Monday, 17 October 2016

The Queen's Marmite

   And so it arrives, all too soon, those longer nights of wood smoke, indoor cooking and crap-all on TV. As ever, we get drawn into the Great Ridiculous Menu in yet another campaign to annoy the hell out of everyone who has so much as overly hard boiled an egg or burnt some toast. This time they are cooking for the Queen's 90th birthday. Now I have met a few Royals over my time and one thing that struck me about most of them is that they appear to enjoy proper food, served on a bl**dy plate! So why does Donny, head chef at the Hedgehog and Ferret in Hartlepool insist on cooking beetroot, marmite and micro-tarragon in a water-bath, then setting fire to it with a welding torch and serving in an up-turned children's cycle helmet full of liquid nitrogen and decorated with deli-boppers? Does he wholeheartedly believe that his efforts would impress anyone other than a few smug TV chefs? Would Elizabeth R really enjoy a new take on Coronation chicken after all these years, now reduced to a hen's feet and beak, topped with a pile of feathers and a toy crown? I think not. One only hopes she watches the programme so she can phone up the beeb and wield her verbal mace, demanding meat and two veg served on Royal Worcester at her party, as well she deserves. And while she is at it, maybe she can ask them politely to return Countryfile to a programme that represents ordinary rural folk, rather than lefty-hippy-suburban-vegan-lesbians  - or better still, get all its presenters beheaded!
    While on that subject of food, when I was young Marmite was known as the 'Growing up spread'. So why is it now that a bunch of over-grown children are squabbling over it? Well it appears that the 'Brexiteers' (noun: person or persons eligible to vote on serious issues while blindfolded) have now been rewarded for their electoral efforts by the price of food in their shops being hiked up in an almost-convincing piece of manipulation by executives who are much cleverer than they are.  Hence a product made from yeast extract and manufactured somewhere in Derbyshire that, in my opinion, tasting like seagull droppings, is central to a huge week-long media splash, as its cost goes up by 2p? Answer: because between its supplier and some major retailers, they have managed to carve out some excellent free advertising over what is a normal annual price negotiation. Let's face it, it is a perfectly feasible price rise in foodstuffs, as has happened every year since eternity. But it wouldn’t be half as much fun if we couldn’t blame half the UK's population though, would it? Anyway, as far as I am concerned, they could give Marmite away and I still wouldn’t go within a 2 quid bus-ride of it.
    Anyway, in an effort to escape early evening TV, last week we took our new 'camping-car' - which is what the French call it, the word 'van' being far too vulgar - down to the South West coast. Arriving on a sunny Friday afternoon right next to our favourite beach near Biarritz, we had a couple of chardonnay's under clear blue skies and enjoyed the setting sun from the terrace of a very nice fish restaurant (on a plate), followed by a run on the sand with the dogs. This time of year, apart from a few die-hard surfers, this beach is normally deserted, as we lay our heads for the night. Next morning I was quite surprised to open the curtains to more blue sky and sea, only to find a hairy biker looking back at me. Within minutes he was joined by another and more, until, within half an hour, upwards of 200 bikes arrived on the shore car-park ranging from everything from a Honda SS 50 (remember those?) through Ducati F1 bikes to 10 decades of Harley Davidson. I have to admit, once I got over the shock and covered my manhood, I found the spectacle most interesting and was soon taking photos. It transpired that they were just a bunch of local bike enthusiasts off for a 200kms jaunt around the Pyrenees before returning for a late-night beach party. By the looks of the age of some of them, a comfy seat by the fire might have also been welcome. We didn’t stay for the festivity, instead heading to Bayonne, a town we had never visited and one we were suitably impressed by, with its 5 story riverside Basque houses and wide variety of local food. Our trip here was to take in a rugby match against those wiry old Midlanders, Gloucester. It was quite amusing sitting in the local market watching portly men in cherry and white shirts wandering around like proverbial fish out of water and shaking their heads at Les Escargot. The game was a bit lack-lustre but Glos did manage a narrow win and a few celebratory pints of Heineken were had.  

