Isabella Beeton...
 ...and her famous book
In this blogposting…
* A Fable From France
* In Memory of Mrs Beeton
* La vie en France: Noël - Part Two
* New Year’s Eve
And on to the end of the year...

In blogposting 325 I set you the frankly pointless challenge of translating into English a kindly fable of the sort which French children used to learn affectionately by heart.  It was called Le corbeau et le renard - 'The Crow and the Fox'.

I can imagine the endless hours of dictionary-searching and memory-mining you wasted on it.

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage:
‘Hé! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli! que vous me semblez beau!
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois.’
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit: ‘Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute:
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.’
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.

And now here’s the translation….

Master Crow perched on a tree,
Was holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox attracted by the smell
Said something like this:
‘Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How beautiful you are! how nice you seem to me!
Really, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods.’
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall.
The Fox grabs it, and says: ‘My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, without doubt, is well worth a cheese.’
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.

If you did make a stab at translating it, and got anywhere near what you see above - well done, you. 

Bearing in mind the moral of the fable, though, I’m not going to flatter you any more.

I’ve had a lovely Christmas email from Lynne; it’s worth quoting in full.

This year, I got one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.  But it’s good for all the wrong reasons!  It’s Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management - and Ian, you’d be amazed at some of the recipes.

So, on New Year’s Day, I think we’ll be sitting down to Hessian Soup, followed by Cod’s Head and Shoulders with Pickled Nasturtiums.  We’ll finish off with Canary Pudding.

Although, on second thoughts, if I can’t face plucking all those canaries, we may have to make do with Collared Pig’s Face and Boiled Salad….’

What in the name of all that’s sacred is ‘Boiled Salad’ (let alone all the other stuff)?

Lynne - you’ve made me feel queasy.  Thanks!

This is how connecting flights are meant to work.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you book a journey from Newcastle to - say - Lyon.  And let’s assume that the journey involves a change of aeroplane at Amsterdam.

In an ideal world, your flight from Newcastle would leave on time and would land in Amsterdam on time, too.  Your second flight - the one from Amsterdam to Lyon - would be due to leave in an hour or two’s time, thus giving you plenty of breathing space to relax, have a cup of coffee, pass through security and get to the departure gate with plenty of time to spare.

The world is not, however, ideal.

I was, in fact, nervous about my journey from the outset.  The schedule allowed only 40 minutes in Amsterdam between landing from Newcastle and taking off for Lyon.  40 minutes may seem like a long time but it’s not - specially when you have to make your way through an airport as big and as busy as Schiphol is.

Big airports are a pain in the neck (or some less genteel part of the anatomy).  Enormous, impersonal sheds the size of twenty football stadiums with ludicrously overpriced snack-bars and shops full of duty-free offers that would bankrupt the Sultan of Brunei in seconds.

Thousands of anxious people rushing hither and - naturally - thither, dragging their suitcases, sweethearts and howling offspring behind them or pushing them ahead on trolleys that never fail to hit a dozen ankles in a dozen yards.  And why does the addition of a toddler automatically seem to prompt the need for at least three extra suitcases?  What on Earth do the little darlings need except a few knock-out drops and a tub of Cow and Gate?

Small airports, on the other hand, are airily accommodating.  Like grandparents, they are always glad to see you.  They have space, clarity and convenience on their side (although the coffee is just as costly).

Unfortunately, Schiphol is one of the big boys.  It’s almost as big as the city it serves.  As elsewhere, your heart sinks when you realise that your departure gate is a mile away (seriously) along endless, featureless walkways with only out-of-order ‘travolators’ offering you any assistance.

I knew all this before I even left home.  I knew that, in order to stand a fighting chance of catching my second flight, my first would have to land on time.

It didn’t.

It left Newcastle ten minutes late and, when it reached airspace over the land of tulip bulbs and windmills, it had to circle overhead and await its turn in a queue of aircraft waiting to land on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

It landed 20 minutes late.

I staggered off the plane, pushing sweet, inoffensive old couples and earphoned students brusquely out of my way.  I clambered up and down escalators, scrambled through security, limped along travolators.  But it was all to no avail.  Departure gate C15 for Lyon just seemed to get further and further away.

