Picture it.

It was Thursday afternoon. My Grand Tour had formally drawn to a close twelve days ago when I walked out of Central Station and back into the real world.

But I had felt continuously unsettled and uneasy since then. I’d lost sleep and had found it difficult to concentrate. Newspapers had gone unread and phone calls unmade and unanswered.

Instead, I’d spent twelve days looking at photographs and reading the notes I’d made along the way. I had a debilitating hunger and thirst to recall and re-live every moment of my adventure, to the exclusion of everything else.

So I had spent twelve days believing that this post-holiday sense of anti-climax - almost of grief - was normal and yet knowing that it wasn’t.

My old friend Brian had invited me to stay with him in London for a few days. Perhaps, he thought, our old stamping grounds there could wrap themselves around me like a bandage while the mysterious wound healed.

Which is why, on this sunny late Thursday afternoon in Spring, we were having ‘high tea’ in the immaculately-manicured grounds of the Oakley Court hotel, on the Thames near Windsor.

Brian was regaling me with stories of the hotel’s convoluted history - ‘the St Trinian’s films were shot here’ - but our table was right by the river and my eye was caught by two great crested grebes near the opposite bank. They were flirting and showing off to each other; it was that time of year, I suppose.

‘You have to hand it to great crested grebes, haven’t you?’ I said, darkly.

‘Do you? Why?’

‘Any creature that can make its way in the world with a name like great crested grebe deserves all the applause it can get’.

Brian looked at me across the scones and fairy-cakes. ‘I don’t understand’ he said.

‘I bet it was bullied in the evolutionary playground with a name like that. Great crested grebe. The wombats must have had a hard time, too. And the natterjack toads. And the kakapos…’

Brian came over and sat next to me.

He looked genuinely concerned, as well he might with jokes of that quality.

We sat in the comfort of communal silence for a while, as only old friends can. Then, as it was beginning to get dark, Brian suggested that it was time to drive back to London.

I glanced across the river. The grebes had gone.

We walked along the riverbank and across the lawns to the car park. I stood for a moment and looked at the view. It was so quintessentially English. The river was flowing lazily and comfortably eastwards to London. On the far side, a mass of osiers, hazels and alders were cover for blackbirds, mallards, coots, moorhens, sparrows, tits, water-rats, rabbits, foxes - and my grebes in their love-nest.

On this side, the tamed and clipped gardens of a country-house hotel. Tea and cucumber sandwiches, ivy-hung walls, geometrical flower-beds and a lovingly-maintained display of at least 40 types of tree. How glad I've always been that the English love trees so much!

All around me, new life and new hope were emerging with the advancing Spring, dipping their toes in its waters.

It was like something was being said.

At that precise moment, I realised why I was still in thrall to the Grand Tour. There was a kind of link missing from the story.

No, not a link. An outcome. It wasn't finished. There was something - someone - missing from the narrative.

The story was thus incomplete and my Spring was on hold.

‘I’m sorry, Brian. I have to go.’


‘Back. Just back.’

‘But you’ve only just returned!’

‘I know. But I have to go back.'

Psychologists of various hues - and Oscar Wilde - have advised that the very worst thing you can do when presented with temptation is to resist it. I was determined to avoid the 'if only...' syndrome and I tried to explain to Brian that I didn't want to live the rest of my days not knowing what may have happened if I'd given in to the urge to return to France.

And the only way to do that was to go.

I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I had no access to a computer there, so I called my friend John in Newcastle, who had.

I asked him if he would do something for me without asking any questions and without being even mildly critical. He said he would. That’s the sort of person he is.

‘Go onto the internet, then. Book me a journey back to France.’


‘Do it now. Please. Book me some tickets for Saturday.’

Almost without taking a breath, he asked me whereabouts in France I wanted to go.

‘Macon,’ I said, with no hesitation at all.

He asked me where that was. ‘It’s about halfway along the express line between Geneva and Paris.’

I heard him clicking and typing as he surfed the internet for me.

‘You’re sure about this?’

I told him I was.

‘Give me half an hour or so, then’.

True to his word, he called me in less than twenty minutes.

He’d done it. Thanks to the wonders of the internet - and the monumental inventiveness of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee - I was booked onto the early morning train on Saturday from Newcastle to London, then the midday Eurostar to Paris. Then...the mid-afternoon train to Macon. John had even printed off the tickets, which would be waiting for me at home the next day.


And here’s a funny thing.

As I boarded the dawn train to London two days later, it didn’t feel as if I was retracing my steps.
It didn’t feel as if I was simply revisiting an exciting recent experience. Or that I was continuing an old story.

No - these were new steps I was taking. This was a new story.

And it was only after I had reached Paris and had boarded the train for Macon that I realised I had forgotten to do something rather important.

I pulled out my phone and sent a text.

‘Er...tu es occupe ce weekend? J’espere non!’


It’s true, isn’t it? Not all those who wander are lost.


A friend sent me these facts and figures about what she called ‘our failed Global Village’. I think they are thought-provoking enough to deserve a blogposting all to themselves.

Read on...

