Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Sunshine mountain…where the four winds blow

Sunday 24th October, 2010
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? (Kahlil Gibran)
A gloriously sunny day had dawned on my mountain. I would have loved to sit in the sun and dry my hair au naturel whilst contemplating the next phase in my writing journey. But alas no. No hot water. I had run out of gas and whilst showering in cold water would most likely give my hair a healthy shine it is not something I relish. A basin of hot water from the kettle sufficed as the dogs and I headed down the mountain in search of Repsol man. At the appropriate destination I unloaded my empty canister and awaited the man. He duly sauntered over. Charlie barked. Repsol man beat a hasty retreat. I assured him that Charlie is not vicious. He started to put the new canister in the car but as Charlie barked again he literally ran off leaving the canister precariously balanced. I have been reliably informed that the Spanish are not enamoured with dogs, particularly those that bark. That would account for the number of passive pooches to be found littering the winding streets of Sedella.
Come early evening and I am pestered for a walk and so set out taking care to avoid the horses that had not long passed and which Charlie hates with a passion. I decide that the brook which runs through the narrow valley below my house is the place to go. It is only the final 100 metres that are hard to navigate and I slide, slip and lurch down to the water’s edge. The dogs meanwhile have hurtled headlong and can be heard splashing up and down the brook’s course.  I had envisaged walking the banks of the brook to the track I know is some 600 metres or so further along. Once again this day I was thwarted in my original intent. The banks are precipitous and over-grown, and the water too deep to wade through. I find myself on the far side of the brook, some 50 metres on with nowhere to go but back from whence I came or up. I chose up. Up a very steep hillside whose earth is loose and the only tracks are those made by goats. Up to the wrong side of the valley. Up, whilst the dogs send loose rocks clattering down towards me as they bound effortlessly onwards.

slightly to the left is where I surfaced!

As I paused to regain my breath, clinging to a prickly shrub as my feet sought purchase, I mulled over the sheer stupidity of my actions. No phone in my pocket should I slip, the possibility of non-avoidance of dog-propelled rocks and no idea how to get back when I get to the top – what had I been thinking? Resolution – get home in one piece and not be so idiotic in future.  Some 90 minutes after leaving the house I found myself staring back at it from the opposite hill. ‘Now to get back there, before the sun sets’. Towards the lake will not work, so I headed in the general direction of Sedella. It crossed my mind that somewhere I would have to breach the brook again.  Cross that bridge, should there be one, when I find it. Fortuitously I discovered a track that brought me to the brook at a narrow clear crossing with the track continuing on the other side. Marching on we headed up the slope on the correct side of the valley. Doubt did kick in towards the top as I looked at the track on which my house sits; on a different rise to the one I was on. Had I sold myself a pig in the poke? The sun was sinking and I did not relish the prospect of walking the hills in the dark.
Momentarily I was distracted from my woes by the sight of a somewhat deceased goat. The skin had been nearly completely pulled back from its skull but the collar was still round its neck. Its hide lay flat. Thankfully Charlie decided not to roll in the dead creature (an unfortunate habit he has when happening upon erstwhile animals).
Relief was imminent as I surmounted the rise, saw the ruined house - which still housed some creature, but I did not stop to look – and regained my familiar track. As we rounded a bend we came across the horses that I had sought to avoid. Fate has an odd sense of humour.
The relief of a hot shower was multiplied by the knowledge that I had been sensible enough not to put off ‘til tomorrow what could be done today! I watched the sun finally slip below the horizon as I sipped on a cold can of beer and tucked into a healthy salad. Funny how experiences that could so easily go wrong make you feel so alive. At about 10pm, as I sat researching some paid(!) work, the clatter of my garden furniture disappearing from the veranda sent me outside.  The wind, which had been absent all day, blew forcefully around the house. I retrieved the garden furniture and placed them in the dining room.
As I lay in bed, the wind continued to gain strength. The shutters rattled, the curtains billowed and I lay there thinking about the goat’s carcass. Possibly the reason Charlie had not rolled in it is that the only remains were the hide, skull and collar. The skeleton was gone. There were no putrefying innards to attract the Labrador nose. I would have thought vultures would have taken the hide as well, maybe not.  Vultures led me to think of the most wondrous sight I had seen on my return from the gas run. 40 or so eagles had been circling the mountain by the turning onto my track. Gently wheeling as they rode the thermals they were magnificent to see. Stopped by the side of the road watching the awesome creatures I had cursed my lack of binoculars and camera.
Sleep was not forthcoming. From the kitchen window I looked onto the garden bathed in a brilliant white light. The giant moon spilled its beams across the white washed walls and white gravel. It was bright enough to read by. The wind, far from abating, was growing ever stronger as I ambled back to bed with a mug of hot chocolate. It was as if the wind would pick up the house and transport it far, far away. I felt like Dorothy in Kansas. Eventually I closed the window to muffle the deafening roar of the wind. ‘The only problem is’, I thought as sleep finally covered me, ‘I haven’t got any red shoes to get me back home’.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Post Haste!