The 'Sitting Men' sculpture in Schiphol airport; this is how I felt when I got to Gate C15

I did reach C15, though - panting and sweating in the Christmas pudding woolly hat Hildie had given me.  The KLM rep at the gate looked at me very oddly, as if she’d never seen a breathless, anxious, tired, sweating, overweight, ageing Englishman in a Christmas pudding woolly hat before. 

She told me my flight to Lyon had left - and from gate C6 (which I had passed ages ago).

‘But the Departure Boards say C15’ I protested.

‘Yes I know’ she replied, helpfully and in perfect English.

So there I was.  An Englishman stranded overnight in a strange land.  Well, the Netherlands.
The striking 'Meeting Point' sculpture in the airport

The KLM rep - tall, slender and deeply blonde - finally decided to take action on my behalf when I sank to my haunches and started to cry.  She graciously accompanied me to a help-desk where - suddenly - things didn’t seem so bad.  There to help me were two suspiciously handsome young men in well-fitting KLM uniforms begging to offer me any assistance they could.

I forewent the obvious response and instead simply asked them what I should do now.  In these situations, I always find it helps to lay your pathetic helplessness on with a trowel so that’s what I did and it worked.

Within ten minutes, they’d booked me on the first flight to Lyon the following morning.  And they’d also booked me into a rather plush hotel near the airport so that I wouldn’t have to be moved on all night by Schiphol’s security guards, who are armed to the teeth with machine-guns and cutlasses.

And all this was at KLM’s expense, as well it should be.  The hotel, the courtesy bus, my evening meal, my breakfast.  Everyone smiled benignly and sympathetically.  They even gave me a ‘happiness questionnaire’ to fill in; it takes real gall (or brass neck or even Dutch courage) to do that when you may just have ruined someone’s Christmas holiday.

I gave them 10 out of 10, if only for their brazened impittence (as my Nana used to say).
The hotel was one of those luxurious, conference-style places at the airport’s edge - the Van Der Valke.  My room was superb and - seasoned as they are - KLM had even given me an overnight bag of essentials, including - amongst the toothpaste, shaving foam, shower gel and deodorant - a clean T-shirt and a pair of socks.
I took a shower - it was one of those amazing ones that almost power-washes you off your feet - and went down to dinner, where I recognised several people from the airport’s help-desk queue.  We’d all missed our flight connexions and decided to drown our Christmas sorrows by dining together and telling jokes in as many languages as we could.

For my part, I told the joke which - on this very blog - has been hailed as the funniest joke ever; the one about the two hunters.

Nobody laughed.  Nobody at all.  I didn’t even laugh myself.

Naturally - and like any full-blooded Englishman - I therefore refused to laugh at any of their jokes.  I remained utterly po-faced as the middle-aged Spanish couple told a joke about two fishermen in a storm, the French computer-programmer regaled us with a tale about Sarkozy (surprise, surprise) and the Croatian mountaineer limped through what seemed to be a quite disgusting story about a goat and a nun.

As I lay in my plush, kingsize bed that night, I actually felt really sorry for most of my fellow-diners.  The Spanish couple had no guaranteed flight the next day, the Fenchman would have to fly to Bordeaux and not Toulouse and the Croatian man had been offered a substitute flight to Milan - not helpful when you’re trying to get to Dubrovnik.  They might as well have offered him a flight to Edinburgh or Istanbul.

I hope they all made it.  I hope the Polish lady was smothered with Christmas kisses when she finally got to Krakow.  I hope that Mael was able to spend Christmas gazing into his much-missed girlfriend’s eyes in Toulouse.  I hope that Steve and Deborah spent Christmas Day on the beach in Nice - a long-held dream.  And I hope that the Croatian mountain-man found a way of getting home from Milan, let alone from Amsterdam.

Yes - I hope they all made it.

...don’t forget the impromptu coffee meeting in Grainger Market this upcoming Saturday, New Year’s Eve, at 1100.  The cafe’s at the southern end of the market, where the flower stalls are.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
I found this scrumptious picture whilst rummaging around amongst my computer's photos.  
Does anyone know where and when it was taken?
In this blogposting...
* La vie en France:  Noël
Continue at your peril...


