Hotpot heaven

I made a Persian hotpot on Monday to eat on Tuesday night. I didn’t know what Mirinda and Bob wanted to do so thought it was a good option. As it turned out, Bob took us to Bel and the Dragon so the hotpot sat in the fridge. Waiting.

Tonight we had the Persian hotpot. It was delicious. Mirinda will finish it tomorrow for lunch. Lucky thing.

She wasn’t so lucky this morning though, having to get up at 6am. The plan was to drive to the Bush for a final coffee with Bob before Carol picked him up. She was then going to the station to go to work for the first time in yonks.

I had a Talking Newspaper so I had a little longer on the lounge than I normally get.

Today I was presenting the Farnham edition and had three lovely readers: Lindsay, Heather and Christine. Actually, Christine didn’t turn up. We were a bit worried so I rang her. The conversation went a little something like this:

CHRIS: Hello?
ME: Hi, is that Christine?
CHRIS: Yes.
ME: Hi Chris. It’s Gary –
CHRIS: Oh, hi Gary! How are you?
ME: I’m good thanks Chris. I was just wondering what kind of morning you’re having. Is such a lovely day today.
CHRIS: Yes, it’s beautiful. Mine is good except for a dentist appointment I’ll have to leave for soon. What about you?
ME: Not bad. I’m sitting here in the studio editing the Farnham edition with Lindsay and Heather and we are wondering where you were.
CHRIS: Oh?
ME: The thing is, your rostered on to read today.

There was a sudden shriek followed by copious, heartfelt apologies. She seemed particularly distressed because, she admitted, I’m her favourite presenter. She then explained that she’d just returned from holiday and hadn’t entered all of her days into her new diary and was now off to the dentist instead. I told her not to worry and that going to the dentist was possibly punishment enough.

The funny thing is that the last time I was at the studio was when poor Janice only had one reader turn up. That reader was Heather. I told her she must be the jinx of 2018.

The recording went fine and almost the only thing Roy the engineer had to cut out was me saying a letter writer was ‘clearly insane.’ Though I maintain that he was.

Actually we all had great fun and made the next group a bit jealous with all our jollity.

Then, finally, we ate the hotpot, thinking about Bob jetting towards Tokyo. It’s quite nice having the house to ourselves again but I reckon we might miss all the company. It’s been a memorable and populous couple of months.

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Final goodbye

After dinner tonight, I said goodnight to Bob for the last time this trip. He leaves for Japan tomorrow morning then, after a brief and unexpected stopover in Tokyo, heads for home. He is the last of our Chrissy guests. It’s going to feel a bit quiet around the house from now on.

His unexpected stopover was due to a plane being cancelled. It was his flight from London to Narita where he was due to change planes with the normal brief stop for fuel. This plane, however, was cancelled and so his travel agent told him he’d have to catch an earlier plane to Haneda then get a coach to Narita where he’d be something like six hours early.

This caused a bit of consternation but was soon seen as an opportunity to see a bit of Japan rather than just hanging out in the Business Class Lounge for half a day. This afternoon I put the cherry on top of the rather dubious icing by telling him I’d found an aeronautical museum not far from Narita airport. It sounded perfect and is only a fifteen minute taxi ride from the airport.

He was very pleased with this and started planning his excursion.

This discussion took place after our Japanese Feast which I prepared for his going away. He ate everything except for the seaweed which he was happily eating until I stupidly said it was seaweed. At this point he replaced the lid on his miso bowl and declared he was finished.

Mind you, he hadn’t actually finished because there was the cheesecake I made yesterday. The one that took 24 hours to set. The one that didn’t set and was, basically, a big splodgy mess. It did taste good and we each had some but, overall, the gelatine didn’t ‘take’ and so it refused to defy gravity in a very big way. This is nothing new as I’ve had gelatine based failures previously.

Anyway, the less said about that, the better. Bob enjoyed the meal and ate it all with chopsticks (well apart from the almost liquid cheesecake) and that’s all that matters really.

For his last day in Farnham he went for a walk over Hankley with Mirinda and the girls. Fortunately it was a glorious afternoon; perfect walking weather. They all loved it.