Wednesday 20th October, 2010
The postal system has been explained to me by a neighbour. I should not expect delivery to the door (I gathered that by the lack of letters), instead I should meet Maria Jesus between 11.30 and 12 Mon-Fri at the entrance to the village. Maria is the post lady and she will be pleased to see me as she holds a considerable amount of my post in the back of her blue Citroen.
Thursday 21st October, 2010
Maria was pleased to see me! A few muttered words from me about ‘I didn’t know’ etc .etc .were well-received. She explained the process. A lovely lady; very friendly and happy to help.
A picture is forming of how village life is maintained up here. As I mooched to the local shop for Fanta and bread supplies I noted the presence of a butcher’s van. It would be hard not to spot as the man was mobbed by the ladies of the village.
Daily – post lady and local shop for fresh bread
Mondays – market for naff clothes and far more importantly fruit and veg
Thursdays – butcher in his van

I just need to know when the winery makes its rounds and I’m pretty much sorted!

In an emergency, a ‘quick’ trip halfway down the mountain to the next village, Canillas de Aceituno, will see me, even on a Sunday, able to visit butchers, bakeries and other shops. It also has the benefit of an ATM for moment of poor cash-flow management.

I think I may find it very hard to leave.

Where the butcher and local shop can be found

‘The Disappointment of Ed’ or ‘Birds’

Saturday 16th October, 2010
After a week of selling myself as a freelance writer for little more than a litre of milk a day, and considerably less than an escort earns in a night on the coast, the weekend was going to be restful. And a little alcoholic.
The arrival of the drinking dream team (Jan & Ed) on Saturday evening saw me rested with The Day of the Triffids finished and half-way through Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The sort of weekend one relishes after a hard slog at the desktop. The sun had shone brilliantly all day and with its setting the night came alive. Sedella though, seems in a semi-somnambulant state whatever the time of day. Several libations sunk at the first watering-hole, we piled into the restaurant next door to sample Axarquian specialities. (Axarquia being the region of Andalucía in which Sedella sits). Chivo, or kid, is probably the more localised speciality. I went for the cutlets whilst Ed tried it in almond and garlic sauce.  Jan meanwhile, selected suckling pig in sauce. My cutlets, small as they were, were sweet and tender, I would definitely recommend them. Ed’s kid was seemingly the liver, kidney and rump. Whilst the sauce was neither particularly almond-y or garlicky, the meat was tender and tasty. Jan’s suckling pig did not come out as we expected in its entirety but rather cooked in a pot with ‘pig sauce’. Though disappointed with its appearance, the meat was, yes!, tender and tasty! Having perused the menu in more detail, we may opt for the price per kg, suckling pig which requires ordering 24 hours in advance.  That should see the little porker laid out for us to enjoy.
Drinks were imbibed, pool was played and the Real Madrid game was in evidence in each of the bars. Upon the stroke of drunkenness, we meandered home.
Before departing for the village a rather sorrowful pigeon had descended into the garden; rather brave with 4 interested dogs in attendance. It hopped from car to car and closer inspection revealed damage to its back. However we tried to dissuade it from staying, the pigeon persisted in landing on the ground. This was until such time as his tail feathers came within millimetres of Squiff’s mouth. We were reluctant to leave the ailing aviator but its retreat to the roof gave us hope that it would escape a grisly death. Upon return we were glad to note the lack of bird feathers and entrails decorating the outdoor space.
As the night progresses and the level of Pacheran in the bottle receded, the pigeon made its return. As Ed and I clung to the 3 dogs that were chomping at the bit to get to the bird, (Jake having retired to the sofa), said creature calmly strolled along the ground towards us. Back and forth, back and forth, this bird had no intention of dying peacefully elsewhere. At times its head drooped and it looked for all the world as if its demise was imminent. I put the dustpan at the ready to fling its unfortunate carcass into the campo. But it persevered. Eventually, as the Pacheran level dropped dangerously low, I had had enough. The bird was obviously not long for this world so I decided to hasten its departure and released Squiff from my grasp. With a concerted effort the pigeon rose just above Squiff’s nose successfully scaled the perimeter fence and disappeared into the darkness of the Axarquian night.

