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Looking Out 2016 PDF Printable Version E-mail


Occasional Comments on the Passing Scene in 2016

Barry and Margaret Williamson
July 2016

Further comments will be added at the top of the page, as and when they occur

July 2016

How Long is a Cycle Path?
The cycling is excellent in the Netherlands and now here in Germany. The former has 15,000 km (9,300 miles) of dedicated cycle paths, the latter 40,000 km (25,000 miles).
East Germany
East Germany looks a lot better than it did in the Iron Curtain days (1945-90), but still not on a level with West Germany. Karl Zeiss is still here in Jena with their amazing lenses and we are in the area of Weimar (with Buchenwald Concentration Camp nearby), Dresden and Leipzig. Lots of history with the Czech and Polish borders on the road east. Perhaps we will pass Colditz Castle en route.
Reflection on the Sale of Camping Sakar Hills in Bulgaria
Staying at Sakar Hills in the summer of 2008, following our 3-month, 3,700-mile (6000 km) complete circuit of Turkey, it immediately became one of our oases. A base in which to settle for a while, to refresh, to get to know the area and some of its people, to become part of the local scene. We have been regular visitors ever since, most recently in October of last year on our way into Greece after a journey through the far east of Europe. We almost wish we were ready to settle down!
Entering Germany Just Like the Old Days
We move on today, a bit further towards the German border. We have our new Brexit visa ready, along with a few Deutschmarks since we seem to be going back at least half a century. How's things behind the Iron Curtain?
'Netherlands' = 'Lowlands'
About a quarter of the Netherlands is actually below sea level and overall half of it is below one metre above sea level. They are still reclaiming land, particularly where the Zuider Zee used to be. That sea is now divided into two: the Ijsselmeer with a barrier against the Wadden Sea in the north, and the Markermeer with a barrier against the Ijsselmeer. It's in the Markermeer that land is being drained, filled, pumped, etc.
Social Democracy in England?
Yes, we are still in Holland. It is very much like England could be if it had a social democratic government, proportional representation, a much reduced monarchy and people who are citizens rather than subjects. And lots of cycle paths, the ideal expression of a government working for the people and the public good, rather than for private profit.
On Being English in the Netherlands
We are still in a state of shock and disbelief after the referendum, a state echoed by Dutch people we talk to. Indeed, as soon as we are recognised as being English (a GB plate and GB sticker, a Union Jack, a yellow rear number plate, a right-hand drive vehicle, our language, etc), there is only one subject they want to talk about. Summarised in one word: Why?
We think of the words of 'Some Enchanted Evening' from the musical 'South Pacific'
Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.
More like 'Some Disenchanted Future'.
Responses from Friends to the Referendum and its Consequences.
Our new website contains our recent exchange of emails with friends in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, USA, Australia and Indonesia, all expressing disgust at the nature of the referendum, the manipulated result and consequent paralysis and collapse of our self-styled democratic system. If this is 'taking back control', we'll go for anarchy.
Subjects of Her Majesty!
The new prime minister could invoke Section 50 of the Lisbon Treaty using the Royal Prerogative, thus bypassing parliament:
“A distinguishing feature of the British constitution is the extent to which the government continues to exercise a number of powers which were not granted to it by a written constitution, nor by Parliament, but are rather ancient prerogatives of the Crown. These powers derive from arrangements which preceded the 1689 Declaration of Rights and have been accumulated by the government without Parliament or the people having a say.”
There's a Welcome in Ireland
This article ironically invites the English to come and live in Ireland, reversing centuries of Irish re-settlement. Margaret is a quarter Irish (on her mother's side), and is seriously considering a change of nationality. I already have the independence of being born in Yorkshire
June 2016
Early Migrants into Britain
The original inhabitants, who began the re-population of the empty British Isles after the Ice Age some 15,000 years ago, came from an enclave in Northwest Spain which was sheltered from the ice. They walked along the edge of the Continent of Europe and into the British Isles while the sea was still lower and frozen. They are still the biggest single contributor to our DNA. Later migrants came in relatively small numbers and only made a small contribution to our DNA. For example, the Normans mainly provided us with a ruling class who are still there, but didn't mingle much with the peasants. Still true today!
