All posts by tonyives

About tonyives

A Yorkshireman of a certain age who likes most genres of music and most makes of old car. Travel is a joy, not least to escape the British winter. Travel by bicycle is bliss and if I’m not lost in music then I’m lost in a daydream about a hot day, tens of miles to cover and the promise of a great campsite and a beer. I like to think I’m always learning and becoming wiser. On the latter point then evidence is in short supply.

My Letters From America – “We keep ourselves clean”

Salt Lake City had been a stopover on our drive north. It’s a big diverse city, in complete contrast to the rest of Utah; here we’d stocked up at Walmart, visited Costco and stayed in a central hotel with a gazillion South Korean women (in town for a convention.) We felt we should spend a little time investigating the sights and being located in Downtown we were ideally placed. The city’s history owes everything to the Church of The Latter-day Saints. (I was slightly shocked to come to this important religious centre to find Downtown revealing a sad carpet of homeless drug addicts, many sprawled out under park trees, no doubt sleeping off their latest fix.)

Anna devised a walk and off we went. Eventually you arrive at the Salt Lake Utah Temple. This is a massive skyscraper of a building, which is currently a construction site as it’s being underpinned due to concern that it’ll topple if there’s an earthquake. Next to it is the Assembly Hall, a church, and then another large building called the Tabernacle. This was the Mormon HQ.

We knew of tours and Sister Hague and Sister Thomas appeared and introduced themselves. ‘Sister’ is the name that Mormon female missionaries use. The men are called Elders, these are the resilient but probably downhearted young men who knock on your door in the UK. Our Sisters were respectively from California and Minnesota, early 20’s and primly dressed with no flesh showing in clothes you might called conservative. Sister Thomas seemed detailed to take the lead with the party, which now included two devoted Christians from South America. She was open, friendly and worryingly enthusiastic yet I denoted some steel. After we responded to requests to tell her our names we start our brief walk around the buildings. What did we love? Anna of course got that right by advising family, I got it wrong when I suggested travel and music! All this seemed a strategy, albeit gentle, to open us up. Our relationship with Jesus was asked? I was honest. Whilst not overly convinced about wizards in the sky I did volunteer there’s a lot to be admired about the spirituality and community that those of faith create and foster.

Our young ladies had been educated in mainstream schools and Sister Thomas had been the only Mormon in her high school. They had probably experienced cynicism or negativity about their faith but had come through it. It seemed they believed every word of the Book of Mormon. This is their bible not, say, the King James. They carried the bible with them as if an answer might easily be close to hand should a difficult question arise. They talked of a life of helping, I believed them.

Assembly Hall

All life’s positive moments were down to the ‘miracles of God’. She asked what bad situation had miraculously been answered by a piece of good news? One of the South Americans, a dentist, had found during a routine appointment a growth in a patient’s mouth. This discovery led to prompt treatment and possibly saved their life. Expectant eyes turned to Anna and myself? Nope, we had no stories. Sister Thomas now threw in her miracle. She was recently assembling flat pack furniture and it was an important installation for a Ukrainian Mormon they were housing. She didn’t have the tools for the job. However, miraculously a stranger appeared with a toolbox! It’s easy to see that if you attribute every positive event to the intervention of your god you’re going to be happy. She was.

We were invited to ask questions. I asked what was the biggest misconception? Polygamy came the answer. This arose as a solution when during the faith’s migration from persecution in Missouri in the 19th Century many of the men died necessitating, apparently, this rule change for procreation purposes. This isn’t happening now. The Sisters were adamant that their lives wouldn’t be reduced to being housewives; they could pursue careers or whatever. The only other female Mormon I knew was Marie Osmond who has had a stellar career, eight children and has been married three times, albeit twice to the same man. I chose not to ask if either of them could sing. It’s not mandatory that you have to marry another Mormon, however, I think it probably helps given the strictures of the faith and lifestyle.

Sister Thomas said that she and her other missionaries kept themselves ‘clean’. I had to stop and ask her to explain. “We don’t drink, take drugs or have sex before marriage.” All that’s fine as a set of decisions but calling it ‘clean’?

Their missions last 18 months, two years for the men. There are 17 million members: it’s a large worldwide community. I envy these believers and their faith but in a world where science can explain virtually everything I can’t comprehend how they remain so convinced and committed.

My Letters From America – “I’m Always Within Five Feet Of My Gun”

Toward the top of Interstate 14 in Bighorn National Park at 3,000m the present Mrs Ives declared the need to stop for what our American friends would describe as a ‘bathroom break’. There was nothing around other than a wide open road. In fact we’d only seen mountains, cows and the very occasional car on the long climb up from Greybull. However, sweeping down another long straight The Elk View Inn came into view and amongst some rental log cabins and a lot of small All Terrain Vehicles was a wooden building claiming to be the bar and restaurant. I parked up and Anna dashed in.

We felt obliged to have a drink to repay the bar for use of its facilities and ordered a Coke and a Bud Light. Sadly, as I was driving I was the soft drink consumer. Our barman, Ramón, looked out of place in this isolated location, of Latino complexion and sporting metal rings through his bottom lip and inevitably in his ears he was no cowboy. Our interrogation started with “where are you from?” Ramón was originally from Portland, Oregon but left as he felt the place was ‘moving in the wrong direction’? He’d first ended up in Vegas working on the strip as a barman. The shifts including 8.30am to 3.30am were gruelling but he was earning good money. Covid ended all this and he had to find another job.

He’s in his very early thirties, stylish in his own pierced way, gregarious and articulate. It came as no surprise he’d ended up in management and he ran this bar. However, why Wyoming? In short he was ‘conservative’ and wanted to be in a place with space and no big towns with their own unrepresentative political centres as he described it. Given the recent anarchy in Portland you might easily understand what he was fleeing. I could empathise with this as I’ve found rural America and its people bear little or no resemblance to the ethnic diversity, pace, needs, crime, preoccupations and seemingly perpetual conflicts that swirl around major cities. Of course rural America has its maladies but they seem to me less in number and different.