Looking glam(!), still full of Pacheran
 The dawn, or mid-morn sun to be more precise, saw no sign of the bird and one can only assume it met its end beyond my empire. We set off, still fuelled by the previous night’s accomplishments, and scaled the nearby peak and cast our eyes over a different vista of the Sierra Tajeda. The greater mission still lay ahead – to find the Liverpool match live. We had been assured that the match was to be live at Rafa’s bar – but it was not to be. A rather despondent Ed was informed that they didn’t have Sky and nor did anywhere else in the village. We tried the next village without success. During a restorative cerveza I comforted Ed with the thought that he really did not want to witness another Liverpudlian debacle and they were probably losing. Jan meanwhile continued to harangue him over his choice of playing a game on his phone to holding a conversation with her pre-breakfast. Return to the house confirmed my prediction. Ed’s departure was in the knowledge that his team languished in the relegation zone and that with Jan as his driver he was not free from derisory comments for some time. I waved them off…smiling!
Monday 18th October, 2010
Monday brought further bird trouble. Having returned from a fruitful search for UK/Euro plug adaptors I left the car window open. A later trip to the car found a bird in some distress caught behind the sun-screens in the back of the car (installed for dog comfort). As I opened the back door and two dogs leaped in, the bird extricated itself and flew out of the window. Only a certain amount of droppings to clear up!
This year has been rather bird-oriented with two instances when holed up in Botolph Claydon, of birds flying into my sitting room, watching me and then flying out.  I was convinced this was a bad omen until a little research indicated it meant a change of fortune, good fortune. It proved to be the case with my arrival here. And so it would seem here. I now have to paid offers of writing work – paltry amounts of money they may be compared to previous wage packets – but I’m winning bids and that can only be good news.
Here’s to a bountiful season!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Bulls to you.

Friday 15th October, 2010
In a bid to improve my Spanish and stave off boredom when my eyesight failed for reading purposes, I turned on Andalucía TV. There were a number of info-ads informing me how to stay healthy by eating lots of fruit and veg and walking. Duly noted. Then an advert of another kind…shot of matador, his tight sequinned trousers and bolero jacket glinting in the sun, the bull twisting and turning as it fights a losing battle…shot of bulls walking through the mud with a close-up of their hooves…shot of rancheros rounding the bulls up in the campo…shot of the large bull silhouette that adorns many a hill-side. Then a manly voice, with passion, announcing that this is Toros para Todos. Hooked; unfortunately I was laughing so much that I missed when it is aired, Toros para Todos, ‘Bulls for All’ – what more could you want from TV?
Well, quite possibly El Poder de la Talisman (The Power of the Talisman). This is so bad that the actors and scriptwriters of El Dorado would have won a Grammy or BAFTA.  I have a feeling that my Spanish is going to come on leaps and bounds with such viewing material as this. It is simple, so the language is simple. Fantastic!
Poder a los toros!!
(Power to the Bulls!!)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Hair of the Dog

If only the title referred to the need for a drink to deal with the ill-effects of a hangover. I should be so lucky. Instead it refers to the seemingly incessant task of sweeping pale dog hairs from the casa's floors. I need me a hoover!!