One Being Read
As for our stuff being read: we find it hard to imagine that happening while we are writing something. Writing is a private matter and it's almost bizarre to imagine some complete stranger reading the words through and forming some sort of opinion. Or not, as the case may be. So we just write and put it into an email or on a website and then leave it at that. In other words, it's hard to know how best to express something to be read by unknown persons, so it's comforting to know that it does sometimes strike a chord.
Dutch Cycle Paths
As for us, we are keeping well and enjoying the freedom given by the vast network of cycle paths here. We can literally ride between any two places in the Netherlands, near or far, on a dedicated path free of traffic. Some cycle paths parallel main roads, others make their own way through woods, across fields and along dykes. If only the government in the UK really governed (ie provided for the real needs of the people) rather than endlessly playing their own London-based games.
The Referendum in Dutch Pictures
Attracted by their comprehensive and well-illustrated coverage of 'Brexit', we bought three newspapers yesterday (24 June 2016) from a small shop in the village of Otterlo, in the forest about 20 miles north-west of Arnhem. We copied about 27 pictures, translating caption where necessary.
The newspapers, along with Dutch TV are really struggling to understand the vote for Brexit, using humour, anecdote, history, serious comment and images. In microcosm, the photographs give a fascinating glimpse of mainland Europe's reaction to the referendum.
Remembering the War
Coincidentally the Dutch village of Otterlo has a memorial to the 17 Canadian and 6 British soldiers who died there in April 1945, liberating the area from what the memorial calls 'five years of the horror of Nazi occupation, bringing once again the light and joy of freedom'. In scrambling and competing for merely material advantage, have the people of England and Wales forgotten that there were and still are other values worth fighting for?
Reaction to the Falling Pound on the Night of 23/24 June
In a few short hours during almost the shortest night of the year we have just watched our income steadily fall off a cliff. It plummeted against the euro by 8% in 5 hours! And this is called 'taking back control!'
Who is in Control?
It was with some relief that we learned that control was being taken back elsewhere: that Thomas Cook was running out of euros for holiday makers, that UK ATMs had been stuffed with money in case there was a run on the banks and that the Bank of England had 250 billion pounds in hand ready to prop up banks if needed. Scotland and Northern Ireland are already thinking of leaving the UK, Gibraltar is under threat again, the EU can't wait to act while the Tory party sorts out its leadership, and Cameron's deal with the EU to limit benefits for migrants has now been cancelled. Add to that the prospect of 150,000 members of the Tory party electing Johnson or Gove as the next prime minister, leading a party in power with less than 25% of eligible votes. Our democracy taking back control?
Who are the Exiteers?
What explains the catastrophic referendum result? Obviously it's the nature of the electorate that voted to leave: largely older, white, working class people with little education beyond the age of 16 and living in areas of the Midlands and Northern England devastated by Thatcherite de-industrialisation. Perhaps even they may be surprised by the devastation they are causing worldwide – and it's just the first day! Greece's neofascist party, Golden Dawn, sends its congratulations and wishes it could do as well.
T-Shirt Needed
After 50 years of feeling at home throughout the Continent of Europe, we are already feeling a little out of place among our fellow-Europeans. We need a T-shirt with the words 'It wasn't us' in several languages! What other excuse can we give?
Dutch Address and Language Lesson
Kamping de Koornmolen (Camping Corn Mill)
Tweemanspolder (Two Men's Meadow)
Zevenhuizen (Seven Houses)
Near Gouda (Good for Cheese)
Zuid Holland (South Holland)
The Netherlands (The Lowlands)
Dutch Cycle Paths and Cheese
We are just enjoying being in a place where cycle paths radiate in every possible direction. Well mapped (we have bought an atlas showing every single one in the whole of the Netherlands) and thoroughly signposted, the paths can take you wherever you want to go – from long-distance rides, to making your way round towns and villages. The centre of towns are often large squares, accessible only by pedestrians and cyclists. Yesterday, for example, we cycled into Gouda (25 miles return) entirely on dedicated cycle paths, and had a welcome coffee, toasted sandwich and apple cake, sitting in the big square by the 15th C Town Hall, opposite what is now the Cheese Museum. What a civilised country!