He mentioned gun legislation in many States was a determinant for his move as he always wanted a firearm to hand. Now Ramón certainly didn’t seem a member of the NRA but he listed the four guns he currently owned! We were astonished. A bit like my selection of bicycles: each gun had a particular task, whether it was personal safety from other humans or shooting animals that threatened his safety on the trail. He turned to show us his girlfriend, a dark slim attractive girl finishing her lunch. She worked at the hotel as the housekeeper. He’d bought her a hand gun and went on to say he was additionally looking at a rifle to stash in his truck. Changing subject (!) I asked if Wyoming had been his first choice? No, Alaska was but he couldn’t fly with his guns there as they passed over Canada.

Frankly the desire to bear arms is vital to millions of Americans. How any politician could meaningfully dismantle the law seems impossible when they truly believe that the ownership is integral to their safety. Gun ownership seemed no solution to me as to personal safety but created a perpetual cycle of fear and an increasing desire for ownership and apparent accumulation.

Anyway we thanked Ramón and paid. I had little change for a tip but found a dollar. I apologised for the size of the gratuity. He noted, genuinely kindly, as we sidled toward that door, that tipping wasn’t a thing they did in England. On that we could agree Ramón.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022 (Last Blog)

Ulvenhout to Europoort 59 miles & 256 metres climbing

Hull to Acaster Malbis 57 miles & 265 metres climbing

Day 10

It was all about getting to the ferry in good time today and progress was complicated through urban areas.

There were few things of interest along the way but do I find all these references or monuments to WW2 fascinating given the closeness of all the members of the EU to the Germans nowadays. This tank was donated by the Polish.

They had entered Breda first of the Allies to evict the Nazis. I got chatting with another younger guy who was attempting to stop his young boys falling off the tank as they clambered on it and raised this point. He commented that the invasion of the Nazis still ‘runs deep’. The Germans, when their retreat was inevitable, were terrible to the local population.

Wacky baccy’s legal in Holland

Nearer the coast the land becomes flatter and the winds stronger. Here I met a scouser on a bike with a Dutch accent (think Steve McLaren). As I’m peering into my handle bar bag he’d kindly stopped to ask me if I needed help? No, not really I was just finishing off some sausage rolls.

The ramp

It’s an endless search for the non signposted Europoort. Europoort is simply the name for the ferry docks in a large complex of other docks and industrial units. However I get there in good time, check in and then get on board up the steep ramp. The arrangement is that on the car decks you tie your bicycle to the wall with a rope. From there it was find my cabin, have a shower and get out for a Guinness. I’d asked Anna if there were any Duty Frees she wanted but the answer was negative.

Given the recent move by P&O to unload their British workers you might expect some negativity about the operation. As it appears to be mainly Continental Europeans on the ship, who possibly know little of recent events, there is no issue. Back in my cabin I eat the sandwiches I’d bought prior to boarding and I suddenly find myself looking at the inside of my eyelids. Over and out.

Day 11

The day starts with a Full English with the hoards. Off the ship I (foolishly) decide to follow the Trans Pennine Trail 65. It was a nightmare. Hull was difficult to get through in rush hour with cycle paths shut due to construction work. The essence of Sustrans 65 is a detour through the East Yorkshire countryside very close to the Humber. I pass unexpectedly through the premises of a company called Wienerberger where I went, unsuccessfully, for a Sales Director job in 2008. They make clay roof tiles. Meanwhile this bike ride is against a persistent westerly. To add insult to injury the route even deteriorates into a grass path at one stage. Weary I eventually get to Acaster Malbis at past 1pm.

In summary, I love riding in France, it was all I hoped for – countryside, campsites, space, food and vistas. The weather behaved all the way nearly. Cycling up the Meuse is a doddle (and enjoyable.) The last couple of days were a chore and next time, from somewhere in Belgium or Holland, I’ll catch a train from a certain point to the ferry to eliminate those pointless miles. In the past the mileage was less through Belgium. You could choose Zeebrugge over Rotterdam but the former has now closed as a ferry route back to Hull.

If you’ve followed my blog then thank you. I appreciate your time and support.

As a heads up then I think it’s back to Australia next for a bike ride, I have unfinished business.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Day 9

Frankly cycling in Belgium or Holland is not much fun; I view passage through these countries as a way of getting home and not really a holiday. Why? Mainly because it’s ‘cycling friendly’. So to explain. The laws are that you should use cycle paths. The paths are copious but indirect, full of junctions, sometimes brick rather than smooth asphalt and a constant drain of my patience trying to use them. Even the paths beside the Belgian and Dutch canals, as they start to open up and become wider, are dreary with nothing to see.

Shortly after leaving Visé I was back along the river but now in Holland and in Maastricht. (There are no border signs denoting countries.) For a short while I got lost. I have to say my Garmin navigating device has been dreadful to use on this trip and has a software problem not allowing me to search specific addresses. Anyway as I’m trying to fathom out a route I come to a mini roundabout and stray off the designated cycle path onto the road. Immediately a bloke in a small car is on the horn. I explode and go mental, gesticulating. The said motoring hero winds down his window for a probable frank discussion and I shout (!) at him ‘I’m a tourist, I made a mistake!’ In fairness he quickly apologises (twice) and even I chuck in a ‘sorry’.

British bomber crash memorial
Probably little more than kids in age. ‘Lest We Forget’

I rode beside the canals all day. Here there are working barges and industrial units on the banks.

I listen to the radio intermittently, it’s all about the women’s semi final Euro win. It becomes repetitive on every channel and typically the coverage degenerates into exploring the FA’s banning of women back in the day. Not a piece of history to be proud of, obviously, but if an ‘angle’ of blame or misery can be found it’ll be used.

