Tuesday, 31 May 2016

French letter (19)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


Saint Aubin de Pouancè

31st May 2016

The news on Television is still dire, with some major roads now being blockaded. The ongoing threat of a general strike is spreading and expanding to include the railways and the power generation centres. Fuel supplies continue to be problematical. There are thousands of commercial vehicles stranded on the roadside that have now run low or run out of fuel. 

 

Today another British motorhome came into the 'Aires'. The couple had crossed over to Le Havre and then found the local (River Seine) A29 bridge in Le Havre was barricaded shut by protestors. This created a two hour detour along the A131 and then the A13 before they could get back on their planned route south. The couple are making their way down to northern Spain. However, on the enforced detour they were lucky to find a fuel station that had just taken in a delivery and so were able to fill their almost empty fuel tank.

Monday, 30 May 2016

French Letter (18)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

Saint Aubin de Pouancè


30th May 2016

The weekend is over and we are still on the Saint Aubin de Pouancè 'Aires'. Few motorhomes are on the move due to the ongoing fuel shortage situation. Many like us, are sitting tight, as everyone waits for normality to return. Other than at the very popular holiday locations the 'Aires' are not closely monitored. Saint Aubin de Pouancè 'Aires' is small and designed for 4 mobile homes. 

However there has often been space available for anyone arriving. There is usually a noticeboard provided with any time restrictions and the locations of local doctors, hospitals and shops. But it is often something of an ad-hoc situation. 

Great Crested Grebe meets Adult Otter
 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

French Letter (17)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


Saint Aubin de Pouancè


29th May 2016

The weekend weather has been glorious again. Very warm up to 26 Celsius with a gentle breeze that is hardly rippling the surface of the lake. In the evening I went for a walk around the lake. There are several streams that flow in and out of the lake, each with a very picturesque wooden bridge. The frogs were going absolutely frantic, no not the French, I'm talking about the amphibians. 

 

The noise that the frogs were making, was very loud. It was getting steadily darker and I was sat watching a heron making its last patrol of the day round the lake. It was then that I heard a loud splash which instantly caught my attention. I could make out in the gathering gloom that there was a vee shaped wake heading directly towards me. Keeping very still, while at the same time, turning off the audible click mechanism on the camera. Then as it drew closer, I could make out a darker shape in the water. When It was about 50 feet away I could clearly see it was not a bird and it was to large for a rat or a vole.

I was rewarded with a few photographs of an adult Otter who was patrolling the edge of the lake. It was weaving in and out of the fishing platforms in the waters edge. It was about 10 feet away as it passed me, it was only then that I noticed that I was holding my breath. This is twice this year that we have observed Otters on French waterways. Which compares with twice in 40 years of unintentional observation of Otters on the English inland waterways.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

French Letter (16)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


Saint Aubin de Pouancè

We are getting text messages from our insurer and the breakdown cover provider, both advising not to travel unless absolutely necessary. The news is reporting that 1 in 5 fuel stations are out of gaz-oil (diesel) However we already know that in this area, there is very little available. All four fuel stations when they have had fuel available have been limiting the amount you can purchase.

28th May 2016

We are still located in Saint Aubin de Pouancè 'Aires'. The weather has been glorious and very warm throughout our stay so far. When it has rained, it has been most welcome, if only to freshen up the air. The Memsahib was suffering a bit with hay fever because of the pollen from the 18 inch high grass in the flower meadow. The local municipal council have now been and cut sections of the grass. Which they also pick up and take away to be reused as animal feed or to make compost. 

 

The grass cutting was a very carefully choreographed process. First the men with the hand held power strimmers came to cut a swathe around the base of the trees. This was followed shortly afterwards by mechanised ride on grass cutters which directed the cuttings into large hoppers. The hoppers were then periodically emptied into trucks which took the cuttings away.

Then a couple of normal grass cutters arrived and trimmed down the remaining stubble. Some large patches of the flowering meadow grass were left standing to go to seed and to provide seeds to feed the birds.

One of the team of grass cutters was a Londoner who has been living in France for the last twelve years. He gave us a bit of insider information. There is a local 'English Pub' called the 'La Fontaine' which is the local watering hole frequented by the English ex-pats. So a visit is now on the cards.

