Didn’t sleep well

Where do you get a 4.5 tonne, 7.5 metre motorhome MoTd? At the council’s place in Yate, that’s where. They MoT articulated lorries so Doris is easy. Anyhow, she was booked in for 7.30 this morning – the coldest night of the year. I didn’t sleep well – Cassie sleeps on our bed when she’s with us, and last night it was my turn to be slept upon – and I woke, as I always do, many times before the alarm went off.

After I cleared her windscreen (which is the biggest in Christendom) and checked that the roads weren’t so icy she’d slip all the way to Yate, we set off with some stuff I’d bought for Jen/Cubblys in Doris’s garage – I’d drive to Jen’s once the MoT was done. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on MoTs. It’s the thought that if you fail, you have no choice but to get the car/van fixed straight away and then bring it back for re-inspection – in short, leaving you without transport and an admin nightmare to sort, especially with a big vehicle like Doris. So, when halfway to Yate there’s a loud knocking noise from the roof, I’m thinking that this is going to be an MoT failure. I had checked all of the usual MoT failures, and had done my best to de-ice the windscreen washers … a schoolboy’s error on a cold morning.

I pulled over (it was still dark and blooming freezing). I opened the main top light and had a peak out. Nope. Everything was still attached on the roof. Mmmm. So I set off again. and still there was this unnatural knocking sound from the roof. I thought maybe I’d left a tool on the roof and it was rolling about? Maybe?

I got to Yate and was met by the nice mechanic who asked me if I could help him … he was the only one in at 7.15 am. They have two bays, both of which are white and yellow … and immaculate. He drives it over the pit, and I then get in the cab to turn on lights etc. I’d mentioned the knocking problem to the mechanic knowing that some major part of Doris may have broken and it would cost a million pounds, take days to sort and remove a few more years off my shortening life.

He found the problem. ‘Come into the pit.’ Sod this H&S nonsense … off I went. And there it was. The outer skin of the silencer was hanging off. ‘Unless you can tie it up I may have to fail you on that. Don’t worry about it, I’d cut it off if it were me.’ A minute later and with a piece of wire wrapped round the silencer holding the ‘tray’ in place, we were done. (I’ve also got to replace the windscreen wipers.) Done. Tick.

I then took Doris to Jen’s to unload the stuff I’d bought for the business, including a decent waist-high material table. The place is beginning to look like we mean business. Which we do. We both assumed that January was going to be a slow month, but in the end we weren’t far off December’s total, which means we were able to pay ourselves a few bob. All good!

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Finally, I don’t want to discuss Brexit. People across the world are laughing at us. Once we were thought to be a bastion of sensibleness. Where democracy works. Where the right thing is done. Not now. Now they all think we’re a bunch of party-centric, self-centred loons. Businesses will be deserting us soon … not just because we’re leaving the EU and its open market, but because we can’t organise a packed lunch.

So I’m not going to talk about Brexit.

Speak later!

Madness, just madness

On Friday the European Medical Agency staff lowered all 28 EU flags and symbolically said goodbye to their London office. The UK is bowing out of the EMA having been the host for the agency since 1995. The EMA does lots and lots of drug development.

So, Leavers, how are you going to replace that? Are our doctors and scientists so good that they can do this on their own, without the collaboration of our European partners? Or do you have another plan? Please let us know.

Madness, just madness.

Ho-hum …

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it takes some reminding that we lived in Doris and her smaller cousin for 4 years

It’s been a week of two halves. Working with Jen until Friday and then three days of domestic chores, mostly focused on sorting out Doris. As you’d imagine, most of the habitation issues with a motorhome come about because of damp and being knocked about by travelling. I’m not talking about rain getting in, I’m just talking about damp air circulating and getting in the electrics. So, as well as a clean inside, I had to sort out a kitchen ring that wasn’t staying alight, a loo that won’t flush and a driving light that’s much dimmer than it should be. She goes in for her MOT on Wednesday so the light needed sorting.

All three just needed contacts brushing, cleaning and oiling. and, hey presto, all three are working again. If any of you have a MH and are faced with 12 volt problems, I’d really have a go rather than send the van off to the doctors. The problem with any vehicle electrics, especially if they’re intermittent, is that the man-who-does probably has as much chance of finding the fault as you do … and in the end, nine times out of ten the part will not be broken, it will just be a loose contact or similar. A word of warning, however. Whilst a 12 volt shock won’t kill you, an exposed wire will spark and heat … and could cause a fire. So be a little bit careful.