I’ve got all their LP’s

The first campsite I found was large and more like a holiday park. Reception was shut but a kindly passing resident tried to help me by ringing up the management. (Understanding signage is hard as understandably it’s all in Dutch but ironically everyone speaks English.) For no apparent reason, on this massive site, he told her ‘no’. So I rode on to near Breda and in a small town/suburb called Ulvenhout I found a great campsite with a bench, yippee!

The fee to stay was €10 but I needed an extra €0.50 coin to get hot water in the shower. Here I met a French lady, similar vintage to me, who’d started riding from Calais and was planning to get to Prague over three months. She did 50 kilometres a day, heaven knows how she spends her time. To add to the Gallic ambience there was a French couple next to me who had a tent but took it down to sleep in bivouacs, at 9pm, to go to sleep! Crazee!

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Day 8

Haynes, France to Visé, Belgium 106 miles & 470 metres climbing

The proximity of my little tent to other campers meant late night chatting delayed my sleep and then some nearby 4am rustling woke me up with a start. However, On waking I had a leisurely start at 9am and fortified by porridge and croissants I continued north along the river. After my decision to return to Yorkshire early I had to switch my ferry sailing date and needed to contact the operator (whilst cycling.) P&O Ferries were perfect, they switched my date with no administration charge. I sorted it all on my mobile in Givet.

Goodbye Haybes
Beautiful vistas

To add to my fortunes I had, at long last, a tailwind and it was mainly overcast to start. This meant going faster without the energy sapping heat. As it was Sunday it seemed that Belgium was out and about dining. For my lunch I came away from the river in Namur and found something to eat before heading north again. It was all about calorie intake and getting it quickly.

I’m sorry, I let standards slip again.

Again there were few other cyclists. As I progressed further north the scenery became more industrial and the river got wider. However there were some sports on the Meuse, namely, water skiing, jet skiing, rowing and fishing.

Only near Huy I saw a working barge, it must have been close to its destination as the river got less navigable, for large crafts, the further south you went.

(You get plenty of time to reflect on things as you pedal for hours and it seemed that only low cost materials were carried on the barges ie. it was too expensive to ship these aggregates, building materials or cheap bulk chemicals by road. In an age rightly concerned about fossil fuels and congestion then water seems a good option.

Around Liege the path stopped and I had a difficult job finding a route and ended up heading north on major roads. Liege was very unlovely and offered no camping option. The time was now past 6pm and I’d clocked a high mileage for the day. So I stopped and conferred with Booking.com to pick a town and hotel I could reach. I randomly chose the town of Visé, still on the Meuse and the only hotel there.

The hotel was clean and smart but the ‘patron’ was a complete ‘buttock’. I asked where I could store the bike and I got a shrug of the shoulders and the nonsense explanation of ‘space restrictions’. (Remember Belgians love bicycles!) Anyway after a short plead she allowed me to bring the bike up to the first floor. Further joy arose at discovering my toilet seat was broken and beside the pan, the air con remote control was missing (I stood on a chair to activate overcoming the cost saving initiative) and the milk was sour at breakfast. My feedback on Booking.com was brutal. On a more positive note England Women won their Euro semi final and were all set for the Germans in the final. It’d been a long day but all cyclists feel that doing a century is a day we’ll spent.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Day 6

The rest day comes with chores as well as, hopefully, lazing about. However, first it was breakfast! It’s was a great spread and I tried to eat as much of it as possible!

Next, I wanted to get to Rotterdam faster than I originally planned and I thought I’d start the following day with a train ride north, to Sedan. When on arrival I’d cycle north along the Meuse River. There may be a way to buy a ticket on online but a visit to la gare seemed a way of ensuring I got the correct ticket. I ambled down and was greeted on arrival by a sign advising they won’t be opening the ticket office until 10am. As a consequence a queue is forming, I join it.

One member of staff appears and mans one window. The first in line comes and goes quickly, the second in line takes 25 minutes! What the hell is taking so long? I imagine he’s set the clerk the challenge of finding out how much it costs for a train through France to Tintagel where he’d like to make a further connection to Fort William over a Bank Holiday weekend in 2027. In true French style two people push in to the front of the line claiming they have extenuating circumstances demanding priority.

The man who took 25 minutes!
My Swatch kept misting up. The sweat from my wrist had got into the watch face as droplets. The solution of taking the back off enabled it to evaporate.
I must remember to pack a belt next time.

Walking back to the centre of town I look at the large war memorial. It covers a number of conflicts including WW2, the Algerian conflict, Afghanistan and Indo China. Movingly they list civilians who died.

All those killed from one family

The next task is laundry and a laundrette is found. All the instructions to get the damn machines to work are in French and I’m struggling. It seems that it all magically happens remote to the machines. A chap tries to help. He speaks no English (yes, I know I said the French all speak English) but eventually by lots of pointing and gesticulating we coax the beasts into life.

Later I have a wonderful Caesar Salad, enjoy a walk in the park and watch some of the Commonwealth Games back in my hotel room. It is a beautiful city and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Day 7

Châlons-en-Champagne to Sedan by train

Sedan to Haybes 59 miles and 223 metres climbing

The booked train is early in the morning and whilst breakfast is available at the hotel I’m surprisingly not very hungry to do justice to the feast! Instead I made some sandwiches for later. At the station there are several platforms and getting to the right one involves using a lift to move my bike. As a consolation to the onerous station logistics I’m impressed that taking my bike costs no premium. All in all it comes to a total of €30. I have to change in Reims and that involved more lifts but the trains are quiet, comfortable and clean. On arrival at Sedan I’m only a stone’s throw from the station to the Meuse cycle path.

An Engine built in Glasgow used in WW1 by the French at Reims

The path is quiet with few other walkers, runners or cyclists for mile after mile. The path is perfect tar macadam. If anyone wants a beginners route for cycling in Europe then this is compelling. I roll along at a good pace on the flat in beautiful weather. The route is windy as it runs beside the river.

