This post is my effort to fill some time and lift my spirits as we all go through this weird turn of events together,
Let's be honest all our lives really amount to are the experiences we have, the people we meet along the way, the things we see, hear, feel, none of us are taking anything with us when we check out, this post is about one of the best holidays I've ever had.
Thanks to my two travelling companions Keith and Sue with whom I shared this memorable journey.
In July of 2017 I was fortunate enough to travel along a stretch of the Canal Du Midi in France on a boat with two friends, a fantastic week which was a mixture of navigating our way through many locks, having a laugh, and soaking up the scenery.
I'd always wanted a holiday on water so this for me was a very exciting prospect, a new experience in a part of France I'd not been to before,
I flew out to Carcasonne and stayed overnight there and met my two friends the following morning, I remember that night in my hotel being very hot and the fan in my room stayed on all night. It was a very basic hotel but for one night well what the hell ?.
From Carcasonne we drove to our starting point which was Castelnaudary, where we were to pick up the boat, having stopped on the way to buy up provisions.
On a trip like this its best to make sure you are well stocked up, especially with bottled water, this was to be a hot week and we got through copious ampounts of it.
The place was not easy to find but eventually we got to where we needed to be and checked out our floating accommodation, two single bedrooms at the stern and a larger bedroom at the bow, a nice little kitchen and a deck area
Our boat was docked in the Grand Bassin a large area of water, in fact the largest area of open water on the canal.
We took the boat out for an exploratory run so each of us could get used to steering and generally maneuvering it safely, we had many locks ahead of us and I think we were all secretly wondering how we would get on with getting through them safely.
We spent the night on the boat and the next day we set out on our trip from Castelnaudary to Port Cassifieres one week away.
The route - First five destinations
Pexiora - 26 kilometres from Carcassonne
Villepinte - 23 kilometres from Carcassonne
Bram - 19 kilometres from Carcassonne
Villesequelande - 10 kilometres from Carcassonne
If you're a foodie like me France is a wonderland, each region has its own speciality dishes and if you watch any of Rick Steins programmes about his travels in France he often says it's the most unassuming places that you should check out.
Places you would walk past without a second glance serve the most simple but delicious food, I watched a programme recently where Rick spent a weekend in Bordeaux, that convinced me it's a place I must visit at some point.
That gives me a target to help me get through this very surreal situation we are going through, because to be able to freely travel will be so exciting when this is all over. Something we have taken for granted for such a long time but will really appreciate once we can do it again.
Rick also says a lot of people say the food in France is not what it was, there are the usual ubiquitous fast food outlets but there are some great little restaurants serving food that you won't find anywhere else, and it doesn't have to be expensive.
It's always worth checking out where the locals go to eat, I particularly like fish and the French can make even a simple fish dish look and taste superb.
The first time I came across Cassoulet I was delighted, this was not in Castelnaudary but further north, it's basically a stew but ingredients can differ from region to region, Castelnaudary is the home of Cassoulet.
This is one of the little gems we found on our journey, there was rugby playing on the television in a corner of the bar and at first glance I think none of us were sure what the food would be like, but when it came it was fabulous.
The service was superb, so friendly and just a great way to spend a few hours.
Passing through a lock.
Cruising along a canal in the sunshine all sounds very relaxing right ?, but when you have so many locks to negotiate you have to assign roles and really take care, my role was on the stern, Sue on the Bow and Captain Keith at the helm.
The first lock was a nerve jangler, but we soon got into a routine and generally found it to be ok, there were larger locks though where we weren't the only boat going through and that was when things could get a bit hairy.
Lock keepers maison.
Some of the locks were manned and the lucky lock keeper would have a maison nearby, some even had little stall where you could buy watermelons and other fruit, on the wall you can see a sign showing distances to the next port of call.
I often thought what a great job that was, sitting in the sun until the next boat came along, and at night the quiet would be amazing.
One thing we had to take into account was that when lock keepers were on their lunch break we had to wait until they had finished, so we would tie the boat up nearby and have our own lunch ready for the afternoons workload :)
After Carcasonne our next five destinations
Argen Minervois - after passing through the lock here we would have a long stretch ahead of us with no locks to negotiate.