   Our plan had been to continue on to Bordeaux for another match the next day but unfortunately I succumbed to a dose of the flu, something I had contracted in Scotland which I believed I had shaken off the week before. Oh well, a sign of winter setting in, I suppose. Wrap up warm, folks. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Corduroy campers

I am writing this one handed while the other waves goodbye to Poole Harbour, my digits having developed a habit all of their own. As we leave UK shores once more for France, thankfully the channel is calm today – I’m not great on ferries – especially compared to the couple of nights we spent rocking in a gale on the North Devon coast. We had an interesting few days in Britain, mainly because we have just joined that exclusive club of ‘campervan owners’ and now have hundreds of new friends. I say friends, in the same way that I have a thousand ‘friends’ on social media, as the driver of each and every one feels compelled to wave to each other as though we are all mates. To start with I was rather concerned and initially wondered if we had a flat tyre or some other significant problem they were alerting me too.  But no, it is just another one of those bizarre customs that people have adopted for no apparent reason. Naturally I felt obliged to wave back, in the same way that if someone puts out a hand to shake, you take it, irrespective of whether you know or like that person. And so it is that I have developed something between a nervous twitch and a mild case of St Vitus Dance whenever I so much as spot a motorised caravan from the corner of my eye! In an attempt to adopt some individual style, I have tested out a few different ‘waves’ in front of the mirror, perfecting my art. Evolving through an entire spectrum, from a smart military gesture to just some casual finger wiggling, eventually, as our vehicle is of German origin, I have settled on a sort of Bellamy salute which often incurs me bashing my fingers on the windscreen in the process. It does spark some strange reactions though, for some reason.
Anyway, prior to collecting the nearly-new vehicle I had to insure it, by means of a phone call for which I was on hold for 20 minutes. It still beggars belief that companies cannot employ enough staff to handle sales calls more efficiently, instead of p+ssing customers off with popular 70s classics played on a Hammond organ, interspersed with a cynical recorded voice telling me that they are experienced an unusually high number of calls today.  This statement in itself rings alarm bells with me. Why the extra number of calls on this particular day, I hear myself asking? Why on the day when I am calling instead of yesterday, or tomorrow? That gets my bored mind around to debating that maybe they don’t get many calls at all on other days, and thus only have one sales operative, and that perhaps their services aren’t very good. Eventually Danny answers the phone, all upbeat and chatty while I call him and his company rude names in my frustrated ferocity. Oh how he must love his job.  Yet there is worse to come. I am then bombarded with a set list of questions about my driving habits, vehicle storage, dress sense etc which all goes swimmingly well until I am asked my occupation. In the past I have often admitted to being a nun - as in occupation? None!? But this time, with a new novel of mine about to hit the shelves in Waterstones, I came clean and said I was an author. This usually evokes a comment of ‘oh, anything I would have heard of?’ To which my answer is yes, if you are an enthusiast of certain breeds of cow, or one of the twenty folks who read the Rock and District News. However, this time the reaction was totally different as Danny went so quiet that I had to check my phone reception hadn’t gone off. Did I say something wrong? Did I accidentally say I was a mass-murderer or, worse still, Jeremy Corbyn? ‘I am sorry Mr Frazier, but we cannot insure authors to drive campervans,’ says my man. WTF?  ‘Authors are on a list of exceptions with regards to occupation.’ And why would that be, Danny? Is there evidence to suggest that we purveyors of words drive around blindfolded? Danny had no answer to this, in fact he had no idea, but it was the rules. I would have hung up, were it not for the pain I had already undergone getting thus far. Oh dear. OK, let’s try another one then, ask me the question again. This time I settle on ‘property developer’, a nice sensible profession and one of my varied pastimes. ‘Sorry sir, you have already told me you are an author, and you can’t untell me something you already told me.’ Just as well I hadn’t told him I was Jeremy Corbyn then, or else I would be him forever and then where would I be with all that corduroy! Eventually we reached an agreement that I could be insured but would indignantly have to pay a 90 quid premium due to my being writer. Have you ever heard such a load of codswalloping hogswash? Remind me to ask the editor for a raise.
Right, this P&O floating toilet is coming into port, so it’s goodbye rainy Britain and hello sunny Brittany for a few more days before we wend our way back home to collect the dogs from their 5 star boarding hotel. In fact, this time, it’s not only the dogs in kennels but the kittens as well, at a combined cost of 50 euros per night. Would be cheaper to put them up at an Ibis! Oh well, at least they can travel with us on our next trip in our 4 bedder. Ideal really, one each for the animals while we sleep in the awning.  I wonder if the French camping-car drivers will wave to me as well. Je ne pense pas!