All in all it was a lovely day tinged with only the slightest bit of sadness…and a fluid cheesecake.

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Return of the travellers

Ten days has felt like quite a bit longer from here in Farnham. Still, end it finally has, and Mirinda and Bob returned to the more familiar surroundings of South East England…as opposed to southern France.

As for me, my morning consisted of the gym then Skyping with mum before having to race up to the shops in order to satisfy my wife’s desire for a dessert tomorrow. This created a new phenomenon herewith known as the Cheesecake Effect. It happens as follows.

The Cheesecake Effect is something that happens rarely because of the number of events that have to be in preparation in order for it to have any kind of major impact. Basically it occurs when one’s other half emails (or phones) with a request for a cheesecake (or other dessert) that takes 24 hours to make, exactly a day before it needs to be eaten. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but it can be when the day one which it needs to be made, is jam packed with other pre-planned things (including said spouse returning from ten days in another country) meaning an hour has to be created from nothing.

So, after a quick mercy dash to Waitrose, I made it home a full hour before the travellers returned. Well, one of them did, the other was dropped off at the Bush first.

It was lovely having Mirinda back. It was also good that I could finally mention the dogs’ haircuts. According to Mirinda I hadn’t had clearance for it so had to arrange Kate and her scissors below the radar. I plead completely guilty.

It also means that I can finally embed this video of them up the park playing their odd new game…the sound kicks in on the second run.

Bob decided he’d take us to dinner tonight (the hotpot I made yesterday can wait for Thursday) and it was my choice. My first thought was Brasserie Gerrard but then I remembered how much I love the Bel and the Dragon espresso martini. It took longer to decide which branch rather than which restaurant.

We had a lovely meal and Bob was very grateful for the espresso martini introduction. He agrees with me that it is a life changing event. Now he’s going to have to find someone who makes them in Sydney.

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Avignon II

14 January 7.30 am lying in bed

It is probably about time that I said something about our accommodation in Avignon. You may have noticed complete silence on this thus far. That was me adjusting a level or two after the charming places in Toulouse and Carcassonne. We are intra muros, just a 100 feet or so from the great wall that surrounds the ancient heart of Avignon. The wall looks magnificent from the outside but rather grungy from the inside. Having walked around it I reckon the less desirable parts are closer to the old walls, and Avignon improves as you get more central.

Dad was put off at the start by the entrance door. With flaky paint and rotting timbers it does look highly dubious to a door manufacturer.

“We could make them a new one. Easily!”

The owner, Jim, is Dutch with a boxer called George – very large and wriggly, somewhat smelly to pat, seems friendly but when no one else was looking growled at me. Plus each time I go to the main house he goes off with his barking and charges over – like a large and terrifying Emma.

Jim seems particularly attuned to the cost of everything. He recommended about eight restaurants, giving us the cost of each, told us how to see the bridge without paying, and disapproved of bus tours as it was cheaper to use public transport. This parsimonious streak is reflected in the accommodation.

The building has been converted from an old factory, which might explain the damp smell each time we open the door. There are no sofas, only a table and very uncomfortable chairs. The kitchen is tiny and stingily fitted out – the corkscrew is so crappy that Dad couldn’t get the wine open and I had to take it over to Jim who had a much nicer corkscrew in his own house. He gave me a bottle topper for it and asked anxiously that I would bring it back. The beds are cheap pine, the curtains thin and ugly, the TV tiny, the wardrobes tall skinny and wobbly, and the doors are made from that awful pressed plastic!!

Astonishing I didn’t leave. My tolerance must have grown in inverse proportion to my carbs. I was so surprised I thought I must have overlooked something when I booked it and rechecked. But yes, it is an Alastair Sawday and has some great reviews there, and gets a great score on TripAdvisor with loads of compliments. Inexplicable.

It does have a nice little garden and pool, it is intra muros, yet very peaceful, it includes breakfast, and the shower is reasonable. Plus it is ground floor so no steps. And it has a bit more character than that awful soul-less place in Budapest I rejected after one night and dragged Josie and Gary away from the next day. But that character is mainly the old flaky entrance door.

Oh well!

Avignon on the other hand is charming to walk around, the restaurants have been fab (recommended by Jim), and yesterday we visited the Popes’ Palace, another Unesco World Heritage site.

