Tag Archives: Family

Broken

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The great John Lennon wrote ‘life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’, and never has this been more true than in the last few months. Let me explain.

The last time you heard from me, we were pooltling up through France with a limping RV and a sense of desperation. We were hurrying to get back to the UK to find out what was wrong with our vehicle, but because of various attempts to get it fixed en route, we did pause briefly at some lovely places.

BEAUNE

Beaune has a fantastic old hospital that was built in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin, the Chancellor of Burgundy. This was a man determined to get himself and his family into Heaven, and the way he saw to do that was through charity to the poor. But not for him a few token donations, oh no – he went the full monty and built this extraordinary and thoughtful building.

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He deliberatly chose a wealthy town with lots of benefactors he could sting for money, and provided private rooms that they could pay for when they themselves were sick. He located the courtyard of the hospital over a river so that there was always clean water available, and oversaw the design of every single detail, down to the silver cups the patients drank from.

He used a gifted vineyard to produce wine that is still auctioned every year to cover the running costs, and established a religious order so that the nuns could care for the sick (they were also tasked with baking 80 loaves of bread at five every morning to distribute to the poor).

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He established a state-of-the-art pharmacy, and had it written into the charter that only his family, or people nominated by his family (commoners included) could run the hospital, denying any chancer from the opportunity of using it to turn themselves a profit. But the main principle was that no-one, however poor, was to be denied treatment.

The hospital ran until the 1970’s, but it’s now a museum (the patients transferred to a more modern hospice), and I hope Rolin and his family are where they wished to be.

PIERREFONDS

Slightly further north, Pierrefonds Castle is so perfect it doubled as Camelot in the TV series of Merlin, as well as featuring in Highlander and The Man in the Iron Mask.

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Originally built in the twelfth century it did it’s job and got besieged, falling so elegantly into ruin that, in 1832, Leopold de Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the first King of the Belgians, got married there. And when Napoleon III visited in 1850 he quickly ordered it to be ‘restored’ as his summer residence, although ‘reimagined’ would be a better term.

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The castle overlooks a cute little town built around a boating lake, so it is definitely worth a quick visit.

Anyway, we had no luck solving our motor problems, so we struck off to the excellent Baie de Somme Aire for our last night, and took the Eurotunnel home.

BACK IN THE UK

One of our new campsite mates had told us about Doctor Dave, an RV fixing legend from up near Wolverhampton, so we booked Georgie in with him for a full medical. Knowing this would take some time, we’d arranged to visit relatives while Dave fiddled about in Georgie’s oily bits.

This was all planned by me with military precision. I’d booked Airbnb’s, and contacted everyone we wanted to visit, found out when they were available, and then worked out a logical sequence of travel. Steve hates all this, so I spent days sorting it for us.

But that Lennon-y thing about life? Well, this is where PLANS and LIFE really started to fall out.

I should have been warned when I spent some time with Sky, my little toddler granddaughter. She’d become fascinated with my glasses and asked me what they were for. I said that Nana’s eyes didn’t work very well and they needed some help. She considered this carefully for some minutes, then came to the obvious conclusion – ‘You’re broken’, she said. And I stupidly thought she just meant my eyes.

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POOR NIBBLES

To start with, we’d dropped Nibbles, my smart car, into our usual place for MOT with ‘Uncle’ Chris, but then she failed on emissions. Several times. We had to a ask the question, was the car actually worth getting a new catalytic converter? And we decided that ok, yes, better the devil you know. So a new one was ordered and would arrive in time to be fitted just before we left the UK again.

We hired a car, and checked on Georgie – Doctor Dave reckoned she was probably ok now, but he’d never found what the problem was. He’d found lots of other potentially bad problems and fixed them tho, so it was all good.

Time was now running short and the car finally got through it’s MOT. We picked it up and my first thought was, ‘what the fuck have you done to my car?‘ She drove like a mule whilst making a noise like a steamroller. Then she started conking out and losing power, just like Georgie. Oh no, no, no. Back she went to Uncle Chris at the garage. He ‘fixed’ it twice more, but still the problem kept recurring.

