In this blogposting…
* News From Nowhere
* In Memoriam
* Oui, je regrette beaucoup…
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war…


Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Thursday 6 December at The Bridge pub, right next door to the Castle Keep in Newcastle.

By which time I will be 64 and two days.  Once again, my timing’s gone all wrong!

This newspaper item caught my eye the other day.

‘Amateur sleuths have lined up to try to decrypt a Second World War message which has left security experts stumped.  The string of letters was found attached to the skeleton of a pigeon up a chimney at a house in Bletchingley, Surrey.’

At first, I wondered whether the word ‘decrypt’ actually existed or had been made up by a journalist not in the steadiest state of sobriety.  ‘Decrypt’.  Hmmmm.

My dictionary confirms, though, that it does indeed exist and that, furthermore, it does not mean ‘to remove from a crypt’, which was my first thought.

But what’s really tickled me is that last sentence.

‘The string of letters was found attached to the skeleton of a pigeon up a chimney at a house in Bletchingley, Surrey’.

I can’t get that particularly unlikely and faintly silly combination of words out of my head.  It’s driving me crazy.  ‘...attached to the skeleton of a pigeon up a chimney…’.

I’m sorry; I just can’t help it.  Those words, in that order, make me laugh.  A lot.

In mitigation, please remember that I’m getting quite old now - the lady on the Lyon Airport tram was right.

‘...attached to the skeleton of a pigeon up a chimney…’

Love it.

As if to prove the point, here’s another clip from the same paper…

‘Humans peaked intellectually thousands of years ago and are on a slippery slope of decline, according to geneticist Professor Gerald Crabtree, who argues that, without the need to survive by instinct in communities of hunter-gatherers, natural selection on intelligence has stopped.’

As well as being inherently interesting, although highly contentious, this clipping is an object lesson in other ways.  Although the person who wrote it writes for a living, it is, firstly, extremely badly written ( - it’s all one sentence - ) and it’s ungrammatical as well.

But, in view of item 1 above, the point is well taken.

And finally, here’s a nice And Finally story…

‘Police in Connecticut say a man stole a car used to deliver Chinese food and continued dropping off items so he could keep the money.  Keith Hinds was charged on Friday with larceny.  A delivery driver had called the police after his car was stolen when he left it idling to run into a school.’

It’s men like Keith Hinds that make the world such a surprising and interesting place.  I think we should befriend him if he is sent down.


Some film actors are so embedded in our warm and comfortable memories that we expect them to live forever, or hope that they will - just like the memories themselves.  For me, one of those people was Dinah Sheridan.

Some have said that her role as Mother in The Railway Children completely overshadowed everything else she ever did.  But who cares?  What a role to have your career overshadowed by!  For me, it was Dinah Sheridan who was the real, and very understated, star of that film - as well as the wonderful, and equally understated, Laurence Naismith (as the ‘old gentleman’).  When The Railway Children came out, I was already 21 years old - but it was one of those very rare films that made you feel 12 again, no matter how old you actually were.

And that’s thanks to the wonderful Dinah Sheridan.


Way back in February, in posting 338, I mentioned an inspiring and provocative list of the commonest regrets expressed by people who were dying.  The list was compiled by a palliative care nurse who worked in hospices and old people’s homes.

Recently, the British Heart Foundation commissioned a poll with a similar aim - to find out what people regret the most about their lives - and with strikingly similar results.

Here is the list they have compiled of the ten things people say they regret most.

1    Not travelling more and seeing more of the world.
2    Not keeping in touch with more friends from the past.
3    Taking too little exercise.
4    Not saving enough money.
5    Taking up smoking.
6    Not working harder at school.
7    Choosing the wrong career.
8    Wasting years with the wrong partner.
9    Eating unhealthily.
10  Not asking grandparents more about their lives before they died.

Enough said.


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

In this blogposting…
* Life in France
* The Daily Wisecrack
* Andy Goldsworthy
All human life is here….


For decades - centuries, even - the English language has thought it exotic, and even a little risqué, to import words directly from French and use them as if they were home-grown Anglo-Saxon expressions.  We pepper our conversations with them, and, whilst so doing, attempt to say them in the most authentically French way we can manage.  Think of rondayvoo, longerry, aw duhvr, poh-poori, protayjay….oo la la.

This process of wholesale word-borrowing is two-way, though.  Although most French people would probably only admit it reluctantly, the language of love and diplomacy - uneasy bedfellows at the best of times - has been importing words from English as if its life depended on it.  The French for ‘weekend’ is weekend, their word for ‘baby’ is bébé, ‘beef steak’ is bifteck.