Moving pictures! Also proof I do ride the bike
Just epic cycling terrain

There are literally no boats on the water. The river has the role of being an ornament with no purpose other than looking nice. Gone are the climbs and trucks and the only things to pass me are electric bikes where the riders barely touch the pedals but ease past me at speed. At Haybes I find a campsite on the side of the river.

The check in requires me to cycle half a mile to another office to pay my €6.70, get a receipt to confirm payment to the receptionist, and then pitch my tent. The receptionist knows this arrangement is stupid and the words she utters included ‘desole’ and ‘scheizer’. However whilst at the office I got a beer and so that was a consolation. The cycle back was delayed as I watched a cavalcade of cars go past tooting their horns. This is the way the guests to a wedding proceed, very French. I make my dinner, do my washing and phone home. On the next pitch a Dutch woman is reading, in English, aloud to her husband in a voice like the Queen! I tell her this later for her to tell me she got her accent from living in Oxford. The receptionist floats around the campers asking if they want to order bread and croissants for the morning? I certainly do.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Days 4 & 5

Donzy to Eaux-Puiseax – 72 miles & 978 metres climbing

Eaux-Puiseaux to Châlons-en-Champagne – 68 miles & 674 metres climbing

As planned I’m away by 8am. My fellow camper has to visit La Marie with the shower block key, it crosses my mind the staff might not be there until a lot later. Happily I cycle on empty roads. Occasionally a van or tractor rumbles past. I put on my headphones and listen to the news on Radio 4. They’re interviewing people about the train strikes. Frankly, it’s nice to be away from all that unhappiness. It’s coolish but pleasant and perfect for cycle touring. I follow the news with a spot of Steeleye Span on Spotify.

A castle in Druyes-Les-Belles-Fontaines

I stay in touch with all and sundry on WhatsApp and messages ping through during the day normally. This morning good news, the son in law (Matt) has passed his driving test. I stop at the top of a hill to text my congratulations. Eventually I get to Auxerre, it looks beautiful. My only conscious recollection about the town is that for a small place it enjoyed top flight football for many years.

Auxerre

On the route is a Burger King and I capitulate. It’s far superior to McDonalds! Leaving the city I head north into a steady headwind, there’s lots of climbing and my progress is slow. This made me start to think about a rest day. It’s too early in the trip to do that but I start thinking it through. I’d usually stop in a hotel in a town with a laundrette and plenty of things to see and do. In hot weather you can’t possibly spend the day in a small tent on a campsite, you’d fry. Pulling off a major busy road I find a site a little short of Troyes. The site is massive and lovely but maybe a quarter full. It seems that all holiday traffic is down.

Persistent pestilent fluffy fowl

I check in and get a discount card to use on my 12th visit where I could stay for free! I suspect the Dutch and Belgians might like that benefit. I find many migrating Dutch heading south or home. This is a stopover site for them. In line with the bucolic setting I am molested by a large hen that hunts around my possessions and food. It even puts its foot in my dinner as without a bench or table I have to prepare dinner on the grass. The other campers wonder why I’m bellowing at a pestilent fluffy fowl as I urge it to bugger off! A call home finds a snuffling Anna still dealing with covid. I offer the appropriate sympathy and then clamber into my hen free zone for a deflating sleep.

Day 5

I made a good start just after 8am at Eaux-Puiseaux but my Garmin immediately sent me back to the big road and the trucks. France is a big country and big countries spawn big trucks to transport stuff big distances. I’d chosen quite a direct route as I had a limited number of days and this meant travelling broadly in a straight line home. The road is never steep but it remorselessly climbs up and down. A slow climb on a heavy bike for 200m was met with a gentle descent and so it all began again. As a balance then the weather nestles into the mid 20°s and is mainly overcast.

Busy road!
Want one!

It was farming countryside with tractors and busy combines. I plugged in to my usual Radio 4 fix and then Spotify with Angel Olsen and a Manchester band from the 80s called Any Trouble. I look at the map and how far I want to go and confirm a rest day and Châlons-en-Champagne it is. I book my hotel on Booking.com. I’d happily arrive at a hotel and not use the App but I possibly wouldn’t get the best rates. I’m always nervous that they will have a problem with storing my bike and hope that it’ll be no problem when I get there.

The hotel I booked online find in the centre. I trundle in and am met by a sour faced receptionist who claims not to have received the online booking? Something about problems with the internet? Seems bullshit but there’s no negotiating this declaration and I walk a couple of doors down and check into an Ibis for a couple of nights.

Later I walk around the city centre believing it to be good for the legs. I can’t be bothered with a sit down meal and buy a takeaway pizza and take it to my room. The bed doesn’t deflate overnight.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Day 3

Issoudun to Donzy – 72 miles & 762 metres climbing

A cold and (traffic) noisy start but with gas for my stove I could make coffee and have porridge. This was all a morale boost and off I cycled. It was a flat start but on a busy road. I find French traffic is very tidal. It seems in England that it’s virtually busy all the time. Not so in France. They start early and then it all goes very quiet. Not least around lunchtime, which they take very seriously. Bourges came into view in no time. There was an option to stay on a route National dual carriageway but ever the quick learner and worrying I may be on a criminal database now I dropped off onto a windy B road. McDonalds was my reward. How about some beef protein? It was truly awful. I used to love MaccieD’s but it’s getting slowly more and more inedible. Whilst I’m there I speak briefly to Anna who’s very chatty and glad to have contact with the outside world. Eventually I set off for Donzy.

Decisions decisions…
Great building but neglected. So typical of rural France

I pedal past arable fields full of cereals. The soil is very rocky. Harvesting seems complete. Large stones are evident that must play hell with the tractor tyres.

