Condette / Hardelot

Drive from Nottingham to Dover took just over four hours with only a few wrong turns on the way. Arrive finally at the docks to find an enormous great Czech lorry has rear-ended a tiny little car, and in the process almost totally blocked off vehicular access to the ferry port. I’m still in the first hour of the long possible check-in time, so there’s no problem.

Queueing on the tarmac waiting for the ferry gives me the opportunity to fix my headlights. The ferry itself, SpeedFerries One is tiny. Driving on is a bit of an endeavour: it’s like a multistory carpark only tighter than the Nottingham Arndale! And not only that, but the staff want me to reverse into a spot. Happily, they’re used to helping useless manoeuverers into tight spots and give detailed instructions on how to do. Full lock right, mate, no, not that much full lock. Don’t worry about the noise, it’s just your ariel scraping on the roof.

The crossing is quick and uneventful, and before you know it, you’re disembarked onto the roads of Boulogne. French border police have an office in Dover, so there’s no need to stop again. There’s barely a minute between leaving the ferry and and hitting the centre-ville.

A few fraught minutes later and I’m more or less used to the new rules of the road. Erm, but actually, still haven’t made any plans about where to overnight. So I pull off into the carpark of a supermarket and choose Camping le Chateau d’Hardelot as not being too far away. Whilst I’m at the supermarket, I stock up on provisions: reduced BBQ stuff and a lettuce. There’s a hardware shop next door, Bricomarche, so I go round to try and find some bbq charcoal and a rubber mallet (camping on sand at Shell Island, you can stamp on tent pegs to get them into the ground, but on baked soil strewn with stones, you need a real mallet).

In my mind, I’m trying to sort out a translation of mallet, so that if I have to, I can ask the staff where to find one, and dredging my memory for vocabulary I come up with ‘marteau en cuir’. Happily I found what I was looking for almost immediately, labelled ‘un maillet en caoutchouc pour les piquets de camping.’ It wasn’t til I was leaving the shop that I remembered my initial stab at it made ‘leather hammer’ when I was aiming for ‘rubber hammer’…

Vive la difference

Even cheap French barbecue charcoal tells you what wood it was initially made from (oak, in this case) and the instructions tell you not only how to set it on fire, but include useful tips like “Don’t forget the bay leaf and thyme when grilling fish.’ The picture includes a jolly chap grilling away, and in the background there’s a bikini-clad beauty reclining on a sun-lounger just waiting for her portion of sausage.

After grilling up my turkey kebabs with various different coloured turkey sausage (un pack mini-grill de M. Coq) I went for a wander around Condette. The campsite details included a suggested walk taking in the village high street, the mediaeval castle and the Mirrored Lake. All very pretty. In amongst the suburbs, I was a bit taken aback suddenly to find a cow poking its head out of a grill. And it’s interesting to see that nearly everyone had large stocks of wood around their houses. You can certainly smell the wood burning.

NB, French words etc in posts have to be stripped of accents, because Blogger doesn’t like them.

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All set?

Erm, not quite. Various bits of kit are strewn around the dining room floor ready to be loaded into the car first thing tomorrow morning. Then drive to Dover, then get on ferry, then France for next few weeks. Hooray!

Over the weekend, had a trial run camping in Shell Island with the guys from the Out website. Fun was had by all, photos are at www.flickr.com/photos/niles/tags/shellout10

The Death of Wildfire was reported on In Touch on Radio 4 this evening, too.

Goodbye Wildfire

I’ve been using Wildfire as my mobile answering service for the last six years, but I got a letter last week to tell me that the service is being withdrawn very soon. Since I’ll be away when the final switch off happens, I’ve had to change to their standard answerphone sooner, so I’ve uttered the logoff command for the last time.

“Goodbye Wildfire.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

This is very sad. The system was clever, intuitive, and it did things that simply aren’t available with any other answerphone. Now, if I’m checking my messages when someone calls, they won’t be put through to me, just asked to leave a message. I can’t use hands-free dialling any more. I can’t demonstrate the silly side of the system by asking her to ‘Do me a favour’.

It’s not the first time that Orange have scrapped a useful system. They used to have a wonderful service where you could forward incoming calls to a real person who would take a message and text it to you. That was scrapped, they told us, because of the cost. Now Wildfire goes the same way. How expensive can it possibly have been to keep one box running?

There are several groups of people on the internet who are not happy, with savewildfire.com and a site concentrating on the impact on people with visual impairment. There’s also a petition, although so far, only a tiny fraction of the 10,000 remaining Wildfire users have signed it.

The sad thing is, Orange are really killing this project. In 2000, they bought the company that made it for €148m. So if Orange aren’t doing anything with it, who will?

This suggests there are some other networks with the system still running, and something I read suggests that Orange in the US is still offering it.

The results are in

And all three parties can claim a victory: Labour can still form a majority government, the Conservatives took some scalps, and the Lib Dems have more MPs than we’ve had since the 20s, as well as a national increase in vote share, and oodles more second places, which puts us in a better position for the next general election.

But all three parties are also disappointed. Labour lost seats and support, the Conservatives are still lower in numbers than Labour’s low-water mark, and for us — only 10 gains? We didn’t make the gain in the East Midlands we were hoping for, and our sitting MP’s majority increased slightly when we were hoping for a meteoric rise.

At the end of the night in Nottingham, we definitely took home results we were happy with. We held onto a seat in difficult circumstances in a Council by-election, we were the only major party to see significant increases in vote-share in all three Nottingham, and we snatched second place from the Conservatives in Nottingham East.

But enough of psephology for now. My mind is turning to catching up on domestic and council work, and getting ready for my road trip to France. I have now bought ferry tickets and pretty much everything I need for my extended break.

All I need to do now is find my passport!

How big is your chopper?

In all the excitement, I haven’t had a chance to upload my chopper gags.

A very big chopper‘Axe the Tax’ photos like this have lead to a whole series of ‘how big is your chopper’ gags. As you can see, Paul Holmes MP has a very big chopper indeed.

But not nearly so much as the problem of guillotining leaflets. Printing A5 leaflets on A4 or A3 paper means you need an awful lot of chopping done.

At work we don’t have as big a chopper as I would like. In fact, it’s old, blunt, the safety screen has long since broken off, and it can only handle about 10 sheets at a time, which isn’t much help when you have a constituency’s worth of leaflets to chop.

So, we spent a fair amount of time bombing down the M1 with a carload of leaflets to colleagues 60 miles away who have an industrial size chopper — one so big you need both hands to get it to work. So big, it has a label stuck to it saying ‘Einmanbedienung’ — for use by strictly one operator at a time. It can cut 500 sheets at a time.

Even when you factor in the time to take 40,000 sheets of paper downstairs, load them into a car, drive them 60 miles down the M1, unload them, and carry them upstairs to the chopper, it’s quicker to use the industrial chopper than the office one.

Postal Votes

Since I’m going to be working all day on polling day, I’ve applied for a postal vote.

Which hadn’t arrived by this morning’s post, because I didn’t leave home till the postman had been.

So, I phoned the elections office to ask where my vote was and what I can do about it, and apparently it was posted to me a fortnight ago. Not to worry, councillor, if you turn up at the Guildhall tomorrow with photo-ID and something with your address on, we’ll issue you with an emergency ballot.

Which is all very well, and quite reassuring that I will actually get a vote…

… except that somehow, my postal vote turned up at my house inbetween me leaving and my other half getting home.

Where has it been for 14 days?