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:

There would be:
57 Asians

21 Europeans

14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south

8 Africans

52 would be female

48 would be male

70 would be non-white

30 would be white

70 would be non-Christian

30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual

11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.

80 would live in substandard housing

70 would be unable to read

50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth

1 would have a college education

1 would own a computer

When one considers our world from such a compressed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes glaringly apparent.

The following is also something to ponder...

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness - you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation - you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend a religious or political meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death - you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep - you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish 
somewhere - you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If your parents are still alive and still married, you are very rare indeed.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read at all

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
One of the world's greatest-ever paraprosdokianists


In this blogposting...
*Some Paraprosdokians To Make You Smile
*If A Dog Were Your Teacher...
Now let it all hang out...

Almost every kind of wordplay, turn of phrase or expression-type has a name, from acronyms to verbification via puns, spoonerisms, palindromes, malapropisms, aptronyms and mondegreens. All of them are, of course, grist to the truckshunter mill, as it were. Indeed, I’ve just spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring some of them.

I’ve even tried to invent or recall an example of my own for each category, with very limited success. Try it yourself; it’s not always as easy as it might appear.

I have Michael in Houghton-le-Spring to thank for all this. He’s emailed me (at the address below) about two of his favourite wordplay types: auto-antonyms and paraprosdokians.


An auto-antonym is a word which, for one reason or another, has two exactly opposite meanings. Here are a few of the intriguing examples that Michael quotes...

*fast - can mean ‘moving rapidly’ (running fast) or ‘not moving at all’ (stuck fast)
*bolt - can mean ‘to attach firmly’ or ‘to leave quickly’
*quite - can mean ‘slightly’ (quite pleasant) or ‘completely’ (quite amazing/stunning/beautiful)
*out - can mean ‘shining’ (the stars are out) or just the opposite (the fire’s gone out)
*overlook - can mean ‘not notice at all’ or ‘inspect closely’
*left - can mean ‘depart’ (I left at six) and ‘remaining’ (I was the only one left)

And there are lots more.

(As a matter of interest - to me, at least - I’ve even turned up one or two French examples. Hote can mean ‘guest’ or ‘host’.)

Paraprosdokians, though, are a different kettle of fish altogether. Michael defines them as (and I quote him here) ‘figures of speech in which the second part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. They are frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, they are extremely popular among comedians and satirists’.

Definitions are all well and good, as far as they go, but the best way to understand what paraprosdokians are is to look at some of the wonderful examples Michael sent me.

*She got her good looks from her father; he's a plastic surgeon - Groucho Marx
*I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it - Groucho Marx (I love that one)
*One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know - Groucho Marx
*I haven't slept for ten days. Because that would be far too long - Mitch Hedberg (I love that one too)
*I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with them later - Mitch Hedberg
*I like going to the park and watching the children run and jump around. They don't know I'm using blanks - Emo Philips
*Actually, my CD was released in 1985, in return for two German missionaries and a Dutch urologist - Emo Philips
*I discovered my wife in bed with another man, and I was crushed. So I said, 'Get off me, you two!' - Emo Philips
*It's too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as a pack of wild dogs - Jack Handey
*The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face - Jack Handey
*Keep reaching for the stars, because those are the only people who can help you - Maria Bamford

Here are some more from Michael’s wonderful list. He doesn’t say who their originators were. If you know, or want to try finding out, please get in touch.

*I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his bus.
*Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car
*Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

*If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
*War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
*Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.
*I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
*Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars but check when you say the paint is wet?
*A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
*You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.
*Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.
*Money can't buy happiness, but it certainly makes misery easier to live with.
*Some people cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.
*When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Brigade usually uses water.
*To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
*Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.
*A bus is a vehicle that goes twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

Aren’t they smashing?

Peter in South Shields sent me this. Sentimental old fool!

If a dog were your teacher, you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
Take naps and stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run straight back and make friends.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
Stop when you’ve had enough.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you’re not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
And MOST of all… When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by
and nuzzle them gently.

OK - dry your eyes.

Thanks Peter.

I want to hold AGM XXII either in the week before Christmas - probably on Wednesday 22 December - or in the week after Christmas - probably on Wednesday 29. In both cases, I'm quite prepared to be the only turckshunter who turns up!

If you have any thoughts about this, please get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


‘Personal space’ is a concept utterly foreign to the Parisian psyche.

Thus the only way to deal with Paris successfully is to do what its battle-hardened and bull-nosed citizens do: imagine it as your own personal space. You can‘t go far wrong if you try to pretend that you’re the only person in the entire city centre and act accordingly.

The endearing English habits of holding doors open for people, giving way to other pedestrians in the street or on the metro and being terribly polite and genteel, will quickly reduce any progress to an unbearable snail’s pace as you find yourself being pushed aside, barged into and generally taken advantage of in a peculiarly Parisian way.

Indeed, any deferential actions on your part will engender far more suspicious or disapproving looks than walking straight into people without any apology at all. That’s the way Parisians behave and so should you.

If you don’t, you won’t get anywhere.

I was forcibly reminded of all this as I made way to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar train to London. It’s only three stops on the metro from my lodgings and it wasn’t even rush hour. But the Paris Metro is a force to be reckoned with.