I went out to take some photographs of the sunset. So I decided on a walk round the local lake. A stroll round the lake can easily take an hour. The lake is an old worked out gravel pit and so has very steep sides. I watched a bit of animal behaviour I have never seen before. The local Heron population have taken to patrolling the lake from the air. Occasionally diving down to capture fish on or near the surface. The Herons float along quite well on the surface to eat their catch. They can easily take off from the surface.

Another couple of British tourists turned up on the 'Aires'. We were able to advise them of the location of the various diesel stations in the area. After emptying their black water tank and their cassette, they were soon off to try their luck.

Friday, 27 May 2016

French letter (15)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

27th May 2016

We watched England -v- Australia on television. The young striker from Manchester United Marcus Rashford continues to build upon his meteoric climb from the Manchester academy to playing for the England team. From virtual obscurity to a national hero in just 18 matches. He further enhanced his reputation by scoring his first England goal in less than three minuets. There have been a number of other young players who have made it into the England team in the past. Such as Theo Walcott who as a youngster also made the squad. 


 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

French letter (14)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

26th May 2016

We are still in Saint Aubin de Pouancè. The news on French television is full of street riots, Refinery blockades and port closures. With the usual film of water cannon, CS gas canisters and the police in riot gear. Its interesting talking to the locals about the situation. It seems to be almost unanimous and certainly amongst those I have spoken to that the support is palpable. 




Wednesday, 25 May 2016

French Letter (13)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


25th May 2016

We have been paying a visit to the local fuel outlets when there has been fuel available and slowly topping up the Motorhome fuel tank. Now we have 66 litres in the tank which is enough for about 425 miles. Saint Aubin de Pouancè to Calais is about 600 Kilometres or 375 Miles. Though there are other ports such as, St Malo, Cherbourg, Le Havre, Dieppe and Boulogne which are closer. However, the national French news has just reported that the port of Le Havre is currently closed.




Monday, 23 May 2016

French Letter (12)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


23rd May 2016

Well the French workforce have thrown their 'Teddy out of the cot' big style. The eight major refineries in France are being picketed. Some of the ports like Le Havre have also been closed down by flying pickets. Fuel is difficult to find and when you can find some you are limited to 20 litres. So we have decided to stop here for about a week or until the situation sorts itself out.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

French Letter (11)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

22st May 2016

We have had a trip up to the local supermarket fuel station today. Just to check if a delivery had been made. However, it seems that it will be another two or three days before the fuel deliveries are going  to be resumed. Then hopefully we can resume our trip round France.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

French Letter(10)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

21st May 2016

Today the weather had taken a turn for the better and so we spent all morning sitting in the warm sunshine. Then as the day wore on and it was getting hotter, it was time for a cold beer or two and to settle back and watch the 'FA Cup Final'. Manchester United -v- Crystal Palace. It was quite an entertaining encounter and on the day – all things being equal. The right team triumphed.


Friday, 20 May 2016

French Letter (9)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


Saint Aubin de Pouancè

20th of May 2016

The 'Aires' at Saint Aubin de Pouancè is quite small, with room for about 8 to 10 motorhomes. Though the guides suggest only room for 4. It has a mixture of grass and hard standings. The facilities are quite tired and in need of a coat of paint. Unfortunately there are no showers available. If you come to stay here, you will need at least a 25 metre extension cable and a power splitter. Everyone on site has to share the power from just four 6 amp power sockets 

 

The weather remained overcast for the evening with the odd light shower or two. However, being located at the side of a large lake, which takes well over an hour to walk round. Which is set in beautiful countryside with its associated small village/town. The wildlife especially wildfowl is quite abundant, with rabbits everywhere. The highlight was watching a stoat pursuing immature rabbits in the long grass.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

French Letter (8)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

Paimpol.

19th of May 2016

It was early evening when we arrived at Rue Pierre Loti which runs alongside the port area. The 'Aires' was full to capacity (45 spaces) and we had an uneventful evening parked up in a lay-by outside the 'Aires'. Paimpol is an old fishing port which like the English canals is undergoing a transformation from commercial fishing into a significant leisure provision. There are many yachts in the basin above the lock. Some are privately owned and some are hire craft. However, in the old fish port a number of boats are being scrapped with just the odd one undergoing extensive refurbishment. 

 

I was thinking about grandpa again. Often he goes on about what he calls the 'good old days.' Usually its about how you could always leave your back doors open in the good old days. Maybe that's why it was not a good idea for him to join the Senior Service as a submariner.

