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  • Be Nice to your Holiday Crocs.

    Inflatable

    The last day on the beach – deflating the inflatables – those inflatable objects and animals that have been purchased for the purpose of floating around in the sea. Those airbeds, dolphins, crocodiles that dad has blown up until his lungs almost exploded. I know (we say it every year) Next year we’ll bring a pump (but we never do) and as dad first struggles to find the air intake and then spend around twenty minutes with a small rubber tube in his mouth trying to blow life into a PVC crocodile, the kids stand round impatiently, screaming for their new rubber friend. Ah yes it all looks very clumsy, very perverse, but you are on the beach. Having inflated a good few floating friends in my time, it makes me wonder why anyone would actually bother with one of those inflatable sex toy dolls.

    Plastic Croc

    This year’s fashionable beach inflatable was an unfeasibly large crocodile. The beach was infested by lurid green, grinning inflatable crocs. As I surveyed the hordes of crocs lying in the sun, I wondered just how many would make it home to spend all year, lurking sad, lifeless, airless and crumpled in the darkest recesses of a cupboard? How any will simply “die” on the beach? Deflated and binned after use so they don’t have to be carried home. There’s enough “rubbish” in the car already without adding more.

    Crocs go home

    Binned Croc

    Hey folks. Be kind your crocs. You have bought them, given them life, loved them, played with them, and perhaps even given them names. They have become a full member of your holiday family. Wash them down; deflate them slowly (without stamping on them). Fold them up with love and take them home. Treat your croc well and he (or she) will be there for you next year. An inflatable crocodile is not just for the holidays, it is for life. I might just start a campaign to save holiday crocs.

  • Floating around with the Garlic Whale

    On the Beach

    Summer time and the living is easy, unless you are looking for a place on the beach to unfurl your towel and soak up the sun.

    It’s been a long year and we all deserve our place in the sun. Of course, if you want sun, you head south and everyone heads south – hundreds of thousands of people from all over Europe, pouring into that small corner of South Eastern France – the Côte d’Azur. That part of Mediterranean coastline stretching from the outskirts of Toulon up to the Italian border.

    Day One

    On the beach, and I am Lucky enough to find a few square feet to unfurl my towel, lie on the sand and enjoy a nap. I am rudely awakened by the guttural elastic sounds of Dutch people. I wake I have been besieged by a large tribe of them. When the French go to the beach, they tend to be fairly minimalist. When the Dutch hit the beach, they bring tons of beach essentials – parasols, cool boxes, numerous inflatable’s. They are like a small army on the march. To help their logistical operation, many Dutch carry their beach kit in trolleys. Surrounded by Dutch. I really should move, but I was here first and in true Rupert Brooke style – there is a corner of a foreign beach that is forever England.

    Beach bum

    Day Two

    Time to unleash my flesh on an unsuspecting world. However, over this past year, my middle age spread has spread yet again. I am now what could be termed as flabby. This is the Côte d’Azur where every male is some kind of tanned and sculpted Adonis. I’m scared to take off my T-shirt. On a stroll along the beach though I observe very few « Chippendales » but plenty of flabby blokes grilling red like sides of beef roasting in the sun. It seems at St Tropez that fat is fashionable. Time to rip off the T-shirt and get grilling.

    Day Three

    Once again besieged by a Dutch tribe, airbeds, parasols and their own garden furniture. I move down the beach next to a hoard of Brits. They spend the afternoon drink vast quantities of chilled rosé wine in the hot glaring, blazing sun. It is over 30°c. I suppose this is a case of « mad dogs and Englishmen ».

    Day Four

    We are camped next to a group of French youngsters, who spend the afternoon « groping » each other.

    Love o the beach

    Day Five

    Strolling along the beach. Close to the water’s edge mums and dads are building sandcastles for disinterested children and, when mum gets bored, dad carries on. I too would like to build a sandcastle, but my daughter has passed the age of raising towers and now merely raises her eyebrows in nonchalant disdain when I suggest some construction activity. All males possess a sandcastle gene, which is activated during the first throes of holiday fatherhood – but as our kids grow out the sandcastle phase, we never lose it. Guess I’ll just have to wait to be a grandfather and build castles with my grandchildren.

    Day Six

    The garlic whale is back. I call her the garlic whale. A rather large French woman who stinks of garlic. She floats around on an airbed, and as I splash around, however much I try to avoid her, she always seems to catch me up and then float around me, wafting her garlicky whiff. Today is particularly bad, as I am surrounded by her entire family. No matter where I swim to, they are always there.

    Day Seven

    As we prepare to leave, the beach is people with new arrivals. White like aspirin and covered in layers of factor 50 sun cream. There is a very military-looking French gent, distributing metal spades to his four children. They all line up, and at the command « shoulder spades », they all march down to the beach. Mum follows up behind carrying a cool box and a parasol. I don’t want to o home. I want to buy a real metal spade and stay here all day building a sandcastle.

