prolong the situation, unbelievably still it continued ahead. Eventually the animal darted sideways into the ditch and the apparent pursuit ended. I had not realised that pigs could move so fast.
I love exploring ancient, barely-used roads. Some-times the track just fizzles out and we are faced with a long, tedious reverse. This task of reversing a large vehicle in a narrow lane had been simplified by using a pair of inexpensive walkie-talkies and with my wife walking ahead of the reversing van. Nowadays we are blessed with reversing cameras and electronic proximity sensors. On this occasion I was on one of these roads with a grassy middle and had decided to find out to where it led. In those days there was no satellite navigation system available and we used to try to determine our position by the age-old navigators method, 'time from last position known, heading and distance and speed travelled.' As always, the sun was our best guide together with a map and a small magnetic compass. Excursions like this I found very exciting and not quite knowing ones whereabouts only added to the thrill. In modern times this exciting feeling of isolation in a foreign place is ruined, when a mobile phone rings or one can glance down to an iPhone and sees exactly where one is on the planet. Of course, at other times, this can be very comforting.
In the 1960's, student pilots never report they are lost... they say, 'Position uncertain,' thus air traffic control know full-well they are probably a student pilot on first cross country alone, or lost. I have a very reliable indicating device when my position is uncertain, my wife. Sylvia becomes pensive, quiet, not so chatty. She assumes a casual air of indifference which does not fool me for one instant. She gets even more worried if I start whistling softly...
The sun continued across the heavens and I estimated we had about one hour of daylight left. Sylvia, with her usual common-sense pointed out that we were still on a single-track road and although the road's track marks were reassuring she pointed out that they were probably from tractor tyres. This last was not entirely encouraging as I realised that tractors can go places where motorhomes cannot. With some relief, eventually we came across an old stone farmhouse that appeared to have been built centuries ago. We had smelled the farmyard long before visual contact. The farm was very old and untidy, there was cow manure and mud everywhere, the smell was overwhelming, In later months we found that our tyres could never lose their tanned stain and were a constant, not unpleasant, reminder of that visit.
We had not expected to stay the night, but the farmer's Gallic charm, the unusual surroundings, the flies, noisy dogs and our tiredness persuaded otherwise. With insect screens in place we slept quite soundly except that every time we moved or spoke during the night, the farmer's dogs would bark for a few minutes. Notwithstanding the fly-screens, we were bitten by an elusive mosquito during the night. I yearned for a shower but our grey water-valve was open and neither of us wanted to leave the van to close it.
It was a memorable stop... even to this day we refer to the location as 'Smelly.' Lat & long available if required... (Joke) This was our only overnight stop where we did not step out of the van, not even to explore.
We had been stuck in farmland before and had no wish to repeat the experience. Once in Brittany I had parked in a field where a farmer had asked me to, yet in the morning all four wheels were part submerged in a boggy field, his handy tractor pulled us out amidst much laughing and feelings of relief.
The following day was to grant us another surprising scene. We were continuing along a 'B' road when an old Citroen some way in front, pulled over suddenly and stopped. At once the door opened and a red-faced fat man, not bothering to shut his door, jumped from the vehicle and gave hearty chase to a small spotted pig. Here was another never-to-be-forgotten sight, the young animal put on a turn of speed that would not have shamed a greyhound and was scrabbling to get over the concrete verge walls. He managed to get over it and so did the man whose probable visions of roast-pig complete with an apple in his mouth was obviously keeping him going, soon they were out of sight. We will never know whether he caught his next meal or not
A friend once said to me, “You could spend the rest of your life touring Spain and still not see all of it”. One year we landed, with our motorhome, at Santander not knowing which direction we would take... Should we flip a coin, perhaps check the weather forecast or simply wander the empty roads that had been replaced by modern roads or motorways? That is one of the benefits of camping. We can always 'up-sticks' and move on if for any reason we do not like our present location. Our brothers towing-caravans have a little more work to do but the same principle applies.
Where possible we would use the old byways and explore villages that were sparsely occupied. Some coastal roads had been 'straightened' leaving loops of old roads often jutting out towards the sea. In many cases the views from these were spectacular and one may see the occasional motorhome parked and enjoying the solitude and tranquillity of the ancient road. One exciting place was as we were following River Ebro there we stopped on a part of the original road and discovered early caves that had been used as underground dwellings many years ago.
In other areas we found remote villages that seldom see tourists and tourists seldom see them. This way one gets a 'feel' for the country. People are surprisingly friendly and helpful and we met some interesting characters. Although we found little evidence of crime on our travels we noticed most windows were covered with iron bars and many kept a dog. The first deserted village we found was Azaila at first we noticed that apart from being a little dilapidated there were no cars parked, this was in itself was surprising. As we walked through the silent streets we noticed that there was nobody about, Nearly all of the houses we saw seemed to be deserted. We did not explore the entire village so there may have been the odd home occupied. As though in a church, we spoke in hushed tones and we were both conscious of the history that must have occurred here, children laughing, horse and carts, people going about their daily lives, the images we experienced were very real and and feeling as though we were being watched by absent souls as we made our way back to the van in deep thought.
We called them the ghost villages. There are plenty of photographs of these homes and their contents to be found within the Google's pages. We were surprised to find that there was very little evidence of vandalism. Some of the homes were not locked and we could peep inside, often there was furniture and other bric-a-brac left behind, some fairly recent. Even though the houses were empty, it seemed wrong to enter, after all, these were once someone's homes... In recent times many outlying village folks have moved into warm, modern homes in the towns, the young people have moved away to find work and now it is said there are about fifty deserted villages to be found, many with interesting histories. Some of these villages are for sale. We have often thought of spending the night at a deserted square but after dark, it all seems a little spooky.
Museum in the wilds of Spain. This was a very early holiday in 1978 I cannot be sure? I am sure however of the van we were driving it was a Auto-sleeper Trooper. We thought at the time it was the best of both worlds, an everyday hack for shopping etc. and a compact holiday home, now there was just the two of us, we liked everything about it. As they say nowadays, 'it ticked all the boxes.' We liked its lines, its five cylinder economic engine and its size. It took me three weeks to buy the VW from a lady dentist with a formidable skill of bargaining. (Please see my article on, The art of barter.)
We decided to use our new acquisition to circumnavigate Spain in an anti-clockwise direction and during this great undertaking, in the middle of nowhere, we found the remnants of some homes long abandoned. We stopped the van nearby and day-dreamed of the history and lifestyle of folks who had lived there long before we were born.
I loved the 'wavy-curved' roof tiles and had an idea. I had long wanted to build an ornamental water-well in our garden and thought how nice it could look with a Spanish, antique tiled roof. I put the idea to my wife who pondered... She was used to my crackpot ideas, always pointing out the disadvantages, tactfully. Nearby was a group of buildings that were occupied, I approached the front door of the nearest house with a view to asking permission to take home a few tiles from the nearby ruins. This, was the beginning of a noteworthy series of events that were to convince us that this type of touring was definitely for us.
Felix Arroyo, was a very nice man. He had a little English and replying to my request, shaking his head repeated the phrase, 'No problem señor, you take many.” Abruptly he then changed the subject and asked if we were interested in history? We hesitated, and he enthused that he had a little museum, if we would like to see it. Not wishing to offend and now with our curiosity aroused we followed him to a nearby large outbuilding that we found had been imaginatively converted to a museum of vast interests. We were astounded. As far as the building permitted were rows and rows of fascinating exhibits. There were numerous old cars, ancient bicycles, motorcycles, early farm machinery, tractors, sewing machines, telephone equipment and almost everything else imaginable. There was a lifetimes collection of objects so eclectic that we realised that it would take a very long time to view them all. Did that matter we were on vacation and this promised to be a fascinating visit?
One exhibit that made me cringe was a large wooden structure that held a model bull firmly in position while adjustments were made to its gender. Another intriguing piece of farm machinery was an ancient thresher in full working order as Felix demonstrated, with the operator sitting precariously in amongst the cogs, rods and levers whilst huge arms circled and thrashed with an alarming sound. A health and safety officer would be aghast at the apparatus and its potential for injury. I politely declined the offer of operating it.
Felix now abandoned all attempt to speak English. With the help of hand signs, he chattered away in rapid Spanish to which, foolishly, we nodded as though understanding every word. (I wonder why tourists do that?) Had it not been for his tonal changes and a curious raising of his eyebrows, we would not have realised that sometimes he was asking a question.
The walls were covered with smaller exhibits and we were thrilled by the display. At the end of our visit he handed us a video of his museum and its displays to show our friends when we were home.
I had a number of instruments at home that were clearly old, often with purpose unknown and had held onto them as I considered them too good to throw away. We sent all these items to Felix and they now adorn more of his crowded wall space in his wonderful collection.
In the coming 2019 we hope to retrace our steps from this early holiday and, once more visit Felix, then continue on our circumnavigation of Spain. If only we did not keep being seduced into entering, the unknown, unmarked tracks. But we also realise that if we did not explore, we would never have found the riches and friends that Spain has to offer. (I am still awaiting for permission to build the well.)
Auto-sleeper Trooper and a deserted monastery. 1978 Portugal
During our great Spanish circumnavigation of 1978, we were continuing south along the west coast of Portugal. Shortly after our wonderful stay at Lisbon, looking on the map, we came across a long peninsula that reached out into the Atlantic. Once more we temporarily abandoned our planned southbound route and headed westwards to investigate this 'new' place named, Cap Espichal. We travelled west along the empty peninsula road and after about ten miles, just before the end of the land we came across a large abandoned monastery, which was seemingly completely intact with no graffiti or signs of vandalism.
We were later to discover that it was very well named, the place was indeed special with strong historic and spiritual associations.
Sadly perhaps, nowadays, we have taken to viewing destinations from space via 'Google Earth,' this gives the traveller the wonderful advantage of know We were now very near to the tip of land, very high up on the edge of the cliffs and as the light faded saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. It was lonely and lovely and had it not been for the repeated flash of the lighthouse, we would probably have spent the night there. I was content, I was in a happy place with the woman I loved and, like a snail, had my home with me.ing beforehand if a place is worth visiting or perhaps not. However, nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace our early memories of exploring with anticipation, finding surprises and with the enjoyment of those far off days of adventure, searching with no forehand knowledge. Quite often we did not even consult a map, just take a seemingly interesting road. Our motto seems to be, “you never know what's around the corner.” When I think of the unexpected twists and turns my own life has taken I now know why our motto is often used as a metaphor.
I treasure my early reveries, Sylvia would call them, 'flights of fantasy.' Sometimes I am a great lone sailor, or an intrepid aviator both venturing into the unknown, into the unmapped wilderness' opening up new territories. You see how I am imaturing with age? Back to reality. Recently when viewin Cap-Espichal on Google-Earth we realised that nowadays this area is regarded as a 'day-out' drive,with large car parks but in those far off days it was much less visited, we remember it as a romantic, lonely and exciting discovery.
We were approaching the end of the peninsula, with the cliffs reaching probably about three-hundred feet down to the sea. We reversed our vehicle against some high rocks and now while we were facing west, had a meal and decided to wait for the sunset. Over the years I have become something of an 'expert' on sunsets. At one time we spent some weeks staying in a west-facing home on Florida's Gulf coast and almost every evening the sunsets were unbelievably beautiful. I would call out to Sylvia, 'five-inches,' our code for estimating the sun's height above the horizon and she could easily calculate the amount of time before joining me with two cold gins and tonics. We never tired of this simple ritual, watching out for the 'green-flash' phenomena described elsewhere in my memoirs. This daily evening observation was almost mandatory as I contemplated the sheer beauty of this wonderful planet and often felt happily-sad and privileged that I exist at all.
In all the time we lived there, no two sunsets were the same. I have sent my MMM editor a number of pictures of these emotional moments and I hope that he is able to use some of them.
The sunset at Cap Espichal was not as beautiful as those in Florida but once more we sat together in silent total accord both appreciating its beauty and majesty before we settled down for the night in our little travelling home. It was getting dark, we had closed the curtains of our motorhome and climbed into our tiny bed. On shutting my eyes I became aware of a pinkish flash through my closed eyelids, it happened again and I realised that it was from the nearby lighthouse. Although the curtains were closed, we could not escape the penetrating flash, I later realised that I was timing them. One, two three etc. then predicting when the next flash would occur. It became a game. Initially it was amusing but then as our call to slumber neared, we realised that we could not sleep as the curtains could not stop the light.
There was only one other car on the headland, a young courting couple who drove off. At this point we too decided to leave. Still wearing pyjamas, I drove to the outskirts of the nearby town of Sesimbra, found a quiet car park and deciding not to elevate the roof, once more retired to bed and we were soon asleep.
A shock with a strange woman on the Pont-Aven.
On the Brittany Ferries ship, Pont-Aven there is a beautiful white grand piano. It is just outside La Flora dining room. I have played piano for most of my life and reached a mediocre standard and can entertain with the likes of, 'Smoke gets in your eyes and The lady is a tramp,” soft cocktail bar music. I have never played before an audience but one day I plucked up the courage to sit down at the this piano and had a go. There were a handful of people around who looked to be of my generation and I fancied that they would recognise my tunes. Some were holding a drink some were reading newspapers and one had a new-fangled iPad in his hand. Nowadays, who does not? After finishing each piece I was clapped and asked if I were the ship's pianist? I was not, he played each evening after I was in bed... about ten o”clock, I never met him.
The following morning I was ready for breakfast and Sylvia urged me to go ahead and we agreed to meet outside the dining room.
A small queue was forming to be seated for breakfast so once more I sat at the piano. My opening notes were interrupted by a young woman, wearing very thick glasses who snuggled up to me on the tiny piano stool and whispered in a soft seductive voice, “Good morning.” This was accompanied by a gentle squeeze on my upper arm. I stopped playing and looked at the her. There was a moment of silence as I searched my aged memory to see if I knew her. I did not.
Then she broke the silence and whispered, 'It's me... me from last night.” She then kissed my cheek. I was intrigued. At this point I saw my wife walking towards us with eyebrows raised, I tried to move away a little but the stool was too small. As though beginning to doubt herself, the woman, moved her head away and continued to gaze at me.
She adjusted her spectacles and asked uncertainly, “You are the ships pianist aren't you... you know... last night?” I said, “No, I'm a passenger waiting for his breakfast.”
