The thing about being away is that you get time to reflect. Real, uninterrupted time. And that’s what we’ve been doing (as well as some touristing and book stuff). We’ve been thinking about the next couple of years and what it looks like for us. We’ve been at this full timing malarkey for over three years now, and we are still taken by it. It’s the simplicity, it’s neatness, the freedom. But, it’s also fair to say that C wants some room to expand a bit. Shake out all the old stuff and see what we’ve got. And, whilst originally we saw ourselves having Christmas in sunnier climes, after year one (winter in Sicily and Greece) we have been home for Christmas. It’s about family and friends. And certainly this year we’re home again. And do you know what? It can be blooming miserable in the cold and rain in a small white box.
This is going to be deadly dull. If you are already tired then this is likely to send you to zed land where you will dream that you are continually falling but never landing. But I’m determined to put this to ink.
Insurances are a faff. We all hear horror stories of people getting into accidents, or property being flooded and, on enquiry, there’s either no insurance or poor insurance. C and I have always gone out of our way to be uber-insured. C has a thing about risk of this kind and, although I have always groaned when the bill needs to be paid, we have had some tricky accidents especially abroad and our insurances have always made a potentially difficult and expensive situation stress and cost free. One exception to this has been health insurance which we have paid through the nose for year after year and, with a hefty excess, used so irregularly I would have been better diverting the cash to employ my own GP, which on the premiums I could have afforded. In light of having to cut cloth for Stage 3 I have to say I have cancelled it. The NHS will do (C is a huge advocate of the NHS).
Full-timing presents a couple of insurance dilemmas. We need Doris insured. And we need our health insured when we’re travelling abroad. Yesterday I dealt with the latter.
The overwhelming advice from fellow full-timers is to forget it and use the European health card (EH111, now called something different) which allows for reciprocal health care free of charge for all Europeans. We have always had these and they are v good and essential travel companions. However we have also been charged for ambulance rides, medicines and there are stories in some countries of heavier longer-term charges. Of course as a full-timer we don’t necessarily need repatriation (we’re not rushing back to work) and with our own home and our own wheels we could convalesce and repatriate in Doris. But we really wouldn’t want to be faced with a huge hospital bill nor end up bedded down in the corridor of a Greek hospital (another story). So, as we can’t do this forever, paying a premium seems like a sensible option.
This is when it all got a bit complicated. C and I both have minor permanent health conditions. Nothing life-threatening, but they have to be declared. So that I don’t have to grit my teeth and press the keys really hard I’ll cut to the chase (although I must mention one phone conversation I have with an Indian subcontinent chap who took five attempts to type in my email address – neither of us could understand each other): the bill looked like coming to somewhere between six to nine hundred pounds for the nine months. Most of the insurers don’t insure over-45s for long term trips, and nearly all of the others class a long-term trip as anything under three months. With my debit card at the point of accepting the fate of a man about to lose a limb in order to be extracted from a piece of heavy machinery, I made one last website visit – to Liverpool Victoria (the green heart, small cars, attractive women – fun adverted based on the fact that the acronym LV can be made to seem like the word ‘love’); at least I’d heard of them.
Nine months; a 57 and 52 year old; basic cover (don’t need cancellation insurance); both our pre-existing medical conditions covered; but no ski-cover – £264. How does that work? Really? We took it.
The same thing happened with insuring Doris. Like any vehicle she needs comprehensive cover and, whilst expensive beasts, motorhomes are generally cheap to insure. They do low mileages, are driven by old people at the same speed as a mobility scooter and everybody steers clear of them. For some inexplicable reason the moment you decide to live in them (which must reduce the chance of theft?) the insurance goes through the roof. Here I had done my research and had budgeted £1000 for Doris’ insurance. I phoned the company everyone uses (and apparently the only company that understands people who full time) and, have a guess what?, that’ll be £1000 please.
I but my lip. C suggested I phone someone else. So I did. I phoned the Caravan and Camping Club. Explained what we were doing, that we needed 365 days of European cover and we were living in Doris, although we used C’s sister as our home address. Yes that was all clear, thank you sir. Hold on whilst I get a quote. £248. What, sorry? Let’s be clear about what we’re doing for the next twelve months….yes sir, we get that. The price is as quoted. So how does that work? We took that as well.
