Hildie's photography skills...
In this blogposting…
* Ada
* Antoine de St Exupery
* Seen in Virginia
* Life’s Lessons
* The World:  A Truckshunter Geography
Continue at your own risk…

We haven’t heard from our august Honorary President for ages, so you’ll be glad to hear that Hildie and I decided to pay her a visit last week.

It was lovely to see her.  She hasn’t been too well over the last few months but seems to be improving now and getting back to her astonishingly sprightly self.  She smiled a lot, talked a lot (she’s a truckshunter, after all) and laid on an awesome spread of coffee, sandwiches and biscuits for us.

Hopefully, we’ll soon see her at an AGM.  In the meantime, here are a couple of the pictures we took last week.
All the best Ada - from all of us. 

I included an old photograph of this French national hero in posting 328, as part of my Christmas adventure story.

It’s since been pointed out to me that my one-paragraph biography of St Exupery excluded a very important aspect of his popularity; his children’s books, especially Le Petit Prince (‘The Little Prince’).  So….not only an aviation pioneer and war hero but also a writer of books for children.  Antoine de St Exupery sounds like a really nice bloke, doesn’t he.  Un mec sympa.

Serge has also reminded me that he took a picture of me standing next to St Exupery in Lyon airport, which is named after him.  Gaze upon it in wonder.

As a matter of fact, looking at it has reminded me of what a cosy little airport Lyon St Exupery is.  It’s never too far to walk to or from the arrival and departure gates - and if it is, there are travolators to carry you along.  It has just the right number of coffee-bars, souvenir shops and newsagents, a helpful Help Desk and loads of places to sit down.

It contrives to do all this despite its owners’ attempts to make it seem more ‘metropolitan’ and important.  Their latest attempt to make it feel more worldly is the construction of a very, very big railway station; it is certainly the newest, grandest, flashiest - and emptiest - I’ve ever seen.

Inasmuch as airports can ever be ‘likeable’, I much prefer the smaller, regional ones like Edinburgh, Lyon or Newcastle to the huge, unfriendly international ‘hubs’ like Heathrow or - God forbid - Paris, which are really nothing more than highly inefficient ways of moving vast numbers of deeply unhappy people from one bland and faceless warehouse to another.  They are necessary but loathesome.

Give me good old Woolsington or St Exupery any day.  But not, perhaps, Teesside - which, typically, is the exception that proves the rule.  It’s a small, regional airport - and it’s awful.

My old friend Kathy sent me some photos recently.

A 15-year-old photographer called Marlin Shank took his camera for a walk (as it were) in his local park in Staunton, Virginia.  What he saw (below) is an extremely rare albino ruby-throated hummingbird.

Isn’t it wonderful?  Thanks Kathy.

Kathy also sent me this thought-provoking and very uplifting list written by Regina Brett, who is 90 years old.  She reckons these are the 45 lessons that life has taught her.

- Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
- When in doubt, just take the next small step.
- Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Change the way you think.
- Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will. Stay in touch.
- Pay off your credit cards every month..
- You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
- Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
- Release your children when they become adults; its their life now
- Save for retirement, starting with your first pay cheque.
- When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
- Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
- It's OK to let your children see you cry.
- Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
- If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
- Everything can change in the blink of an eye.
- Take a deep breath - It calms the mind.
- Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
- Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
- It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
- When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take No for an answer.
- Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
- Just because you believe you are right, doesn't mean you are. Keep an open mind.
- Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
- The most important sex organ is the brain.
- No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
- Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
- Always choose life.
- Forgive everyone everything.
- What other people think of you is none of your business.
- Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
- However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
- Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
- Believe in miracles.
- Your job is to love your children, not choose who they should love.
- Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
- Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
- Your children get only one childhood.
- All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
- Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
- If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
- Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
- The best is yet to come...
- No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
- Yield..
- Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

We’ll soon be making the next call on our wayward world tour - this time, it’s to Antigua and Barbuda.  As usual, I’m looking for the kind of facts you don’t find in textbooks so, if you can delve around to find out what they eat for breakfast there, what their favourite tv programme is or what’s at Number One in the charts (or similar off-beat stuff) - get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
Nigel Ely - with Saddam's bum...
 In this blogposting…
* Herefordshire Life
* One-Liners
* The Tree of Ténéré
Proceed with caution….

I’ve just spent a blissful 3 days with my old friend Sue; those with particularly long memories may remember her voice on The Nightshift occasionally.

Sue lives in a small village a few miles outside Hereford, deep in the ‘cider vales’ of the Welsh marches.  Life is observably slower there and the priorities of the locals are markedly at odds with the outside world.

To give you a flavour of what counts as News thereabouts, Sue has kindly given me permission to reproduce the following cuttings she took from The Hereford Times last week…

A man tried to steal a gammon joint from a Hereford supermarket buy hiding it down his trousers, a court heard.

Hereford magistrates were told how 44-year-old Michael Mason attempted to take the meat, worth £11, from Sainsbury’s store on New Year’s Day.  Mason, from Bobblestock, admitted theft.

‘My benefits had not gone into my account’ he said.  ‘I am sorry.’

He was fined £25 and ordered to pay Sainsbury’s £11 compensation….

Visitors to Ledbury are still being directed to the town’s old Tourist Information Centre (TIC) - nine months after it moved.

The deputy mayor has asked why no signage is in place to direct visitors to the new TIC in The Homend.  A fingerpost directs tourists to the old TIC premises at St Katherine’s council offices but no sign points to the IceBytes Café where the TIC is now located.

The deputy mayor has been told that lack of funds is the reason for the delay.
Ledbury Tourist Information Office
A public meeting to discuss Ledbury’s plans for the Queen’s diamond jubilee was attended by just seven people.

Mayor Allen Conway said, after the meagre turnout at the Burgage Hall, that he had hoped for a room full of people - but there were more councillors than members of the public.  He had put out 50 chairs.

One of the people who did attend was James Barnes, who suggested raising a public subscription, with every man, woman and child in Ledbury contributing £1.  This would raise £10,000.

This is a letter to the editor from Kevin Kimber and Douby Evans, of Foley Street, Hereford…

‘Can I ask if anyone has seen our stream?

The Eign Brook, as we fondly knew her, went missing last summer and has not been seen since.

The Wye is high, the Meadows are flooded - but the poor Eign Brook is a parched desert.

This wildlife corridor - home to mammals, fish and countless birds (including kingfishers) - has disappeared without trace.

The council knows nothing and the Environment Agency has told me that it’s not its responsibility.

We’re told that the new flood defence scheme is not a factor.  Well, in that case, what is?