But, with stereotypical French disdain, the Devil’s Tongue has adopted a strange and unsettling habit in the process of word-acquisition.  It seems to have decided that the present participle of English words - the versions that end in -ing - are the most appropriate and sonorous, no matter how ungrammatical they are and no matter how linguistically disrespectful this is.

You don’t need to spend much time in France to know that a camp-site is le camping, that a car-park is le parking or that shampoo is le shampooing.

But the longer you stay, the more frustratingly daft these words get.  Just for a lark, here are a few more I have seen and/or heard…

Le training - a tracksuit
Le shooting - a photo-shoot
Le dancing - a dance hall (or, ironically, a palais de danse in English)
Le bowling - a bowling-alley
Le pressing - a dry-cleaners
Le string - a G-string (I use that one a lot)
Le sleeping - a sleeping-car (on a train)
Le jogging - a tracksuit (aka le training)
Le smoking - a dinner jacket
Le footing - jogging
Le walking-closet is a walk-in wardrobe
Le relooking - a makeover

My favourites though are le retouching, which French has adopted to mean clothing alterations, and le lifting.

I bet you can’t even guess what le lifting means without looking it up!


A number of people have got in touch to suggest that it may not be such a good idea to hold our next AGM at Gibside or even to hold it on December 4.

So I give in.  Let’s hold it on Thursday 6 December in Newcastle.

Whaddya think?


Once again, Thanks to all those unscrupulous and mischievous people who have sent me their contributions to our growing library of wisecracks and put-downs.  Modesty forbids me from mentioning names.

I take no responsibility for any tastelessness contained herein.

There are several people in this world that I find obnoxious and you are all of them.

He is so old that his blood type has been discontinued.

He is out of his depth in a carpark puddle.

He’s got that faraway look - the farther he gets, the better he looks.

He’s so dense that light bends around him.

He was the first in his family to be born without a tail.



I have sprinkled this posting with photos of some of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures.  All of them were made from entirely natural ‘ingredients’ - rocks and stones, ice, leaves, twigs, water.

I think they’re lovely and I hope you do, too.

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

In this blogposting...
* A Desperate Request
* Serge:  A Bulletin
Go forth in trepidation...


For reasons too weirdly complicated - and frankly too dull - to go into here, I have recently started cooking in a more serious kind of way than heretofore.

Up till now, my culinary aptitudes have been limited to spagbol (which I can manage quite well, given a little critical leeway) and porridge (which it’s taken me 45 years to master).  I can also fry eggs.

Now, though, it’s time for me to engage more assertively with the mysteries of ovens, pans, bowls, utensils, gadgets and recipes - mixing, greasing and folding in (as it were).

After all, I reason, my ineptitude isn’t genetic or hereditary.  My brother and his wife - Barry and Jean - successfully expend a great deal of creative energy in their magnificently appointed kitchen.  Every time I visit them, there’s a lovely quiche or pie, some colourful and tasty salads, a bowl of dahl, healthy wodges of home-baked bread and a couple of perfect sauces and dressings.  And many other things, besides.

Each year they bake enormous - and I mean enormous - Christmas Cakes for every member of the family and their larder has had to be underpinned because of the weight of home-made jams, marmalades and jellies.  Their banana cake is to die for.

Emboldened and motivated by their creative successes, I’ve already started my rehabilitation, in a trivial and experimental capacity - and with very mixed results.

I thought the simplest recipes would be a good place to begin and tried to make an omelette.  I thought I wouldn’t need a recipe for something that obvious but I was as wrong about that as I was about my aspirations to be a ballet dancer.  That is to say, I was just plain wrong.

I tried pancakes after that.  I still don’t know where I went astray but my batter had the consistency of farm sludge and blocked the drain when I threw it away, in tears.

Somebody told me that drop scones - scotch pancakes - were much easier, thus giving ‘easier‘ a new meaning:  ‘much more difficult’.  They turned out like paving stones.

Then I recalled Mam telling me that anybody can bake a sponge cake.  ‘All you have to remember is 4, 4 and 4,‘ she said.  ‘Flour, sugar and fat.‘  And yes, I remembered the eggs as well.

My light and airy Victoria sponge had the much the same qualities as a house-brick, but without the taste.  I’d reckoned without self-raising flour - or baking powder.

Thanks, Mam.