Steve collected Georgie and put her in storage nearby to us, where he met Nerdy Chris, another car nut. He said he’d take a look at Nibbles for us and give us a second opinion.

Well he was horrified at the work that had been done. He could see what the problem was and could fix it, but in his view, we probably hadn’t needed a new Cat Converter anyway, as a sensor was disconnected and giving false readings. It was a total botch-job, and there was stuff all over the place.

We had now paid more than the car was worth to have it fixed by Crappy (no more Uncle) Chris, and then we shelled out some more so that Nerdy Chris could sort it. Finances were becoming a major concern.

THE UNEXPECTED

But we have always been lucky, and it didn’t desert us now. Steve got offered the chance of 3-6 months contract work back at his old workplace in Bristol. Yippee – that would sort us out and take up the deficit. Plus, our old neighbours, near Bath, very, very kindly offered us somewhere to stay while he worked (we couldn’t stay in Georgie because most campsites move you on after a month, and our home address in Southend was too far away). We were able to repay their hospitality a bit by dog-sitting for them when they went on holiday to Oz.

 

So now we were temporarily benched. I got this feeling though, a very strong intuitive sense, that there was a reason why we were supposed to be in Britain at this time, and I waited for it to manifest itself.

A check-up at the doc’s revealed that my blood pressure had shot up: was this the reason? So that I had time to get down to my  Healing Centre at Queen Camel and get some work done on myself? I’d certainly felt pretty rough since that drive up from Greece through the snow, and my CFS was in overdrive, so maybe.

Then my eldest son, Joe, came and asked for help to sort out some issues in his own life. Was this it, perhaps? So that I could be nearby to give him the support he needed?

ACTUALLY, NO.

I found out the reason on the morning of 31st July, when Steve got a couple of texts from Sam, our youngest son. They read:-

‘Hey Dad’

‘Funny story’

‘I definitely’

‘Broke my back last night’

I mean WTAF!!!!

He’d had too much to drink (yes, I know – we’ve all been there) and thinks he was trying to find a shortcut home. Anyway, he remembers hanging off some railings, when he lost his grip and dropped 30 feet. He fell long enough to consider, ‘this is further than I expected, I should have landed by now’! Thankfully, because of his rag-doll drunkenness, he bounced at the bottom and, although he burst a Thoracic Vertebrae, his spinal cord was uninjured.

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He will fully recover – but he’ll be in pain, fairly incapacitated, and in a back brace for some time. Almost exactly the amount of time that we’ll be in Britain for, in fact, because he currently needs someone to put his socks on for him, etc. Mystery solved.

He’s making good progress, but it is slow. This is him now, in the steampunk corset. And quite possibly high on painkillers.

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Of course, being young, tech-savvy, bed-bound and bored witless, the first thing he said to me was, ‘your blog looks awful’ (and I am para-phrasing). I accept that I am not exactly cutting-edge in my thinking, and I definitely struggled when he gave me a questionnaire asking how I defined my brand and saw it’s location in the market place. Then he said a lot of things that involved acronyms and initials (in capital letters, obviously) and I pretended to understand.

The upshot of this is that my next blog posting will have a new look, and maybe a new address to boot. I will let you all know if the details change, but until then, thanks for reading, and happy autumn to you all. Ciao xx

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Another day, another car park

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There are patterns in any life that have a predictability to them, a sense of normal consequence, an inevitability. Take, for example, the look on people’s faces when I tell them that, for a significant part of my time, I travel around Europe in a large, American, RV. I have always interpreted it as a mixture of surprise and excitement, with a genuine delight for me that is sometimes tinged with happy envy.

But I’ve been living this life for a while now, and I wonder if I am mistaken: perhaps that look actually means, ‘Shit, you’ve no idea what you’ve let yourself in for, have you, girly? Rather you than me’.

They might not be wrong – allow me to elaborate on some misconceptions I once foolishly had.

We can go anywhere we want.

Er, no. Not in our particular van, Georgie.

Can’t go down narrow roads, under low bridges, or over 6 ton limit ones. Can’t go into large towns with complicated one-way systems, or through tiny villages with chicanes at either end.