The ‘terroir’

Suddenly I am cycling across a bridge over the very wide Loire river. The river is very low and not navigable. Again a victim of drought. France has had widespread fires and whilst there is plenty of greenery in places it’s suffering. This region produces the delicious white Pouilly Fumé wine and there are fields full of vines and places selling their produce.

On a canal that runs alongside the Loire

Donzy is a small town that Google Maps tells me has a municipal campsite. I could cycle on a bit further but it seemed a nice town so why not call it a day at 4.30pm? I find an empty campsite with the barrier down preventing entry? However, camped there is a small tent with a bicycle near it. As I hover wondering what to do a lad ambles across. He speaks English (obvs.) The site is open but you have to go back into the centre of town to La Marie. In this building you can pay to stay. This I do. Again gratuitous form filling for €8.22 for overnight. I pedal back and pitch my tent. My fellow camper, in this vast empty site, that is pretending to be shut, is on his mobile speaking to lots of people.

I shower and walk into town. I had it in my mind that walking might help clear up the residual cramp, it does. A lot of rural France is abandoned. It seems as if WW2 was a watershed for a slow exodus. Many quite small towns look in disrepair with former beautiful grand buildings neglected. No wonder the British buy them up. I found a restaurant and fancy a pizza. My French speaking host advises pizzas are only on vendredi. Today is mardi. So a steak it is. We needed to agree how well the steak would be cooked. I advised ‘bien cuit’ but in the end what turned up I reckon a good vet could have got it up off the plate and back walking around a field. It was chewy.

I still had one important task before sleep, that is to try and find the hole in my mattress. In the town was a small slow flowing river. It looked clean enough and dunked my inflated air bed into it try and find escaping bubbles, after all I had a puncture repair kit. A passing woman enquired as to what I was doing? Not unreasonable given that weirdly a tourist, at 7pm, is floating a Iilo in a river in the middle of a town. I tried to pacify her with “Je cherche un trou dans le matelas.” She answered back in English… “then are you going to swim there with it?” “Yes”, I replied (not) “all the way back to ‘kin Queensland where I bought it to ask for a refund.” Anyway, I couldn’t find the leak. More midnight inflation beckoned.

Back at the site there were no other campers. The town’s strategy for preventing use was working well.

The shower lock was new, which begs the question of why spend all this money if you’re trying to keep the site a secret? I discover the young lad is 16 years old! He’s German and cycling over a few days from home to a destination further west. Quite an adventure for a young man and he must have very confident parents. I offer him a baguette I’d bought. I was starting to worry that his mother will be fretting about his nutrition but he’s not interested. Anyway I have a night ahead with a soft mattress.

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Day 2

La Souterraine to Issoudun – 81 miles & 885m climbing

The next morning I received a text advising Anna has Covid! Given the proximity to the wedding it’s as well I was away avoiding the risk of infection. More pressing was the imperative to start eating and find a gas canister. Until I sorted that out I couldn’t boil water or heat up food on site. That had to wait until I ate something more. A typical French breakfast outside in the sunshine is a delight. When I left the site Reception was still shut and so I couldn’t pay. One way or another a criminal tendency was developing.

How to dismantle a tent

I found this as I pedalled around the attractive La Souterraine.

Perfect

Whilst still lovely weather the heat had miraculously gone and the weather was cooler by 10°. The legs should have had no weariness on the tour yet, but residual cramp persisted, I hadn’t got the lactic acid out of the muscles.

Despite this I was quite chipper. The route was undulating to the next major settlement of Chatereaux but I took the bigger roads with less steep gradients. They were an easier way of progressing. I’d never noticed all the sunflowers before, they are prolific in all the large arable fields, they greet you as you pedal past them.

A lunch of chicken and chips was found and then I detour off the route to visit Decathlon, the sports store, for a gas canister.

Tasted better than it looked!
Interesting name!

The bike’s chain kept slipping on the rear cassette/gears. I reckoned I had a stretched chain that needed replacing. Decathlon did this quickly and cheaply (€30) in 20 minutes. I communicated with the mechanic over these technical matters via the Google Translate App on our mobiles. I know trying to book the bike into a UK bike shop and expecting an immediate repair would be difficult. Vive La France.

However, the French now speak English. Going back a few decades they would not speak English to the point of being awkward with you. Most now admit to knowing quite a lot and will help you out as you start a conversation in butchered French. As always English pop music is in supermarkets and how can any business that buys or sells internationally or use the internet not use English? It’s safe to say we’ve won that war!

Next I found a supermarket for provisions. Usually this involves bread, a tomato, cheese, milk (for my porridge), a large calorific cake as a treat and bananas. Mission accomplished I pressed on for a municipal campsite I’d found on Google Maps in Issoudun. Baby Jesus now rationalising that I’d had too much go my way on the day threw down heavy rain. I got to the site sodden. The lad on Reception was at the time on FaceTime with his girlfriend. As he’s wading through the festival of pointless forms we need to complete for my €8 stay I get in front of the camera on his phone and ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” Cue much squealing and merriment. I’m don’t think she expected an old bloke, generally drenched, donning a cycle helmet asking about her language skills.

Room to spare
Useful for hanging washing off
Always pleased to find a bench

The site was basic but the washrooms were fine. However it was just off a busy roundabout and the late evening and, it transpired, early morning traffic was impossibly noisy. Motorbikes or trucks would work their way through the gears angrily as they pulled away from the junction.

Still attempting to recover from the first day I embarked on lots of eating. A call home discovered a bored Anna. She was confined to barracks and even speaking to me proved a highlight of her day. The rain stopped, laundry was done and hung out to dry and it was time for some kip. In line with my luck ending I discovered a slow puncture in my air bed during the night and nearby campers may have wondered about the heavy breathing in the early hours of the morning. I was re-inflating my air bed!