Confusion then panic crossed the woman's face as she realised her error.
She blurted, “Oh my God, I am so sorry, he wore glasses too like yours.”
At that point I said, “Here comes my wife.”
I have never seen a person move so quickly at a sign of danger, I nearly fell off my end of the stool as she departed and my wife approached with an expression I had not seen before. I tried to explain, at first she was not convinced and muttered something about 'all very cozy'. A number of people in the breakfast queue saw the incident and knowing-looks and sly smiles passed between them.
Breakfast started in silence but later she finally believed me and we enjoyed a good meal.
I never did find out what she and the ship's pianist got up to last night, but I have a good idea!
Mile High Village-September 2015 The Pyrenees
Most of our Spanish holiday was behind us and we were now facing a decision, should we travel east to the Santander ferry or wander back through France? We would let the weather forecast decide for us. We usually give our holidays marks out of ten and on this occasion we had jointly scored it an eight, how could we know that soon it would earn a 10+ ?
We picked the route homewards through France to enjoy more of the existing good weather. The road ahead of us presented a series of bends through the Pyrenees. As we approached one sharp bend, I saw a little side road leading down to our right. We were 4,780 feet up (almost one mile) and the valley looked interesting. The side road led us down towards a tiny village. We travelled lower and lower into the valley with the sheer rock faces rising vertically ahead of us. On our right we beheld a magnificent sight, a huge body of water alongside a small gathering of occupied homes that were very well kept. This was no abandoned village, it had the appearance of being the homes of some quite wealthy people. I later found its population to be only one hundred.
We stopped our van alongside one house that was seemingly perched on the side of a cliff, we looked up to its balcony and saw children gathered and waving down to us. We waved back and they were soon joined by their father. We exchanged pleasantries in a mixture of English and Spanish and pointing to a lay-by nearby mimed sleep for 'una notches'. Half expecting a negative response we were delighted when the man said “Okay, no problem, here no traffic,” he than went on to explain that it was much prettier and flatter if we parked on the waters edge about another one hundred feet down.
We decided to go and see, but before leaving the family the children once more waved frantically and having learned a new English word and repeatedly called 'ello.' Sylvia handed me a large bag of sweets which I tossed high into the air to be successfully caught by the father, who was soon overwhelmed by his children clamouring to examine our gift. After much shared laughter we drove quietly down to the edge of the water and turned off the engine. The silence was profound. We stepped down from the van and stood in silence regarding the view. We seemed to be surrounded by sheer cliffs and mountains, the tops of which were bathed in the setting sun's red glow. There was not a breath of wind, the surface of the water was quite without a ripple and the reflection of the mountains showed perfectly in the mirrored surface of the lake. A small group of insects hovered busily just above the water and were the only signs of life at that never to be forgotten moment.
It was the tranquil silence that impressed us the most. There was no sound of traffic, no birdsong, no sound of any kind, the stillness and restful spirit caused us to converse in hushed tones as though were were in a church. The nearest home was about one hundred yards away and as the sun sank further we noticed that only the tips of the mountains retained their red fiery glow. One by one house lights appeared adding to the fairytale atmosphere of this 'heaven-on- earth.' Of all the places we have visited, this one cried out to be filmed in high-resolution from the air. There was no question in our minds, it would have been utterly criminal to have launched our flying camera and spoil the tranquillity and peace of this hallowed place. I have never regretted this decision as the images of our time there are fixed in my mind with a granite-like firmness that will never leave me. I instead decided to use my digital camera, its shutter was very quiet so I captured my surroundings and had the feeling that I had returned home. Absurdly, I remember thinking, this would be a wonderful place to end ones days...
Now, only one distant peak was sun-kissed on the very tip, this soon vanished and to add to our wonderment we could see the planet Venus glowing its distant light, no wonder that it is often referred to as the 'evening' star. To add to the perfection of the moment the moon made an appearance, for once in my life I was close to tears at the true beauty of planet-earth and our place on it. The air was still very warm in spite of our altitude. We stood at the water's edge watching in wonder as the stars revealed themselves one by one in the darkening sky.
We had slept soundly and after breakfast, walked around the village which was now showing signs of stirring, I was utterly and completely at peace with myself. Later we visited the restored monastery and there we met an old man wearing a cap and a friendly smile. He, miming sleep, asked if we were okay? We nodded and walking along with him, he offered us a cucumber that he had just picked from his kitchen garden. Sylvia noted where he lived and she returned later with some biscuits as a thank-you for his kindness.
I hope that readers will find the same happiness that Sylvia and I have enjoyed in this wondrous country. Go seek...
A Secret safe place. Autosleeper Broadway, Bath. 2017
It takes quite a while to learn how to operate all of the living-controls on a newly acquired modern motorhome, an exciting time for 'bonding' with the vehicle. We were preparing for a short, 'test' holiday at a campsite near Bath. The weather was kind and we slept well in our new beds. Something was amiss, there was a nagging reminder that there was an unsolved mystery related to the van which I had pushed to the back of my mind. I decided that I would not rest until I had recalled the mystery.
We prepared to catch the local bus and visit Bath to enjoy the Christmas spirit. It was whilst securing the vehicle for our departure that a key on my keyring triggered my memory and I remembered, it was well engineered key that I had not been able to identify. We concluded that somewhere on the vehicle there was probably a safe. Excited now we searched the van properly and in a most unexpected place found a strong safe. We looked at each other and wondered what we would find in this hidden place. The key fitted and turned with a satisfying precise click and once more we looked at each other with childlike glee and opened the door... The safe was empty and thoughts of treasure evaporated. “I know” said Sylvia, “in future we'll put the passports and the credit cards that I will not be using today in there.” Glancing at the clock we hastened our departure or we would miss the bus. We had a wonderful day and enjoyed much of the many lovely things that Bath has to offer. I was feeling expansive and we went to posh shop that we would normally not enter.
Sylvia is a conservative dresser, her clothes are 'sensible' and commensurate with her time and perceived position in life, I pointed out that for fifty years she had dressed me, sometimes I felt like a little doll and become quite used to being looked-after in this manner. I had not realised that I had been tying my scarf wrongly or that men no longer wear long mackintoshes or elastic to hold their socks up. I announced with feigned firmness that now it was my turn, after all it was only fair that I should be given the opportunity of dressing her. Sylvia agreed and pointed out that I would probably have her looking like a tart. I assured her that my choice of attire would please her. There were coats galore, one in particular caught my attention, it was bright red, nicely cut and I pretended not to notice the price. A mature lady assistant hovered. Sylvia tried on the coat, it was magnificent, with her silvery hair and natural poise she was transformed in an instant into an elegant model that would not have had disgraced a catwalk. I could not divine my wife's mood, was she embarrassed? Was she happy? Was she just playing me along...?
We moved to the shoe department and upon examining the ladies boots I notice a flicker of interest on her neutral expression. They were a rich brown leather with a modest heel and it took but a moment for them to replace her 'sensible' shoes. We stood in front of the mirror and regarded the transformation, there was no doubt, she looked wonderful and I whispered, “I'm having fun, don't forget, you can always bring it back if you really do not like it.”
We then arrived at the milliners department and both fell in love with a Russian Cossack style fur hat that really bought a smile to both our faces. We already had a nice red dress and I was gaining in confidence by the minute, in my mind I was becoming an expert on women's attire and cockily remarked that, “it seems I have a flair for this subject,” whereupon my spouse gave me a friendly warning smile saying,“don't push it.”
Hours later we returned to our new motorhome with umpteen shopping bags, full stomachs and happy smiles. We returned home in Torquay and decided that the holiday was a 'ten.' The following few days I noticed that my wife was 'nipping' out to the van in our driveway and looking worried when she came back into the house. Finally she confided that she could not find our passports and credit cards. I helped her with the search and for another twenty-four hours we worried and once more she said, “I know I have put them in a 'safe' place.” Safe place! I rose and grabbed the van keys. You are ahead of me aren't you? There they were, where we had placed them, in the blessed safe.
(Getting old can be fun.)
A fright in the night in the hidden valley of love.
October 2019 Auto-Sleeper Nuevo EK.
An 'Alice in Wonderland' experience in the Portuguese Serra da Estrela.
Siri (my smart-phone guide) does not always get it right. On this occasion, we were in a remote, mountainous part of Portugal following computer directions to a campsite for the night. On arrival we found it clearly abandoned, the pitches were overgrown, with olive trees threatening to scrape the sides and roof of the unwary driver. Realising that in such a remote area, once darkness fell, we might find it difficult to sleep.
A passing dog-walker told us of another camping ground nearby, down on the riverside which was owned by a very beautiful young woman. Intrigued, we followed his directions, passing over an uneven sandy, winding track that grew narrower and steeper the more we progressed. Three times we found ourselves descending a very steep sandy slope, I was committed, there was no place to turn around. When finally we arrived at the bottom of the valley on the banks of the river we found a beautiful, extended stone house. Hanging from a nearby tree was an empty tin can with a stringed clapper. Was this the front doorbell? Climbing down stiffly from my driving seat, I jangled the 'tin-can' a few times. I was welcomed by two dogs with wagging tails, the horse in the field alongside neighed and a few minutes later, a cat appeared, tail erect rubbing her cheek against my leg. I looked back at Sylvia in the van who raised her eyebrows in puzzlement. Suddenly a small girl appeared, she was dressed much as Snow-White is depicted and with a clear English accent asked, "Who are you?"
I replied that we were looking for a campsite whereupon she pointed out that she had never seen a camping car like ours down here before as most of 'Mommy's' visitors arrived on foot, bicycles or cars. Soon we were joined by her young brother who said, 'Mom's coming.' Their mother was indeed very pretty, about thirty and had the warmest smile I have ever seen. I was beginning to think I had entered a scene from Alice-in-Wonderland, there was a magical atmosphere about the place, a sense of unreality and an aura of love. The mother went on to explain that her 'retreat' was closed for the season but we were welcome to stay as long as we liked and enjoy the surroundings.
As darkness fell, we enjoyed our supper, a glass of red wine and quite content we went to bed. I do not know how long we slept but I was awoken by a muffled thump I could not identify. Instantly alert I was conscious of the moon momentarily occulted by something moving on our roof-light. I sprang from my bed pointing my flashlight at the part-open skylight and the sight that greeted me will indelibly remain in my memory forever. Two alien eyes reflected my torchlight like some dreadful vision from a horror movie. Sylvia too had seen the unwinking eyes and drew me away. A moment later we heard with relief, the soft pleasant meow of a cat trying to find a way in, searching for affection!
The following morning our nocturnal visitor called to see us looking innocent and friendly, not at all the demon of the previous night. We wandered around our new temporary oasis, viewed the river, marvelled at the discreet signs extolling goodwill and love to all. It was peaceful, restful, quiet and I felt, almost as though I was in a church. There were yurts, a teepee, chalets all surrounded by tenting areas with a bar and BBQ. Later another young girl appeared offering us freshly picked peppers and chillies from their garden and during our morning walk, we saw her again, grooming the horses.
We felt relaxed and wanted to stay a little longer, but at the back of our minds, we knew that the hill had to be faced some time. The motorhome engine was powerful enough to climb the gradient, alas the slippery sand gave a very little grip for our tyres so we had to wait for a local farmer with tractor to tow us out. I was so very grateful for the rescue I paid him three times the asking price. Once back on level ground we viewed the lamentable state of our lovely camper-van. The dust and sand seemed to be everywhere and the whole looked as though we had crossed the Sahara desert. The holiday continued without incident but later, we agreed that our spirit of exploration in the wild, for the moment, was somewhat blunted.
A wife, three women and a motorhome... Normandy in November 2017.
(Even when touring in the UK, always carry your passport and adequate lingerie.)
The weather was brilliant, high pressure, cloudless days and the forecast was good. We decided to tour in our motorhome along the south coast from our home in Devon and spend some time revisiting many of the southern towns. We arrived at Dorchester, found a nice campsite and enjoyed the day wandering around the town, eating out and returning to our cosy motorhome at the end of the day. Alas, after the following two days spent crawling along with many other frustrated, angry drivers and numerous roadworks, I had had enough. Our holiday was going sour. The last straw was when I discovered height-barriers on the various 'Park & Rides' sites at towns we wanted to visit.
There were three women on this vacation. Sylvia, my wife, Jane, the girl's voice on our ancient Tom-tom satnav and my latest love, Siri on my iPhone. There were times when it became quite confusing, Siri would say, “At the roundabout take the third exit,” Jane - “At the roundabout take the second exit,” whereupon Sylvia would really confuse me by saying, “No, they are both wrong, there is no roundabout here.”
I longed to go home, this type of driving was not at all fun. I could not believe the amount of traffic for the time of year. I longed for the peaceful, empty roads of France. I managed to park in a lay-by and picking up my iPhone asked, “Siri, is there a nearby ferry tonight to France?” She responded, "Yes Barrie, there is a midnight crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe, would you like their telephone number?"
At this, my dear wife exclaimed, “You are joking?” I was not, I pointed out that often when bad things happen some good usually comes out of it. Sylvia was not convinced, I said, "well, let's let the ferry office decide... if they have a vacancy, then..." The telephone was answered quickly by a very helpful woman who confirmed that there was indeed availability on the midnight ferry and would we care to book? At this point, I was about to say yes when Sylvia pointed out that she only had enough knickers for a few days. The woman on the other end of the phone overheard this remark and chuckled, pointing out that they sold ladies underwear in France. I usually give in to my wife, on this occasion I insisted, and as it happened this was a good decision. The next few days were the happiest and saddest we have had. Once aboard the ferry we retired to our allocated quarters and slept soundly. Refreshed we awoke quite early and prepared to disembark. We landed at Dieppe and rested on the docks until dawn arrived in a blaze of golden glory and our spirits rose accordingly. Mindful that we were in an area of great wartime memories that we had not visited for years, we soon came across the American War Cemetery. This is where our education began and had the effect of changing our lives and bringing the realisation of the horror and sacrifices of war.