Everyone, but Everyone Rides a Bike
We moved on today about 60 miles further into the Netherlands and we are now on the edge of a large National Park (De Hoge Veluwe) just north of Arnhem on the Rhine. Yesterday we cycled about 40 km in and out of Gouda: if anything there are too many cycle paths here, making it a good idea to have the satnav to hand as well as a good map. What remains amazing is the sheer number of people of every age, shape and size who ride bikes. Apart from the usual young men in lycra and on racers, few people have any special clothing or gear or, indeed, anything but a basic standard bicycle. Very young children ride in trailers or attached somehow to the front or the back of mother's bike. Then they advance to their own little bike. Something never seen in the UK are teenagers and pensioners alike, riding their bikes quite naturally as if to the manner born.
Happy to be Beyond the Borders
However, we were happy to get out of the UK with all the lies and nonsense around the EU referendum dominating the media. Did Cameron ever make a bigger mistake? Translating a never-ending war in the ranks of the Tory party into an opportunity for the great British public to get 50 years of resentment off their collective chests. It was too much to expect a wide ranging debate on the complexities of EU membership; it was bound to settle into something most people could handle (helped by the gutter press and the 'social media') - immigration. Mix that up with nationalism, patriotism, football (what bad timing that is), xenophobia and ignorance and you have a deadly cocktail.
Killing a Trojan 
Many thanks for the patience of Rebecca, I got into safe mode in Windows 10 via msconfig (and out of it again). After trying Malwarebytes, Junkyard, Kaspersky and RKill, all to no avail, I ran Hitman Pro which picked up two Malwares (one in my documents) and 248 tracking cookies. After I signed up for a 30-day free trial, it removed the malwares and things seem back to normal. Let's hope it stays that way!
Response to an Email from a UKIP Sympathiser
What a lot of nonsense this is. Pure propaganda worthy of the early days of the Third Reich. You, Malcolm, have travelled in a sufficient number of EU countries to know that each and every one of them is very much in control of its own laws, culture, economy, language, religion, cuisine, postage stamps, public transport, energy, education system, armed forces, health service, roads, tolls, etc, etc. Often, as travellers, we wish that they had more in common! If your thesis were correct, every European country by now would have become identical, but they vary in every way possible. How do you compare Sicily with Finland, or Ireland with Croatia?
EU Laws and Regulations
There is a major difference between EU laws and regulations. EU laws have to be agreed by ministers, prime ministers, presidents elected by each of the 28 countries. Sometimes requiring a majority vote, sometimes unanimity. Often they have to be endorsed by each country's parliament. There is also the European parliament, elected by every voter throughout the EU. There is also public opinion and the media which wield considerable influence on policy.
On the other hand, agreed common regulations and standards that govern commodities and trade are essential and will remain so, whatever our future relationship with the EU.
Free to Travel in Europe
It is also a fantasy to think that the UK could have access to the EU's free market for the movement of goods, services and capital, without also agreeing to the continued free movement of people. With that gone, would you like to travel in mainland Europe with a 3-month Schengen Visa in your pocket, not able to return within another 3 months?
Anti-Democratic Forces in Europe
There is a lack of democracy throughout the EU: it is the power wielded by the massive trans-global capitalist organisations and the influence of hyper-rich gamblers in the stock-exchanges and tax-avoiding havens around the world. Can you not draw some conclusions from the recent dreadful end of BHS where the workers' pension funded was stolen to buy super-yachts and private jets? Where is the democracy in that?
We make people like that into noble lords or knights! The only body capable of bearing down on these robber barons is the EU. It would be very sad to see the British (and Northern Irish) people retreat onto their islands, with 'control taken back' by the likes of Johnson, Gove, Smith and Farage (the latter person stood for parliament 7 times and failed each time). Your future safe in their greedy hands?
How Democratic is Britain?
Where is the democracy in the UK? In the 2-sided parliament? In the once in 5 years election system where most people's votes are wasted? In the House of Lords? In the 60-strong Royal Family (is this what you mean by 'sovereign')? In the unelected Public School Boys dominating the political, religious, legal and military life of the country? In the privatisation of health, education, prisons and probation services? In selling off all the great public utilities to foreign governments and their agents? Tell us, is this democracy? Did the EU force us to do all this?