Ok, so I’ve bored you all now. But there may be one or two full-timers who might now look to LV and the C&CC and if that’s the case then it’s been worth losing the majority of my small readership.
I had fun in the Virgin Mobile store yesterday and, thankfully (and also maybe of some interest) sorted European comms out. In short it costs me nothing to receive calls abroad with Virgin no matter what my monthly contract is. Jen is on Vodaphone. It costs nothing for her to phone a UK mobile if its abroad (Virgin cost 90p per minute). Hey presto. Sorted. Jen can phone me abroad and it costs neither of us anything. We upped Jen’s allowance to unlimited calls and reduced my Virgin monthly to £5 a month as I won’t be using my phone abroad and even if I do I’d attract a European tarriff. The fun bit was that Virgin made a mistake changing my contract, so I went back in. As they sorted it I went round all of the display phones and stuck the Wanderlings front page on all of them – hah! The real bonus is that because they made a mistake I got an upgrade in minutes and data for my £5. I love Richard Branson.
We did some other shopping, I washed Doris and went for a run, and C dyed bits of Jen’s hair bright purple. I guess it’s an in-look (the woman who served me in Virgin had all her hair dyed various shades of purple and she wasn’t even from Eastern Europe) and as a father I have to nod vigorously and congratulate her on the colour. Notwithstanding the hair debacle, she is looking fabulous at the moment.
We popped across to James’ for supper (C cooked a magnificent Mexican – we threw away the sombrero) where James and I proceeded to drink a little bit more than we should have done. My excuse is that I drove every evening throughout the whole of the BFIW and was drier than unbuttered toast; I can’t speak for James – but he’s young enough not to care. But we did have good fun.
Off to see Rebecca and Steven today in Wolverhampton via a parent friend who lives in Gloucester. On the road again….
For those of you who have made it to the end of this – have a good weekend.
At least I wasn’t hung over. I’d taken up the role of taxi driver for all of the evening slots. It wasn’t so people could smell the burning martyr, it’s just that drinking is something I have no problem dipping in and out of. So yesterday morning I was almost as fresh as a dandelion, except I’d picked up a head cold probably from wantonly swimming in the Med. If that was the case I was about to exacerbate the problem by insisting we all went to the Adriatic so we could compare and contrast. After everyone got themselves sorted (and I managed to post the blog, which, with the hotel wifi talking to the WordPress server using HF and morse code, took me forever) we embarked the car through the front and rear doors using the flipflops provided at about lunchtime. And headed east.
It was a slow meander through endless olive groves, all immaculately set out and bordered by the chaos that is run-down Italy, which from our limited experience, is anywhere south of Rome. The Adriatic coast here typified this.
The beach we stopped at for lunch and a swim was flanked by a ten-year old build which had started to morph into the shrub and sand. The littoral was littered with unpainted single storey concrete holiday homes all boarded up for the winter. The beach-side resorts were charmless, tatty (broken in places) and would not attract even the hardiest Butlins supporter. But, although the sea was rough, it was warm and the surf was inviting. And I suppose if you were to throw open the cafe doors and transport in a few thousand brightly dressed Italians (it’s their resort, not international) the place would probably become fun, easy going and relaxed. Pretentious it couldn’t be; pleasant almost certainly.
Richard and I braved the surf for twenty minutes and we reverted to our youth. Where we picnicked, a kingfisher, unaware that this wasn’t the place for
upmarket types, dipped in and out of a small lagoon exposing its fluorescent blue cloak for the sun to smile at. And (we should have known better) the combination of strong wind and bright sun shrivelled our exposed surfaces, tightening our skin – no nip and tuck required now C.
We drove on to Lecce, a major town where we we due to supper with most of the wedding Brits and say our farewells. I know our cultures are different, but Sunday night in Wells is a timid affair with most of us watching Countryfile and preparing for another week at work. In Lecce partying had recently been passed into law. It was packed. Jam packed. It’s a big town with a small quarter of a Roman amphitheatre taking up part of the main square. We had
difficulty squeezing into and then out of the square; the whole town was heaving with a population intent on having a good time. When we left the restaurant at about nine-thirty it was the same thing, except perhaps busier. Three West Africans played their bongos to a delighted crowd and some other folk had set up some blocks for people to step on and over. Everyone else was milling about, talking, smoking and heading into and out bars. It makes you wonder how anyone manages to complete a full day’s work on a Monday. Perhaps they don’t.
