Spring cleaning

Another good, albeit slow day.

We rose late (that sounds like the opening line of a Victorian novel). About nine o’clock late. I actually woke then, which is the latest I’ve woken for as long as I can remember. This is not through idleness, although it could be the sign of ageing, it’s just the way things are. We are staying up much later than normal – I used to be in bed by about ten and up at work (yes, sad old me) at about 7.15 even at school – and last night after reading it was nearly midnight by the time we called it a day. Unlike Margaret Thatcher we both need our sleep and in a very good bed with great black out blinds, we sleep like hedgehogs.

the running lake - it's actually an inlet, the sea's at the end

the running lake – it’s actually an inlet, the sea’s at the end

We breakfasted, I went over the half of a chapter I had written the night before and then we cycled into town for a coffee and some forward planning. We thought it was going to be warm, but a nippy northerly wind put paid to any chance of us feeling like we ought to be wearing our birthday clothes. Still we had coffee outside and started to plan our trip back the UK (which has a surprise timing twist, but we’re keeping that quiet at the moment) and are already looking forward to a bit of British normalness. Stand by TK Maxx and Morrisons we’re on our way!

We have a long list of stuff we need to do, like doctors, dentists, (for us and Doris), work on property as well as seeing friends and family. And we have to see one or two folk we have either met en route, or electronically. So that something to look forward to.

Back at Doris, after lunch, we gave Doris a pretty good spring clean, including removing both the main mattress and the topper and cleaning underneath. I have her a cat’s lick on the outside and whilst I ran round the lake again (about 4.5 miles) C finished off. Whilst she ran I completed Chapter Seventeen, so I already have one in the bank, and will start Eighteen tomorrow. I am confident that if we were static in some little cottage somewhere I’d have it finished by now.

mattresses out, C in...

mattresses out, C in…

Supper – I haven’t mentioned that for a while – was a lovely moussaka and did some admin and watched some TV.

Moving on today to one of three ACSI campsites just up the road. The washing mountain is due an avalanche….

Have a great Thursday.

Not like Norfolk at all…

Everything that could conspire in our favour surprisingly did just that yesterday. We took the bikes out for a meander around the houses expecting overcast weather, but were met by a very excitable Mrs Sun, and whilst she couldn’t banish the wind to someone else’s horizon she did a good job of making our day fun.

like Norfolk?

like Norfolk?

If you don’t know the southern French Atlantic Coast, think Norfolk on steroids. Of course if you don’t know Norfolk then my comparison will be lost on you. It’s one long beach bounded by sand dunes, some of them as big as a skyscraper and then held together by the biggest pine forest you can think of. Down this end it’s also interspersed with quite magnificent holiday resorts, fabulous Augusta like golf courses, inner lakes, or etangs, and some of the smartest, bespoke homes you can imagine. There are lots of red and white chalets in the Basque style, but also modern pieces with huge windows and just as enormous prices. So, actually, completely unlike Norfolk at all.

Augusta style golf courses

Augusta style golf courses

We braved the Atlantic Coast and then cycled inland to the imaginatively named Lac Blanc, which has a smaller sister called, wait for it, Lac Noir. They are, of course, both bluey grey, and in among the pine trees they are a fine place for a picnic.

the not so Lac Noir

the not so Lac Blanc

On the way back in (after which C ran and I skipped) we foraged at Intermarche where I got talking to an elderly dude about cars. He was driving, and was v precious about, his Black Mk 3 MX5. He’s an ex-teacher but was proud to tell me he’d previously owned three Porches: a Boxster, a 911 and latterly a Cayman, which he loved but in the end as a retiree couldn’t afford. We owned a Mk 2 MX5 and also loved it….so I’m guessing he was right to say that the Mk3 is a particularly good driver’s car.

elderly dude and his MX5

elderly dude and his MX5

The photo of the green racing 911 below was just one I happened to come across in a carpark on our journey round and about yesterday. So lots of cars for me then. I’ve also added an original Citroen Diane a bit like my mate JS used to drive when we were studying for our degree.

Mmmm

Mmmm

John's car?

John’s car?

Got half of Chapter Seventeen done and will finish that today. At this rate I will be an author by next weekend. Yippee!

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Have a good Wednesday.