For all but two of the last 62 years I have spent Christmas at home in the north-east of England.  Wherever else I may have been for the rest of the year, Peterlee always called me back in late December.  Unlike both my brothers, I had no family of my own to spoil with presents and Christmas stockings, so each year I reverted to type, as it were.  Once again, I became the baby of our larger family nestling safely and snugly in the bosom of home.

The first exception occurred when I was 21 and working as a bus conductor in London.  For reasons known only to themselves, some large corporation or other decided to sponsor a skeleton bus service for Christmas Day.  So London Transport operated a few buses free to passengers.

In those primordial days London’s buses were all open-platform Routemasters so conductors had to be present whether they collected fares or not.  It was an offer I couldn’t refuse; six hours‘ work at triple time for doing nothing except smiling sweetly at whoever happened to be out and about on Christmas Day.

I enjoyed it - but it felt very odd indeed to get back to my grotty little bedsit and spend Christmas night on my own.  It would be another 25 years before I stayed away from home a second time.

And the second time was even worse.  My then partner and I decided to spend the holiday in a rather grandiose hotel near Hawes in Wensleydale - and it was awful.  It was full of comfortable, middle-class couples with Daily Mail tendencies concealing their hatred of each other’s company by being silently and smugly self-satisfied.  They couldn’t take their supercilious eyes of the two thirtysomething men, neither of whom had, at the time, the confidence to stare straight back.

Add the typical North Yorkshire po-faced brusqueness with which we are all regrettably familiar and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, apart from on those two memorable occasions, Mam proved to be a very effective - and very welcome - anchor at Christmas; a magnet whose force I was perfectly happy to yield to.

But the grey place that patiently awaits us all has called Mam to her.  My remaining Christmases will have no more of her smiles and no more of her Thankyou kisses.  And there will be no more grateful thoughts that she has reached another Christmas unscathed - for this time, she has not.  Instead, I have reached it alone, and very much scathed.

This Christmas, then, there was no anchor and no magnet to hold me in the north-east - and there was really no argument about where this meant I could spend Christmas.  For the first time in my life, I would not only be away from home - I would be overseas. 

I would be spending Christmas in France.


I’m lucky enough to have travelled to Beaujolais enough times to say that I have a ‘regular’ route.  I fly from Newcastle to Paris and then complete the trip by train.  Almost every other way of getting there is preferable - but rarely affordable.

A particularly attractive option would be one that lands me at Lyon airport; it omits the dreary necessity of travelling across Paris and instead deposits me at Serge’s doorstep.  There are, however, no direct flights from Newcastle to Lyon.

When I searched the internet for a cheap Christmas flight, though, I discovered that my luck was in (for a change).  There was an affordable flight from Newcastle, changing at Amsterdam for Lyon.  Almost door-to-door, then. 

I booked my ticket at once and confidently looked forward to my first Christmas on foreign soil.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here are some more photos of AGM XXX.  Works of art, the lot of them.

And a big, warm, seasonal hug to Vivienne for sending them to me.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Mulled Wine With A Kick
* A Warning To Us All
* Feed the Birds
* Seasonal Arrivals
* A Fable From France
On Donner, On Blitzen….

Our AGM took place as planned, despite the admitted awkwardness of the date and the comparative inaccessibility of the venue.  And we loved every minute of it.

I’m pleased as punch that Kev is finally able to say that he has attended one of our AGMs - and that we held it at his workplace (South Tyneside College).

There was much seasonal good cheer; as you can see, even the lasses behind the coffee-bar counter joined in.

Thanks to Vivienne, Hildie and specially Kev for keeping the truckshunter flag flying so raucously!

Anyone who can suggest what Vivienne might have been thinking when her picture was taken - get in touch!

This recipe for mulled wine was sent to me by my old friend Brian.  I dare you to try it.

If you do, get back to me with a description of the taste - and the treatment you needed to recover.