  • I Like Melvis Wesley

    Melvis Wesley

    He looks like Elvis (more or less). He sounds like Elvis (just about), but it ain’t Elvis. Meet Melvis Wesley – one of the many Elvis impersonators who eke out an existence in summer by entertaining the happy campers in camping sites all along the French Riviera.

    Somehow, campsites and Elvis impersonators just don’t seem to go with the traditional image of the French Riviera – Aristocratic Englishmen and their ladies in flowing silks and summer suits, strolling along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice or all the world’s film stars jetting into Cannes for the film festival. Brigitte Bardot in St Tropez or quite simply those places of Riviera legend where, long before the age of mass tourism rich Brits and Parisians would hang out for the summer in Menton or Ramatuelle or Monaco.

    Oh dear, Monaco. High-rise apartment blocks as far as the eye can see. Yacht jams in the port. One measly beach BUT not a millionaire in sight – its all day-trippers, happy campers, bawling kids covered in ice cream, fat Germans in football shorts and tight shorts, huffing, puffing, heaving and sweating their way up the stairs to the Palace – and when you get there? – Sorry Prince Albert, but the whole place looks like it has been built from Marzipan. The Grimaldi’s palace is large house guarded by one sad soldier who looks like a Playmobil figure. But you haven’t come here for the palace. You want to see Grace Kelly – erm; you’re standing on her. Yes, she’s under that slab in the floor of he church. I know. You were expecting some kind of shrine.

    No the Riviera is not what it was. Far from exclusive – it is now very inclusive, all-inclusive to the point of being universal. Everyone wants their slice of Riviera. Everyone wants to spread their towel out on the beach at St Tropez, everyone wants a deckchair in Nice – but there just isn’t the room. The French Riviera is heaving. The French Riviera is popular. The French Riviera is every available inch of viable land turned into sprawling campsites or Jerry built holiday villages. The French Riviera is everyone looking for their slice of old world exclusivity. The French Riviera is just one vast summer refugee camp peopled with happy campers who want to say that they have been on holiday to the French Riviera. The French Riviera is trying to fit a Rolling Stones concert or a Super Bowl final into your back yard.

    There is this word in French « populaire » Nowadays it is misused in the English sense of popular, meaning that loads of people all like something at the same time. Applied in its true French sense though, « populaire » means of the people for the people – well, the Riviera is « populaire » - all cramped campsites, beaches thick with northern and eastern European flesh busy roasting in the sun, and, to keep the people happy, well, there are errant Elvis impersonators, magicians, ersatz Moulin Rouge Feather and boa topless dance troops and … well all the popular crap to keep people happy.

    There was a time when only people with time and the money to afford time could manage a holiday on the French Riviera, but in the sixties, with full employment and index-linked salaries, all the workers and plebs climbed into their family cars and chugged down to the Riviera in search of that holiday existence only previously enjoyed by the rich. And to accommodate them all, what better than campsites?

    So, I am proud to admit that I am a true Pleb, enjoying a pleb holiday on a sprawling refugee camp/campsite on the Gulf of St Tropez. I like, I even love my mediocrity in the sun. I like the Elvis impersonator. I love the fat German tourists. I love the wall-to-wall anorexic Russian and Polish girls on the beach, rubbing in their cooking oil and laying out their tea towels. I like eating my full English breakfast early in the morning at the beach café whilst reading my English newspaper and staring out across at St Tropez. I love the « populaire ».

    I’m not sure of the original purpose of this post, BUT, if you want an authentic posh French beach holiday, nowadays you have to head for the Atlantic coast where it is all Espadrilles, and stripy Breton fisherman’s sweaters. You don’t go to swim but, hop about in rock pools, build sandcastles, take long bike rides and just paddle in the shallows with your Chinos rolled above your knees. Now I’ve never been to New England, but this all sounds very Martha’s Vineyard (of which the French equivalent is the Ile de Ré), whilst the French Riviera is now a down market Copacabana.

    Oh dear.

    No matter, in two days I am off to the Riviera because there is guaranteed sunshine, warm seas and I also kind of like this Pleb side to the holidays, because after years of trying to be a writer and an artist, I have finally worked out I’m a pleb I like Melvis Wesley and I’m very happy that way.

  • Pimp my Mobile (Home)

    Yes, this is perverse, but I am fascinated by mobile homes. (Oh what a sad bastard I am. But I suppose it beats angling and car tuning) Read on for mobile home meanderings.

    Remember Big Brother ? That awful Reality TV show that darkened our screens during the Noughties. The concept was simple. Take a gaggle of publicity-seeking morons, lock them in a confined space for three months and then broadcast their antics on prime time TV. Drinking, smoking, swearing, arguments, sex … then every week ask the participants to nominate two or three of their number for «éjection » and then ask the TV audience to ring in and « save » the least awful of the would-be has-beens.