Last week, I thought I’d tart up some madeleines I was baking with ‘a little‘ cinnamon and vanilla.  But they never tell you exactly how much ‘a little‘ or ‘a pinch‘ is, do they?  They turned out nice and soft and springy but tasted as sickly as cream-soda with a dash of tree-bark.

I’m not proud of any of this. 

Nor am I too proud to ask for help.  Which is where the Honourable Company of Truckshunters comes in.  That’s you, by the way.

I need recipes.  Tried and tested recipes - preferably, ones you’ve tried and tested yourself

And they have to be straightforward enough for an infantile fool to follow - recognise me?  Please don’t tell me to ‘add just enough water to make the batter runny, but not too runny‘ or to ‘beat the mixture until you have stiff peaks‘ ( - how many peaks? how stiff? - ) or ‘it’s cooked when it’s brown like wheat in September but not brown like peeled walnuts’.

So here’s a list of the stuff I want to train myself to cook without thinking; training pieces, if you will.  If you know how to make them - if you have a favourite recipe and you’re sure (or fairly sure) that I’ll be able to follow it - please email me urgently.  Unless, of course, you want my self-esteem to continue draining away at the same rate as my credibility.

1    Pancakes
Perfectly ordinary ones that you can eat with treacle or sugar or jam or whatever takes your fancy.

2    Drop Scones
Ordinary pancakes but wearing their Sunday best.  Scotch pancakes.

3    Omelettes
How many eggs should I use?  Do I beat them until I have stiff peaks?  What with?

4    Sponge cakes
Everyone in the civilised world - and many people outside it - can rustle up a sponge cake.  Including you.

5    Anything else
I’m also in the market for any other recipes you think I could manage without setting fire to myself or ending up in the RVI for some other reason.

But please.  No exotic ingredients like pickled tulip bulbs, skinned rabbits’ ears or asparagus coddled in nutmeg liqueur.

I’m waiting...


Vivienne - whose forbearance God preserve - is quite right.  December 4 is indeed my birthday.

And it would be the best birthday present ever if you could mange to get to the AGM.  You’ll have to bring a card, though, or I’ll feel very hurt.

So note it in your packed and busy diary.  1100 on 4 December.  Possibly with the redoubtable Vivienne at Gibside, above.

Watch this space.


I’m glad to say that Serge is much better now.  He doesn’t need to wear the neck brace at all, and has mostly dispensed with the wrist brace as well (although I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea).

The coccyx injury is a different matter, of course.  It’s going to take some time to improve and Serge is not a patient man.  So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

He’ll be visiting England for Christmas this year, so if you’re around, it would be nice to arrange some kind of special AGM - a seasonal cup of coffee and a mince pie.

In the meantime, thanks once again for all your good wishes.  They really helped.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting...
* All You Need Is A Plane Ticket...
* Le blog à Pépère
Proceed with caution...


It's 0530 on a cold, damp and peculiarly dark Wednesday morning.  I've been awake for an hour and have somehow found time to fortify myself before the journey with a steaming bowl of porridge, drizzled (luxuriously) with maple syrup.  I regard this is an advance reward for the voyage that lies ahead...

There are no buses at this hour so, as an act of revenge, I trundle my suitcase noisily behind me as I walk down Westgate Road to Central Station - waking up the inhabitants of the tower blocks above Big Lamp.

I am followed down the hill by a man in one of those luminous yellow jackets.  He's faster than me, though, and says 'Morning, marra!' as he overtakes me.  It's a long time since I heard that word...

As I walk, I notice only one star in the sky and remember being told by someone that, if you can only see one star, it's not a star at all - it's Venus.  That's the kind of thing you never forget.

I last made this selfsame journey two weeks ago and, on that occasion, the moon stood high behind the spire of the Roman Catholic Cathedral outside the station.  When I looked a second time a few minutes later, it had moved - quite some distance.  It shouldn't surprise me when this happens but it does.  

As I walk into the station, I bid Venus 'Morning, marra!'

I get to the station at 0600 - needlessly early, as I always am.  Gregg's is already open but I resist the temptation and buy a newspaper at WHSmith instead.  I sit next to my suitcase and ponder the uniqueness of WHSmith - a business name that is never abbreviated to Smith's or the like.  It is now, as it will always be, Double You Aitch Smith.  Even the name above the door acknowledges this fact and is written as one word, as I wrote it above - WHSmith.  
That's the kind of thing you think about at six o'clock in the morning as you wait for your train.  It stops you thinking other thoughts - like 'Why me?'