It took us an hour to get back to the hotel and we were up with the lark’s youngest cousin at three to hoof our way back over to Naples and their cunningly hidden airport, made more difficult to find in the Italian version of the early morning rush hour – when two lanes become three, sometimes four.
Was it all worth it? The early starts and long days? Absolutely. The wedding, as described, was spectacular and an event we will never forget. We’ve learnt that this part of Italy, the south east, is not really worth a second trip, but southern Italy remains a draw in a post-apocalyptic sense – shabby, deserted post summer, but warm and v friendly. The food was scrummy and the people a pleasure. As such it has reaffirmed our drive to head for Sicily for Christmas, but probably skirting the west rather than east coast. But we’ve yet to fully think it all through. Downsides are that diesel is at least as expensive, if not more pricey than it is in the UK and, unlike Spain and Portugal, the hinterland is pretty much like the coast but without the lapping sea. Plusses are – well that rustic, peeling charm that is everywhere. In the south it’s a country where personal expression and happiness outweigh the need to paint the windowsills. And that suits us.
Next for us a couple of weeks of admin and catching up and saying cheerio to a few people. We hope to be at Dover mid-October, but no ferry has been booked yet. It will, inevitably, evolve and, just as inevitably, adapt at the last minute. That’s the beauty of Stage 3…..
This will be published late as I’m writing this on Easyjet 12345 and we don’t get in for another two hours. Oh well.
The catholic service was not as high church as we were expecting, there was no incense, no interminable readings, no inquisition. It was held in a beautiful Southern Italian church dappled in September sunshine, conducted by a kind-eyed and smiling priest who did his best to help us Brits to maintain pace with his Italian. There were claps, cheers and kisses. There was laughter and warmth. Photos were taken inside and outside the church, and whilst I felt the official photographers just got in the way a bit, there were no barking of orders to gather people together, it just happened in a relaxed and sensible way.
The reception, on the other hand, was a monster. Not the sort of monster that invades your dreams, chases you round the park and tries to chew off your legs. No, this was a Monsters Inc sort of monster. All huge, over powering, never ending – but fluffy adorned with navy and light blue stripes and as scary as an untoasted marshmallow. It had opulence, order and slickness all hidden in a sea of style and panache. It was the wedding that George Clooney would have preferred to be at. Indeed, I’m sure I saw Michael Douglas waltz in off his super-yacht with Katherine Z-J by his side, say his hellos and disappear down to the casino in Brindisi. It was just fabulous and we, and most of the other Brits who attended, were v lucky to have been invited and I feel unlikely to see anything like it ever again in our lifetimes.
(Wifi tricky, more photos to follow)
The reception was held at a pink Moorish palace that had been converted into ‘a place to hold weddings’. It wasn’t the Alhambra, but it was a mini version. In one seamless seven hours we went from carefully crafted canapés and champagne on one outside area (we were all stuffed by the time we had tried everything on offer – the generosity of the day was staggering), followed by a sit-down outside buffet of six stands of anti-pasta (we’d put on a stone already) accompanied by two different servings of fine wine in another outside area, followed immediately inside on set tables (just in case we were hungry) by a sit-down five-course dinner with whole scampi on smoked tuna, two sorts of pasta courses, a superb breaded sea-bass and side order of rum sorbet – various expensive wines were served throughout. We then reconvened in another, now sensitively candlelit outside area, where the most enormous of wedding cakes was cut, we helped ourselves to a mouth-watering selection of patisseries, ice-cream, strangely shaped small iced cakes, exotic fruit and whatever post-dinner alcohol you could ask for. Oh and then a waiter came round with espressos – and I’m sure if you had asked him if you could stick your finger in his ear he would have obliged; the service was discrete but overwhelmingly efficient.