Pour one bottle of red wine into a heat proof jug.   Add a wine glass of port and a wine glass of cointreau.   Then some brown sugar and the juice of a lemon.   Place the heatproof jug into a saucepan of simmering water in order to heat the wine.  Whilst it is heating, shove in a cinnamon stick (cinnamon, good for lowering cholesterol).  Then when the mulled wine is really warmed up, kick your shoes off, put your feet up and imbibe.

I love the line about cinnamon being good for your cholesterol.  Honestly - any excuse! 

Another near-perfect example of human frailty sent to me by Eric and Jean…

The people in the blue car had a 25-litre bucket of paint on the back seat when they had the accident.

The ambulance driver wouldn't let the female paramedic out of the ambulance because she couldn't stop laughing; he said it wasn't professional.

He was able to treat the sad-looking driver, who was apparently overcome with emulsion.

Today is the first day of winter and now that the colder weather has arrived with a vengeance, please don’t forget to feed the birds, many of which will be having a rough time of it right now.

You can buy food for wild birds in most supermarkets, or just make do with crushed stale bread, a few peanuts or half an apple.  Improvise.

Two things to remember, though.  Firstly, if you start to feed the birds, please remember to keep on doing so.  They will come looking for food.

And secondly...if you use fat balls, which are very popular with garden birds, please remove them from the mesh netting first.  Birds can get tragically trapped in it by their beaks or feet.

Speaking of birds…

At this time of year, on the Blue Bus programme, we always received calls from listeners telling us that the redwings had arrived from Scandinavia and were flocking somewhere locally - including, usually, the car park at the RVI!

I miss those calls very much.  Can someone tell me if they’re here yet?

Largely thanks to the diligence and enthusiasm of 17th-century writers Charles Perrault and Jean de la Fontaine, France is undoubtedly the home of the fairytale and the fable.  They spent years collecting old French folktales and transforming them into stories that are told and re-told all over the world at this time of year; La Petite Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botte (Puss in Boots) and many more - including the story behind Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty - all originated with Perrault or de la Fontaine.

So, to rouse you from your over-indulged seasonal torpor, here’s a short rhyming fable sent to me by Serge recently.  It was written by Jean de la Fontaine in 1668.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a stab at translating it.  It’s called Le corbeau et le renard - 'The Crow and the Fox'.

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage:
‘Hé! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli! que vous me semblez beau!
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois.’
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit: ‘Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute:
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute.’
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.

Good luck.

Wherever you may be or whatever you plan to do, have a good and peaceful Christmas.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
 Walking Eagle
In this blogposting…
* Walking Eagle
* Old Age - New Alphabet
* Floods in Pakistan
* A Health Warning From Vivienne
* My Birthday - The Final Word
A typically packed posting for you to get your metaphorical teeth into….

The final AGM of 2011 is a goody.  For the first time, Kev will be able to attend - because it’s being held at his workplace.

So make a note for tomorrow, Monday 19 December.  We’ll be mustered (as it were) at South Tyneside College in South Shields at 1100.

See you there….

Another precious snippet from Eric and Jean…

On a recent trip to the United States, Tony Blair - our revered ex-Prime Minister - addressed a major gathering of Native American ‘Indians’.
He spoke for almost an hour about his plans for a Carbon Trading Tax for the UK and Europe, and many other things.
At the conclusion of his speech, the crowd presented him with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name - Walking Eagle.
A totally delighted Tony then departed in his motorcade, waving to the crowds.
A news reporter later asked one of the Indians how they came to select the new name given to Tony Blair.
The Indian explained that ‘Walking Eagle’ is the name given to a bird so full of shit that it can no longer fly.

A is for Apple and B is for Boat -
That used to be right, but now it won't float!
Age before beauty is what we once said,
But let's be a bit more realistic instead.

A's for Arthritis; B's the Bad Back, C is the Chest pains, perhaps Car-di-ac?
D is for Dental Decay and Decline, E is for Eyesight, can't read that top line!
F is for Fissures and Fluid retention, G is for Gas which I'd rather not mention.

H is High blood pressure (much better low); I’s for Incisions with scars you can show.
J is for Joints, out of socket, won't mend; K is for Knees that crack when they bend.
L's for Libido, what happened to sex? M is for Memory - I forget what comes next.
N is Neuralgia, in Nerves way down low; O is for Osteo, bones that don't grow!