    A holiday in a mobile home is not unlike Big Brother – take six or eight people (depending on the capacity of the mobile home) and shove them in a confined space for two weeks and then watch as the stresses and strains of close quarters family holiday living take their toll.

    Your average mobile home (what the Americans might refer to as a trailer home) provides 24 to 28 square metres of living space. It is a flimsy wood and plastic construction that will probably just about stand a light shower or a summer breeze, but were there any serious huff and puff, it would collpase. Looking at some mobile homes you are prone to wonder if the first two little pigs were not working on the design team.

    The mobile home has one distinct advantage over other caravans and many motorhomes – the designers have put in « bedrooms » – small spaces sectioned off by plastic « walls ». There are doors to enter and exit the room, however, when the mobile home shifts a little, it’s not sure that the door will actually fit back into its original « hole ». However unbedroom-like these minsicule bedrrroms might be, they are important because they give the occupants some form of seperate living space from the other occupants. Your average mobile home will have two bedrooms – a twin and a double –though in bigger models (32 square metres plus) you get three bedrooms

    location-de-mobil-home-dans-le-var

    In addition to your 28 square metres of living space, the site owners generously add an 8 square metre covered wooden terrace/outside dining area. A very useful place to cool off after a blazing family row, when other family members are busy sulking in their bedrooms.

    Having described the mobile home layout, you may wonder why anyone in their right mind would :

    1 Rent one or their holiday.
    2 Seriously consider buying one.

    To answer the first question, in terms of space, durability and comfort – the mobile home is better than a tent. It also offers more room than a caravan or camper van (American readers might refer to the latter as a motorhome or even a recreational vehicle)

    Of course, here I am speaking from a European persepctive. Our European camper vans are quite small affairs compared to American motorhomes. However even if an American motorhome might fit on European roads, it sure as hell won’t fit on your standard European camp site.

    The mobile home phenomenon now appears to have peaked. In the mid Noughties however, there were entire campsites that gave all their emplacements over to mobile homes, leaving no space for traditional canvas campers.

    From the North to the south of France, prices for one week’s stay in a mobile home range from 500€ up to 1900€. For 500€ you’ll get a week on a campsite near Calais on the Channel coast. On site facilities wil be basic – a bar cum restaurant, a simple campsite shop and a games room (ping pong table in a large garage). For 1900 Euros – a kind of ersatz, Tahitian, luxury mobile home love nest. Welcome to the world of Custom Mobile Homes.

    Pimp your ride. Take a bog standard family saloon. Tune it, re- tweak it, paint it up, dress it up. Add spoilers, aerofoils, chrome exhausts, enough headlights to light up a medium sized-provincial airport and a sound system so loud that I can hear you thumping out techno beats several streets away – well however good (or stupid) your car now looks, it is still a Ford Mondeo, in fact it looked better before.

    So, pimp my mobile home. First buy a mobile home and then do it up outside to look like some kind of Bora Bora beach hut – right down to the thatched roof. When the outside is done, star ripping up the inside. Tear down the walls, install a jaccuzi, a king sized double bed. Deck the place out in tasteful Tahitian décor and charge almost four times the price of a bog standard mobile home on the site in Calais.

    Unknown

    Unknown-1

    Tropical mobile homes are confined to certain sites on the French Riviera. Two or four berth, they most my seem to be rented by Brits and Germans (perhaps the only people who can afford them). Of course no matter how exotic your mobile home, it is still a mobile home and it is still sandwiched, cheek by jowl, up against similar mobile homes and why, for the sale kind of money don’t you rent a holiday cottage or an apartment.

    Now I come to the next question. If holiday rental companies and campsite owners are charging so much for mobile homes, why not just buy your own ?

    I saw an ad recently « Own your own mobile home for under 100 Euros a month » (99 Euros to be exact) Sounds a good deal BUT, once you have bought the mobile home, you have to find somewhere to put it. Yeah, mobile does not mean mobile unless you have your own massive semi trailer / tank transporter to take the mobile home where you want it to be. You also have to find a site that will take your mobile home.

    Most mobile homes are sold already on site. All plumbed in, plugged in on their own prim proper neat little emplacement – LOVELY … BUT BUT BUT – a word of warning. The site owner has invested in several mobile homes and then flogged them off to private individuals – it is now your home on someone’s site. If one day the owner decides that he wants to move your home to different part of the site ? If he decides that all mobile homes will now have blue shuuters instead of green or red imitation tile roofs ? What if the owner simply decides that he just doesn’t want anymore mobile homes on his site ? Well, either you comply with the owner’s wishes or you leave the site. No, buying your own mobile home is a con. Many campsite owners with permanent homes like to « replace » their homes after five years – meaning they do a massive buy back of existing homes and oblige owners to buy a new home if they wish to stay on the site. The price you get is never the same as the price you paid. Of course, you still own your mobile home, so you can unplumb it and unplug it and arrange for transport to another site – that’s expensive.