French Cycling Saunter – July 2022

Prologue

A long bike ride, with camping, is always a default pleasure. It’s wonderful to have the adventures of far flung places to take my bicycle to but France is always a tonic: largely under populated, lots of empty roads, campsites everywhere, delicious food around every corner, the French largely indifferent to all and sundry with few rules and great weather.

I’d had a holiday pencilled in for early July after some tour guiding work, before a wedding and then a later holiday with Anna in the USA. However the sad passing of my father-in-law, Eric meant that the originally planned escape had to be cancelled. Eventually a ‘window’ appeared to allow me to get away for over a week. On July 24 I made it to Leeds Bradford with my cardboard box full of bike and luggage.

The planned route
Unpacked clobber

I was off at last but aware I had to be back in good time for Sophie’s wedding preparations. (There was never a truer observation as to ‘preparation’ as it transpired.)

Day 1

Limoges Airport to La Souterraine – 51 miles & 1,025m climbing

Anna was kindly up very early to deposit me at Leeds Bradford airport. Flights now come with additional time demands over and above early check in. There’s the nightmare of clearing Security. However, with a fast path ticket I was into Departures in good time to find a Ryanair delay! We eventually took off 35 minutes late. Airports are a very brutal experience nowadays of considerable lugging of heavy items, many stairs, queuing and heaving crowds. It can be no surprise that those with mobility issues or considerable age avoid flying.

Now to unpack
Nearly sorted

That being said the flight was a doddle and Limoges Airport was small and organised; in no time at all I was extracting my bike out of the box and on the road heading north to my campsite. If that was the good news then I found myself in 36°C heat for 5 hours on a hilly bike ride with a bike weighing over 35kg. After the flight I was slightly dehydrated and having not eaten enough. A really elementary set of mistakes. Actually bordering on potentially fatal.

The route was slow with lots of little roads and time was moving on. I found myself on the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway, which was a National route and, it transpires, a motorway. Progress was good but at least 11 cars hooted their horns before a police car parked up on the hard shoulder in front of me and two policemen emerged less than happy. I thought I was ‘for it’.

‘Ello, ello, ello….

As I rode up to the back of the car one policemen with his finger pointing toward the temple of his head shouted “êtes-cous fou?” I knew well what he was saying but responded with “je suis anglais”. (Thank you O’Level French.) My bilingual copper continuing to point at his head and said “are you crazee?” The upshot was that my bike was loaded into the car and I was driven off the motorway to a safer B road. I continued to receive a lecture in the car but I did cough up a “je suis desole” and they seemed to believe I’d got the message. At my point of ejection I was fined €4! In fact as they couldn’t accept a credit card and had no change I gave them €5. For all this money there was much form filling, scrutiny of passports and information sought. It did cross my mind that illegally traversing the country and exiting dangerously in a dodgy dinghy would have involved a lot less interest from the French authorities… In truth I was hot and weary and for another few Euros I’d have been grateful to be dropped nearer my campsite. I thought it imprudent to ask. I waved goodbye to the gendarmes and continued my slow trundle well behind schedule.

Nice scenery

The campsite Reception was shut when I got to La Souterraine at some time after 7pm. It was a very nice site and operating on the theory that it’s easier to seek forgiveness rather than get permission to pitch my tent (without paying in advance), I found a spot. However it meant pushing my bike up a short hill. An attack of cramp kicked in on my hamstrings, so painful, that I couldn’t move. This cramp meant bending my legs was impossible and, later, affected my sleep position. The heat had affected my appetite and I ate Anna’s specially prepared tuna pittas, I’d stupidly not eaten for lunch. The act of eating took ages as I hated every mouthful so that I chewed a gazillion times before swallowing. I also felt sick but kept drinking long and hard well after climbing off the bike. I knew that I had been on the brink of making myself very I’ll due to the heat. Despite a swelteringly hot tent with me lying naked on the blown up mattress, hold that thought in your head if you dare, I was asleep in no time.

Eric, Neil & France – Week 28 : 2022

I have to start by posting that my father-in-law, Eric, has passed away after a short illness at the grand old age of 90 years old. I wrote a blog about him in January that probably captured his later days. However, this doesn’t do justice to a fine, mild mannered, sportsman, architect and a happily married family man. He lived a couple years longer than his wife, Margaret, who he married in 1956. He has three successful daughters and seven grand children who all thought the world of him. As regards his immediate family and the many females in his life he played the role of ‘Best Supporting Actor’; a role I have often played and one that I have learned, from Eric, the moves and lines. He would often appear with Anna’s mother at our house and soon disappear into the garden with a pair of shears. I now get the pleasure that brings: helping the daughters, literally, invisibly with either a trowel or painting brush in my hand hoping that as I’m somewhere around their property a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s will arrive as my reward.

If the truth were told then I’m still trying to recover the lost sleep from my tour guiding. I’m not working again until September but have taken the opportunity to get into the Dales to walk some of the routes and see the sights of my next assignment. Bolton Abbey, Hawes and Fountains Abbey in the sunshine are a delight and busy, it should be a good tour. 

Before my last tour I had a large task to complete that was most of the time a delight but became a big job with a demanding deadline! It was cataloguing a large LP record collection. Tragically a long time family friend of Anna’s and latterly mine, Neil passed away in 2019 from cancer at the young age of 59. One of his passions was music, playing or collecting it. He’d amassed a giant record collection of 1,043 LP’s and 322 Twelve Inch singles. (This doesn’t include all his CD’s and Seven Inch singles.) Neil with some sad foresight wanted his friends to have his record collection should he be gone.

His widow, Becca, wanted to enable his close friends to view the collection and take their pick. The collection wasn’t remotely sorted and needed putting physically into alphabetical order and collating onto a spreadsheet by artist name, album title, catalogue number, genre and value. From here the friends could easily pick what they wanted. Valuing is achieved by going onto Discogs, a website to buy, sell and value records. There isn’t a record that you cannot find wherever it was pressed in the world or the year. The value is dependent on condition, popularity of the artist and scarcity. Whether you can realise the value easily, if you sell, is a debate as it may take time. Needless to say vinyl LP’s are generally much sought after nowadays.