A local cat had bad luck on Friday 13th.

The moggy was definitely not feline fine when it got its head stuck behind a fridge in Ross-on-Wye.

Firefighters had to be called to the rescue at The Mead in Hildersley at 0715.

Saddam Hussein’s bronze buttock could result in an ex-SAS man being arrested.

Nigel Ely used a hammer and a crowbar to smash the memento from a statue of the former despot that was toppled when Iraq was liberated in 2003.

The soldier - known as ‘Spud’ - managed to sneak it out of the country by saying it was vehicle armour and paid £385 excess baggage to get it to the UK, since when he has kept it at his home in Preston-on-Wye.

But now the Iraqi government is claiming it is part of the country’s ‘antiquity’ and wants it back.

Nigel is the co-founder of ‘Trebletap’, a specialist company that promotes ‘war relic art’.  He claims that Saddam’s bum is now a work of art.

‘I will carry on the fight’ he says.

Herefordshire County Council has been warned to be a little more careful in its use of the internet after ‘a day of fun and entertainment for the whole family’ was advertised as ‘It’s a Kockout’.

And finally, from the What’s On listings…

Staunton-on-Wye - - - - Mouse Racing Night.


Here’s another fine collection of one-liners sent to me by Dave Shannon.  But be warned - almost all of them are politically incorrect.

I got invited to a party and was told to dress to kill.  Apparently a turban, beard and a backpack wasn’t what they had in mind.

After a night of drink, drugs and wild sex, I woke up to find himself next to a really ugly woman.  That’s when I realised I had made it home safely.

My mate just hired an Eastern European cleaner; it took her 5 hours to hoover the house.  Turns out she was a Slovak.

Since the snow came all my wife has done is look through the window.  If it gets any worse, I’ll have to let her in.

I came home one day early in December to find all my doors and windows smashed in and everything gone.  What sort of sick person does that to someone’s advent calendar…?

I’ve been charged with murder for killing a man with sandpaper.  To be honest I only intended to rough him up a bit.

After years of research, scientists have discovered what makes women happy.  Nothing.

A lad comes home from school and excitedly tells his dad that he had a part in the school play - he was playing a man who had been married for 25 years.  His dad says ‘Never mind son, maybe next year you’ll get a speaking part.’
Just had my water bill of £175 drop on my mat.  That’s rather a lot.  Apparently Oxfam can supply a whole African village for just £2 a month.  Time to change supplier I think.

Two women called at my door and asked what bread I ate, and when I said white they gave me a 30-minute lecture on the benefits of brown bread…. I think they were Hovis Witnesses.


This rather bedraggled and gnarled organism - which, under normal circumstances, would probably not even be worth ignoring - has a very special claim to fame.  It was the most isolated tree on Earth, and thus impossible to ignore.

The ‘Tree of Ténéré’ was a single determined acacia that grew alone for decades in the Sahara desert in north-east Niger.  There were no other trees for more than 400 kilometres in any direction; it was the only tree to appear on maps of the area, even at a scale of 1:4,000,000.

In 1939 a French commandant wrote in his diary ‘What is its secret?  How can it still be living in spite of the multitude of camels which trample at its sides?  How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns?  Why don’t the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea?  The only answer is that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers. … The acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning.’

You’ll have noticed my use of the past tense.  What could have brought down such an exalted spirit?  Incredibly, it was hit by a truck. Twice.

The first instance, in which a lorry headed for Bilma detached one of its two trunks, happened (apparently) in the 1950s.  But the noble tree struggled on for 20 more years until it was knocked down by an allegedly drunk Libyan driver in 1973.

The dead tree was taken to the Niger National Museum in Niamey.  It’s been replaced by what Nigerans call ‘a simple metal sculpture’.  The aptness and aesthetic merits of the sculpture you can judge for yourselves.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
Inner peace...
 In this blogposting…
* The Price of Gas in France
* Inner Peace
* We Shall Meet Again
* John Knox
* Not an E in Sight
* This Week’s New Word
Carry on, truckshunters…

At the end of each posting there’s always a note that says Contact Me - and thankfully, many of you do exactly that.  Which means that, once in a while, I can gather together the contents of a few emails and produce a posting which has virtually written itself.

So thankyou Dave, Peter and Martin!

The first two snippets are from Dave...

This viral email obviously originated in the USA - ‘gas’ in this little bit of fun is ‘petrol’…

A thief in Paris planned to steal some paintings from the Louvre.

After careful planning, he got past security, stole the paintings, and made it safely to his van.   

However, he was captured only two blocks away when his van ran out of gas.  When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied, 'Monsieur, that is the reason I stole the paintings.'

I had no Monet

To buy Degas

To make the Van Gogh.

I sent this to you because I figured I had nothing Toulouse. See if you have De Gaulle, send this on to someone else.

Inspirational!  I’ve just concocted a similar scenario but based around composers, thus…

No, I’m not Haydn - I’m quite Bizet today actually.  I have Chopin to do - I’ve got my Liszt with me so I’ll soon be Bach…

When I worked on London’s buses, me and my driver (who was Norwegian, oddly) played a similar game:  Songs for Swinging Londoners.  The only ones I can remember now, though, are What Kind of Fulham I? and Wembley Red Red Robin Comes Bob-bob-bobbin’ Along

I’d love to know if you can do any better - perhaps with local names.  You’ll Never Get To Hebburn...
If you can start the day without caffeine;
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and  pains;
If you can resist complaining and boring people  with your troubles;
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it;
If you can understand that your loved ones are sometimes too busy to give you any time;
If you can take criticism and  blame without  resentment’
If you can conquer tension without medical help;
If you can relax without alcohol;
If you can sleep without the aid of  drugs -            

Then you are probably the family dog!         

The wonderful Peter in South Shields sent me this.  It’s part of a letter from US Army major Sullivan Ballou to his wife and is dated 14 July 1861….

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. …

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm.

But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

He never sent it.

It was found in his trunk after he was killed in the First Battle of Bull Run at the start of the American Civil War.

Thankyou Peter.  That is one of the most moving things I've read in a long time.

I’m glad to say that Martin in Houghton-le-Spring still emails me occasionally.  Here are three language-related gems he sent me recently.

The first is a short poem - author unknown - written without the letter E.  Which is by no means an easy thing to do.

John Knox was a man of wondrous might,

And his words ran high and shrill,

For bold and stout was his spirit bright,

And strong was his stalwart will.

Kings sought in vain his mind to chain,

And that giant brain to control,

But naught on plain or stormy main

Could daunt that mighty soul.