Pope’s Palace

This huge building, blocky looking yet graceful, was the home of nine popes including several from the Great Schism ie when the Catholics had two (and even three) popes scattered about Europe. Clearly god got confused about how many mouthpieces it needed – or maybe one was for talking out of it’s…

Inside the Pope’s Palace

There was a great tablet/audio guide that used AR to, well, AR, and as you held it up you could see the room as it was in the 1300’s. Rich with colour and ornamentation the rooms looked incredible. Dad got a bit worked up as he is reading about the popes at the moment in a book on the Medici and is appalled at their corrupt behaviour. Luckily there were only three rooms with frescoes so he kept it under control.

I spy a fresco…

After a coffee break we then went on to Pont d’Avignon (paying the entrance fee), the half finished bridge across the Rhone.

St Benedict’s chapel

Another weird god story. This time St Benedict, a poor hermit, trotted into town and said god had texted him a message to say he must build a bridge across the Rhone. It was the day of a great fair and the town laughed a lot, and then the leader said if so then Benedict should first lift a mighty stone and put it into the water as the start of the foundations. St B managed to do this (with some angels helping), everyone was awed, stopped laughing, and started building a bridge – talk about how to kill a party.

Despite the god supported edict, this was not a great bridge. It was so narrow two people struggled to squeeze past each other, it kept getting swept away by the river, and, according to some reports was never truly finished. In the end they gave up and left it sticking half way out over the river. Now it is much wider and very pretty and easy to walk, but it goes nowhere. In any case its main purpose appears to have been collecting taxes from boats.

Bridge to nowhere

All in all one of god’s less successful enterprises.

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Avignon

12 January 7.45am at Avignon in self-catering apartment

The sun doesn’t rise here till about 8.20am so it is still pretty dark as I start writing this. It has also got distinctly chilly with the “mistral wind” blowing. We’re only up this early as we have to meet the tour bus at sunrise for a half day tour of ancient Roman sites. This has seriously displeased the B&B owner as he believes – passionately – tours are a waste of time and money and you can get to everything by public transport. Plus he is really miffed that the tour is picking us up from around the corner at another hotel and not right here (probably because they have other people at that hotel and can’t be bothered coming to get us he declared).

Dad and I agreed with all this but insisted we were still looking forward to it, so after a quick breakfast we set off. It was very cold and after hiding in a random doorway to stay out of the wind the lovely Caroline picked us up on time and we set off. And once again it was only us!!

As the sun rose it turned into a glorious cloudless blue sky day, and the countryside looked much prettier than from the train yesterday. We chatted about the region and I asked Caroline where she lived. “Oh a little town you wouldn’t have heard of” she said airily, “Beaucaire”. “I have been there!” I exclaimed.

She knew our hotel Domain des Clos, and Chez Cecile (the lovely restaurant we visited). In fact I couldn’t remember the names but she guessed them from my description. We agreed Beaucaire had potential, but was a bit rough in parts. She said the new mayor was making a real difference – he was young, good looking, gay and a member of the national front … but he was improving Beaucaire.

First stop was the arena at Nimes.

Dad trying to find a seat

This is the best preserved of the 400 amphitheatres in the world. We spent about an hour exploring and climbing the incredibly steep stairs, and listening to its grim history.

We then walked up to Musee Carree – an ancient Roman Temple.

Roman temple

Both are over 2000 years old and they still hold bull fights in the arena.

Next stop was the small town of Uzes. This was incredibly pretty and a delight to walk around – even though only about 250 years old. We had time for a quick stroll and a coffee before going on to the Pont Du Gard.

Pont du gard

This is an immensely impressive aqueduct built to carry water from a spring near Uzes 50 km away to Nimes. Pont du Gard is just one part of that journey. It has triple decker arches with the water carried along the very top. Dad was blown away by the engineering required to transport the water all that way, especially with only a 12 meter drop in height. Pont du Gard took 5 years to build and the aqueduct was in use for over 500 years.