Can’t do really sharp corners in less than a 15-point turn, or go up very steep hills at any speed greater than 8 miles an hour. When we do, we worry all the time that Georgie’s not going to make it, and that we’ll have to attempt that 15-point turn, on a mountain road, with a sheer drop to one side.

Can’t park on sharp inclines because our levellers can only redress this a certain amount, and if it’s too far out of whack, we can’t open the slide-out without the risk of Georgie tipping over onto her side. Plus, the bath won’t drain, and the water pump keeps freaking out because all the water in the tank has gone to the other side. And how does a water pump freak out? Well, it sort of screams.

Also, can’t park on grass if it’s likely to rain because… this.

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We can just camp where we like.

Again, no, not if we want any services. Like a laundry or wifi.

I recently watched a film starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland: they played an elderly couple who just took off in their old camper van. One morning, Donald’s character (who was ill) wet the bed, and Helen promptly stripped the bed to wash the sheets. Then they drove off along the highway, and I spent the rest of the film wondering where the hell she’d hung that sheet to dry. Seriously, where? It never appeared again and, can I just say, her sink was the size of a walnut.

As for wifi…

Before we left England we were under there impression that McDonalds always had wifi. To which, yes they do, but its speed is slow to impossible, and it is also restricted, so that I can never get to this blog, for example. So when we are a bit off-grid, most of our time is spent wifi hunting, which, in many ways, is the safari of the 21st century.

We went to Menton, a perfectly gorgeous little town in the south of France, just near the border into Italy. An artist friend of ours has been going there for years and his descriptions of it are utterly enchanting. I pictured myself wandering along the sun-speckled promenade, before stopping at a delightful little bistro and being served croissants and coffee by a super-slim, dark-eyed, waitress.

But in reality? Yes, it was very pretty, and yes, we raced down the promenade, but mostly we needed to go online in order to pay our bills and check our bank balance.

After much dithering about we found a cafe that advertised wifi – but, frankly, that was just boasting. In two hours I only managed to upload three pictures onto my already-written-in-Word blog, and I was close to kidney failure from all the coffee. The super-slim waitress had become super-surly, and my legs had fallen asleep.

We can leave behind all the responsibilities of a house.

If you want to know about ‘responsibilities’, just try taking a week’s worth of wee with you, everywhere you go. After Menton, we tried to find an Aire that had the right facilities, because our waste was nearly at critical mass, and we were running off to the public bogs every chance we could in order not to cause overflow. Our water had run out, too, so we were making do with a bucket and cup to hand-flush the loo at night, and a couple of bottles of bought water for drinking.

And then Clumsy Week happened. You all know about Clumsy Week, right? Those days when everything you touch breaks, snaps, fuses, or is smashed? Just imagine when that happens in a van, with limited tools, or space to store spares.

Imagine, also, that you are probably some distance from the shop or the repair person that is needed to solve the problem (if you even have a clue as to what shop that is, of course, because you are somewhere foreign and remote, and DIY is not universal). Trying to explain to the only person you can find with even a smattering of English, in the unpronounceable village miles from nowhere that you’ve fetched up in, that you just need to buy a small rubbery thingy, with a hole in it, about so big, or possibly a sort-of gromity whatsit, is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

On Clumsy Week I basically broke everything, including our door handle, roller blinds, glassware and taps just by looking at them, I swear. Our normally functioning leisure batteries decided to go on strike, and however many times Steve re-did the wiring, nothing happened. When he climbed onto the roof to check the solar panels, the ladder broke away from the back of the van.

Ergo, we had no lights, and the fridge and freezer had to be turned off. I located a box of candles I’d intended to use for mood-lighting rather than emergencies, but they’d been stored too near a heating duct, and they’d all melted together to form one, long, wobbly candle, with several night-lights and a glass holder sticking out the side.

We couldn’t turn on the heating because the fan wouldn’t work without electricity, and our generator is too noisy for built-up areas. Plus, and God knows why, our steps suddenly decided not to retract, so we couldn’t move anywhere anyway.

We will see places we never knew existed.

Well now, this one is true, as long as we’re talking car parks. Georgie’s too big for supermarkets, but Chinese Shops don’t seem to mind us. Motorway Truck Stops are usually free when abroad, and a much better place to stay now that we’ve learned to park as far from the refrigerated trucks as possible (they literally chunder all night long).