My wife seems to have a sixth sense, she always seems to know when there is a French Supermarket nearby and her antenna twitched as we came across a Leclerc supermarket. Time passed and I sat forlornly in the supermarket car park, the sun had said goodnight and I looked at a lone frenchman sitting nearby in his car, clearly patiently waiting for his wife. Our eyes met in mutual understanding and I pointedly looked at my watch, he with raised eyebrows and in true Gallic style, raised both shoulders momentarily. Some times one does not have to speak a language to gain total comprehension.
Mindful that we still had no place to sleep, my thoughts were interrupted by Sylvia's arrival back at the motorhome pushing an overflowing trolley and wearing a defensive expression. I said nothing.
After packing away enough food to feed an army, we were finally ready to leave the car-park and I picked up my iPhone and asked Siri if there was a campsite in the area? She quickly responded with a reassuring answer, “Yes Barrie, there are five campsites near you, would you like their telephone numbers?” The first one I called was a farm and only four kilometres away. Yes, they had availability and I ended the call, looked at my wife with a smile and started following my iPhone's screen map that Siri had provided. Twenty minutes later we were parked and content...
Over the following days we learned much about WW2. We were glad, yet sad that we had made this journey and I began to realise that my limited literary skills were quite inadequate to convey our overwhelming feeling of sadness. On reflection I am glad we made this memorable journey and I am sure it has made me a better person.
Somewhere south of Salamanca, Spain, A Bull far.
Regular MMM readers will have noticed that many of our adventures have taken place in corners of Europe that were seldom visited by motor-homers, the residents of these out-of-the-way places rarely seeing travellers. Over the past two years, if I have given the impression of high adventure and moments of sheer happiness, well, that is true but it would be wrong of me not to mention that we have also had some occasional mistakes. I used to love exploring various little lanes leading off our intended route but when the lanes gradually disappeared and we were faced with a long reverse not quite so much fun with a motorhome. There are 'warning' signs that things are going wrong, firstly one's wife will become pensive and quiet, grass starts to appear in the centre of the narrow road, any reassuring broad tractor tracks disappear, sometimes the wheels slowly sinking into softer ground, throughout I wear a neutral expression and start to whistle tunelessly...
Many years ago we arrived at Santander in our motorhome and travelled west towards A-Coruna staying overnight at the various beaches. We only did about ten miles per day but noticed that the weather was not as hot as we had hoped. The weather forecast for the south was much better and we turned onto this new heading. We continued to explore on our way south and the further we went, the hotter it became. At one point we impulsively turned inland and when in the middle of rural Spain followed a green track into the middle of a huge area of scrubland andolice trees. A solitary farm-worker peddled by and I mimed 'Ok sleeping here for one night? The farmer showed me his very white teeth and said, "No problem Senor." As the light faded, the wind died away and we marvelled at the solitude and silence. There was no street lighting and I have never seen the stars so bright. It was a little spooky but after a few minutes we went to sleep. travelling southwards from Salamanca looking for a place to stop for a cup of tea, we turned off onto a long dirt track with fields of black bulls sheltering under the olive trees on both sides, nothing else to be seen. At its end we found a clearing with a ruined building and an old church. It was so quiet, just as we liked it, so we stopped and put the kettle on. As we stretched our legs and looked around we saw a huge stork's nest on the top of the church's bell tower.
As we appeared to be miles from civilisation, with the sun getting lower and everything so tranquil we decided to stay for the night and as the sun-set we were treated to a wonderful sky, even after the sun went down below the horizon. I nursed my red wine realising that I was exactly where I wanted to be with the only person in the world I wanted to be with. There was no moon but after Venus appeared it was followed by millions of stars that seemed far brighter that we ever see them in the U.K. As the air chilled so we entered our little motor-home feeling utterly content.
We slept well and at first light were woken by an unusual sound we could not identify, heavy breathing and snuffling. Peering through the curtains I saw not one, but dozens of young, curious bulls who from their movements seemed in a joyous mood, sniffing our van with great interest. We found out later that they Probably thought our van was their feed truck. Without leaving the safety of our motorhome we managed to continue our journey without disturbing the bulls too much. When passing through Salamanca in later years we could never find that farm again as there was a new road nearing completion and it had obscured any chance we had of recognising the area. GPS and SatNavs were not around in those days. Years later we tried again, eventually finding the church, still with the giant nest above, together with it's resident stork. In a moment of whimsey I called up to the roosting bird, "I knew your grandad." Yes, I know, he could not have understood me, I was speaking in English...
I had been trying to increase my share of the cooking during this vacation, so seeing a rich piece of meat in a butcher's display, I boldly pointed and paid for it. Later when we arrived at our chosen campsite I lit the BBQ and prepared the steak. It seemed to take a very long time to cook but finally I removed the charred meat and carved it into manageable sized portions. The meal was remarkable, in that, while delicious juices were released, continuous chewing failed to reduce the meat to the point of swallowing, so one had to discreetly remove the food from one's mouth in order to continue with the rest of the meal. The meat was almost inedible in spite of us steadfastly chewing , my wife failing to make any criticism but wearing a fixed smile. Luckily we were able to fill up on salad and baked potatoes.
Next day on leaving the town I stopped again at the butcher's shop approaching the stocky man who had served me the day before. Luckily he remembered me but as he had no English and I, no Spanish, I was reduced to sign language...I mimed putting food into my mouth and did my best interpretation of a cow by 'mooing'. The butcher look puzzled and shook his head, I repeated the miming with the 'baaing' of a lamb, this too was negated by a puzzled shake of his head. Finally I drummed my fingers on the counter to the cadence of a galloping horse and 'neighed'. At once the man's face lit-up and with both hands in the air replied, "Si Senor, Si Senor" over and over. His face relaxed in a wonderful smile of relief and understanding... We now knew the reason we had to chew so much the evening before, I had bought horse-meat assuming it was beef. I should have done my miming earlier before purchasing. Perhaps the cook was not entirely to blame after all...
The herd instinct.
One could be miles from anywhere. We look on the map to determine our position. On this occasion whilst we were searching for an old monastery we came across a huge, beautiful lake with astounding views and unbelievable tranquillity. The surrounding meadowland was a profusion of wild, colourful flowers and above all there was a vivid blue sky dotted with summer cumulous cloud. Birds darted from tree to tree and there was no sound of human endeavour to be heard, no distant tractor, no high jet aircraft not even the distant barking of a dog. I said to Sylvia, “let us spend the night here, just think what we will wake up to.” It was so decided. The evening wore on and after supper we watched the sun go down, the wind dropped to a zephyr even the birds ceased their calls. Darkness came and so did our change of mood. After climbing into bed we found ourselves listening for the slightest sound, a creak in the cooling van or a distant owl caused us to strain our ears even more. There was no moon and the darkness was quite profound and as I looked out of the van for, I know not what, I reassuringly said, “what are we worrying about? Surely there can be no baddies around here.” Almost asleep, we both sat up, there was a sound. Was that someone tip-toeing around our van? Now fully awake we put the lights on and made a cup of tea. Dressing, we drove onward into the hills and came across a small village hospital. I entered the reception area and asked a nurse if we could sleep for the night in their car park. They could not have been nicer, the answer was yes, and did we need anything? My point is, that by the lake, had another van parked near us for company, we would have slept like logs. Motor-homers prefer company, sometimes there may be a number of them parked together. One is reminded of the early cowboys encircling their wagons. I do not believe that most townsfolk realise just how quiet the countryside can be at night. Certainly the heavens are well worth observing, with no street lighting to polute the sky, the full majesty of the heavens is profound, there seems to be more stars than we are used to seeing. Man-made satellites may be seen moving across the heavens and a shooting star is a special privilege. I was told always to make a wish on these occasions.
One evening we were the only vehicle parked on an official Aire near Honfleur. After dark we were aware that another van had parked near to us. We slept soundly and in the morning I could not open my habitation door as the other van had parked inches from me. I had the same problem with the nearside cab door. Finally by climbing through the driving door I saw that our visitor was a Frenchman and I regarded the incongruous sight of a huge parking area with two vans seemingly welded together. I knocked on the door of his van, the door opened about two inches and a middle aged man wearing an anxious expression looked out. I asked my new French neighbour why he had parked so close, the door opened another inch. He explained in good English that he was new to camping and been instructed that when camping in the open country and not on a proper caravan site, he was to keep close to other campers for security. Understanding dawned and I smilingly pointed out that he was quite right but usually two metres was a good distance but two inches was really too close... he thanked me and later, quietly moved his van a little further away...
For many years, my wife and I have only used our motorhome during the summer months. In the winter our van is started up and driven for a mile or so every fortnight to keep things in order.
I often lament, in the winter, that it is money wasted - seeing it standing there idle.
Both now retired, we often drive our car to Plymouth or Exeter for a day's shopping. Alas now I am getting older I find the return drive to Torquay tiring. I reasoned, we have a vehicle with a bed, why not stay over? So at Christmas we booked on-line two nights at a campsite just outside Bath. The journey up was uneventful and when we arrived, were directed to our reserved site and hooked up to the mains electricity box. The hard standing site was level, we had no need of the ramps and within minutes of settling in, we were able to leave everything for the nearby bus stop (every 10 minutes) to travel to Bath city-centre where we alighted amidst crowds of holiday shoppers, Christmas lights and a wonderful atmosphere. We shopped, visited local ancient places, dined and departed at dusk to return to our motorhome. It was only eight degrees C in the van. The next few hours would decide whether we would use the motorhome more often for more mini-breaks during the winter.
Our Autotrail Excel was equipped with warm air and hot water, powered by diesel-fuel from the vehicle's main tank, a new heating method to us. I called Autotrail and to ensure that sleeping with the heating on is safe. I was reassured. Within a few minutes the system quietened to a whisper as the van had achieved our chosen twenty-one degrees C. Instead of switching on and off as most thermostats often seem to, the equipment stabilised the heat at exactly the chosen setting. I have since learned that this is called, 'fuzzy-logic.' At nine p.m. we lowered the setting to a 'bedroom' twelve degrees. Once more it stabilised and we retired for the night. It was wonderful, we slept like logs to the faint whisper of the warm air system and there was no smell of diesel whatsoever. Initially we were concerned about monoxide poisoning and agonised over the wisdom of sleeping with the heating on. However, the system had recently been serviced and we decided to trust the Auto-sleeper's system. Next morning we discovered that there was no 'steaming-up' of the motorhome windows and after a comfortable nights sleep we caught the bus in the opposite direction and had a lovely day in Bristol. A successful three day outing, especially as now we knew we could be as warm as we wanted any time of year. We will certainly use it more now.
An old fool, a young woman and a chemise. 1999 Near Sarlande, France.
It seemed that many years ago, all garages and service stations in France had a hosepipe somewhere on their forecourts. These seemed to have slowly disappeared and the touring motor-homer sometimes finds it difficult to find water when in rural areas.
Most homeowners are often quite happy to give the traveller water for their motorhome tanks and for this reason we always carried packets of English tea and a selection of boxed biscuits as a thank-you. These were always gratefully received by the homeowner and often resulted in a pleasant conversation and new friends. Indeed, on one occasion we were invited into their home by Ludovic and his wife Florine. Their children gathered around fascinated and wide eyed at hearing our English words, whilst Florine cooked a great stack of crepes. After dinner they offered us the use of their large garden to spend the night and on the morrow even loaned us two bicycles to ride around the local quiet country lanes. We were determined to look after their bicycles and I was annoyed when Sylvia rode through a 'cow-pat'. I said that we could not possibly return the bike with that unsightly stain on the front wheel. I rubbed it with grass, no good, I rode back to a little stream that crossed the road, the water helped a little and I sacrificed a handkerchief in the cleaning process. We have kept in touch over the years and have many happy memories of our times with them.
On this occasion, towards lunchtime, we were travelling north towards Blane from Sarlande, we were rather low on water and as we passed through a little village, Sylvia noticed, on one of the front lawns, a connected yellow hose-pipe. Alighting from the van, I approached the house and rang the front door bell. I saw movement behind the frosted glass and the door was opened wide by a young woman, whose appearance took my breath away. She was about twenty-five years old with long hair, a beautifully slender figure and a smile that actually made my heart jump. It was her half-nakedness that arrested all logical thought, She was wearing the flimsiest, most transparent, loose chemise I have ever seen... I stumbled through my prepared French question, “Bonjour, pouvons-nous utiliser une partie de votre eau pour notre douche?” (Hello, may I use some of your water for our shower?) She joyously clapped her hands together and replied, in English with a delicious French lilt, “But yes monsieur, certainly.” Without a moment's hesitation she tripped across the lawn bent down to pick up the hose and dragged it over towards the van. I nervously fumbled as I removed the water-cap then dropped it, retrieved it, by which time she was near to me with the nozzle in her hand.
She asked softly, “Monsieur, shall I put it in for you?” Wearing a Benny Hill expression I gulped and nodded, searching for ambiguity in her question. I could find none, only helpful gaiety and an innocent desire to help. During the next few moments I had observed her lithe young body, the quickness of her movements and most of all, her engaging and powerful, friendly personality. It was as though she was confiding in me, her eyes never left my face and I did not quite know where to look, (well I did, but tried not to) Almost all was revealed, the image was indelibly etched into my rusting, aged mind and I am sure the memory will remain with me forever.
The water seemed to take a long time filling the tank I was glad and sorry and I stole a glance at my wife sitting in the passenger seat. Sylvia was staring stonily ahead and utterly motionless, this added to my discomfort and I prayed that the tank would fill up soon. The woman chattered away, partly in French and partly in English, mostly looking at me with her head tilted charmingly to one side and to my fevered imagination conveyed affection and possibly more?
I was sixty-three years old at the time and experienced youthful feelings that I had long since forgotten. I do not remember what happened next except watching the girl walking backward away from the vehicle with her hosepipe, still smiling at me...
We travelled along in our Compass Calypso in uncomfortable silence for about five kilometres, Sylvia still stonily staring ahead. I cleared my throat and nervously broke the silence, “Y'all right?” She replied with laughter and mock disapproval in her voice, “I bet you've logged that into your GPS as a point of interest!”. Much later I realised I had not thanked the girl properly with a gift of English tea... Should I go back?
Sometimes, well-meaning folk can be too helpful...