As we travelled sedately along it was great to see what other people had done to boats to make them livable and like a home from home, because the canal is wider than our own in the UK it can accommodate wider boats like Dutch barges
Our final destinations of the trip would be -
Ecluses De Fonseranes
Villeneuve Les Beziers
As you travel along the canal the fields are either filled with Sunflowers or vines,
Not your average eatery
Lunch stop on a hot day.
The French have a great way of taking simple food and making it look so good, presentation is everything. They also know how to garnish food which can make even simple ingredients a taste sensation.
You are probably thinking "that looks an expensive place to eat", ? it really wasn't. and the view from the terrace …..
The region of France we were passing through is full of Vineyards and some of the Rose produced there is on another level, and of course relatively cheap, a nice chilled Rose on a hot Summers evening is one of life's great pleasures.
I'm going to drop this into the mix.
I don't want to give the impression that all we saw was natures beauty, we need some balance at this point, and there are two points to take note of here.
Point one, as already alluded to, all was not beautiful.
Point two, the Captain makes decisions which the deckhands don't question and to illustrate first a picture.
Yes seen below, our illustrious Captain moored us here, next to a fuel pump, and in the background can be seen a rather large industrial building, a cement factory no less.
That night sleep was hard to come by as the factory was lit up like Times Square and huge lorries trundled in and out continuously, and it was hot, however the Captain makes the calls, the crew .........
Lessons learnt, choose your Captain carefully, interview him / her to get a feel for their suitability before the cruise commences.
Don't ask, just don't ask.
There are sections of the canal where you pass close by to roads and in those places you can get some noise, but on other stretches peace reigns supreme apart from the gentle throb of the boats motor.
Another day, another lunch stop.
Low bridges, this one is at Capestang
The 7 locks of Bezier
This was towards the end of our journey, we arrived the day before and moored up, we had been advised that boats have to queue to get through.
That evening was Bastille day in France and we were treated to a brilliant firework display which we watched from the boat.
On the way to Bezier
This site is not political and I don't want it to become political, but sometimes you read something on the web, in this case on Twitter, that can't go unchallenged.
The link below is why I'm writing this and when I read this persons post my immediate thoughts were, "this is full of inaccuracies, and is written from a hugely biased perspective".
I don't care if someone’s opinions differ from mine, but history cannot be rewritten and presented as fact, although we have seen some instances of attempts to do this in the last few weeks of election fever.
Still let’s look at what is being stated in this blog and dissect it.
So the author asks us if we remember 1970's. and after some preamble about limited television channels and lack of heating and the general harshness of life, she goes on to mention the news being filled with reports on terrorism and union bosses visting the Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street.
Then we are presented with this statement.
"Britain had been exhausted by two world wars which we didn’t need to fight"
Let’s think about this and digest what is actually being said here, regarding the first world war the general consensus is that this was a senseless war. Did we have to be involved?, if I'm absolutely honest that I can't say without more research.
However when we consider the second world war in my opinion we had an absolute duty to fight against the pure evil that the Nazis unleashed on the world, and to resist everything they represented.
When I pointed this out to the author on Twitter her response was -
"Britain wasn't directly threatened at the outbreak of either World War"
So taking this argument to its logical conclusion if you saw somebody being attacked in the street you would walk on by because you personally weren’t directly affected, I don't think so.
I personally wouldn't want to be part of a world where that was the prevailing attititude, that would be a pretty soulless place.
The Nazis had scapegoated a race, and then used them to justify hideous cruelty against men, women and children, they subjugated Europe and carried out crimes that nothing in this world can justify.
To say we weren't directly threatened is to dismiss completely the threat the Nazis posed to the whole world, not just to us as a nation, it's also a very and insular way of thinking which fails to recognise humanity's overall responsibilities to each other.
Appeasement of evil is not an answer and there can be no cost considerations placed on standing up to evil in any form, especially where the industrialised killing of human beings perpetrated by that regime is considered.
Now it gets really interesting, after saying we definitely had to be involved the author answers with this extraordinary statement -
"My point was about need, not about ought. Sometimes it's right to intervene in foreign affairs, other times it isn't".
A very large part of Europe is ruled under a tyranny, populations are starved, freedom of speech is subverted, books are burnt, children have to be smuggled out of their home countries to safety and all this is summed up as "foreign affairs".