A one photo post…

It’s a single picture day for the blog today. That’s because yesterday was rather overtaken by the events of huge rain, a tricky negotiation around Biarritz and, eventually, a lovely brand new Aire which has showers and everything in the pine trees just off the Atlantic Coast for just €6 a night.

just the one picture today

just the one picture today

Here’s the thing. How come there are so many of us? It was reasonably quite in the middle bit of France, but for the past three days I reckon one in every ten vehicles is a motorhome. Most are French – who’s running the country and performing open heart surgery if all the older people are off spending their children’s inheritance? And they do like to congregate. The previous two nights have been on carparks, ok in attractive enough places, where we are sardined in next to each like we were long lost pals. The place we almost stayed in last night at St-Jean-du-Luz was an eight camper Aire between the railway and a major road where, if we had stayed, we would have struggle to open up our habitation door. So the seaside town looked lovely, but the intended hotel was rubbish. We didn’t stay.

So we moved on from the bottom west bit of France up the Atlantic Coast looking for an ACSI site where we could pause for a bit and I would try and write and write and finish the book. No sooner had we left Biarritz when it seemed most of the vans disappeared, by chance C spotted a signpost to an Aire just off the main drag at Capbreton. It’s brand new (not on any of the Apps) and is empty apart from us chickens. [aftenote – there are four vans this morning.]. With hot showers and a lovely longish run round the local etang, it’s perfect. Quite a few vans came along and had a look, but drove away again. It could be the cost (not sure why?), or the fact that you have to use a credit card (?) or that there’s this two gate airlock system to let yourself in…..who knows, but it’s certainly better than being squashed next to your neighbour in a way that makes you want to share their ketchup.

We may stay for a couple of days?

Ahh, the book. With only adequate weather predicted for the next week or so I have made the decision to try and finish Unsuspecting Hero as soon as possible. I wrote a good slab of a chapter yesterday morning and finished it off last night. I am about four chapters away from becoming an author and have a reasonably clear idea how it comes together at the end. Then there’ll be the editing….

Have a great Tuesday.

On the Pilgrims’ trail

We did a bit of France we’ve not done before – it’s bottom southwest bit in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It rained off and on all day, which was fine, but we did manage to get out on our feet and do a bit of touristing in a quaint town called St-

great views, heading into rain...oh well

great views, heading into rain…oh well

Jean-Pied-Port. The town is famous for being on the pilgrim’s trail to Santiago, and the last place to have a decent rest before the hike over the mountains.

It’s medieval with a huge citadel on top of a mound overlooking what was yesterday a big rugby match with hordes of people gathered to watch the local side play some other side. From where we stood it was blues versus reds and a good game it looked too…..although we didn’t watch all of it. We walked through the town and up to the citadel. It was obvious who were pilgrims (huge ponchos covering packs and backs with little legs sticking out of the bottom) and who were tourists (anyone without a stick or a beard, or a beard and a stick). We passed a number of walkers on the way and you have to take you’re hat off to them. Bex did part of the trail in Spain a couple of years back and it does look like something you probably should do at some point in your life.

that'll be rain then...

that’ll be rain then…

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The Aire was overflowing with about fifty vans. We managed to get electricity – the €5.50 fee the same whether or not you can find a spare socket. I think we spotted only one other Brit. Nearly all were French – they do do a lot of this you know – but there were some Germans and Dutch vans. And you could spot the Italian van straight away – it was filthy; they tend not to look after their vans I’m afraid.

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It does make you consider your choice of winter destination. We’ve heard stories that Spain and Portugal were particularly full this year (and in my imagination they’re overcrowded already). This is because of the terror threat in Morocco which prevented many French from travelling. If it’s like where we are now (carpark – bumper-to-bumper) then we’re not sure it’s for us. It makes our choice of winter destination, Greece and Sicily, the right one even if the weather was poor. I reckon there were no more than forty vans on the whole of Sicily – we spent two-thirds of our nights on our own in huge campsites. And in the Peloponnese, probably only double the number – again there was more space than we knew what to do with.

on the pilgrims' trail

on the pilgrims’ trail

We’ll see.

Anyhow ‘still raining! Have a good week.

We’ve been here before?

