Monthly Archives: June 2018

Suntan-less In Seattle

June 30, 2018

A guest blog by Matt Gray

(Matt and Katrina (no relation) were on holiday in Vancouver and then Seattle when the following unfortunate event came to pass. What can you say! 

Matt is a writer, coffee connoisseur, voracious reader and potential Northampton Town fan (he just hasn’t realised it yet). After duress, on Katrina, she has delegated and prevalied on Matt to pick up his pen. Frankly this is so funny and well written that there are unlikely to be any further pieces of his work on my web site).

It was at the end of a traditional delving into the touristic that we found ourselves, having ascended the Space Needle and pottered around the Museum of Popular Culture, at a bus stop in Downtown Seattle, where a rather unfortunate incident was about to occur.

The only thing hotter than the sidewalks were the temperaments and heat-frazzled declarations of the vagrants, which, being British, we dutifully ignored, and ignored admirably.

However, one such declaration came from a gentleman, half shrouded in the shadow of a shop’s awning, which caught our ears before he caught our eyes. 

Anyone here waitin’ fo’ the 27?’

The 27, as it so happened, was our bus. I was all set for British stoicism, but my companion, never being one to shirk off the heeding call for assistance, confirmed that we, in fact, were waiting for the 27, as it happened.


The man was bound to a bulky wheelchair, all manner of odds and ends jutting from its rear. He smiled a brown-toothed smile, given life afresh by the lack of complete shirking he was used to. In one hand, a half-smoked cigarette clung greedily to stained fingers as though an extension of his less-than-savoury form. The packet from which said stick had originally been drawn was perched between his feet on the little rest, as crumpled as he was. 

‘You wouldnt be so kind as to help push me onto the bus, when it comes, would ya?’ He emitted a phlegmatic cough of such deep-rooted rot I thought he may not survive the wait. 

‘Of course.’ With those two simple words my executioner had swiftly dished my sentence. By ‘of course’ she meant: ‘Of course *he* will: the unfortunate owner of that pronoun in this case being yours truly. 

Fifteen minutes passed, in which time I offered for us to, as the weather was rather amiable, maybe take a stroll down to the next stop? I was given the stare a warden gives to the prisoner suggesting he loosen the shackles slightly while he relieves himself by the roadside. ‘But you have to help him onto the bus!’


Then a conflicting duo of emotion at the arrival of the bus: Yes, it’s here!; Shit, it’s here!

I moved to the rear of the shlock’s chair and pushed, nearly doing myself a mischief in the process. I expected it to be a smooth mover but I was wrong. What was he keeping in this dead contraption? Did he live in this chair? Did he, when the sun had descended for the day, slither into the back to nibble upon the supple bones of those who had kindly pushed him?

I managed to swivel the chair so it faced the bus. All that awaited now was for the final grand exertion, the straight-line heave to the finish. 

What happened next was over in a flash, but will forever be etched upon my retinas, reducing me to a giggling mess whenever I ponder the events for too long. 

Fate had deigned that day to place a full, miniature-sized bottle of sun-tan cream directly in front of the wheel I was about to move at a swift pace. Like the train flattening the unfortunate maiden tied to the tracks I did not feel it happen, but its effects became instantly apparent. 

A lady wearing an elegant full-length dress, back turned to us, waiting to board the bus, happened to fall prey to simple geometry. A flag bearer for the maxim ‘wrong place, wrong time’. The lid was the first to go under the chair’s immense weight, springing instantly back on its plastic hinge under the strain. Next came the money shot: a mightily impressive load of viscous white liquid spurted from the bottle in a display that would have made a Pornstar proud. At first I thought it had merely gotten her ankles, but as my eyes ascended I noticed it had arced its way gracefully up the full length of the dress, stopping a mere inch shy of her hair. Snaking tendrils of cream lined her legs and back.

Being dutifully British I said nothing and my face did not betray me. 

The sunken fellow in the chair, however, tried his best to be the good citizen and, the chair now having caught up with her, tried his best to alleviate the issue. She was, it seemed, unaware, had felt nothing of the hot liquid upon her. What she did notice thought was a filthy wheelchair-bound vagrant covering his own hands in cream (cigarette still firmly in place betwixt fingers) smearing it deeper into the fibres. 