Paris has one of the best public transport systems in the world. There are dozens of bus routes, a fast-track underground system called the RER and a growing network of re-introduced trams, of which I am naturally very fond.

But the city’s pride and joy is - and has been for decades - the Metro.

It’s unquestionably one of the best metro systems in the whole world. There are 14 lines (the newest of which is completely computer-controlled; there isn’t even a driver on the train) and the city boasts that, in ‘greater Paris’, you’re never more than 400m from a Metro station.

It makes the London Underground (and London has three times the population of Paris) look like a plaything.

But, as anyone who has ever used it will testify, there’s something unnervingly forbidding about it. Reaching the platforms seems always to involve endless flights of steps - often up, down, and up again. And they’re not just toytown staircases either; flights of over 40 steps are not uncommon.

Naturally, escalators and lifts are still a thing of the future on the Paris Metro. And if you’re even slightly disabled you’ll probably find it easier to climb Mont Blanc than make your way from one side of the city to the other by Metro.

Add to this the interminably long passageways at interchanges - all of them covered with off-white shiny lavatory bricks from floor to roof - and you have a system that is less than it should be.

But the big puzzle is why - when the system is so comprehensive and the trains run so very frequently - does it always contrive to be so crowded?

The endless bumping and barging crowds (see above) drain away all thoughts of gentility and politesse and replace them with an enervating sense of powerless anxiety. It is to Parisians’ credit that there aren’t a dozen cases of ‘Metro Rage’ every day.

So, if you ever have to use the Metro - and eventually everyone has to use the Metro - do what I did that Friday morning. Stumble helplessly down (then up) the steps, push yourself and your luggage onto the train, try not to look anyone in the eye (unless you have a hidden agenda), be aware at all times of where your wallet/purse is and think of something comparatively calming, like being attacked by sharks.


As Eurostar sped north from Paris toward the Channel Tunnel, I tried very hard indeed to resist the temptation of thinking that my Grand Tour was already finished. But it wasn’t easy, especially as I reached a holiday landmark at Lille.

Lille is where I completed the circle. Coming in the opposite direction on the very first day of the tour, my Brussels-bound train had turned east at Lille. I had continued east to Cologne, south to Munich, Verona and Florence, north-west to Geneva and north to Paris and Lille. The Grand Tour Loop was complete.

It seemed to me that the rest of this final day was nothing so much as a mere formality. Even worse, as the train left Lille behind and the ground I was covering was no longer new, I got that sickly sinking feeling you get on the homeward bound leg of any holiday. You almost wish it away. You want it to be over and done with. All you want is to get home, have a nice cup of tea (impossible to get anywhere I visited), a biscuit (specially a shortbread biscuit - also impossible to get outside our sceptr’d isle) and a long, hot bath.

I’m very conscious that I’m beginning to sound like one of those detested English tourists who take cans of baked beans and bottles of industrial-strength brown sauce on holiday with them.

Regretfully, I have to say that they have a point. Just as we English haven’t quite mastered the art of croissant-baking (although we’re not far off), our continental cousins simply cannot scramble eggs the way nature intended. What you get is a plate of pale yellow gloop floating in what looks like (and perhaps is) soapy water.

And Italian cheese-on-toast is to die for. That is to say, you’d need to have expired before you’d even consider eating it.

Throughout my Grand Tour I often found myself wondering why the hotel I was staying in tried to imitate a ‘full English breakfast’. It simply can’t be done. Just as you need to be in Germany to sample the best sauerkraut or France for the best pancakes, so a cooked English breakfast becomes a grotesque parody of itself unless it’s prepared by an English cook - preferably in England itself.

Having said that, and in mitigation, there is some British food which not even a 5-star continental chef would even attempt to prepare. Porridge falls (or perhaps plops) into this category, as do fried bread, baked potatoes and poached eggs - the appeal of which escapes almost all mainland Europeans.


I wish I could say that I was wrong to feel so anti-climactic and forlorn on that last journey home. I wish I could tell you about the many interesting people I met that day, about the fascinating conversations I had. I wish I could regale you with anecdotes about the journey under the Channel Tunnel, the change of train in London and about the complex and pretentious thoughts I had as my final train stumbled up the East Coast main line to Newcastle.

But I can’t.

I paid my respects to the awesome St Pancras station by having a cup of coffee there and taking the photo (in this posting) of the wonderfully gigantic sculpture of the ‘kissing couple’ - then went next door to the shambles of King’s Cross. By this time, I really was starting to feel unsettled and unhappy. Without any doubt at all, King’s Cross was the ugliest, most cramped and chaotic station of my entire Tour.

Once it was a grand and romantic terminus but it’s mid-Victorian grandeur has been neglected for far too long. It stands as evidence of the shameful British disregard of our railway heritage.

It’s not a good station to be at if you’re feeling a little bit sorry for yourself anyway. It was truly terrible.

But almost as soon as the train left the station, a reminder that I was very much back in England made me smile. Within a very few minutes, there were five people in the seats around me making or receiving calls on their mobile phones. They talked as if no-one could hear them. They talked as if they didn’t care whether anyone could hear them or not.