It was when I was plotting yesterday’s route on our old European map that I suddenly found that the Aire we stopped in last night at the town of Aire-sur-L’Adouris is right next door to a campsite we stayed at in July 2009. We were on our way via Lourdes to Spain for that very hot summer we had pottering around the Iberian coast and the relentlessly boiling Mesata. We didn’t recognise the place. Not because it has changed but I suppose, because we have stayed so in many places, it’s difficult to remember them all.

Aire by the river (by the campsite we stayed in in 2009)

Aire by the river (by the campsite we stayed in in 2009)

It was a good day. Having been complemented by Baxterbus that we have got our meandering down to a slow stroll (and that was a good thing), we followed on with a slightly longer but not enormous route southwest through the lovely rolling countryside that is southern France. We both think the Aire we stayed in at St Clar was possibly the best free night’s kip we have for a good while and, as such, we weren’t surprised that last night’s stop by the river Adour was good but not great. A big car park set back from the river.

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But we both went for runs and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine even if a man with a chainsaw did his best to spoil the ambience. Choosing a pitch on these places is key, especially if it’s busy (I’ve just counted twenty four vans). And because there aren’t really any allocated pitches and the French have a penchant for parking v close to each other, parking so you can actually access your van and preferably spill out onto a piece of real estate which isn’t another big white box, is a neat trick. C has it off to a tee (you wouldn’t expect anything less from a woman born with a clipboard in her hand). So last night we parked at the edge of the carpark, nose towards the river but with our habitation door opening onto the slipway used by the ‘Pompiers’ (firemen). So, unless there’s a fire, we have space to explode onto the tarmac.

Our journey took us around and about and we stopped for coffee at Nogaro, and were rewarded with a seat outside of the Cafe de Paris in fabulous sunny weather. The waiter, thinking I was fluent French (that’ll teach you Alasdair…), engaged me like I was a long lost cousin and we shared jokes and racing tips as if we were both speaking our first language. I am getting better at it, but still there is a long way to go.

fronting on the Cafe de Paris

fronting on the Cafe de Paris

Last night on TV we watch some Channel 4 documentary about renovating an Aston Martin DBS (think George Lazenby in OHMS). They paid £37k for it out of a barn, spent £50k doing it up and upgrading it to a Vantage and then sold it at auction for a world record price of £150k. For me it was mesmerising as to how they did the work, and the finished product was beautiful. C enjoyed it as well, but I can see it not being everyone’s cup of tea. By the way did you know that the DB nomenclature on the early Astons was the initials of the farm machinery bloke who bought the company in the 1940s when it went bust? His name was David Brown and he made his money selling tractors in WW2 (which I thought was a bit dodgy). So now you know…

hello Mrs Sun

hello Mrs Sun

Not sure about today. Should we stay or should we go? Have a great Sunday.

Loving this part of France again…

It’s funny but it has taken us nearly two weeks to find what we remember as France. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Chatel and all of our stops so far. But having left Montauban yesterday morning in misty cloud and a cool eleven degrees it wasn’t long imagebefore the temperature was in the mid-twenties and we were among French countryside that we remember: rolling hills, immaculate farmhouses and manors all with pigeonaires (and many with swimming pools), agriculture, trees, rivers and whatnot.

It looked so pristine to be almost twee but we did find ourselves pointing out places that we really wouldn’t mind living in. In fact the coincidentally named St Clar, where we are currently stopped at a free Aire, is perfect. A couple of sandy coloured 13th Century squares with a wooden covered market place, individual sandstone houses most with window boxes all glued together with a calmness that begs the question – why wouldn’t you want to live here? The village is on top of a small hill and everywhere you look from its centre you catch a glimpse of the views of fields that drop away offering a further, distant horizon.