She seemed more concerned about the cigarette. However, I wanted to tell her not to worry: with that much sun-tan lotion applied she was highly unlikely to burn anytime soon.

Record Of The Week # 45

June 28, 2018

Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer

For a band that has clocked up 20 years together then it’s surprising that Volunteer is their 6th studio album. However, when they did get to the famous RCA Studio A in Nashville it was also their good fortune to have the much sought after Country/Americana alchemist David Cobb as the producer. It would be unfair to suggest that OCMS wouldn’t have dished up this fine album with a lesser sorcerer on the dials.

Grammys have come their way and despite being important Americana stalwarts then they still have great affection for their street corner roots, where legend has it, Doc Watson found them and gave them their first major billing at MerleFest. In fact paying their dues the hard way, building up a US nationwide following, still remaining on the road and never getting remotely drawn into the commercial Nashville scene keeps their feet on the ground. To keep a loyal fan base you have to keep producing the goods and Volunteeris a varied, well played, uplifting and seasoned piece of work.

“Flicker & Shine” is an apt summary of their first couple of decades – “Well I’ve been all around this world, Young and running wild, I’ve played with the fire that burns, And I’ll live on the highway until I die”. A joyous and energetic bluegrass folk riot that states their creed and modus operandi. With feathers truly ruffled the band changes gear with a Country work out on“A World Away”. Ketch Secor’s harmonica drives this sweet tune.

“Look Away” puts fiddle to the fore over Cory Younts piano chords. A hook laden, wistful ballad that could be off any album by The Band tells the tale of seeking a simpler way of life back in the South from an earlier lifetime. “Old Hickory” has violins in tandem as the story of Virgil Lee with his fiddle and flat top guitar. We behold the tragic tale of his talent being enjoyed but passing and his legacy being “Like a old hickory, Shadin’ the porch of a house that’s been torn down”.

“Homecoming Party” slips into pure (and sublime) Glen Campbell as the weary musician tells of his early morning return to his family after an arduous tour. He anticipates the morning with the expectant children, the household chores he needs to resume and the affection of his much missed wife. The reality collides with the glamour of the life of a travelling entertainer. In the same style we finish with “Whirlwind”. Critter Fuqua’s slide guitar provides easy rhythm on this parting and melodic love song.

OCMS effortlessly slip between various genres and styles. For those who’ve enjoyed them live there will be some tracks you’ll be cranking up and others where you’ll admire the peerless musicianship and song writing. OCMS are still at the top of their game and this is one for my end of year list. Terrific.

The Rolling Stones – Twickenham – June 2018

June 23, 2018

It seems very jaded to continually refer to the age of the Stones in a review but frankly it was quite inspirational the way these septuagenarians ran around the large stage bringing every classic song to life with their energy. Such is the contemporary nature of the performance that you can nearly forget, that in terms of curators of popular music over the last 50 years, they are a phenomen.

This concert at the home of England rugby union, Twickenham, was described as a homecoming. It is around these parts of west London that the Rolling Stones got their initial residences in the mid 1960’s at small venues and the rest, as they say, is history.

The 50,000 who turned up paying vast sums for Black Market tickets along with those who paid the face values of £90 ($120) were treated to a blistering two hours of songs encompassing their whole catalogue. The 19 song set kicked off in daylight with “Street Fighting Man” from their 1968 Beggars Banquet. Jagger strutted, Wood and Richards exchanged licks with smug sly glances between each other and Charlie Watts kept immaculate time with an upright posture that you could imagine a 1950’s midwife would adopt as she propelled her heavy bicycle to the next delivery. Stadium rock comes with giant screens and this is how you keep up with the action. Predictably the cameras concentrated on the original members and it took a slot where Jagger introduced the band to get images of the other stalwarts who in the case of Chuck Leavell (keys) and Darryl Jones (bass) have been in the band decades. In fact Ronnie does well to get the ‘original’ accreditation having only been in the band 43 years.