This behaviour is unheard of on European trains. Throughout my Tour, I never, ever heard anyone talking on a mobile phone at their seat. Calls are taken or made in the vestibules at the ends of each carriage. Shouting loudly into a phone is uniformly regarded as inexcusably vulgar and is simply not tolerated.

I smiled as we headed north out of London. I was in the ‘Quiet Coach’ and was being deafened by the cacophony of ringtones and trivial conversations being bawled into phones.

Only the English, I thought, could tolerate and even cheerfully sustain such a paradox.


The train pulled slowly over the river and into Central Station. I looked out at the Tyne’s mighty bridges. St Nicholas’ Cathedral. The Keep. The Centre for Life. The Sage. The Quaysides. Dunston Staithes. And the river.

Newcastle is a monumental place to come home to.

Perhaps, I thought, there was someone on the train in the midst of their own Grand Tour. Perhaps they’d set out from Verona or Munich or Paris on their own trans-European train journey of discovery. Perhaps they were busy scribbling down notes about everything they saw and heard, as I’d been doing for the last fifteen days.

And perhaps they recognised the magnificence of this northern metropolis. Perhaps they realised that the city that was smiling its welcome at them that Friday afternoon was, in many surprising ways, a match for any other they’d seen or were likely to see on their Grand Tour.

I certainly hope so.

After all....not all those who wander are lost.
Andrew Nelson and Thierry D'Anjou
In this blogposting...
*Andrew and Thierry
*A Warning To Us All
*Leaving Comments on the Blog

Now go forth and multiply...

Hildie and I travelled over to Sunderland from Newcastle on the metro and were greeted at the station by the redoubtable Nev. Using the logic and deduction skills for which ex-railwaymen are rightly renowned, Nev had figured out that we’d be arriving by train and had walked to the station to tell us that the Winter Gardens, the AGM’s venue this time, was, in fact, closed.

As you may have noticed in previous blogpostings, we were aware that Thursday was Armistice Day but had reckoned without Sunderland’s Great And Good deciding to close the Winter Gardens so they could hold some dreary reception for the Duke of Kent. (It must have been dreary because Tyne Tees tv were there to cover it.)

Truckshunters, however, are never deterred by mere impossibility. The three of us walked up toward the small congregation that had gathered round the War Memorial, where we were met by Linda.

Together, we observed The Silence for Armistice Day. I’ve always found this ceremony profoundly moving. I can recall, when I was a London busman in the early 70s, that bus crews would stop their vehicles and stand together on the pavement in silence.

And I can remember, in Blue Bus days, notable Silences in Swan Hunter’s shipyard and on Bedford Street in North Shields. The seriousness - the solemnity - with which large numbers of people, busily going about their daily weekday lives, can suddenly stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are doing it, and stand together in total silence moves me very deeply.

When George V proclaimed that there should be a two-minute silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, part of the general idea must surely have been that everybody pauses for a while, whatever day it happens to be. It’s typical of British lip-service that, after the Second World War, the ‘act of remembrance’ was moved to the nearest Sunday - so as not to disrupt our busy lives too much. I was so glad when the British Legion launched its successful campaign a few years ago to have it moved back to November 11.

The Silence in Sunderland was almost perfect. It began and ended with cannon-fire from Bildon Hill and was only marred by the fact that the Council’s own employees continued to work close by.

Viv arrived at the AGM too - eventually - and, as usual, the conversation flowed as smoothly as the coffee. I reckon we all had a great time.

It ended rather sadly, though. A woman in the cafe passed out and it looked rather serious. Our very own Linda - a qualified first-aider - looked after her until the ambulance arrived.

Thanks Linda - and well done.

Hildie and I struck up a conversation with the two ex-servicemen you see above: Andrew Nelson (naturally known to his shipmates as The Admiral) and Thierry D’Anjou.

As you can see from his medals and his kepi blanc, Thierry not only served in the British Army but also in the French Foreign Legion - the medals on his right breast are French.

It seems, from the chat we had, that everything you’ve heard about the Foreign Legion is true. No questions are asked at recruitment - except that nowadays, they don’t accept all murderers; just some murderers.

Thierry told us that the training was unbelievably harsh - and that he thoroughly enjoyed it, and the next 20 years he spent with the Legion. Considering that, during that time, he fought in Algeria and the Congo, amongst many other highly dangerous and warlike places, I’m amazed that he survived at all, and said so.

(Apparently, 60% of Legionnaires do not, in fact, survive….)

Both Andrew and Thierry were immensely proud of their service records and of their medals, as well they might be. They both showed that enviable Forces’ bearing so common amongst ex-servicemen: polite, proud, assertive and somehow unselfconsciously authoritative, all at the same time.

Both men had exciting and fascinating stories to tell, all of which would have made riveting radio.

Thierry retired at the age of 60 - that is, 17 years ago - and chose to keep the name given to him when he joined the Foreign Legion.

Thierry D’Anjou was, in fact, born and bred in Sunderland. And a fine fellow he is, too.

My thanks to Andrew and Thierry for stopping to talk to us.

All-in-all, not yer average, run-of-the-mill AGM. Are they ever, though?

