Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic fallacy is a literary or filmic device where the weather reacts to the plot, ie in some Goethe story where the river breaks its banks when Sorrowful Werther tops himself, or something.

So, storms as I drive home seems a bit dramatic.

Baking hot in Boulogne today, but tipping down with rain in Dover. For the entire journey north from the M25 I was about 30 miles behind an enormous storm with thunder strikes and lightening ahead of me all the way. As I got to the Nottingham motorway junctions, I caught up with the storm and the lightening was all around me from the motorway to my front door. The rain whipped up to a high-speed-wiper deluge and ran in rivers down the A453. We had to slow almost to a stop in several places as the road practically became a ford.

Unpacking the car was fun. Camping gear and the results of my booze shopping spree are now spread around the house waiting to be put away. And drying off.

Looks like one of my computers has blown up whilst I was away. Bah. Will open ‘er up tomorrow and boot up a spare for now. That’s why I never throw anything away. Redundancy.

My knees are peeling

After all this time in France, including in the south of France, I managed to avoid sunburn. My arms are nicely brown.

Until a day spent in a chair in the shade in Brittany when I burnt my legs to a crisp. Bah. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable sun burn is.

Legs much better now. Shorts always were a stupid idea.

A fire for St John on the Kervillen beach near CarnarcI’m weeks behind on explaining where I’ve been: haven’t told you about the Drome or Nice, or alpine driving. I also stopped off in Carnac in Brittany, and saw an impressive ‘Feu-St-Jean’ ritual where a fire was lit on a beach as the tide came in underneath it.

After that, a glorious week in Normandy and two nights in Paris.

Ferry home from Boulogne later today.

The buffet car is now open

Midland Mainline have e-mailed me to ask what I think of their buffet car service.

I do like a chance to have my say.

I do feel that the prices are far too high. A rip off. I only ever eat on the train when I’m running too late to get food elsewhere and am starving, or when your sandwiches are discounted late in the day. Your sandwiches are good, but too expensive. Your cakes — danish-in-a-box tend to be soggy and not very nice. And also too expensive.

Your questions imply that you feel it’s all right to charge too much if it will be companies not individuals paying.

I preferred the complimentary teas when they were still Typhoo rather than Twinings, who do good specialty teas, but bad ‘english breakfast’ style teas.

The point about paying for larger cups is somewhat stupid. If your passengers don’t feel they are getting enough tea in the smaller cups, they will presumably do what I do every time and either make more trips to the buffet car, or ask for two cups on each journey. The buffet staff don’t know whether I’m fetching two cups of tea for myself or one for me and one for another passenger.

I don’t drink instant coffee so have never tried the complimentary coffee. I would much rather you provide a good, fresh, filter coffee than install espresso machines that provide average espresso and poor Italian-style coffees. I don’t imagine for a minute you intend training your staff to use a proper coffee machine and you will use some variety of one-button bean-to-cup machine. Not a good plan, because they don’t provide a very good cup of coffee.

If you are intending to include Italian-style coffees, please speak to the people who do the Amt bars on the platform because their product is very good.

If you are intending to provide filter coffee please bear in mind that once filtered it goes stale quite quickly. Anyone who drinks coffee black will be able to tell you when the coffee is past its best.

I would rather the buffet car didn’t serve alcoholic drinks, because they are only ever bought by people who’ve had too much already and they tend to make travelling less pleasant.

Bordeaux? Bordel!

I had to drive for 12 hours straight to get to a position to be able to write these words.

I never meant to go to Bordeaux but I got horribly lost on the motorways between Perpignan and Perigeux. Four motorways go into Toulouse, and I managed to get on the wrong one out, getting past the toll booth before I realised. Rather than getting back on the motorway in the other direction for another attempt, I took small roads all around Toulouse to get back the motorway I actually wanted. When I finally got back to a toll booth on the right motorway, I took a moment to try and look at my map before heading off.

Unfortunately, a hitch-hiker took that as a signal I was prepared to give her a lift, and lept into my car. (A welcome sign, at least, that there will be room in the car for P when I pick him up from the airport next week…) I was basically too embarrassed to tell her to bugger off. Hitch-hiker was headed for Bordeaux, I was headed for Perigeux, so I challenged her to look on the map for me and decide where she would like to be dropped off.

There wasn’t really anywhere that suited. The motorways split between where I wanted to go and where she wanted to go pretty much immediately after the toll booth and went in different directions. Since all that really mattered to me was that I head generally northwards, I told her I didn’t mind heading to Bordeaux instead and we set off in that direction.

I’m generally in favour of hitch-hiking. From a green, environmental perspective, it uses up an otherwise empty space in a wasteful journey. I also like to do random good turns from a zen / good karma perspective: what goes around, comes around. Maybe one day, I’ll be stuck for a lift and someone will help me out. It’s also vaguely Christian along Good Samaritan lines. Where it breaks down is when the person you help is not seeing it from such rose-tinted specs lines and tries to rob you along the way. I’ve certainly been taken for a sucker that way several times before.