We Should Remember Them
We cycled 45 km today in the Arnhem area with many memories (museums and Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries) of those days in 1944/45 when we and our allies, working together, were very much involved in Europe - and what a difference we made!
Happy Memories of Greek Gorges and Islands
It's a long time since we were on Crete with the motorhome (in fact we were there when we heard that one Tony Blair had won a Labour Victory!) We  enjoyed the Samaria Gorge walk, which we did both ways. We left our little Greek motorbike at the top, walked down with the crowd (on their way to a boat out from the bottom), then stayed the night at the foot of the gorge in a small B&B before walking back uphill next day, a climb of about 4,000 ft (1210 m). That was much more fun, with the world to ourselves until we crossed paths with the next troop coming down. We also visited Santorini which is typically Greek – and infuriating - to close ancient sites/museums etc just when people might want to visit, like after 3 pm or at Easter! Most museums do close on Mondays, though, throughout Europe.
England En Passant
After Ionion Beach in the Greek Peloponnese, we returned to England via Sicily, Italy, France and Southern Ireland – a good way to enter the UK on the ferry to Scotland or Wales, thus avoiding The South. Sorry but we do come from Lancashire and Yorkshire, God's Own Counties! Then a busy month or so of shopping, visits, MOT and motorhome service, etc. We now have a rear-view camera fixed at the back and wonder how we ever managed without it. So we have been on the move and staying in places with crummy or no WiFi until we arrived on the Stena Line ferry from Harwich into the Hook of Holland earlier this week. That is a splendid daytime crossing on the world's largest passenger ferry, no less, and booking through the Camping & Caravanning Club got us a 10% discount, free upgrade to flexi-fare and a free daytime cabin!
Early Dutch Reaction to the Quality of the Referendum Debate
The absurdities of the debate are portrayed here on the TV, albeit at a distance, in Dutch and with an air of disbelief. The English/American language and culture are very popular here: they feel very close to us but puzzled. A bit like the family when Dad begins to show the early signs of dementia. They hope for the best but fear the worst. With little optimism, we are busy collecting euros before the value of the pound falls right through the floor.
Attacked on the Beach by Trojans
Next, and more disturbing, as soon as we landed at the Hook of Holland and used the WiFi on a nearby campsite, my new HP laptop (with Windows 10) picked up what I think is called a Browser Hijacker, in both Internet Explorer and Chrome. On some occasions a desired url (eg saving a piece in Mambo) is replaced by another, which is an advert for gambling or pornography or things of that ilk. In the worst case it replaces my url and I lose the link I wanted (ie my work is not saved). Sometimes another window opens which I can then delete. The worst instances are with Mambo, Weebly and opening the English-language Greek newspaper Ekathimerini.
The Distractions of Suburban Life
The ordinary 'suburban' way of life encourages the filling up of time with the routine, the safe, the repetitive, the familiar, etc. What amazing forms those distractions take, including adding to the degradation of ancient sites by hordes of tourists on foot (or by horse!). It needs almost a constant effort to resist those seductive forces to show off, to compete, to bolster the failing ego.
Why should they be resisted? Because life itself, being alive, should be an adventure based on openness to learning, to new experience. Being conscious and aware are wonderful gifts and need to be guarded and developed, at least by those who are capable.
A Sense of Direction
Whatever they are called – aims, objectives, outcomes, goals – it's good to have some idea of what might be achieved in the future. States C, D, E, etc after the transition from A to B! Or even a sense of direction, starting with John Lennon's 'How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?'
The metaphor of the journey is a good one: start with a general sense of the overall direction and some of the things to be achieved along the way. Concentrate on the process, the journey itself, rather than on getting to a particular place. For example, enjoy the cycling rather than thinking only of reaching the end!
Travellers need an oasis, a watering hole, somewhere with a palm tree, a few camels, a tent flapping in the afternoon heat with belly dancing in the evening.