    Transport

    51670043_PVI_0001_HOME

    By way of info, prices for a decent mobile home start at around 40,000€ for a 20 metre square 4 to 6 berth home. Add the this the cost of installation on the site of your choice – a one of fee ranging Fromm 500€ to 2000€. Of course, your mobile home is on a campsite, therfore you have to ay site rental – anything up to 5000€ per year. Of cousre you want to make money on your mobile home, so you will rent it out as much as possible, paying a commission to the site owner for each booking and of course, you are going to rent it out all summer, meaning that you are not going to go when you want to go. Add to this repairs and upkeep of your emplacement and any other requsets from the site owner such as changing the colour of your shutters or adding new decking or … You are better off buying an apartment by the sea. And finally if you do choose to move your mobile home, count 2000€ for transport and of course you have to find a site who will want to take your home.

    Hey, just buy a motor home. If all else fails, you can still use it as a replacement for the family car.

    So tomorrow, I will take you to a posh campsite on the French Riviera complete with toilet blocks built in the style of Egyptian temples and Elvis Presley impersonators.

  • Incestuous Camping

    Holidays in France.

    Chances are you’ve come for a couple of weeks by the sea, possibly staying in a rented mobile home on a vast campsite just a few yards from the beach –

    Oh dear. It all sounds very downmarket.

    I imagine hundreds of mobile homes, cheek-by-jowl, in a field that is actually a very long walk from the nearest accessible beach.

    I imagine a sprawling campsite, not unlike a refugee camp with water points and washing blocks. A campsite shop that looks more like a food distribution centre and mobile homes and caravans in incestuous proximity. Open your toilet window for a view of next-door’s BBQ area. We are so close that we can shake hands bedroom-to-bedroom with the neighbours. We can share in all those high-tension holiday feelings that come with close quarters living and the general stress of actually being on holiday. We are so close, that even the hushed, late night conversation next door might have you calling up the local branch of the Noise Abatement Society.

    Curious is it not. We work hard all year for our place in the sun and year on year, we pay our hard-earned money to go and live in a space that is barely bigger than the spare bedroom. We live on mosquito-infested campsites, sharing every waking minute with total strangers. We try not to stare at the family across the way having breakfast. We try our hardest to greet everyone that passes by as we sit out on our small terrace, and as we pass by, we try not to stare. BUT we are CURIOUS. We really DO want to know how the other happy campers spend their lives. We have temporarily joined this ephemeral summer campsite community. We might merely be camper vans that pass in the night, but we like to know about our neighbours. GOD FORBID though that we actually try and get to know them.

    Perhaps French campsites are not like those in other countries. To start with we don’t say campsite but “un camping” and even that is going out of fashion as the humble “camping” becomes “Un hotel de plein air”(An Open Air hotel) Inspired by Club Med you can’t go camping now if your site doesn’t have a couple of swimming pools, several bars and restaurants, a mini shopping mall, a gym, beauty salon, watersports and above all – nightly entertainment to keep the punters happy. An exaggeration? – well many camp sites might not all have the gym or the beauty parlour, but they’ve got the rest

    Ah for those campsites of old – a far-flung field with a wash block like something out of a gulag and a basic campsite shop and nothing to do in the evenings other than sit round the gas lamp, fight off the mosquitoes, read a book, play a board game and then retire to your flimsy creaking camp bed at some unfeasibly early hour when most people would just be thinking of going out for the night, but you are camping you poor bastard. You are in the middle of nowhere and once it is dark there is nothing to do but go to bed.

    Of old campsites used to be fields in the country or fields by the sea. Some canny farmer with a spot of land would install a few chemical loos and water points and open a campsite. And then holidays got expensive. Those nice little cottages or apartments by the sea started to cost serious money, so everyone went camping, but people wanted all those services on a campsite that they might get in a holiday apartment. Washing machines, dishwashers, satellite TV, BBQ areas and above all they wanted something to do – bars, restaurants, shopping ; entertainment – and so the luxury campsite was born. Pitch your tent at near camping prices but with electricity, wifi, on site everything and more besides – Hey, once you have got here, you want all your creature comforts but you still want camping prices.

    I suppose the evolution to “camping resorts” started in the mid 90’s when real holiday rentals got too expensive and we all went camping to save money but stim wanted all the materiel comforts of a real holiday resort.

    As things stand in France, you can still pitch your tent in a rural campsite for as little as 5 Euros a night. You might get some very basic gulag-style washing and toilet facilities but above that that there is nothing. OR you can go for the upper end of the market – glamorous camping or “glamping” with a mobile home rental (wifi, aircon, washing machine, TV, shower, separate bedrooms, microwave) for ….