Motor-homers are generally a friendly helpful group, but, once in a while, they are too helpful and although one does not wish to be helped is reluctant to hurt their feelings. Usually these events can happen when arriving on a fresh camp-site, perhaps when trying to enter a difficult bay and you are being given 'helpful' instructions by some resident campers. Generally my wife alights with a walkie-talkie and her directions to me are precise and experienced. Well, I am sure that other readers will have had similar experiences.
What follows was a little more serious. We were topping up our water tank with our hose when a Belgian, speaking with great authority, instructed me to turn off the tap. He then produced a home-made fitment, attached it to the hosepipe, plugging it back into our water inlet. He went on to explain that with this gadget,one did not need to stand holding the hosepipe as his invention was a perfect fit. Alas, he did not realise the water pressure on that particular Spanish campsite was very high and the overflow could not keep pace with the supply. I think you are ahead of me... the tank burst a fitment!
GPS can also create confused situations. I have a SatNav application on my iphone which works very well with a soft female English voice. My wife's iphone has a deep Australian male voice. Some times they can give contradictory directions, then my wife informs me that they are both wrong and I should follow her directions. With them all speaking at once one can get very flustered, but you can guess which one I obey!
Recently, whilst questioning the rising cost of my motorhome's insurance renewal, the telephone salesman mentioned that fitting a tracker could lower my premium. I had just learned that Vodaphone had introduced a tiny transmitter about the diameter of a fifty-pence piece, which once concealed inside the vehicle, could show on one's smartphone, the exact whereabouts of your van to within a few feet. The initial cost of buying the bug outright was £20.00, thereafter only £2.00 per month for the tracking service. Not only has this device lowered my insurance premium but has also given us great peace-of-mind when leaving the vehicle unattended. I have since learned that there are now many trackers available from various other providers.
I read on-line of an owner, realising his van had been stolen from his driveway dialled 999, he was following the tracker positioning on his phone and was able to relay to the police the road numbers and direction the stolen motorhome was being driven in. It was on a motorway heading for the ferry. Twenty minutes later the vehicle was stopped by the police, the occupants arrested and the owner was very relieved to be able to get his van back. The thieves had already fitted false number plates to the £75K motorhome so without the tracker the chances of recovery were very small.
Pedragao in Portugal was another example of helpful people. Sand had blown across the entrance to the aire and appeared to be quite shallow, it was not, and our front-wheel drive vehicle became stuck. Feeling quite foolish I was mindful of being watched by a group of people enjoying a drink outside a nearby cafe. They were very helpful and a Portuguese man approached with a spade, soon followed by others who kindly helped with advice. The rapid loud language and laughter echoed in my ears and I could only repeat my one and only Portuguese word, "Obrigado" (Thank you) until we were clear. Later I learned that the locals had been taking bets on visiting motorhomes getting stuck and we had not disappointed them.
Should one deceive one's wife? 1998, a village in France...
On vacation I sometimes do the daftest things, once more I had decided to prepare a meal for my wife... She regards these events with some trepidation, so on this occasion I decided not to tell her. I would surprise her... We were parked on the central square in a lovely French village, Sylvia was shopping and I too decided to walk around the area and, as always, I gravitated to the fresh fish shop. Strangely, I never visit such shops in the U.K. but somehow it is different when overseas. The choice of fish was amazing and the wares were skilfully presented. It was a little confusing as the names of the fish were different from back home. My eyes lit upon some large prawns and I had read somewhere that they were very easy to cook and delicious especially with garlic and olive oil. The image in my mind seemed very appealing so I bought some. Was there enough? I played it safe as I was getting quite hungry and bought a large number. Envisioning this meal, I considered the bread. My wife always likes crusty French rolls especially with butter. I walked to the boulangerie the smell of freshly baked bread made me feel even more hungry and I bought some freshly-baked crusty baguettes. My next stop was a delicatessen, and with growing confidence I bought fresh garlic and olive oil, the male assistant, in stumbling English, asked me if I wanted a virgin? I later found out to what he was referring. Almost salivating I started out for the motorhome, unpacked my groceries and slowly realised that I did not really know how to prepare this seafood. There was no Google to ask and Siri hadn't been invented then. I regarded my situation, it dawned upon me that I did not even know where Sylvia kept the frying pan.
Our van had a 'half' habitation door, Sylvia liked it and when standing at it, I often felt like an ice-cream salesman. I stood in the doorway inwardly asking my God for inspiration, I did not have to wait long. I observed a matronly woman unlocking the Peuguot car parked alongside. I showed her my prawns and speaking English with a French accent asked her how to cook them. There followed a friendly torrent of French of which I understood very little. Like a fool, I stood there nodding as though my understanding was complete. Clearly the woman knew otherwise and opening the lower part of the door she entered with great authority, positioned herself before the cooker and I watched with fascination as she assembled all the ingredients then placed them into a pan that appeared as though by magic then adding some butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and other mysterious herbs that my wife had brought with us. She seemed to know automatically how to light the gas and very soon the smell of prawns was wonderful. My spirits soared and I busied myself laying the table and opening a bottle of white wine. The glasses and serviettes were strategically folded and placed and I cut the baguette into chunks of crusty bread and buttered them.
I watched the woman working most professionally and once more the words of Maurice Chevallier came into my mind, 'Zank heaven for leetle girls...” Soon my new cook, finding the plates, put them into the oven to warm. I was getting both hungry and excited. The lady had no English and I repeatedly said “Merci Madam” to which she nodded and then finally served up the meal. Sprightly, for one of her girth, the woman bade me 'au revoir' left the van, entered her car and drove off with a little wave. My saviour. Looking back I feel guilty that I had not even offered her a glass of wine.
I have now been married for about fifty-three years, Sylvia once said, “They don't give you that long for murder!” During this time I seemed to be waiting for her quite often. Before we could leave the house there was always, 'one more thing' she had forgotten... On this occasion I prayed that she would hurry and return before this perfect meal cooled. I was not disappointed, my wife entered the vehicle sniffing and on seeing the food seemed to be delighted. During the meal indicating the prawns with the buttery garlic sauce she said to me, “This is delicious and so unexpected.” I accepted the compliment wit an air of largesse and like a TV chef, whereupon I felt uneasy, I am not good at concealing things from my wife. I think she had guessed, and as we mopped up the remainder of the sauce I confessed all. We laughed as we had both enjoyed the prawns and my experience.
Liendo... A random choice of villages, a random choice of house and I meet, probably the only Spaniard who spent his life working at our nearby hospital the U.K.
In 1999 we were travelling east from Santander along the coast road in Cantabria but, as usual were tempted onto side roads and explored, what we called, 'new territory' and arrived at Liendo. There was a 'mirador' (viewpoint) en route and the view was unforgettable. We drove down through the village and stopped by a little row of houses in a very quiet part of the town with some wasteland opposite. It seemed an ideal place for us to spend the night. I approached one of the houses, with geraniums/Pelagoniums around the door, and was greeted by a tall man, about seventy years old. He smiled and turned an enquiring head. I asked if he spoke English, he did, and surprisingly well, so I asked if it would be okay to park and sleep opposite, that we required nothing and would leave early next morning. He shook his head and said, “No.” Then added, “You will be better off parking in my driveway” (see photograph). He asked us what part of England we were from, when we replied, Torquay, he smiled and said that for most of his life he had worked at Exeter hospital. We were astounded and delighted, and that evening we spent a long time talking to Pedro about the southwest and its various towns some of which seemed to evoke happy memories for him. As is often the custom in rural Spain, the entire ground floor of his home was occupied by chickens pecking around his farm tools, whilst he resided on the first and second floors, it seemed curious to our English eyes.
We visited Pedro in Liendo whenever we were in Spain. One year Sylvia prepared dinner for us all in the motorhome, no small feat, we enjoyed a lovely roast meal and desert that I defy any TV chef to emulate under the resricted circumstances. Sylvia is a creative, resouceful and experienced cook that still astounds me me, even after 50 years of marriage! Later over brandy and choclate Pedro admitted to us that the thing he missed most about England was the tea. Not tea bags but loose-tea, thereafter we either delivered or posted some to him from time to time. Quite recently one of his family wrote to us saying he had passed on. It felt like a chapter of a book had ended.
Nowadays whenever we leave our planned or unplanned route, we switch our iPhone to 'trail' mode. Thus, like a snail, we can leave a clear trail on the screen's map and in the event of our getting lost, we can easily retrace our route. Sometimes we get caught out, in that we cover the same ground again. This is soon revealed and we can re-adjust our wanderings, even in the most complex of cities. Another good tip is to 'log' one's position with one of the many 'apps' (applications) and thereafter, wherever you are in the country, a little arrow will always point back to your 'logged' position and show the distance-off. We found this especially useful in Pamploma, as after an afternoon exploring, we had no idea of which direction to head back to our van and as the buildings surrounding us were so very tall we had to search for an open area in order to get the satellites to get a 'fix' and then we were back on track.
1999 Spain -Parador.
Parador – Wikipedia: A parador (Spanish pronunciation: [paɾaˈðoɾ]), in Spain is a kind of luxury hotel, usually located in a converted historic building such as a monastery or castle. Often run by the government.
One day as we were travelling towards Madrid along quiet country roads we came across a Parador. It was a beautiful stately building set in spacious grounds surrounded by open fields. I decided that perhaps it would be a good place for us to sleep as a change, a treat for us both, instead of the motorhome. The gardens were beautifully maintained and the views spectacular. Having parked our humble vehicle in the car park, we entered the lobby and approached the desk. Our surroundings were grand and a little intimidating. I spoke to the receptionist with some deference, rather as one would approach the headmaster at school. He was very smartly dressed as one would expect and welcomed me with an enquiring smile. I already liked him. I explained that we would like accommodation for the night and did he have availability? He said they did and would we like to book? I nodded but thought I ought to ask the price. The man, Miguel, mentioned a 'nightly' figure which would greatly reduce our entire holiday budget. I looked at my wife and receiving no guidance there, decided to tell the man, we simply could not afford it. He was not at all condescending, indeed he pointed out that whilst we were there we were welcome to enjoy the gardens and the hotel's facilities. I thanked him most sincerely and prepared to leave. At this point Miguel spoke, “Sir, I see you have a camping-car, if you would like to stay there tonight, you would be very welcome.” Pleasantly surprised at his kindness, we moved our Calypso van to a remote part of the car park to stop beneath a row of eucalyptus trees and as it happened we had some of the best views of our surroundings. One of the gardeners later approached us to see if we needed anything? We slept soundly that night and I realised that, in the future, over dinner, we could casually mention to our friends that we had spent a night at a Parador.
The flying Scot...
In 2015 we were trying to drive to a site in L'Escala but uncertain of our route, a lot of the campsites were still closed. As we stopped to check our map we noticed another camper-van with UK plates driving by, so quickly flagged them down. The driver resembled the famous TV star, Billy Connelly speaking with a the same Scottish accent. Learning of our predicament he explained that they were going to the same campsite and we were to follow them. I should mention that his was a smaller, nimbler motorhome whilst ours was more cumbersome. With a cheerful wave he climbed into his vehicle, setting off at a pace I knew we could not easily equal. I did my best but there were groceries spilling from the fridge, plates rattling around all accompanied by my wife humming 'The Devil Rides Out' from that famous old radio program, Dick Barton, Special Agent! Earlier MMM readers will remember the similar scene near Alicante when the police insisted in helpfully leading us to a fridge-repairer near the town centre at rush hour. We were closely following the police vehicle with its blue lights and sirens, looking as though we were chasing the police car!
When we eventually arrived at the site we found it even better than we expected and spent several days there exploring a 'new to us' area.
Des Abers, Brittany.
We have visited hundreds of campsites since 1975. Some have been less than acceptable, but it is the outstandingly good ones that will never leave my memories. One such is Des Abers in Brittany.
A few sites are very regimented, to the point of absurdity, others, just the opposite, a shambling disarray and a general atmosphere of grubbiness, unsmiling staff and often inflated prices. Most campsites are very welcoming, with good facilitates and service. I have no connection with Des-Abers financial or otherwise but it was rather like visiting old friends and to this end we have repeated our visits most years.
The site is on a peninsula where one is never far from the sea and I decided make a video with our aerial movie and snapshots which has now received many views. I believe that readers will enjoy this short movie, especially when we were leaving, surprisingly we were serenaded by our hosts, who we had not realised, were professional singers.
Parking on new sites-bossy woman
Many of our favourite campsites overseas have been established for many years and have mature olive trees around and spreading over the bays. Some can be perilously close to the roofs of the bigger vans. Some motor-homers say they should be removed, I disagree, The trees are beautiful, living, often very old and give welcome shade in summer. I often felt it was a privilege to sleep underneath an olive tree.
When manoeuvring into our parking bay is tricky then my wife and I always use our walkie-talkies. These are invaluable and can give the driver great peace of mind. We are becoming quite expert using these and enjoy great teamwork. Sometimes other campers will try to help you. Such assistance is always welcome as their intentions are good, and we never refuse their help for fear of hurting their feelings. They were all trying to help, but sometimes, I wish they wouldn't.
I believe that existing campers closely observe all new arrivals with interest, especially their ability or otherwise of setting up their vehicle on their plot. I have seen that modern caravans can now be manoeuvred into position with a hand-controller. Amazing. It must be a boon to older and newer caravaners. One owner proudly demonstrated that he could even open the skylight automatically by remote control. I cannot help feeling that sometimes technology goes a little too far, as winding the handle is probably much less bother, especially when having mislaid the handset.
One memorable day a newcomer arrived on site, a haughty lady passenger alights and starts to give directions to the driver. Her voice seemed controlled and clearly in command she appeared to be demonstrating that they are a team, exuding a quiet casual confidence. This lady disappears behind their van as it reverses and now in a cultured, upper-class voice was showing little patience with her cautious driver. Suddenly there is a horrible sound of aluminium embracing granite as the vehicle is brought to a violent standstill. The woman now notices an obstruction she had not previously seen and thoroughly alarmed now screams,"Stop, stop for God's sake stop." The driver jumps down from the cab. The lady immediately shouts at the unfortunate man, "Why didn't you stop when I asked you to?" Looks of incredulity passed between the watching resident campers. Thereafter the poor man is berated publicly and unmercifully for his wife's error, while men of all nations look on with great sympathy and understanding. Me? No, I am not a misogynist.