John would sit and sigh till morning cold

Its shining lamps put out,

For thoughts untold on his mind lay hold,

And brought but pain and doubt.

But light at last on his soul was cast,

Away sank pain and sorrow,

His soul is gay, in a fair to-day,

And looks for a bright to-morrow.

There’s actually a word for any writing which deliberately excludes a particular letter - but I don’t know what it is.

Martin also sent me this, which he describes as ‘a self-descriptive sentence’.  But be warned - the more you think about it, the more mind-mangling it is.

In this sentence, the word and occurs twice, the word eight occurs twice, the word four occurs twice, the word fourteen occurs four times, the word in occurs twice, the word occurs occurs fourteen times, the word sentence occurs twice, the word seven occurs twice, the word the occurs fourteen times, the word this occurs twice, the word times occurs seven times, the word twice occurs eight times, and the word word occurs fourteen times.

And finally, he drew my attention to a word which, he says, he has just discovered and which he uses whenever he can because ‘it’s so pretty’.

It’s apricity, which means ‘the warmth of the sun in winter’.  He's right - it's lovely, isn't it?

Thanks Martin.  You’re a star!

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
 Francis Jammes
In this blogposting…
* Exam Answers
* A Bite of the Big Apple 2
* Prayer to go to Paradise with the Donkeys
* Le blog à Pépère
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war….

This viral email was sent to me recently.  It’s supposed to be a list of answers given by a student at an exam.  Although they’re all wrong, they are - technically or literally - correct.

See what you think….

In which battle did Napoleon die?
His last battle

Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
At the bottom of the page

The River Ravi flows in which state?

What is the main reason for divorce?

What is the main reason for failure?

What can you never eat for breakfast?
Lunch and dinner

What looks like half an apple?
The other half

If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become?

How can a man go eight days without sleeping ?
Easy - he sleeps at night

How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
You will never find an elephant that has only one hand

If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in other hand, what would you have?
Very large hands

If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
No time at all - the wall is already built

How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
Any way you want - concrete floors are very hard to crack

The email suggests that the student ought to have been given marks for ‘cleverness’ rather than the 0% it says he was actually awarded.

As far as I’m concerned, 0% is way too high.  He ought to have been expelled - or taken out and shot - for being such a smug smartarse.

(In fact, this email is a good example of its type.  The story that it’s a student at an exam is patently untrue; no exam in the history of exams ever asked questions like these, many of which are unanswerable.  Someone somewhere wrote it as a string of one-off gags.

Or am I taking it all a little too seriously?  Maybe I should lighten up.)

Or maybe I’m being so cynical because this time of year is said to be the most depressing of all.  It’s still cold and dark, Christmas is a distant memory, everyone’s in debt and Spring is still months away.

So I decided to remind myself of better times by surfing through the 473 photographs I took in New York City last year.  Looking at them, and revelling in my memories of that astonishing and restless city, makes my time there seem like a dream - as if it was someone else entirely who wandered its streets and avenues and gazed, open-mouthed, like some country yokel, at the sheer bigness of it all.
Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France.
Ellis Island immigration point is on the right
Grand Central Terminus and the Chrysler Building
  The corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
 The roof of the Reading Room in New York City Library
 42nd Street
 The Gandhi statue in a quiet corner of Union Square
 The Gay Rights Memorial outside the Stonewall Inn, where it all started
 Inside the M5 bus
 The shoe-shine boys in Grand Central
 I loved this sign
Maybe it was.

In former years, I used to love going on narrowboat holidays on the canals.  To be honest, I recently got to wondering why I ever stopped; which is why my friend Kathy and I have decided to go on another later this year.  Kathy was with me on my very first narrowboat holiday 32 years ago so we reckon this would be a good year to re-acquaint ourselves with their slow and wandering ways.

Further impetus has been given to the enterprise by a lovely book I’ve just finished reading:  Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, written by Terry Darlington.  It’s the story of how he and his wife (both pensioners) and their whippet Jim (who likes pork scratchings) sailed their narrowboat across the Channel and down through France along canals and rivers to Carcassonne.

It was quite an adventure and Terry’s book is exciting, thrilling, very very funny and quietly thought-provoking by turns.

At one point, they sail past the birth-place of one of France’s most neglected poets and writers - Francis Jammes, who was born in 1868 - and Terry quotes in full this uplifting prayer/poem he wrote.

O God when You send for me, let it be upon some day in Spring when the dust shines in the sun.  I would like to choose my own way, as I did here on Earth, to go to Paradise, where the stars shine by day.

I shall take up my staff and set out on the great road and I shall say to the donkeys, my friends - I am Stuart Robinson and I am going to Paradise, because there is no hell in the land of the Good Lord.

I will say to them, come, dear friends of heaven, poor dear creatures who with a brisk movement brush away the dull flies, and blows, and stings…

Let me come to You Lord in the midst of these creatures that I love so much, because they lower their heads gently, and stop; putting their little feet together in a sweet way, which makes You pity them.

I shall arrive followed by thousands of ears; followed by some with crows on their backs, some who drag carts of acrobats, or carriages with white feathers and silver, some with barrels hunched on their sides, by she-asses full as a leather bottle, with broken steps; by some with little trousers because of the seeping wounds made by the stubborn flies that crowd around.

Lord, let it be that I come to You with these donkeys.  Let angels lead us in peace to wooded streams where cherries tremble, smooth as the joyful flesh of children, and may I, leaning over Your heavenly waters in this dwelling place of souls, be like the donkeys, whose humble and sweet poverty reflects the clarity of eternal love.

I’m not religious at all - just the opposite - but the references to God in this prose-poem seem somehow ‘just right’.  I found it liberating and - in a small way - it reinforced my faith in the goodness and gentleness of human nature.

Anyway, I hope you like it.  And I hope it makes you want to rush out and buy Terry’s book, too.

Don’t forget to keep checking out Serge’s blog.  He’s changed the name but you can still access it by clicking on his image in the Followers box of this window, then clicking on the blog title.

His latest posting includes some spectacular pictures of the Northern Lights, a phenomenon I would dearly like to see but probably never will.

Incidentally, 'Pépère' has been Serge’s nickname since he was a boy.  It means something like ‘unflappable’.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Ellie’s New Year Quotes
* The World - A Truckshunter Geography:  Angola
Go ahead - pick the bones out of this lot….

Thanks to Ellie for sending me these quotes for us to start the New Year on.