It was a pleasure to listen to the records as I catalogued them (and the Ives family likes a list). The weekend came and went when the friends visited and collected their records. Job well done I think as I got a framed print, a few LPs, several years of copies of old music papers and some chocolates. More importantly I got to think about Neil and his music tastes, surprising inclusions, omissions, preponderance of purchases in certain years, his loyalty to some obscure bands and his travel to buy them whether in North America, Europe or the UK. A privilege really.

There may be some more blogs ahead as I head to France after Eric’s funeral. It seems a long time since I slept under canvas and I have a flight and a ferry booked. There’s about 700 miles to cover in 10 days, cycling and camping, before I’m back for the Favourite Youngest’s wedding. I think I should be guaranteed some sunshine given news of French wildfires and record temperatures!

Lastly, an observation from the road. I was nearly bowled over on my bike by a woman cycling out of a side street in York. She was struggling to tame her heavy electric bike and found it difficult to stop at the junction. I cycled on but met her again at the traffic lights 200 metres up the road. She’d caught me, moving quickly, up the hill with her assisted power. After the lights she sped off only to eventually turn off the main road into the busy station car park. The traffic included taxis, buses, cars, pedestrians and cyclists. She didn’t indicate and simply dived left. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. People who haven’t ridden a bike since they were children are buying a lot of new electric bikes I think. My cycling sensitivity to traffic and other road users is heightened after years of experience. I expect the electric bicycle revolution will lead to a number of deaths.

Record Of The Week # 133

Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson – Various Artists

Anderson’s a Nashville songwriter/performer who’s well respected. He’s had his chart success over the decades but nowadays he’s only known to the cognoscenti. This compilation doesn’t come a moment too soon. The producers have done a remarkable job and the reason why is summed up by, co-producer, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) “We weren’t trying to piddle around and make the normal tribute record. It had to be the best singers with the best songs and the best arrangements, and they had to come into the studio. This wasn’t like, ‘Mail me the song, and we’ll put it together.’ I think it makes this record unique. I don’t think most tribute records are done like this. I think that’s why it sounds like a cohesive album. It feels like an amazing mix tape.” The song selection is excellent switching between singer songwriter, country and southern rock. The lyrics show Anderson’s gift to pen a pop chart country cliché or a weighty story dripping with pathos.

The stellar contributors include the Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Jamey Johnson and Ashley McBryde. No cost has been spared on the musicianship or arrangements whether it’s the strings behind the acoustic “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings or the southern rock funk à la Little Feat with mesmerising slide and honky tonk keys behind Nathanial Rateliff on “Low Dog Blues”. The main difference between the originals are the production qualities and the stronger voices of the covering artists.

The album starts with “1959″ sung by John Prine. (It’s wonderful to have a new track by this dearly departed legend). The lyric could have been written by him. He reflects on his young love, going to fight in Vietnam and the desertion of his lover. She’s previously written ‘I love you always’ yet  marries another while he’s away on active service. Years later he still thinks of her. Poignant and arresting. Luke Combs takes on “Seminole Wind”, a lament about the changes experienced by the Native American tribe as the marshy waters of Florida were drained. A solo piano introduction leads to a Southern rock arrangement and elevate this to a true rocking delight.

Ashley McBryde covers one of Anderson’s biggest commercial successes, “Straight Tequila Nigh”t. A tipple that gets the woman, at the bar, through the recurring heartache of a lover long gone. Brothers Osborne take on a classic country lyric of “You Can’t Judge A Book (By The Cover)”. The title says it all as they implore their quarry to give them a second look. An artist new to me, Sierra Ferrell, takes on Anderson’s 2020 composition, “Years”, a co-write with Auerbach, and this arrangement drops the original electric guitar and strings and becomes a country folk  stomp where the clear and pure mellifluous voice and fiddle create an earworm. Another album highlight.

This year has seen a few excellent cover/tribute albums of lesser known artists. Included in this are Neal Casal and Jerry Jeff Walker, both have been done justice and this is a very worthy addition but possibly more pleasing as Anderson is still around. The whole album’s top drawer. You must search it out.

Pension Trustee Retirement

Hello,

For the record I have stepped down as a trustee of the Moores Furniture Group Pension Scheme, as from June 2022. This was my second stint of over five years having originally served five years when I was a company director. My term of office expired and I chose not to seek re-election.

The trustees did ask the current Scheme members, whether retired or deferred, if they wished to be considered for the vacancy. No one came forward and a vacancy exists. That is a disappointment as it is a rewarding position and you can make a difference. It was interesting to understand the corporate finance world (that manages the Scheme funds), the technical requirements of running the Scheme, which were all well explained to a layman, and also deal with the company from the point of view of the thousand or so members.

Should any eligible member ever wish to step forward for the job I’m sure the current directors would be happy to entertain their candidature.

Tony – June 22 2022

Survival, Sheds & Sleep – Week 24 2022

So I left the last blog hanging with the promise to write about the drama of my following Leeds United. For the last game of the season we needed to better the result of Burnley and, on paper, we had the more difficult fixture: they had Newcastle United at home and we had Brentford away. I decided I couldn’t bear to watch it live on Sky and started to wash the car during the game. Why watch the agony?

Anyway the Geordies (actually I expect it is mainly Frenchmen, various Africans and the odd Spaniard etc.)  started to beat Burnley and I dared to sidle into the lounge and watch the Leeds game from behind the sofa through my fingers. The upshot was that Burnley lost and we won. Euphoria broke out in Acaster Malbis and the relief of not having to worry about Premiership survival could be parked until August when the trauma would start again. There is no cure.