As you can see, my suitcase is ettling to get on the train out of the cold.  Nevertheless - and under the mistaken impression that it would look a lot more evocative than it does - I insist on taking this picture.  As well as earning a rebuke from my suitcase, I also get a very funny look from the train driver.

I almost miss the train because of this picture.

It is a silver-grey jewel of a journey up the coast.  Looking out over the North Sea at a brilliant, shocking pink, sunrise it occurrs to me that, being the creatures we are, we are much more used to admiring beautiful sunsets than sunrises because we are awake to see a lot more of them.

It really is lovely to see Holy Island floating on a high tide, the sea almost mauve around it, reflecting the changing sunrise colours of the sky.

The sun, as reluctant to get out of bed as I had been earlier, seems to pull the clouds over its head like blankets.  'Just five more minutes!'  It isn't really fully light until we pass through Berwick, by which time the clouds have won.  As we cross the border into Scotland, it starts to rain and the sea turns gun-metal grey.

As you can see, it's still raining at ten past eight, when the train arrives in Edinburgh.  Which doesn't stop Edinburgh from being the most beautiful city in the world.
On continental Europe, they have new tramlines up and running - from drawing-board to passenger-carrying - in a matter of weeks.  Edinburgh, on the other hand, seems to have been building its new tramway since Adam was a lad.  And there's still two years to go.

When it's finished, I'll be able to take a tram to the airport but until then, I have to rely on the special airport shuttle bus.  It's normally a good service, but on this dreary and drizzly Wednesday morning, something goes wrong with the ticket machine.  You can just about see the driver getting more and more exasperated with it while his putative passengers - me and my suitcase included - are getting wetter and wetter.

Eventually it defeats him and we have to wait for the next bus, which therefore departed chock-full of dripping and more-than-mildly irritated (and irritable) travellers.

A young woman next to me on the bus spends the entire 30-minute journey applying her make-up.  When she got on, she was noticeable pretty.  When she disembarked at the airport, she looked awful.
It's ten past nine and I've finally arrived at Edinburgh Airport.

Naturally, it's still raining so I dash inside for a cup of coffee without admiring the view of the car park and the faceless airport hotel and 'business centre'.

Although both Edinburgh and Lyon airports are of the 'small and therefore less maddening' variety, I still end up wondering - as I always do when I'm in an airport of any size - why they are always the way they are.  Bland, unfriendly - even hostile - places where people go to be herded and misdirected and stressed and annoyed.  The grotesque 'muzak' and insincere, forced smiles of the staff seem always to increase stress levels.  I wonder if there's such a thing as 'airport rage'.

Why don't they build them with high and graceful Gothic arches, intriguing passageways, towering steeples, open markets and bandstands?  You'd want to go to a place like that.
My flight to Lyon boards from the romantically-named 'Gate 1K'.  Once again, I think 'This is where excited people leave for exotic destinations - usually.  So why not call the boarding gates 'Sunrise' or 'Up And Away'?  Or name them after flying heroes or even birds?  'Hawk', Eagle', 'Amy Johnson'.  The possibilities are endless.'

There are problems at the Gate.  One of the computer terminals isn't working.  There are two recalcitrant Frenchmen who refuse to admit that their suitcases are too big for cabin baggage.  And a rather sad old gent jumps the boarding queue and will not rejoin it.  He tries to block the doorway, as if to say 'If I'm not getting on the plane right now, nobody is'.  Security staff have to restrain him.

Airport rage.  I don't blame him at all.

Because of the computer, the grumpy Frenchmen and the sad old gent, take-off is 30 minutes late.  We finally leave the ground at ten past eleven.

I'm lucky to get my 'emergency-exit' seat - it has extra leg-room - even though it means I am sitting next to the most talkative French couple I've ever met.  From the moment they fasten their seat-belts and start to complain about how stuffy it is till touchdown at Lyon, where they are still berating the (admittedly) insipid nature of easyJet coffee, they just don't shut up.

They talk - loudly - through the safety demonstration and all through the many announcements made by the crew and captain.  They pass comment on the attributes of the crew and of any passengers that catch their eye.  They spend a lot of time shrugging their Gallic shoulders at the inadequacies of the in-flight magazine.  And they always agree with each other about everything.

It was terribly depressing.
I only take this photo to break free of them for a few moments - and to yank my suitcase down onto my seat, this dislodging Madame's elbow from the arm-rest.

Afterwards, Madame looks at me as if I am an eccentric English clown with a red nose, painted face, oversize red braces and a squirty buttonhole rose.  Maybe next time...