But we were still having the same trouble with Georgie breaking down all the time that had been plaguing us since taking on fuel in Albania. Some of our desperation for wifi was so that Steve could find out what was wrong. Research suggested we needed to source the right fuel filter. This entailed locating mechanics who worked on diesel trucks, and hoping that our Chevy engine wouldn’t confuse them too much.

So the Renault truck garage forecourt at Beaune was home for a little while (no picture, it’s too depressing), as was the Scania truck version at Montelimar (where we were locked in at night). My daily view was now of burly, grease-stained, middle-aged men, with sloppy trousers and butt-cracks (FYI the Czechs call these coin boxes – isn’t that brilliant?) using noisy tools and glaring at me a lot. Ah, the romance.

It will be wonderful to drive along without a care in the world.

Until the sodding Mistral gets you. Again.

The Mo Farrah of the wind world, it rips up through France looking for old RV’s to scare the bejesus out of. Apart from the alarming rocking from side to side along roads that favour ditches over hedges, there is the awning that flaps itself into unrolling and tearing, and the outside lockers that burst open, ready to spill all your shit under other trucks tyres. If I weren’t driving behind in Nibbles, I dread to think how much damage would be done, and how much stuff left littered across Provence.

It will be an adventure.

Well, this just makes me snort tea out of my nose.

So why do I do it?

Why do I travel around knowing that Another day, another car park is a pretty adequate description of my life?

Because even though most Aires and Sostas do turn out to be the corner of a car park, this is often better than it actually sounds. Okay, it’s not the romantic view down a vine-covered Italian slope that I once envisaged, but it can often be quite near a beach or other local landmark.

The following were all in the space of a week or so. This one, at Coucy-le-Chateau-Auffrique, had a nice ruin on a hill to gaze at (ooh look, there’s Nibbles, my Smart car)…

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…and this one overlooked a river.

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Here we had an interesting view of some troglodyte houses…

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…and this was in the car park of a vineyard and wine warehouse. With free wine tasting. Nom nom.

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And where else but in a car park would we have met Bid and Ger, the Irish couple just starting out on their year’s journey, and who write the Facebook blog, Pilatesinavan? Super nice.

Or see the trucker obsessed with Joan of Arc?

Or have the wonderful opportunity to understand, to really understand that it is not where you are, or even where you are going that matters: it is how you travel.

And – if you are lucky enough – who you are travelling with (like a man who’ll wear this hat because his granddaughter wanted him to). IMG_8745

NEXT TIME: The story of the postman and the stumbling block. Thanks for reading, and ciao xxxx

The hunt for heat

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After thirty years of being with Steve, I have become less of a stick-up-the-arse, I-know-how-it-should-be control freak, and more of a roll-with-the-punches, take-it-as-it-comes kind of gal. Which is just as well considering how the next stage of our journey turned out.

CROATIA AGAIN

Croatia had been a beacon of hope to me all the way up through Albania. But as I drove, shivering, from one town to another, and totally failed to source a new thermostat for the iceberg on wheels I was stuck in, that beacon dimmed a snidge, it must be said.

Driving ever northwards, perhaps Split would come up with the goods, or failing that Zadar? And, if not, surely Rijeka would tick the box? Well, no, nothing, nada. And not much we could do other than keep on with our journey and keep looking.

The coast road was proving far too wibbly for Georgie, who was having her own problems after Albania. Ever since we’d bought fuel there, she’d developed an alarming tendancy to suddenly lose all power (including to the steering and part of the braking systems) and grind to a halt. So we took a road through Slovenia, hoping that Trieste, on the other side, would be a large enough town to help cure our automotive ills.

SLOVENIA

This, of course, is where I, in my misted up and unheated car, drove headlong into a Beast from the East blizzard. Rolling with the punches? I was practically rotating. My first line of defence was to mainline Jaffa Cakes, which is the one single thing we’ve found in every European country so far. Jaffa Cakes – whatever they are called – are a universal language.

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I kept telling myself that the cold was doing wonders for my immune system, which was probably one cocky shit by now. I measured my fortitude against the lengths of the icicles hanging off Georgie’s downpipes.

