Category: holidays

Burglary and France

By , 31 July 2009 9:17 pm

I suppose if you read the last few blogs you had this vision of me writing them from a cool, damp Swansea. Well, I have to disillusion you. We have been on holiday and in fact I wrote the last three blogs together in the first week of July and had them remotely posted in our absence. I did however manage to check on my blogs reasonably regularly courtesy of my iPhone and a very dodgy and extremely expensive GPRS network. So I hope no one was terribly miffed when it took 48 hours for the answer to be posted.

You see the thing is you can hardly announce on the Internet that you’re going away on holiday for the next two weeks. All someone needs to know is where you live (and that probably isn’t too hard to find) and Mr or Mrs Badperson can break in and help themselves. Actually, you’d find it quite difficult with us as we have a very efficient burglar alarm and one or two neighbours who seem to know exactly what we are doing, even when we aren’t doing it.

We haven’t had a burglary for over ten years. What happened the only time we have been burgled is quite revealing about Swansea and doesn’t really reflect much credit on Swansea, its burglars or police. In addition to taking one or two valuable things, such as my wife’s engagement ring, the thieves helped themselves to a large part of my CD collection but apparently failed to notice that all the CDs were classical ones. I alerted the only two second-hand shops in Swansea that might conceivably take classical CDs (as you may have gathered, it’s not that sort of the town) and gave them my phone number in case some unlikely character decided to try and offload some improbable music. (You can imagine the dialogue. ‘Yeah well, I guess I’ve kinda got bored wiv late ‘em late Beethoven quartets. I know all the tunes.’ )

Rather to my surprise, a few days later, I did actually get a phone call: a couple of girls who obviously didn’t know Bach from Borodin had tried to sell a bag full at one shop and were heading to the next one. With the extraordinary glee that comes from the realisation that your own intelligence and righteousness is about to achieve a glorious victory over someone else’s stupidity and wickedness I called the police. They moved with uncommon swiftness and met the girls at the shop. Here however the achievement of the constabulary grinds to a miserable halt. The cops took the CDs off the girls on the grounds that they felt they might be stolen property, but let the girls themselves go because they couldn’t prove that they were stolen. (Me? I’d have asked them to whistle the opening bars of Beethoven Five but then I’m mean like that.) When, a day or so later, I went down to the police station I was asked to prove that the CDs were mine. At this point, I showed them that a number of them actually had my name and address on sticky labels on the back (I had lent them out to friends). Faced with this rather unwelcome but peculiarly compelling piece of evidence that they were genuinely stolen, the police then decided to search the girl’s accommodation. But by now the master burglar who had been running the show had moved on along with the loot. I was told that the girls were involved in drugs, that it wasn’t them that had done the burglary anyway and while I could press charges of them being accessories and receivers of stolen goods, the nasty man behind them would probably beat them up. So, I shrugged, committed it to divine justice, took my CDs and went home. The insurance kindly coughed up for all the other missing bits but they got their own back (they always do) by increasing premiums and insisting that we had a burglar alarm installed: which has on occasions been more trouble than it’s worth.

Anyway I digress. France was wonderful. We drove right the way down to the southeast corner, the Cote D’Azur, just above Nice. For the first week we stayed at the new centre A Rocha France have at Les Courmettes because I wanted to see how suitable it was for doing geology. We had intended to drive around the Mediterranean a way before coming back up the Massif Central but instead we found a nice warm freshwater lake with a good campsite and stayed put instead, enjoying sunshine, heat and good food. When we came back to Swansea it had been (guess what) raining pretty solidly for two weeks. As it is now. And probably will be tomorrow.

I consider myself pretty incorruptible. If someone offered me a life in the French countryside for a single night’s act of quality and competent burglary you’ll be pleased to know that I’d say no.
But slowly.

On living in France

By , 5 August 2008 8:29 pm

Anyone who travels to France cannot fail to be astonished at the number of British people there. We visited one small town where in the centre literally one in three people seemed to be British. It wasn’t just holidaymakers either: the cafes were run by Brits and there was even a fish and chip shop. Many shops had either advertisements that were either bilingual or in English alone.

Which raises the question: what is so attractive about France to Brits? The answer seems to be that it is no single thing. An almost universal attraction is that the weather is so much better. And here one can sympathise: for instance in Swansea we have had heavy rain for the last two days with not a glimpse of the sun. Other people like the food and the cheap wine.

Still others relish the fact that you can buy a large property relatively cheaply. Certainly it seems to be a cheaper place to live than the UK. There are other things: for people of my age and older it is the still largely rural nature of France that is attractive. It has widely scattered, quiet villages, rustic hamlets, hedgerows, tree-lined lanes, vast rolling woodlands, abundant wildlife, dark starlit night skies and the absence of the eternal roar of roads that is almost universal in most of Britain. The irony here is that the attraction of France is not because it is France but because it is like a long lost Britain.


I haven’t heard that many people go to France because they like the French. In fact the quite revealing fact is that most Britons buy up country properties out of the towns. They say it’s because they want the peace and quiet; I have a niggling suspicion that, in some cases at least, it’s so that they don’t have to deal with the locals. In some places the Brits were trying to create an alternative community of English-speaking shops, hairdressers, electricians and plumbers so that you wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of a) learning French b) having to be nice to Pierre and Sylvie. Once or twice we had to insist that people spoke to us in French rather than English. They seemed grateful for our efforts.