This is what happens when you attend a local Real Ale Festival and drink too much Cwrw Madog. I texted Lawrence to ask him what it tasted like. This was his reply….

‘A full-bodied session bitter with a malty nose and an initial nutty flavour with dominant bitterness. Well-balanced and refreshing with a dry roastiness on the taste and a good dry finish…’

You have been warned.

Several people have complained that they find it unnecessarily complicated - and sometimes even impossible - to leave a Comment in the Comments Box of the blog.

Hildie has taken the trouble to contact Sid, who knows a thing or two about such stuff. His reply to her was....
'URL stands for Uniform Resourse Locator, but it's nothing to get worried about.
I'd suggest opening up a Google account. It can be done from the Truckshunter web page ....
i.e. 'sign up here'.
Then, when that's done, you sign in by putting your email address in the username box,

and your password in the password box, and hey presto!
Sometimes the word verification doesn't show.

Just go through the stages outlined, and it'll be there on the second attempt
(have to add the password again though).'

I agree with Sid. The easiest way to be able to leave a Comment is to have a Google account. They're quick, easy - and free - to set up and are well worth having. I've used Googlemail for ages. Honestly, it's dead simple. It would need to be, as far as I'm concerned.

I’m in a bit of a quandary about this. Our first thoughts were that AGM XXII would be held during the week before Christmas, perhaps on Wednesday 22. I’m wondering, though, if it wouldn’t be better held during the week after - maybe on Wednesday 29.

What do you think?

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com

After a very moving ceremony, Alison was buried today in the lovely grounds of Durham Crematorium.

Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

Alison's funeral will take place
at 1100 this upcoming Friday, 12 November
at Durham Crematorium.


In this blogposting…
*The Glories of the NHS
*The Archers
*News From Nowhere
*And Finally…
Onward and upward...

The next AGM will take place this upcoming Thursday, 11 November at 1100 in Sunderland’s Winter Gardens cafe.

It will be the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Don’t read this if you’re about to go into hospital….

Every year, the NHS’s National Patient Safety Agency produces a report on ‘wrong-site surgery’ - operations carried out on the wrong limb or organ, or even on the wrong person altogether.

Apparently, there were 111 instances of wrong-site surgery in the last twelve months. Of these, no fewer than 57 involved patients undergoing surgery on the wrong part of the body.

And their were 41 instances of misplaced feeding tubes, putting patients at risk of being fed directly into the respiratory tract.

Just thought you'd like to know.

I’ve been an Archers Addict for decades. Every Sunday morning I would snuggle down beneath the duvet with an iced finger and listen to the Omnibus Edition of the programme. Life was simply incomplete unless I kept myself up-to-date with all the unlikely and implausible goings-on in Ambridge.

Until, that is, now.

Last weekend I made the fateful decision to stop listening. My life seems to have taken several Archers-unfriendly turns recently and keeping my weekly appointment with them has become increasingly difficult.

At the moment, it’s still cold turkey. I’m desperately unsure how long it will be before I’m forced to relent and take a sneak aural peek at Radio 4 just to make sure that everything’s all right in Borsetshire.

If you’re an Archers fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

As a kind of final salute to my friends in Ambridge, here is a News From Nowhere list of surprising things about the world’s longest-running serial drama….

*Richard Attlee, who plays Kenton Archer, is the grandson of Clement Attlee
*Charles Collingwood (Brian Aldridge) is very proud indeed of his ancestors, one of whom was our very own Admiral Collingwood
*Tom Graham, who plays Tom Archer, has just started a PhD in psychology
*Charlotte Martin (Susan Carter) is a research psychologist
*Felicity Finch, who plays the Geordie Ruth Archer, is also a BBC journalist who has been to Afghanistan four times in the last ten years
*Tim Bentinck (David Archer) is the 12th Earl of Portland; until recently, he was also the voice of London Underground’s Piccadilly Line, telling passengers to ‘mind the gap’
*Ian Pepperell (Roy Tucker) runs a pub in the New Forest.

I’ll miss them all.

A Scot has reclaimed the title of the world's best porridge-maker (see picture above) after it was won by an American last year.

Neal Robertson, from Auchtermuchty in Fife, used a spon – a double-backed spoon he invented – instead of a traditional rod-shaped spurtle – to prepare the dish. He said the spon and water from the hills above Auchtermuchty were the secret to making the perfect porridge.

Neal, who runs the Tannochbrae Tearoom, faced competition from last year's winner, Matthew Cox, of Portland, Oregon.

Other competitors prepared unusual mixtures such as west coast seafood porridge with scallops and hot smoked salmon and langoustine tails.

One of the reasons I’ve had to stop listening to The Archers is that I now have even more trivial and superfluous things to do. Recently, for example, a friend introduced me to the delights of ‘re-translation’.

It works like this.

You take a few famous lines of, say, poetry and paste them into one of the many free, internet translation sites, like Google Translate or Babel Fish, with a request that they be translated into French (or any other language you choose).

You then take the new version and paste that into the same site, this time requesting a ‘re-translation’ back into English.