P for Prescriptions, I have quite a few, just give me a Pill and I'll be good as new!
Q is for Queasy, is it fatal or flu? R is for Reflux - one meal turns to two..

S is for Sleepless nights, counting my fears, T is for Tinnitus; bells in my ears!
U is for Urinary; troubles with flow; V for Vertigo, that's 'dizzy,' you know.

W for Worry - now what's going 'round?  X is for X ray, and what might be found.
Y for another Year I'm left here behind
and Z’s for the Zest I still have-- in my mind!

I've survived all the symptoms, my body's deployed,
And I'm keeping twenty-six doctors fully employed!

Nothing good can ever come of the devastating floods that Pakistan suffered recently.  However, an unexpected side-effect of the flooding has been the mass upward migration of countless spiders there.  They climbed up into the trees to escape the rising flood waters.

Because of the scale of the flooding and the fact that the water took so long to recede, many trees became cocooned in spiders webs.

The resulting pictures of ghostly trees amid the devastation are, I think, breathtaking and also deeply unsettling, somehow.
People in this part of Sindh say they have never seen this phenomenon before.  And they also report that there are now far fewer mosquitoes than they would expect, given the amount of stagnant, standing water that is around.
It’s thought that the mosquitos are getting caught in the spiders webs, thus reducing the risk of malaria - one blessing for the people of Sindh, facing so many other hardships after the floods.

Did you know....

When you drink vodka over ice, it can give you kidney failure?
When you drink rum over ice, it can give you liver failure?
When you drink whiskey over ice, it can give you heart problems?
When you drink gin over ice, it can give you brain problems?

Apparently, ice is really bad for you.
Warn all your friends.

As usual I received a lovely, handmade card from Sid for my birthday.  This year, he chose to make a short list of notable December 4ths….
* The Mary Celeste was found crewless and drifting on December 4, 1872;
* 6 astronauts begin assembling the International Space Station on December 4, 1998;
* Birth Control became available on the NHS on December 4, 1961;
* The first Burger King opened in Miami on December 4, 1954.

To which I would like to add that I share my birthday with personalities as diverse as Ronnie Corbett and the Duke of Wellington.

Nuff said.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Andorra
Onward and upward…

Our next AGM - the last of 2011 - will be very special indeed.

The awe-inspiring Kev has invited us to hold it at his workplace, so that’s where it’s going to be.

It will take place at 1100 this upcoming Monday 19 December at South Tyneside College.

If you miss it, you’ve only got yourself to blame - because a splendid time is guaranteed for all.


As in life, so in geography:  it is in the little places that our sense of wonder and curiosity find delight and intellectual refreshment.  And, as independent countries go, you can’t get much smaller than the Principality of Andorra.

At less than 500sq km, it is the sixth smallest country in Europe.  It would, in fact, fit into County Durham four times - and still leave plenty of room for Weardale. 
And it has fewer inhabitants than South Shields.

‘Strength United is Stronger’ thus seems to be an unnecessarily muscular motto for a country quite as small as Andorra.

It might be as well, at this point, to fix its location on the mental map most of us carry in our heads.  France and Spain are separated by the formidable barrier of the Pyrenees and, deep in the midst of the mountains, lies tiny Andorra. 

You cannot fly there because it has no airport.  Nor can you reach it by train - unless you get off the Barcelona express near the border and walk a few kilometres along one of its three roads, all of which lead to its throbbing capital:  Andorra la Vella, population 24,000 (smaller than Durham City).
The Parliament Building in Andorra la Vella
It might well be worth the effort, though.  Andorra has no television stations, no armed forces, no unemployment and no income tax.  All internal mail is delivered free of charge.

All this - and, presumably, the surfeit of healthy mountain air - means that Andorrans are the longest-living people on Earth.  On average, they can expect to reach well over 82 years of age.