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To cap it all it was a ‘dot’ day. Sorry just been listening to the cricket on R4 longwave, which is something considering how far south we are. For dot read – didn’t spend a penny. (In cricket terms it’s a mark in the scorebook for a that neither took a wicket nor got a run.) We didn’t go out of way not to spend anything, but we got free wifi by parking outside of Macdonalds, didn’t need to forage for anything and didn’t stop for coffee. And the Aire, which has facilities, is free. I don’t think we’ve had many more than a half dozen ‘dot’ days since we started this malarkey; they do wonders for the budget.

our lovely free Aire

our lovely free Aire

I’d had a difficult night, awake for a couple of hours for no reason at all. In that time in my head I wrote the prologue and epilogue for Unsuspecting Hero, as well as designing the front cover. So having arrived at the Aire early, and with not much else to do, I did my best to remember what I thought I’d thought and wrote it down. They’re now both done. We made bread and a cake and wandered round the town. C, bless her, went for her sixth run in six days. I was determined to have a day off, so that felt a bit odd. But well done her. [Afternote – she shamed me into skipping for twenty minutes; I am now managing to skip for a while without tripping over, so that’s good news.]

St Clar

St Clar

Off again today. Many of these Aires have stay limits – here’s it’s one day only. We’re a day’s drive from the Atlantic Coast, but will probably stop one more time before we get there. Have a great weekend.

Ahh, the Canals of Southern France

It was another slow day which is great news for us, but not so good for sticking stuff down on the blog. We left Rodez and ended up at a €6 a night Aire at Montauban on the Canal de Montech which joins the River Tarn (another blooming big French River) to the Canal de Garonne. Which itself is the second half of…..stay with me….the Canal du Midi

pink gins ahoy...

pink gins ahoy…

which is I guess every Englishman’s dream of where to stick his narrow boat. Although the boats here are wide beamed as the canals on the continent are big – so you can live and travel on a boat which has more room than just for the two of you, three sacks of coal and a rusty bike.

Even on our little quay there are ten or twelve lovely big cruisers, some of them barge shaped, some more boat like. A couple have Brits on board. They are all live on their boats and with the wealth of Continental canals, rivers and waterways it is an idyllic way to spend you retirement. It is, and always has been, an option for us. But not yet. When our knees go, that’s probably the time to think through pottering along the canals of Europe in a river cruiser with pink gins in hand weaving the boat from bank to bank. Fabulous.

Southern French canals - our favourite

Southern French canals – our favourite

The journey was uneventful. We foraged at Lidl, stopped at Macdonalds (to guarantee free wifi, after yesterday’s debacle of chasing a signal) and all in spitting rain. Gazza decided to take us along country roads on the edge of a big ridge with deep valleys cut into the landscape either side. It was quite UK like, but the deep bits were deeper than you’d get from most vistas on the UK. There were plenty of French farmhouses where, a couple of years ago, we would have gone ‘wow, we want one of those’. But now we’re in a position to put down routes somewhere, it all seems slightly less enticing. But who knows.

At the Aire we walked down the canal for a bit and then decided we would both run down it to the next bridge, so we returned to Doris and put on our running shorts. We did some admin round Doris – I’m looking at Fuel Cells and big Lithium Batteries for her by way of an emergency and that was about it. And then settled into our routine.

Doris for the night

Doris for the night

Not sure about today. There’s a low wet mist clinging to the banks of the canal, although Mr Weatherman says it’s going to get v hot if a bit overcast. We might cycle down the canal….or we might move on. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Picnic on a bridge

It was a slow news day. We faffed about first thing, had another chat to our Brit neighbours, packed the bikes up for a picnic, cycled into town where the second cafe we tried said they had wifi but it didn’t work and couldn’t care less, cycled about a bit more, came back, went for runs and did some reading and writing. Oh, and apart from a gusty wind, the weather was fair.

breakfast

breakfast

So I thought I’d tell you about what’s gone wrong in Doris of the past eight months, bearing in mind that inside she’s fifty percent plastic and fifty percent thin wood, and we chuck her around and bounce her up and down daily. Try that with your fridge at home and see if it likes it.

From the front (and I’m ignoring the Ford bits which, notwithstanding some still minor coughing and wheezing, I love to death). The captain seats which swivel are great and comfortable. They both work fine. The acme extra door locking system with the chains and the strap holding the front doors together has not, I’m pleased to say, been tested. But I’m confident will deter all but the most persistent thieves. The TV and sat dish have worked well. You move the sat dish up and down and side to side with a winder in the loo, and this has fallen off a couple of times, but you just stick it back in. We have had UK TV for all but a couple of weeks of our tour, which has been great.

that'll stop them...

that’ll stop them…

The 12 volt system has worked well, except for minor tripping when we’re driving. It’s not happened for two weeks until the other day when it tripped once. I find that unplugging all of the leads from the distribution box and plugging them back in again seems to do the trick. The solar panel plus the new 105 Amp/Hr battery has worked a treat. We now use the 12 volts system with impunity and it has always remained charged. I reckon we can easily do four days without 240 volts back up and that includes recharging all of our electronic equipment, most of which I do when I’m driving. We have rechargeable batteries for everything and a small battery cell which can charge phones and iPads when needed.

