Monday 4 November 2019

Building for life

Late late late again. Where does the time evaporate to? 
    This month's excuse is that we were at the time travelling to England from France for my niece’s wedding in Rock church and, coupled with an endless list of problems around our building project in Scotland, things all got a wee bit fuzzy.
    Anyway, the wedding was superb and went off without a hitch, culminating in a great party at Hopleys Park in Bewdley. I would like to wish Adele and Ade, a long and happy life together. It was nice to see a few familiar faces around the village including Sheila Nott who was ‘on duty’ during the service, and the editor who furnished me with a pint in the local!

     I had mentioned earlier in the year that we were planning to head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup this month. Unfortunately the above mentioned building project urgently required my presence here in Scotland, dealing with some quite technically challenging issues spurred on by constant reform of building regulations and technology, so we cancelled the trip last minute. We now have a floor, 4 walls and a ceiling on the downstairs area and, as I speak, the upper extension is underway and awaiting the arrival of a rather expensive 4 metre wide window. This in itself has highlighted yet another problem as it is dubious whether we can fit the panels down the alleyway to our seafront position. With a street too narrow to take a crane, the latest suggestion is that we deliver it by boat and carry it up the rocky beach. Not an easy thing to schedule during the windy season! During my 3 weeks here I have walked 240 kilometres, climbed 800 floors, done 46 hours of hard labour and burned 75,000 calories. This information I gleaned from the Fitbit (or in my case, Fatbit!) device that Wendy bought me for my birthday which has the sole purpose of shaming me out of being a lazy B as I enter my later years. It also advises me of how much sleep I have had, or in this instance, not, as I constantly wake in a cold sweat at 3am imagining the waves and rainwater cascading into our new unfinished bedroom!
     On the subject of wind, I think the postponement of our trip to the Far East worked out rather fortuitously, as it would have coincided with the arrival of typhoon Haggis, which delivered gusts of up to 150mph around Tokyo’s stadia. Thankfully not too many tourists suffered and a plucky performance by the host nations on the pitch that weekend put paid to my wife’s national team, Scotland, in quite dramatic fashion, leaving only hot air from their coach in its wake! As yet, I am unaware of the fate of my own team, England, who will have either held aloft the Webb Ellis trophy, or predictably crashed and burned in their chariot!
     Also, by the time this gets to print we will once more be back in France for a short while, tidying up before winter. During that time Halloween will have been and gone and, perhaps, things around the ‘B-word’ may have settled down a tad. Or perhaps not.
     As we plan to return to Scotland in late November, it is with some trepidation that we suspect we will be met at the ‘hard’ border with vehement hostility, and have our wine stocks and dogs confiscated. Then, of course, the trip North will inevitably be hampered again at Hadrian’s Wall, as Nicola Sturgeon bullies the Scottish public into a new bid for Independence, and the country’s economy nose-dives into whisky-enriched oblivion!
     Our final news this month is even more exciting. After more years than she cares to admit working in the computer industry, my wife Wendy will be taking well-earned retirement at the end of this week. This will, of course, leave us in a hopeless financial predicament but at least we will be able to share the worry together! Inevitability it will incur a few changes ahead, but we are both looking forward to taking more time to travel once we have everything settled down and the roof back on.
See you all on the road!

No such thing as a fish

     And breathe! After 45 nights, 3200 miles, 6 countries, 8 ferries, in a variety of weather, in a tin can on wheels, we have finally landed back at Chauffour. For a change it is not the usual week long slog of catching up with chores and excavating a path to our front door through the undergrowth that awaits me, as we have been fortunate enough to have some very bored house-sitters. As a family of 4, they must have toiled day and night to cover the amount of work they have done during their stay, which included tackling ten years growth of honeysuckle and conifers, rebuilding our barn doors and laying an impromptu patio. I have to admit that none of this was pre-planned nor even requisitioned, but it is gratefully received.
     Our trip through Ireland was nothing short of magical. Firstly a weekend at the British Open golf, despite periodic torrential rain, set up a wonderful atmosphere in and around the pretty town of Portrush, which was crowded to bursting point. A win for an Irishman and bumping into a few old friends completed the event for us in style. From there it was across to Donegal, a place I had never been but somewhere I would surely head back to in a heartbeat. I know we shared our time between rural France and a backward town in East Fife where the pace of life in both spots is half that of England, but in Donegal, divide that by five. It was as though time stood still for the 2 weeks we were there, where farmers still pottered around their fields on antique tractors, and sheep grazed the roadsides. Not that the place was poor; to the contrary, the scale and style of the brand new holiday homes on every hillside was of the highest luxury. Around each bend was another cove with a white sandy beach with nobody on it. On numerous occasions, as we parked by the shore, locals would come along for a chat about this and that. Some had even heard of Brexit! After one of my regular unfruitful days fishing in a stream, one chap took pity on me and scooted off in his van, only to return an hour later with a bag of smoked mackerel fillets, such was the generosity of this forgotten corner of Europe.
     When we were children, our family would visit the county of Mayo for our annual holidays. Back then I can recall some of my earliest memories, of high hedges of fuchsia and a large dining room full of waiters in waistcoats. I had since heard that the Great Southern hotel in Mulranny had closed down so it was to my pleasant surprise when we rounded the corner to reminisce and found it not only still there but open with rooms available.  As this happened to coincide with the electrics failing in our camper, we jumped at the chance of not just some nostalgia but a bath with a sea-view. A short trip from there saw us on Achill Island and a pint in what they claimed to be the most westerly pub in Europe, an accolade that is disputed by at least two other establishments in Southern Ireland! One of my other memories of this place was sharks. No, not the sort who want to relieve you of your hard-earned, but great big real ones! This was quantified when we parked up in the small Keem harbour and saw a monument to what once a prosperous fishing industry when in the early 60s as many as 2000 basking sharks per year were caught here. Now the odd one can still be sighted and it is reported there was a ten metre long beast out there in the bay. Apparently it had grown at least 3 metres since it was last sighted in May!
     And finally, the leg of our trip that was to be our destination, Galway Races. A lively event spanning an entire week, this is possibly one of the largest gatherings of Irish in the calendar year. We only had tickets for one day, my birthday, but so it seems did everyone else. As we jostled amongst the revellers, trying to get a look at the action, I managed to get a few bets on but narrowly missed out on the winnings every time. My wife, on the other hand, seemed to have the knack of picking winners just by looking at them, so the day didn’t turn out too costly. After a few evenings in Quay street, where the party-goers spilled from pubs aplenty, our ill-gotten gains were soon exchanged for pints of the black stuff!
     We then ended up in Wales, on Anglesey to be precise. It was particularly busy, mainly with Scousers, and I have to announce that, in comparison, the service was as shocking as I remember it. Swiftly heading south east through Snowdonia we reached Bala and once again I tried my hand at catching a fish on the lake, this time adding more equipment to my tackle bag. Still nothing. A few more stops in Shropshire, Somerset and Dorset were all pleasant, principally because we realised pubs in England don’t mind you parking on their car-park for the night, free of charge, as long as you have a meal in their restaurants and drink a few ales, a proposition that suits me fine - especially when I am so uselessly adept at catching my own tea!
Then finally a few days in Brittany which was also very busy in their peak holiday period. We avoided the seaside, choosing a few inland rivers to park by.  At last I managed to snare a fishy (fanfare!). I would send a photo to accompany this piece but it wouldn’t be a very big one!