(Thanks to diligent truckshunter research, we can actually compare the average lifespan of an Andorran to that of various other of the world’s creatures.  The world’s oldest-ever dog was a beagle who lived to be 28.  The oldest cat lived to be 36.  The oldest bird - a cockatoo - reached 77.  The oldest verifiable human age was 122 (a Frenchwoman called Jeanne; so Andorrans still have some way to go).  The oldest known mammal was a bowhead whale that reached 210.  The oldest vertebrate was a scarlet koi that died at the age of 226.  And, in a hidden, sea-bed location, there’s a clam which is known to be at least 405 years old and still going strong.

But back to the subject at hand….)

I know what you’re thinking.  ‘There must be a down side to life in Andorra’.  My researchers have been able to find only two.

Firstly, Andorra is the only country in the world whose native population is permanently outnumbered by incomers.  At any given time, over 60% of the people there are either Spanish or French, which must be awful.

Amongst other things, this means that the native language - Catalan - is rarely heard there.

(Should you need them, or even just be casually interested, here are the numbers from one to ten in Catalan:

un dos tres quatre cinc sis set vuit nou déu

‘Please’ is si us plau and ‘thankyou’ is mercies.)

Then there’s its system of government.

Andorra is a ‘co-principality’ - it is ruled jointly by the Bishop of Urgell (in Spain; he is appointed by the Pope and his diocese actually owns Andorra outright) and by the French President.  This means that, notwithstanding the political proclivities of the Bishop of Urgell, Andorrans have to suffer the unimaginable indignity of calling Nicolas Sarkozy ‘Your Majesty’.
His Majesty
Undeserved exaltation is not all that Sarko gets for being Co-Prince.  Every two years, he receives 4 hams, 40 loaves of bread and an unspecified amount of wine.

It would of course be unreasonable for Andorrans to expect their country ever to be at the centre of the world’s stage.  On the other hand, they didn’t deserve the neglect that befell them at the end of World War One. 

In 1914, Andorra bravely declared war on the Kaiser (although its army of 10 part-time officers, and no other ranks, was never called upon to actually fight).  At the end of the war, this valour was overlooked; the 1919 Treaty of Versailles omitted Andorra altogether.  A peace treaty between Andorra and Germany wasn’t signed until September 1939, by which time the rest of Europe was 24 days into World War Two.

This means that the National Anthem - below - has never really been heard in anger.

‘The great Charlemagne, my Father, from the Saracens liberated me,
And from heaven he gave me life of Meritxell the great mother….’

- which is perhaps just as well.

(Despite considerable research, I have not been able to find out who Meritxell was.)

It would be easy to be humorously and smugly patronising about ‘innocent’ little Andorra were it not for the fact that its main cash-earner, after tourism, is smuggling and that it is used by all sorts of unmentionable hypocrites as a shameless tax-haven.


So….having made your flightless and trainless way to Andorra, what - apart from skiing - is there to occupy a curious truckshunter?

You could start at the National Tobacco Museum, a converted cigarette factory that celebrates the now-dying decadence of smoking as well as the very-much-alive decadence of smuggling.

Afterwards you could explore one - or even all - of the country’s famous ‘Three Valleys’ before hurrying to one of its hot thermal spas.  You’ll need to relax before an evening repast of Andorra’s favourite dishes - trinxat (‘trinshat’) (bacon, potatoes and cabbage) and/or escudella (chicken, sausage and meatball stew).

Follow this with a traditional digestif of red wine laced with lemon, apple, raisins, cinnamon and cognac and you won’t care - or even know - what country you’re in.


My thanks to everyone who sent me the surprisingly large amount of information about this special little country.  Our next port-of-call is Angola….


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
One of the last pictures taken by the Farne Islands wardens before they left last week
In this blogposting…
* Photos
* New Words for Old
* News From Nowhere
* The World...
Continue at your own risk...

Ten Peaks Valley, Canada
Except for those of the seal and the Turkish lasses, the photos scattered throughout this posting were all sent to me by Lynne, to whom many, many thanks.  I think they show how beautiful the world still is - and even, in some cases, how humankind has adorned it.
 Alesund, Norway
They’re lovely.
East Iceland
Just in case the message hasn’t reached you yet, our next AGM will be very special indeed.