I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: - 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.'
Eleanor Roosevelt 

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.
George Burns

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.
Victor Borge

My wife has a slight impediment in her speech. Every now and then she stops to breathe.
Jimmy Durante

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
Zsa Zsa Gabor

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.
Alex Levine
My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
Rodney Dangerfield
Money can't buy you happiness .... But it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.
Spike Milligan
I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
W C Fields
Don't worry about avoiding temptation.  As you grow older, it will avoid you.
Winston Churchill
Maybe it's true that life begins at fifty .. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.
Phyllis Diller
By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he's too old to go anywhere.
Billy Crystal

And the cardiologist' s diet - If it tastes good spit it out.


Africa is littered with the unhappy remnants of European imperialism.  Many of the states created by white settlers during their age of African empire-building have been in conflict and turmoil for decades and even longer.  The continent is strewn with brutal dictatorships and savage civil wars, often made much worse by drought and famine.

Although the British must bear a fair share of the responsibility for this African malaise - especially for its involvement with the slave trade - other European countries behaved as badly or worse.  As we have already seen in Algeria, the French were not above brutal conquests and Belgium treated the ‘Belgian Congo’ (as it then was) as a storehouse of exploitable resources, including (of course) human beings.

It was from Europe’s African colonies that slaves were exported to the Americas in unbelievable numbers - almost 7 million in the 19th century alone.

And the worst offender by far was Portugal, which easily outranked its competitors as Europe’s most infamous slave-trading nation (followed by Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands.)

Angola (known for decades as Portuguese West Africa) had by far the largest slave ‘factories‘ in Africa, supplying 40% of all the slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic.  In 1800, 88% of its income derived from the slave trade.  Most slaves ended up in Brazil but huge numbers landed in the West Indies (on either British, French or Spanish islands) or in the USA.

On reaching the Americas, most slaves were held in ‘seasoning camps‘ for a year, where they were ‘broken’.  A third of them died there, but the remainder could be sold at a 50% premium…

With a historical background as grim as this, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that Angola’s torment has continued almost to the present day.  Its dictator - Jonas Savimbi - only relinquished power (after a 27-year civil war) when he was assassinated under a hail of bullets in 2002 and it’s estimated that, until just a couple of years ago, there were more landmines than children in Angola.

This must be one of the few countries in the world where the application of typical truckshunter flippancy and waywardness would be intolerably tasteless.

But there is always more to a nation than its history.  Perhaps Angolans themselves may also resent their present state being so heavily overlaid with the horrors of its past.
The amazing Kalandula Falls 

They would say rather that Angola is big (England would fit into it 12 times) and beautiful, with mountains, deserts, national parks with burgeoning wildlife and - according to many reports I’ve seen - some of the world’s best beaches, many of which seem to go on forever.

Its National Plant is an eye-catcher, too - the gigantic welwitschia, which grows only here and in neighbouring Namibia and which botanists consider to be a living fossil (according to a truckshunter researcher).
Welwitschia mirabilis

Oddly, Angola also possesses the world’s most expensive city - its capital, Luanda.  According to the same researcher, a small flat costs £1.3m to buy or £5,000 a month to rent, car hire costs £350 a day and an average burger (should you require one) costs £10.
Perhaps it would be better to dig into some calulu de peixe (fish stew) and wash it down with galaos (white coffee; Angola is one of the world’s largest producers of coffee).

And don’t forget to smile a lot.  Another researcher tells me that Angolans are the smiliest, danciest, partyest people in Africa, bursting into a traditional kizomba at the slightest excuse.
The Benguela railway

And they may have much to smile about, after all.  Angola is rich in natural resources - mostly oil and diamonds - and tourism is booming.  Surfers are flocking to the rich Atlantic swells, people are queueing up to ride the amazing Benguela railway and carnival time in Luanda is said to be the happiest in all of Africa.

There’s even more than meets the eye to its National Anthem.

O Fatherland, we shall never forget
The heroes of the Fourth of February.
O Fatherland, we salute your sons
Who died for our Independence.
We honour the past and our history
As by our work we build the New Man.

Let us raise our liberated voices
To the glory of the peoples of Africa.
We shall march, Angolan fighters,
In solidarity with oppressed peoples.
We shall fight proudly for Peace
Along with the progressive forces of the world.

The courageous reference to its unspeakable history, and the selfless solidarity in the second verse, are not normal in National Anthems of previously oppressed and enslaved peoples, although this could be because it was written by a Portuguese settler.

Angola’s problems are not over.  It still awaits its first democratic elections.  And ‘green monkey disease’ (which killed 300 people in 2005) is still endemic.

Happily, though, it seems that all an outsider needs to do is squander a few kwanza on a beer or two, smile broadly and say Tudo bom? (‘how’s things?’) and he will be welcomed into the dance…


A very big Thankyou to the truckshunter researchers who unearthed much of the information I have used here.

The job continues.  Our next port-of-call is Antigua and Barbuda, which means we’ll be turning a blind eye to Antarctica (which is not a country) and Anguilla (which is a British Crown Dependency).


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
A panorama inside the building Ellie couldn't find
In this blogposting...
* Responses
* La vie en France:  Noël V
* Angola
Carry on regardless

Sometimes, the postings which generate Comments on the blog have already been superseded by a new posting by the time I respond to the Comments (if you get my drift).  This means that I’m not always sure that you’ve seen  - or are even aware of - my responses.

So from now on, I’ll try to make it my business to respond to your Comments within the blog itself. 

Which is just as well, because there have been some interestingly diverse Comments left on the blog recently.  I’ll reply to a few of them now….

Thanks for your kind comments about my narrative writing style.  I promise not to get too big-headed though.  I know perfectly well that I have several thousand miles to go before I can even join the queue to tie Bill Bryson’s bootlaces.

As for your missing the informal New Year’s Eve muster….Well, along with almost everyone else, I was aghast  - nay, discumknockerated - to read that you couldn’t find the Grainger Market.  Where on Earth were you looking?

Thanks for the info about the Berne gauge on Continental railways.  It didn’t occur to me that their trains could be wider, and thus roomier, simply because adjacent tracks are further apart.

From what I heard on the radio today about the new HS2 line between London and Birmingham, this distancing of up and down tracks also means that trains can go much faster because they aren’t affected so much by each other’s tailwinds.  Is that true?

I have to admit that I love watching ‘silver streak’ French TGVs hurtling through the countryside.  They seem so much more like a dramatic and exciting adornment than an environmental menace.  Gorgeous.

The question, however, remains.  If the Berne gauge was available for the UK to adopt along with the rest of Europe - and so long ago - why didn’t we adopt it?

