Tell me everything’s going to be ok?

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must be skiing soon … C’s trying on her boots

I know this is going against the grain, but if I could vote for Nicola Sturgeon, I would. She has consistently come across as the only adult in the room. I know, I know, none of you want Scotland to leave the union and dislike her because that’s what she stands for. And some of you snigger when you think that Scotland couldn’t survive financially without Westminster throwing money over the border. And you may have a point there.

But, what are the alternatives? Boris Johnson is hopeless. Worse than hopeless. And he stands for Brexit, which you know I’m not a fan of. And I’m not keen on the Tory policies, not that their manifesto gave us anything other than potholes and child care to write home about. It will take forever to sort out Brexit, and a US trade deal will take an age and we, of course, will be negotiating from a position of weakness. It’s going to be horrible.

Jeremy Corbyn has principles, most of which I can’t agree with. And Jo Swinton has – come on, let’s face it – blown a hole through the Lib Dems chances by guaranteeing that she will revoke Brexit, rather than hold a second referendum. Which I cannot support. She’s also quite screechy, whereas Sturgeon is much more measured.

All-in-all it’s a dog’s breakfast. And with Labour and Lib Dems nowhere near cooperating to oust the Tories, December 12th is going to be a very interesting day.

It is hardly a prime time in British politics, is it? Which is such a shame when what the world needs now, more than anything else, is grounded and effective leadership. The latest UN report says the last time CO2 levels were this high, the earth was 3 degrees warmer and the water levels between 30 and 60 metres higher. If that were the case London would have to move. All of it.

I don’t know. Somebody tell me things are not as bleak as they seem. That Johnson will get a majority and he’s actually an honest and OK chap. We, the British, will rise beyond Brexit and be a beacon for other countries to follow. That Scotland (and Northern Ireland) will stay in the union and we will all plough forward together. That my children’s future is secure. Somebody … please.

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call in the painters and decorators

Talking of children … we’re at Jen’s at the mo – they’re down at Centre Parcs. We’re painting and decorating, which isn’t my favourite pastime, but I tackle it willingly, if patchily. (Not really, we are a fairly safe pair of hands.)  Home at the weekend. And then working all next week – hurrah?

We’re all tired

I know we’re all tired. Even I was resigned to parliament voting for Johnson’s deal yesterday. I thought then we could pick up the pieces and try to glue the vase back together. But, no. More delay. Of course, whilst the press report that it’s all a disaster and everyone hates everyone else, they’re secretly loving it … and whipping it into a frenzy.

My view? How can you expect to review a document of this importance in a matter of hours? Leaving aside the fact that there could be a major hit to our GDP, the deal softens protection on workers’ rights and food regulations – which means that our government can reduce the cost of goods by cutting workers’ protection and delivering cheaper food by cutting corners on how it is grown, which will also open up our doors for cheaper imports. I don’t pretend to understand how this all works, but I believe it’s a big thing. Among many others.

Let’s see what this week brings.

I have to say we are both a bit tired. Paris was fun, but it was travel. It was lovely to see R&C, but it was more travel. And now we’re with Mum (who is fine, thanks for asking),

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Kent looking fabulous between the storms

which is more travel. We intend to stay here until after supper tomorrow. And then a bit more travel … home. Phew.

We did have a great time with R&C. Richard and I sorted out his greenhouse and we watched the rugby. Between those two events (oh, and C and I both ran) we did what we always do: discussed this and that, including Brexit. Neither of us arrived at any conclusion, other than it was all a load of rubbish.

Part of the issue for me is the 1,000 words a day. It’s not an issue at home … I do what I do. When I’m away from home, trying to find two hours to write is a struggle. Currently I’m penning this at Mum’s – with the TV on. Which is fine for the blog (sorry everyone), but not so good for writing a novel. I think I’ll be writing when Mum’s gone to bed late tonight. Ho hum.

So … sorry. Not much from us today. Hopefully more mid-week. 

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I’m tired …

I’m pretty tired of all the external forces pressing in on our life at the mo. Much of it my own fault. I’m following politics in the UK and the US closely and, let’s face it, it’s more emotionally charged than a teenager loading the dishwasher. [It’s the deceit that gets me, but you know that.]

The other thing is that I follow people with motorhomes and a couple of them are currently somewhere hot, with all the accoutrements of cafe culture and no additional responsibility. The timing isn’t great either. We are normally heading down to the south of France now, or, if nothing else, preparing to go. That’s the 6-week period where I get the bulk of my pending novel written. Away from the distractions; fuelled by sun, sea and sand. I bet Hemingway never had this problem.

P1640636.JPGHowever, I have made a start. Other than the interlude where I re-publish the rewritten Unsuspecting Hero in a couple of weeks, I have a target of 1,000 words a day. If I stick to that number, and I am v good at holding myself to a plan, I should have a decent first draft by the end of January – and that’s without breaking myself. I still reckon I’ll be able to turn it round by July next year … so I’ll be back on track.

Humorous factoid about my writing? Well, I have finished the Prologue – which I had in my head, with its little twist. I did that on Tuesday. Then, yesterday, the start of Chapter 1. Normally my chapters are around 6,000 words long and broken into 3 or 4 scenes. I know I have to kick off Sam/Frank … and, no spoilers, I need a new character who runs a sub-plot until they and Sam meet sometime in the future (Unsuspecting Hero,  it was Henry Middleton; Fuelling the Fire, it was Wolfgang; Innocence of Trust, it was Vlad and then, I forget her name, it was the American senator’s daughter? … somebody please remind me; For Good Men To Do Nothing, it was Austin, the father of the American drone pilot; and for On The Back Foot To Hell, it was Gareth, the Welsh undergrad in Naples). Anyhow I have that person and I know I will kick off that story soon …

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and so it begins

… but, as I sit down yesterday to write Chapter One a thought comes into my head about an additional character – a CIA case-officer – working out of Zagreb. And he’s meeting an agent in that abandoned coastal resort which C and I visited a couple of years ago. Yes! That will be fab. And one of them dies! Great. So, three hours and 2,000 words later I have a subplot which has no relevance to the main conspiracy … which I now need to mix into the book. Brilliant (he adds sarcastically).

Anyhow. I must get on and pen another 1,000 words.

As a recap. on Monday we drove to Dorset to see C’s middle sister and her husband and Tuesday was a day pottering, Wednesday we popped up to see Jen and had lunch out, and today I have worked in Doris sorting out some electrics. Now … I must write.

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!