This specific hitch-hiker didn’t seem very bright. I’ve a niggly feeling I know more tenses in the French language than she did (1), but in fact, since she sat in almost total silence for the entire journey, except to point out at one stage when I’d taken a wrong turning that I was perhaps headed in totally the wrong direction. (She was right.) Still, I think I brightened her day. I bought her a sandwich when I stopped to fill the car up with petrol. I didn’t get the impression she was eating very regularly so offered to get her something. She didn’t twig that the main reason was to get her to come with me to the cash desk “to choose a sandwich” rather than leave her sitting in my car, stuffed with all my nickable kit, on her own, whilst I was out paying.

I eventually dropped her off near the St Jean railway station in Bordeaux, and went on to try and find a hotel for myself. It was time I got an internet connection for a night, apart from anything else.

I tried maybe 8 hotels around the station. All were full. There’s a “Vinexpo” going on in Bordeaux at the moment, and everywhere is fully booked. Eventually, I went back to my car, dug out my Hotel Ibis handbook and phoned round the branches in the near vicinity. Eventually found somewhere 100km away that could accomodate me, so signed up.

And hear I am at Hotel Ibis Saintes. Multimap says I’ve done 361 miles today. Factor in the circles when I got lost at several stages and round up to 400. It’s gone midnight, and I’m sitting here eating the remains of an olive loaf I bought a couple of days ago and a tin of evil strong beer that should hopefully knock me out for the night.

And all I saw of Bordeaux was a railway station and a vague glimpse of a cathedral spire. No time to go back!

(1) I know, or at least I was once taught, some really obscure ones that don’t get used apart from in 18th century literature.

Pyrenees

I’ve taken the Petit Train Jaune for most of its length to Font Romeu, a ski resort high in the Pyrenees. Problem: I’m here for one hour only until the only return train. And it’s tipping it down!

I’ll spend a wee while re-acquainting ,yself with the french keybopqrd lqyout in qn internet cqfe, then see if I can get some coffee somewhere warm.

Since last posting, I’ve spent two nights in Provence, driven through the Alps to Nice, driven right around the Med to Montpellier, and then driven inland to Vernet les Bains.

I’ve now driven over 2,000 miles in France.

More info and pics at a later date.

From Lyon to Vienne

I had spent some time on Thursday whilst waiting for the TGV to Paris wandering around Lyon. Much more time than I had expected to because there were train strikes in France last Thursday. How amusing that there were strikes in Britain too! How we laughed.

Vienne's roman amphitheatreWandering around Lyon didn’t amount to much more than getting off the Metro at the stop called ‘Vieux Lyon’ and poking around the streets there. Some more entries to the ‘sounds better in French’ compo: ‘Place de la baleine’ sounds so much better than ‘Whale Square.’ Vieux-Lyon has some gorgeous old streets, a fab icecream stall (I had licqorice, ginger and pink grapefruit flavours). From Vieux-Lyon metro station, you can also take two funicular railways up a hill overlooking the town, so I went up one and saw some views, and also Lyon’s Roman amphitheatre, which was gearing up for Les Nuits Fourvieres. Scaffolding staging and wings were all set up on the stage part of the arena, and people were wandering around in various fabulous costumes.

Unfortch, no Lyon pics (and no stag night pics from me, alas, either): camera, along with medications, were the things I accidentally left in the car.

Having ‘done’ Lyon on Thursday, when I got my car back on Tuesday, the aim was to get out of town and back on the road. I headed down the A7 motorway to Vienne, where, the Rough Guide told me, I could see some more good Roman Remains.

Me, in Vienne's roman amphitheatreAnd I certainly could. Firstly there was a huge museum, with a display about winemaking throughout time (Romans used to drink wine diluted with water, either hot or cold, and flavoured with herbs like lavendar and sweetened with honey). Then a permament exhibition about Romans in Vienne, then finally a chance to walk around acres of preserved archaeological sites with explanations about Roman life.

But floorplans are a bit dusty — I was hoping for a some real remains I walk in not on, and so went around the town a bit more. Happily Vienne has an amphitheatre too, bigger than the ones in Lyon and recently lovingly restored. Now the centre of Vienne’s jazz festival.

And yet another self pic!

Blighty weekend

Last weekend’s activity, then, whilst leaving car in Lyon for repairs, was turning up as unexpected (but definitely invited) guest at R’s stag night in Nottingham. TGV from Lyon Part-Dieu to TGV Aeroport CDG. Plane to LTN, another train (eventually) from there to Nottingham, and was home from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.

The French for stag night is ‘enterrer sa vie de jeune homme’ — burying your life as a young man. We did that for Richard in a series of pubs from Market Square then along the Derby road. A series of proper beers, a retelling of some old stories, and a chance to hear some new ones about the bride from her father. I haven’t laughed so much in months!

Then on from there to a curry at Sabera, and from there to watch some corny bad horror movies.