Finally, I was driving my car through Torquay one rainy, cold day when I noticed an old lady with a bulging shopping bag waiting at a bus stop hunched under an umbrella. I decided to give her a lift. She was very grateful and on arrival at her destination she struggled to exit the car managing to puncture my car's headlining with her umbrella. C'est la vie...
Motorhomes and light aircraft...
Enrich your motorhome touring experience by chartering a light aircraft with pilot
for much less than you may think. £45.00 on one occasion.
In 1970 I was a student pilot at Wolverhampton's Pendeford Airfield. Even though I am now eighty-four years old I still try to manage to get a couple of flights in whilst touring with our motor-home. I mention this because many people do not realise how easy and inexpensive it can be to privately charter a light aircraft to really enjoy the wonderful sights from the air in the area you are visiting. Even if you have no flying qualifications you can still enter most local flying clubs and arrange to take a scenic flight in a two, four or even a six-seater aeroplane. Many of the world's airports have a small flying club somewhere on the field for light-aircraft pilots to fly from. The best way is for you to take a 'taster' lesson from their tuition section and the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) will usually give you hands-on experience during the flight whilst your friends enjoy the view. In Florida I flew from lake to lake in a small seaplane from an informal flying school, the views were spectacular and the experience unforgettable. Like many businesses, flying schools are always on the lookout for new clients and sometimes your first 'taster' flight can persuade you to undertake further lessons. Your first trip will be straight-and-level flight maintaining a constant altitude and heading and later, gentle turns. Your passengers will appreciate this whilst you, the pilot will have little time to enjoy the view, concentrating to such an extent that after a while you will be glad to hand back control, then you too can enjoy the wonderful views.
Flying in Europe is no less pleasurable. One of the best flights I took in recent times, was a flight from Dinan in Brittany. The coastal views were spectacular, you will not need a 'students-pilot's-licence' for this type of flight.
On the outskirts of a large airport, we once found a small microlight flying school. These microlight aircraft are becoming more popular as they cost much less to operate than the regular light aircraft and accordingly the fees are less. Alas, they can only take one passenger. Many microlights are 'weight-shift' whereby you have to hang beneath a hand-glider type wing. I prefer and recommend the orthodox three-axis regular enclosed more comfortable cockpit, but younger readers may think differently.
Some motor-homers can be retired persons and they will be astounded at the experience and informality of these little clubs, Sylvia revels in these informal flights indeed we have sometimes parked overnight using the field as our home-base for a few days while enjoying these impromptu events. The beauty of the motor-home is the ability to change locations whenever one pleases without pre-booking. Regular readers of the MMM will recall the vacation where we found the English south-coast far too busy with traffic and bad tempered drivers so we asked Siri, our iPhone guide, if there was a convenient (for us) ferry to France, we decided to trust her for the entire Normandy vacation
If you want to 'spice-up' your touring then ask Siri for directions to the nearest flying school? She will provide the telephone number to enable you to enquire and perhaps experience light-aircraft flying. Believe me, no holiday especially, a rugged coastal one, is complete without a light aircraft flight. The view from a jetliner at 30,000 feet and 500mph is no comparison to a light aircraft cruising slowly at 1000 feet above ground level.
When I joined a parachute club a few years ago, Sylvia spotted a small glider and took her first sailplane lesson, recently at Exeter she had her first Gyroplane lesson, which she enjoyed, the instructor told her, 'Ma'am, you're a natural' upon which she squirmed and blushed, then uttered those famous words, "Really? What a blow to the male ego.
Once you have developed a taste for light aviation you can try gliding schools, paragliding, ballooning, helicopter and latterly the gyroplanes which now have sophisticated, enclosed cosy cockpits.
I was seventy when I tried my first parachute jump with an instructor strapped to my back, he was a part-time preacher, this was reassuring as I felt he had friends in high places.
Go on... relive your youth, it may that we are only on this level of existence but once, I may be wrong but play it safe, be adventurous, be spontaneous, live as though there is no tomorrow and enjoy this life in case it is the only one you will get.
Thunder in Switzerland,
Autumn, 2005. We were in Switzerland and it was getting dark. We had left it a little too late to find a camping site. We stopped outside a little village in a rural area hoping to find a central square to park in but no joy. I knocked on the door of nearby house and asked, in my best German, if there was anywhere nearby we could stay the night. The owner was very helpful and indicated a place in his drive beneath some trees. We exchanged pleasantries and retired for the night.
The following morning as we were going to leave, it was too early to wake our hosts, so we left a box of English biscuits and a little thank-you note on their doorstep and started out to our next destination. The roads were very quiet and we travelled along at an easy pace for some miles in companionable silence until a red traffic light demanded that I stop. I braked gently and was surprised to hear a deep rumble of thunder, distant but unmistakably thunder. As there was high pressure and a cloudless sky we looked at each other in amazement. The mystery was soon solved as a number of ripe, red apples rumbled across our roof, dropped over the windscreen and bounced off the bonnet into the roadway... The trees we had sheltered under must have been apple trees...
Circa 2008 The naked truth...
It was the hottest day of the year and we had driven our motorhome to Chelston Motorhomes, a dealership near Wellington, Somerset. We were in a position to upgrade our van and so parked in the designated, customer car park. I was very hot and bothered as our van had no air-conditioning. I asked Sylvia to make a start on viewing the vans for sale whilst I would take a quick shower in the van to cool off. The shower was wonderful and after a few minutes I was much refreshed and also felt a movement in the vehicle. I wondered why my wife had returned so quickly, I opened the shower door to be confronted by an elderly couple who were 'viewing' the van. They stood, surprised at seeing a naked man in the bathroom wearing a shocked expression and nothing else. First reactions are often a give-away to truth and I saw that the lady had involuntarily, fractionally, moved forward with hands held before her followed by her her husband was who was trying to draw her away. I grabbed my towel which then had become entangled with its hook and covering myself tried to explain to them that this was a customer parking area and not one for vehicle sales. Embarrassment evaporated and we all laughed at the incident and laughed even more when the old lady on leaving, wearing a wistful, distant expression nearly fell down the entrance steps... (You never know what's around the corner with this motorhoming business!
After visiting old friends in Sarlande, we headed for Perigueux. Camping is encouraged here at this charming town in the Dordogne. Alongside the River Isle there is a campercar servicing point for fresh water, plenty of parking with many other needs for the motorhomes, there is only a little charge. We have found councils offering the same facilities in many other parts of France.
So very different from car-parks in the UK where one may find negative camping signs in abundance. Indeed, at one South Devon public car-park I had paid for twenty-four hours and then an attendant strolled over and asked if we intended to sleep there. When I replied “yes”, to my astonishment the man said, “Okay, you can park, but you must not 'sleep' as this is against the councils rules.” He was serious! I would like to tell you that I sat up throughout the night with heavy lidded eyes, but I would be lying. Normally we try never to break local laws, indeed when overseas we have a strong code, When in Rome etc.
Back to Perigueux, as you can see from the photograph there were many vans parked and the owners were quiet and well behaved, all seemed friendly. We sat, with a glass of wine, till late in the evening behind our vans watching the River Isle flow by. It was such a lovely place to wake up in and an interesting little town to explore with lots of history. (Wikipeadia, The name Périgueux comes from Petrocorii, a Latinization of Celtic words meaning "the four tribes" – the Gallic people that held the area before the Roman conquest. Périgueux was their capital city. In 200 BC, the Petrocorii came from the north and settled at Périgueux and established an encampment at La Boissière. After the Roman invasion, they left this post and established themselves on the plain of L'Isle, and the town of Vesunna was created. This Roman city was eventually embellished with amenities such as temples, baths, amphitheatres, and a forum. At the end of the third century AD, the Roman city was surrounded by ramparts, and the town took the name of Civitas Petrocoriorum).
A silly little revenge but a very satisfying one...
I met Jürgen whilst we were both emptying our respective toilet cassettes into the Quimico* at Vizmar campsite in Spain. I try usually to choose a moment when there is no one else around carrying out this necessary motorhome task. It is not an unpleasant job, but somehow, an embarrassing one. When pretty lady camper walks nearby during this ritual I often can feel uncomfortable, however when walking to the toilet block with our evening's after-dinner washing-up, I cheerfully meet any woman's gaze and use a little of my German language. 'Ich bin eine guten house frau''. Usually, this brings a smile to her face and she will reply , 'I wish my husband would help me... are you are married?' When I nod she goes on in a confidential tone with that delicious beguiling accent that most continental females have, 'Your wife... she is very lucky'. I squirm with delight and embarrassment. I sometimes flatter myself with my ability to strike up a conversation with a female stranger. Sylvia, my wife since 1966, is well aware of this weakness I have, I once heard her tell her friend, 'Oh he loves the company of women, but I do not worry, He is like an old barking dog chasing a car, even if he catches it, he won't be able to drive it!'
Back to my meeting with Jürgen who was watching me carefully as I emptied my cassette, carefully rinsed it out with water from the supplied hose then measured the blue sterilising fluid into it before sliding the trapdoor closed. I turned and smiled at my examiner whereupon he stood very straight and said, 'Zat is not good hygiene, you should wear a plastic apron, as I am, you should wear plastic gloves, as I am. Bad germs are everywhere... my motorhome, she is spotless, I keep everyzink clean...' At this point, I started to turn away and with a disarming smile replied lamely, 'I will remember what you say'.
The following morning, while still in my dressing gown enjoying my first cup of tea I noticed Jürgen, whose 'van was in the next bay, sweeping the dirt from his 'vehicle out onto the ground. I rose and grabbed my new Dyson vacuum cleaner from the shower room and started to use it near the door where my tormentor could see and hear my machine. I nodded, smiled as he regarded my Dyson with some surprise. I pointed to his broom then indicating the dirt he had expelled, then wearing a serious expression I said, 'dirt onto the road, not good hygiene' and wagged an admonishing finger. To his credit and my surprise he smiled with 'mock' shame and asked if I normally carry a mains-electric cleaner on vacation? I explained, that it was a new addition to our home in England and I was still fascinated with its efficiency and ease of use.
Once, when near Quateira, we were parked near a German camper who looked sinister and Sylvia was a little unsettled. He was about fifty, a shaven head, numerous finger rings and a great deal of gold including front teeth and a scowl. It was the scowl and purposeful movements that were so unsettling. Had I met him in a dark alleyway...! I faced him directly and in my best German asked him if he had slept well the previous night? The result was astounding, his face broke in a warm smile and he responded in his best English, "Yes and are you staying long?" We chatted and became friends, I quite liked him. Sylvia and I had privately nicknamed him as Kaiser-Bill. I have learned to never judge a sausage... well you know the rest. It was a touching moment when we departed the campsite, Kaiser Bill came over and said in his stumbling English, "Barrie, I have der camping-car for many years and you are the only English man to ever talk with me, I will never forget you." With that he turned away and I am sure there was a tear in his eye.
Once on another occasion we noticed a very posh couple in a bay with a good view. Their car and caravan were both new. I was immediately reminded of Barry and Yvonne from the TV series, Hi di-Hi... They never met one's eye and would disdainfully respond to a cheery, "Good-morning" with an icy response. During the two weeks we were there, I never saw them speak to other campers.
Fellow campers can be most interesting in that one can try to guess their lives from their dress, manner, motorhome and their ways of doing things. Watching new arrivals at a camp-site is a well-known pastime and I often feel sorry as too many eyes can make one feel a little self-conscious. Sometimes, if I am in a whimsical mood, I will step back from my vehicle, briefly raise a glass of red wine then move to the rear of our van and repeat the procedure. Invariably a fellow camper will remark on my 'toasting' the newly parked camper-van saying, 'You are loving your camping car very much I think?' I usually smile and point out that I do not have a spirit-level and am comparing the van-level to the level of the wine in my glass and when the van is correct I drink the wine. They look at me as though I am joking so keeping a straight face I mention that sometimes, on the bumpy ground I may need two or three attempts and am quite tiddly by the time the ramps are in a correct position. This usually brings a smile and at this point, my wife offers them a glass...
Making friends from most nations is very easy especially at sunset on a warm evening when small groups form, the sun goes down, as does the bottle contents. Nowadays using the modern speech-interpreter on one's smart-phone makes life very easy. You speak into it in English and out comes a voice in whatever language you have chosen, they then speak in their language and the voice repeats to us their words in English. Truly we live in remarkable times. There sometimes can be errors, one Frenchman, pointing to a plaster on my knee asked if I had fallen over? Using my smartphone, I said that I had fallen off my bike trying to keep up with my wife as she had been peddling too fast. There was laughter as the other Spanish guest explained to his wife that Sylvia had been piddling too fast! Some of the happiest moments of my life have been whilst motorhoming. The nearest comparison I can make is the lifelong bond I have made with fellow airmen in the RAF in 1955. Certainly, most motor-homers acknowledge each other when passing on the road, a tradition that I hope will continue.
* (Quimico, The Spanish word for a chemical toilet disposal point.)
Drama on the ship. French sailors dancing in a row...
It was on the maiden voyage of the Brittany Ferries flagship ship, 'The Pont-Aven' travelling from Plymouth to Santander. We were in our motorhome, had a nice cabin and enjoyed a very comfortable crossing. On arrival, we were asked to go down to the car-deck prior to disembarking.
Our vehicle was one of the first in the queue to exit as we were very close to the huge doors.
We waited for the doors to open and felt privileged as we would be the first off the ship. Usually we have a long wait until after all others.
A loud siren sounded and continued to sound and sounding like a Darlec, Sylvia croaked out, “Evacuate, evacuate.” We watched as the bow doors opened and then waited, and waited... Something was amiss, A number of the crew and naval officers were examining the ramp which appeared not to lower fully. More deck hands arrived, and arranged themselves in a row on the ramp edge. Walkies-talkies were being used and the lead officer asked that the mechanism was to be operated yet again. The switch was turned on and all the sailors jumped up and down to try to 'free' the stuck ramp. It was an hilarious sight, officer ranks have a natural dignity and I could see a little embarrassment creeping in under the gaze of the first rows of cheering, happy passengers and others who had vacated their vans to gain a better view. The method failed and the ramp remained stubbornly angled. I pondered that we all may have to exit by the other end of the ship... Then I realised that if so, the ship would have to be turned around.