Also, the road signs helped to take my mind off things: at one place (thanks, I suspect, to the joy that is Google Translate) I was offered the chance to appreciate ‘a honey cheese water toilet’.

Further on there was a sign telling us to watch out for wolves and bears. WOLVES AND BEARS! I’ve literally never been so excited. I could feel myself spontaneously heating up with the anticipation. Then my husband, Mr McKilljoy, kindly pointed out that it was winter and they’d all be hibernating. So, yeah, thanks for that.

We stopped for the night in a snow-clad town and went out to eat. We had two huge pizzas (half left for the next day), with chips, and mayo, and four glasses of wine. Pizza was as good as any we’d had in Naples, and the whole lot came to €13. Brilliant. Helped me to forget that the only shoes I currently own are backless or made of cloth.

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SAT-NAVS

When we were still in Greece, Deirdre the sat-nav slut had developed quite a crush on Steve. Whenever he drove down roads with long names she’d try and impress him with her pronunciation (always wrong). But when I got in the car, and we drove down the exact same road, she’d affect an icy silence. She’d also got into the habit of warning him about slow traffic conditions that would turn out to be a farmer, on a dirt road, spreading his nets to pick olives.

But despite her obvious devotion, my husband (the heart-breaker) had decided to give other sat-nav voices a go. First he tried Pritti, the Indian lady, and then he moved on to Sheila from Oz. Sheila had a way of going completely wrong, but in such a reassuring manner that you knew she was probably only detouring to the nearest pub, no worries. He went back to Deirdre for a while, but some hearts can’t be mended, and so he was following shonky Sheila all through Slovenia.

I WAS TIRED, ALL RIGHT?

As we drove on towards Trieste, I started to get hopeful that some of our problems might find solutions. The snow was starting to melt, and the roads were more down than up hill. But Steve was obeying the instructions of death-before-toll-roads Sheila, and I was listening to just-fling-money-at-it-and-leave-me-alone Deirdre. Ergo, when some kind of checkpoint turned up in the road, Dierdre directed me right to it, whilst Steve and Sheila  scooted off the other way.

Now, previously, he’d studied the map and assured me that there were no more tolls on our route. Consequently, we’d spent all our Kuna at the last petrol station (I needed more Jaffa Cakes, ok?) So when I pulled up to the booth, I whipped out my bank cards.

How much for the toll? No toll, she said. Oh, my mistake. I looked again, and considered the idea that it was a really flash looking border crossing. I gave her my passport. No, she said, politely handing it back. It was at this point that I heard sniggering from the cars behind me. Turns out it was a sort-of toll booth, but I had to pay for a weekly ticket to go on the motorway.

€15.

I didn’t have €15 (I’d eaten at least that in orangey chocolate). And her machine wouldn’t accept any of my cards. What I did have was a massive queue behind me, no way to back up or turn around, and a husband who’d gone right when I’d gone left, and was now way out of walkie-talkie range.

But I have an emergency technique that I’ve learnt to deploy in these kind of situations: I ask the other person what they think I should do, and then I smile. A lot. I’ve found this to be very effective now that I’m edging towards little-old-lady status, far more so than it ever did when I was young and hot. Plus it has the added advantage of making everything their problem. So I smiled at the girl in the booth, and waited.

In the end it was decided that I could go onto the motorway but I’d have to pull in at the first service station and pay there instead. So I set off, found the service station, pulled in – and then paused, because that’s how I roll. First I checked the map: the next exit was really close. If – instead of forking out €15 for seven sodding minutes on the road – I took that exit, what was the worst they could do? I still had no cash or a card that their machine would accept. I still had a smile or two up my sleeve.

So that’s what I did, and there was no gate, booth, or person at the other exit anyway. But I think I should add that the initial confusion of route arose because there was a diversion, so it was NOT MY FAULT.

ITALY

I caught up with Steve (which was so much easier now that Georgie was breaking down all the time), and we got to Trieste in time to locate a Mercedes garage. Yes, they could get me a thermostat (hooray) but it would take until Friday (this was Monday. Boo!).