Olympic kittens

I am happy to announce that, since we lost our ginger yearling cat on the road last month, we now have two new young tykes in the house, both of whom seem to think it fun to help me write this piece.  I suppose, in the life of a kitten, pretty much everything is fun really. As well as constantly attacking Louis’ wagging tail and chasing butterflies, getting stuck up trees and on the roof are all in a day’s work when you are that age and size. Hopefully they will soon discover rodents and earn their keep.
Over the last month we have had a number of guests staying as the usual summer shenanigans ensued. One nameless visitor might not be rushing back anytime soon after I picked up the mozzie repellent one evening and, in a friendly gesture, liberally sprayed her bare arms and legs only to later realise it was actually a tin of WD40! Oh well, I am sure she managed to slide into bed effortlessly that night!
As the summer temperatures soared (don’t you love the way weather presenters express themselves with words like soaring and plummeting. I guess they must learn excessive weather-speak in their degrees in degrees!) Anyway, during this scorching time of year, my winter fuel arrives, all ten tons of it dumped on the driveway in an awkward pile. There is an old saying that goes ‘firewood warms you twice’. Well I certainly hope I will feel as warm a glow from the log burner during the colder February nights as I did hauling it into an orderly stack by the back door in 35 centigrade. I did nick a few barrow loads to fire the pizza oven last week though, when a dozen or more random Irish strangers turned up for tea. Never being one to turn away friends of friends, it actually turned into a great night as 5 or 6 of them brought musical instruments and we all joined in some quite commendable renditions of everything from Irish folk songs to a few of my old classic Welsh rugby songs. Duw it was hard!
Anyway, the majority of the last four weeks have been taken up by listening to, watching, talking about and shouting at the Olympic Games. Like everyone else in UK I was overawed by the British efforts and their haul of neck ware. One thing that does tickle me in a global assembly of natives such as this is the way so many people are blessed with place-names as surnames. In one race, Mark English (from Ireland), David Rhodesia (from Kenya) , and Kirsty Coventry (Refugee team) all completed. OK, I jest, the latter isn’t in the refugee team although, if I lived in Coventry, I would certainly consider becoming one! And then the local town of Kidderminster made it onto the world map by producing a champion archer which, let’s face it, would come in quite handy from a self defence point of view at midnight on Comberton Hill. Rumour that contestants in ‘window breaking’, ‘drunken brawling’ and ‘dole queuing’ are being entered from the town in the next Olympics are totally unfounded!
Right, moving swiftly on with my head down, we are indecisive about to do with our winter this year. Obviously, after my previous comments, the British Midlands aren’t a safe destination, and we seem to have our holiday home in Scotland booked out for much of the time. So a recent suggestion has been to get mobile and head south. I have had a few experiences in a campervan in the past, once with a group of 6 sweaty rugby enthusiasts touring New Zealand – an odour I will ne’er forget - and again with Wendy making a trip to a rugby game. The idea of seeing the Mediterranean out of tourist season quite attracts me, with the freedom to pitch up for a day or two wherever seems idyllic, maybe cycling a few miles along the leafy canals or gathering driftwood with the dogs and cozying around a bbq on the beach in the evening sea breeze.  However, on the understanding that the success of our perpetual harmony is enhanced by us habiting in an expansive farmhouse here, with 3 or 4 terraces for us both to get some me-time, I am not totally so sure we can spend a few months couped up together, along with the dogs, (and possibly 2 kittens) within a few musty cubic metres.  Not only that, but we both have jobs to keep and work to do which relies heavily on a decent internet connection.  But the dilemma goes even deeper than that, in the fact that while on the move we may not be able to pick up a British TV signal for a couple of months, and thus my wife missing an entire season of Strictly Come Prancing!

What’s that? Ah yes, a nice little 4 berth Hymer will do nicely, thank you! See you in St Tropez for Xmas!  