I’m really sorry to hear that Gillian had a few problems over the holiday.  Please give the bonny lass a hug from all of us - and keep us posted about how she is.

Thanks for all the advice about the many routes I could take to get to Beaujolais.

Sometimes, when I’m online searching for the cheapest flights and fares, I begin to think I’m going gently and irrevocably insane, especially as the least expensive method involves meshing a flight with a cross-Paris journey and then a train (of the type whose praises I sang above).

Or could I travel to Edinburgh and then fly to Lyon?  Or maybe (as you say) a flight to Geneva and then a train north?  Or maybe I could go by train all the way from Newcastle…

My nickname for the entire evening I have to devote to arranging a trip to Beaujolais is ‘Solpadeine Night’.

Finally, I’m sorry to have to tell you that Le Cosy pizzeria in St Georges de Reneins has closed its doors and departed to the Great Pizza Box in the Sky.  We had a pizza from there once and it wasn’t bad at all….


You may be wondering whether I was an entirely - and uncharacteristically - passive presence at the French family Christmas celebrations I attended.

To be honest, I thought a lot about how I should behave even before I set out from Newcastle.  As we’ve already seen, the way different nationalities mark Christmas can be highly idiosyncratic, to say the least; and I was genuinely inclined to want to simply observe, as a self-interested bystander, the way that Serge’s family did it.

On the other hand, my own family’s traditions are very strong and I didn’t want to feel too alienated from them at what was a sensitive time of the year for us.  So - being thoroughly English - I struck a compromise.  I decided I would take a few reminders of home with me to keep me company and to show off to my French hosts.

After all, just as I was curious about how the French celebrate Christmas, so they must be curious about how we do it here.

So, along with the shirts, socks and kecks in my suitcase, I took some party eye-masks, paper crowns, false moustaches (£3.99 for six from WHSmith) and a good quality Christmas Pudding.  I also had the silly hats from our AGM with Kev - see posting 326.

The masks, crowns and moustaches made a very brief appearance at Chantal’s house on Christmas Eve - and then disappeared, never to be seen again.  The unbridled joy they added to the proceedings can be seen from the photograph.
Serge's brother-in-law Patrick, his nephew Nico - and the man himself
However….the fact that there are photos at all is something of a coup.  Let me explain…

I know very well of the dangers inherent in stereotyping people - especially whole nations.  60 million people cannot possibly all be alike in their reactions, sentiments and thoughts. 

Er….having said that...

Even a little smoke always suggests to me that there may be a little fire lurking there, too.  Several purely anecdotal conclusions can, for example, be drawn from the fact that almost half of all Americans don’t have a passport.

And anyway most stereotyping is merely harmless leg-pulling - like suggesting that all gay men are mincing window-dressers or that CAMRA members are all bearded, be-cardiganed sandal-wearing Guardian-reading geeks.

None of which is true…

A little stereotypical fun-poking is, surely, inevitable anyway.  And, as long as it stays that way and doesn’t lead to hatred, distrust or even worse, it’s also a good way of ‘letting off steam’ - as Bob Monkhouse did to such awesome effect with the French.

So is it really true (I thought to myself after Chantal’s ‘do’) that the French hate to be made to look silly?

Yes, it is. 

It has always struck me that, individually and as a nation, the French loathe looking inadequate or daft.  The communal English sense of self-mockery is almost entirely absent in France.  Anyone who is perceived to lower France’s self-esteem or image - as some think Sarkozy has done - is condemned to peculiarly virulent ridicule and sarcasm.

The only satisfactory way to look foolish in public in France is to actually be a fool; to be a clown.  French people laugh like drains at performing clowns - huge shoes, big baggy pants, painted faces, daft hair, slapstick and banana skins.  It’s OK to laugh at them because they are ‘officially‘ clowns; it is their job to make us laugh.

Asking an ordinary homme dans la rue to behave, or look, silly is another matter entirely. 

The real reason why so many French people refuse to speak English is not that they are smug or arrogant or insular.  The French are none of these things.  They are reluctant to speak English because they are reluctant to look foolish.

And that’s why these photographs are a coup.  And that is also why almost everyone in them will never speak to me again….


As for the Christmas Pudding….

I had naturally imagined sticking a twig of holly into it, dousing it in brandy, setting it alight and ‘piping’ it around the house, as we used to do years ago.  Then I would proudly carve it up, drench each slice with crême anglaise (the watery French version of custard) and watch as everyone eagerly devoured a little bit of an English Christmas.

But I am a stereotypical daydreaming Englishman.

I ate as much of it as I could in private and fed the rest to the hens.

There are some things you simply cannot ask a French person to do…


When the aeroplane taking me home was about halfway across the North Sea between Amsterdam and Newcastle, the pilot announced that he was expecting some slight turbulence ahead and that we should all stay seated and belted.

Nothing much happened.

And then, about 20 minutes from home, he announced that there was ‘a slight westerly breeze‘ over north-east England.

This turned out to be a comforting under-statement. 

There were howling gales, gusting up to 70mph, over north-east England.  Trees were being blown down, satellite dishes from Amble were ending up in Coxhoe, people battened themselves down on their sofas. 

And we were coming in to land.

The view from the windows kept changing dramatically because the aircraft was going up and down as well as side to side and left to right to left.  I gripped the arms of my seat and wished I’d listened to the safety instructions.  The plane was wobbling and bouncing and yawing.

The tension in the cabin was palpable.  I was in an aisle seat and the young bloke over the aisle from me was visibly petrified.  I leaned over and touched his arm, smiled ineffectually and said  ‘We’ll be OK, y’know.  They’ve done this dozens of times.  They know what they’re doing.  We’ll be OK.  Don’t worry…’

He looked at me strangely.  ‘Aren’t you frightened?‘ he asked, with the merest hint of panic in his voice.

‘Me?‘ I said.  ‘Me?  Frightened?  No.  I’m fucking terrified’.

This blogposting is proof that, at each end of my Christmas holiday, I have KLM staff to thank for making the unbearable survivable.


Please don’t forget that I’m now looking for as much oddball information as you can find about our next destination:  Angola.

And a big Thankyou to those who have already sent in their contributions.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
A British contribution to Eurochristmas
In this blogposting…
* Thoughts for the Day
* Hildie
* La vie en France:  Noël IV
* Angola

Each day, throughout 2011, I’ve had two page-a-day tear-off calendars in front of me on my desk here.

One of them featured a new French phrase each day and has been invaluable in helping me learn that inscrutable and perverse language.