“It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” followed and Richards resplendent in bandana, green shirt and matching shoes showed his chops with some guitar passages. Next was a track off Exile On Main Street, namely “Tumbling Dice”. Woods took most of the guitar responsibilities and unfortunately the comments that Woods was technically inferior to Mick Taylor always comes to mind when he plays these parts. Apparently Taylor left the Stones as the drug fuelled madness started to threaten his wellbeing. The large screens caught the subtle nod that Richards gave Watts to bring the song to a close. Inevitably Jagger was probably 50 metres away from the band at the front of the extended stage.

Jagger introduced the 1966 classic “Paint It Black” with the quip “A nice cheerful number for you!” And so the hits kept coming but also the blues. From the sublime 2016 Blue & Lonesome we got Jimmy Reed’s 1955 “Ride ‘Em Down” that just made me wonder how marvellous a Stones gig would be with them just playing the blues.

Into all lives a little rain must fall and in the case of a Stones gig it is where Jagger exits for a long costume stage and Richards gets to play a couple of songs. The crowd had loads of love for Keef but the boy could barely sing a few decades ago and his two numbers meandered by with an increasing level of chatter noise or people fetching that next drink. For all the missteps then in fact his first song, the 1969, “You Got The Silver” had some fabulous acoustic slide from Woods.

Normal service was resumed as Jagger ran back on stage and we continues through the decades. “Miss You” surprised me by being more than the faux disco number I had long discounted. Jones bass lines were thunderous and matched the party atmosphere of the crowd who leapt to their feet and gyrated with their plastic glasses aloft.

So on the last lap we ended with “Brown Sugar” after a memorable rock blues workout on “Midnight Rambler” with Woods truly unleashing some incendiary guitar. No one made a move for the exits because the encore was to come. In this case we finished with “Satisfaction” but special mention must go the the highlight of the penultimate song “Gimme Shelter”. With Sasha Allen taking on Merry Clayton’s heart rendering and soul drenched vocals. The lady sang her heart out in front of Civil Rights graphics whilst Jagger cavorted around her. 

A few bows and they were gone. This is my third Stones concert (1983 and 1995) and time doesn’t diminish the pleasure in terms of the spectacle or hearing  the catalogue. Let’s not have any debate: they are still the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band.

Birds, Sky & Royals – Week 25 : 2018

June 18, 2018

Firstly on the theme of feathered friends then I was painting the jetty earlier today and became very popular with the local wildlife. (No the jetty does not signify that I have a yacht tethered for trips around the Mediterranean but I do have a small part of a very muddy lake near York). I believe that I would have been even more popular had I been a loaf of bread. And before you ask I was wearing waders.

Our second eldest nephew visited from London and asked, whilst sat in the lounge, why we had such an old TV? As a man who prides himself on how hip and cool he is then I was taken aback but eventually regained my composure and said that it works perfectly and the picture, albeit not HD, seems adequate.

In fact one of the reasons for being in the 20th Century is the weary task of sorting out an updated satellite box for HD and buying the TV. As regards the latter then the choice is mind boggling. However, I hacked out time in a busy schedule to put this problem right. We checked out a few HD TV’s and went from no knowledge to a bit more than zero. Regrettably the selecting and organising the replacement digital box did seem like a project akin to scaling Everest. I gathered my rope and crampons and put my first foot onto the bottom of the mountain.

I called Sky and an Irish lad told me that I could get all this plus a new TV at a heavy discount. Apparently an ‘entry level’ (remember where I was born) box was no longer available but this new one that could do lots of things (I cared little about) and would be mine for a one off charge of £199 and then £12 extra per month until Leeds United got back into the Premiership. Well I wasn’t paying that after having been a customer for 19 years. So I went on ‘hold’ whilst he beetled off to talk to someone. In another lifetime he returned and chirpily advised that I was indeed a loyal customer and I could have this for a one off £20 charge. The total monthly subscription would remain broadly the same because whilst the new box attracted a new monthly charge he would reduce the cost of one of my subscription packages to offset. So we then went through the TV UHD deal (£249) and seemed to be making progress until we came across my new friends called ‘HDMI’. Did I have them? How would I know?  I rang off to find someone 35 years younger to discuss it with.