    Well it all depends where you go. On the northern coasts of France you’ll be paying 500€ to 750€ a week in high season (14/07 to 15/08) down south in the Gulf of St Tropez, a mobile home will set you back 1500€ a week. So, you know where I go and I am seriously looking at my holiday strategy. BUT, I get a lot for my money.

    So, time to sign off for tonight, because I have to confirm my last minute “Luxury Holiday Lodge” reservation (because that is what a mobile home is now called.)

  • If It’s Tuesday, We are Chinese.

    France is the world’s number one tourist destination. 83 million foreign visitors in 2013. I suppose I should feel lucky living in a country that everyone else associates with holidays. I don’t have to pay to come here. I already live here.

    Living in a place where everyone else wants to come on holiday. I once asked a friend from Nice where he went on holiday. «Paris» came the reply. Come summer all the Parisians are in Nice so that’s the best time to visit Paris. It’s a common trend – us provincial types who love Paris whilst harbouring litte affection for the Parisians themselves. It is of course reciprocal. Parisians often loathe and despise «les provinciaux» we’re just all a little too hick and uncouth for their liking – mud on our boots, spit and saw dust, hillbillies, bumpkins … most modern Parisians though, have provincial roots, obliged to leave their deepest France and head to the capital tor work or studies, it would eem though, that once they hit Paris, they adopt big city atitudes and behaviour.

    Not for me to dwell on the Paris/provincial divide, but rather to offer up reasons why people might actually want to come to France. Of those 83 million tourists, there are quite a few short stays – a day in Paris as part of a European tour. We used to mock the Americans for the «whistle stop tours» of Europe «If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium.» – the title of a 1969 US made comedy starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian MacShane – «A bumbling group of American tourists wend their way through Europe with one comic episode after another» – the blurb from the Yaho Movies website – Yes, the Yanks used to do all of Europe in under two weeks, and all us Europeans would scoff and haughtily mock our American friends How acn you cobver Europe in under two weeks? There is just so much … and now, we all head for the States, a few days here, a week there, a fortnight driving coast, a stopover in Vegas, a short sojourn in New York and we have «done» America. I’ve spent 25 years living in France and I still haven’t «done» France, though I have «done» places in a tourist mode.

    The Americans have in recent times been replaced by the Chinese. They spend even less time in France. A day in Paris that’s it!- A bus trip round the capital, followed by a quick trip up the Eiffel tower in the morning. lunch in a traditional French bistrot. A tour round the Palace of Versailles and then back to Paris for shopping. Where there used to be «English spoken here» it is now all in Chinese. Saunter into of any of the major Paris department stores and everything is written up in Chinese. At the Galleries Lafayettes, Chinese tourists even have their own specific entarnce, peopled with Chinese speaking guides, a bureau for currency exchange, an office to redeem ant duty free advantages and security guards – Cassius Clay/Mike Tyson-style security guards who hang in droves around the Chinese tourist buses to ensure that our oriental friends don’t get beaten up and robbed. Well, the Chinese don’t have credit cards so they carry their hoilday ealth in cash. Your average Chinese tourist is reckoned to be carrying around 2000€ to 5000€ in readies. This makes him or er an excellent taregt for the gangs of Romanian hoodlums that are curently roaming the streets of Paris. In a country where the average grooss national monthly wage is just around 2000 Euros, of you mug a Chinese touritst it is payday and more; Restassured, we don’t mug Americans tourists because they all have credit cards.

    So, if this is Tuesday we must be in Belgium because most of the major Paris tourisr attractions (unless the personnel are on strike) are actually closed on a Tuesday – and I have a problem with this. In our current state-aided economy, surely, the world’s number one tourist destination, has the werewithal to create enough jobs to keep national and world famous tourist attractions open 7 days a week? Why do the Louvre Museum or the Pompidou Center close on a Tuesday (even in summer)? In any other of the world’s cultural capitals, the museums would be open all day and everyday. moral of this story, never visit Paris on a Tiesday. Okay. In the next few posts, I’m going to be concentrating on tourism in France and places to visit.

    So, if you visit anywhere in France, you’ll be quite happy. In modern and historical terms, we are the museum of the world, but there is al the stuff that the brochures never tell you, such as the lack of public toilets, the parking charges, the price of a cup of coffee and the general ethos for the Soviet style service – ah yes, service has greatly improved over the last 20 years, but visit some places in on the French Riviera ans you get a ll the charm of an East Berlin workers’ canteen (and God knows I ate in plenty of them.) Up and coming – jellyfish, dirty beaches, polluted seas, Ryssuian prostitutes – and when you have read it all, you might just stay at home.

  • Of Cheap Hotels, Romanian Builders and Spuds U Like.

    I was working away from home last week, down in the fair city of Toulouse. Home from home was a cheap hotel in the edgelands, sandwiched between the motorway, and shopping mall.