Sometime during this marathon the bride and groom arrived in a concours old Renault, we played some sort of standing up to questions game where the happy pair had to work out what we were being asked, we were entertained with a couple of short family films and a band played throughout. We danced, well the Brits danced to the disco stuff and then the Italian contingent showed us what true dancing was with a display of their flamenco equivalent – the bridesmaids were particularly good at this, not that I paid too much attention. Throughout there was an effete fiddler energetically fiddling to almost every section of the occasion and at every table. Almost annoying.
And I guess that was perhaps the only schism in a quite beautiful day. The Italians and the Brits didn’t mix that much. It didn’t detract from the day and there were plenty of conversations between the two groups, especially between the younger generation, but it was noticeable. We spoke to an Italian General and his wife (friends of Simon and Rosemary) who told us that this was all pretty standard for an Italian wedding. No wonder the Italian economy is in tatters…
Anyhow, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who had a handle into a truly memorable day. And our best wishes to Amy and Vincenzo for their future. They’re flying back to Australia in a couple of days where they currently both live and work. Hopefully we will see them at some point soon.
Rest day today.
It was a straight forward itinerary: train from Abbeywood to Charing Cross, a short walk to Great Russell Street to C’s cousin’s (Eva) house, church, lunch, walk to the Tower of London to see the poppies and then London Bridge train back to Abbeywood. Reading that seems to make it a fullish day, but in the end we squeezed the life out of Sunday – wrung it dry.
Eva lives with her two children directly across from the British Museum. It is a lovely spot: central without being centric; bustling without being busy. Charing Cross to her house was a calm walk, too early to be inundated with tourists, but late enough to catch the incredibly complex peeling of St Martin in the Fields bells – so called because originally it lay between Westminster and the City, in a field. You would never believe it. We came with a couple of backpacks of washing (bless Eva) and C quickly got to work with loading whilst Eva prepared a roast rice chicken dish with more garlic than Buffy got through in six episodes. We made her local church, the recently renovated St George’s of Bloomsbury, in good time (it’s a five minute walk away) and I spent the next hour contemplating the purpose of religion, which I get, against its need for associated dogma, process and icons. The three of us took up this discussion over a delicious lunch (don’t come near me until next
Christmas) with Eva standing firm on the need for something like the church to offer ‘tradition’ to many people who, unlike us – her Dad was also in the Army – have had it ingrained. I take her point, but I remained unconvinced that Jesus would have really seen the need for sung prayers, incense distributed willy-nilly, fancy uniform, bibles kissed and responses quoted verbatim, all in his name. None of us disagreed with each other, we just never came to a consensus.
As well as covering the usual ‘catch up’ topics, Eva had managed to recover some v old family albums from her mother. These were both charming and hilarious, the books protecting many photos of soldiers with big moustaches
purposefully maintaining our Victorian conquests as far east as India and south as South Africa. C’s (and Eva’s) Grandfather and Great Grandfather were among those posing for the camera. After Georgina’s passing out on Friday that now makes it five generations of us near related lot taking the Queen (or King’s) shilling. Fabulous.
We left her about fourish and walked the three miles to the Tower of London to look into the moat and see the ceramic poppies sewn there to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One.
They hope to have nearly 900,000 poppies in place by Armistice Day in November. One poppy for each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the Great War. They must be close to the total already as they are everywhere. It is a moving sight, but also a piece of genius by the person who had the big idea and the designer who has helped pull it off. The poppies fall from two tower windows and the resultant spillage is a clear blood red against a vibrant green turf – we were lucky to see it against an oblique afternoon sun. I took scores of pictures, and, as words don’t really add much I’ll just throw out a couple:
But that was not all. The walk from Eva’s took us through the City with its array of new, comically misshaped, ridiculously named mini-skyscrapers, turning what was once just the lonesome NatWest Tower into a mini-manhatten. St Pauls looked resplendent with it’s white stone, dark shadowy pillars, copper green dome and gold trimming, also enhanced by a falling September sun. On the
other side of the river the Shard, so big it is part of every panorama, hid the sun for as a long as it could, but popping out from behind the building it was as photogenic as Cheryl Cole. Standing on Tower Bridge the whole place looked new, clean, sharp and exciting. I did a lot of London in my late teens when I was a newly commissioned Army Officer strutting my stuff about town – with a youthful arrogance that I disdain now. It was a grubby city, dark and unwelcoming. Today’s mix of old and new has been executed brilliantly and with the river providing the artery between the three hubs: Westminster to the City and onto Canary Wharf, and with the inbetween bits either tastefully new, or gracefully renovated, it has to be one of the very best cities in the world. I couldn’t stop taking photographs…
[there’s discussion between the two of us as to the benefit of my editing…we’re, as yet, unconvinced.]