Landing at Lyon is a blessed relief.  As we disembark, Madame pushes in front of me and several other passengers.  I bid her 'Bonne journee!' and then mutter something extremely crude under my breath - in English.  The man standing behind me in the gangway congratulates me for having completed the flight without garotting her and her husband.
Enfin...la belle France

The fly-away building you can see here is much bigger even than it looks.  And it's not even an aircraft terminal; it's Lyon airport's railway station.  It's extraordinary; very grand, very big, very modern - and very empty.  I reckon it must be one of the world's most underused structures.  I've never seen more than a dozen or so people inside it.

It's still pretty stupendous, though, and - when you use it, as I have to today to catch the tram-train - it makes you feel as if you're somewhere, as if you've arrived.

I trundle my suitcase along the travolators, which seem to go on forever and move very slowly indeed.  Three French soldiers, in full combat kit and armed to the teeth with what look like portable atomic weapons, are travelling in the opposite direction.  As we pass, they smile suspiciously sweetly and say 'Bonjour Msieur'.  On all my previous visits to France, this has never happened before and it immediately makes me feel as if I'm under surveillance.

I seriously start to wonder what it is about me that may have aroused their distrust.  My beard?  The glasses?  My tie?  The redness of my suitcase?

When I turn to look at them, they turn to look at me.

By now, I am so uncomfortable that the escalator down to the tram-train can't come soon enough.

My suitcase makes a pleasing match with the livery of the handsome Rhônexpress tram-train that takes you into the centre of Lyon.  Systems like this are fairly new - and still quite rare.  In the countryside, they behave like trains but, once inside the city, they run along the streets like trams.  So you get the best of both worlds, as it were.

This one gets you to the heart of Lyon in 25 minutes and, being the fanatic that I unsahamedly am, I always enjoy travelling on it.

It's busy today, though, and the only seat I can find is occupied by a woman's handbag.  Expectantly, I mutter 'Madame?  Si vous plais?' but she looks at me as if I'm a baked English parsnip with a drink problem and leaves her handbag exactly where it is.

I formally ask her - in French - to move her bag.  Again she ignores me.  I'm starting to wonder if the soldiers were right; perhaps I look so totally beyond the pale that I should be treated no better than a plague-rat.

Another woman comes to my rescue.  She pleads on my behalf.  I am, she says, 'a tourist - and quite old'.  This makes Madame Stoneface relent and I pass the rest of the journey into Lyon sitting next to her, feeling very touristy and very, very old.

The tram-train deposits me at Part-Dieu, which is not where I want to be at all.  My local train for St Georges de Reneins leaves from Perrache - which is another city-centre tram ride away.

Time for Irritating French Lady Number Three.

Before you board a Lyon tram, you have to have a ticket.  The machines provided for the purpose at every tram-stop are of admirable simplicty.  They even 'walk you through' the process in English, if that's what will part you from your euros.

But the old lady struggling with the ticket machine at Part-Dieu is utterly defeated by it.  She turns and, in desperation, asks me if I can help her.  This surprises me because, although the screen-language on show at the time is Italian, she aske me for assistance in French.

In situations like this, life has a tendency to get needlessly complicated.  I wonder if she is asking me in French because, although she herself is Italian, she has assumed, quite reasonably, that I am French.

I decide to determine her nationality - equally reasonably, given the situation - by asking (in French) if she is Italian.

I think Madame must have had a turbulent relationship with an Italian at some point in her life because she stares at me with a combination of bile and rage that would stop a charging bull.  I may as well have offered her cash for sex.

'Nonnnnnnn!' she exclaims.  I apologise as profusely as my increasing fatigue allows and try to explain to her that I thought she may be Italian because the ticket-machine screen was in Italian.  So again - I get the treatment.  'Italienne??? NON!'

It is at roughly this point that I realise how glad I am that I do not have a firearm of some description about my person.  My interminable conversation with this obsessive Italophobe has already made me miss two trams because, of course, I haven't managed to buy a ticket myself yet.

With an exasperated assertiveness that took even me by surprise, I hijack her transaction.  I press a few buttons and twiddle a few knobs.  I buy her ticket for her - not out of sympathy or magnanimity but out of pure frustration.

I'm not, of course, sure that it is the ticket she wants.  For all I know, some tram or other has deposited her in an utterly unfamiliar part of Lyon, where she is still wandering like an undead wraith and assuring anyone who will listen that she is NOT Italian.