The other - a gift from Hildie - was called Wisdom of the East and offered me a new and uplifting thought every morning.

The phrase featured on the very last page of the French calendar was Commence a debut - ‘start at the beginning’.

The last phrase on Hildie’s calendar was Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.


Speaking of Hildie....

Tomorrow - Sunday - is Hildie's birthday.

Happy birthday, babycakes - from us all.


The expensive, overblown, overpriced and decidedly over-camped Christmas which we all seem to love and hate in almost equal measure is, I suppose, most directly the product of those two pillars of American psychology:  greed and sentimentality.  Almost everything we’ve become accustomed to doing or seeing at Christmas has been more-or-less foisted on us by the need to spend more than we can afford, consume more than we need and allow ourselves to get swept along on the tide of glitzy mawkishness and entirely false ‘goodwill to all men’, hatred and exploitation of whom resumes as normal the following day.

(If you want to hear a really cynical summation of these sentiments, listen to Tom Lehrer sing ‘A Christmas Carol’.)

Almost the whole world - Christian or not - joins in with fairy lights, twinkly trees and Special Offers.

But, if you dig around a little, the almost universally pagan origins of Christmas quickly make themselves apparent.  And, whatever they were called and wherever in Europe they were, the purpose of all of them was to bring light and fire and feasting to what would otherwise be the darkest and most fearful time of year, when the nights were at their longest and the days superstitiously short.

And that’s what Christmas still does.

Fortunately, the unhappy American hotch-potch of images and sentiments has not completely obliterated these decidedly pagan origins of Christmas.  In Europe, many countries still mark midwinter as they did long before Christianity muscled in.

The nation that does it best is probably Germany, which - as everyone knows - is where the English got the idea of decorating fir trees from.  During the Festive Season ( - isn’t ‘Festive Season‘ the most stilted, yawn-inducing way of referring to the Festive Season? - ) every German town and city seems to be awash with Christmas Markets peopled with laughing, bemuffled families cheerfully splashing out on glühwein and schnapps as if money were no object - which, in Germany, it probably isn’t.

The public decorations and dressed trees of Germany always look so sumptuous to me.  You can almost feel the warmth and goodwill of it all.  In fact, I’ve just decided where I’d like to spend the run-up to Christmas 2012.

And perhaps, on the way to Regensburg or Munich, I could call in at my favourite city - Amsterdam - because its citizens have their own take on Christmas.

‘Santa Claus‘ is the garbled English version of Dutch Sinte Klaas, itself derived from ‘Saint Nicholas’.  Legend has it that when this holy individual was the Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey, he paid three sacks of gold to the parents of some children who would otherwise have been shipped off into slavery - or worse.

Which is why he is the patron saint of children and - by extension - of Christmas.

(Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of pawnbrokers, whose three brass balls are said to represent those three sacks of gold.  Personally, I don’t believe a word of it.

Sinte Klaas enters Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, Sinte Klaas - although draped in red and white and with a suitably long beard like Santa Clauses everywhere - is also still dressed as a bishop, complete with mitre and accompanying episcopal robes.

Each December 5, he rides into Amsterdam in a boat from Spain with his black ‘helpers’, known as ‘Black Petes’ (Zwarte Piets).  He rides round on a white horse and then glides, Santa-like, along the main canals, waving to the mustered throngs of intoxicated ‘Dammers and expectant, wide-eyed children holding them up.

It’s not Sinte Klaas but his Zwarte Piets who come down the chimney and give you your Christmas presents. You leave your shoes near the chimney with a carrot in them for the horse (nothing for the Zwarte Piets) and go to bed.  But beware:  if you’ve been naughty, there’ll only be twigs in your shoes when you get up.

It all looks like great fun so - yes, I’ll definitely be calling in at Amsterdam next year.

I’m not sure where Stockholm would fit into the itinerary, though - and I have to go there, too.
A julbocken
In Sweden, I would be reminded of the decisively unChristian origins of the seasonal festivities each time I saw a julbocken - a ‘Christmas Goat’.  (The jul there is the origin of ‘yule’.)

In Norse mythology, it was goats who pulled the sun across the sky - and Swedes commemorate this fact at the darkest time of the year by making small, decorative goats out of straw and giving them pride of place on the Yule Table.

They also make gigantic, statuesque versions of julbocken and erect them on village greens, where they are promptly ignited by arsonists.  Which must be worth a visit...
A Spanish 'caganer'
Perhaps the strangest adjunct of all to Christmas, though, comes from Spain:  the caganer - the little model man always seen hidden somewhere in Spanish nativity cribs with his trousers round his ankles, defecating profusely in the corner.  A tradition which is so bad that it’s good - and which, for many people, says all that needs to be said about the ‘Festive Season’.


This was my first ever Christmas away from England so it wasn’t just images of German or Spanish celebrations that were floating into my mind’s eye as I gazed out of the car window at the Beaujolais sunset on Christmas Eve.  I tried to imagine how a European blogger would summarise my native country’s variations on the festive theme and was proudly happy to add pantomimes (a uniquely British and utterly inexplicable phenomenon) and industrial-strength Christmas pudding to the Continental mix.

And mistletoe, of course.  I noticed plentiful bunches of it hanging from the trees as we drove by and tried subsequently to explain to baffled French folk the deeply mystical and druidic significance it held for our ancient Celtic forebears.  And, in mistletoe’s case, the more you explain, the more mystifying it becomes. 

Yes, I thought, the British can match any esoteric custom Europe can throw at us.

As for France’s Christmas customs...well, I knew from last year that, in common with many Mediterranean countries, they have a lot of fun at Epiphany - the day on which, by tradition, the ‘Three Wise Men’ arrived at Bethlehem.  You can read about the way they celebrate ‘KIng’s Day’ in posting 245.

But King’s Day isn’t until January and - as I was about to find out - Christmas is of a different order altogether.

Serge’s sister Chantal is a good cook (to put it mildly).  I knew already that everything she puts before us is always a treat.  Good, home-cooked French country fare rather than the stereotypical, namby-pamby bits and pieces that Parisians are so smugly proud of.  I didn’t dare to even imagine what she would prepare for us on Christmas Eve….

I really ought to have known that a rural French Christmas is measured by the quality and range of what’s on the table - the same as on most other French high days and holidays.