We got back pretty exhausted and resorted to beans on toast for supper – it was easy and allowed us to recover, prepare some stuff for today and reflect on a full but rewarding day.
Today we meet up with two of C’s old girls (Elaine and Katherine) on Blackheath for a picnic and then we’re going to Lucy’s (one of C’s ex- deputies), taking the makings of supper with us. Cycling again…we’re going to need a holiday.
“Those are skis on your roof then? Do you know something we don’t?”
Ha! This was the first person since we started this adventure to notice that we were fully loaded – an older man on the campsite just before we left yesterday morning. We explained that they were up on the roof for when we ski next Easter in the Alps. We didn’t go on to explain that we’d skied in Scotland before, but, had we done so we’d have told him it lacked, well, pretty much everything you’d expect from an Alpine resort. Like snow, ehh, mountains, a choice of runs and associated ski lifts, that Alpine ambience, you know all chic and ski babes. It did have plenty of wind and, if I’m honest, it kept us occupied for a day. But it was hardly skiing. However, the point here is someone noticed that we had skis on the roof! We were able to to regale the fact that we were living in Doris for a bit and he seemed genuinely interested. “Best of luck with that then.” Bless.
Gazza the Garmin (good enough for….oh be quiet) had us arriving at the Burrell Collection at about 12.30. But, whilst he’s all knowing he clearly hasn’t seen the state of the roads between Killin and Glasgow. As such I have some advice for the soon to be President Salmond: get you donkey jacket and hard hat on, come up here and shovel some tarmac. Doris is (I have to say this quietly in case she hears me) a truck. Under the glamorous frock she’s wearing lorry knickers. As a result not only does she feel every bump, she amplifiers it. C tried sleeping in the bedroom (just above the back wheels) some time back and she lost all her fillings. On the way to Glasgow the roads were awful; potholed and gravely. So, Chancellor Salmond, put that on top of your ‘to do’ list.
The Burrell Collection is worth a visit. William and his brother took over Dad’s Glasgow shipping agency in 1885 and intelligent investment saw the company grow so when they sold it in 1918 it was worth a packet. William was always a collector and used the proceeds to expand his buying and selling of antiquities and works of art. He was a very shrewd acquirer and a meticulous documenter (everything recorded in school exercise books), but above all he saw the need for his vast collection to be visible to all. In 1944 he gifted the whole lot to the City of Glasgow specifying that it should be housed at least sixteen miles from the city centre to avoid pollution. Unfortunately no obvious building was available to show the 9,000 works until well after his death when Pollock House (whilst closer than the specified radius had large grounds and was deemed to be rural enough) was also gifted to the city.
It took until 1983 for the new building in the grounds of Pollock House to be opened to the public. Unfortunately for the builders (not mentioned in the blurb), it only took another thirty three years for the building to spring a number of leaks and, as a result, the mezzanine floor is now closed; we understand that the whole building will close in 2016 to sort the problem. Shame.
Nonetheless it is a pleasant enough building from the outside in a modernist, eighties way, and whilst the artwork is nearly all a bit too old for my liking (unless it’s architecture, mid-nineteenth century onwards for me please – there’s only so many fallen madonnas I can cope with; age is irrelevant to C, but she prefers bronzes), inside it’s all nicely put together with plenty of
space and light. Some of the architectural art work is actually integrated into the fabric of the building and whole rooms have been set aside as facsimiles of Hutton Castle, the Burrell family home. For me the room full of medieval stained glass and the gallery with more Degas’ pastels than you could shake a charcoal stick at, took top spot. Oh and there’s one of Rodin’s ‘thinkers’ – one of the smaller bronzes – if that’s what charges your Prius.