    There I was, sitting up in bed, trying to get to sleep and trying to get some sleep above the eternal din of fellow hotel guests coming and going in the wee small hours. That’s the problem with cheap hôtels. They seem to be peopled exclusively by the nation’s itinérant building workers, who in turn all seem to be swarthy romanian types with loud raucous voices and a penchant for late night drinking, arguing and noisy sex with local ladies. The regular, mechanical sounds of a little late night fling resoanting through the thin, plastic walls.

    Yes, plastic walls. You don’t get real walls for just over forty Euros a night . You don’t even get a real bedroom. The hotel is a set of pre-moulded plastic cells, bolted together one on top of the other. Apart from the bed, all the fixtures and fittings are pre-moulded into the plastic cell.

    So, there I am, trying to sleep as the Boys from Bucharest are banging away in the next room. I bang back on the walls and ask them to make a little less noise. A very muffled « Pardon monsieur » comes through the wall and a few minutes later, the banging starts again. Around 2 am, a gigling gaggle of young ladies, heavily under the influence of alcohol, clank their way down the métal stairs, more than a little unbalanced in their high heels. There are several thuds and a flurry of curses as some ladies miss their step. One girl misses the stairs altogther and rolls to the bottom, provoking loud laughter from her companions which soom turns to grunting and burping. Ah, for the charms of drunken ladies, at least they don’t piss and vomit everywhere like their male counterparts – yes some of the Boys from Bucharest are indulging in the aforementioned activities from the third floor walkway.

    I would stay somewhere decent, but my employérs only give an allowance of 40 Euros per night, which condemns me to staying in cheap hôtels that look they have been built from Mega Blocks – Lego being far too expensive.

    And come half past five, my raucous Romanians are off to work, climbing into their white transit vans. The banging of doors, the reving-up of motors and the honking of horns. I hope they exercise their building skills with more finesse. I don’t know why, but I just wouldn’t want to live in anything built by these guys.

    Erotic spud

    During the night’s noisy proceedings, I try to concentrate on something that might take my mind off the noise and even send me to sleep. At times like this, it is traditional to count sheep. I, on the other hand, am wondering, just how many ways there are to cook a potato.

    Boiled, fried, mashed, sautéd, chipped, baked … surely I’ve missed one or two. I seem to have been living off a diet of potatoes all week – at least, potatoes are always on the menu.

    That is the problem of working away from home, you have to find somewhere to eat of an evening.

    I’ve got a KFC and a number of burger outlets next to the hotel. Across the road, in a large shopping mall, there are a number of cheap family restaurants offering real food – steaks, fish, chicken ans suchlike, all served with as much veg as you can eat – except I don’t eat green beans, cauliflower or anything cabbage-based, so, I am limited to potatoes in one of their many variants – except when their are carrots or rice on the menu.

    This past potato week, has got me thinking of a few French, spud-inspired expressions.

    This last week, had I slept decently, I might have woken up in the morning bursting with energy and full of beans, although the French are full of potatoes. « J’ai la patate » (literally, I have the potato). I suppose that first thing in the morning, it is préférable to be full of potato rather than beans, though the French would also say « je pete la forme » - meaning I’m tip top, top notch, bright, bushy-tailed and just raring to go. The litéral translation of this energetic expression … « I’m farting form » which is what happens when you’re full of beans. I wonder, could all this lead to a new trend of workers breaking wind in the morning in order to impress colleagues with their high energy levels ?

    As opposed to being full of beans or potatoes, a lot of French people might say ; « J’ai la frite » - What might be misconstrued by some, as a side order of French fries for breakfast, quite simply means that – I’m full of beans, bubbling over with energy and … you’ve got the picture.

    It is Tuesday night. I’m eating in one of these self service restaurants/canteens near the in the shopping mall. I’ve got to look twice, but the guy at a nearby table is eating a huge plate of French fries and mashed potatoes. He is meticulously dipping each French Fry in the mash and then slowly nibbling each mash-covered fry with visible relish. I don’t know if he is mad. He’s certainly sort of size that you might imagine for someone who lives of a diet of Fries and mash.

    Now, you might be surpirsed to learn that the French don’t have French Fries, they just have « frites » which the Brits call chips. For the French, chips are actually potato chips, which the Brits call crisps. The French never manage to pronounce crisps as crisps, but rather as « cweesps ». When the French come to the UK an order Chips, they also have pronunciation problems. The CH of chips becomes SH and the short I sound becomes a long E sound. Hence, Chips become sheeps and so it is easier for a French tourist in Britiain to order fries, although they occasionaly pronounce fries as freeze – what the hell, all chips are frozen anyway.

    Back at the mash. The French have a potato-inspired expression to mean that one is half asleep and just a little bleary – « Je suis dans la purée » - I am in the mashed potato, which is actually a good way to sum up how I felt after several sleepless nights listening to the Boys from Bucharest while I sat counting potatoes.