The next morning we went for a walk around the town and port area. However, once more the weather was not conducive to staying on longer though the area is quite attractive. So once more we hit the road, this time changing from travelling west to a more southerly direction. The sat-nav was programmed for Rennes. As we were moving along we noticed that the roadside fuel prices were missing on the motorway signs for Gaz-Oil (Diesel). I said to the Memsahib 'at a typical €0.20 per litre, maybe the vendors were finding it difficult to attract motorists in.' Oh how wrong can you be. 

 

Later as our fuel level got down to the ¼ tank trigger point for filling up again. We set the sat-nav to find the nearest Supermarket selling fuel. When we arrived we assumed that they were expecting a delivery as everything in the fuel station was cordoned off. (The French sometimes close the fuel station when a delivery is imminent) So we set the sat-nav for another supermarket fuel stop. On arrival, that was also cordoned off. So we headed for a third supermarket. We then found out that due to a ruptured pipe in an oil processing plant, diesel was unobtainable locally. Now we were getting critically low on fuel. It was time that we searched for an 'Aires'. The nearest one with mains power available was at 'Saint Aubin'. It proved to be a fortuitous choice

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

French Letter (7)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'


Plèhèdel.

18th May 2016

We spent the night on the 'Aires' at Plèhèdel. This costs €10 a night. But the 'Aires' has everything inclusive in the price. The facilities on site are excellent and spotlessly clean. There are 15 parking spots with plenty of room between places. There is a small lake where there is room for a few people to fish. The whole area is surrounded by a mixture of mature flowering and fruiting trees. This is one of those 'Aires' where its well worth going out of your way to visit. 

 

I was thinking about grandpa again, just before we set off on our trip we paid him a visit. He seems to be getting increasingly forgetful. It seems that as usual when we visit he gets half-way through a sentence, then forgets where he is. I have to reminded him 'you're in Wormwood Scrubs, Grandpa' Oh how we laugh.

The weather has dramatically improved and we were treated to one of the best sunsets of the trip so far. The 'Aires' is set in a very rural location and there was abundant wildlife for us to enjoy. The better woodland birds being a Nuthatch feeding chicks about twenty feet away from the van. Plus a Green Woodpecker gathering ants from a nest made mainly of a large pile of pine needles. We were even serenaded in the evening by a pair of competing Song Thrush. Best spot of the day was a lone Eagle flying west towards the coast.

The next morning the weather had improved even more and by 8am it was already 17c and getting warmer. There was a gentle breeze blowing, so we took the opportunity and did a launderette in the facilities block. It meant hand washing all our backlog of smalls in my case and the not-so-smalls in the case of the Memsahib!

Later we heard the distressing news on French TV, about the loss of the Egypt-Air aircraft flying from Paris to Cairo, with a number of French passengers onboard. We were reminded that the last time we were in France on our way back home from Spain. The terrorist shooting took place in Paris. The time before when we were on our way to Spain, was when the Charlie Hebdo shooting took place. 

 

Late in the day – we decided to go shopping. A check on the Garmin sat-nav said that there was an 'Intermarche' nearby. It seems that we had forgotten our previous experience of the Intermarche which seems to be the most expensive supermarket in France. It was 15 miles to the nearest Aldi. So after investing in just the French staple diet of beer, wine cheese and bread. If I was to describe Intermarche it would be like our Waitrose supermarkets but on financial steroids.

Rather than head back to the 'Aires' at Plèhèdel. We decided to move on a bit further along the coast to Paimpol and the Pierre Loti 'Aires'.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

French Letter (6)


A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'



Caen

17th May 2016

I turned on the radio and tuned into a local travel station. The French radio reporter said 'The unions CGT, FO and Normandy Road Transport have set up a series of road blocks on the southern ring road round Caen. Closing the road between Mondeville and Cormelles-le-Royal. The workers were demanding the withdrawal of a new French labour law. Over a hundred protesters stopped all the trucks queuing them in the right hand lane. However, they allowed none commercial vehicles to pass on the right lane. 

Jean-Marc Lambert, secretary general CGT Road transport of Normandy, and Christopher Henry, coordinator Normandy Road transport FO goods, announced the move could take several days. They also called upon all opponents of the Labour Law to join the ring after the planned event in Caen. They have been joined by members of the collective strength and ‪#‎NuitDebout‬. They met earlier at a general meeting to decide on action. We have a lot to learn from our French colleagues about organising, implementing and orchestration of a good old fashioned protest.