Monday, 18 July 2016

Meatballs and Méchoui

Hello again, or should I say ‘Bonjour, mes amis.’ For it appears I am now a true exile. Although I, like many others, haven’t the foggiest idea how the British Government’s recent faux pas will affect us in the long term, at present the sun is at last shining, the wine is still cheap and plentiful and I have to be content with the bed we made for ourselves here in South West France. Onwards and upwards
As the dust settled after the announcement of the above referendum result, I had to admire someone making the best of the situation in the name of Frederika Roberts, who claimed to be a professional ‘happiness and resilience expert’. What a great job that would be, trying to cheer people up and wandering around telling folks to smile, ‘things could be worse, you could be American!’ I am guessing she got a job with the England football team after that. ‘Knocked out of the Euros in the first round? Don’t worry about it, you’ll still earn a million quid a year.’
But it did get me thinking, ‘what is the answer to ultimate happiness?’ Apparently it isn’t drink, so that’s my theory out the window! Money? Good health?  Retirement? Well I am reliably informed by Google that it is to ‘spend some time alone!’ That way ‘You can focus on your hobbies, or just enjoy some good music all by yourself to celebrate life.’ Thank you Doctor, I’ll just leave via the 3rd storey window, shall I?
On the subject of football, we have had rather an overdose of it here in France, as optimism for Les Bleus reigned supreme until the bitter end. Not being a huge fan of the sport, I devised a cunning plan. We used the hour and a half during the Final, to go to Ikea. Brilliant idea: all the French would be in the pub watching the game and we could breeze through and collect our Metrob, Firndhort and other unpronounceable furniture, in peace. Sadly what we hadn’t bargained for was the whole place being full of disillusioned English! Although France didn’t win, they still had a good laugh though, which can still be heard echoing around the hills, when they found that Les Rosbif have elected Boris as Foreign secretary. Ha, has he ever been out of London? I wonder how long before his bike runs out of batteries as he tours Europe looking for someone to shake hands with?
So, for the last week or two I have been on the end of an allen key once again, assembling this and that. We now have fully functioning fitted wardrobes, with all clothes filed away in colour coordination, as well as a brand new kitchen on the outside terrace. The latter has replaced the original one, now in its tenth year, which consisted of a rusty gas-ring, a cold tap and a few makeshift worktops. With a field full of decent lambs this year, I am hoping to christen it next week, to celebrate our birthdays with a Méchoui: a French meal which involves a whole lamb, a large fire and a few gallons of red wine. What could possibly go wrong?
By the time this goes to print, we will be gearing up for another Olympics, this time south of the equator in Brazil. I will admit to being a convert to the global tournament, following on from London 2012. Hopefully GB will once again find success, topping up a year of good sport from the nation, which included Wimbledon, Le Tour and others. However, a few of the disciplines bring a slight concern by the fact that the waters in and around Rio are dirtier than Trumps election campaign and anyone falling in is likely to end up in ER pretty damn quick. A couple of years ago we had considered attending the event; South America always being on my ‘bucket list.’ Thankfully we did not book up due to financial reasons, since Typhoid is something I could gladly do without!
Never being one to let the absurd slip by unnoticed, I have to highlight yet another round of lunacy from the French law office. It appears that, as of this month, Paris is now limited to under nineteens, since they have outlawed all vehicles made before 1997 in the city. Yes, if you have a handy little Renault Clio which has stood the test of time, it has suddenly become a death nail in the planet’s coffin. Obviously it is high time you sold it and bought something newer. How about a Dodge Charger, or maybe a V8 Land-Cruiser with twin tailpipes? The reasoning for this prohibition quotes a staggering statistic that car emissions are responsible for 42,000 deaths per year in France. Really? Is there any evidence behind this astounding fact? So road deaths are down to an all time low in this country but cars are still killing us.  I am no scientist but surely the way the French drive, especially the Parisians, may suggest a simpler answer to their problem would just be that everyone just slows down a little, n’est pas? If they would do that around here too it may have saved our poor kitten getting run over on the road last week..