  • Urine for a good drink.

    Hooray – Summer’s here and the time is right for … Well you won’t be dancing in the streets today. It’s raining. Not just a short shower or a drizzly interlude NO, this is real rain. Thick, thudding non-stop rain. Massive drops that fall and explode on you like miniature water bombs. Veritable cats and dogs, though in France, the locals prefer to say, it is « pissing like a cow » - though I have never seen a cow pissing at close quarters and I have no intention of ever getting close enough to witness bovine golden showers.

    So, I used the golden shower motif with some reservation, and in a check on the Internet to see if there weren’t some people turned on by watching cows wee, I found this on a website – an old post dating from 2009 about a drink made from recently passed and sacred bovine waters.

    New soft drink to be made from cow wee.

    A hard-line Hindu organisation, known for its opposition to "corrupting" Western food imports, is planning to launch a new soft drink made from cow's urine, often seen as sacred in parts of India.

    The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, said the bovine beverage is undergoing laboratory tests for the next 2 to 3 months but did not give a specific date for its commercial release.

    http://www.dreamindemon.com

    Urine drinking (Yuck). However, there are certain religious sects in India where members drink their own urine, and I have also found plenty of articles on the Internet from people who extol the health virtues of urine drinking – such as this «glamorous » 63 year-old woman who drink a pint of her own urine everyday. (follow the link)

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2440150/Drinking-pint-urine-day-keeps-young-And-delicious-Glamorous-mother-Sylvia-Chandler-63-tells-Closer-revolting-beauty-secret.html

    Or what about this couple?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2539805/Its-like-energy-drink-The-couple-drink-URINE-health-reasons-downed-shot-live-TV.html

    Is their any coincidence that both of these articles appeared in the Daily Mail? Are there urine drinkers amongst the newspaper’s journalists?

    Oh dear, all these people taking the piss – literally. It brings me to the subject of my elderly neighbours, who have just returned from a fortnight of « taking the waters » - two weeks « detox » in a regional spa town.

    As keen gardeners, no sooner had my neighbours returned in the early afternoon, than they were out tending their vegetable garden. A couple of hours later, Madame came round and offered us some homegrown cucumbers and a couple of large marrows.

    Now, though Madame may not do her bodily doings in the garden, I know for a fact, that Monsieur, when caught short, is not averse to exercising his excremental necessities on his compost heap. Many times we’ve caught him readjusting his trousers after a short squat on the compost. OH YUCK, we’re eating veg that this guy has S*** on. Yeah, but my neighbour only eats his own veg and then craps it all back on the compost heap. This is true recycling. This really is organic. And the veg tastes great.

    I thought that it was only my elderly neighbour doing this. However in chats with other vegetable growing types, I have found that many of them are prone to an occasional and discreet dump on the compost heap. It’s as good as manure and its home produced, though I am reliably informed that the quality of one’s personal manure is only as good as the quality of one’s diet. So, be careful what you eat before you excrete at the end of your garden.

    Of course these excrementory escritoires and scatological scribbling , were not the initial intended content of this post. I was merely going to write about the weather

  • Tourist Tax Rise/Pay Less, Stay at Home

    The first weekend of summer. School is out and it is time to hit the road for the long, fraught and congested drive to the beach.

    This summer roughly 42% of the French will actually take a summer holiday – two thirds of holiday makers will be heading for the sea for an average of 10 to 12 days. The average family holiday budget this year is a little over 1300 Euros – the equilivalent to a month’s net salary for a factory worker or a clerk.

    Fewer and fewer people taking holidays. It’s a far cry form the seventies and eighties when most French families would have a week’s skiing in winter and two or three weeks by the sea in summer . Well, holidays are just too expensive nowadays. Take your family camping on the shores of the Mediterranean for a week and you’ll be spending up to 500 Euros to pitch your tent, and over 1000 Euros for an on site mobile home or caravan. Silly money.

    The price of holidays is reckoned to go up on average by 100 Euros per year. Last week though, a government anouncement on a sudden increase in the rates of the Taxe de Séjour willmean an unexpected and unwelcome holiday price hike for everyone.

    The « taxe de séjour » (tourist tax) is levied locally on all tourists (French and Foreign). On top of their holiday bill, tourists pay a tax of 1.50€ per day per person, to local authorities for the time they are staying at their holiday destination. Kids under 13 are exempt from the tax. Therefore, a family with a couple of teenage kids will pay an extra 6 euros per day for every day of their stay – meaning an extra 80 Euros or so on top of the existing holiday bill. The money levied is used by resorts to help finance extra seaonal demands placed on local infrastructures by the influx of summer vacationers.