We looked at the weather forecast for the next week. If we stayed here until Friday we’d get snowed in. So that meant, you guessed it, more frigging freezing in my stupid little Tupperware of a car, with Steve breaking down every six steps as we limped off across Italy.

My glamorous life, not.

NEXT TIME – I’ll tell you about Ferrara, how not to buy pasta, and the man who claimed he was a weapon. Thanks for reading xxxx ciao.

 

 

The delights of Drepano, and Xmas-on-wheels

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THE VILLAGE

Drepano is a funny little village on the coast of the Argolid. It has one big church in the middle, surrounded by cafes full of old blokes, a decent baklava shop, no police, and one benign, homeless chap with a mental health problem and a lot of different hats.

There’s also an old, nay positively ancient, lady who sits in front of her house and gives you sweets as you pass by. The sweets are mastic masquerading as mints, and there’s a skip you can spit it into just up the road, so no worries. Once when we passed, I glimpsed her through the doorway, trying to sweep around a series of cloth-covered tiny tables that were groaning with stuff. She was so hunched I think the broom may have been holding her up. Another time I saw a woman leave a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese on her doorstep.

One of the local restaurants is manned by Stephan, who’s the owner’s son and a really nice lad. He’s shy to start with, but when he gets to know you he opens up more. We also found that, the more he got to know us, the cheaper our meals became. I think he works by assessing how much trouble it is to make, and if he likes you, then it’s barely any trouble, is it?

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THE BEACH

When we first arrived we tried several times to go to another restaurant nearby, but it was either shut, had odd opening hours, or we were turned away. One day we met the proprietors on the beach – Vicelis and her husband. They had brown plastic ‘milk churns’ beside them, and were standing out on a rock, heaping things into a big garden sieve and swooshing it through the seawater. It was the olive harvest from their small plot of land, yielding masses of fruit from five different varieties.

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We helped sort out bruised or damaged fruit, bits of stalk, and leaves, then Vicelis rinsed them in the sea before tipping them into the churns. Her husband filled my pockets with olives. He said I had to slice five cuts down the sides and put them in salt water. The slits would speed the curing process and they’d be ready for Christmas. If I left them uncut, then they’d take three months.

I was very excited by this. I raced home and put them in seawater, one lot cut, and one lot left whole. After a week they’d developed a rather unhealthy-looking froth on the water, which had also gone distinctly murky. I asked Janine what she thought and she suggested I put more salt in. So I got fresh seawater and added more salt, and then waited for Christmas, to be impressed by my olive-curing prowess.

But ready by Christmas, my arse. I tried one then and it was absolute pants. Rock hard, bitter, not good at all. Obviously the instructions I was given were for someone who had at least a basic knowledge of the process, or perhaps just far more common sense.

Because I’ve just checked them again, and now our van smells as if the King of the stink bombs has been released. Only from one jar, mind you. The other jar with the slit olives are pretty much there, if rather over-salted. However, smell is a strange thing – it hit me just after I’d taken a bite of the devil’s fruit. So, if I don’t finish this blog it’s because I’m doubled up with food poisoning, ok?

That walk on the beach yielded more than olives, though. I also found a shell as big as my foot. It was beautiful – orange and spiny on the outside, with a mother-of-pearl coloured core. I had to wade out to get bits of it, but it was worth it.

We Googled it and found it’s called a Pinna Nobilis, or Pen Shell, and it’s a type of clam that grows upwards from the rocks, by attaching itself with hair-like fibres that are known as sea-silk. This is where it gets special: the shell is rare, and has been sought after for thousands of years because the sea-silk is incredibly fine. A pair of gloves made from them can fit into half a walnut shell. And when the fibres are treated with lemon juice (of which, plenty around here) they turn golden and never fade.

CHRISTMAS PREP

When December came I started to decorate Georgie. I have a small box of decorations that are lightweight, unbreakable, or made by the kids (felt Xmas trees, that sort of thing). I also have a cardboard reindeer that flat packs, courtesy of M&S.

So I went for a walk to pick some evergreen stuff with which to make a wreath to hang around Rudolph. I didn’t want to scalp any of the bushes on site – that felt a tad like taking the piss. On the beach I found an old, broken, Japanese fan wall-decoration that would provide the struts I’d need to make the wreath foundation. Then I picked some green frondy things and headed back to the campsite.