Let me hear make two Christian points. After all I suspect that something equivalent to France occurs in most countries. From what I gather, California or Florida often seems to have the same role in the northern US.

The first point is that there is a real danger that you see in this France or its equivalent, paradise. It is the place where, finally, everything will go right; the place where joy will be yours eternally. And of course expressed like that, you see the fallacy of the argument: there is no paradise other than God’s paradise and we are separated from that by more than the English Channel. (Indeed from passing comments, we heard much of France can often be bitterly cold in winter. The bureaucracy is often impenetrable. The inner cities have dreadful problems. The state is bankrupt. And in the rural areas over winter you find large numbers of people traipsing around blasting little birds to bits in the course of la chasse. I get the impression from a few of the expats we talked to that disillusionment can set in very quickly.)

The second point is that we cannot – and should not – divorce ourselves from people. There is probably a whole theology that centres on the incarnation about getting involved with local life.

Anyway I’ll make no bones about it. If I could sell the film rights I would very seriously and prayerfully consider moving to France where I would continue to write and my wife would continue editing by e-mail. With the fast rail and plane links we properly wouldn’t be too far away from aged parents. But on the one hand we would be under no expectation of paradise and on the other, we would make every effort to get involved with the local community and especially that rarest things, a French evangelical fellowship. Anyway, it’s all a fancy at the moment. But cannot a man dream? Especially a fantasy writer?

I hope to get back to a regular Friday pattern as soon as possible. Oh, and no news on the baby front yet.

Back from France

By , 30 July 2008 8:36 am

Dear readers, you have probably noticed that posting of comments, etc., has been a bit delayed the last couple of weeks. The reason was, as I partly hinted, that we were actually on holiday in France. And of course, where a little bit of detective work will reveal where you actually live, you have to be an utter nincompoop to announce to the world that you will be vacating your premises for a few weeks! On the other topic I mentioned, our daughter-in-law is still pregnant but the due date is coming up early next week.

Anyway we had a great time. For us holidays are not so much a time of doing nothing as a time of being stimulated by seeing new and different things. I have just been glancing at some of the 800 or so photographs I took and they include a vast numbers of chateaux, mediaeval towns, rocks, flowers, dragonflies, battlefields and landscapes: all that sort of thing. It keeps the brain working and makes you realise that actually the rest of the world operates on a different basis. Which is no bad thing.

Last year we went to Ireland and it was pretty cold and wet and the rest of the summer in Wales was much the same. So this year it was very pleasant to be able to say again things we haven’t really been able to say for two years (when we were last in France). Some of the things we enjoyed saying were:

‘I seem to have run out of short-sleeved shirts.’
‘I think I’ve caught the sun.’
‘The tarmac is melting.’
‘Can we park the car in the shade?’
‘Look at the lizards.’
‘Have we brought enough water?’
‘I really ought to get some prescription sunglasses.’

Anyway, I will write more about books and writing soon.

Back from holidays

By , 15 August 2007 8:37 pm

Just arrived back from two weeks in Ireland to find a small cheque for book royalties and about half a dozen encouraging e-mails and blog entries. Thanks for both! Our time in Ireland was largely centred around a big family reunion, which went well.

Two things relevant to writing emerged. One was that two young men had a chance to read the manuscript of The Infinite Day and were embarrassing in their praise. It seems to work. The other thing was that I began to put down a lot of notes for a new series, which is a sort of spin-off from the Lamb among the Stars. It is tentatively called the Seventh Ship series and as I envisage it, it will run to three volumes. What was happening when I was writing notes was that characters and situations seem to be popping into my mind saying ‘Could you use me?’ or ‘Would I be able to play a part?’ This was very encouraging because I felt I had covered so much ground in the Lamb among the Stars that I was worried I had exhausted interesting scenarios and people. Anyway, it doesn’t look like it: there’s any number of fun plots, heroes and villains. However, I have too much on at the moment to do very much with it other than make odd sketches and outlines. But I am open to offers.

Now back to Ireland. I’m afraid we got badly hit by the weather. The trouble is, we live in a cool, wet, Celtic coastal region and found that we had traded it for something very similar. Having lived in a Mediterranean country, and got used to the warmth of France on previous holidays, we felt the cold dampness didn’t help. I was moved, therefore to come up with a few tongue-in-cheek rules on how to know that you are in the wrong place for a holiday if you like the sun. So with apologies to the Irish tourist board (and I’m told last year was lovely), here we go.

You know you are in the wrong place for a holiday when:

  • Shops sell more insect repellent than suntan lotion.
  • Picture postcards major on waves breaking violently against cliffs.
  • Sports outlets are full of wetsuits.
  • The area you are in is covered by more lakes and bogs than dry land.
  • The guidebooks talk about ‘the luminous light’ and the ‘clean air’.
  • Shops sell scarves and waterproofs in August.
  • The traditional architecture is low buildings huddled behind hills and stone walls.
  • The area has been a centre of emigration throughout history (ever asked what drove them to leave?).
  • There seems to be no indigenous word for air conditioner.
  • You arrive at a bed and breakfast to find that the heating is on in mid summer.
  • Reptiles have given up the unequal struggle and become extinct.
  • There are no ‘help us to conserve water’ signs.
  • The sheep, plants (or people) are described as hardy.
  • Trees lie at an angle to the vertical.
  • The tourist brochures describe the landscape ‘cut by the waves, lashed by the wind and washed by the rain.’ Hmmm.
  • Notices on beaches talk about the danger of exposure, rather than sunburn.

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