I charge the bike batteries when we’re driving if we haven’t got access to the mains. That works well. In terms of power, then, I don’t fret about it at all.

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The fridge has worked without issue. If you read way back you’ll remember last Easter we had problems with it staying alight on gas. I cleaned the back of the fridge to an inch of its life a number of times and now it seems to work fine. It could have been a bad batch of gas. The cooker cooks cakes, bread and anything else you want and the three ring hob is perfect.

The water system has been good. The main water tank leaks a tadge if you over fill it but with practice we have that right. The pump which failed about a year ago and I replaced is working well. The hot water system work perfectly and delivers hot water on gas or from the mains to order. The kitchen sink tap runs slow and we need to sort that, but the leak we had in the bathroom where the shower tap was dripping into the loo area, is fine after I played with it last summer.

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All of the storage works well (we have brought too much stuff) and as Dethleffs design their vans so there’s an air gap between cupboards and the main wall damp does not appear to be an issue. Talking of which after the horror of a big leak sixteen months ago when rain was getting into Doris from the loo cassette entry, the work done under warranty has fixed that and she seems as dry as anything at the moment.

The heating system works on gas and mains. It is unlikely to burn your socks on mains, but on gas Doris can be as warm as toast in no time. The Gaslow system, where we fill her with LPG from a petrol station has been cheap and very efficient. Again we started trying to reduce our gas usage, but as we use so little of it we’re much less careful now so we always have hot water and heating.

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The bed is a boon. It is king size and whilst frankly it could do with being a couple of inches longer so I can stretch my toes out, we both sleep as well as we have at any point in our lives. Having a decent bed in life is crucial. But you know that.

The three roof lights work, well two do. You’ll know that the main roof light’s gearing is shot and as a result we don’t open it anymore. This is a shame as on hot days (and they’re going to get hotter) were going to need to open every window we have (by the way the blinds work really well). I shall replace the gearing when I get back to the UK but the best answer would be to buy a roof light that lifts manually with a simple lever – not gearing, but that’s not going to happen.

The garage and roof box (and rails) have again all worked perfectly – except a slight leak in the roof box, but as everything is in plastic bags that doesn’t matter that much, but I will fix it. We have eventually got the packing of the garage off to a tee and there seems to be more room in the back than hitherto. When we lose some kit this summer it will get better still. The outside gas cooker works well, although as is always the case with these cookers, it can’t simmer so you have to be on guard against burnt offerings when cooking.

Finally Campernet, other than a broken antenna which I have splinted, continues to work tirelessly for us. We have had free internet for about seventy percent of our stopovers and I will get a directional antenna when we’re back in the UK so we can get a better signal again. The LED lights around and about work well, with only one of the bulbs breaking. At about six pound each (three times that over here) they’re expensive to replace, but they are low wattage. And all the radios we have brought with us work well, but things are at their best when we have wall-to-wall wifi and can get Radio Two.

So that was dull. But dull is good when it comes to wanting things to work in your house. I am amazed that Doris holds together so well and we are lucky that she’s well made and that we have not have a major incident (other than the leak in the loo which was fixed by the garage).

Further southwest today. Rain has come but it’s still warm. Oh, and for Pete P, I have finished Chapter Fifteen which will be posted in Sunday. Getting there….

Another delightful free Aire…

C said today that we were definitely now in full timing mode. Pottering along, stopping here to look at this, having lunch there and then arriving at our destination early so that we could go for a walk and then go for a run. It is true to say that we are certainly meandering and the arrival of early summer with mid-twenties temperatures slows things down further. There is only so much you can do when it’s too hot to breath. I’m just waiting for a couple of days time when the rivers become baths, and the lakes heated swimming pools. It is only a matter of days.

