Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Carnac market and triathlon and visiting Auray

Sunday morning was a busy one for us. We took a stroll into Carnac town centre for their market and were very impressed with not only the quantity but also the quality of the stalls. There was chic clothing, plants, general oddments, loads of food, and practically no tat at all! As we had promised ourselves, we got stuck into shopping and came away with a heavy rucksack full of food including two types of chorizo-type sausage and lots of veg - salad, potatoes, gorgeous tomatoes, very fine green beans - plus fresh bread. A couple of the stallholders were wearing the same style of hat as in the bottom photo of this post. Do you know who the man is? Juan Lorca Garcia has been suggested but I'm not sure. After all that talking and mostly in our bestest French, we took a moment to sit with a coffee and were lucky enough to be right by the route as the cycling part of the Carnac triathlon zoomed past. The field was already pretty strung out after their swim leg and we were just at the top of a hill so some looked pretty tired already.

Les alignments of standing stones at Carnac 

I like the slim tower on
this Carnac town house 

Do you know this man?
Street art in Carnac 
Monday morning saw me still pretty lurgified (I'm feeling better now), so we waited until the afternoon for our visit to the nearby town of Auray. There are some very picturesque old buildings down on the riverside and, for motorhomers, a dedicated parking spot near the town centre. Historically, the castle has been there for a thousandish years and there are a series of placards detailing fighting against the English (as always) in the 1300s. Later, Bejamin Franklin even came to Auray to try and enlist French help in the War of Independence (yep, against us again!).

We took a wander along the riverbank looking at the moored boats, then set out up a cobbled hill which was practically all little boutique art shops on either side. Auray is proud of its artists and some of their work was even to our taste too! I saw a Sancho Panza that would perfectly complement the Don Quixote we saw in Valoria La Buena last year.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Torn From Troy by Patrick Bowman / Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder / Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Torn from Troy (Odyssey of a Slave #1)Torn from Troy by Patrick Bowman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It goes without saying that Torn From Troy has a great storyline because it is adapted from one of the greatest ever adventure stories, Homer's Odyssey. However, author Patrick Bowman has cleverly reinvented the tale by telling from the point of view of a Trojan boy. Through his eyes, the all- conquering Greeks are not the typical heroes of legend, but brutal louts who have destroyed his home and his family. I enjoyed how this approach made even Odysseus appear real and human.

Torn From Troy is a YA novel and Bowman takes the opportunity to include lots of fascinating description of life in Troy, in the Greek siege camp, and on the boats. Obviously elements such as the Cyclops are fantasy, but nicely blended with factual information too so this book is also a history lesson that doesn't feel like learning!

My download was via AudioSYNC, published by Post Hypnotic Press. I know the same narrator has recorded the next two for them too and I hope they are available via Audible as I want to continue this journey.

Los Angeles StoriesLos Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished Los Angeles Stories on the St Malo ferry so was transported from a fortunately calm crossing of the English Channel to the down-at-heel city of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. Ry Cooder is not only a wonderful musician but also a pretty good writer as these stories prove. There is a fantastic sense of the atmosphere and seediness of the city, the desperation and hope of the people. Each of this collection of short stories has a link to the others, whether it be a place or a character and it was fun to spot how they join together. I didn't understand all the stories however, and a few lost me part way through so I was reading them more for their evocative descriptions than for their plots. Others were simpler to follow. Perhaps have a more extensive knowledge of the music scene of the period would have helped? I did pick up on a number of references but am sure that I missed more than I spotted!

Overall, this is an interesting insight into a past time which puts the spotlight onto those who faded from view or who never made it big in the first place, the darker side of the city of dreams, and I enjoyed reading about the array of characters penned by Cooder. I wonder how many were actually real and how many purely imagined?

Cat's EyeCat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had Cat's Eye on my bookshelf for ages and have been saving it as I absolutely love Margaret Atwood books. We bought several at the same time and this is the last of them. Need to go searching out some more now!