The senior officer must have decided that it was the un-coordinated jumping of the staff that was not helping, he took up a position in front of the gathering and shouted, “tous-ensemble,” presumably, 'all-together', conveying to them that they must all jump in unison. To this end, the switch was operated yet again and the lead officer started to conduct to the desired rhythm. (Move over Daniel Barenboim.) The crew were of all sizes and some jumped higher than others, some were awkward and failed somewhat, but most were smiling and I remember thinking irreverently that the chubby one was doing an excellent job. It was like watching a stage show with a conductor at the front, a colourful sight. Soon they got it together and I could hear passengers clapping in time with the jumps. I remembered the 'Tiller girls' (chorus girls) of yesteryear, one or two horns were sounded and somebody turned on their headlights adding to the scene of farce and theatre before us. Finally the ramp lowered properly, the clapping became irregular as the audience cheered and one or two of the officers bowed. The event made everybody smile and my wife dryly commented, “You know, they really do go to a lot of trouble to amuse the passengers.”
Three waterlogged girls near the river. Is my wife a mind-reader?
We decided to stay at a campsite on the banks of the river Mayenne, France. We were driving our VW based five cylinder Compass Calypso Motorhome. The Calypso was not a common van only rarely did we see another. It was drizzling yet warm. It was late July. Setting the handbrake I asked if I could help with the meal. I poured a little wine and my wife performed her usual 'miracle-in-seconds' and soon a tasty salmon-salad appeared in front of me.
We were watching the otters playing under the bank on the far side of the water when a few moments later another Motorhome parked a few yards from us, it was another Compass Calypso. Astonishing. Of all the vans in the world... Later we were to have an interesting conversation with our new neighbour, a widow of uncertain age who was travelling alone. It was a sad, yet lovely tale, Mary, explained that she and her husband had travelled France many times and now she was alone, she decided to re-visit their previous destinations in their old van.
After the meal I became sleepy, this happens more and more as one's years advance. The wine, the warmth and my relaxed state of mind conspired to assist me to visit slumberland. I was half awakened by the arrival alongside of a small, ancient Citroen from which climbed three young women who started to erect a tent. I am a normal male and hope that I am not giving the reader the impression of a lecherous old man, but, the sight was compelling. Each was clad in a thin cotton dress that was becoming wetter and wetter, clinging to their bodies in a most interesting manner. My wife observed that I was now fully awake, and as I yawned with feigned indifference and once more, tried to close my eyes. Sylvia returned to her book, I abandoned my attempt at sleep and once more turned my attention to the wine and the compelling scene unfolding before me. The ropes, the tent and other springy bits of plastic were indeed a puzzle, and the girls struggled to assemble it. Finally the ladies completed the job and with that, the rain fell with a greater vengeance. I looked with compassion at our new visitors and inwardly reflected how warm and comfortable we were. At this point my wife, without taking her eyes from the book firmly exclaimed, “No.”
I turned to her with raised eyebrows and said, “No what?”
Sylvia, “You are not inviting them in for red wine and shelter.”
Me, lamely, “I don't know what made you think that.” Sylvia smiled, “Oh Barrie you are so transparent... Alas, the young women leaving their tent erect, drove away in their car and I never saw them again. C'est la vie...
Gin & Tonic... Police chase through Alicante.
In the early days of motorhoming very few vans were equipped with a refrigerator. Indeed, not every home in the UK had one. Our newly acquired VW Devon did and I was thrilled to bits with it. My enthusiasm may be difficult for modern people to understand, but of all the wonders of this vehicle, the fridge was my pride and joy. One could enjoy ice-cold drinks and more importantly, ice-cubes in our gin & tonic at the end of the day.
One very hot day we were parked in Alicante for our lunch, on opening the fridge door I noticed that my choc-ices and ice-cubes had melted. This, for us was a major disaster, so getting the handbook out I attempted a repair. I was unsuccessful. I looked in the Electrolux book for their nearest dealer. In those days there was no GPS and as I studied the map, realised that navigating to their shop would be quite difficult. The occupants of a nearby police car strolled over in the manner that police throughout the world have with Sylvia remarking, that they looked very angry. Indeed the swarthy officers looked quite menacing especially with their guns strapped to their belts. Still unsmiling they asked me if I had a problem. showed them the fridge handbook and the Alicante service shop and that I I needed to get to and showed them the melting ice cubes and a half bottle of gin. At once their mood changed, their first reaction was to nod sympathetically with our predicament then after a rapid Spanish exchange they smiled and indicated that we should follow them at once. We did as best we could, with the police car's siren and flashing blue lights we were trying hard to keep up with them.... The busy traffic parted like the Red Sea and our VW rocked and swayed as our groceries relocated themselves and slid around, cupboard doors spilled their contents, water sloshed in containers as we cornered fast trying to keep up with the police car on the bumpy roads. Bemused pedestrians watched with surprise as they witnessed one of their police cars, seemingly being chased by an English camping-car. The van had never been driven so urgently but it seemed ungrateful not to try to keep up. Finally when we arrived at the Electrolux servicing shop, the police climbed from their car and approached us. They had very little English but repeatedly said, "No problem Senor, you... good sleep, holiday, yes?" Miming a drink being swallowed. What a wonderful experience.
We now viewed the Spanish Police with 'new-eyes' indeed on a later vacation in northern Spain we were travelling eastwards along the north coast when we saw two motorcycle police officers at the side of the road. I stopped and miming that we were tired asked if there was a beach nearby where we could spend the night? Once again the Spanish police swung into action and with great enthusiasm directed us to a local beach, called Galizano. There were sheer cliffs on one side enclosing a deep sandy beach with rock-pools. After parking we walked out towards the sea while noticing that the cliffs were echoing our voices in a manner that I had not experienced before. The silence was profound, the sea was mirror-like and even when we were a long way from the cliffs, it was weird to hear our voices reflected back so clearly. To this day, we still call the place, Echo-beach. Getting back to our Autosleeper Legend and just before we turned in, an elderly couple approached asking if we had plenty of food, we assured them that we had, but they insisted on giving us a tin of sardines which they said had been canned locally.
France. A Motorhome, a wife and a mistress... November, 2017.
My Mistress is a character called, Siri. She lives in my iPhone and I ask her questions from time to time. Really she is the voice of a computer with, seemingly, unlimited knowledge. She uses my first name and many would believe that I was speaking to a real person. My wife and I were touring Northern France and, mindful that many sites were closed for the season, decided to use her services. 1630 hours and it was getting dark, my wife was shopping in LeClerc's, I was mindful that we still had to find a campsite. I selected the App (Application) that summoned Siri on my iPhone.
Siri: “Hello Barrie, what can I help you with” ?
Me: “Is there a campsite near here”?
Siri: “Here is what I have found.”
There followed a list of about 15 campsites together with their locations and telephone numbers, I called the first one which was 2km away. I telephoned the number and learned that they had closed at the end of October.
I called the second one which was about 3km away. Yes! They were open and I said I would drive over at once. (After my wife had finished her shopping). Siri then activated 'maps' on my 'phone and painted an easy-to- follow red route and all turnings. Shortly after we were plugged into the electricity supply and enjoying a small glass of red wine. The rest of our vacation went along the same lines. God bless Siri... For more adventures in a motorhome, please see http://barrie-james.com (Other apps on my iPhone include an altimeter and compass. These are great fun to use when travelling through the mountains when I can imagine that I am not in a motorhome but a busy pilot in foreign skies.)
Biscay. Another voyage-Motorhome mayhem in heavy weather.
It was a dark and stormy night for our return home. The weather forecast for Biscay was not encouraging and we knew we were in for a rough crossing to Plymouth. We had joined the ship at Santander and been allotted our parking places on the car deck. I was dismayed but not surprised to see so many vehicles chained securely down to the deck forecasting the rough seas ahead.
We have found that in these circumstances the best place to be was in bed. Shortly after the ship left the shelter of the docks, a horrible long, slow, corkscrewing roll started. Already I was feeling sick and after a difficult shower and having to clutch the safety bar, I retired to bed, Sylvia was already asleep and I envied her. I also hoped to sleep as an anticipated eighteen hours of sickness and misery was not appealing. Surprisingly I seemed to fall asleep in minutes and was soon awakened by the telephone ringing. It was one of the girls from reception who after apologising for disturbing us explained that as the weather might worsen the loadmaster wanted to separate the motorhomes to give a greater, safer distance from each other, so would I mind coming to the reception area? I dressed, complied and was soon joined by by other vehicle owners.
The boat deck was not overcrowded and we all followed the instructions of the ship's deck officer. The vans were now safely separated and a number of owners had returned to their cabins. I was about to leave when I saw an unbelievable sight. After a particularly large wave a motorhome on the far side of the deck started to move backwards. As one, all five of us rushed towards the van that, of its own accord, had stopped within a few inches from its neighbour. As the ship passed through the wave it tilted the other way and once more the van started to move, but now in the opposite direction. There was about ten feet to go before it would collide with another van. Without a word, we all tried to restrain the runaway vehicle and mercifully the sea calmed for a few moments and the vehicle stopped.
The officer summoned urgent help and shortly afterwards a number of orange-clad seamen appeared. They needed to move the vehicle to a anchor point on the deck and to this end produced some trollies which they placed under the vehicle. This made the errant van even more mobile and we all hastily moved the van to the deck-points where it was secured.
There were no thanks to us from the crew who had now assumed a matter-of-fact and casual air as though the event was normal. The seas did get worse and I knew that had it not been for the efforts of passengers and crew that night that at least two other vehicles would have been damaged.
The following day, when disembarking I mentioned the incident to the careless owner of the motorhome, who responded lamely, “I'm having trouble with that handbrake.” Disgusted I turned away.
Some days later I received an email from the company containing the usual request for our opinion of the service of our recent voyage. Brittany Ferries give a very good service and we nearly always give a favourable answer. On this occasion in the, 'any other comments' section I mentioned the foregoing and asked that in the light of that event, perhaps on departure, as one is always greeted by a friendly uniformed girl who explains where the nearest staircase is, she might say to the driver, “Is your handbrake on and is your vehicle in gear?”
In later voyages I noted that this idea was never taken up and I wondered if the event had even been logged.
February 5th. 2019 (Motorhome.
Early February is Sylvia's birthday. I believe that this is a rotten time of year and invariably the weather is poor and our spirits are low. The promise of spring seemed as far away as ever. One year we were due to fly to Florida on this hallowed day and I decided to surprise Sylvia whilst over the Atlantic. I had explained my plan to the male flight attendant and asked him if he would deliver my birthday card to my wife when we were about halfway over the Atlantic, possibly saying, with a smile, “Sylvia James? This has just arrived by special messenger.” By this time, I hoped we would have consumed a G&T or two and it would have been a nice surprise for her.
It all went wrong. As we were taxiing to the end of the 'take-off' runway the male attendant moving along the aisles with a stern face checking seat belts. I was horrified to see he was carrying a large pink envelope that I suspected was my 'surprise' card. Arriving alongside our seats he checked our seatbelts and then unsmilingly he silently handed the card to my wife. It had all gone wrong, I was annoyed and my wife confused.
Forward to her birthday in 2019. The weather here in Torquay was dismal, wet, cold and dispiriting. We were both a little depressed, wishg we were in sunnier climes and I decided to prepare a little surprise as our motorhome (an Autosleeper Broadway) was sat in the driveway. I had an idea. I went out to our motorhome, put on the van's hot-air heating, closed the curtains, and turned on the discrete concealed lights. Soon the temperature was about 24c and very cosy. I had smuggled a bottle of red wine into the van together with tomatoes, cheese and bread and with penguins for desert (who says men can't improvise?) I had chosen videos of our past motorhome visits to Valencia and then led her outside, with closed eyes, to our waiting van. Sylvia then sat in her usual seat, with a frown, she asked what was I doing? I pointed out that we were on our favourite beach near Peniscola, it was evening and we had just enjoyed a wonderful day... We seldom drink wine but were soon giggling away and the simple meal tasted wonderful. Later as we tottered into our home we both felt much more cheerful... I can recommend this short vacation in wonderland... but... Do not take a mobile phone!
Motorhome, home security and a romantic spark.
2019. Whilst arranging a special Vodafone data-allowance for my mobile-phone, I spoke to Nefret Chione Elmahdy, who I later found out was an Egyptian, twenty-one year lady supervisor, in the 'loyalty' department of Vodaphone.
I have been with Vodaphone for about twenty-seven years and never found need to change companies. They seemed always to be courteous, professional and competitive with any other companies' attractive opening offers. Unfortunately my landline and broadband had been deteriorating for some time and 'Open-Reach' finally decided to open a trench in our front lawn and lay a new line from the road. This finally solved the problem. I depend more and more on the Internet and as my home security is served by being on-line at all times, you may be interested in my front door bell/mini camera. Even if I am walking along a remote Spanish beach any person entering my driveway back home is video recorded and a warning tone is sent to my iPhone. I am then able to see who it is or even speak to my distant visitor. We find this a wonderful reassuring device to have. We can view our home from our holiday location and if a parcel has been left on our doorstep, a quick call to a neighbour and they will collect it. On the subject of security my most successful crime-prevention arrangement is in my rear garden shed. As my home backs onto woodland with a public footpath, instead of the usual cameras, both fake and real, I concealed a PIR unit pointing outwards towards the path and anyone deviating from it towards our boundary is detected. My shed radio softly starts playing for a few minutes giving a convincing impression that someone is in the shed. It seems to have completely stopped the odd daredevil who fights through chest-high brambles to peep into our garden.
I return to the young lady at Vodaphone. I found out from chatting to her that she was speaking from Egypt, she had both a charming voice and a lovely personality. I was due compensation from Vodaphone for my reduced service which rendered my security system unreliable. Nefret asked me if there was anything they could do instead of compensation? I explained that we have a motorhome and when we are touring remote areas of Portugal and Spain there is no wifi and my 4g allowance was lamentably small. They had provided a temporary cure until the repair work was finished by increasing my 4g phone data allowance, thereafter my wife and I were able to use all our devices at home by making my iphone a 'wifi-hotspot'. Now completed, the system works well with the new line and my increased data allowance at no extra charge has completely cured our online, away-from-home problems.