Monday, 20 June 2016

The weegie's shed

    A good few years ago we had a place in the North West near an airbase where they trained fast-jet pilots. As an exercise these guys used to bring a Tornado in to land just so that its wheels touched the tarmac in a puff of smoke and then pull on the burners and take off again. This more or less describes what my last month has been like.
   After some tearing around UK for business, two weeks in Glasgow saw me arrive at a derelict property, remove the entire contents of it and then systematically replace everything inside from kitchen to carpets and tiles to toilets, toiling day and night, mainly on my own. I will admit I didn’t get it completed as I was relying on some tradesmen - you know what those mythical illusive chaps are like - but I did give it a good kick at the ball. This was the first real experience I have had with Glaswegians and I have to admit the locals were a fantastic and friendly bunch of folks. One by one the neighbours would drop by for a nosey, bringing a cup of tea and a biscuit and one even offered to pop down to Tesco to get my shopping.  I couldn’t believe how far removed this was from the reputation that the 'weegies' have for nicking stuff, beating each other up - especially the English - and generally being a bunch of drunken hard-cases. To cap it all, the weather was so glorious for the whole duration, as they enjoyed the first decent summer for a couple of years. Another week is scheduled shortly and I am quite looking forward to it, not least because I am still fed up with the miserable weather here in France where it has rained constantly since Christmas.
    During that trip another thing I experienced for the first time was that of the man-shed - a residence from residence where gentlemen of a certain age while away the hours to get 'oot the hoos!' In this instance, the old guy who had lived there had since passed away but a few minutes in his 'shed' gave me a complete potted history of the chap in his prime, and what a proud guy he must have been. Wooden tools, alphabetically marked draws full of nails screws and obsolete bits of plumbing, a handy work-bench and garden equipment worn thin with age. Back then, and possibly still, a working man would pop out to the pub and have a couple of pints and then wander back home to ponder life in his own domain, safe in the knowledge that his wife knew where he was but wasn’t going to batter his ears for being a drunk and cluttering up the sitting room. In one corner, the tell-tale sign of an aerial socket would suggest that he might just have the footie on in there as well. It almost brought a tear to my eye, especially when a couple of Romanians removed the whole thing under my instruction, leaving nothing but a bare patch of earth to mark the spot.  I have no idea what they did with it after that, some things are better left unasked.
    You might question why I had to use some bogus method of disposing of unwanted stuff but the answer is quite simple - because the local council are so far up their own jacksie they can see the sunrise through their ears! These days local government is so infested by ecomentalists that we are dictated to that absolutely everything has to be recycled. Maybe not so much in the countryside but if you live in a city you will be indoctrinated to pop along in your Volvo estate to the local tip every week, sit in a queue of like-minded folks, awaiting your turn to put you old Kenwood mixer, MFI TV stand or Hostess trolley in the correct container. You even get issued with a map to help you do this which you can take home and be smug about. That is, unless you drive a white van. You see, van drivers are the anti-christ of recycling, hell bent on destroying the world faster than Dr Evil. The fact I merely darkened the door of West Glasgow's 'dump' with my Hertz vanload of nuclear waste was enough to get me a criminal record and a three month stretch in Barlinnie. Despite my protestations that I was carrying nothing more lethal than a used wooden kitchen cut no ice with 'Jock the important' who claimed it was still classed as industrial waste and I would need to pay a few hundred quid to dispose of it. After a futile argument, I succumbed and suggested I would revert back to what normal countryside folks would do - and have a bonfire instead. However, Jock didn’t appear too keen on this either, especially when I started unloading it on the side of the road and breaking out with the Swan Vestas! After yet more negotiations, a ream of paperwork and a few phone calls, I was eventually allowed to drive in and unload it, only to be bawled at by yet more dictatorial custodians of the planet for driving in the wrong lane and parking in the incorrect location. Hence, the whole recycling experience got me so irritated that I have no choice but to revert to the gypsy community with barely a pang of guilt!
    Anyway, a few days later, after another quick touchdown in the French rain, and we are in South West Spain, so far removed from the madness that we could have been on planet Sane. Conil de Fronterra is a place we have been before and one we love, purely because nobody north of the British Chanel knows of its existence. Although only a few hours from Malaga, for a whole week we never so much as heard a British voice, let alone saw a tattoo or fish and chip bar, as I mended my bones in the glorious sunshine, interspersed with gin and seafood, for a whole week.
To relay the pleasure of this experience back to our friends we made an attempt to take a 'selfie' but soon realised we are not very good at this task. No matter how hard I tried, every photo highlighted my burnt peeling nose making me look a bit like a scarlet artichoke. We tried the 'soft-focus' setting on the camera but even a blurred beetroot will never make a red rose.  Someone suggested we used that height of vanity, a selfie-stick, but it appears they don’t make them long enough for the likes of us! Oh well, we know we had a good time, and that's all that really matters.
   PS, don’t be in too much of a hurry to get rid of that hostess trolley, apparently they are right back in fashion. You heard it here first!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A generation of useless bankers