That is not to say that I have not been indulging in the odd glass of vino. The discovery of a quaffable bottle of white for a mere 95 cents from Mercadona ensures that, even when I'm down to the wire, I will be able to partake of a little light refreshment. I can hear murmurings of disquiet at the quality of such wine. Granted, it is not Chablis, but it is definitely an improvement on some of the filth I have been served (warm) in English pubs. And not a hint of anti-freeze either!

My concerted effort at bidding on freelance work may be about to bear fruit. I don't want to tempt fate but I have a test assignment on Nice to complete by noon Friday which, if it passes muster, could see me with about 200 euros of paid work. To this end I have been frantically trying to get my printer connected to my laptop. But to no avail; 2 hours of fruitless installing, uninstalling, downloading, nauseum resulted in no further progress than when I started. This means no lying in bed with sheafs of paper, a highlighter and a glass of wine (my preferred method of research) in order to give myself a headstart tomorrow. Instead I have redoubled my efforts with the book and duly multiplied by 2 the number of words I promised to write each day. But by God it was hard! Re-reading the stoned exploits of Sara and myself as we wreaked our own kind of havoc on the sensibilities of the good people of Amsterdam, has left my eyes red-rimmed and my sides aching.

Here's to tomorrow and Nice. Cheers!

Doggy Dos

Should news reach ears of a weakening of the ozone layer around southern Spain, particularly a mountain by the name La Maroma, then we need look no further than Jake. His penchant for drinking the water out of the trough earmarked for sheep and horses has had unpleasant side-effects. I wish I had more to report on his activities but that I'm afraid is it. One adorable but pongy pooch.

I raised my head from writing and there, framed in the window, were two hawks/kestrels. Hovering on the thermals they studied the ground intently then, arching their backs slightly, they lifted their heads turned as one, and drifted off across the valley. Beautiful! The dappled colouring of their feathers, the sharp hooked beak and talons ready for ripping flesh - an awesome sight. Nature is glorious.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Preface Perfect?

I've written the Preface, which as a friend kindly pointed out is one step up from the bit on the back! I have also outlined the book and written the contents page. Granted, not many words there, but you need to get the structure right or you'll have a jumble of words and nowhere to create suspense, a desire to read on. Let's hope I've managed it.

To bring the inspiration quota up to the desired level, I toddled out to the drive with a cup of tea. It would be impossible to tire of that view. Each day brings a different outlook. The sunlight refracting and reflecting through and on the clouds pushes areas into the the shadows and brings others into sharp relief; it changes by the hour. Where distant ridges had previously been silhouetted against the sky now the nuances of their cracks and crevices are in evidence. It is divine.

So, whilst the poetic is driving my fingers I must advance with the book.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Still no NIE - balls!