Pont du gard

It is also a Unesco World Heritage site, which means it gets a lot more money to support it than other sites. However Caroline doesn’t approve of how it is being taken care of these days. It is too controlled, and restricted, with poor quality monopolies granted to the very few food outlets there and a focus on money and rules. She remembers it from when she was young and it was much freer. People went there at any time of the day and night and saw it as their monument, eating and drinking and playing music as they liked nearby.

When we got back our B&B the owner asked how many were on the tour. When we said “just us” he puffed in disgust on his cigar and said, “Bah. And they couldn’t even be bothered picking you up from this hotel. Bah.” He is Dutch.

Despite that, and Caroline’s criticism of the Pont Du Gare, we were wowed.

Amphitheatre

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#WeAreWoking

Today I went to Woking for a meeting with Kirsty at the Surrey History Centre. I’m wanting to volunteer to help enter the Surrey people who were involved in the First World War onto their database. I found out about it after searching for volunteering places in Surrey. Okay so it’s not ships but I figure I need a change and, besides, some will be sailors.

I had to leave with plenty of buffer because of the rail strikes this week. For reasons known only to the bastards at the union, they decided to have Monday, Wednesday and Thursday off this week. Our train company worked very hard to keep some sort of service on the rails but it meant there was only one train an hour from Farnham.

It didn’t help that Hale Road was a bit of a mess because of roadworks.

Mirinda picked a good week to go away

This meant arriving at Woking with quite a long time to wander around. Not that I minded. Woking has changed quite a bit since I worked there. It’s always good to check back on places that have meant so much…and I feel like a decade of my life was spent in Woking.

The first big surprise (though I did notice it last week on the way back from Heathrow) is the huge building site outside Export House, where I used to work. It’s the tallest building in this photo.

Yes, there were blue skies today

It won’t be finished until 2020 but will be AMAZING. Or so they claim on the hoardings.

Eventually I reached the centre and met with Kirsty. And our meeting went extremely well. I’m going to start there Friday week. I’m beginning on war memorials, most particularly, the one in Shalford. I’m totally looking forward to it.

And so I journeyed home, stopping off at Starbucks for a celebratory latte on the way.

Latte Art by Chantelle

It was a very good day!

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Carcassonne

6.05 pm at Carcassone Bed and Breakfast

Another enormous bathtub – this seems to be turning into the holiday of no showers. But enforced relaxation with bubbles and pistachio nuts works rather nicely, especially following a glass or two of red wine. Dad thinks he is drinking far more than usual on this trip and blames me and Gary – but I can assure you the regular afternoon red wine is entirely his idea! He even has a bottle in his room.

Posh nosh for lunch. Not sure about the angle. Maybe it’s all the wine.

Our hotel is utterly charming. It is an old narrow house owned by Mike (English) and Peter (Scottish) and each room has been wonderously decorated. Mine is the red room – toile de jouy wallpaper, four poster bed, chandelier – need I say more? Huge bathroom, antique furniture and wonderful views of the citadel all lit up at night. Dad is in the blue room with chinoiserie wallpaper, a long string of plump porcelain Chinese people hugging each other as ornamentation, wine glasses and corkscrew, and an even better view.

Cute house

But best of all is the Carcassone Citadel itself. It is like something out of a special FX movie – the most complete and beautiful medieval fortified city I have ever seen. Indisputably dominant, foreboding, awesome in the traditional meaning of the word. It stands on the highest hill here with the snow capped Pyrenees in the background. Shaped like a wobbly doughnut it has two defensive walls with a cobblestone road running between them where they used to practice archery and jousting, and studded with 48 towers of various shapes and sizes. The first wall dates back to Roman times, and the second to the 1200’s.

City ramparts

The legend of a feisty and clever woman gives it its name. Dame Carcass headed up the Saracens in the late 700s when the city was besieged by Charlemagne (son and father of Pepin – not sure which was the musical star) for over five years. Dame Carcass was getting pretty desperate as food stocks were running low. Then she came up with a bright idea. She took a pig and force fed it lots of wheat – it fattened up nicely (and no this is not the start of a low carb lecture) and she threw it over the wall to crash on the stones below at the feet of Charlemagne. He immediately thought that if they had so much food they could throw away a pig bursting with grain then the siege would never end so he gave up. As he marched off Dame Carcass had all the churches ring their bells in victory and delight. Charlemagne turned and gazed up at the citadel and exclaimed “Dame Carcass sonne” ie Carcass rings – and so was established the name Carcassone.