Now lets move on to another statement -
"The Second World War bankrupted us and cost us what we had fought both world wars to maintain. It also gave us socialism.
British socialism of the 1940s was patriotic but mistaken. Labour wanted to create a country that rewarded those who had fought but rewarded them instead with poverty and decline."
There is absolutely no way this statement can go unchallened, the only accurate part is that the war did bankrupt us as a nation, the rest is pure fantasy.
This statement completely dismisses the foundation of the Welfare State, it also fails to recognise the vast social housing project that took place, which gave people a decent home, many for the first time in their lives.
This to me doesn't sound anything like being rewarded with poverty, rather a genuine improvement in peoples lives, and also done at a time when fiscally we were in dire straights.
This gives a lie to the often asked question, "how can all this be paid for?," trumpeted by the gutter press and the right in general.
Now we come to decline,
"Compare and contrast American films of the 1950s with British ones. As America boomed after the war and American standards of living increased, we had rationing until 1954, not because of U-boats, but because we couldn’t afford to import all that we needed."
Now the failure to recognise the obvious flaws in the above is remarkable,
America boomed, of course it did, it had access to immense resources, it was reaping the dividend of "Lend Lease", and its industrial might, and obviously standards of living did increase.
Yes we had rationing, we were paying the price of "Lend Lease", we had been stretched to the very limit and people were exhausted, it doesn't take a genius to work out the the comparison is a rather silly one to posit.
There is always a price to pay for taking a stand, and that was the price of standing up to evil and tyranny, I know many of the people who suffered as a result thought the price worth paying.
Traditional British industry was destroyed by socialism
A bold statement indeed, but does it ring true, on the face of it the activity of unions with strike action and picketing does look like a major factor and is always portrayed as such.
However unions did not come into being without good reason, look back to the Victorian age when children worked in the cloth industry in horrendous conditions, men were killed in the mines, and generally people had no protection from unscrupulous employers.
The truth is that the class structures with their inequalities existed still in the 1970’s, there was still very much an "us and them" culture which rankled with the workforce and made for bad if not non-existent communications between management and shop floor workers.
The car industry in 1970’s Britain is a great example, after the war Britain unlike its competitors was still using old and outdated machinery, along with old and outdated methods and attitudes towards the workforce, this led to poor quality products and low productivity.
To lay the blame on the demise of our industries on socialism is to casually dismiss all the many other factors involved, and is a nonsense.
In the book “Saving Jaguar” by John Egan a senior figure in the car industry, he recounts how his approach of talking openly and honestly with the workforce and unions paid dividends.
One example is striking in its simplicity but effectiveness, some rationalisation was to take place which meant work being moved from one location to other areas, this was communicated in an open way with meetings involving all those affected.
This is quoted directly from his book,
“The day of the merger came, it was very cold and on cue the heating failed in the newly refurbished offices. Even with the addition of some space heaters, which sent out ghostly blue flames, the offices were still freezing. Yet our employees carried out their assignments as planned, they were there to work not to strike. They were there to give of their best – if we, the management did likewise”.
The example above is one of many, and it a complete misrepresentation of the truth to attribute the decline of manufacturing to one factor or group of people alone, as with most things multiple causes contributed to this.
Other factors the author fails to recognise are the erratic nature of government policy, British industrial policy was never consistent and long terms aims were repeatedly sacrificed to short term-term financial exigencies.
John was at the forefront of changing outmoded practices and his methods were proven correct, when the overseas motor manufacturers setup their assembly plants in the UK, they introduced quality circles directly involving the workforce in communicating with management and improving overall quality of the end product.
Both business itself and government policy played a role in our industrial decline, for any business to succeed continuity not short-termism is essential, and this is borne out by Michael Heseltine in this statement made when he was President of the board of Trade in 1993.
If I'm correct I don't think Michael Heseltine was ever a socialist, yet he could see where as an industrial nation we had failed, largely in mismanagement by management.
"I do not doubt for one moment that deep-seated short-term attitudes are prevalent in our affairs; or that is one important strand in understanding why we as a nation have performed less well than many of our competitors.
Such attitudes have led us to invest less than we might in technology and advanced means of production.
They have encouraged growth in companies by acquisition and financial engineering rather than through organic development and building on products and markets.