Friday 8th October, 2010
I bottled it. My first crisis of confidence. I did not have the nerve to attend the police station to apply for my NIE, not on my own. Panic set in – they won’t speak English, their Spanish will to be too quick for me to understand, I’ll look an absolute fool. Can’t do it!
So I didn’t. I have arranged for Jan to accompany me next week. I know this all sounds rather pathetic but inside this body there is still an insecure little girl who sometimes cannot bring herself to do things where she may just fail. And talking to strangers…only in the last 5 years have I managed to screw up the necessary bravado to phone people I don’t know without prevaricating. I always put it off until the last minute, always. Still, friends are here to help and help Jan will. Good girl!
The day has not been a complete waste of time. I meandered around the village which is in the process of having most of its roads/lanes dug up and resurfaced. It is very quaint, a typical pueblo blanco with white washed houses lining the narrow streets whilst a riot of flowers erupt from window-boxes. One of the publicity photos for Sedella shows a man walking the streets with a laden mule. This is no myth. I have seen the man on 3 separate occasions, once with the mule laden with kindling and he riding on its back; another with the mule walking up the hill as he hung on to its tail, and today as he brought the mule into the village followed by a young horse. Old Spain is alive and kicking in these hills. I wonder if he could source me a burro to take me home after a night on the vino?
I found the town hall (ayuntamiento) which is where I shall have to pay my car tax, car tax is locally fixed in Spain; more inner demons to battle. To deal with this silly situation I studied Spanish for 2 hours today and can now master sentences such as:
                It is possible, but not probable, that I will need to buy a house if it is not very expensive.
                What do you think of the political situation in Spain and Mexico at the moment?
Whilst the first sentence is highly unlikely to be uttered by me or anyone else for that matter, I dread the resultant answer to the question should I ever pose it. I might just save the question for when I am able to comprehend the answer.
I have also spent a goodly time planning the chapters of my book. I feel it safe to say that NIE or no NIE my day has not been wasted.
Charlie Update
A new game for Charlie, yes the inventive pooch is at it again.
When Mummy is lying on the steep part of the drive catching some rays whilst planning her literary masterpiece, lie quietly above her at the gate.
Have to paw a ball.
When the mood takes, drop the ball so it runs into her face.
Look apologetic, reclaim the ball and take up original position.
(Until such time as Mummy loses the plot, in all senses, and hurls the ball to the bottom of the garden).


Thursday 7th October, 2010
In order to supplement my somewhat meagre budget I am aiming to get some freelance work as well as pushing on with the book. So, scouring the web for such I happened upon a 10 article for $60 affair which was looking for said requisite number of articles on different (provided) subjects on Barcelona. No more than 300 words per article. Easy – been to Barcelona, know a smidge about Gaudí, well seen his work (you can’t exactly miss it in Barca), wham bam one article for review. Back onto website – project frozen. No! A potential 3 hours of work for $60 down the Swanney.
I have also applied spent my day applying for interesting work such as: Academic writing for TEFL courses and SEO content for plumbing websites; updating various profiles, CVs and skill-sets on numerous sites in the hope of getting some work. Now if anyone wants a dissertation on how difficult it is to permanently rid oneself of wasps, I’m your girl.
OK, so all this was supposed to happen on Wednesday, but I went shopping. This is no mean feat; it takes 30 minutes to get to the bottom of the mountain then onward from there. This time may reduce the more I have to do it but for now reaching the road at the bottom rather than the bottom of the gorge is my priority. Anyway, this is Spain…¡mañana!

Onions, onions, anyone want to buy my loveeerrrly onions?

Monday 4th October, 2010

Today is market day and all on my own I have to purchase some veg. I have written my shopping list in Spanish - that way I won't forget the words when it comes to the all-important transaction. But first there are a whole host of other things I 'must' do such as walk the dogs, give the dogs Front-line (to combat ticks and fleas), complete the Sopa de letras (word search) which will teach me some new words, mop the floor, have a shower... Eventually, I run out of excuses and head into town.

The market is a 3 stall affair - little wonder it isn't advertised. Ignoring the two stalls of non-too-stylish-clothing I hover indecisively whilst the local women purchase their goods. This is the stuff of nightmares for me; I may appear confident but inside fear is eating away at my nerves leaving them frayed. Finally my go, and by golly it's not too bad! An English couple behind me are also having a crisis of confidence. Kindred spirits we bond with nervous smiles - but my part is over and feeling quite pleased with myself I wend my way home.

Next to organise is broadband connection. This also goes surprisingly well and it is booked for the next day. I can't get over this, 2 successes in one day - crack open the champers! Revelling in my success I look at the scribbled veg receipt in my purse - €2.75. This seems cheap; I may be looking through rose-tinted spectacles but a kilo of spuds, 2 avocados, 1 pepper, 3 onions and a cucumber - for that price!

Charlie has created a new sport – cicada hunting. Good for carrying in the mouth until they try and hop, should he catch one, it is hours of pre-bedtime fun.

I've decided on the basis of my writing plan. It is not light until 8.30ish, so I won't get up before then. I shall have cups of tea, walk the dogs and be at my desk no later than 10.30. I will write a minimum of 1,000 words per day. That does not sound much (it isn’t really) but I am here for 300+ days, so that is at least 3 books. On top of that I will try and get some freelance writing work to bring in the cash. This will all begin on Wednesday; tomorrow is my last day of lazing about.


