Hercules the non-turbo Diesel

Monday started well.

Amanda’s parents, Sue and a somewhat dizzy Brian (suffering from some form of then undiagnosed vertigo), had answered the call for van loading assistance and fortunately brought along their friends Garry and Lynn. Despite getting lost on the way, a normal occurrence with Brian at the wheel even when he doesn’t have vertigo, they were with us by just after ten and helped us get all of the heavy items into Hercules.

Two cups of tea and the remnants of our biscuit barrel later and we were waving them off ahead of a nice leisurely lunch and packing the remaining few boxes. Full to the brim, literally, we headed for the weigh-bridge in Honley and that is where the proverbial wheels started to come off.

We were 270 kg overweight, and that with only a half a tank of fuel on-board. Panicking, we skulked home to try and get legal again, jettisoning things we thought that we could live without. Amanda volunteered my golf clubs and trolley, which were put back in the garage, and I managed to identify a suitcase of her ‘summer clothes’ which got the same treatment. It was like a big game of Jenga in the back of the van with each of us nominating one of the others beloved items in turn.

In the end we shed 150 kg, checked the Internet to find that under 5% over was ‘just a fine’ and decided to risk it. Now time was running out to get to Dover for our pre-booked, un-changeable, reservation. Mercifully, despite endless miles of roadworks, or should that be road-not-works, we made it to the port and checked in, only slightly worried by the ‘wheezing’ coming from under the bonnet.

The ferry left early, and arrived earlier, and seemed to be a service run almost exclusively for Eastern Europeans who, despite what Mr Farage would have you think, seemed to be leaving rather than arriving.

We made good time on the first 100km of the journey, albeit with a strong cross wind trying to blow us into the outside lane. Climbing up a hill, in the pitch dark, we lost power. Hercules the turbo diesel was now just Hercules the diesel, we’d no drive. A call to International Rescue and an aborted trip to Spain were already on the cards, and we’d not even paid our first toll.

We pulled off into a, by now unmanned and deserted, service area and I went for the typical amateur mechanics first remedy. Switch off the ignition and re-start it. It worked a treat and we were back underway. Several hours passed before it went again, ‘limp home mode’ enabled meant that hills were almost impossible to climb with an overweight van. The off/on remedy did the trick again.

This continued intermittently for the next fourteen hours, sometimes the reset lasted for hours, sometimes as little as five minutes, and then we hit the Spanish border at Irun.

Just five hours from the barn, I thought I’d cracked it. A few more resets and we’d be home free, but then it gave up the ghost totally. Resets lasted until the next time I started to put the engine under any strain and it was getting impossible to drive. Long, and high, hills lay ahead through Bilbao and Santander and into the Picos and all I had to play with was 3,000 RPM and a very heavy van with no turbo.

What followed was the longest seven and a half hours of my life as we crawled up hills at 30 mph, being overtaken by wagons, themselves with their hazards flashing to warn that they were slow vehicles, and then getting up to 80mph on the down hill sections yelling at slower cars in front to get a move on so that we could make the most of our momentum.

A five hour journey took fifty percent longer than it should have but just before 1am we made it up the hill to the barn and sanctuary. We were both exhausted but ever so slightly euphoric at having rescued what could have been a real disaster (being recovered with all our possessions back to Huddersfield).

And how much of the driving did Amanda do….you’ll have to ask her that.

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The Curious Case of Madonna’s New Clothes

I lived out in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E) on and off for three years back in the early nineties while providing endless IT training courses for the Town Planning Department. Life back then in the Emirates was at a very slow pace (a little different to now) and once you got used to the stifling heat it was a very pleasant and chilled place to spend your time.

One thing that I loved to do was to get my daily copy of the English language ‘Gulf News’ and chuckle to myself at the mundane stories which made the front page in a place where crime was almost zero. Memorable headline stories included; a single vehicle road traffic accident in which no-one was even mildly injured; a man who accidently left a shop without paying for a packet of cigarettes; and, a lady who’d lost her purse only to return to her supermarket and find it on the fresh fruit counter, where she’d accidentally left it a week earlier.