Dick Lane Motors
Dick Lane in Bradford did some excellent work on our motorhome and we now have a twin-lens reversing/rear-view camera (what did we do without it?), a 120-watt solar panel on the roof, a working alarm, a working compressor for the rear suspension, an MOT, a directional TV aerial and a wall-mounted TV bracket. The rear view camera monitor fits over the rear-view mirror in the motorhome cab (which was of no use, with no rear window), and two views are automatically selected: View 1 (looking down, for reversing) or View 2 (watching behind while driving). It is made by Vision Plus - see www.visionplus.co.uk/shop/rear-view-systems/.
May 2016
'Food from the Heart' by Margaret McLean'
From Margaret W to Margaret M: Dan surprised me with a gift of your book (a signed copy, even), which I will treasure. Not just the recipes, delicious as they are, but your writing and photographs are a lovely collection, recording your lifelong love of good home cooking. The photos and reminiscences evoke times and places so well that Barry (a good home eater) really shared my interest in your delightful book. There are some familiar tales of growing up in the 1950s and 60s, and recipes for both old favourites and new treats that I can't wait to try, back in our motorhome next week. We did like the piece about the Wee Hurrie at Troon, which Dan introduced us to last year - and we still wonder what the name means.
Email from Greek Restauranteur Mike Stergiopoulos
Dear friends, You are fantastic, every time we talk feel very happy. Also do not forget to tell you how much help me with your overall kindness. I wish you chronia polla (many years) and to have good health and see you for many more years. I will wait for you forever. Your friend Mike.
Counting the Miles
Yesterday for me (Barry) was yet another birthday on this long journey through life. I checked the other day that the earth is still proceeding round the sun at about 18 miles per second or 66,000 miles per hour. A journey of about 580 million miles (930 million kilometres) every year. This means that my next birthday, marked by revisiting the current position of the earth in its orbit, is rushing towards me (and all of us) at breakneck speed. The challenge is to slow life down and live it to the full.
Coincidence is the Basis for the Traveller's Life
Coincidence' could be defined as: accident, chance, serendipity, fate, a twist of fate, destiny, fortuity, fortune, providence, freak, hazard; a piece of good fortune, a bit of luck, a bit of good luck, a fluke, a happy chance, happenstance, co-occurrence, coexistence, conjunction, simultaneity, simultaneousness, contemporaneity, contemporaneousness, concomitance, synchronicity, synchrony, clash, conflict, correspondence, agreement, accord, concurrence, match, fit, consistency, conformity, harmony, compatibility, dovetailing, correlation, parallelism, similarity, likeness.
Everyone has Their Own Party?
The Irish general election took place on 26 February with no clear winner and 2 months of negotiations haven't succeeded in forming a coalition among the 4 major parties. Like Scotland, Ireland is likely to have a single-party minority government. We find it fascinating that politics has changed so dramatically from the alternating 2-party system that has existed in the UK since parliament began. Perhaps digital technology will allow people to vote directly, issue by issue, rather than through working through delegates who are elected only once every 5 years. Direct democracy would produce some very different results!
Getting Inside the Brain
Just finished watching Episode 5 of the Brain (a 6-part BBC2 series by David Eagleman) . It really is thought-provoking and potentially life-changing when put together with what else is known of our nature and origins. I think that we can safely forget/reject anything written or 'known' before the middle of the nineteenth century – before Darwin and Marx and then add in Einstein at the beginning of the twentieth. Ever since then the detail has begun to be filled in with knowledge of evolutionary processes, the workings of the brain, etc. Eventually there will be a full understanding of the human condition – although perhaps too late for us. Meanwhile, we must understand what we can!
Gone West
Where we have been in County Cork is further west (in fact about W 10.2°) than the westernmost point of mainland Europe at Cabo da Roca (around W 9.5°), just west of Lisbon It doesn't get snow or frost hereabouts in this corner of Ireland, being too far south and west and it catches the warm Gulf Stream face on. Looking west, the Irish say: 'Next stop America', which was very true for many of them.
May Day and Easter Sunday All in One
In Greece yesterday it was the Orthodox Easter Sunday, the highpoint of the year, when families gather to roast a lamb (or a goat-that-shall-be-called-lamb) over an open fire. By coincidence, it was also May Day when they gather wild flowers and make a wreath to hang on their front door (a Greek friend once hung one on our motorhome door). So yesterday they would be combining two traditional festivals and we wish we were there. But, we also very much like being here in Ireland and these are the dilemmas of the traveller.