The wonderful Kev has invited us to hold it at his workplace, so that’s where it’s going to be.

It will take place at 1100 on Monday 19 December at South Tyneside College.

If you miss it, you’ve only got yourself to blame - because a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Keukenhof, Netherlands
Each year, and sponsored by Mensa, the Washington Post invites its readers to take part in a highly-inventive word game.

The idea is to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and then supply a new definition.

You’ll get the general idea by looking at the list of this year’s winners, sent to me by my old friend Brian...

The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
A person who is both stupid and an arsehole.
Euphoria induced by getting a tax refund; it lasts only until you realise it was your money to start with.
The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
All talk and no action.
Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
Marquayssac, France 
 In tandem with its letter-changing contest, the Washington Post runs another.  Readers are invited to supply alternative meanings for common words.

This year’s winners are…

The person upon whom one coughs.
Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
To attempt an explanation while drunk.
Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
To walk with a lisp.
Olive-flavored mouthwash.
Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
A rapidly receding hairline.
A humorous question on an exam.
The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Mount Roirama, Venezuela
My attention has been drawn to two world-changing events which, inexplicably, passed me by when they made minor headlines earlier this year.  On the basis that it’s never too late to make amends - and just in case you missed them, too….

First up...the Turkish Football Association imposed a harsh penalty on one of that country’s most successful and popular teams earlier this year.  Because of serious violence amongst its supporters, Fenerbahce (‘Fenner-bar-chay’) were ordered to play their following match behind closed doors - that is, in an empty stadium.

But the Women’s Supporters Club protested that this was unfair; that the hooliganism had been caused only by male supporters.  They therefore suggested that, instead of playing to an empty stadium, Fenerbahce should play their match to a crowd of female supporters only.

Taken aback, the Turkish FA agreed.

The match was a huge success.  The near-capacity crowd of 41,000 women supporters were joyful, good-humoured and partisan, but in a very sisterly kind of way.  Even the rival players joined in, throwing roses into the crowd.

The fiercely-fought match ended in a 1-1 draw.

I’d love to see the next Tyne-Wear derby played under the same circumstances.  I know it will never happen, but I’d love to see it...
Women enjoying themselves in Istanbul...
Next….three hearty cheers to Mexico City Council for coming up with one of those ideas - like the wheel or apple and bilberry pie - that make you wonder why no-one has thought of it before.

Temporary marriages.

In a city where almost half of marriages fail ( - and it’s getting that way here, too - ) the Council decided that a fixed-term, two-year marriage seemed like a good idea.  If, after that time, both partners want to continue the arrangement, they can.  If not, they split up amicably.

It’s a thunderclap of brilliance - and ackowledgement of stark reality against infantile, roses-round-the-door fantasy.

Knowing that the marriage has only a fixed term encourages both parties to work harder to keep it going.  And it saves all the acrimony, distress and expense of divorce.  I can’t fault it.

Well done, Mexico City (of all places).
Multnomah Falls, USA
After the disreputable hatchet-jobs we’ve already done on Afghanistan, Albania and Algeria (about which I am still receiving supplementary information), we turn our unforgiving gaze next to Andorra.

I’m naturally grateful for all the unlikely and offbeat facts you’ve already sent me - but I need more.  I know it’s not easy; Andorra is, after all, one of the world’s teeniest states - a country that, by most international standards, shouldn’t really exist at all.

But it does.  I know this for a fact because, when I was in Barcelona, I was within spitting distance of it.

So please - keep on digging.  And send your low-down to me in any of the usual ways.  Try to resist the temptation of putting your info in a public Comment, though.  Otherwise, anything I write won’t come as news to anybody!
Riomaggiore, Italy
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My favourite of Barcelona's many sculptures...apparently, it's a contemplating cow 
In this blogposting...
* Thankyou...
* Barcelona
* The Farne Islands
You may proceed...

...to everyone who got in touch with me last Sunday.  It was lovely to get your messages - even though, for reasons entirely outside my control, I couldn't reply.  I was forced to spend the day incommunicado.  Don't worry - it's a long and harmless story...

Thanks again for your cards, txts and emails.  And even for your many Facebook messages.