Eventually, I catch a tram.  I lap up the ten-minute trip through the narrow streets of central Lyon and - as always - audibly gasp as this narrow tightness suddenly opens out into a grand riverscape.  Stately public buildings, the broad, fast-flowing Rhône and the hill of Fourviere dominating the skyline.

I can't linger, though.  There's only one more train to St Georges de Reneins and me and my suitcase must be on it...
This is what the inside of a local French double-decker train looks like - complete with my faithful suitcase.

It was almost half-past five now, and starting to get dark.  The train rumbled through Vaise, St Germain du Mont d'Or ('of the golden hill'), Anse and Villefranche-sur-Saône.

And, at six o'clock, it drew into St Georges de Reneins.

Sunrise to sunset.  Twelve hours of movement, with still a 30-minute walk along unlit country lanes to the house.

But I am way past caring by now.  Yes, it's a long way to go to be where you want to be.  But it's worth it.

My suitcase almost sighs as I walk into the house of warmth and light...

When you've got a minute, take a look at Serge's latest blogposting - number 147.  It includes two videos he made himself in his garden.  The first shows a 'roller' - a rare visitor to Beaujolais and, as far as I know, unkown in England.

The second is a real charmer.  A pair of coal-tits nested in an ornamental urn in Serge's garden and successfully raised a brood of 11 chicks.  Watch what happens when one of the parents arrives with some food...

To access the blog, click on Serge's picture on this page, then click on his blog's name.

Or try going direct to http://spepere.blogspot.fr/


You may have seen in the last posting's Comments box that Vivienne has issued one of her ultimatums (ultimata?)  If I wish to see her on 4 December, our AGM will have to take place at Gibside.  Except for the entrance fee involved, this isn't a bad idea.

What do you think?

(If we do hold our AGM there, we will all, of course, mention to everyone we meet that we are very close and intimate friends of Vivienne and that she has promised, on the National Trust's behalf, to provide us with free coffee and cake.)


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting...
* Armistice Day
Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin...


I’ve been seething since Sunday.

I’ve had that awful, boiling sense of unredeemed outrage in the pit of my stomach for 3 days now - and all because of a smug, pompous and - at best- misguided woman.

Last Sunday morning, I had decided to visit Tynemouth Station Market.  It had been a long time since I’d seen my friend Mark, who has the north-east’s finest picture-framing stall there.  Nor, I’m ashamed to say, had I seen the completed restoration works in the station itself.  So I was keen to right both of those wrongs.

Sunday was 11 November - Armistice Day. 

It is, of course, traditional that, at precisely 1100, we stop whatever it is we are doing if we possibly can - our daily routine of getting and spending, working and playing - and stand still and silent for two minutes.  At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause for just a moment to remember the men and women who have given their lives in war - no matter who they were or where they came from.

We focus our collective thoughts, too, on the many people whose lives were damaged or even ruined by war and to those who are still fighting and dying in wars today.

An announcement was made over the tannoy at Tynemouth Station.  In a few moments, it would be 11 o’clock; would everyone please observe the traditional two minutes’ silence after the klaxon sounded.

The market was busy.  It was a sunny morning and hundreds of people were wandering around what has become a much bigger affair since the station’s refurbishment was completed.  Old and young, men and women, boys and girls.  There were so many people that it was often difficult to make any headway between the stalls.

And then the klaxon sounded.

And suddenly...the noise and the hubbub and the bustle stopped.  Completely.  Everyone stood exactly where they were.  People curtailed their mobile phone conversations.  The chatter and laughter and wandering stopped.  The station was peopled, just for a minute or two, by so many silent and thoughtful statues.  No-one made a sound.  No-one moved.

Except one woman.

She looked to be in her late thirties.  She wore a knitted dut, combat jacket, cammo trousers and sneakers.  She was pushing a buggy with a baby in it.  I think I’ll have nightmares about the awful squeaking of those buggy wheels for months.

She behaved as if nothing had changed at 11 o’clock.  She wove her baby-buggy in amongst the statuesque people.  She stopped here and there to look at the stalls then continued on her way.  It was a startling statement she was making and it had the desired effect.  At least, it did on me.

Perhaps she was ‘anti-war’.  But surely, I thought, for her to assume that everyone who observed the Silence was ‘pro-war’ was both patronising and offensive.

Perhaps she felt strongly enough to make her facile statement because someone close to her had been killed or injured - maybe in Iraq or Afghanistan.  But that, I thought, would give her more reason to join in with the act of remembrance and not ignore it so obviously and pointedly.