You knew you were in the safest of safe places with no need to fear for your personal or possessions safety.

Now I’m not claiming that Galicia is crime free, and with the economic ‘crisis’ there has been an increase in burglary and theft, but is is far lower than the Spanish or European averages. I have been pleased to note, however, that the local newspapers (including regional) have been filled with ‘Gulf News’ like controversy over the weekend with a story which wouldn’t merit a single column centimetre in the Huddersfield Examiner.

The full facts have yet to be established but it appears that the tiny ‘Madonna’ from the church in Conforto (on the road from A Pontenova to Taramundi) has been subject to some shenanigans.

The congregation arrived at the church recently to find that the Madonna had gone missing, only for her to re-appear a couple of weeks later wearing a new gown, new crown and without some of her original jewels.

The community was in uproar and questions were asked at the highest level.

It appears what had happened was that, with the best of intentions, the priest had taken the Madonna away for a refurbishment without the permission of the local parishoners who were all distressed and her disappearance and at what was returned in their Madonnas place.

Rather than resolve the issue with the priest the police were called and allegations of theft were made against the clergy. There has been uproar and the whole of the local community has become involved.

The priest has now made a full apology through local media suggesting that he thought the local congregation would be pleased with the ‘upgrade’, but it doesn’t look like the controversy will by dying down anytime soon.


You have to chuckle at the triviality of it, but in these current times I think it is indicative of the tranquility of the area that this is the focus of local attention. Personally I think that the Madonnas make-over is an improvement (judge for yourself from the picture above) and looks far more regal in her new garb.

If the whole thing is a publicity stunt to get more people to visit the church in Conforto then it has worked, as I’ll definitely be popping in for a look on our next visit.

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France, on the Way to Spain

As an Hispanophile I have recently considered France as a ‘necessary evil’ between England and Spain, should one be forced to use the roads rather than the sea or air. I have been there on multiple holidays, including one where Amanda and I used the motorways to drive down to Perpignan, but it never really appealed over Spain. But twenty hours of sitting high up behind the wheel of Hercules, avoiding the tolls, and with no-ones company but my own, has somewhat changed my opinion.

I had decided that for the solo journey home I would avoid as many toll roads as I could, so I was condemned to lots of single carriageway roads with the occasional roundabout. The main menace were the hundreds of speed cameras which seemed to be located in even more stupid places than they are in England, and the resulting build-up in traffic, as I tried to avoid getting points to my name in yet another European country.

One of Amanda’s friends, the lovely Jenny and long-suffering husband Tony had agreed to put me up for the night in Clergoux (in the central massif) and had promised me a good meal, a glass of wine (or three), and a comfy bed.

After discovering that it is only possible to buy ‘Cheese & Ham’ sandwiches from French service stations, which isn’t great for a vegetarian,  the thought of a hot meal, and some decent conversation, was well worth the 175km (1 ½ hour) detour. After getting lost just once under my own steam, I followed Tony’s instructions to the letter, and thirteen hours after leaving the barn I was stood in Jenny’s kitchen, clutching a nice cup of tea and comparing French/Spanish diesel prices.

Revitalised after a great nights sleep, I set off around nine-thirty leaving my benevolent hosts to their day, and set the satnav to avoid all toll roads (quickly forgetting that Tony had told me that I must take a short seventy cent toll across to the A20).

The satnav obeyed without question and within ten minutes it exposed the folly of my plan.

I always ridicule the many tales of people who follow their satnav systems onto railway lines or into canals, but now I found myself at the entrance to a small hump-backed stone bridge wondering whether Hercules would fit, or worse, whether he’d become beached on the summit. After a minutes consideration I decided to persevere, as navigating the last three kilometres in reverse seemed like the greater of the two evils.

After negotiating the bridge the ‘trial by small spaces’ wasn’t over.

I was then in the smallest of villages (Gimel-les-Cascades), in the largest of vehicles, with a very tight left turn to make between two houses. I accelerated gently and waited for the crunch which would signify that a nice eighteenth century French cottage was gaining twenty-first century red stripe. But mercifully it never came.