Roman bridge at Mendes

Roman bridge at Mendes

We’re stopped at another free Aire at Rodez. From our stop the night before last we transversed the high Ardeche and found ourselves at Rodez, a monastried city built on a bluff on the bend of the River l’Aveyron. We’re still quite heigh at five hundred metres, but no longer in mountain or high hills country. It’s still Lake District like with plenty of tourist industry kicking around (the whole of southern France is a tourist trap) and there are still a large number of motorhomes about – our current Aire is built for five motorhomes and there are seven of us on it.

another delightful free Aire

another delightful free Aire

Mrs Sun gone from being a pleasant companion to, if you let her, a bit spiteful and we sat by the river (which the Aire is nestled beside) long enough to drink our tea but realised we needed to find some shade – which there is plenty of. The run up and down the river is five clicks, my perfect distance now I am old and shrivelled, and C did it too. Half of that was in early evening sunshine which added to the exercise factor. Fabulous, there is nothing like running in reasonable heat to put a spring in your step.

It is fair to say we are both beginning to feel our age a bit. It took me ten days to get over the second fall I had onto concrete in Chatel, C’s hip is playing up and both of us squeak and grind in places we never used to. The day after a hard run (I pushed the route yesterday) I do feel as though someone’s taken a needle to me and drained some key bodily fluid. But we’re both still v active although our batteries need recharging more often than they used to. As long as nothing falls off….well nothing important anyway.

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For the record supper was stir fry (later than usual due to the runs and a conversation with two elderly Brit neighbours about the Sicilian Mafia) and we started and stopped watching the Snows of Kilimanjaro when they began shooting wildlife and got halfway through Rebecca before tiredness overcame both of us. (I also wrote the first half of Chapter Fifteen.)

We’re staying at the Aire today. Bikes out into town and a pootle about with our best friend Mrs Sun. And a happy birthday to Emily Jones!

Think Northumberland…

We made it as far as Resevoir de Naussac, about a hundred and twenty miles into the Ardeche. We foraged at Lidl and got some fuel (the first for twenty days or so, so that takes me back towards budget, but still a long, long way off) and then turned right and headed off into the hills. We were at 1200 metres at one ponint; where we have stopped for the night in a free Aire by the lake, we are still just shy of 1000 metres.

Doris last night

Doris last night

It was good to be on the road again and good to have something close to a plan. With so many Aires you just open up an App and plot a couple (many have photos) and turn up. However it would not be an exaggeration to say that one in every ten vehicles on the road at the moment is a motorhome. The Aire we are staying at has only five places. It was full by four o’clock and people were turning away. However, there’s a neat map on a stand pointing to other Aires in the local area. V organised. And v motorhome friendly.

The route was lovely. Think Northumberland but add about six hundred metres of height and you’ll be about there. Plenty of woods, scrub land and lakes. The one we’ve parked by provided a mile circuit round a small piece of it, so we both went for a run. We did other bits of admin (I moved the stuff around in the roof so that we can open the bedroom skylight) and settled down to our routine.

the women who stood by goats

the women who stood by goats (could be a horse)

We’re back on UK TV with the satellite, which is a nice thing to have but also distracting. It’s a cliche but we do sometimes watch it because it’s on. Although I check the news daily I have rather lost the sense of the manifestos of the major parties – not that I have any idea which are the major parties at the moment. SNP? UKIP? The only thing we can add from our travels is the wave of nationalism, or should I say jingoism (more like xenophobia – it’s aimed at all races, not just those of Muslim faith, East European plumbers) is Europe wide. It is, of course, easy to blame everyone but yourself (both individually, collectively and nationally) for where you find yourself, but I think if we all look hard enough most of our issues stem from the way we have conducted and continue to run our lives. I’m for a wholly pluralistic society and couldn’t care less who lives next door to me provided they are genuine and kind. (Although in Doris we have the luxury of changing that vista in an instance.)

The good news is when we speak to our children, both have the same view. And if we assume that is more commonplace among the next generation than ours, perhaps the tide of self interest which has dogged our lives for quite a while now is ebbing and heading somewhere more balanced. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

nice bridge, better sandwich

nice river, better sandwich

Further southwest today in what looks like fab weather. I will have to scrape the frost off of Doris first though.