The first verse of The Lady of Shalott comes out as…
'On each side the lie of river
Long fields of the barley and of rye
Which cloth the wold and meet the sky
And by the field the road runs close
At much-dominated Camelot.'

Wordsworth’s Daffodils...
'I wandered only like cloud
This fleet on the high one above the valleys and the hills
When the only one feature I saw a cloud
A crowd of jonquils however.'

And the National Anthem…
'God except our kind queen
Long our noble queen
God except the queen
Send you live it victoriously
Happy and splendourful
Over us long govern
God store the queen.'

It’s addictive. Try the words of your favourite song, or a great quotation from history.

...congratulations to Robin Hendrickson (pictured) and Eric Brandsness of Reno, Nevada. The Guinness Book of World Records has recently confirmed that their maine coon cat Stewie (also pictured) is the longest cat in the world.

He measures 1.2 metres (just over 4 ft) from head to tail.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
Sherry...isn't she lovely?
Lawrence at our regular breakfast meet this morning....isn't he - er...

In this blogposting…

*Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know

*Top Ten


Now, let the devil take the hindmost…

...will take place at 1100 on Thursday 11 November in Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

A big thankyou to Dave Shannon who has directed me to the Magazine Monitor of the BBC’s website. One of its features is the wonderful 10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week - grist to the truckshunter mill. All these unlikely snippets of (comparatively) useless information were taken from last week’s tv, radio, newspapers and magazines.

* Crows go to school.
* Flamingos use make-up.

* John and Margaret were the most popular baby names for 30 years.

* Polar bears wave.

* More than half of all Americans dress up at Halloween.

* The normal lifespan of an octopus is three years.

* Liberalism is genetic.

* A footballer can be allergic to grass.

* Mount Everest has its own 3G wireless network.

* Some 7.2 million British people get by without a wristwatch.

Aren’t they wonderful?

(Personally, I’d feel naked without a wristwatch.)

Kev has sent me these heavily-sarcastic lists of the Top Ten Reasons To Be….
I hope that, like me, you’re able to lay your laudable sense of ‘political correctness’ to one side for a while and find them as harmlessly funny as I did.

1 You can get arrested for growing plants, but not for smoking them.
2 You can make jokes about the Belgians and still drink their beer.
3a You can legally kill yourself
3b You can legally be killed
4 You're exactly like the Germans, except that nobody hates you.
5 You think you are a world power, but everyone else thinks Copenhagen is your capital...
6 You get to insult people and defend yourself by saying it's a national tradition.
7 You can put your finger in a dyke and it will save your country
8 You live in the most densely populated country in Europe, and still you've never seen your neighbours.
9 If the economy is bad, blame the Germans. If a war is started, blame the Germans. If you lose your keys, blame the Germans.
10 Bikes are public property. Locks are a challenge.

1 You get to speak three languages, but none of them intelligibly.
2 If other countries want to fight a war, they will do it in your country.
3 You can brew drinks out of fruit, and still call it beer.
4 You are either
4a Like the Dutch, just less efficient
4b Like the French, just less romantic
4c Like the Germans
5 Decent fries. Real mayonnaise. Great chocolate. The best beer.
6 No one knows anything about you, except for the Dutch and French and they make fun of you.
7 More scandals in a week than any other country in a decade.
8 You can drive like a maniac on the road and nobody cares.
9 All your famous countrymen are either imaginary, or sex-offenders.
10 Face it. It's not really a country, is it?

1 When speaking fast you can make yourself sound gay.
2 Experience the joy of winning the World Cup for the first time.
3 You get to eat insect food like snails and frog's legs.
4 If there's a war you can surrender really early.
5 You don't have to read the subtitles on those late night films on Channel 4.
6 You can test your own nuclear weapons in other people's countries.
7 You can be ugly and still become a famous film star.
8 Allow Germans to march up and down your most famous street humiliating your sense of national pride.
9 You don't have to bother with toilets, just @!#$ in the street.
10 People think you're a great lover even when you're not.

If you can think of any more, please feel free to send them to me.

And speaking of being French…

Eagle-eyed truckshunters may have noticed that Serge has become the latest follower (or ‘member’) of this blog - and not before time.

If you click on his photo at the top-left corner of the ‘Followers’ box on this main page, his membership pop-up window will appear. Click on the topmost ‘spepere’ link and you’ll be taken directly to his blog. (At least, that’s how you do it on a Mac; I’m not quite sure about Windows.)

Serge’s blog is still very much a work-in-progress; he only started it two days ago as a kind of experiment.

It’s in French (naturally) but he has included quite a few photos that you may like to take a look at. The one at the top is of the ancient, and very beautiful, city of Annecy. Then there are some pictures of the AGM Serge attended in August at the Tanfield Railway, followed by a few images (including a video) of the amazing Parc des Oiseaux (Bird Park) at Villars-les-Dombes.

I hope you like them.

Incidentally, I felt it was only polite, in view of this new international dimension to our friendly society, to devise a French version of ‘truckshunters’. However, because of the analytical nature of that abominable language, the best I’ve come up with is…...wait for it….

Aiguillieres des Wagons a Plate-Formes.

If anyone can concoct something less tedious, I’d be very grateful.