Indeed I did have it! So ten days later I rang back. My first contact heard my story of my understanding of what was the offer and then said would I hold? Of course. He eventually returned to advise that as I was a loyal customer then there may be a better deal in the offing. Where had I heard this before? I was transferred to another department and a nice young lady tried to help me. I say tried because she was in ‘Technical’. Why I was sent here only the first chap knows. We went round the houses with her discussing the merits of buying an additional digital box for another room. I rejected this and talked about the suggestion that there would be no subscription charge changes. This was according to the first chap because he was going to replace one ‘package’ with another ‘package’ to offset. However, I would lose all the Kids channels (will my daughters ever come home again?) She knew nothing about this but because we were talking about deletions put me through to the ‘Cancellation’ department. Still following all this?

(Anna went to fetch alcohol for us at this stage).

Ewan put us on hold four times whilst he attempted to get me the digital box and the TV deal. As he was in ‘Cancellations’ his role in life was to give potentially departing subscribers discounts. I liked him instantly although I never sought a reduction. Anyway after 1 hour and 23 minutes I gave him £289 and he gave me a box and TV and reduced my monthly subscription from £91 to £75. Of course I will only believe all this when it all arrives and I see the first bill.

Also I’m not boasting as I expect someone out there has the Sky Q box, Sports package, Entertainment package, broadband and telephone for a lot less. I’m just hoping that this TV and digital box out live me.

You’ll see elsewhere my blog for a week cycling in France. This was a spin up from Toulouse to the Dordogne River and back. With old time pal Tony Franco we made it! Worryingly then despite the hills, heat and 360 miles I put on weight. 

The present Mrs Ives has little affection for a ride in the Morgan but I lured her into the car and the coast when the Yorkshire branch of the Morgan Sports Car Club organised a lunch and a trip to the Bird Sanctuary at RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast. Sadly the mission of seeing puffins proved elusive although she said she saw one out of thousands of gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes and a lot of seagulls. I was surprised to see so many seagulls despite the absence of a nearby fish and chip shop!

I must rant about the BBC and the World Cup Football (soccer) coverage. If having several days of presenter Gary Lineker wasn’t an atrocity in its own right then they appear to have literally hundreds of TV and radio presenters over there along with the various engineers and production people. How many ex-footballers does the taxpayer need to fund? They just blather on with such vacuous insights as ‘he’s got a sweet left foot’? However the real unforgivable oversight by the BBC is the fact that Russia has invaded its neighbours, continues to suppress political opposition to Putin, stokes mass migration from Syria (and supports Assad) also has attempted and successfully assassinated in the UK. However this is all right for the BBC as it has won large media coverage rights. So we are really happy to be in Russia for the duration of the competition. Hopefully they will revert to portraying the Russian Government as the children of Satan when it finishes.

Saw the TV interview this morning with Mr Markle – the Duchess of Sussex’s father. Apparently Harry has never met him in person. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to meet your father-in-law in the flesh, not least as he was pencilled in to bring your future wife down the aisle. Apparently they did talk on the phone, which was nice of Hazza to find the time to call long distance.

So when Thomas tells them he’s off into hospital for heart surgery then maybe Meghan should have known about his health? Or if he was a bit suspect at ever showing up then maybe someone should have put in an appearance South of the Border to check him out. Good luck Meghan this is the remote and odd Clown Show you are joining.

Lastly, I like the look of my web site but the provider Wix are pants. The site is very slow to update or move around as regards editing and uploading. Maybe our appallingly slow broadband doesn’t help but this crowd are not people I’d use again if starting from scratch.

Toulouse to Dordogne (return) – June 2018

France is undoubtedly the best place in the world to cycle. It has warm weather, sparse traffic away from the cities, plentiful accommodation, delicious food and a beautiful terrain. I hadn’t had a French cycling holiday for sometime. So with the intrepid explorer, Tony Franco, we flew into Toulouse Blagnac Airport with easyJet. The plan was to cycle north east from the airport to the Dordogne where we’d then cycle west along the river and have a rest day. After this then it would be a return to Toulouse knowing that the last day was basically a flat run for home.