Anyhow, she’s ready for her MOT and for me to use her as an outside workspace next week as I ‘sew from home’ to save me travelling to Jen’s in Gloucester every day.

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we’ve got Cassie with us for a while …

Talking of which, we’re off to Jen’s tonight to attend a pub quiz. C’s knocked up sausage casserole for the lot of us, which will be grand. Tonight’s quiz theme is Star Wars. That’ll be no points from me then.

Finally, C is about half way through book 5 (still no title) and is loving it – she would say. That gives me great hope as the book picks up in the second half and I think the ending is one of the best sub-plots I’ve ever penned. We’ll see.

That’s all from the Bradley Stoke jury. Have a great week.

A luxurious life …

It’s amazing how quickly life returns to normal. Two days back at Jen’s making stuff. The orders have hit a bit of a plateau; but that’s January for you. We’re probably getting £20-40’s worth of orders a day (we make about 50% profit), which is easily workable. The ‘new lines’, Jacob collars and leads and braided collars, have been a bit of a hit, so that’s good. And we’re pushing Valentine’s Day at the mo, so we’ll see how that goes. The new news is that I have decided only to travel to Jen’s twice a week, and to work from home on the other days. That is if we can get the sewing machine working … it was breaking thread all afternoon which is really frustrating. I’ll try and service it tomorrow first thing,

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we brought the cold back with us

We’ve had a second shop want to buy wholesale from us and sell on. Jen’s currently working on prices with them. Our new member of staff, Angela, is already proving to be brilliant. She’s about my age and a quilter by hobby. We gave her some things to make whilst I was away in Chatel and she brought the stuff round yesterday – it was all great. We’re paying her on a gig basis, which she is happy with. And whilst we don’t actually need her at the mo, it’s good to have someone up to speed should things go crazy. As a result we’re giving her stuff to make every week so she keeps her hand in.

Book stuff has hit a stop. C’s going to read edit one, and I’m tempted to put it out to my beta readers, if nothing else to get some feedback and keep the momentum going. I’m reading ‘Reacher said nothing’, which is a fly-on-the-wall account of Lee Child’s penning of his 19th Reacher book. It’s interesting and, from my perspective, it’s not undermining the way I write. Clearly I’m not Lee Child, but I do seem to write and construct a book in the manner that he does. One day …

That’s it from me. Normality has returned. At least it’s not the same normality that I suffered last year coming back from skiing – heading in Bristol 4.5 days a week to teach. Every time I think about it I thank my lucky stars that I’m not having to get on my bike every morning at 7.10 am to be in work for 7.35 … teaching at 8.30. I live a much more luxurious life than that now. Thank goodness.

I’ll update you at the weekend.

Why Châtel?

What of Châtel? Why come here? For us, other than readily available accommodation, there are some pretty good reasons why you should chose Chatel over the plethora of other resorts.

First, Châtel links into the Portes du Soleil ski area which is either the biggest, or among the biggest, ski areas in Europe. Second, it is the closest main resort to Calais. Third it is much more chocolate-boxy than many of its concrete French cousins. img_20190115_155518382_hdr

Some detail. Châtel is a resort for intermediates. Built around four ski areas there are plenty of long blues and reds, the best of which is at the far end of the resort. The ‘Pre la Jour’ bowl has six superfast chairs – no bubbles necessary – and finds the sun nearly all day.  For me its the best skiing I have ever done. There is a small bowl for beginners above Châtel village, but most of the blues in the resort (there are only a couple of sensible greens) have sections that would be best tackled at the end of week 2 for an average learner. However, further down the valley (15 mins by car and also linked by paying bus) at Abondance, there is a separate and inexpensive area which would be perfect for beginners – although the snow is not guaranteed as the resort is lower. We’ve not skied into the Portes du Soleil, but I reckon an expert skier would find plenty to do in Les Gets, Avoriaz, Morzine and Les Crosets.

Châtel is serviced by a set of free ski buses that link all of the lifts to nearly all of the apartments. The buses run every 20 minutes from first thing until early evening. Ski passes are (Châtel/Portes du Soleil) Euro 43/53 a day; 205/265 for 6 days. Unlike previously there is no ‘low season’ and prices remain fixed throughout. Which is odd, and hardly encouragement to come outside of school holidays – except, of course, the ski area is less busy. In the last week we have never had to wait for a lift, although even now the slopes in the Pre de Jour bowl can seem a little congested. It’s worth noting that the small Abondance area is v inexpensive. On Saturdays they have full-day skiing for 10 Euros; and they manage to split the season. It’s v cheap there at the moment.