...either by leaving a comment in the Comments box of the blog or by sending an email to truckshunters@googlemail.com
Alison (on the left) at the June AGM


It was with very great sadness that I learned today of the death of Alison Best last night.

My friendship with Alison began many years ago when I was a presenter at BBC Radio Newcastle. She had sent me some photographs of her startlingly original paintings and I knew at once that I wanted to record an interview with her.

I can remember very well the midwinter’s day I travelled through the snow to her house in Kyo, where I was greeted with her warm smile which seemed to banish the cold and gloom of the weather.
When I saw her paintings ‘in real-life’ for the first time that afternoon, I was genuinely awestruck. Alison had single-handedly invented a new art form: Impressionist Stencilling. She showed me the methods she used to choose her subjects - almost always based on plants and other elements of the natural world - and how she composed her paintings.

This latter was a long and painstaking process. And, because Alison was breaking new ground with her work, she had only her artistic intuition to rely on. No-one had ever done what she was doing.

But all her efforts were well worthwhile. The way she combined form with colour and depth was breathtaking and unique; her pictures are almost mesmeric and yet always present something new to see on each viewing.

I love her work and am very proud indeed to possess two beautiful examples of it.

Alison was driven by her passion for, and deep interest in, the work she did and the way it was developing. That the innovation and beauty of her designs were not more widely recognised (especially by the iniquitous Biscuit Factory in Newcastle) is, I think, an indictment of the elitism and innate snobbery of the local ‘art mafia’. In my ideal world, Alison’s work would adorn local galleries, private homes and public offices (including the Pink Palace).

I like to think that she knew of the high-esteem in which I, and many others, held her, both personally and professionally.

With her death, the north-east has lost a colourful and imaginative artist of the highest order, and I have lost a friend.
Gare de Lyon, Paris
The Geneva to Paris train
The Louvre

In this blogposting…
*Robinson’s Grand Tour: Fourteenth Day
Now - go for it…


I wonder if all of Switzerland’s cities are like Geneva; breathtakingly proper, clean, polite, joyless and dull.

Think about it. Have you ever heard of anyone who’s ever had a fun holiday - full of memorable thrills, spills and excitement - in Basle, Zurich or Berne?

I thought not.


Breakfast in the hotel was acceptably dull, Geneva-style. Everything you’d expect to be there was there. Three different kinds of bread, a few scraggy bits of ham, some unidentifiable floppy cheese, a few small bowls of watery jam, and muesli by the bucketful.

Although by no means inadequate, it all managed to be tastelessly unappetising at the same time. As I slurped the dregs of my insipid coffee, I honestly began to wonder if the atmosphere of horrifying and stifling tedium with which Geneva had cloaked the previous evening had somehow seeped so far into my subconscious that the city had become, in my mind, irredeemably vapid; a non-place.

I began to toy with the idea of petitioning Google Earth to remove all traces of it from their satellite maps and photographs just to see if anyone would notice.

These trivial daydreams kept me lightly amused while I packed my bags and trundled down to the reception desk to check out.

Unusually for me, I used the stairs rather than the lift. This is because the lift was peculiarly claustrophobic; it had the approximate dimensions of a tea-chest or, even worse, a coffin. Anyone with the temerity to push their way in when it was already occupied would find themselves uncomfortably and uneasily cheek-by-jowl with other guests, unsmilingly eyeball to eyeball.

And it made a funny noise as it travelled up and down the shaft.

While I was getting my breath back at the foot of the stairs, something happened which went some way - admittedly, not very far - to alleviate the burdensome reputation that Geneva had etched into my mind.

The two receptionists were speaking a language utterly unknown to me.

I ‘did’ German at school and my Grand Tour had made the tones and lilts of Italian familiar to me. The receptionists sounded as if they were speaking a weird - and not altogether unpleasant - combination of the two. At one and the same time it sounded like German with an Italian accent - or Italian with a German accent.

At last - and far too late - something interesting was happening in Geneva.

When I handed in my key, I took the liberty of asking them what language they were using. It was Romanche; Switzerland’s fourth official language - which is seldom heard and thus almost never mentioned in dispatches.

So, in the interests of equity and fairness for which the English are rightly renowned, I’m mentioning it now.

That so many native European languages have managed to survive on our crowded, and linguistically imperialist, continent has always fascinated me and continues to do so. France has Provencal and Breton, Spain has Catalan and even the tiny Netherlands has Friesian (which is said to be the nearest living relative of English and is also spoken where the cows come from).

In Britain we have Welsh and Erse, of course.

But for me, the two European languages which have excited the most interest have been Romanche (because so few people speak it, despite its ‘official‘ status) and Basque (spoken in both France and Spain; a language so utterly and completely unlike any other on earth that no-one knows how it developed or when).

And so, for your edification and enlightenment, here are the numbers from one to ten - Romanche first…

in, dus, trais, quatter, tschintg, sis, set, otg, nov, diesch

...and now Basque…

bat, bi, hiru, lau, bost, sei, zazpi, zortzi, bederatzi, hamar

Like the rest of the language, Basque’s numbers are a total mystery. Zazpi? Hamar? Bost?