I met Christina, the owner, and she was horrified that I’d gone elsewhere. She insisted I go into her own back garden and take as many branches as I wanted from her fir tree. Far superior, she said. And do I like lemons? Yes, I do. Well here you are, she said, piling me up an armful, because the ones on her personal tree are the best.

I find this level of generosity incredibly touching. Especially from a woman who, soon after we parked up, replenished all the gravel around our van causing us to live in the world’s biggest cat-litter tray because of the sixteen cats. We were very careful where we walked, and avoided anything hilly.

So, van duly decorated, I set about finding some games for us to play at Crimbo. I downloaded some pictures of celebrities as kids (inspired by a friend on Facebook) for Steve to guess. He did badly. Here’s a few of them, have a go if you like.

SHOPPING

I took Steve into our local town of Nafplio, where one of the cafes gives you a bowl of lovely, sticky little doughnuts with every coffee. Once fortified, I gave him a budget of no more than fifteen euros, and sent him off to buy a silly present for me.

I knew what I wanted to get for him, and headed straight for the pet shop to buy a cat toy for when Velcro shimmied under the toilet door. Then I saw a truly hideous travel mug that I just had to get as well.

He found me an exceptionally kitsch candle – purple, and glittery, with odd flowery shapes and bits of driftwood. If anybody out there actually likes it and wants me to keep it for them, let me know, because Steve nearly binned it on Boxing Day.

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Santa did make an appearance for the kiddies in town, but he arrived by pirate ship (as you do), his reindeer, perhaps, having taken a break in the Caribbean. He had this elf-man/MC hybrid inviting them in.

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Later that day, I bumped into Santa packing up for the day. In typical Greek-waiter fashion, he gave me a lascivious wink and said, ‘welcome to my boat’. Er, no thanks, matey.

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CELEBRATIONS

On the actual day I cooked a chicken, which is the only thing our oven does well (it thinks it has to melt The Terminator with every meal), and ignored the packet of stuffing mix that, according to Google Translate, required me to add 12 hard-boiled eggs and 750g of rats. Feeling happily fat, we walked along the beach after lunch, and cut through the orange orchard to pick mandarins to eat on the way home.

Then we played the games I’d prepared, including Make your own Christmas Jumper out of plastic carrier bags. Now I know I had an unfair advantage here as I’ve made my own clothes before, and I know that the pattern for a sleeve is much bigger than you’d expect. But to be honest, not giving Steve that information was part of the fun. We followed it up by watching Groundhog Day. Perfect.

For New Year, these perky chaps fetched up at the campsite and serenaded Christina. I saw them sit on her doorstep afterwards counting their spoils. They saw me watching them, and promptly fetched up on our doorstep and sang their tuneless and incomprehensible New Year song (with triangle accompaniment, no less). They were great. I bloody loved them. They got on their knees afterwards and took photos of all the cats under the van.

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In the evening we glammed up as best we could, considering it was a bit parky. For Steve this meant a clean jumper, and for me, well I washed my hair. We went to a restaurant that did a special New Year meal deal, where we’d previously had coffee while I admired the lighting.

The deal included a piece of the traditional cake that, like our Christmas pudding, traditionally contained a coin. In our case, that would’ve been a sixpence (2.5p), whereas this coin was worth 60 euros. Everyone else had made a bit more of an effort dress wise. These glamour-pusses were at the table next to us. And no, we didn’t find the coin. We found a lot of Sambuca though, so happy days.

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2018

And after that it was back to real life. We discovered a liquer (oh thanks, Stephan) called Tsipouro, which is 44% awful. I bought worry beads from a lady who wrote my name in Greek for me. And Christina’s husband, Vangelis (I know), got out the big tools, digger and forklift and – with scant regard for health and safety – trimmed the palm trees and levelled our bit of the beach.

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Well, I appear to have survived the evil olive, so that’s it for now. I’ll write about Nafplio and the 1,000 steps as soon as I can. Thanks, again, for reading. Ciao xxx

P.S. The celebrities are:- Meg Ryan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Freddie Mercury and Keira Knightly.