Our Brazilian wizard celebrates in the Away end

It’s been a busy time since then. A couple of days was spent in Manchester stripping and painting a shed. This task was necessary for the upcoming wedding of the Favourite Youngest. It was the elimination of an eyesore in the garden (of the evening party after the wedding.) Two days stripping and painting a shed? Living the dream. Anyway the preparation was arduous and with some help from the fiancée and even the fiancé we got the shed to the state where we could paint it. The block of flats, it was sited behind, got a free overdue job done and I got takeaways, Tunnock biscuits and regular cups of tea.

After this it was down to North Wales to see my sister, Ann-Marie. She lives near Conwy. We did a couple of jobs at her home and had a trip out to the wonderful Secret Gardens near Menai Bridge on Anglesey. I’m not ordinarily wowed by gardens but it is sensational. You should visit it if you’re over that way.

Back to York I had three album reviews to submit to Country Music People. This month the three albums were dull affairs and listening to them and writing reviews a chore. If you like the album then scribing is a lot easier. I publish a fraction of the albums I review on my own site. If I’ve had to suffer them I see no reason why you should!

A flight to Limoges was booked for July. I’m taking the bicycle and will camp and ride back to Europort (Rotterdam) over a couple of weeks. That’ll be a fabulous opportunity to relax albeit with lots of pedalling.

This week it’s been up to Northumberland guiding. After the season I will put together a blog. (I think that if I did it now they’d sack me.) It starts with greeting the guests on Sunday night and continues through to Friday, albeit I was barracked 10 miles away and so I didn’t see them after Thursday night. The weather was sensational, the sights and walks superb and the guests good humoured, flexible, resilient and good company. 

Amble harbour
A walk across the sands (and mud!) on The Pilgrim’s Way to Holy Island
Wonderful Vindolanda
Lindisfarne Abbey
Rugged Northumbrian coastline
View from Hadrian’s Wall. Cattle in the lough.

However there were the usual challenges with the week to keep the show on the road. The first was going on tour without my credit cards and no cash. I left these in York. Fortunately I had my phone and Apple watch with the banking Apps and they worked all week. Then there was the small matter of breaking my spectacle frames! A local Morrisons had some superglue for a repair to temporarily solve that. However, I woke up every morning, at around 5am, only to find my brain irretrievably switching on to start thinking about taxis arriving, tides to reach Holy Island, submitting menus to the guests to pre-select, the mobility of a couple of the guests on the walks etc. No further sleep happened those mornings. Just about most days were 13 to 14 hours long. So by Thursday night you start to feel zombiesque and hung over with tiredness. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have to do it.

Llamas, Bikes & Tuna Salad – Week 20 2022

Gosh it’s been awhile and for a retired bloke who mainly paddles about there’s been a lot going on. Here’s the start of a catch up. In looking back through the last few weeks then I think we’ll start with the llamas!

The thought of visiting the Yorkshire Dales to walk with llamas and alpacas wouldn’t have been on my mind until February this year. However on a recce, for a holiday tour I’d be working on later in the year, I had cause to visit Nidderdale Llamas near Patelely Bridge to see their 100 plus llamas and alpacas. 

Me, Dec and the birthday girl

What a delight these strange South American animals are. As part of Anna’s birthday celebrations we trooped up as a family to the farm to spend time being introduced to these quirky quadrupeds. The llamas have to be worked gently and work shifts with the public to minimise their stress. On our shift were a selection that were introduced and their personalities discussed and explained. After this we were paired with a beast that matched our personality and confidence and we went for a walk!

36 legs between us

These gentle companions enthralled everyone; they were easy to lead. (I think they’d done it once or twice before!)

 “¿Habla español?”

Katrina had a very slow animal. Apparently his handlers identified him as the equivalent of a troublesome teenager who had an attitude. Katrina urged him to walk faster and pulling did no good either. In her exasperation she broke into his native language, Spanish, to make him get a move on but to no avail. From here we departed for a lunch to a nearby restaurant to complete the birthday celebrations.

With Sophie and Harry’s wedding in August looming some serious beverage decisions needed to be made and ‘tasters’ gathered in Reddish to partake of the vine. We ‘blind tasted’ the selection. Hilariously the wine I liked least was the one I brought. I can’t repeat what I called it but I may never hear the last about that comment!

As part of her birthday gifts Anna got a new bike: an electric one. Yes, I know: I spoil her. It’s second hand but has been serviced and the wearing components replaced. We’d found it at a bike hire shop on the Monsal Trail near Bakewell in Derbyshire. It flies and when we first went out together I was well ‘off the back’ as Anna ploughed on without a backward glance.

Cycling is still the theme but this time in Mallorca. A long arranged trip for myself, Tim and Martin had been in the diary fro some time. Leaving Leeds Bradford on Jet2 with Tim was difficult, sadly another story of delays and very long queues. Despite being there nearly three hours early we still ended up having to jump up the long line for Security and were one of the last folk to get onto the aircraft.

As we waited and it was only 7.15 am my thoughts turned to lunch and I thought I’d have my tuna salad that Anna had specially prepared. Not the most logical breakfast, I grant you. The upshot was a difficult plastic container lid didn’t come off easily and most of the salad ended up on the floor. At this point I also discovered that we had sat in the wrong seats and leaving one awful mess we hopped across the aisle slightly relieved to be escaping the carnage on the carpet. Much to our surprise those three seats remained unoccupied for the flight and no one had the opportunity to grind it all into the carpet.  However, not being all bad I did alert the cabin crew to the mess and that Tim was responsible.

Delays continued in waiting on a bus at Palma, where we met Martin. By early afternoon we had got to our splendid hotel in Puerto Pollensa and the holiday had started. For the four days we we cycled on the west of the island and up and down some very steep hills. It was terrific as Mallorca is road bike heaven.

Los amigos (breathing in)

We ate out most evenings and in line with our other obsessions we were able to watch English football and Leeds United’s inept performance against Chelsea. Relegation seemed inevitable. The next blog will address the emotions of it all.