Soon we were past Caen and instead of stopping as we had planned. We decided to carry on heading for our next stopping place on our itinerary Mont-St-Michel.





Mont-St-Michel.

17th May 2016

We stayed on a farm ''Aires'' for a change – Advertised as €10 a night. However, and typical of some of the farming fraternity – you had to pay for everything else as an extra. Want a shower, that will be €3 kerching! Want power that will be €5 a night kerching! Going to the toilet – supply your own toilet roll – kerching! We thought it was a bit strange on our arrival that there were so few motorhomes parked up! Afterwards was when the penny finally dropped with us. Kerching!

The next morning the rain was coming down in torrents. So we made our way along the road to a nearby farm track, where we parked up waiting for the rain to stop. Looking out of the window we could see Mont-St-Michel across the fields. I took a photograph of the 'Mont' from the driving seat. A moment later, the sun burst through a hole in the cloud to light up the Abbey. A few seconds later it had turned back to the dismal gloomy grey.

The rain gradually grew heavier and eventually even the 'Mont' disappeared into the gloom. The weather turned so bad that we have decided to move on. Bad weather is a good time to move between stopping points. So we are headed for the 'Aires' at Plèhèdel.

Monday, 16 May 2016

French Letter (5)


A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'
(continued III)

Deauville.

16th May 2016

The next morning we departed Jumièges and made our way towards Deauville. Where we found the local municipal 'Aires' to be quite small and very cramped. There was all the usual disposal facilities available. Though the elsan required a small grate to be lifted for access. However, everyone had to snuggle up to the motorhomes on either side! There is a cheap source of fuel at the Super-U a short distance away located across the road from the local Lidl. 

 

I don't know why but today I started thinking about my grandfather. We all tend to think that granddads are special people, always good to us when we were kids. I remember when my grandpa would for a bit of fun put me in inside an old car tyre. Then like they do with cheeses rolling contests. Grandpa would roll me down the hill. I like to think they were the Goodyears.

The next morning we headed towards our next destination in Caen. It was then that the Garmin Nuvi sat-nav issued a strange warning that we had never heard given before – 'Demonstration on the road ahead?' Then while we were puzzling over what the warning meant and getting ever closer to Caen. We noticed a couple of the local police stopping trucks and parking them up on the hard shoulder.

It seems that there has been a 'French style' demonstration, and as usual. The French workers were out in force. We passed hundreds of trucks, with almost everything at a stand still, except for private cars and motorhomes. Which were allowed to proceed at a steady pace in the fast lane. I gave the protestors a couple of toots on the horn and the solidarity 'thumbs up' as we passed.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

French Letter (4)


A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'

Jumièges.

15th May 2016.

So we pressed on with the sat-nav set to the ''Aires'' at Jumièges, which has room for about 25 motorhomes. It is free to park for 48 hours though no one seemed to care how long you stayed. The 'Aires' has rubbish and elsan disposal – though you need a €3 token, available from a local shop to fill your motorhome tank with water. It is located on the same road, about a mile from the River Seine ferry crossing.



Several Abbeys were built along the lower river Seine in Medieval times but none was more powerful than Jumièges Abbey. The ruins of Jumièges Abbey are impressive if only by their scale. Set in a beautiful meander in the River Seine. The ruins are medieval in origin, but replaced an earlier, dark ages abbey dating back to around 650 AD. A legend tells of two rebellious sons of King Clovis II of France who rose up against their father while he was abroad. 

On his return, Clovis wanted to have his rebellious sons killed. Their mother Bathilde asked instead that they have their nerves removed, handicapping them. She then cast them off from Paris on a boat on the River Seine and they drifted as far as Jumièges, where they were recognised their royal attire and the people took them in. The royal connection went on to give many advantages to the abbey.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

French Letter (3)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'
(continued III)

Rouen.

14th May 2016

Our arrival in Rouen, had unwittingly coincided with a French 'bank holiday' and so we decided after a short stay, to continue our journey out of the city. On our list of places to visit was Jumièges and its world famous abbey. This was programmed into the sat-nav and would mean crossing the Seine first by bridge, then crossing back again later by ferry.

Because the lower reaches of the river Seine meanders a great deal, there are large areas of land only accessible via ferry. However, the French ferries that cross the River Seine are usually free of charge. Pity its not the same between Calais and Dover! But I digress. 