What lingerie is that? Bob and Mrs Carcass.

Inside the citadel is an utterly charming meander of crooked streets, a castle, a cathedral, an amphitheatre, two wells, gift shops, numerous (mostly closed) restaurants, and even more numerous doggy bag-and-poo points.

Bob as a Smurf

This is the quietest season, but it was a perfectly sunny day, and I think this may be the very best time to visit. We visited the castle, walked the battlements and learned about the history of the place. Its first real heyday was in the 1100’s when it was governed by a series of Raymonds who were tolerant Catholics, aka Cathars. Sadly, Pope-not-so-Innocent III decided he didn’t approve of tolerance and encouraged a brutal crusade against the Cathars. The citadel was conquered in 1209 and taken over by the cruel crusade enthusiast Simon de Montford.

It had a later heyday as protecting the frontier between France and Spain during the middle ages, and had a rather grim dun coloured Bastide town built at its base in the mid 1200s – the “new” town. This was burnt down a hundred years later by England’s black prince, but then immediately rebuilt.

In 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees shifted the border between Spain and France further south with Catalan being divided between the two countries – one still sees tapas and gazpacho soup jostling cassoulet and onion soup in many a restaurant menu hereabouts.

Citadel

From then on Carcassone Citadel declined, used for hovels and as a quarry until a local amateur archaeologist and an architect friend decided to restore it in the late 19th century. They went for a Louis IX look as imagined in the late 1800s, so how true a citadel it is now is open for debate. Nonetheless is made it on to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1997.

And I have to say I haven’t yet met a UNESCO world heritage site that I didn’t adore. No holiday is complete without one.

Citadel by night

Meanwhile in Farnham
Yesterday I went to Canary Wharf while the girls visited Sue. This morning I went to the Monochrome exhibition at the National Gallery.

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Toulouse

Toulouse 6.10pm in bedroom at Hotel Des Arts – raining, thunder, wind

Just had a long relaxing bath in a huge tub with loads of bubbles. The shower head is set about 3 feet off the ground so, despite great temperature and water pressure, the only feasible option is a bath. The hotel is rather lovely, dotted with artworks, but not pretentious – very homey and a great central location. We’re on the top floor and my room overlooks a cluster of nearby roofs, but Dad’s has a view of the rather magnificent Musee des Augustins and has a wonderful walk in shower. I have secretly given Dad the best room as a reward –there is no lift and after a very long journey to get here Dad carried both suitcases all the way up 3 flights of elegant but old and uneven stairs!

The journey to get here was very long. Don’t believe anyone who says Toulouse is only 2 hours away. Despite Carol turning up on time and not muddling up the booking, and the fastest run to Heathrow we’ve ever had, the plane ended up delayed by an hour because a woman got ill on the flight over and it was “more complicated than expected” to get whatever equipment was needed to help her before they could take her off the plane. So we didn’t get to the hotel till midnight, but with no hissy fits or panic surges and no drugs. I had my valium ready but the seats had a bit more room between them than Vueling (never flying them again) so I was absolutely fine – much to Dad’s relief. Never underestimate the importance of 3 inches.

The most dangerous part was the taxi journey. It was pouring yet he drove well over the speed limit, within a few feet of the cars ahead and worst of all kept looking at his mobile phone. I couldn’t work out what he was doing as he was fiddling with it for ages (occasionally glancing at the road ahead). I decided to focus on the road (as he was not) and be ready to yell out “Regardez!!” very loudly in French if needed. Was he trying to make a call? Or get directions? No – it appears he endangered our lives to be able to play some advert about our hotel through his phone for about 5 minutes!

So today we explored Toulouse on foot. A very attractive city with lots of interesting buildings, but remarkably deserted on a Sunday. After a quick first coffee we made our way to the town centre, Place du Capitole. The capitoules were members of the council – the ruling elite of wealthy merchants and aristocracy that led the town especially during the 16th-17th centuries when the town became very rich on woad – a blue dye for cloth. We had a late breakfast sitting outside at a café while the wind swept around us, an organ grinder played his music in one corner of the square, and very very few people were to be seen.