The first chance I got I stopped and re-programmed the navigation.

The rest of the journey was without incident. Downtown Orleans was downtrodden and a bit grim with boarded up businesses and empty office blocks, but apart from that the French countryside was delightful. Small, beautiful, well-kept villages. Small, pretty, towns to by-pass, and mile after mile after mile of rolling fields and tree lined avenues.

franceMuch of Northern France had been driven in the dark on our trip out to Spain but I saw it in its full glory on the way home and there was much to like. The good, or possibly bad, news was that the awful rotten cabbage stench which had plagued us for the first four hours on our outward trip was nowhere to be smelled. This inclines me to believe it might have had more to do with my co-pilot than he was letting on.

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Natures Hamper Overflows

Despite cutting it extremely fine, on Tuesday I managed to get Chris on his plane back from Asturias Airport to Stansted. Left to my own devices I had just over a week to ‘potter’, do jobs, put up shelves, clean, find homes for possessions, and visit the neighbours for coffee and cake.

One of things I did manage to do, was take a wander around the finca and have a good look at what was growing. Being mid-August, and with Carlos having removed his horses due to ‘hierba mala’ (bad grass –  a slightly different connotation to what most inner city youth would imagine), mother nature had taken over and was exercising full rampant control.

I don’t think that I’ve ever been at the house at early harvest time before and it was enlightening to see what fruits and vegetables were battling drought and neglect and persevering to ripeness.

Despite being uninhabited for around forty years the land has been managed by Carlos (we bought it from his sister) and when we’ve made trips out in September the boughs and branches have been stripped bare into wooden boxes, which I assume have been nicely stacked away in Carlos’ larder for the long winter.

Plums?Peaches?GrapesBlackberriesApplesMore Apples

I’m not sure about the top two photos but suspect plums and peaches (any help appreciated), although the latter are as hard as bullets at the moment. The rest are fairly easy to identify.

We’ve also got; Potato, wild garlic, mint (at least two types), cherries, possibly a couple of pear trees, and a fig tree (without fruit this year as it has put all its effort into growth after we demolished it with a digger last winter).

I suspect that by the time we get out there in mid-October everything will have vanished, either by Carlos or by nature. But we now know what we can bank on for next years harvest, albeit depriving Carlos of his usual free bounty.

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Thirty two hours to Paradise

If you say thirty-two hours fast then it seems like nothing, but when you are munching the miles in 3.5 tonnes of  Mercedes Sprinter and avoiding the expensive French toll roads, then believe me, it feels like forever.

I left Huddersfield at 13:00 on Saturday, picked my co-pilot Chris up at Stansted airport at 17:00, and we got to Dover just after 19:00 for a 21:00 sailing to Calais.

We’d decided to take two hour shifts (approximately) and Chris suggests that I took the first on the continent. As it turned out all of my stints behind the wheel were on free-flowing roads and motorways with reasonable weather, but Chris had all the congested, urban and road works stretches when the weather occasionally verged on the apocalyptic. It wasn’t deliberate though!

Coffee, biscuits, croissants, chocolate, crisps, and water were our staple diet, normal fare for Chris, but unusual for me to not have anything green or fruity for thirty hours.

vanAt 21:15 on Sunday night we finally made it to the barn, about thirty minutes before dusk, and after thirty-two hours of travelling. The van hadn’t missed a beat or given a single grumble. We’d been relentless and ‘Hercules’ seemed to revel in the challenges that we threw at him.

The highlight of the journey was the pair of us singing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at full pelt at three o’clock in the morning. All the right notes were in there, but just not in the right order.

Chris’s stay was all too short but he had obligations back home. We visited Rinlo for tapas, the supermarket so I could stock up on provisions for my stay (and for Chris to buy pasta, wine and oil for me to bring him back), and we had a great meal at Hotel Taramundi on Monday night so that Chris could try the Fabas.

All too quickly he was on the plane home but vowed to return to a green Spain which was a long way removed from his expectation of sun, sea and sangria.

Now down to the hard work trying to find a home for our possessions and to leave the place looking tidy as next time Amanda will be with me.

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