My tether is quite short and I’m nearing the end of it as far as these blasted wasps are concerned. I have neutralised all nests I can find but they are still out there in numbers. Search and destroy, that’s my mission.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Getting to Know You

Friday, 1st October 2010

After watching the most amazing sunset from my new driveway we ventured into the village for well-earned drink and food only to's shut. Well, almost. It is Feria in Velez-Malaga and it would seem that most of the village has gone to party, including a number of the bar and restaurant owners.

Still, we're here now and a bar with a pool-table is open so we duck in there to smack a few balls around and sink a vino or two. And what a result - drinks only a euro a pop! We also managed to pick up an admirer on the way - Pepe. An old man I think he is either a little simple or a groper (if he's after me, a bit of both); only time will tell. Though in his defense he did nothing wrong and did smell very nice.

In the second bar we got chatting to some locals. I say we, Jan and Nikki, did. By the time we left, less than an hour, the village knew where I lived, what I was doing up here, the subject of my proposed books and we knew that one of them has lots of almond trees. It was all very friendly and not at all intimidating. I think I may like it here.

Food was by now a priority and as luck would have it the only other open bar was serving food. A reasonable meal at a reasonable price, an early night was called for as my cold took hold with avengence.

Saturday 2nd October, 2010

Having spent the day exterminating wasps, wandering the mountainside identifying wild produce and hours of assisting with Nikki's homework, Jan and I felt the need to escape. Popping into the bar where we ate the previous night we got into conversation with Rafa the bar owner. He runs a buggy tour company, a 5 hour tour around the area known as Mudejar. This definitely sounds like something to take visitors on. Apprently the tour runs past my house (I didn't tell him yesterday where I live - the village grapevine is working well).

Rafa also introduced us to the delights of the local sweet wine also known as Mudejar. Similar to Sherry this should work wonders with my cold. Jan and I took home 1 1/2 litres each, purchased at the non-tourist rate of 5 euros (I'm a local don't you know). It is definitely a 'straight from the producer' affair as we were presented with it in bottles whose previous purpose had been to carry water.

This I can live with!!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Friday 1st October 2010 - I've arrived.

And I'm here. I think the pictures say more than I can...

Thursday 30th September, 2010

WOW! And wow again. This is not the speediest of roads but my God, the views. I am crossing the Pyrenees into Spain and it is beautiful.  The mountains are verdant, dotted with light coloured cattle and sheep.  The wooden houses have red gables and remind me of Tyrolean chalets. This is well-worth the climb. Then lo and behold I am in Spain, the border marked by an unmanned booth. The only way you can tell you have moved into Spain is that there are Ventas and the fuel is cheaper!
Heading towards Pamplona we descend the Pyrenees and then toward Zaragoza and Madrid. The landscape becomes quite tedious with the plains stretching for miles in front. I am glad for some cloud cover as I think the temperature would have become unbearable for the boys in the back, though I have the windows wound down as far as I could allow before my somewhat streamlined lifestyle started to litter the highway.
Spain’s economy must surely hinge on road-building. There was little road that did not have a warning sign for Obras. The beauty of Spanish roadworks though is the minimal Health & Safety requirements in evidence. Not for the hombres in yellow jackets fifteen miles of cones before you get to the actual worksite, in many cases a matter of feet. In one instance the men just stood in the hard shoulder with their red aerosol cans marking something. Such a relief – I wonder what the Spanish safety record for workers is compared to the English?
The only fly in the ointment was the passing by of my planned hotel stop and there was no way to get back to it. No internet connection either, so where could I stay? Picking the next town, Valdepeñas, failed to find me somewhere to pass the night…phone a friend!
Sat nav reset to Fuengirola I’m off again. The Pyrenees were beautiful, the Sierra Nevadas was awesome. Where there had been green in the Ps there were fantastic rocky outcrops in the Nevadas.  Nothing is as awe inspiring as mountains, whatever style they come in.