Our next date in the diary is with Nick and Chris on Wednesday night, old friends we’ve not seen for years. They live in Lincolnshire so we’ve decided to pop via Newcastle and see the Angel of the North and compare it to the very special Kelpies. So we headed south down the M74 (my fave) and pulled off just north of Moffat and parked up in a Forestry Commission slot for the night. I went for a run and we spent a couple of hours doing not a great deal, secured some dates for the next month and enjoyed the quiet. Fray Bentos for supper again: easy and quick. Even I can cook that.
Apparently it’s going to heat up again sometime soon? Fabulous.
Have a good Tueaday.
Let me take you back a few years. Perhaps a couple of thousand. Let’s assume you’re Iron Age, or similar, and you’ve got up in the morning without the need for a cup of coffee and are all ready for hunting, collecting water or digging up mushrooms. There’s a group of you, a tribe of sorts, communicating by pointing and grunting and, just as you pop out for a day’s foraging, the elder comes along and through sign language asks your opinion on what you lot should do to celebrate your pagan god. You’ve tried burning virgins, which was fun but wasteful; he now wants something more substantial – more permament. You ponder for a bit, look around you, scratch your bum and come up with an idea: let’s get some big stones together and put them in a recognisable shape…..I know, like our God, the sun. Circular. You make the point by drawing a sun shape in the sand with a sharp stick. And, hold on. rather than just lay them down in a circle like a group of benches where you could all (as equals) sit facing each other mouthing and pointing to the solutions of the tribe’s issues, why not get pointy ones and stand them on end? Like a circular shed with lots of doors and no roof?
The elder shakes his head… No that wouldn’t do. You see they have a gi-huge one of those, seven hundred miles south. That would be ecclesiastical plagarism. We need to be original. And be unphased by potential copyright laws and lawyers (the elder makes a two fingered gesture with his right hand which he’d never used before, but thought appropriate when describing a lawyer).
But of course, and here’s my point, stone circles are everywhere. All over the world, but particularly here in the UK. And yet how did they catch on when, unless I’m mistaken, the only way of passing ideas was on foot and by grunting to the next man. It’s uncanny that the Killin stone circle is a tiny Stonehenge. Which came first? And how did this craze catch on? Surely it wasn’t all spontaneous? Someone somewhere will have done a PhD on this and have an idea on how this could have happened. If anyone knows, please enlighten us.We came across the stone circle (clearly the elder lost the argument and you won, were promoted to elder and named a month of the year after yourself) at the end of our longest walk so far. We were booked into a local pub for our anniversary meal and were keen to spend the day doing something. I sort of won with, after a late breakfast, a walk up to the Lochan Breaclaich reservoir. It was due to be about an eight miler, the way out being up, the way back more suited to a go kart. The outward route was a service road to the reservoir and, thankful for C’s ankle, tarmac. It was tough though. About a thousand foot of climb in a continuous two miles. The first half was through dense (and v attractive) forest and the top half across open gorse and heather landscape littered with sheep. The reservoir was not attractive, but we sat and had lunch on the middle of it looking down to the village trying hard to pick out the campsite. But it proved impossible.
Our walk back through the forest showed us that autumn was as close as commuters on the tube. The bracken, as we had seen yesterday, was turning brown at the edges and one or two of the trees had decided that red was the new green. It was cold enough to wear a hat, but we were spared rain – and I wasstill wearing my shorts! We might be back south in time to see the best of autumn at Stourhead. Let’s see, shall we?
To get back to Doris we took a slightly different route which led us across the River Tay flood plain and to the stone circle. We also had a look round the very ruined castle and followed an old railway track into the village. I got the OS e-sheet out when we got back and did the sums: ten miles without the climb. We were making progress. And in need of a cup of tea.
Supper out was lovely. There were plenty of places to choose from and we chose well. Neither of us went for a burger, which was a first (simple people = simple tastes) and we spent some of the time sorting out our itinerary for the next month. We know we have five days in London and a flying trip to Brindisi for an Italian wedding. But after that we have a couple of weeks to fill before we head onto the continent with Doris. Between now and then we have people to see and stuff to do, so we pieced together a bit of a diary and shall start asking people if we can burden ourselves on them today.
Hopefully, in the midst of the telephone calls and emails, the Burrell Collection in Glasgow early afternioon. I shall report back. By the way, if you want to see the most atmospheric of stone circles take a trip to the Isle of Lewis and visit theirs…