All though we don’t tend to eat out, there are a huge variety of restaurants and cafes in the town  – and a decent number on the slopes. We’ve never been down town late at night, but I reckon there is little apres-ski in terms of clubs and discos. Just lots of bars.

It’s a friendly place and its ethos matches its chocolate box appearance. Even though its just a ten-hour drive (520 miles – Euro 72 in French tolls) from Calais, its not a hugely Brit resort. The Swiss ski here (the border is just above the apartment we stay in) as do the Dutch. We’ve not come across too many Germans and Austrians (why would they – they have their own decent resorts?), but there are a smattering of Russians.

What would we change? If C were writing this I think she’d ask for a few more ‘sun-drenched long-blues’. Me? The village is built on a hillside to catch the sun – it’s at the end of a steep valley. The views are spectacular, but there is no central flat space around which the town is built and the valley walls give a sense of being closed in. But … as I have said, the views are spectacular.

We’ve finished our skiing. We’re off for a walk to a lake down the valley with a picnic. It’s sort of a ritual. And then we drive home tomorrow; back to work with Jen on Tuesday. Looking forward to that … I think.

You’ve gotta come …

If you’ve never been to the mountains in winter then I strongly suggest you put it on your bucket list. C and I stood outside the apartments yesterday morning, all togged up to go skiing. Mrs Sun was out in her dungarees, the sky was that mid-blue you can only get from an elevated position (or looking out of a plane’s window at 32,000 feet), the air molecules had been slowed by the freezing temperatures and felt as unpolluted as if they had been bottled in the Himalayas and shipped in for the occasion, and every colour had been through the ‘enhance’ icon on you mobile phone.

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Mt Blanc in the distance

We have been so lucky. We have travelled a great deal and seen some fabulous sights: sunsets, valleys, beaches, cathedrals, rock formations, wine cheaper than petrol. But we are always beside ourselves when we ski … and when the accompanying weather is straight from a postcard. There is nothing like. Everything feels as clean and as crisp as an Andrex advert.

Of course, what you want to know is how did the waxing and edging of the skis go? Well, there’s a story.

Yesterday morning we got to out of the top of the La Linga bubble and dropped our skis on the snow, knelt down to sort out our boots and pull up our tights. I was ready first and put my skis on … and didn’t go anywhere. I pushed with my poles and promptly fell over. I wasn’t moving. At all. This, BTW, has never happened before.

Oh dear. C was all for taking off her skis, getting back in the bubble, down to the ski shop and getting them to rewax our planks. Hang-on, says I. I get up, put on the ski that has come off, and have another go. Mmm. Still quite a lot of friction. I try again, this time travelling about 25 metres (C is still standing by the bubble looking indignant). That was a bit better. Anyhow, the long and the short was that by the time we’d travelled 100 metres the skis were slipping along as those they’d been waxed by professionals. And now, two ski days later, they’re pretty perfect.  Job done, although I have no idea why they were buggers in the first place. Anyone?

The skiing has been fab. The conditions as good as they get. The weather unbeatable (did anyone know the January sun could be quite so warm?). It’s going to be overcast with some snow tomorrow, but clear on Friday and Saturday, when we will ski again. And that’s all fabulous.

Finally, two things. First … anyone got any idea what the shambles of our parliament is going to do about Brexit? Anyone who thinks we should dither about a people’s vote because it might enrage the extreme left has obviously forgotten that we, of all countries, do not negotiate with terrorists. Come on. Let’s get it done.

And Trump and his ‘hambergers’? Did you see that? Leaving aside the government partial shutdown which is his doing – HE SAID SO! – if any other president had served a mixture of burgers and pizzas to a football team because the White House staff are all waiting in line at food banks because they haven’t been paid, it might have been a touch endearing. But, no. Trump: makes a publicity event out of it; misspells hamburger in a tweet; and, and this is what gets my goat, boasts to the media that ‘he paid for the spread’. Why would you say that? Why? Yes, if it got leaked, then maybe you wouldn’t deny it. But his tweet made it clear … ‘which I paid for’. That’s v big of you Mr Billionaire.

Idiot.

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Looking for a second-hand car?

We made it. Although, not without incident. And all the thanks has got to go to our gritty car – a 2006 Ford Focus 1.4 litre. When I bought it from a guy three years ago (£2200 – and for exactly this purpose – to go skiing as we didn’t want to take Doris 1 down to E&A’s apartment in Chatel) he said … ‘Mmm, not sure the 1.4 is going to be much good on long motorway journeys’. Well, he was wrong. This is our third trip and over 40,000 miles later (now at 69,000), the old bird hasn’t let us down.