It was, in truth, overwhelming.  For the purposes of this posting, I actually kept a record of each course as it was proudly brought from the kitchen to the table, which was itself already groaning with wine, glasses, candles…
Hors d'oeuvres
First of all, there were savoury hors d’oeuvres, small pastry cases with a dozen different fillings, most of which I couldn’t really identify.  Amongst them were several dozen escargotines - snails in a kind of creamy, parsley sauce - and, as usual, all eyes were turned on the Englishman.  Quite why the French use snail-consumption as a kind of culinary test I can’t imagine.  They were lovely - and I ate a lot of them.
Next there were oysters - huitres - accompanied by fresh lemon-juice and a kind of hot, shalott sauce.  I’ve never been a big fan of oysters and can easily understand why, until comparatively recently, they were the food only of the very poor.  The lemon-juice and sauce added the necessary zest here though and once again I downed a good half-dozen with relish (as it were).
Crevettes and bulots
Next on the table were prawns - crevettes - unshelled and therefore still gazing helplessly up at me from the bowl.  I gritted my teeth, topped and tailed them and devoured them with enthusiasm.  Christmas is, after all, the best time for inexcusable over-indulgence.

With the prawns there were more snails; this time bulots - large snails from Normandy cooked and served in their shells, like cockles or winkles, and eaten in the same way.  I thought they were lovely and, by saying so, achieved near-hero status.

Next came the smoked salmon.  I’m used to this of course, and wanted to boast about how the best smoked salmon in the world came from Scottish waters.  On this occasion, though, I kept my mouth firmly shut and kept on chewing. 

As I’d found out before, it is social suicide to suggest to French people that anything even remotely edible can be sourced in Britain.  This is mostly because they simply don’t believe you.  To sing the praises of English apples or cheese, or Scottish raspberries, or Welsh lamb engenders a reaction that varies between straight incredulity and deeply-taken offence.

There are French people who haven’t spoken to me for months because I had the effrontery to compare the range of British cheeses favourably with theirs. 

This attitude is reflected in French supermarkets, where nothing from Britain is ever available, cheese (naturally) included.  British producers have a lot of work to do in France - as opposed, interestingly, to Spain.  In Barcelona, I saw British-sourced food everywhere.

Next came another French speciality - pate de foie gras.

As far as I am concerned, pate de foie gras - like snails and frogs’ legs - is an acquired taste which the French have no right to expect other people to enjoy quite as much as they do.  Its problem for me is that it is unpalatable on several levels.  No-one has been able to prove to me that it is not cruelly produced and its taste - for me at least - is strangely rich and thick, so that it seems to stick to your gullet as you swallow it.

Nevertheless, my co-diners enjoyed it hugely; it’s a luxury in France as much as it is here and Christmas is a good time to wave aside the expense and indulge yourself.  They spread it very thickly on bite-size rounds of delicious local wholemeal bread and butter.
The onion jam is in the topmost bowl
In my case, its presence on the table was made infinitely more bearable by one of the most beautiful concoctions I’ve ever tasted:  confit des oignons - onion jam.  I’m still not sure how it’s made, even though I asked for, and was given, the recipe.  It was utterly scrumptious; soft strings of onion in a thick, sweet sauce.  I could happily have eaten it continuously throughout the evening and all next day - or until Chantal was forced to go out, unearth more onions and work her magic on them.

The confit des figues - figs - was scrummy as well; but nothing on the table before or after was ever going to compare to the sweet wonderfulness of that onion jam.  Damn it - I can taste it even now; or want to.

By this time I was flagging a little.  And, knowing Chantal as I do, I was well aware that there was more - a lot more - to come.  I tried to slow down but the French are nothing if not persistent and looked at me anxiously each time they noticed that I wasn’t eating anything.

I tried to use the little wrapped cubes of cheese as a stop-gap but it didn’t work; especially when Chantal produced her palette-cleanser - an unbelievably refreshing and tasty apple sorbet with cinnamon.  My only regret is that I didn’t bury it beneath a ladleful of onion jam and eat it until I was sick.

But that wouldn’t have worked either, because next up to grace the table were moules - mussels - in a lightly sweet coconut curry sauce.

In my experience, French people have not taken to spiced oriental food, even if it’s only lightly spiced.  Mediterranean food of all kinds is common (especially French colonial food from Morocco and Algeria, like tajines) but Indian, Thai and Chinese takeaways are much thinner on the ground there than they are here.

So Chantal’s experiment - a kind of moules korma - was very brave, surprised me a great deal and was very, very successful.

The woman deserves a tv cookery programme; she is truly the Nigella of Beaujolais.
And finally...
It all ended with several flamboyant desserts appearing on the table all at once.  There was a rich chocolate log complete with candy figurines; there were home-made truffles and pralines; and there was the most ornate stack of ice-cream rolls I’m ever likely to see.

This was yet another example of my lifelong regret that we eat celebration meals in entirely the wrong order.  We gorge on snails, prawns, salmon, onion jam, bread, paté and oysters and leave no room for the best bit of all:  pudding.

Someone should establish a Pudding Club, wherein every meal taken would consist entirely of desserts.  I would be at the head of the queue to join.

I pretended to sample Chantal’s desserts out of sheer politeness but it didn’t fool anyone.  I tried - and liked - all of them.

As the clock ticked over into Christmas Day, I was outside in the garden, looking up at the stars.  There, in the deep, dark French countryside, the stars have the stage to themselves and exploit the fact magnificently.  There were hundreds of them.  It was a fathomless sea of stars.

Confronted by such magic, all I could do was smile.  I realised how lucky I was to be there - and that, somewhere overhead, petit Père Noël had already begun his journey….


It’s almost time to make the next port-of-call on our journey round the world - in which we try to see the funny and unexpected side of each country we visit.

Next up is Angola.

So please get any information you consider quirky, wayward or otherwise of interest - however trivial - to me in any of the usual ways.



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

In this blogposting…
* The New Year
* La vie en France:  Noël - Part Three
Go ahead; what have you got to lose?...

The poem below  - an extract from Tennyson’s In Memoriam - is well-known as a New Year poem.  At least, the first couple of verses are.

But, if you can spare the time, I’d like you to read it through, as I just have.  I found the experience unsettling because many of the feelings, sentiments, thoughts and wishes expressed in it are as relevant today as they were when the poem was written in 1850.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

We’re still waiting for most of Tennyson’s wishes to come true, aren’t we?  Let’s hope we can make some progress during 2012.

I hope everyone has a peaceful, healthy and happy year.

Having retired the previous night in moderate good spirits, I woke up feeling a lot more mangled.  After all, instead of a view of the blue hills of Beaujolais I was looking out on an eight-lane Dutch motorway with Schiphol airport hovering mistily in the middle-distance.  I was barely halfway to my Christmas destination and the second half would be a lot more complicated than the first had been.