 

If you are wondering what ''Aires'' are and there are about 3,000 scattered around France. These are plots of land, usually provided by the local town council with various services made available for Mobile homes (what the French call camping-cars). Often there are grass or hard standings, toilets, showers, rubbish disposal, fresh (Potable) water, Elsan disposal, and even electrical power. Its a bit pick and mix, but there are smartphone applications that give an indication of what services are available at the various sites. Some farmers also have their own ''Aires'' with similar facilities available. Many of the municipal ''Aires'' which provide just a minimal over night parking services are free of charge to use. Though some 'Aires' will provide all services including electrical power, free of charge. The idea is that if you use an 'Aires' – you will use the local shops and stores. I love to get my fresh French bread, still warm from the oven.

Friday, 13 May 2016

French Letter (2)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'
(to be continued)


Calais.

13th of May 2016

Now we headed for our secret ''Aires'' less than half-an-hour from the port. As usual we were the only mobile home (camping-car) there. There is room for 6 mobile homes, there is power available (you will need a two-pin continental adapter) including rubbish, black water and elsan disposal, as well as fresh potable water available.



The next morning, we set out refreshed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. We set the sat-nav for the road to Rouen (or as we call it, the road to Ruin) but as usual we were avoiding the French 'à péage ' motorway 'autoroute' system. Tolls on the French motorway costs an average of €0.07 per kilometre for a car and a bit more for a motorhome. Travelling from Calais down to the Spanish border would cost about €70.00 There are usually no tolls on the sections of motorways around major cities. An Autoroute Tarifs leaflet is available from the Association des Sociétés Françaises d’Autoroutes (www.autoroutes.fr).

We noted that the price of fuel in the French supermarket outlets was at €1.08 a litre which works out at around 84p in English money. On the French 'à péage ' fuel prices are typically €0.20 per litre more. Fuel stops in towns and villages are usually €1.12 a litre.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

French Letter (1)

A Road Less Travelled
'A French Letter'
(to be continued)

Halesowen.

12th May 2016

The boat has gone in for her first major (windows out – back to bare metal) repainting after twelve years. This has curtailed our usual spring until autumn cruise on the UK's inland waterways. We expected to be in the dock by the end of March, it was however early May before we waved Rosie goodbye. Next time we see her, she should be resplendent once more. The repainting will take between six to eight weeks and so, it opened up a further opportunity for us to return to travelling in France. While at the same time we will be keeping an eye on the French Canal system. 

 

We travelled down from our home in Yorkshire and our last night in England was spent with friends in Halesowen. Before heading south next morning to the quaint little seaside town of Dover-on-Sea. It was an uneventful journey down the M1, M25 and M20. We had not pre-booked our ferry crossing and so P&O lifted our leg, charging an extra £50 on top of what we usually pay. 

Two hours later we disembarked in Calais. 

The adventure begins. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

CaRT in 7th Place

How much do the top UK charities by income pay their senior staff and can the higher salaries be justified to an increasingly sceptical public? 

After the collapse of Kids Company sent a shiver through politicians and public to discover the levels of salaries of CEO and directors of charities. The pay of senior charity staff in the third sector has been under increasing scrutiny. In particular the demand for clarity has come from some politicians and is being questioned more and more by sections of the media. 

The Charity Commission, has said that disproportionate salaries could be bringing some charities into disrepute. This comes on the back of a report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which has urged charities to be more open about pay levels and how they are set. 

The better the charity is known (household name) then the charities tend to pay their highest-paid executives the least. Because they are instantly recognised as charities, with higher public fundraising profiles. However, for some of the least recognisable charities its the other way round. 

It is pointless just comparing what the individual CEO earns. Without also understanding that there will be other senior managers on significant salaries as well. To make a comparison you need a common denominator to directly compare charities like for like. The best way to do this is on their operating income.

So where does the Canal and River Trust and its CEO/Directors/Senior Managers sit in the Charitable League Tables. The Trust Income is given as £165,000,000

With 1 CEO @ £200,000 with an additional 65 Directors/Senior Managers @ £60,000 or more. The minimum cost is £4.2 million pounds per annum. (Pensions contributions and bonus payments are not included) The Trust Income from boats and moorings is £33,800,000. Now to put that in a boating context. If the average boat licence is around £500 a year. That's a minimum of 8,200 narrowboat licence fees to pay the senior staff.

Are we getting value for money?
 
CaRT is currently in 7th place for high pay in the top 100 charities.