In fact we flew from ‘London-Luton’ Airport. It makes you wonder how strong the brand of London is that it necessitates ‘Luton’ having the prefix. London is 40 miles away. ‘London-Luton’ mainly handles budget airlines (used by UK residents) and so who are they fooling with this nonsense? I used ‘Meet & Greet’ for the car parking. This had a slightly worrying feel to it. I drove up to the third floor of a multi storey car park and a fairly scruffy bloke appeared, smiled in a friendly way and took my car keys, hopped into the Merc and then disappeared down the ramp. Manoeuvring two large bicycle boxes onto a trolley and repeatedly taking them off to enter narrow lifts was a chore. Eventually I found Tony and after lobbing his bike into the spare empty box (with loving care) we headed for the check in.

The plan was to re-assemble the bikes in Toulouse Airport and cycle ten miles north to a hotel before embarking on the tour the next day. I had travelled in my cycling kit however Tony hadn’t. Not a problem until he decided to change in the Arrivals Terminal with small children running around. I half expected to leave the airport to the accompaniment of police sirens searching for a British exhibitionist.

DAY 1   Toulouse Blagnac Airport to Bruguiéres – 14 miles 

With my expert knowledge of France I had implored Tony to invest in some food to take with him to France. I opined that France would be ‘shut’ on Sunday evening as regards finding dining solutions. Dutifully we shopped at Luton for food. As we cycled away from Toulouse Airport then the landscape was heavily populated with open restaurants! This may have irritated Tony but as I had stupidly left my food under a seat on the aeroplane then this was a good discovery.

The fairly modern hotel in Bruguières, in the suburbs of Toulouse, was adequate although there was some type of depot nearby and with the window slightly ajar my sleep was interrupted by roaring diesels all night. 

DAY 2   Bruguiéres to Villefranche-de-Rouergue – 74 miles/1,300m of climbing

The next day was Monday morning redolent with rush hour traffic. There were a number of stops and starts as we attempted to find our route to the North East. It was good to be underway and soon we were truly on the open road and aiming for Gaillac. The weather was now in the early 20º’s and no rain in prospect. The lunch stop was a delight with French cuisine (ribs) from a small restaurant in the town centre. The locals were quaffing wine and beer but with so many miles to complete and the potential for dehydration then water was the lubrication.

One striking aspect of riding at this time of the year are the fragrances as you ride along from the crops, trees and flowers. We were en route to Villefranche-de-Rouergue and we were high up and rolling mainly through arable farmland. After Gaillac we came across the beautiful tourist town of Cordes-sur-Ciel, which is an ancient fortified town high on a hill. I had stayed here on a previous 2007 cycling tour. Climbing into the town was done in heavy rain but it soon disappeared and the sun came out for the rest of the day. We stopped for a coffee break and Tony took a couple of business calls (whilst I helpfully added my enormous business acumen on European food trends to his sum of knowledge).  

Leaving Cordes-sur-Ciel we saw a stop for shoe repairs after a mean little climb for a mile. Back on the road there would occasionally be a long descent, which was a relief and delight but the ‘invoice’ was soon presented with a climb immediately when you reached the bottom of the hill. One such arose in 32ºC heat as we bottomed out at Saint-Martin-Laguépie. As soon as we crossed the River Tarn there began a one hour climb. It was all about a 4 to 8% gradient and I ground up in the granny gears very slowly. As all tourers know then you are praying that this is the last hill before you hit the top. Inevitably you turn a corner to find that there is more to come. I often watch the cars coming and going past – what gear are they in and how fast are they going? This can all point to whether they have experienced an immediate climb or descent.

Throughout the week I always stayed in touch with Tony when out on the road. This was a brutal project where you attack the day and cover the terrain whatever the weather, mileage or elevation. Tony had received his initiation in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire last year with lots of miles, climbing, late finishes and changing routes. Surprisingly, he signed up for a further larger dose of exertion. 