As I watched her pretence at nonchalance, and realised how irritating and just plain rude it must have looked to other people too, I began to feel that surge of dislike which I’m still finding it difficult to dislodge.

The klaxon sounded again two minutes later and - equally suddenly - everyone resumed their normal business of the day.  In the distance, a brass band could be heard playing the Last Post from the War Memorial in Tynemouth village.

And the woman disappeared into the throng.

Don’t concern yourself.  I know the counter-arguments.  Millions of people have died to make sure that this woman has the right to express her opinions in the way she chose.  All she was doing was claiming that right.

Surely, though, it would have done her no harm - it would have cost her emotions and political views nothing - to stand quietly somewhere in the station, or to walk quickly outside if she felt it so necessary not to observe the Silence.

For me, that she chose to ignore what is, at least, a harmless public ceremony and at most a deeply-felt communally expressed grief is proof - if proof were needed - that we are living in an increasingly immodest, graceless and disrespectful age of which our fallen ancestors would be thoroughly ashamed.


Hildie - whom God preserve - has pointed out that there may be some confusion over exactly how many AGMs we’ve actually had - and that this can almost certainly be laid squarely at my door because I chose the ludicrous convention of counting them with Roman numerals, as if they were Olympiads.

Frankly, though - I don’t care.  The next AGM is number XXXVIII because I say it is.  That’s the kind of mood I’m in.

It’ll be held at 1100 on Tuesday 4 December at a venue to be agreed.  That is to say, I can’t quite decide on the venue!

All suggestions will be gratefully received, as always.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Serge
* A Word to the Wise
* The Two Wolves
Go ahead - make my day…


First up, a VERY BIG Thankyou to everyone who’s been asking after Serge’s welfare, both here on the blog and via text and email.  We both appreciate it a lot and I’m sure your concern has contributed mightily to the slow but steady improvement in his condition.

For the first couple of days I think he was probably still in a state of shock after his accident.  From what he’s told me, I think he was not only badly winded when he fell but was also knocked out for a few minutes by the impact.  The extent of his other injuries only became apparent later, when he was taken to hospital in Lyon.

The whiplash compression around his neck muscles seems to be easing now; he only needs to wear his neck-brace occasionally for support.

His right wrist and lower arm are now encased in a flashy, and very fetching, velcro-fastening strap.  Bad luck dictated that it was his right arm that he fell on; Serge is right-handed, so the pain and discomfort there are hampering him quite a lot.

The injury to his coccyx, though, is causing him the most trouble and will probably take the longest to heal.  It’s very tricky for him to find a comfortable position to sit or lie in and driving - already difficult from the injury to his wrist - is particularly painful.

Mindful of all this, I’ve decided to buy a nurse’s uniform and return to Beaujolais next week.  I am a hopelessly selfish and inadequate carer and this, coupled with the nurse’s uniform, should have Serge on his feet again and heading for the hills in no time.

Serge’s nickname amongst his family and friends is Pépère; it’s an old-fashioned, ‘street-French’ word that comes close to meaning something like ‘sanguine’ or ‘unflappable’ and it suits him down to the ground.  As long as anyone can remember, he has confronted misfortunes with a smiling - and by no means resigned - c’est la vie and that’s what he’s doing now; he’s getting on with things.

My re-arrival on Wednesday should concentrate his mind wonderfully, if not give him something else to confront. 

Be sure that I’ll give him all your best wishes as soon as I step off the train at St Georges de Reneins.  And thanks again for thinking about him; just knowing that you are has done him the power of good.


In blogpostings 219 and 221 you can read some ‘Words to the Wise’ that were sent to me by Kev and Dave.  It’s time now to catch up with some more that I’ve just discovered lurking in my email inbox…

* Money can’t buy happiness but somehow it’s much more comfortable crying in a Porsche than on a bicycle.  (There are quite a few versions of this one; Spike Milligan once said that ‘money can't buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery’.)
* Forgive your enemy - but remember the bugger’s name.
* Help a man when he is in trouble and he will remember you when he is in trouble again.
* Alcohol doesn’t solve any problems.  But neither does milk.
* After thirty, your body has a mind of its own.
* Revenge is often like biting a dog because the dog bit you.
And, with the upcoming season in mind, here’s one from Victor Borge…
* Santa Claus has the right idea - visit people only once a year.