April 2016
The United States of Europe
Along with most people in mainland Europe, and Ireland, we don't even know why there is to be a referendum on EU membership. We don't like being forced to take sides in a squabble between public school boys within the Tory party. We don't want to appear to support either Cameron or Johnson. We think that the EU is one of Europe's greatest achievements, albeit a work still in progress. It's a half-way house between the Europe that spent hundreds of years fighting among its many parts and a peaceful fully United States of Europe. What better model than the USA? They were big enough to intervene in Europe several times in the 20th century to sort out the madness of war – with Germany, then the USSR and then in the fragmenting Balkans.
We also enjoy the freedom we and many millions of others have to wander within 28 countries, crossing borders and staying where we will.
Memories of Ian Hibell
Cycling used to be excellent at providing contact and rich experiences but these days we are somewhat loath to trust the kindness and skill of every driver who comes up behind us on narrow and ever-busier roads. It only takes one idiot behind the wheel, as World Traveller and Consummate Cyclist Ian Hibell amply demonstrated in Athens on 27 August 2008. He is never to be forgotten.
The Friendliness of the Irish, the Land of Apostrophes
We couldn't settle here in Ireland, but it's on the list of places where we would if we had to. Beautiful country of mountains, peninsulas, coves, rolling hills, green fields and market towns seemingly untouched by the passage of time and the cancer of capitalism. The shops (of great variety) are still those of the individual owner, with their name (with apostrophes) over the window. Sometimes there are two apostrophes as in O'Donnell's. There is even a Barry's, albeit as a surname. Barry's Tea is a strong popular brand. And there are none of the multinationals that have taken over British towns and cities. The people here are so friendly it's not possible to pass someone without an acknowledgement, a wave, a greeting. And they are full of talk and good humour. That is, there is happiness here.
Iceland in 1972 Recalled by the Barkers
Your photographs of travels in Iceland from 1972 are splendid of both you and the country. You really look as though you belonged to that time and to that amazing setting. We wish you the very minimum of disappointment on your next visit at the changes that must have been wrought, if only to the nature and extent of tourism. This in turn will be outweighed by the unchanging splendour of those landscapes, the fauna and flora and the very presence of Nature in its most creative mood.
A Cate by Any Other Name
Ruminating around the name 'Cate', it is obviously a variation on 'Kate' and a diminutive of Catherine or Katherine. It has origins in the Greek name for an early female Christian Saint, now known in English as Catherine of Alexandria. In Greek, the name is Aikaterina which links to the Greek word katharos meaning clean or pure. This is the origin of the modern English word catharsis, meaning the release of pent up emotions, a cleansing, a purification.
Memories of Cycling in the Hebrides in 1989
“At Spring Bank, we were both able to get away for 9 days to ride 360 miles through the Western Isles of Scotland. We started from Oban, taking the ferry to Barra and then Lochboisdale in South Uist. We rode up through South Uist and Benbecula to Newton Ferry in North Uist. A small passenger (-cum-bicycle) ferry took us across a stormy sound to Leverburgh in South Harris via Berneray Island. We then rode up to Callanish in Lewis where we stayed two nights in a crofter's cottage next to the stone circle, visiting Stornoway. Riding back to Tarbert, we took the ferry to Uig in north-west Skye and rode down through Portree to Armadale where we took a ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. Another 80 miles, through beautiful highland and sea loch valleys, and two more ferries got us back to Oban via Mull. Our memories of the islands are mainly of the crofters, still following their old ways, in a remarkably bleak, wet, beautiful, storm-swept landscape. So bleak that we often had difficulty finding somewhere to prop the bikes when we stopped!”
Migrants in Greece
We travelled overland from Scandinavia via Eastern Europe last autumn, arriving in Greece in October 2015, with no difficulties at all. Of course, the number of migrants has escalated since then but they are concentrated in a few 'hot spots' where the media go for their photographs and stories: on 4 or 5 of the Greek islands just off the Turkish coast in the eastern Aegean, in and around Victoria Square in Athens, at the Port of Piraeus south of Athens, and many thousands still clustered around the closed border gate with Macedonia at Idomeni. We would say that there are no problems, except perhaps extra security checks at borders. We've certainly had no negative reports from any other travellers.