And that’s because there’d be no-one at Lyon airport to pick me up when I finally got there.  If everything had gone according to plan yesterday, I would have arrived in Lyon at 2230 or so, with Serge’s smiling - if tired - face to welcome me.

But today, he was at work.  I’d have to make my own way to St Georges de Reneins.  It was going to be another long day.

And the day was as good as its word.  It developed into something like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, in which Steve Martin and John Candy team up in an effort to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving; ahead of me lay a day of changes and timetables which involved a coach, a bus, an aeroplane, a tram, a metro, a train and a very long walk.

The coach was first.  It arrived at the hotel promptly at 0720.  There were so many people waiting for it, though, that it very quickly became hopelessly and dangerously overcrowded, like one of those buses in India you see in films like Slumdog Millionaire.  We were sitting in the seats, in the aisles, in the luggage racks, on suitcases and even on each other’s laps.  No-one complained though - we all needed to get to the airport, after all.

Once there, we finally dispersed, hugging and good-wishing each other and each taking our chances with flights and destinations.  I watched the Croatian mountaineer disappear into the crowds, my fingers firmly crossed that he would get to Dubrovnik, which is where his heart was.

One of those hateful airport buses took me to the aeroplane and my flight left on time.  We rose into the thick Dutch fog and emerged from it five minutes later into the unreal and blinding sunshine above the clouds.  It was enough to lift and reassure the spirit.  Everything was going to be alright.

We landed on time, too - at about 1130 - and I was grateful, once again, for the relative calm of small regional airports such as Lyon St Exupéry.  No crowds, no hassle, no frustrations.  Polite, unhurried civility - the way airports like London, Paris (God forbid) or Schiphol must have been before they got too big for their boots.
Antoine de St Exupéry
I had a quick coffee and looked at the monument to the man who gave the airport its name:  Antoine de St Exupéry.  Born in Lyon, he had been one of France’s aviation pioneers in the 1920s, had written lyrically about his life in the skies, had won many international awards, had campaigned for the USA to join the Second World War after France capitulated and had died over the Mediterranean whilst serving with the Free French Air Force.

He is now a national hero in France, as well he should be.

I'm genuinely ashamed to say that I'd never heard of him.


This not being England, public transport from the airport is awe-inspiringly plentiful, varied and cheap.  The airport has its own TGV (fast mainline) station from which trains whisk you, at breakneck speed, to almost anywhere you want to go - including even Geneva and Milan; there are buses and coaches to destinations nearer to hand; and there’s the brand-new express tramway to Lyon city centre.

You shouldn’t need to guess which one I chose.

It’s about 8 miles to Lyon city and the Rhône-Express tramway does it in no time, travelling at train speeds across the fields and into the suburbs.  I had just begun to enjoy what was, for me, the rare pleasure of riding on a tram when it was time to change to the Metro on the outskirts of Lyon.

I decided I didn’t really mind that Serge was working that day.  Once again, I was enjoying the sense of urban adventure my missed connexion was giving me.

I’ve extolled the virtues of Lyon’s trams, metro and trolleybuses elsewhere (in blogposting 242, in fact, where you can also see a picture of the new tramway) so you'll be glad to hear that I'm not going to go through it all again. 


There I was in the heart of beautiful and stately Lyon, at its Perrache mainline station ( - say pair-ASH).  There aren’t many trains to the little wayside stop at St Georges de Reneins so I caught the next one that left.  It takes about half an hour.

Local French trains are not, of course, as supremely fast or luxurious as TGV expresses.  But they are very comfortable, airy, spotlessly clean and - in common with all Continental trains - they are much bigger than ours here.  During my Grand Tour, I thought that this was an optical illusion until truckshunter Nev pointed out that trains over there really are much wider than ours.  I’ve often wondered why this is so.  After all, the railway lines are the same distance apart.  Aren’t they?  Nev?

So there I was, deposited - along with two other hardy souls - on the platform at St Georges de Reneins, watching the train disappear into a dot - like an old tv - and contemplating the most arduous part of my whole trip.

The walk to the house.

St Georges is not a large village but unfortunately the station is on one side of it and my ultimate destination is on the other.  It’s just over 2 miles, although - after my journey from Amsterdam - it seemed like 102.

I took my time ( - as if I had any choice).  Trundling my suitcase behind me, i walked from the station to the village church, where I sat down.

From the church, I walked down past the chateau and sat down again.

From the chateau, I walked past the park gates to the House of the Barking Dog and sat down again.

From the House of the Barking Dog, I walked to the moto-ball court and sat down again.

At this point, a very old lady  - whom I had seen in the village - put me to shame by walking briskly past me at what seemed like 20mph.  She had turned the corner to Bourchanin before I was able to rustle up the moral fibre to follow in her footsteps.


At the house, I stroked the cat (Moumoun), made myself some coffee and gazed at last on the hills of Beaujolais I had missed so much that morning.  Slowly and quietly, the peace of the French countryside descended and re-adopted me as its own.  It wrapped itself around me and made me smile.

Which is what Serge did when he got home an hour or so later.


Serge was working the next day - Friday - so I had some time to make notes about my epic Christmas journey.  The seasonal mixture of expectation, disappointment, adventure, over-indulgence and ultimately calm and peaceful pleasure had made the trip unique.  I was glad of the experience.  And I was glad that it was over.


I also had time to scribble down some memory joggers about the latest difficulties I’d been having with the French language.  As usual, these problems centred around what I call ‘False Friends‘ - word which look as though you know what they mean, but don’t mean that at all.

Here’s the latest bunch….

Attendre does not mean ‘attend‘ - it means ‘wait’.
The idea of ‘attending‘ (a concert or a wedding or something) is expressed using assister, which therefore does not mean ‘assist’.
As they crossed the channel, talons have moved back along the foot; they aren’t claws, they’re heels.
Gratter doesn’t mean ‘grate’ - it means ‘scrape’ ( - a skyscraper is a gratte-ciel).  'Grate' is râper.
Actuellement doesn’t mean ‘actually‘ - it means ‘at the present time’.
Eventuellement doesn’t mean ‘eventually‘ - it means ‘possibly’.
Profiter doesn’t mean ‘profit from’ - it means ‘make the most of’.
Arriver doesn’t just mean ‘arrive’ - it also means ‘to be on your way’.  You have to be careful with that one.
You also have to be careful with promiscuité, which doesn't mean 'promiscuity' but 'lack of privacy'; and intoxication, which means 'poisoning' rather than mere drunkenness.

You have been warned.

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