Any other Words to the Wise gratefully received.  Get in touch…


I found this amongst the emails I’d preserved from the days of the Blue Bus.  I can’t remember if I quoted it on-air at the time but, even if I did, I think it’s worth a second airing.

It’s an example of incisive Native American wisdom…

An old Cherokee was talking to his grandson.
‘My son, inside each and every one of us there’s a battle going on between two wolves.
One of them is Evil.  It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies and ego.
The other is Good.  It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility. kindness and truth.’
The boy thought about this for a moment and then asked ‘Grandfather - which wolf wins?’
The old man quietly replied ‘The one you feed.’


...thanks to everyone who's pointed out that the Your Car Is German email I received from Peter and quoted in posting 407 had also been sent to me by Dave - and used in posting 394.

I'm getting old...


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

I’m writing this from France - yes, I’m back in Beaujolais again.  I arrived last Wednesday, it’s now Monday evening - and I’ve had the most ill-omened few days of recent years.

On Friday, all the lights in Serge’s little house went out - twice.  When they came back on again, the water-heating system had given up the ghost.  (I wonder what that is in French?  Abandonner le fantôme?  That doesn’t sound right.)

Getting a plumber to do anything quickly is even trickier in France than it is in England.  So the only hot water we’ve had for three days has been heated in pots and pans.  This has leant a kind of wartime bonhomie to all-over standing body washes in front of the kitchen sink, as you can imagine.

As everyone knows, misfortunes never come alone.  Today, Serge fell 15ft off the top of a truck and spent the whole day in hospital.  He’s hurt his neck, sprained his wrist and chipped his coccyx - all of which is very painful indeed and puts an absence of hot water into perspective.

As I write, he is soldiering bravely on - watching the French equivalent of The One Show and eating far too many chocolates.

As my Nana used to say...no-one has died and no war has started, so things could be a lot worse.

It’s still been a strange few days though.  And it’s sooooo cold here, too....

Anyway - I hope you’ll forgive me if I make this a fairly clipped posting.  Things will be back to normal next time.

Until then, I've included some photos I took today in Lyon.  I hope they give you some idea of what an atmospheric and charming city it is.


Don’t forget to keep up to date with events on the Farnes by looking at the their blog.  It’s interesting, approachable and includes some stunning photographs (like this one, of a migrant waxwing).

If the link below doesn’t work, cut and paste it into the Search box of your browser.



Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting...
* If Computers Were Cars
* Your Car Is German...
* The Daily Wisecrack
* Bonsai


This is an oldie but goldie.  It was sent to me recently by Peter, in South Shields.  Even if it’s apocryphal, it’s good fun...

At a computer conference, Bill Gates (the man behind Microsoft) reportedly compared the computer industry with the car industry, saying ‘If Ford had kept up with technology like the  computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the  gallon.'

Anyone who’s grappled with Microsoft’s Windows operating system will understand the sarcasm of Ford’s response, issued the following day in a press release...

‘If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following  characteristics:

 1    For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash.........twice a  day.

2    Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a  new car.

3    Occasionally your car would die on the motorway, for no reason.  You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue.  For some reason, you would simply accept this.

4    Occasionally, executing a maneuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5    Apple Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, fuel and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single 'This  Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation' warning light.

7    The airbag system would ask 'Are you sure?'  before deploying.

8    Occasionally  - and for no reason whatsoever - your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9    Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as on the old car.

10    You'd have to press the 'Start' button to turn  the engine off.

All of which is why I converted to a Mac decades ago.


Peter also sent me this gem...

Your car is German.
Your vodka is Russian.
Your pizza is Italian.
Your kebab is Turkish.
Your democracy is Greek.
Your coffee is Brazilian.
Your movies are American.
Your tea is Tamil.
Your shirt is Indian.
Your oil is Saudi Arabian.
Your electronics are Chinese.
Your numbers are Arabic.
And your letters are Roman.

And you complain that your neighbour is an immigrant?

Pull yourself together.


Thanks to everyone who’s been sending me put-downs and wisecracks.  Here are just a few of the less unkind, and thus more printable, examples...

She has a nice butter face; everything looks nice but her face.

He has the IQ of lint.

Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge.  He just gargled.

They told me you weren’t fit to live in a pigsty but I stuck up for you.  I said you were.

He is depriving a village somewhere of its idiot.

The thing that terrifies me most is that someone might hate me as much as I hate you.

There are only two things I dislike about you; your face.



A friend in Japan recently sent me some pictures of prize-winning bonsai trees in Kyoto.  I think they’re lovely and I hope you do, too.


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