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our gritty Ford Focus has never let us down

Mind you … We got to R&C’s on Thursday night and, just as we turned into their drive, the right-hand indicator stopped working. Thanks to Rich and his arc light, we fixed that (and a headlamp which had also gone). Then, half way down France we heard a strange flapping noise. On inspection we’d lost the radiator grill. This is a cosmetic issue, and had come about because, if you remember, the bonnet lock had previously failed and the only way I could get under the bonnet was by taking off the grill and fiddling about. Anyhow, we’ve lost that to the French autoroute system. It’s only a piece of plastic and the Focus now looks much meatier without a grill. I will replace it when we get home.

And then, the damn French closed the main valley route to Chatel. We discovered this at the end of a 10-hour drive. The only way in was over the mountain, which we headed for. It’s now dark and snowing. We have Michelin 4-season tyres, which we’ve not tested before, and I’m wondering if they’re as good as the winter tyres we normally run. And then, snaking around a concrete island, I catch the rear offside tyre. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, we have a flat. The Focus has a ‘get you home’, but that’s under a mountain of beautifully packed gear that C has put in identical Christmas-Tesco carriers. Did I say it was still snowing. And dark? And then, horrors, the wheelnut spanner is spilt. It does one nut and then fails on me. (It’s still dark … and still snowing).

Thankfully there’s a local farm. I’m met by a Frenchman in his underwear (it’s 9pm) and he fishes out an appropriate spanner. Twenty minutes later we’re fixed, spanner returned to the near-naked Frenchman, and we’re off. And it’s still snowing. But, do you know what? The Michelin 4-season tyres (of which I now only have three … on my wagon) behaved beautifully. And 30 minutes later we’re here.

Phew.

So, well done the Focus. We use the autoroutes (an eye-watering 72 euros each way) but we push out over 40 mpg. Fuel over here is exorbitant (£1.35 a litre for both fuels). If I were a resident I’d be out in my yellow vest, for sure. But, notwithstanding the odd hiccup, the old girl did us proud again. And I took the wheel and tyre – the tyre, whilst bent, looks in good nick; it’s the steel wheel that’s got a big dent in it) – to the local garage yesterday, and I’m assured it will be back in a couple of days.

Skiing? Not yet. It has been snowing a lot and we’re fair-weather types. We may not get on our planks (I must let you know how the waxing and edging went) until Mrs Sun joins us on Tuesday, but we’re both OK with that. The conditions look perfect, so when we do ski it should be great. Chatel has never let us down.

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yesterday morning; it’s snowed a lot since then

Finally, over half way through the first edit of book 5. V excited by it all. And, other than that, we’re all good. I hope you are.

Oh, and if you’re looking out for a second-hand car, look no further than a Ford Focus.

 

A new range …

Come on, no matter which way you dissect it a wall between the US and Mexico is xenophobic. Nobody disagrees that people heading north ought to do so legally, either as an asylum seeker or as an immigrant via proper channels. Nobody is suggesting that Mexico ought to become the 51st (or 53rd depending which way you cut it) state of the US – least of all the Mexicans. But building a huge wall, rather than spending more money of border personnel or other technology, is a statement of historical ignorance and says more about the people who want it built that it does about its effectiveness. Just go back 20 years and transport yourself to Berlin … and the wall coming down. A wall that had to be patrolled relentlessly to prevent people crossing east to west, no matter how much of a deterrent. They could have done the same thing with a picket fence – provided they kept the mines and machine guns.

Among everything I find difficult about His Trumpkiness, it’s the wall that disappoints me most. It’s his base’s rallying point – keep out the criminals and drug dealers (for which read any one brown). Aren’t they lucky? Nearly all of them descend from recent immigrants. Just because they’re sitting pretty …

I can’t think about it too much. It makes my stomach turn.

Moving on.

It’s been work, work, work. Jen’s not been at her best, so Cubbly’s has picked up slowly (but we’re still taking orders). We’ve pushed two new lines: a braided/platted collar and a ‘Joseph’ range. The pictures below tell the story. {If you’d like any of these – around £20 each item plus postage to anywhere in the world} then post a comment and I will come straight back to you! You chose the pallet and we’ll surprise you with a collar/lead.

Next is skiing. Whilst I’ve been working, C has been packing like a cowboy. I’m doing half a day at Jen’s tomorrow and then we’re off, via Richard and Caroline’s, to Chatel. I think we’ll probably stay overnight in France somewhere on Friday and turn up in the Alps on Saturday … but we’ll see.

More of all of that later. See yer!