Cat's Eye tells of the bullying relationship between two young girls in 1940s Toronto. I was fascinated by the wealth of detail given about life for children in this period, especially by how much of their school day was remarkably similar to mine in 1970s and 1980s Britain! There are several child and adult characters portrayed and all are wonderfully real people. Our heroine, Elaine, jumps back and forth in time as she revisits her childhood trying to discover what events back then define the person she is now. I particularly enjoyed reading this discovery even though some is quite harrowing. The authenticity of her experience makes the whole book feel more like reading a biography than a work of fiction. Such is the genius of Atwood!

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Finally getting to Carnac and seeing lots and lots of stones

We've meant to visit the ancient standing stones alignments at Carnac for several years, but have always managed to distract ourselves with other beautiful areas of Brittany so not made it so far west. This year, we drove straight from St Malo - where we were practically first off the boat at some ridiculously early hour of the morning - and arrived at Camping Kerebus shortly after lunchtime on Thursday. It's a pleasant campsite with two areas for tourers and several statics in the middle. There's a tiny office and no shop as such, but the pitches are big enough and surrounded by trees so very shady. Sadly the wifi is pretty ropey - it's 1 euro for an hour and that gets a slow signal, even this late in the evening, and is the reason why this post isn't illustrated. I'll come back and add the photos when we get somewhere better for that!

The main attraction of Camping Kerebus is its proximity to the main Standing Stones site which is only about a ten minute stroll away. We made the effort to walk around the closest of them on the very first afternoon and were glad to have done so although I was a bit underwhelmed by the stones themselves. They're smaller than expected! However, our luck was in today, Saturday, as we had planned to walk further to the other clusters of stones and found special notices on several of the gates: 'Ouverture exceptionelle du site' courtesy of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. What this meant was that for this very weekend we could actually walk right up among the stones rather than looking from a distance over fences and stone walls. The further we walked, the more incredible this area became. There are thousands of standing stones here, all in rows, and these rows were originally longer than the eye can see. Centuries of wear and damage have now resulted in gaps but we walked nearly an hour out today and still there were fields of stones! We also saw dolmen and a large menhir, named Le Geant, which I think will rival the largest Iberian one we saw near Antequera. I took a photo with Dave stood by it for scale so just need to compare the two when wifi permits! We've been reading up in the fascinating books lent to us by our friends Steve & Frances and it's incredible to imagine people 5000 years ago being right here creating this monument. If only we knew why!

Carnac also has long sandy beaches so we've been swimming in the sea on two afternoons already - and we've only been here for three. The sun is hot, the clouds are generally gone by late morning and the sea is pretty warm by sea standards. It's going to be tough to move on. Tomorrow, there is a market we would like to visit and also the annual Triathlon is taking place along the seafront with the cycling loop coming out as far as the campsite. Hopefully we can get close to the changeover area which we saw being set up this afternoon in readiness.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rescuing a turkey and making a new flyscreen

One of the attractions here at Fairfields Farm is the opportunity to meet some of their
Friendly Kune Kune piglets 
animals and fowl. As well as a lovely pond with geese, the aforementioned ducks, and some coots/moorhens (we're not sure which), there is also a small fishing lake and between the two is a wide grass path with enclosures either side. We wandered along yesterday afternoon in the sunshine and saw various chickens, peacocks and turkeys, Pygmy goats, brown sheep, shetland ponies and a much bigger palomino pony, and Kune Kune pigs. These pigs are apparently a particularly friendly breed and we were delighted when three piglets came enthusiastically rushing over to meet us as we approached. They do have very wiry coats though so weren't very enticing to stroke and lost interest when they realised we had no food for them! We also saw a vividly striped dragonfly that stayed perfectly still long enough for Dave to get the great photo below.

My turkey rescue was of a young white feathered bird which had somehow managed to get out onto the path. It was anxiously running back and forth trying to get back through the wire, but without the ability, or perhaps the sense, to fly back over. Dave has previously kept chickens so knows the theory of catching birds! We slowly moved in from opposite sides and I managed to catch it and help it back over the fence. The episode reminded me of one time years ago when our cat had brought a starling in and let it go. The poor bird was hiding behind the toilet pedestal and I had to retrieve and lift it to the open bathroom window from which it flew away with a happy chirrup.