We then visited the town hall which overlooks the square and was filled with glorious wall paintings (don’t say the f word…) made by artists who had trained at the re-knowned Toulouse art school. These covered the walls, ceiling and staircase of the town hall with scenes from Toulousian history.

Town Hall fr…painting

We then strolled to the Basilique St-Sernin which is one of the main sites of Toulouse. They had just finished a service so it was filled with chatting people and a priest bobbing about in his vestments, and the smell of incense (which set Dad’s nose off – his worst nightmare: a religious smelly shop!!!).

The altar was consecrated in 1096 and the place was built between 1080 and the 1300s. Huge and most famous for its big collection of relics. Pilgrims would stop here on their way to Santiago de Compostela – and donate money to the church to buy and house relics.

St Roche with dog and bagel

It is in fact part of the UNESCO world heritage site of the pilgrimage route and is one of the best Romanesque churches in western Europe. It was originally built to house the relics of Toulouse’s first bishop who was put to death by the Romans by being dragged by a bull through the town.

We then went next door to the Musee St-Raymond (apparently almost all the old dukes were called Raymond), an archaeology museum about roman Tolosa. It had a beautiful collection of busts that reminded me of the collection in the Accademia in Florence – but Roman. Each face absolutely unique and realistic, though many had bits chipped and blasted off them. Although I found it interesting as Dad said once you’ve seen Pompei and Herculaneum you’re a bit spoilt for any other ancient museums.

After that we needed a break but it was along walk before we finally found a coffee shop. Sundays are notorious in Toulouse for general emptiness. We did find a wonderful bridge with a mysterious red devil statue on it – and revisited it this evening after a scrumptious meal and a bit too much rain and wine.

One of the benefits of not hiring a car…

Bob paying to get into heaven

Meanwhile in Farnham
This morning there was a fox on the terrace. Coffee went everywhere as the dogs raced to see it off. Things were so desperate that Freya even used the doggie door.

I went to the gym for the first time in three weeks on Friday. It was a bit tough. In the excitement of Bob’s Jersey adventure, I forgot to mention it.

But most importantly, I killed Christmas :

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Off to France

Mirinda and Bob left for their ten day trip in southern France today. Carol picked them up at 4:30pm so they had most of the day to faff. Actually Bob spent a lot of the day sitting in a recliner reading while Mirinda did most of the faffing.

I went shopping first thing, noticing that the building opposite Starbucks is again having work done on it.

Again?

Over the last 12 months, this place has had the insides gutted and replaced, the ground dug up and new pipes buried (this included the road being replaced as well) and, now, it seems, the outside is going to get a face-lift. As long as they leave the big ship on the small steeple, I don’t mind at all.

I realise that I’ve forgotten to report on Emily at Starbucks. Last week she asked me how Christmas had gone and I raved about Florence. She was all “Aw, I’d LOVE to go!” etc and after each of her colleagues said they’d also been, she was even more entranced.

So, I told her she should go. Just go for two days. Just her. Enjoy herself for the sake of it I told her. She was not that confident, worrying that she’d get lost and not know what to do. I told her Florence was tiny and it’s almost impossible to get lost. She remained a bit sceptical, telling me that the first time she’d gone to London unaccompanied was when she was 24.

Then, a few days later I saw her and she said she’d been about to go online and check out airfares when she suddenly realised she’d forgotten where she was going. I told her Florence but, I thought to myself, was wondering whether it was such a good idea. I told her she’d be fine with a little less enthusiasm than previously.

I await developments.

After shopping for Mirinda’s last minute things (and lunch), I returned home. It was then just a question of waiting. And reading in Bob’s case. And last minute DBA documentation for Mirinda because if anything is worth doing it’s worth doing at the last possible minute.

For lunch I shallow fried a pack of Patagonian scallops with a bit of bacon. Bob was a bit surprised. He also loved them. It’s a good job Denise wasn’t still here.

I forgot to include this photo of the lights on the trees outside the almshouses in Castle Street last Thursday. Given 12th Night has been and gone and assuming they’ll not be there any longer, I’m including it now.