I have since discovered that one may now purchase a variety of 4g receivers from many suppliers that are about the size of a packet of cigarettes and will give good service in most countries. Now we are on-line, if required in forty-eight countries, with the speeds often far in excess of any local wifi and infinitely cheaper.
Now for the emotional, romantic part? When younger I used to write simple little love stories, they were poor by literary standards and a few were published. They were not salacious but commensurate with my generation, a 'heaving bosom' was about the limits of my sexual descriptions. I no longer write romance as at eighty-four I can barely remember what it is all about!
I have three sons and six grandsons, we were never blessed with a grand-daughter and as my conversation with Nefret continued, she mentioned the motorhome. I asked if she would like to see videos of it so gave her my blog address, (http://barrie-james.com) wherein she could also see some of the wonderful wild birds that are frequent visitors to our garden together with our motorhome videos. Little did I realise that while she was dealing with my claim, she was also discretely studying my web-page. Suddenly she excitedly cried out, “Oh-Barrie, The birds, you are so close to them and they are so beautiful, and you have videos too, I can't wait to get home and see them all”.
She was on 'speakerphone' and at that point two things happened. Sylvia appeared at my door to tell me that dinner was ready just as Nefret announced, “Barrie, you look so young, your wife is very lucky to have you, you have given me hope for the future.” I looked helplessly at my wife whose eyebrows went up but mercifully, bang on cue, Nefret saved my day by asking if she could be my granddaughter? I felt about thirty years younger, These Vodaphone girls are trained so well...
Corona virus and a little sci-fi.
On our 54th wedding anniversary, the 13th March 2020, we were waiting to board the Plymouth to Santander ferry for our long awaited trip. After all these years of eventful and happy motorhoming this was to have been our last, extended touring of Southern Spain. We were now third in-line to drive onto the ship. My wife was listening to the BBC news on the radio when we were shocked to learn that on the morrow, Spain would be on shutdown, this despite an earlier reassurance from the Government that there were no travel restrictions to this country. A ferry official then called us forward to board the ramp to the ship. I declined, explaining that after the latest news, we wished to cancel our crossing and they checked us out. As it was our anniversary, Brittany Ferries had arranged a little welcoming event which, alas, did not happen. During the drive home to Torquay, little was said as the darkness and rain descended in accord with our spirits. Disappointment and with the prospect of unloading all that we had carefully packed with high expectations. Suddenly our moods sank even lower as our 'well-serviced' motorhome went into 'limp-mode' but at least it kept going. As we neared home we consoled ourselves with the realisation that had we gone ahead and boarded, this unhappy event would have happened in 'shut-down' Spain on the morrow. Finally, as we entered our home, I made a silent prayer of thanks, only to be frustrated that the central heating in our home would not ignite! C'est La Vie...
During this Covid-19 'lock-down', I have had plenty of time to reflect on our favourite pastime and so wrote the following feature as to how the rapid technical revolution could affect the motorhome traveller in years to come. It is unashamedly Science-fiction but there are enough facts available to make the tale a reality...
Self-driving, electric vehicles are already in very limited use. Our motor-homing descendants may climb into their motorhomes, no driving seat, they can relax in comfortable 'lounge-like' seats, whereupon our electronic host may ask, "Where may I take you Barrie? I see you have chosen a nice day to go away." The electric motorhome starts away in eerie silence and the on-screen-display shows a choice of routes to our destination. The roads are quiet and the ride amazingly smooth. Sylvia opens an old-fashioned copy of Caravan & Camping Europe sites and makes her choice. We have found it better to drive at night, we sleep well and wake up refreshed at our chosen camp site. Glancing at the 'On screen display' I notice that whilst sleeping the van had sought out and connected to a charging point. This is a great feature as most large vans only have a 500 mile range.
This week we learned that due to the miracle discovery that grapheneand graphena can safely carry large amounts of hgydrogen far more than regular, steel or alumium tanks this will bring us ever-closer to the already waiting technology where the only exhaust will be water which will doubtless be used later in the van to shower and make tea.
I envy my grandchildren, we live in fascinating times, the human race is on the threshold of profound and wonderful events. Let us embrace it. If, we do not annihilate each other in the meantime...
* Actually, mind-reading may already be with us... We were travelling along a quiet road near Valencia, Spain when I observed at the side of the road, a scantily-clad, smiling young woman looking at me. In a flash, my wife said, "No, we are not going to give her a lift." I had not slowed down or given any outward indication of my thoughts... Astounding.
How Amateur Radio lightened the gloom of Covid-19.
Circa 1982 I passes my Ham Radio and morse code test. I was granted the station call-sign G4PCK. For some years I enjoyed the hobby and made many fellow amateur-radio friends throughout the world. At that time I lived in one of the highest places in Torquay and my antenna was very high and in the clear. Sceptics may say that it is easier to pick up an iPhone and have instant global contact, true but there are differences which can make the hobby captivating and enjoyable during these troubled times.
When a Ham radio operator seeks another he calls, "CQ, CQ, CQ, and then adds his callsign. Invariably someone will respond and you will then be connected to another station, literally anywhere in the world and someone with the same hobby as yourself. Accordingly one is off to a flying start and the discussion can lead to other interests and you may be joined by other operators from various countries and you have now formed a 'net'. Quite often these nets coalesce into common interests such as gardening, photography and the group arrange to form another net on the same frequency on a regular basis at a prearranged time. After these chats I often feel as one might, after a happy social evening over a drink and invariably I feel happier.
During March of this memorable year when we were in 'lockdown' I returned to the hobby and glad I did, old friends were re-acquainted, new ones made and all for very little investment. I bought a used HF (High-frequency) transceiver for £145.00 and a brand new VHF hand-held for a fraction of that price.
When we take our motorhome overseas I can still be in touch with the world of amateur radio on the odd rainy day.
Some people start out by buying a CB set, this might be fun, but it is well worth the study to do the job properly and obtain an Ofcom Amateur Radio Licence. Learning is fascinating and if you are interested there are two clubs in Torbay whose web sites are very welcoming to newcomers. I joined the Torbay Amateur Radio Society many years ago and, over the years, have learned from older members guidance and experience.
Motorhomes... When in Rome etc.
There are days when I find myself unaccountably unhappy and unsettled, yet I have most things that one might desire, a good wife, adequate funds for a reasonable retirement, a love of my grandchildren and gardening and a multitude of hobbies. Amidst all this material wealth and I have been blessed with good health. I find that total happiness is very elusive. The feelings of utter and complete contentment seem to visit me infrequently, yet, now eighty-four and whilst watching earlier videos of motorhome vacations past, I realise that those halcyon days were mostly associated with this wonderful mental condition.
There are many good writers on this subject, on choosing the right van for your needs, maintenance etc., my article is to tell you of the wonderful happiness my wife and I experienced over forty years and the many friends we have made.
I am about to break my promise, in entering a very touchy subject amongst our fellow hobbyists... I refer to free/wild-camping. There exist two very different opinions on 'wild-camping' versus 'camping sites.' So far I have avoided this prickly subject as each group is passionately convinced that their chosen method is right. I am not 'playing-it-safe' by sitting on the fence, but actually, both are right. Regular readers of my column will already realise that sometimes, we prefer campsites, on other occasions, there are no campsites and then one has to use common sense and park in other places. Some are abusing this practice to the detriment of the hobby in general and this has become more noticeable in recent years. I note that areas that were available in the past are now banning motorhomes across Europe. This is a shame, at a time when motorhome sales are at an all-time high.
Perhaps you would consider our code when deciding to visit another area or country...
If for unforeseen planning you find yourself tired and without a campsite, you will need to choose a place that is relatively safe and will not draw attention to your vehicle or inconvenience the local people.
Usually, most towns have quiet estates on their outskirts. Try to park near where residents park. If on the side of the road or in a lay-by before retiring for the night knock on a nearby house door and explain that they are not to be worried about the white camping car, that you are both very tired and will be gone at first light. Invariably you will be offered water and friendliness and on some occasions invited to park in their driveway. When enquiring at a Spanish police station, we were welcomed and invited to park in their secure car park. The same thing happened at a French hospital and we gratefully accepted the caretakers promise, to keep an eye on our van during the night.
Do not arrive and start to unload table and chairs, erect clotheslines, generators, satellite dishes or, unbelievably, a washing machine. Keep your radio on very low volume and remember, "when in Rome etc." Try to imagine a foreign camper arriving near your home. Once we arrived at a well-known campsite in Portugal on a lovely beach. We were approached by a family who felt that they had every right to stay at the site for as long as they wished. They were trying to recruit our support as the police had asked them to move on. I am not surprised, they had built an encampment and intended to spend the summer there! There was litter everywhere, uncontrolled dogs, children, loud music and only the good Lord knows where they emptied their toilet.
To share this wonderful pastime with others, I made a video. http://barrie-james.com. It was intended to encourage others to share this great pastime, little did I realise that it would have such an effect on those considering the hobby, indeed one person emailed me asking if he could buy that actual vehicle? At that time I had not thought of selling it, but his offer was so good... Another woman emailed, that by the end of the viewing confiding she was in tears and demanded that her husband bring their motorhome out of winter hibernation and depart for southern Spain at once. Later I received a message from a dealership that said that they often recommended this video to new customers, unsure whether, or not to embark on the pastime. http:barrie-james.com.
Motorhome parking in the uk.
Some readers of my column will remember the January motorhome trip we started last year when we intended to slowly tour the south coast from our home here in Torquay, travelling east until we reached Dover, thence up to Canterbury. If the weather turned really bad we intended to return home via the M4. Well, it all went wrong due to the height-barriers, extraordinary heavy traffic and bad tempered drivers so we asked Siri, (our computer entity advisor) if there was a ferry to our beloved France that night, there was and we sailed from Newhaven to Dieppe at midnight whereupon our fortunes changed and our spirits lifted. There followed one of the most emotional and uplifting vacations we had ever had. We visited the graveyards and museums of WW2 and made a video that many will never forget. I am sure that we are 'better' people as a result of this memorable visit.
Clearly, I am preaching to the converted, but it just shows how adaptable a motorhome can be when pre-planned circumstances change.
In MMM's columns and elsewhere I have learned of the feelings of dismay from readers and their disappointment at facilities available to motor-homers in the UK compared with welcome of most of Europe. I had not intended to use this column for 'unhappy' and controversial events but last week I needed to park my motorhome (An A.S. Broadway) in Newton Abbot for four hours hours. I emailed the Teignmouth council asking which car park should I use as my vehicle may overhang a bay slightly. My respondent answered immediately and clearly, trying to be helpful, pointed out that the council had no facilities for camper vans and if there was an overhang there would be a 100% extra charge! On one south coast car park I was informed that I could park in the van overnight, but not go to sleep in it! Astonishing.
This attitude seems to true of most of the UK. Compared to the French, for example whose lay-by's often of show a welcome sign, water, electricity and a small charge for overnight sleeping. Indeed even small villages seem to a small patch of land nearby for weary travellers to rest.
Do our councils not realise that there is a dramatic increase in this wonderful pastime and they and local traders would benefit from the example set by our overseas, more enlightened councils.
I spoke to the local press and Torbay council, who explained they were aware of the 'traveller' problem and the liberties taken by this group which regular motor-homers wish to dissociate themselves from. Clearly in the public's opinion we are all tarred with the same brush, gypsies, travellers and pikeys.
LETTER TO TORBAY COUNCIL.
Dear Sir, My name is Barrie James. I am a motorhome correspondent for Publishers, Warners at MMM ( Motorhome-Monthly-Magazine) and I reside in Torquay. Following a long conversation with a Devon newspaper editor I hope to save the Council money, a lot of money, and bring more visitors to Torquay throughout the year.
My wife and I have been motorhoming since 1966 visiting most of Europe. Although I will be eighty-four tomorrow I am still active with our motorhome, especially during the winter months.
Are you aware that most towns and villages throughout Europe provide 'overnight' parking for motorhomes? Some make a nominal charge and are very popular. Some have water, electricity and waste-water outlets but most do not. MMM magazine has a huge readership and I often read complaints from readers regarding the lack of facilities in the UK, Torbay included. Indeed many carparks have height barriers and overnight sleeping is not encouraged.
I am aware of the problem with so-called 'travellers' and that is a separate issue. Some British towns are now providing an overnight motorhome parking service, I do not like to see Torbay lagging behind, missing out at this time, the motor-home market is booming and is unlikely to go away.
I am mindful of the fearful shortage of money you are having, but handled properly those empty car parks in the winter can bring in a huge amount of money to benefit us all.
Finally, most motor-homer's are like ourselves, retired couples who like to visit other towns for short visits, meals and have no wish to use hotels. Please, do not confuse us with travellers who trespass and break the law with impunity. Kind Regards, Barrie James.
You will be pleased to learn that a few days after the article appeared in our local newspaper vans started to appear along Paignton seafront.
The Art of barter. Free motor-homing for about thirty years.
This may seem an extravagant claim but please read on. It does not seem right to describe our wonderful hobby as 'camping'. Indeed in many cases living in a modern motorhome can be as luxurious as you wish. I hope to provide you with an idea as to what suits us. Warmth, TV, comfortable beds, shower, hot water, microwave... need I go on? If you are pondering whether our hobby is for you, then you can always hire one and try a week's vacation or have a chat with an owner, there are plenty around and the pastime is growing. Even if you approach a homeowner with a motorhome parked in his driveway you will be impressed by their willingness to recount their experiences and help..
There is a camaraderie amongst motor-homers that I have not known since I left the RAF in 1958. Indeed, one only has to drive for a short time anywhere in Europe before an oncoming motorhome driver gives you a cheery wave. It happens so much that it seems almost mandatory. One enterprising owner, once showed me an artificial hand that pivoted up when another van approached. His children loved to be in charge of displaying the signal whenever necessary.
I have found that motorhomes seem to depreciate more slowly than most other vehicles but you have to buy carefully and really look after them. In fifty years we have never lost money on a motorhome, indeed after two years use we often sell them for the same price as we paid, in later years, as I become more cynical and streetwise, I have actually cleared £500.00 for two years of holidays.