As I’d cycled over 1,200 miles this year and spent sometime in the Yorkshire Wolds climbing I was in good shape. Tony had been out training when he could but it seems most of his recent cycling had been in gyms in Shanghai, Melbourne, Dublin or Bogota whilst instructing millennials to locally best market their beer. He gets about. So you can take the view that I was his guardian angel ensuring that he was never left behind or abandoned. I, personally, would take the view that I was a nagging pain in the butt, often short of humour if he’d switched off his phone so that I couldn’t contact him or taken a turning that wasn’t fully ‘authorised’. It was on this climb from Saint-Martin-Laguépie that I came to rest wondering how far I was now ahead? – was it 5 minutes or 20 minutes? Did he have any water left? So I was just finishing  leaving him a text message when he hauled into view much to my delight. He ate some of my precious stock of midget gems, took half of my remaining water and we pedalled on. I knew at this point he should be able to get through the week (but maybe I should wait less if he was going to eat my sweets).

Another glorious four mile descent took us into Villefranche-de-Rouergue and we eventually found a B&B. The room only had a double bed and so the landlady told us to go and have dinner whilst she swapped the beds around. This was no problem other than two very sweaty and weary men arriving at your restaurant wasn’t necessarily attractive. As regards conspicuous then apart from lycra shorts then one was wearing the Croatia home football shirt (red and white checks) and the other was in the leader’s jersey from the Giro d’Italia (pink). A full stomach of pasta, a couple of beers and a shower ensured that sleep came easily!

DAY 3   Villefranche-de-Rouergue to Saint Céré – 55miles/1,400m

After finishing the evening before in sunshine we awoke to rain and a fairly gloomy prospect from the bedroom window.

We bonded so closely with the landlady and her husband that we couldn’t shake them off at the door as we packed the bikes to set off the next morning. I blame Tony who can speak French reasonably: I find my limited school boy French soon makes the natives disperse. The road out of town was wide albeit with trucks but well surfaced and the miles were eaten up. I often stop to take photos and on one particular bend I was told by a shouting Dutch lady that I shouldn’t stand there; I was summoned to join her.

Margit was 50 something and domiciled in a small village near Figeac. With her husband, Fran, they’d bought a house 19 years ago and since retirement life seemed to be about landscaping, building, fitting, general construction and moaning about how unsocial the other expat Brits were. When Tony joined us we were invited to their house for a coffee. Why not? I stayed behind to take my photograph. I then discovered that their house was not ‘just off the main road’ and pedalled around for a long time up and down hills trying to find them. Out of the Seven Dwarves then I possibly resembled Grumpy when I eventually came to rest with the smiling Margit suggesting I had no sense of direction.

So we had a coffee and listened to Margit who amongst much information sharing enquired as to my age? Being hilarious I offered her three guesses. By her second guess she had suggested that I was 70 years old. To be positive then the age gap was coming down with each guess but I eschewed the last insult and told her my correct age. She was very proud of her former career in Holland showing international customers around various projects on the disposal of human waste. Mischievously I felt that Tony should now step forward and talk about his world class knowledge on beer. He absorbed this ‘ambulance pass’, with good grace, and as he expanded on my introduction Fran then volunteered that he had drunk most of the brands Tony had come across!

With time flying and the thought of lunch in Figeac we thanked them for their hospitality and headed down the proverbial (and literal) road, over the River Lot, and then into town for another splendid outside lunch in a pedestrian precinct at a small restaurant.

From here came a very tough afternoon as we climbed up from the River Célé valley. I failed to find the most direct route to our next stop. Fortunately Tony never detected the error as we climbed and meandered along minor roads in heavy rain. It was scenic and the only chance of seeing another car was if it was as lost as we were. By way of deflection when we pulled up for a discussion, on the weather, conditions of our legs and how far to go, I proffered him a Mars Bar. Never have I seen such a happy human being.