It might as well be Elvish or Klingon.

At least the hotel’s receptionists had given me something to think about while I waited for the train that would whisk me out of Geneva - probably for ever.


As a matter of fact, ‘whisked’ is something of an overstatement. Although the train was a TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse - high speed train) operated by French railways, it countered my enthusiasm to leave Geneva as rapidly as possible by ambling along at what seemed like walking pace. I could almost count the leaves on the trees as we crept from one river valley to the next.

It certainly didn’t feel as if the train would get me to Paris in less than three hours. And the heavily overcast sky and slow drizzle didn’t help, either. I felt distinctly and unmistakeably down in the mouth.

There was, however, one quickly-appearing consolation. Geneva lies at the end of a finger of Switzerland that juts into France. You can take a leisurely stroll from the City Centre and be inside France in half an hour. By train, I was crossing the penultimate border of my journey in just a few seconds.

Mind you, crossing mainland Europe’s national frontiers isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of border checkpoints, stopped trains, passport controls and customs checks. I didn’t encounter a single baggage search, security guard or peremptory deportation at any of the borders I crossed on my Grand Tour. Trains simply cross any frontier in their path without stopping.

(On the Munich to Verona leg of my journey, the train did stop at Brenner station, which straddles the Austro-Italian border - but only to change crews. I was thus able to stand with one foot in each country, a new experience for me.)

Thus - and almost without my realising it - the countryside I was looking at just after we left Geneva wasn’t Swiss but French.


Truckshunters will know that, since my Grand Tour, I have come to know France (or at least part of it) quite well. But, on this gray and damp Thursday morning, I was entering a country almost totally unfamiliar to me.

This is not a fact of which I am particularly proud. France is, after all, our nearest continental neighbour and, as the TGV picked up a little speed once inside its native territory, it struck me as iniquitous that I had managed to get through six whole decades having only visited Paris a couple of times and without any first-hand experience or knowledge of the French people, their country or their language.

Thus, the ‘voyage of discovery’ element of my Grand Tour had started as soon as I entered Belgium on the first day and had continued right through to this moment. As the train stopped at Bellegarde and then Bourg-en-Bresse, and travelled deeper into France, I was genuinely delighted to see how beautiful and varied the countryside thereabouts was - especially as the sky gradually cleared and the sun came out.

The terrain was heavily indented with hills, valleys and rivers. Dark forests draped the hillsides as the train sped west and north; villages were both small, sparse and, as we left the mountains behind, less and less Alpine.

Quite suddenly - or so it seemed to me - the train seemed to burst out of the landscape of hills, valleys and forests and into a completely different environment. The land levelled out, villages were larger, forests became scattered woodland and vast, verdant fields and hedgerows appeared. I saw my real-life first examples of French road layout, familiar to me from countless films and tv programmes; long, straight and lined with trees on both sides. Almost every road was an avenue of limes, cypresses or beech trees.

Everything in the countryside seemed so clipped, so manicured, so ‘organised’; as if some guiding eye had decided on the aesthetics of this farm or that church or these villages. Nothing seemed out of place, incongruous or untidy. There was little or nothing ‘casual’ about the French scenery I was passing through.

This apparent lack of waywardness and unpredictability - characteristics inherent in almost every aspect of the English landscape - was surprisingly restful and pleasing. It would have been even more restful and pleasing, especially to my untutored eye, if the train I was on had been moving a little slower.

But French TGVs move very fast indeed; twice as fast, in fact, than the speeds we’re used to in England. Imagine travelling from Newcastle to London in about an hour and a half. If they were in France, you could have been doing just that for over thirty years.

The line now turned decidedly northwards as it passed into Burgundy. One of the wayside stations it hurtled through was Macon Loche. At the time, I did not know that just a few miles south of the station lay a small, peaceful French village which, over the succeeding months, I would get to know very well indeed.


My arrival in Paris could easily have been something of an anti-climax. After all, if the purpose of my Grand Tour had been to visit new and unfamiliar places, then it was already over. Ironically, Geneva had been the last one.

I’d visited Paris several times already and my friend John was at Gare de Lyon to meet me, with his Parisian boyfriend Dominique. Theirs were the first familiar faces I’d seen in two weeks.

But arriving in Paris can never, ever, be described as an anti-climax. It is a city which always meets your expectations of it, no matter what they are or how many times you’ve visited it before.

It is the most-visited city on earth. And that’s because it is beautiful, smug and contrary. It is stressful, tiring and wonderful. It is crowded, peaceful and private. It is monumental, tawdry and graceful. And it is all these things to all people and at the same time.

Parisians themselves give the impression that they believe life outside Paris is pointless - or even non-existent. And Paris’ visitors are similarly - and just as hopelessly - ensnared by its vivacity and the limitless possibilities it seems to offer.

Paris is personal.

I’m delighted that I spent the final afternoon of my Tour there - drinking, eating and talking. After thirteen days and nights, I had a lot to say.


Not all those who wander are lost.


...will take place at 1100 on Thursday 11 November in Mowbray Park, Sunderland.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

...either by leaving a comment in the Comments box of the blog or by sending an email to truckshunters@googlemail.com