Every parent’s worst nightmare

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We were totally blessed when both of Steve’s daughters had twins within three months of each other. Four babies – just like that (well, not for the mums, obviously).

And you know how you don’t care what sex they are (a boy and a girl, and two girls, since you ask), as long as they are happy and healthy? Well, one of them was not as healthy he first appeared. Little Kit (Rosie and Laurence’s boy) was only three months old when he started having fits and was very quickly hospitalised.

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Naturally, his parents were worried sick. Naturally, they both wanted to be in the ICU ward together when the doctors came round. A rota of friends and relatives took it in turns to look after his sister, Sky, and, naturally, I bagsied a chance, too.

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As did my youngest son, their Uncle Sam. He’d never looked after a baby – or even a small child – before, but he dropped everything and went up to London for his turn to be exhausted in a way he didn’t know was humanly possible. Did a fantastic job, too.

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Kit was diagnosed with Epilepsy and given medication that – when the right type and dosage was found – did the job. Phew. Crisis – not exactly over – but manageable.

In the months that followed, Kit had regular check ups. Although the dosage frequently needed changing in line with his increasing body weight, things were stable (-ish) for the family. There was even some suggestion that he might outgrow the condition as he reached the age of two.

And then, the last time we were in England, something new came out of one of those check ups.

They found a brain tumour.

Yup.

There it is. Every parents’ worst nightmare.

I remember getting the news whilst waiting in the car for Steve. He was organising getting the windows sorted on Georgie, and I stumbled up to him, told him the cold, bare facts, and burst into tears. Horrible, awful, scary.

Rosie and Laurence coped extraordinarily well considering the circumstances; there were no news reports that night of screaming maniacs disturbing the peace in Bromley. But they had to wait weeks for an appointment to see a specialist who could give them the info they needed and answer their questions.

The day before we left for our second journey, the meeting happened. We looked after Sky, and tried not to be anxious. But the news was good: the tumour was benign, it was in an easily accessible place, they could be pretty certain they’d cause no damage when they removed it, and it was highly likely that it was the reason for the seizures.

We offered to stay until after the op, but they said it could be several months away. We could always fly back when the time came.

So off we went. To France, then Belgium, Holland, and Germany, into eastern Europe, did two Anglovilles, had Dory to stay, moved on down into Slovakia, and then we got a phone call.

It was Monday 7th August, and they had just been told that Kit could be operated on that Thursday morning. It was too expensive for both of us to go home, and someone needed to stay with the van anyway. As I can’t drive Georgie, the logical person to stay was Steve.

So the next day, I flew Wizz Air to Luton. Which was certainly whizzy, if a bit crap in the comfort department. The air crew girls were incredibly nice and stunningly beautiful – I felt I’d gone back in time to the days of ‘Catch me if you can’.

And hadn’t Sky grown!

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I had a wonderful week with her – which went much more smoothly once I figured out that she didn’t actually sleep in her own bed. You can’t imagine the indignation from her when I first tried that (for indignation, read ‘screaming’). But once that was sorted, we settled into a nice routine and I got to be a very spoilt nana.

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And little Kit – who is incredible brave and a total sweetie – had his operation and it all went perfectly. Thank all the Gods.

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They didn’t remove the whole thing (which is best practice, apparently), so he may have to have a further op, sometime in the distant future. They have hinged a tiny piece of his skull so they can go back in again if they need to, with much less stress and trauma. How brilliant is that?

After the op, he was groggy, and in pain, and off his food, not surprisingly. He developed an impressive black eye, and his throat was sore from the anaesthetic. He is the most active child I have ever encountered, so his parents did an amazing job keeping him occupied whilst in bed and wired up to stuff.

He was discharged on Sunday 13th August. And look at him now.

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Awwww. Bless.

Next time I’ll catch up a bit more (been very off-grid) and tell you about the cities we’ve been visiting. But to keep you happy for now, here are my two new favourite road signs, spotted in Budapest (I loves me a good road sign).

And – while I’m doing silly photos – how about this leaflet for Haemorrhoids from a pharmacy in Zagreb, and the ice-cream that Steve just bought me.

Thanks for reading xxxxx.