The western front

Never being one to canvas envy, it would be churlish of me to mention that I write this column today from a beautiful white sandy beach in blazing sunshine, with a backdrop of heather-clad mountains soaring towards blue skies. But I will. No, we are not in France, nor even the wonders of Spain or Portugal, but bonnie Scotland. For those who have never ventured to its west coast, just read this as an advert for its unrivalled splendour and make a mental not to do so. It is over two weeks since we left France, initially to attend a wedding in St Andrews, Libby our old campervan chugging tirelessly up the M6 with baited breath awaiting her annual check-over. Thankfully she got the all clear, and a certificate for another year in service. On our arrival in Fife we were met by a gaggle of French ex-pats and between us we partied in our wee cottage for nigh on a week. As my intentions of instigating the start of our building works were scuppered by the life-long procrastinators of Fife council, who have still yet to issue our building warrant, once the throng departed, so did we, heading West. A night in Glencoe on what is known in these parts as a ‘driek’ day, the low cloud and occasional drizzle was almost fitting, setting an eerie atmosphere to this place of historic battles steeped in its Pictish past.
Heading an hour south took us to Port Appin, a sleepy village on the shores of sunny Loch Linnie, boasting one of the best seafood restaurants in Europe. I have frequently been labelled as cheeky, not least by my late mother, and it certainly stands you in good stead when it comes to travelling with a house on your back. A quick reccie discovered an old farm track leading out from the village and a spur heading off through the thick bracken opening up to a cove so private we could have been on our own island. Two days here and the concerns and headaches of the past week faded rapidly into bliss as we parked within a few yards of the water with only an equally cheeky seal for company. Sadly he stole our dinner, mopping up the few fish in the bay that had evaded my fishing line for half a day, but his/her needs were far greater than ours as one assumes that, unlike us, he had no access to the self checkout at Tescos the previous day! I admit we had a slightly hairy moment getting the vehicle back up the aforementioned dirt track and at one point thought we might have to use ‘dial-a-farmer’ to tow us out. But we made it, continuing south to Seil Island and the beautiful if somewhat unpronounceable village of Ellenabeich and its tiny island of Easdale. After a few too many drams in its local pub, debating climate-change for an evening with a chap who spent 40 years researching it inside the Arctic circle, I have sent a photo of the scene we woke up to the next morning which even I, as a man of many words, fail to do justice to when describing its beauty.
A couple of ferry rides brings me to the now, where we are parked on this blessed beach, counting down the days until we exchange Scotland for Ireland and all that it beholds. Watch this space for that episode.
Meanwhile, back on planet normal, I feel I have little to complain about for once. Except maybe that UK’s airport staff are planning to hold the country to ransom during its busiest period over a 2p per hour pay dispute. To quote the Telegraph, the only access I have had to part-reality in the past fortnight, their union spokesman says “our members are essential to the smooth running of the airport and hence should be paid more!” Pardon? That’s like saying gravy is essential to my Sunday roast and therefore should cost a tenner? Or politicians are necessary to the smooth running of our daily lives and therefore we need lots of them. Which brings me neatly round to the horrific fact that by the time this goes to print ‘Boris Trump and the Lunatics’ really will be running the asylum when realistically they would be more suited to the comedy stage at Glastonbury!
See ya’ll back in France!