When we first moved to France folks used to talk about ‘flaming June’. No, not a tradition of setting fire to the village bag-lady but the month, which is supposedly baking hot. Maybe I am feeling old but back then I can recall most of the spring having ‘tops off’ days here in the south west. Well this year we have had ‘freezing Feb, miserable March, atrocious April and murky May’. Apparently this has something to do with the Gulf Stream, a phenomenon which is quintessentially owned and controlled by Britain. So, basically, the blame for this dreary weather can be squarely laid at David Cameron’s door - yet another reason to tick au-revoir in the ballot booth this month!
Seriously though, the seed potatoes have only just gone in the ground – at least two months later than last year - and I have spent the last week building a fireplace on the back terrace to keep out the chill. Thankfully, during the prolonged wet period I have had an indoor project on the go which is now more or less finished: that of building a master bedroom, complete with en-suite. This entity was at the request of Mrs F who pointed out that over the last eight years I have renovated the entire house so that we can sleep a dozen or more guests in luxury but meanwhile the pair of us slum it in a make-shift bunker with the ceiling falling down and a furlong trek to the nearest loo.  She does have a point – maybe it should be called a Mistress bedroom? Hmm, that conjours up an interesting image, doesn’t it? Not only have I spoilled her with a new boudoir, but she now also has a utility and ironing room. No, not quite what you are thinking  as this isn’t a place where she can peacefully iron away the hours but a space where she can store all the ‘ironing’ in a pile out of sight to avoid the reminder that it needs doing on a twice annual basis. Oops, that might have cut my rations!
Moving swiftly on, at least this month I have been exempt from the anticipated continual travels. I was supposed to be in Glasgow for a couple of weeks but we hit a few project delays. And it is here that I feel the need to gripe, nay rant, about the irksome way in which the legal and banking system operates. Yes I know there may be bankers and lawyers reading this claiming that their industry is super-efficient but I have evidence to the contrary. To start with, you can no longer pop into a branch and open an account by filling in a quick form. Now I have been referred to the ‘account opening team’ who handle that process. Since the country got up in arms about all banking staff being based in India this new team consists of a dozen ill-educated teenagers in Sheffield with the collective IQ of my dog, who’s command of the English language is far worse than the whole of Mumbai! Four times Natalie has phoned me up, ‘clearing’ me with a dozen baffling security questions before getting to the point which is to ask me the same things she did last week because she had forgotten what I said. Six weeks on and I still have no account, nor even a piece of paper to suggest it may be imminent. Then we have the archaic paper-laden institution that represents our law; a set of egotistical brain-boxes in expensive suits who spend all day dictating letters to each other at my expense and then ignoring them. Hence simple transactions take months instead of days. In what other business could the whole process grind to a complete halt because Mr Jones is on holiday or paralegal Pam is taking a day off because her precious child has a nose bleed? It is utterly preposterous in this day and age that two or three quick emails can’t conclude a property purchase in an afternoon, let alone 2 months (or, in the case of one nameless local firm, a whole year!) If I was to be cynical I might suggest that dragging out the timeline would be so they could charge more – surely not?
On the subject of ancient things, some may recall that last we year we all trotted off to see the rock band Deep Purple, or what’s left of them. Well, despite my ears still wringing we are at it again, this time to see another depleted relic of my generation, The Who. I am not sure who’s idea it was, over a few shandies, but 12 of us have tickets at the best part of a hundred quid a pop to be shouted at for two hours by Roger Daltrey while octogenarian Pete Townsend customarily smashes up his guitar. The fact that these two of the initial four are still alive is itself a testament to modern science and one assumes their ageing fan-base have between them contributed massively to the sales of hearing aids. I have to admit I am quite excited, although I suspect these days there might be less talking about my generation and more about my operation!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tata folks