    Just last week, the government announced a massive hike in the seasoanl tourist tax from the seemingll meagre 1.50 Euros to a massive 8 Euros, though a government spokesman later sought to calm the ensuing public outcry by saying that 8 Euros was simply a maximum limit to which local authorities could eventually raise their local tourist tax. Reports suggest that the autghorities in some ressorts will merely double or triple the existing rate, meaning that tourists will only pay between 3 Euros and 4.50 Euros per day per pesron for this year’s summer break – but imagine our family of four – mum, dad and two teenage kids over the age of 13 – this means depending on the increase, an extra 168€ to 250€ on the price of a fortnight’s holiday. Indignant screams and howls fromall wners of holiday accommodation from B&B’s to campsite and hôtels. Also cries of anguish from restaurant owners. Who’s going to take their family out for a holiday meal that might cost around 15 to 20 Euros a head, when they are going to face a whacking tourist tax rise ?

    The minsiter who announced the tourist tax rise was more than unfortunate in his choice of wording, when he said that Rich Russian tourist staying in five star hôtels on the Côte d’Azur would hardly notice the change. He is probably right, however, middle income familles will certainly feel the impact of any rise on their already tight holiday budgets. So, less eating out, fewer visits, holiday spending will probably be trimmed down to the last ice cream .

    Hey, why not just stay at home ? Why pay two lots of tax ? I mean not only xwill you still be paying rent, rates, council tax and so forth on your empty house while you are away, you will also be paying the tourist tax on holiday for the privilège of living somewhere else. That’s mad. So stay home. Sit in the garden. Catch up on some sleep. Catch up on all those odd jobs you’ve been putting off all year. Do local visits to those places you never visit because they are local. Be a staycationer – Yes, that is this year’s big, stylish holiday trend. Stay at home.

  • Sporting Weekend

    Possibly the biggest sporting weekend of the summer. The soccer World Cup grinds on in Brazil. However since The French team were knocked out on Friday, the nation seems to have lost interest in the world’s greatest footballing event. The French now have their sporting sights firmly set on the Tour De France which pedalled off from Leeds on July 5th –

    Yes it may seem curious that the greatest cycle race in France, and indeed the world, should start in Britian, but over the years, the Tour de France has started in Belgium, Switzerland and even Holland. To call it a « tour » de France would be slightly misleading. The Tour never actually goes right round France. The 200 or so cyclists normally pedal their way down one side of the country before huffing and puffing their way up the slopes of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Finally all the participants hop on a train and are shunetd off to Paris for the final stage on the Chmaps Elysées. I daresay that if the Tour de France actually went round the whole of France, it would take far longer than the two and a half weeks that it already takes.

    The Tour de France is a sure sign that summer is here. Those who opted for an early July getaway will be sitting in their hôtels and campsites watching the Tour everyday throughout the afternoon. Those still working will either have a TV in the office to watch the race, or they’ll try to get off work early to get home and see it on TV.

    This year’s tour has a « commemerative » flavour, taking in some towns synonymous with the great battles of the First World War – Arras, Ypres (Belgium) and Reims.

    Other big sporting évents that I am missing whilst writing this post

    The Wimbledon mens’ singles final. Well I’m not a great tennis fan. I’ve never understood the appeal of spending hours watching two blokes slamming a balla round a tennis court. It’s the same with motor racing. This weekend is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. This has as much interest for me as tennis – watching cars drive as they speed round a racing circuit, burning up vast quantities of expensive fuel. So, some people like it.

    And here is the great sporting event that no one seems to have noticed – the World Pétanque championships in Marseilles in the south of France. For those unfamiliar with this most gallic of games, the principle is quite simple. Teams of two or three people hurl métal balls at a wooden jack. The team with it balls closest to the jack wins. This is the one game that every French man, woman and child will have played at least once in their lives, and the beauty is that you can play it pretty much anywhere – a piece of dry, dusty wasteground perhaps being the best (yes, I wouldn’t advise you to play this on grass or concrete. Here is the other beauty of the game, from big cities to the farthest flung and smallest village, there are Pétanque grounds everywhere – well this isn’t like British Crown Green Bowling, where you need a manicured lawn and unlike British bowls, there is no strict dress code – shorts and flip flops are fine.

    thumb-le-mondial-la-marseillaise-a-petanque-565.gif

    So, this weekend in Marseilles, over 12000 players from 17 nations are bowling it out for 150,000 Euros in prize money – for sure you’d make more as a tennis player a Formula One driver or even a Tour de France rider, but the beauty of Pétanque is that it doesn’t suffer from the media hype associated with all the aformentioned sports, furthermore, anyone and everyone cab take part in the Pétanque World Championships. Just pre-register on Internet, turn up with your « boules » and wait for the draw. Simplicity itself. Of course, you’re better playing pétanque than watching it. In Spectator terms it is possibly just as boring as tennis and Formula One. With the Tour de France TV coverage, at least you get to see some of the stunning French countryside.

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