With my bearings re-established we found Lacapelle-Marival where we dried out by stopping for a coffee before the last push. The weather dried up and the scenery was hilly and rural with odd settlements, however, progress seemed slow. With yesterday’s climbing in the legs and with this latest bout of mountaineering I will never forget the large village of Leyme. It had a long main street that just got steeper until ascension and departure was only possible with the negotiation of a tight steep hairpin. This joy was accompanied by the obligatory dog ‘going off’ like a burglar alarm at my passing a large house and garden.

All over the world dogs sit in their gardens barely raising their head at the passing of aircraft, trucks cars, cats or walkers but as soon as a cyclist pedals past making no noise at all then something makes them go ballistic. (There may be money in identifying the chromosome that leads to this canine madness).

However after passing Leyme there was a long descent into a damp Saint Céré where an adequate hotel had been reserved via The small town had its charm and the next morning it looked like a busy and interesting place to hang around in despite the heavy rain. However the Dordogne now beckoned.

DAY 4   Saint Céré to Sarlat-la-Canéda – 54 miles/ 600m

Quickly we were enjoying the flat roads and made our first ‘pit stop’ for a coffee at a café run by a couple of Brits in Carrenac on the banks of the river. From here on very minor roads we trundled along the river. These were probably the quietest roads we’d found and through the trees we had the Dordogne on our right.

It was the type of route where trucks were advised not to use as their Sat Nav would let them down by picking an impassable route. This came to pass in Floirac where a truck was nearly wedged between two buildings. Tony established this from a local who reported that it was quite routine.

From here the road rose up and fell and we ended up on a sublime piece of road. This led us beside a large rock cliff and gave us fabulous views of the river. Somehow it seemed like the tour had been aiming to reach this very road such were the delightful views. Keeping on we reached Creysse where an omelette and as many French fries as a cyclist can possibly eat in one sitting were consumed.

The route to Sarlat involved a climb and we cycled past one of many monuments you can find in France to fallen members of the Resistance from the Second World War. I like the fact that these young people are still commemorated and their sacrifice is unquestionable but I’ve always harboured a feeling that, at best, some French had a very mixed war.

Sarlat was reached and it was clear that this was ‘Tourist Central’. Beautiful stone buildings with foreign tourists from farther afield, than Tooting and Acaster Malbis, were evident on what I suspect was their whirlwind tour of France. The ambience and attractiveness of the centre was clear but this was maybe not the France I came to find.

Certainly the hotel was not what I came to find. An internet booking went wrong and the hotel were simply intransigent. On discovering the room we wanted was not available, at the price I booked it for, cancellation wasn’t allowed. Paying another €50 seemed the only solution. I argued the toss but made no progress and in fact was made to feel quite shoddy and a bit of a ‘chancer’ by the manager. Anyway the next morning we paid and left. The upshot was this testimonial I left on Trip Advisor. gave me half the ‘overcharge’ back in compensation. Frankly I still don’t know what I really did wrong.

This unpleasantness meant that we decided not to have a rest day in Sarlat but moved onto Bergerac. However, the town did offer up the best breakfast of the tour – it was the usual bread, croissants, coffee and juice but this seemed more plentiful and fresh.

DAY 5    Sarlat-la-Canéda to Bergerac  – 46 miles/500m

You might think that riding along the Dordogne would be flat but unfortunately that isn’t the way it works out. We kept to the main road, which wasn’t too busy. There were continuing delights to see including Beynac-et-Cazenac.

After a Croque Madame (cheese on toast with a fried egg on top) in Lalinde we sped into Bergerac. Earlier I’d been sat in a layby ringing a bike shop in York about my front wheel bearings when Tony sped past. I called to him yet such was his concentration and gusto he didn’t hear me. Later harnessing this graft I ‘sat on his wheel’ into Bergerac and marvelled at how he was getting into this touring lark with all the road cyclist deft moves that help you cope with traffic, hazards and still maximise speed.

I’d stayed at the Hotel de Bordeaux, in Bergerac in 2007 and 1997 and so it was familiar albeit much improved. It was spacious and a good place to come to rest after the hard miles.