They have led us to place far too great an emphasis on comparisons of near-term financial results in judging our companies, instead of considering the strength of management and its underlying strategy. Those attitudes are of a piece"
So to summarise, election fever seems to have lead to some people making claims that when scrutinised are seen to not be based on fact.
It's a shame we have a system where truth seems to be ignored and when we see this being done we should challenge it,
Consider this -
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Reg Dwight liked a fight on a Saturday night, me I'm just a lawnmower, you can tell me by the way I walk.
Did Reg really like a bit of a ruck ?, I don't think so, did he get as well oiled as a locomotive, doubtful, but the song was great, and his hair then was his own. He and his band made some great music in those early days, I can still listen to the album Captain Fantastic.
Where would he been without Bernie Taupins great lyrics I wonder ?, if you listen to the lyrics of some of the songs on that album you get a hint of the seediness of the music world as it was then.
All that aside back to the mundanities of everyday life.
So yesterday I got my backside in gear and made a start on my very neglected looking garden, the Winter had left it in a sorry state, the grass uncut, the patio which I think was a honey colour when the slabs were laid were now a dirty looking greyish colour.
Dead leaves lay across the cold stone like soldiers who had lost an unequal battle against the weather, a gardening Stalingrad if you will, I was now to become like a gardening graves registration unit clearing the battlefield of the fallen.
Plants from last year as limp as TM's Brexit strategy, (I will never mention it again).
I had formulated a plan, my aim was to clear everything off the patio, all the garden furniture, various pots, get rid of an old Christmas tree which had very little life left in it, and sweep all the leaf debris and other stuff off.
I'd rather optimistically bought a pressure washer during the week and was itching to try it out, but delayed gratification was required, first I had to cut the lawn.
With all the rain we've had it was hard work, plus I have man flu, which everyone knows is totally debilitating :).
After all tomorrow (now today) was Sunday and in the night there was the real possibility of a call from Mr Farmer..
Grass cut I moved all the stuff off the patio and at this point disturbed some grubs, and a Robin watching my labours took his opportunity and swooped down, grabbed a grub and flew back into the nearby bush.
There he sat his prize in his beak, I think in his own way he had a look of thanks on his face, but his mood soon changed when he landed in front of me and I tried to get another picture, he stared at the camera with a look that said, "You looking at me" ?
The grim reality of a dirty patio.
So I make a start, a Robin gets fed, and a grub meets his maker, there must be a reward for all this effort so a trip to a brewery is taken, Blackened Sun Brewing Co is based in Stacey Bushes Milton Keynes. A short trip down the A508 which took all of 20 minutes.
I'd seem them on Twitter and taken a look at their beer list where I spotted Nebula Stout, Stout being of my favourire beer types I'm always on the lookout for some I've never come across before.
I need to lose some of that belly, and beer is not helping, bit of a dilemma, anyone know of an answer ?.
Please no suggestions of less beer, I couldn't cope.
Gary on the right owns the brewery and runs it with his Wife Sharon, both lovely people to chat to, and he told me about some of their beers and his thoughts on brewing, I sampled a few and decided that some had got to come home with me.
Tonight I'll be trying the Luna, a beer described as dark, brooding Saison with a roasted malty flavour and distinct coffe overtones.
Sounds good, the Hedone I tried last night with a curry, a nice beer with a lowish ABV of %3.6 quite refreshing and very easy to drink.
On a boozy theme later I'm off to the Crown at Ashton for dinner, they do some great roasts and a very decent bottle of red, so if your've ever out that way pop in.
I don't often buy the local rag mostly because it's mostly full of nothing, but this week I thought I'd take a look at what they were reporting on, and to my surprise there was this article on Bradlaugh Hall in Bangalore.
Earlier this week I was diverted on my homeward journey down the litter strewn A45 and had to take a slightly different route home which led me through the village of Earls Barton.
The traffic was slow as others had had the same idea as me and when I got to the point of just about leaving the village to join the Wellingborough road I glanced to my left and saw this.
I hadn't noticed this before but then its a long time since I went anywhere near the village, but with Saturday coming up I had a quick look on the web, got some contact details and decided a visit was on the cards.
All the way down the drive was this beautiful blossom which only lasts a very short time, but on a sunny day it looks glorious.