Sunday, we met up for a cracking roast dinner at R’s local, and then various parties went various ways. Three of us met up again in the evening to go and see the new League of Gentleman film (which was great — but, if not and, bizarre.)

I flew back to Paris on Monday morning, and got back to Lyon at about 8pm in the evening. The following day, I went to check up on the car, and joy of joys, all was working fine. And the work to replace the exhaust wasn’t as expensive as expected either.

So, back on the road.

Tuyeau d’echappement

Let me relate two paragraphs and see if you can see where I’m going.

In Epernay, I got talking to a very nice young man who skateboarded over to talk to me whilst I was cooking because of the GB plates on my car. Turned out he was a 100% anglophile who likes to spend his holidays climbing in the Peak District (to the chagrin of his girlfriend who would rather have gone to the south of France.) We had a great, wide-ranging conversation, he promised to e-mail when he got online and left me his phone number. One of the topics of conversation went something like, going from Nottingham to Geneva? In a 10 year old Skoda? Are you totally mad? I’ve now done 1,200 miles in France…

The second bit of information is about the campsite I was at. They were having repairs done which meant that the water was turned off at 9am sharp. They did warn me, and I duly set an alarm, but simply couldn’t find the energy to get up early enough to shower that morning. So, I put on smelly old clothes, put my hair in a pony tail through the back of a cap, and wore shorts, all with the intention of driving straight to the next campsite (destination: Lyon) and getting in a shower there before attempting any further interaction with other members of the human race.

Can you see where I’m going?

50km out from Lyon, I make a stop for petrol and food, and walking back to my car, I notice that the exhaust pipe is not at the angle it should be at. Kicking it slightly (the limit of my car expertise in many fields) and it doesn’t actually fall off, so I get back in the car and carry on for Lyon, thinking through my options, and working out the French phrases I’ll need.

I can go straight to campsite, pitch tent and emergency tent, unload car into emergency tent and try and find a garage on campsite staff recommendation. I can go straight to a garage and see whether I actually need to unload the two tonnes of sundry camping equipment, or whether they can just fix the exhaust on there and then. I can keep going and see what happens with the exhaust.

As it happens, as soon as I hit Lyon I can hear the exhaust scraping the road whenever I go uphill, or there’s a minor bump in the road. I head for somewhere populated and end up parking in the Place de Paris opposite the Gare de Vaise, and I can see a garage from where I end up, so I walk in and ask if they can help. Ah, non m’sieur, we don’t repair cars. (building labelled Controle Technique Voiture, which I suspect must be an MOT centre.) They point me at another garage, who said they only repaired Renaults, and then, only with an appointment. Finally, they sent me to a third garage, still within easy walking of where I’d happened to end up in Lyon quite by chance, and I’m finally in with a chance here. Yes we repair all sorts of cars. Yes we can fit you in, but we can’t do it before Friday at the earliest.

This actually fits with my plans, because believe it or not, I was planning to find secure parking in Lyon and take a TGV out of town for the weekend. I tell them I don’t want the car til Tuesday, will that suit? They tell me drive it round here and they’ll see what they can do.

Back to the car. As I start to reverse out of the parking space the pipe gets seriously caught in the ground, and a young guy across the street runs across and bangs on my window and asks me if I realise what’s up. By this point, I’m stuck in a manoevre and there are angy cars around me, so he holds hands up to the other cars and directs me off the street.

“I’m a mechanic,” he says. “I can fix that for you,” and he’s on his knees asking for a plastic bag so that he can slide under the car and have a look. He pretty soon comes to the conclusion that the exhaust is knackered beyond mere soldering and tells me to hold on whilst he phones the scrapyard to see if he can get a new part. Either that he says, shrugging, or you could fix it with some fil de fer (iron wire?!). “That’s what I did to mine and it got me all the way to Morocco!”

I’m getting a bit nervous at this point. It’s very kind of this completely unknown guy to offer help and even serious repair work, despite the fact he doesn’t know me at all (I never even asked him his name!) I’m seriously torn. I could do him and me a favour, get him to do the work (I was assuming by now he’s one of France’s many unemployed, but maybe I’m being unfair?) and save money. But you don’t get any sort of guarantee that way. And if I’m honest, I’ve been conned in the past by people who seem kind in the street.

In the end, I thank him very much for his offer, and decide to go back to the mechanic with the workshop around the corner. He fixes the pipe up with string so that I can get around the corner, and we part company.

The mechanic is happy to take the car with all its contents, so I just liberate what I need for the weekend, and set off. It’ll have to be a hotel stop, because I can’t camp without the car. I warn the guy there’s a gas bottle in the boot in case he does decide to do some soldering, and I hand over the key. After some scrabbling, we find documents in the glove-compartment that include the year of registration and the serial number. I leave him with my mobile phone number and instructions about international dialling, and I get a card off him so that I can find him again on Tuesday.

And I just walk away to find a hotel. Will the car and all my kit still be there next week? If I manage to drive away this time, will something else fall off before I get to Paris at the end of June? Tune in next week…