Day 5   Rest Day

Yesterday’s Stage winner appeared in the room the next morning with a cup of coffee and orange juice for my consumption. It helped me get over the loss of the midget gems (a little bit). From here a lazy day ensued of bike cleaning, a trip to a bike shop to get my front wheel bearings checked over and a short ride to the edge of the town for Tony to increase his wardrobe at Decathlon. Another fabulous outdoor meal confirmed our satisfaction with Bergerac as a rest day stop.

Me and Cyrano – an uncanny resemblance?

Day 6  Bergerac to Valence d’Agen – 69 miles/ 900m

Thoughts were turning to home and the need to get south. To this end we made a beeline for Agen before heading from here east to Valence d’Agen. As it was Saturday the traffic was light and as the sun beat down (it touched 38ºC). This peak coincided with being directed off the main road onto a side road due to bicycles being prohibited. It was one of those tortuous minor roads that offered endless steep climbs. 

If there are a couple of things about my time with Tony that I should report then it is that he gained an appreciation of McDonalds and had begun to swear like a navvy. Being from Italian stock and South London then fast food was a deplorable development until he worked out that whenever you stopped the place was air conditioned, had clean toilets, a safe place to lean your bike, low prices, efficient wi-fi, quick food and didn’t require a major deviation off route. (On a serious note though I am still amazed at all the packaging that comes along with a meal eaten in the restaurant. So much paper, tissue, plastic and wrappers – they really need to pick up their game). As for the swearing then I can safely say that I for one never uttered a profanity or expressed displeasure at drivers, hoteliers, oiks on noisy motorcycles, rain, hills or dogs. I’m not sure what set him off (cough).

Agen was busy and industrial but Valence came into view shortly afterwards. I cycled to the centre and booked a room in the only hotel in town. This was a super place with lots of space and a good price. After a hot day in the saddle the Leffe beer went down well as did the pizza at the only restaurant open on a Saturday night in the town?

Day 7  Valence d’Agen to Toulouse Blagnac Airport – 53 miles/ 170m

The manager re-appeared the next day to serve our breakfast. In the night there had been a dramatic thunder and lightning storm and she described the noise and light by the delicate phrase of “fuck”. Which is what Tony and I thought when this petite and attractive young lady suddenly uttered the word. It transpired her English lexicon had been expanded by a year in Beckenham as a chef! 

The ride began on a canal tow path that was beyond exquisite as a start to the day. For much of the way it ran beside the River Garonne. Dodging the twigs scattered on the path after the storm we made steady but slow progress. Along the way were lots of middle aged ladies walking with hiking sticks and the odd fisherman enjoying the solace and hopefully biting fish. Locks came at regular intervals but seldom a moving boat. We discovered that this was because they were all moored up in Moissac. A morning market was drawing crowds as we passed through.

It wasn’t a difficult ride to the Airport but I thought that we were going too slowly. We needed to have insurance against problems on the road and have enough time at the airport for dismantling and packing the bikes. So we used the quiet roads to get to our destination.

I’m still surprised by how many shops are open on Sunday in France nowadays. In a boulangerie we bought some sustenance and came across this birthday cake. I hope the driver was gentle on the brakes and corners as they took it home!

Packing the bikes was always going to be a chore. First you have to repack your panniers because you can only take one in the cabin. Then you have to break the bike down, protect it and put it in a bag. This took an hour. At check in the airline then said that we could only put the bike in the bag and not a pannier and so we had to re-pack! I have to say easyJet were reasonable and we were allowed to take two cabin bags at no extra cost.

Eventually we got rid of the bikes and grabbed a bite to eat. The next challenge was going through Security with a bag full of tools, metal pedals and other chunky objects. We both got singled out for detailed bag inspection – my heart sank. My inspector pulled out my Swiss penknife and muttered ‘bicyclette’ under her breath to explain this stuff and put it back! Even I was expecting confiscation.

Due to those nice people in French Air Traffic Control we were late taking off and getting to Luton but it went without a hitch. Back in Blighty I helped Tony assemble his steed and then we parted – him for the train and me for the multi-storey car park.

So where next? I may have answers soon…