Wednesday 29th September, 2010

I was not going to make the same mistake twice; I had breakfast. Even ate a yoghurt I didn’t like. I looked even rougher than I felt – not good for those that had to face me in the lift and restaurant.
But day 2 was to be a far nicer journey. The Bitch done good. I spent the majority of my time on long straight roads passing through beautiful countryside and in a relatively direct manner.  The countryside changed from fields of dying sunflowers, yellow all gone, heads heavy with seed unable to lift towards the sun, to fields of wheat, then vineyards and forests.  I think there is no sadder sight on the flora side of nature than fields of dead sunflowers. Standing black, with heavy heads waiting for the executioner’s blade – gone is their sunny demeanour with beautiful, colourful heads held high facing the sun. It is a contrast most dramatic.
The vineyards of Bordeaux and Cognac offer a promise of sunny nights, their light green leaves hiding the bundles of grapes beneath. The forests offered the opportunity for perhaps the best lay-bys in Europe. When you enter an ‘Aire de Repose’ which has been promoted by signs depicting a picnic bench beneath a pine tree you are not disappointed. You cease to hear the main road. The one we stopped at had so much space for the boys to run about in. We spent 20 minutes with me throwing sticks at trees, as opposed to through the yawning gaps between them, and the boys running around finding new smells and generally having a fine old time.  Nothing makes me happier on the fauna-side of Nature than seeing a happy dog. Their glinting eyes, lolling tongues and tail held high with a metronomic wag – it hits my soft spot.
Each of the different regions we entered was advertised with the activities that could be experienced there. The Bassin de Arachdon tantalised us with a beach, sailing and a Parque Ornothologique, but not for me a flamingo and sailing boat; Bayonne called. I was struck though by how energetic these activities were depicted as being – the chap on the beach was not lying prone, he was leaning up on an elbow, the sailing boat had a sail full of wind. I was particularly enthralled by the sign depicting fishing. Those of you who indulge in the sport of fishing probably would not have recognised yourself from the sign. Not for this chap the laid-back repose in his fishing chair, line slack in the water, fag in one hand and a can in the other. Oh no! This chap was engaged in reeling in the biggest carp this side of the Dordogne. His rod and line were taut and his back was arched as he struggled to land his gargantuan catch. Fishing in France is obviously a different kettle of fish altogether.
I made lots of other, and probably far more insightful, observations as I drove the most enjoyable drive I’ve had in many a year but as I was driving I was unable to note them down. I have subsequently forgotten them. If anybody is reading this prior to Christmas and is wondering what to buy a penniless writer…a Dictaphone please! Somebody will now probably tell me I’ve got one on my phone; I hope not, I’ll kick myself.
Formule 1 hotels are even farther down the food chain where hotels are concerned than Etap. I don’t even have a toilet in my room. However, it does have Spanish TV – yay! So far I have watched old footage of the British General Strike of 1926 with Spanish sub-titles and I have learned a new Spanish word – Huelga. I have translated this as strike as it was strike day in Spain. God was definitely smiling on me as I have to drive into Spain, past Madrid tomorrow and they will have returned to work. Result! It may have been a little more difficult if I had been travelling on strike day.
Charlie is now engaged in his favourite sport of Daddy-Longleg hunting which should keep him entertained for a while as 3 have made their way into the room. I on the other hand am going to find some sport of my own to watch and fall asleep to – Man Utd should do it!
P.S. A quick word on The Bitch. She can’t count. Thankfully I sussed this out early on and looked at the roundabout pictures rather than count the number of exits she suggested. She also had a couple of moments when she thought I’d left the road (my driving is not that bad) and got into a bit of a tizz; Follow the highlighted route. The vivid pink on the screen generally matched the ribbon of grey that lay in front of me. We were almost as one.