Also on an animal related note, I walked into Eastbourne yesterday - four-ish miles in about an hour and a quarter - partly for some last minute shopping and partly to see my friend Kerry's new shop. She has recently taken over a unit in the Enterprise Centre (behind Eastbourne station) and opened Grand Wagglys pet shop. There's lots of equipment and toys for dogs, cats and other pets. If you're passing, pop in and say hello!

C and H Fabrics was another stop off yesterday for some white velcro to complete my new homemade flyscreen for the door. I was inspired by one I saw on a nearby caravan when we stayed at Tavira in February. It was a curtain of pale chiffon-like material with glittering gold threads running through it which looked great as they caught the sun. Unfortunately, when I tried to get a similar fabric, it was surprisingly expensive and needed to be ordered in. I hadn't left enough time for that but was lucky to spot the right sized offcut of a Manhattan design net curtain for just £2! I've hemmed the two rough sides and sewn velcro along the top. The other side of the velcro is self-adhesive and is now stuck across Bailey's wall above the doorframe. The pack was £3.69 so we now have a flyscreen for the door for jyst £5.69 and a couple of hours' work. As the only one on the official Bailey parts website is nearly £200, I'm pretty pleased with that! It does need a bit more weight at the bottom so I might try and fing some nice beads in Spain and maybe embroider it with simple designs like the Indalo Man.

Vivid dragonfly 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A windy weekend in Westham

We're back down south again now having had just as good a journey back from Norfolk as
Optimistic ducks at Fairfields Farm campsite 
going up. Fortunately the traffic was fairly light everywhere except around the M25 but even there we kept moving at a good pace. I did forget to get into a middle lane for the Dartford bridge crossing so ended up on the far left, able to see exactly how high up we were, and not loving it at all. Gripping the steering wheel, looking only straight ahead and underbreath mantra chanting got us over safely. At least the bridge is considerably shorter than the road to Sopalmo.

Our current campsite for this week is Fairfields Farm, a nice green space with open pitches and a good little shop. We continued our Buy Local spree with some of their Pork, Apple and Cider burgers which went nicely with more of our Norfolk cabbage last night. On the (presumably) non-edible side, there is a flock of about a dozen ducks here that route march around all the pitches each morning, peering in doorways in the hope of sharing breakfasts! We have also seen a few pied wagtails and the obligatory seagull. Otherwise, not much in the way of wildlife worth observing - unless I include the slender guy on the next door pitch who was sunbathing naked for most of Saturday afternoon. He and his partner packed up and left this morning though so the remaining scenery is that much the poorer!

Dave and I went for a stroll that became a walk early yesterday evening. We avoided the cycle race earlier in the day as our friend Marta visited, (Hi Marta!). Walking through the Pevensey Castle grounds was interesting as the space looked so much smaller without all the Food and Wine Festival stalls of a couple of weekends ago. While I remember to mention it, we tried the Kush Cuisine spice blends I bought there. Chicken marinated in the Bajan Fish Spice for a few hours has a lovely rich flavour and isn't too chili hot for Dave. However, our hour-and-a-half wandering was seriously put to shame by the fantastic achievement of Dave's daughter, Carrie. She walked 30 miles in eleven hours along the Thames Path yesterday, all to raise money for The Eve Appeal. Well done Caz! If anyone else wants to make a donation to this important charity, her team's JustGiving page is here.

We're going to stay here until Wednesday when our boat sails to St Malo. The house sale is now completely completed and the final transfers all went far more smoothly than the previous few months - thank goodness. So we are now essentially rootless for a while which is an interesting thought to muse over. I'm still actually getting used to the idea but having the whole of driveable Europe open to us is tremendously exciting!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane / Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez / Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo

The Red Badge of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Red Badge of Courage is the earliest dated book I received via this summer’s AudioSYNC programme. An American classic, it was first published in 1895 so is even before the first segment of theBookcrossing Decade Challenge I have joined on Goodreads. Young Henry Fleming has enlisted to fight in the America Civil War. Naïve to what awaits him, he flees during his first battle, finding himself among wounded men whom Henry sees as displaying their red badges of courage – their bloodstains. After being hit by one of his own side, Henry returns to his regiment where, believing his previous cowardice unnoticed, he seizes the flag when its bearer is killed. Suddenly brave beyond his experience, he leads through intense fighting, remaining unharmed. Red Badge of Courage is written in an impersonal fashion which I thought both helped and hindered its impact. By not particularly detailing people’s or places’ names, it can be a novel of any low-tech war, as relevant now as then and all across the globe. However, devices such as continually referring to Henry as ‘the youth’ made it difficult for me to really invest in his story and I found myself frequently drifting away from listening. I am also not sure whether Crane’s message was meant to turn readers on to or away from war. The descriptions of fighting and casualties are powerful, but our protagonist redeems himself by rushing headlong into battle, glorifying the bloodshed in order to 'become a man'.

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!

I probably didn't pick the best time to start Love In The Time Of Cholera as we were in the last throes of moving house so its first few chapters had to compete for space in my mind. However once I was able to read without interruption, I was totally drawn into the story.

I love Marquez's beautiful emotive writing and can easily imagine Florentino through his many years of waiting. The locations are eloquently described too and the flawed characters are all real people, whether being naive, irritating or poignant. There are so many depictions of different loves in the novel that I wondered which came first, this or Florentino's imagined work. I have already downloaded another Marquez novel and look forward to discovering more of his writing.

The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck #4)The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellently plotted police thriller by the Swedish duo of Sjowall and Wahloo. I discovered the Martin Beck series during last year's travels so it's appropriate to continue now with the fourth, The Laughing Policeman. I particularly appreciate the cast of characters and it's amazing to think that the dysfunctional detective began over forty years ago with these books. Stockholm almost becomes another character as descriptions of its streets and weather provide unusually vivid atmosphere. The cases aren't solved quickly either and the other important facet is the depictions of time passing which makes the whole novel feel realistic. Leads are as often misleading as helpful and I didn't see the ending coming until it had all but arrived.

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Setting off in almost completely the wrong direction

After last winter's Big Adventure, we started out on this year's Even Bigger Adventure
View from cliffs above East Runton 
this week, even though there is still a day's work to do back at the house before we hand it over to its new owners and set off for good. We are currently at a nice campsite, Woodhill Park, up on the cliffs above the village of East Runton. Before the less geographically-challenged of you go rushing to your atlases to confirm your suspicions, yes we have gone north. East Runton is on the North Norfolk coast! We were somewhat surprised by the lack of physical security around the campsite as it doesn't have fences around it, but other than their own gate, the only other way in is on foot so I guess it's safe enough. We appreciated the opportunity of having a nose at two other sites the footpath traversed too!

Saturday afternoon we were treated to a great family lunch at my Dad's house and now we're visiting Dave's dad in Sheringham. I've been to the town a couple of times before and love the variety of little shops and cafes. Today we worked up an appetite by walking from East Runton into Sheringham along the cliffs and over the famous-in-Dave's-family Beeston Bump. It's about three miles each way and we walked back along the beach. The views out to sea are so pretty and there are wide sandy beaches all the way. The sea was mill-pond smooth today so it was hard to imagine the destructive power it does have along this coast. A hint at the wind's potential around here is indicated by the big offshore wind farm in the distance off the coast. We could see dozens of individual windmills in neat rows fading into the distance - the neat rows reminded me of the hammer army in The Wall.

We ate generously portioned veggie lunches at Mulberry followed by a stroll around the town and along the prom. Having unsuccessfully searched Hastings for pistachio ice cream a couple of weeks ago, we found it here - at the appropriately named Ice Cream Shop. Plus we indulged in a spot of Local Shopping which is something we plan to make much more of an effort to do in Spain this time around. Here we spotted packs of four stuffed lamb breast rounds at J & D Papworth farm shop for £2.55 and paired them with locally grown white cabbage from the greengrocers opposite. Dave remembered a good way to prepare the cabbage - shredded and pan cooked in a little butter with salt, pepper and herbs until it begins to go translucent.

We're heading back down south tomorrow all ready for a final day's intensive cleaning on Thursday. I'm looking forward to that part being finished!