I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say this but...I don't know how Facebook works.  If I ever find out, I'll reply!

Please don’t forget our super special seasonal AGM later this month.

The awe-inspiring Kev has invited us to hold it at his workplace so it will take place at 1100 on Monday 19 December at South Tyneside College in South Shields.

If you’re not sure how to get there, just ask.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Be there or be nowhere.
My birthday was two days ago and, for the very first time in 63 years, I spent it sitting on a beach in bright, warm sunshine watching people bathing in the sea.  Such was my Barcelona Birthday.

Since the moment I arrived there last week, I made it my leisurely business to get to know - however superficially - this city whose wonders so many people had praised.  My head was full not only of all the sites that had been recommended to me but also of that typically assertive song that Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe had sung about it - Barcelona! Such a beautiful horizon...Barcelona! Like a jewel in the sun.
A hidden street in the city centre
It’s all true.  Every word of it.

I wandered the alleyways of its Old Town, visited its cathedral and Roman walls, gaped at its famous Modernista buildings and boulevards….
The Casa Batllo - one of Gaudi's masterpieces - by day....
...and at night
Amongst many thousands of others, I joined in the paseo along La Rambla from the city’s central square at one end to the magnificent buildings, monuments and views of and from the Port at the other…
Next door to the Casa Batllo - another Modernista flight of fancy
At the Port, Christopher Columbus pointing to the west...
We went to the base of the hill of Montjuic to see the floodlit cascades draping its sides from the Art Gallery down to the ‘Magic Fountain’ - the biggest and most ‘sophisticated’ fountain I’ve ever seen - which puts on specially choreographed colour-light shows after dark every weekend for natives and tourists alike to gawp at.  And we gawped.
Gaudi's 'La Pedrera' - and me looking either snooty or puzzled
We saw the inexplicable confection of the city’s most famous edifice - the Sagrada Familia - the brainchild of its best-known architect, Gaudi, who was either a genius or slightly mad.  Or both.

La Sagrada Familia...they reckon it will finally be completed in about 30 years
We went to two concerts - yes, two.  The first was of flamenco interspersed with opera arias.  It sounds weird and it was.  In an exceptionally thrilling kind of way.

The second was a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Catalan Palace of Music - yet another florid Modernista building….

I drank gallons of cafe cortado, to which I am now seriously addicted….
My favourite cafe...the customer is drinking cafe cortado
I travelled on Barcelona’s immaculate Metro and (naturally) took a tram ride, too….
Me and my trams!
I tried to speak Catalan (rather then Spanish), with mixed success….
Part of the Old Town
I spent hours watching the world go by….

I even had my pocket picked, which is a kind of ‘badge of honour’ for both natives and visitors to the city.

Barcelona excites your curiosity, takes your breath away, makes you sit and wonder...Barcelona’s people want you to be as proud of their city as they are….and you get the feeling that Barcelona enjoys itself hugely, whatever it’s doing, day or night.

As I sat by the beach on my birthday, I felt that Mam would be happy that I was in the midst of another adventure, in good company and smiling as I thought of her.


As they do every year at about this time, the National Trust’s staff on the Farne Islands have left them to fend for themselves over the deepest days of winter; for the next few weeks, the islands will revert to a condition of unstewarded nature without the gentle surveillance of the folk who are so devoted to them for the rest of the year.

In caring for the islands so lovingly, the Wardens are surely continuing the tradition begun there by St Cuthbert himself, who retreated to the open wildness of the Farnes whenever he could.  When his time came, the islands were where he chose to end his days, close to the birds and animals about whom legend tells us he cared so much and for whom the islands were home.

The Farne Islands are unarguably one of the finest natural treasures in all of Europe.  So let’s offer up a seasonal Thankyou - not just because we’re lucky enough to have them on our doorstep but also because they are cared for so well by their Wardens.

You can find out what their daily lives are like by looking at the good-humoured and highly informative blog they keep.  It includes some wonderful pictures, too.  Find it by Googling ‘Farne Islands Blog’ or by clicking on ‘View my complete profile’ on this blog and scrolling down to ‘Blogs I Follow’.
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