That’s it for another Christmas season

To hell with the spirits living in our tree!

I don’t think pixies and witches can access my blog anyway…

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From the island

Bob returned from Jersey today. He regaled us with tales of high adventure and wild weather. Herewith, I include some of what he told us.

Because of Storm Eleanor, it would be safe to say that Bob’s trip to Jersey could have been timed a bit better. With winds reaching gusts of 80mph, it was quite difficult getting about. It’s one thing to try and walk into a wind that strong (you end up standing still) but walking with it at your back is somewhat dangerous on an island that measures only 10 miles and 5. He claimed to have seen quite a few people flying.

The size of the island is important. In area, Jersey is only around 50 square miles with a population of 100,080 – that’s 2000 people per square mile. Compare this with the Isle of Man which is around 221 square miles with only 83,737 people – 379 people per square mile. Which means you can hardly turn around on Jersey without touching another person.

(The comparison with the Isle of Man is relevant because of the many similarities between the two. It’s also relevant because I’ve been to the Isle of Man and can visualise it.)

It would appear that everyone on Jersey owns at least four cars and drives them all at the same time. According to Bob, peak hour starts and finishes at the same time every day having lasted 24 hours. This makes life quite difficult when you consider that the roads are either narrower than any normal car or one way and turning around is going to be next to impossible.

Mapping appears to be a problem on Jersey. The map that Bob had only showed a few of the streets (all French), was not to scale and featured mythical beasts in the corners. He tried to use it to find the Gerald Durrell Zoo. While ultimately successful, it was fraught with wrong turnings and misdirection. He even asked a local who, like every comedy skit yokel, spoke slowly, deliberately and had no idea where it was.

The Zoo, Bob told us, is probably very good when the weather is kind. He spent a couple of hours there, one of which was spent in the main entrance building in the company of all the other visitors seeking shelter from the torrential, drenching rain. Incidentally, because of the ferocious winds, the rain was actually going sideways.

When the weather allowed some sort of visit, Bob told us that all the animals, not being as stupid as humans, were tucked up in their enclosures, nice and snug and dry…and invisible. Except for the apes who have big glass windows for seeing them in inclement weather.

If Bob had thought the driving to the zoo was difficult it was nothing compared to the diabolical one-way system of St Helier. To go right you often have to turn left; to go north you often head east…sometimes you have to do both at the same time. Rather than signposts, No Entry is painted on the roads making it difficult to work out which direction is permitted.

Generally, all the roads are narrow, making turning impossible and backwards the only direction to go. Bob said he was forced to reverse about 200 metres in one road because it just ran out, blocked at the far end by bollards. It reminded him of Mirinda’s experience with the French tractor from a few years ago.

Speaking of reversing and narrow roads…at one point Bob was driving along a narrow road with about six cars behind him when he was stopped by a Jaguar coming the other way. The Jag driver wanted Bob to reverse to a passing place but, as Bob indicated, there was no way six cars would reverse to make way for one. He sat and waited. Eventually the Jag driver managed to find his reverse gear and slowly and surely found a spot where the road was a few inches wider.

The hotel he was staying at was very comfortable and had many lounging areas. As it turned out, this was extremely handy given he spent most of his three days inside due to the weather. When he did go out it was generally only as far as the front door because the heavens would open and the deluge would recommence as soon as he left any form of shelter.

The hotel was almost opposite Elizabeth Castle which sits off the main island. At low tide, it is within wading distance – or so it’s claimed. Bob ummed and ahhed a bit finally deciding not to wade out to it given the storm induced 25 metre waves, gale force winds and flying debris.

Speaking of flying…Bob didn’t see any birds on Jersey. That isn’t to say that there are no birds on Jersey, rather more that Storm Eleanor had blown them to France.

This makes it sound like he didn’t enjoy himself on Jersey but, he assured us, it was an adventure just not what he’d been expecting. He also advised us against hiring a car if we go, suggesting the buses were a lot better with the advantages of getting the right of way everywhere, not having to reverse and knowing where they were going…most of the time. He also said our marriage wouldn’t survive it.

I should add that everything I’ve written is 100% true and not embellished in the least. Also, the car hire guy could do with a lesson in directions.

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