Tuesday 28th September, 2010

Grey, dreary, cold – England at the end of September.
The dogs are comfortable and that is the main thing; it is going to be a very long four days for them with no understanding of what awaits them.
I have allowed an extra 1 ½ hours on top of the normal journey time and I’m travelling post rush-hour – Is it going to be a last minute shopping spree at Folkestone? Is it heck! An accident, of which I see not one shred of evidence, causes a delay of over an hour. To top it all Radio 2 informs me that there are problems at the Dartford Crossing – guess where I’m headed. If this is the start of my 4 days traversing France and Spain then I may be a tad later arriving than planned.
As it was, despite frayed nerves, I time my arrival at the Eurotunnel perfectly. The dogs get a quick stretch as we wait the 9 minutes before being called to board. All is well and I am feeling perfectly confident that we will arrive in daylight at Tours as planned. Sat nav programmed, we touch on French soil and head South (sort of!).
The sat nav is programmed to avoid toll roads – well these are times of hardship – so we meander through village after village in North Western France. The architecture of this area of France seems to consist predominantly of long low buildings with narrow shuttered windows. The villages cannot be considered pretty so much as functional but it definitely feels French. Progress is not as rapid as I would have envisaged passing through town after town, but Rouen (along with Paris) seems to be the common direction in which I’m travelling. I allow The Bitch, as I believe all sat navs are affectionately known, to guide me.
Boulogne hoves into view. I went there once on a school trip and remember eating bread fresh from the boulangerie as we strolled through the Old Town. Having said that it could have been a group from the Flying Club I went with, I can’t really remember (which would indicate the Flying Club as alcohol played a big part there), except that I have definitely been there.
The weather continues to be grey and dismal. After a not inconsiderable time we hit Rouen. It is rush hour. The Bitch has told me to stay left on Rue…. Obedient as always I take the left of four lanes. Then she tells me to Bear right on Avenue de…. Easier said than done Bitch! This is France, in a busy town, in rush hour; I’m not bearing right from the left-hand lane. The drizzle becomes slightly heavier on the windscreen. I bear right-ish and throw the car down a small street before I end up being corralled like a Pamplona bull back onto the Rue Nacional heading back the way I came.  I pull over as The Bitch starts recalculating. A further 15 minutes is added to our arrival time as we manoeuvre through the narrow streets. I had time to catch sight of the top of the cathedral as I sat at traffic lights.
I love churches. Almost as much as I love books. Luckily, my church collection can be confined to very small memory cards in the form of pictures.
The Seine is very wide and we travelled beside it on the Rue de Paris as we headed out of Rouen. Now Tours is not next to Paris, it is somewhat south of it. So I was perplexed and increasingly frustrated by our apparent random progression. Our route when plotted seemed to resemble the cardiogram of a man with a very sick heart. With hindsight I think my penny-pinching may have given The Bitch an almost impossible task. The majority of major roads in this part of France have Peage sections – she avoided them all – but with the most rambling route known to man.
Darkness fell and the fuel needle dropped with it, just as we entered ‘no fuel land’. I was by now, tired and irritable, not to mention nervous. Neither of my phones (English and Spanish) had coverage in France so if I did breakdown I wouldn’t be able to call anyone. The only flaw in my plan! As luck would have it I came upon a 24 hour self-service pump about 30km from Tours and 2 minutes from drawing to a shuddering halt. I nearly fainted on getting out of the car and realised I hadn’t eaten. With sugar levels at an all-time low and darkness complete we arrived at the Etap Hotel. Ensuring I’d booked in first, I then let the dogs out.
The boys had been brilliant. No complaining, no fidgeting, just laid down and slept or watched. They ran. Ran round and round the car park and garden of the hotel; stretching their legs and revelling in their freedom. Their tails were up and wagging. They spent a good 15 minutes playing and stretching before the obligatory wee and poo. They had only been out once since Folkestone for dinner and a quick five minute toilet break. Absolutely brilliant pooches; my lovely boys.
I stocked up with Coke, Twix and Madeleines to elevate my sugar levels. Incredibly tired I settled down for a solid night’s sleep but alas it was not forthcoming. The cold I had been fighting for over a week was bringing on a fresh set of symptoms with a tight chest, sore throat and swollen glands. And the room was hot. Very hot. I spent the night tossing and turning in a burning sweat.