Well, that’s lambing more or less done and dusted. Not been the easiest this year but we have a decent crop of lambs except for maybe the final pair, born to a yearling, which are so thin my wife has quite cruelly named them the Belson twins. Coincidentally, that is not the only reference to that ghastly atrocity of World War II as there has for some strange reason been a statue constructed in the centre of the Marmande bypass depicting the event. Although the origins of this bizarre stainless steel three metre high model are unclear, it shows three hunched people trudging along, chained together, and is apparently a reference to how the town played a prominent part in providing the train service for the crimes. One assumes it was erected to exorcise their guilt.  
April has, for me, been a month on the road, mainly in a hurry. Those lovely people working in air-traffic control disrupted my first trip, causing me to have to traverse the country by train, bus, taxi and finally, air. Just how in this day and age a few dissatisfied workers can cause so much commuting chaos is beyond comprehension but they do, because they can. With a four day business trip to Scotland condensed into three by their subsequent flight cancellations, the hours were long and painful as I also slotted in a 36 hour stint tiling the bathroom in our seaside house. Just 24 hours back home and we were off again to Paris, via Bordeaux, both of which, it has to be said are beautiful cities. This time we took in a rugby match en route. From there to London, the Midlands, London again, Calais and then finally home, for a week in my own bed – bliss! That week is very short, as I try and tie up far too many loose ends – I currently have 4 writing projects on the go – and get some well deserved sleep before it’s on the move once more. Next up Nottingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, none of which lay claim to UK’s best hotspots! Never being one to wish my life away, I certainly will be glad when the month is over and May brings some harmony and sunshine.
Anyway, hours in hotels, train stations and airports do give me occasional time to observe, and then rant. To start with, we have James Martin, that TV chef and apparent sex god who has, among his portfolio, a restaurant in Stansted airport. Ideal for a spot of breakfast you might think? Wrong. Well, not entirely incorrect, just that a big sign saying ‘proper breakfast here’ is not accompanied by that basic requirement, a menu. Me: can I see a menu? Chef: What is it you are looking for, darling? Me: um, breakfast. Chef: well, you certainly are in the right place, what did you have in mind, darling? I resisted the temptation to sarcastically demand a concoction of Belgian Duroc bacon and south Rhodesian hens eggs, in case they might actually have them! Me: errr, ehm, what have you got? This absurd conversation went on so long my flight is being called. Eventually I settled on a bacon roll, with no idea of what I would cost nor what else I was missing out on.  Twelve quid later and I realise that pretty-boy James is not such a mug after all!
12 hours later I am in my hotel room, battling with technology in order to connect to the internet, whilst simultaneously running a bath. Have you ever noticed how powerful the water pressure always is in hotels? No, nor me, really – until not only is the bath full to the brim with scolding water, but the entire bathroom. Stepping through two inches of the stuff in my socks to try and switch the tap off resulted in near third degree burns and then the hour long job of mopping it up, with one towel, took me past last orders for dinner and I have to take the car to a local garage for a pack of sandwiches.
Just four days after that I get another chance for that oh-so relaxing bath but this time a knock on the door disturbed the peace. Obviously the words ‘who is it?’ translate into French as ‘enter’, and in comes a maid, her eyes like saucers as she hastily retreats with a face as red as a London 2-decker. Thankfully she later resisted to opportunity to mention that ‘she didn’t recognise me with my clothes on’ whilst serving breakfast!
Finally a stay in a rather plush hotel near Stansted airport which has an incredibly large wine tower in the centre of the bar. Holding a good few thousand bottles, the only way each one can be collected from its slot is by a ‘wine angel’ - an athletic girl who ascends the tower in mesmerising fashion supported by a couple of thin wires. En-route she incorporates a few well practiced gymnastic moves, swirling head-over-tail like a beautiful starfish until she gracefully lands back behind the bar and hands it over. I have to admit my wine was a little too shaken up when it arrived - especially the tenth bottle!

The next time I write this column it may be as an outcast citizen as the nation goes to the polls. The subject of politics is something I tend to stay well clear of, despite the temptation to ridicule the phoneys who haplessly head up the common government. However, these last couple of weeks listening to their childish bickering on every media has made up my mind – which is basically to bid Britain Cheerio faster the country has said Tata to its steel industry!