New Lodge Vineyard has it turns out been established since 2000, quite how I'd missed that I'll never know, but I'd read on their web site that they do red and white wine plus a sparkling wine.
Wine on a sunny Saturday with fromage.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
One of my all time favourite books is "1984" by George Orwell, this story of a dystopian future is bleak, very bleak, this bleakness permeates throughout the story, like bitter cold through a body.
The thought of constant surveilance is so soul destroying even in its imagining, can you imagine a life without privacy.?
I remember when I first read the book as a teenager, I was intrigued by some of the idea's the book contained, the thought police, children reporting their neighbours to the authorities for supposed crimes against the state, the ministry of truth, the anti sex league.
Two minutes hate, whipping people into a frenzy, the state needs us to hate something other than itself after all, now how to do that I wonder ?.
The job Winston performed eradicating anything in written form that contradicted what the state wanted people to believe, history effectively being re-written, truth entirely disposed of.
The concept that grabbed me most though was Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, the idea of the formation and manipulation of language in a way that completely restricts anyone from expressing negative idea's about the state.
The gradual eradication of a number of words available to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions is reduced to restrict individualism, and free thought, giving total control to the state over the individual.
The ability of language to influence the way we think and act is extremely powerful, subtle variations in the way an idea is expressed can render in our minds a totally different way of perceiving a situation.
It looks like Northamptonshire County Council have taken up Newspeak to alter our perception of reality, take a look at the link below, NCC lay out the proposed cuts to services to come, and attempt to justify the large rise in our council tax bills.
Note the use of words to distort the real situation.
Take for example their opening gambit,
"A 4.99% Council Tax increase is being proposed which would mean the county would have the second lowest like-for-like county tax rate in the country while at the same time be able to further stabilise its finances and invest in areas people have said are most important to them."
This is a wonderful example of Newspeak, where they posit a proposed huge increase in Council Tax (ungood) together with the qualifier "which would mean the county would have the second lowest like-for-like county tax rate in the country".
This "invest in areas people have said are most important to them." should read as essential services,
See a quote from the book below -
""In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy".
Yes suckers we are going to charge you more for the essential services you had before, but this is good as reinforced by the use of the words, invest, lowest, stabilise.
My thoughts are -
Yes we do want you to invest in gritting the roads when it's icy because not to do so would endanger our lives, and yes we would like Libraries, as we like our language, we want to be able to borrow and read books, this educates and informs us, and allows us to see through bullshit.
They then go on to say -
The Council Tax increase would amount to an additional 75p to £1 a week for the 70 per cent of county residents living in properties within the Council Tax Bands of A to C. This would raise an additional £5.8m which will be used as follows:
Lets take these points one at a time and examine what they actually mean.
An extra £475,000 to permanently reinstate the previous winter gritting and winter maintenance of roads.
This is patently not an extra amount of money, we are effectivly paying more to keep the same services we had previously, this would be laughable were it not so silly. (DoublePlus Ungood).
Scrapping plans to charge for community use of schools by uniformed and community groups.
I wondered what that actually meant, well it appears that plans were to scrap the £56,000 subsidy that the Scouts and Guides had been receiving, this has now been dropped.
Here is a telling statement from Dean Smith, the county commissioner for the Scouts in Northamptonshire,
"“We were very surprised that it was involved in the budget in the first place as no-one told us and we weren’t consulted about it, we were told by the media."
Lack of consultation, the proposal is bad enough but not telling those affected who have to find out through the media is pretty shocking.
To summarise the council are saying "we had an Ungood idea".
An additional £1.2m for Children’s Services
Again, this is patently not an extra amount of money, if anyone can explain how this equates to an extra amount of money then I'm open to persuasion.
A reversal of plans to charge for higher specification community equipment
What the above means is anyones guess.
An extra £673,000 towards independent adult social care placements
Again the use of the word "extra" above is misleading.
Provide greater financial resilience
Greater financial resilience, this statement is a corker, basically the council have asked Central Government (who have cut back on the amount they give to local Councils) if they can raise another %2 over and above what they could normally levy. This is the politics of lunacy, you couldn't make this stuff up.
Provide a more sustainable financial foundation for any future Unitary Councils
We will only get stability when we have people in place who actually know what they are doing. putting up council tax does in no way equate to "greater financial resilience".
"Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended.""Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended."