OK, we’re now looking to 2017 and beyond, following our delightful river cruise along the Rhine and the Danube. It was marred by just one small issue with one of the excursions in Vienna. The cruise as a whole was superb but this particular excursion was disorganised and frankly a mess. So we mentioned it to the cruise company (APT if anyone’s interested) and after about a month, we received a letter of apology together with a voucher for £300 off a future cruise, which we thought was generous. What’s more, it wasn’t limited to just this year or next, but to the end of 2018. Again, very generous. So we might well return to river cruising in 2018.
But not next year – next year we’re returning to our favourite campsite in the Bourgogne region of eastern France. The site is unusual in having a hardcore of regular clients who return year after year, but I’m afraid Old Father Time is taking his toll and many of our friends have had to drop out. How many are left remains to be seen but it’s still a fabulous place with or without them.
Meanwhile, the caravan is now having its winter rest after one of the shortest caravanning years on record. We had 4 weeks in northern France in May/June and just 10 days in Wales in August. And that was that. Part of the problem was water ingress which put the van out of action for a number of weeks. Last January our local mobile serviceman came to give the caravan its annual service and found high damp levels all across the front. That was eventually sorted by Campbells Caravans under the warranty but inevitably it took time to get the parts from Lunar and then schedule the work. So anyway, the work was finally done and after a few months the serviceman returned to check the van for us again. This time it passed with flying colours, so that’s 1 less thing to worry about.
And with that I guess it’s time to sign off. This blog has always been intermittent, with posts coming 1 after the other, or with long gaps in between. Nothing’s changed! The next post will arrive when it arrives, within a matter of days or, more likely, some time in 2017. So I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy Christmas and New Year just in case!
Well, things have changed since my last post. For a start, the SatelliteForCaravans website is no more, gone to the great graveyard in the sky (sky, not Sky!) It was a bit of a struggle – I had asked my service provider to close the site much earlier in the year but wires got crossed and in August I realised the site was still active when they tried to renew my annual subscription! At the time, I was on board a river cruiser somewhere on the Rhine (of which more in a moment). Fortunately the ship had Wi-Fi so I was able to email the company and instruct them to carry out my instruction and to not charge me for the privilege. They then emailed me back asking me to log into my account to cancel it, so I replied that I was away from home without access to my login details and they were to treat this reply as their instruction to close the site immediately. Finally they did as I asked and the site closed the very next day.
So, what’s this about a river cruise (we’re caravanners after all)? Well, it was a very special double celebration. During the cruise, it was my 75th birthday and our 50th (Golden) wedding anniversary. Ten years ago we celebrated by flying to Canada and New England, 2 months in total. We debated whether to repeat that holiday but then decided it might not match up to the original. So we looked at cruises instead. The big ocean cruise ships were a definite no-no, I’m not happy on the sea. It has nasty things like waves.
So we then looked at European river cruises and came up with an absolute belter. A 15-day cruise along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, a total distance of 1200 miles, from Amsterdam to Budapest operated by APT. And because of the special occasion we upgraded to a top-deck luxury suite with twin balconies (one open to the elements, the other closed for if the weather was bad – in the event the weather was bad on only 1 day, the rest of the time the sun shone and the temperatures were in the high 20s/mid 30s). So we were driven in a Mercedes limousine from home to Manchester Airport for our flight to Amsterdam. There we joined the ship and for the next 2 weeks we were wined and dined in sheer luxury. We then returned from Budapest to Manchester and the same courier company drove us home. A splendid holiday from start to finish.
That was last month and we’ve been trying to organise a caravan break since then. Unfortunately we’ve not been able to find a suitable gap in our diary, so it now looks as though it won’t happen this year. Never mind, we have the opportunity of days out – after all there are 5 National Parks within an hour or so’s drive of Manchester, so we can go north to the Lake District, east to the Peak District, north east to the Yorkshire Dales and/or Moors, or west to Snowdonia. All we need is the impetus to make the effort.
And next year, we’re planning to revisit our favourite French caravan site which we abandoned this year for the one-off special holiday. I say ‘one-off’. It might not be – the cruise was so spectacular we might do another next year! So that’s it for this year. If anyone’s still reading this blog, I hope you enjoy my occasional scribbles.
Unfortunately, although I see messages send via this blog, I have never replied to them because the website was the vehicle for that. And I closed the website precisely because it was taking too much of my time. Nevertheless I like to read people’s comments so feel free to write if you want to. Just don’t expect a reply!
Rather than travel all the way down to Burgundy as we have done for the last 10 years or so, we decided to stay in Picardy and explore the Somme valley. This year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Somme offensive and we wanted to feel a part of the commemorations. So we travelled out at the end of May and, unknown to us at the time, we landed in France to discover the French unions had blockaded the oil depots – in some ways France is still like the UK was back in the 70s and 80s. Fortunately we’d filled up with diesel at Sainsburys near the Tunnel so we weren’t without, but it inhibited our ability to fully explore the region. After a few days we found that one of the near-by supermarkets was supplying up to €30 worth of fuel to each customer so we went to fill up again. And shortly after that, the blockades were lifted and everything was pretty much back to normal again.
We were staying on a site near Abbeville so with a full tank once more we drove to the huge British cemetery at Etaples, the largest British WW1 cemetery in the world. A sobering experience. It wasn’t our 1st visit there; we had found it on our very first independent holiday in France about 30 years ago, and only then by accident. We had actually been on our way back to Calais at the end of a 4-day mini break and just noticed it at the side of the road. You’d never see it these days because the A16 autoroute goes nowhere near it, but it’s worth a detour.
On another day, we drove in the opposite direction to Albert on the far side of Amiens to visit the Anglo-French cemetery at Thiepval where the vast monument to the Missing was built. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutgens, it names and commemorates all those men whose bodies were never found.
And at this stage I have to admit to a feeling of guilt. There are hundreds of military cemeteries, some large, some small, dotted all over Picardy, and they have become something of a tourist attraction. They surely were not intended to be seen in that context, and yet people come in their thousands every year to visit them. The vast majority of those people, myself included, are not visiting a lost relative’s grave but rather coming, not to put too fine a point on it, to gawp and that does fill me with unease. Every site is so beautifully tended that they are a place of peace and tranquility, the very antithesis of what went on there 100 years ago. Yet still we come each year in our thousands and tens of thousands, and it does concern me.
As for our holiday, well the rain fell for all but 4 days out of 28 and it was cold and windy to boot! It ranks as our worst French holiday on record. Our 1 consolation was that Burgundy would have been no better – we later heard that our regular site was completely water-logged and that the owner was having to turn new arrivals away, unless reserved, and those that did have reservations had to be towed on and off the pitches (all grass) by the owner using his tractor. Some regulars were going down to the local hardware depot to buy duck boards to walk on!
My website hosting company is messing me about. I’ve put the closure mechanism in place but they’re now saying it will take effect on 31 Dec 2016. As I was given the option to say ‘As soon as possible’, or a date of my choice I don’t understand what the delay is for. In a way, it’s academic because the closure will take effect eventually and meanwhile the site will simply remain frozen. However I’m not happy about that because people could still visit it and pick up possibly out of date information. So I’ve emailed them asking for clarification and meanwhile I’ll just wait for a response.
On a brighter note I’ve now finished the annual financial report for the Court of Protection, so everything is in place for us to set off for France next month. The French site is booked and paid for, the Eurotunnel crossing is booked and paid for, as are the Dartford Crossing and our overnight stop at the Caravan Club site at Folkestone. All we need to do is pack the caravan, buy a set of beam deflectors and fill the car with fuel. Can’t wait.
I assume no one was taken in by that last post, despite WordPress getting the date and time wrong! It was actually posted just after midnight on 1 April but the America-based WordPress obviously didn’t know about British Summer Time! Anyway, I hope readers enjoyed the little joke which was really my swan song – the website will close shortly, although the blog will stay open, with or without new entries. If you want to continue accessing it, you’ll need to make a note of the address because you won’t be able to link from the website much longer.
Of course I hope to continue caravanning for the foreseeable future, so look out for a Lunar Clubman CK with a silver Hyundai iX35 parked alongside. It will probably be a few more years before that combination changes. If you see us, come across and say hello.
It’s now a year since the last of the 3 new satellites became operational, and people in the farther flung parts of Europe are feeling the effects. All the main free channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc have disappeared from their screens. However the broadcasters still aren’t happy and would prefer to shrink the footprint still further. The BBC in particular is now collaborating with the satellite designers to develop craft with even more accurate signal cutoffs beyond the UK boundaries. The next generation of satellites now being developed will have a fundamentally new design that will effectively cause the transmissions to literally ‘stop at Dover’.
The satellites will incorporate a series of huge panels impressed with millions of tiny hollow depressions. Think of a giant golf ball opened out into a flat surface and you’ll get the idea. Using maser technology (similar to lasers but using microwaves instead of light waves), these depressions will act as parabolic reflectors and allow the satellite to focus its TV signals into separate individual beams that can be directed to very specific points on the earth’s surface. Indeed, so accurately can this be done that it will be possible to target specific dishes on people’s houses and not only prevent signals spreading beyond the UK boundaries but even present each family with a totally customised package.
So adverts for example could be tailored to specific individuals based on their viewing and purchasing history and it has to be said that there’s a downside to this. It might be difficult for a man to explain to his partner for example that his subscription to Big Jugs magazine refers to his new-found love of pottery!
One other consequence is that Sky will no longer need to issue viewing cards to subscribers because it will be able to simply switch off its channel numbers to houses where the occupants don’t have a valid Sky subscription. Not only will Sky save the cost of the cards but it will eliminate any chance of fraudulent use – a dwelling place without a valid subscription simply won’t receive any of Sky’s channels. Caravanners too will suffer. Because their personalised satellite signals will be targetted at their main residence, they won’t work in a mobile environment. Make the most of it while you can, guys, things they are a-changing!
As anyone reading this blog will already know, SatelliteForCaravans is closing. The original date was some time later in the year but I have now brought it forward and the site will close in April. I am now embroiled in writing an annual report for the Court of Protection in respect of my parents-in-law. Setting up a Power of Attorney used to be cheap, simple and straightforward until the Blair government decided to get involved. It is now expensive, complex and time-consuming, but that’s governments for you. There was never any conclusive evidence that family members were routinely cheating their elderly relatives but the government still had to stick its nose in and all families are paying the cost. It cost us several thousand £s in court and solicitor fees to set up the official documents, and we still have to pay several hundred £s each year to finance the Court’s monitoring of our work – work which last year took us the better part of 6 weeks.
Yes, I am angry. I’m angry on behalf of my parents-in-law because all the costs of financing the legalities are paid out of their savings, and I’m angry on behalf of my wife who is the appointed Deputy responsible for looking after their affairs. I accept that some level of fraud could have gone on in the past, if only because it’s still happening. Only recently there was a high profile court case concerning a daughter who had defrauded her parents out of some of their savings (despite the fact that the Court of Protection was supposedly checking her activities – fat lot of good that was). But there has never been any evidence that fraud was happening on a wide scale and yet all Deputies are being tarred with the same brush and are suffering the consequences. The whole exercise is a typical job-creation exercise at the expense of the ordinary family members who are struggling to cope with it all.