I would not presume to teach you the art of barter as many folks are much better at it than me, but if I may, I will tell you what works for me and a few tips that may not come amiss. If there is one word that is paramount when dealing with any negotiable transaction, whether it is at a car-boot sale or buying a house, then the same principles apply. The word is 'patience'. We have had astounding success when buying from dealers and the public alike. I often find the vehicle I want, then, when offered a test drive, I decline, saying the van is out of my reach and I have no wish to waste the salesman's time, indeed 'the backward' walk is the most powerful weapons in your armoury. This is a wonderful psychological move, from the salesperson's perspective, you are slowly retreating and in order to keep the deal warm, he will be forced to move towards you. Reluctantly, step back once more, thanking the man for his time. Do nothing for twenty-four hours, then return to the dealership. The salesperson will probably remember you, once more you show a wistful interest in the vehicle then sadly, walk away. Invariably he will call you back and usually he will try to determine just how much you are prepared to spend, your answer should be well below the asking price. Do not play the smart-alec, hard-nosed bargainer, he is used to that and will be able to deal with it. Leave a silence. In bargaining a silence is very, very important, let him speak. My lovely wife hates this part of buying a motor-home she will always fill the silence and for this reason now leaves me alone to talk to the salesperson. This is certainly not the time to point out any flaws in the vehicle, just convey that you are sorry, but the van is out of your reach, walk slowly backwards and depart.
Try not to volunteer your knowledge of the hobby, his is probably greater. Another useful ploy is to learn how to be wistful.
I am aware that the vehicle may be sold during this psychological time, but you must be patient, remember you are asking a possible 20% off his asking price and this is a risk you must take. Do not contact him again. Most times he will contact you with a very good offer. Whatever the figure is it will not be as low as you wanted but it is often substantial. Be grateful, tell him that his is a very generous offer but sadly, you have other commitments and comment, 'one cannot have everything in life and you should not have over-reached in the first place.'
Now you draw out your most powerful weapon and tell him that you have seen one advertised privately and are preparing to drive to another town to view it. (This latter should be mentioned, casually, only once and almost as an aside) (En passant.)
You may be very surprised at the result. Naturally he will point out that the private purchases can be fraught with danger as there will be no 'after-sale' guarantee. You will have to consider the risks and use your own judgement.
Above all, no matter how badly you want it, you have to have the 'will-power' to walk away – and mean it. Okay, if it sells, you are no worse off, there will always be another. My mother once said, 'when one door closes' etc.
Columbo, an American detective of TV fame once said to a suspect, most murderers only offend once and to avoid detection must show great skill whereas he, the detective, is doing the job every day. The same applies to your motorhome salesperson.
In a world where instant-gratification is the norm, to make substantial savings you must be patient and polite and resign yourself to the fact that you may well lose this van of your choice.
If ever a salesman says that his offer is for 'today only' then definitely depart and do not return. This is a nasty little ploy unworthy of a good dealership's salesperson. Finally, many people are too embarrassed to make a really low offer, they feel that the salesman will be angry, aghast and ridicule the would-be customer. I always say, “Your price is reasonable, I am over-reaching but I know what I can afford.” In the event of a successful price agreement you must thank him most sincerely, and mean it. In the last five years the number of motorhome sales has doubled in the U.K. My wife and I have been travelling around Europe for several weeks each year since 1976 and have accumulated a considerable knowledge and experience of this fascinating pastime.
Recently I jotted down some of our memories and realised that there was enough material for a book. Many of the events depicted are accompanied by photographs both aerial and terrestrial.
Most authors feel that their work is very good and may delude themselves. In order to ensure that there was indeed a market for my work, I placed the example below onto my website for forty-eight hours. The result was very surprising and encouraging. I received many emails from scores of enthusiasts and owners. A common request is, when will the book be published? Other ladies said it made them want to try the type of vacations we have enjoyed over the years. Others were moved to tears at the sheer happiness they experienced when reading my work. (At 84 it has been a long time since I have brought tears of happiness to any woman's eyes.)
I was initially inspired by the works, 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning', a memoir by Laurie Lee. Mine is a sort of up-to-date version of his noteworthy work. You may be astounded at some of the events that have taken place on our travels, but they are all true, although may be very hard to believe.
The Internet is awash with many Motorhome groups specialising in their particular motorhome models and their content is added to daily and where one may find fiery opinions and healthy assistance between the members.
Aerial photography. In 1966 my wife and I removed the rear door from our Piper Tri-pacer four seat aircraft. We would then fly near various farmers land and homes and sell them the outstanding pictures taken with a Leica camera. Remember, in those days there was no Google-Earth and folks were fascinated with a view from their home from the air. We have filmed from helicopters, light aircraft, model radio-controlled aircraft carrying movie equipment, extended fishing rods, kites and in the last few years, the ubiquitous drone which is the best, air-platform I have encountered. The camera is very high resolution and the craft remains in a geo-stationary position without human intervention. I am digressing, the point is, that we always take a small professional quadcopter with us on vacation and occasionally send it ahead, when in the wild, to what is ahead. I am CAA approved.
Motorhomers and the sixth sense...
20,000 new data satellites promised in the next few years.
Most of us have a natural curiosity regarding our lives and surroundings, the vast amount of knowledge that we have acquired since the first humans appeared on earth. It is our need to pass-on knowledge to our children while learning from our mistakes in history that has placed us in our present, elevated position in the animal kingdom.
A famous politician once said, 'You've never had it so good.' As regards digital technology this is true. At eighty-four years I am astounded that the small device in my pocket can give me instant access to much of the world's knowledge at the touch of a button. I fear we are already taking for granted the miracle of the so-called smart-phone. People of my generation see so many folks walking the streets totally absorbed in their phones, their isolation from the rest of us often augmented by earphones. One friend remarked, "They must have a lot of friends to be talking so much." I tried to explain that many could be listening to music, some may be learning or playing games and others will use the medium to answer questions that have puzzled them for some time. It is the latter that interests me the most. A few of my smart phone uses are that I can point my phone at the night sky and identify a particular star, with GPS show my location within a few metres on planet Earth, tell me the speed I am travelling, show me the weather forecast in distant cities, compute the value of International currencies, convert feet to metres in a trice and simultaneously, record my heart-rate!
Even more incredible, when my wife and I are travelling abroad in our motorhome we can enquire of Siri (A computer generated voice) if there is a campsite nearby to stay that night? Indeed we have earlier returned from a vacation in Portugal and Spain without 'booking' a single camping space in advance, this has been an adventure in itself.
Our travels since 1966 have been so remarkable that the Motorhome Monthly Magazine (MMM) have serialised my work and I seem to have a small following. But this article has inspired me to ask a few philosophical questions. Are we witnessing the dawn of a new, human sixth sense? Currently, I no longer have to type in my question, I simply talk into my iPhone and speak to a computer-generated entity named, SIRI. I can ask any question I want, the answer is usually correct. My latest joy is my newfound ability to speak with my phone in almost fifty languages, instantly, fluently and also understand people speaking to me in their native tongue! Most readers will be well aware of the foregoing but look what is happening... millions of people are now connected to each other irrespective of their geographic position having access to other computers throughout the world, often without any guidance from us.
Wiki. (Microchip implant (human)
A human microchip implant is typically an identifying integrated circuit device or transponder encased in silicate glass and implanted in the body of a human being. ... The first experiments with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) implants were carried out in 1998 by the British scientist Kevin Warwick.)
I envisage a time when we will not have to take a smartphone from our pocket but have personal contact with other computers and people by thought. Not so far-fetched as it may seem. Already our wonderful scientific researchers are able to pinpoint, with great accuracy, to human nerve points that can trigger specific muscles that are not working properly and other actions. There are millions of nerve fibres clusters in our amazing bodies that send electro/chemical instructions with astounding speed to command voluntary and involuntary actions to keep us alive. I see no reason why, in time, these signals cannot interface with computers elsewhere and, over time morph into a universal communication system that will be as commonplace as radio is today. For millions of years, with our limited five senses, we have been unable to communicate over great distances because we were unable to perceive that part of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) that carries radio waves. Now we are able to interface with other parts of RF spectrum and accept this latter-day miracle without amazement...
I have learned that within a few years, hundreds more Internet data satellites are to be added to the new, man-made constellations and we will be able to seek advice by pure thought.
The maternal instinct, a satellite dish and four nurses.
The joys and otherwise of setting up one's motor-home on arrival at a campsite.
Aligning a satellite dish when tiddly. When satellite dishes began to appear, I bought a used domestic 'dish' from a market sale then used my Sky-box from home. The system worked well but then I decided to mount it using a ball and socket attachment onto the roof of my Auto-sleeper Legend. Using a magnetic compass we were becoming quite adept at aligning the dish which, unlike other antennas must be very accurately aligned at the distant satellite. After a long drive to our holiday destination, Sylvia usually pours me a glass of wine to unwind before setting up the van. On this occasion, I was anxious to try aligning the satellite dish on the roof. If my memory isn't failing then I used to point it 23 degrees to the east of south, then adjust the vertical angle until we had a picture. I would move it little by little until my wife, who was watching the TV in the van would call out, “Okay,” when a picture appeared on the screen. Mostly we could get it right after a few minutes, however, on this occasion I was aware of two things, one I was being observed by a number of campers and two, I was tiddly, evidently, I had drunk the wine too fast with an empty stomach. I have never made this mistake again. I could not receive a signal, the minutes seemed like hours and my embarrassment increased until... I fell off the van's roof. I must have been quite relaxed because, when I landed, I seemed not to be hurt, except for my pride. Sylvia was quite unaware of my situation and while I was carefully checking that all my limbs were intact I heard her chanting periodically, “No picture, no picture...” By now a young lady camper had reached me to check if I was hurt. I was secretly enjoying the attention I was getting and soon another woman arrived followed by another. Sylvia's chant reached our ears and one of my 'nurses' knocked on the door of the van to tell Sylvia what had happened. A moment later my wife's head appeared around the door just as a young woman knelt down to carefully place a comforting arm around my shoulders.
At this point, I should mention that quite often when we are in a strange town or busy department store, Sylvia will disappear. I find this very irritating but have found a great solution. If I happen to speak to a woman, my wife usually appears, so nowadays, when I cannot find my dear wife, I select an attractive lady and explain that I cannot see my wife who is wearing red. Ever-willing to help, the lady will scan the other customers in the hope of locating her. Bingo, it never fails, Sylvia appears. Now if I wish to locate Sylvia I simply talk to another woman. Honest...
Now, still sitting on the ground I had four presentable ladies trying to help. Should I milk the situation? Mmm, better not, I stood up and we all smiled with relief and continued our unpacking. Later Sylvia, musingly said, “My, oh my... the lengths you go to for the attention of a woman.”
Following that experience, I returned to mounting the dish onto the ground nearby. It worked just as well but I changed my ritual to aligning the dish first then have a glass of wine. In later years we bought a motor-home that had an 'auto-seeking dish' on the roof. This was a wonderful gadget, as long as we were within the 'footprint' of the satellite's area of coverage. Alas, when in Spain and Portugal we were unable to receive the BBC. Nowadays we depend upon our iPad and smartphone for UK television and thanks to 4G are able to receive a signal almost anywhere.
I prefer my motorhome to be on the level. I am not being overly sensitive but it is irritating to live and sleep in a vehicle that is tilted. When newcomers arrive at a campsite they are often observed by already established campers, sitting and watching the new arrivals set up their vans. I used to use a spirit-level, it worked well, but I have discovered a far better method of checking the level of ones home... Pour a glass of red wine, carry it to a point about twenty feet away. Hold the glass at 'eye' height and at arm's length. Next match the horizontal lines on the vehicle with the surface of the wine. It the two coincide, then drink the wine! I am not an exhibitionist, but the method usually brings a smile to the observers faces and will probably make you, new friends. I remember the German camper observing my ritual remarked, "I see you are loving your camping-car... He thought I was 'toasting' it!
One day a new van arrived on site, a haughty lady passenger alights and starts to give directions to the driver, her voice is controlled and in command they a showing that they are a team and exude quiet casual confidence. The lady disappears behind the van and now uses a cultured, upper-class voice" now showing a little impatience with her cautious driver. There is a horrible sound of aluminium striking granite. The woman now notices an obstruction she had not previously seen, thoroughly alarmed now, she screams,"Stop, stop for God's sake stop." The husbands jumps from the driving seat. The lady immediately shouts at the unfortunate man,"Why didn't you stop when I asked you to?" Thereafter the man is berated publicly and unmercifully while men of all nations look on with sympathy and total understanding. Me? no, I am not a myMisogynist.
In the early days of our Spanish touring we found much similar friendliness from the locals and to this day we will never forget the generosity and welcome we received.
On reaching the most westerly point of Europe (Sagres) we found a huge car park with a number of charabancs, motorhomes and caravans parked and it was clear that people often spent the night there. I was pleased to see that campers left no rubbish behind. Years later we returned to Sagres and St. Vincent taking a small radio-controlled, silent, electric airplane and launched it to the west and well out over the sea, it was carrying a tiny movie camera. When the craft was almost out of sight, I remember thinking that in years to come, when batteries might be more powerful, I could guide it to America! I turned the craft back towards the land and later we used that part of the film to show us approaching Europe like explorers of yesteryear... The VW had no shower and before leaving England I assured my wife that we would 'bathe in a mountain stream'! To this day, Sylvia reminds me of this comment. Jeez, I tried it, it was absolutely freezing, I shrivelled and from then on we washed, discretely from a bowl of warm water.
Remember, in those days there were not so many campsites and we were new to motor-homing and we were seldom short of a place to spend the night. Quite often we were approached by local folk who asked if we were ok for food etc. Actually, this still happens and if you are in a remote village that seldom sees tourists and do not start to erect awnings and washing lines. Our little VW Devon camper often went unnoticed and if we were in a populated area, we would sleep without elevating the roof.
On entering Portugal, we felt a special warmth, no not just the weather, but the welcome and smiles from most people that we met. We learned to say 'Obrigado' (thank-you) and were rewarded with a happy torrent of Portugese that made me feel confused and like most tourists in these circumstances, nodded as though understanding whilst wearing a glassy smile.
Eventually we arrived at Lisbon and quite fell in love with the place, I remember we found a campsite nearby and stayed quite a few days. Much later in 2015 we returned to this wonderful place and found it little unchanged. I would like to own property there, alas, I have left it too late, but our modern motorhome is really very comfortable and owning property overseas can sometimes be a worry.