We haven't seen any migrants ourselves during a winter in the Greek Peloponnese, except a few climbing over the wire fence to get into the port in Patras as we left as we left the country. From there ferries go to Italy (Brindisi, Bari, Ancona, Venice or Trieste) and the migrants were hoping to hide in or on a truck. Each of them was young, fit, well dressed, male and carrying no luggage of any kind. The two officers in a parked police car occasionally chased them back to the fence.
Greece Overland
Our last 3 journeys to/from Greece have been overland, using a variety of routes,such as Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria etc and Slovakia-Hungary-Romania-Bulgaria-Greece. We have also travelled to-from Greece via Montenegro and Albania
The Wall
There is the old (probably Buddhist) story of the man who grew up in a city within walls, completely absorbed in the day-to-day minutiae of events and problems. One day, he found a gap in the wall and walked outside for some distance, climbing something of a hill. Only in looking back, having gained some height, did he realise how insignificant all those little worries and games were, in the greater scheme of things. It was only one small isolated place in a great landscape. There was so much more life on the outside. Problem was, when he went back into the city to tell the people of his experience, they didn't understand what he was talking about! None would dare breach the wall.
Italian Road Builders
We are now in southern France, heading west. It's noticeably cooler and the Alps look splendid with their toppings of snow. The road engineering where the Alps meet the Mediterranean coasts of the Italian and French Rivieras is beyond the imagining of the UK's authorities. Countless tunnels of varying lengths are linked by viaducts soaring above the gorges. Turning inland to Turin, the climb we took culminated at 4,300 ft (nearly the height of Ben Nevis) before entering the 8-mile long subalpine Frejus Tunnel linking Italy to France.
The Dis-ease of Patriotism
As for the UK referendum, we share the puzzlement of most mainland Europeans. Why have it? What is the problem? The EU is just about the greatest European achievement in its collective history. Various powers in the past have tried to enforce a union, from the Romans through the Turks to Napolιon, Hitler and Stalin. Now 28 nations have voluntarily agreed to work, play and live together, with other countries queuing up to join. Why want to leave that? Nationalism and jingoism lead to patriotism, which according to Samuel Johnson is 'the last refuge of the scoundrel'. And there are plenty of those in the Tory and UKIP parties.
March 2016
Greece in Long-term Crisis
Greece is a splendid country with very honest and welcoming people and it is ideal for motorhoming. The never-ending economic crisis has bitten deep, but that has somehow made the Greeks more open in talking about their lives and their problems. The migrants are clustered in a limited number of places – in the islands of the far eastern Aegean, in and around Athens and the port of Piraeus and along the northern borders with Macedonia. We haven't seen any migrants in the Peloponnese; you would have to go out of your way to find them should you want to help.
We very rarely see any police here which itself is a sign of a trouble-free society. The Greeks go about living their lives in their own way, feeling safe within their families.
Moving On
You are leaving A and are now moving to B. However much A may have changed, however much B will be more appropriate, there is still a sense of loss in leaving A. It's almost a bereavement and it needs a period of mourning, a period of adjustment. Many people do indeed miss A and some return, be it a place, a country, a relationship, a habit, a job. What is to be avoided, we think, is hovering between A and B. Not able to let go of A, not able to reach or fully adjust to B.
As travellers, and on a much more minor scale, we constantly pass from A's to B's. Right now we are reluctant to leave Greece, which we love dearly, and not sure about moving to Italy. We can't hover in between – that would be the middle of the Adriatic! But we have got used to the processes of change and we just call it travelling and this month marks 21 years on the road. Transitions are made easy because we don't have to move our worldly possessions, we just take them with us, even when we only go shopping. But the temptation to 'settle down' is always there – the ultimate B. Although the final B is death itself from which there is no return to A!
Touching on Reality
Talking of realism: the whole migrant thing has at last made some sort of contact with reality. It really had got out of hand and Greece is now left to pick up the pieces. We once collected food, clothing, toys, medicines and toiletries on a large scale and rushed off to give it all to people in real need. We did this three times in one year – it was the year (1990) when Romania threw out its dictatorship and the terrible conditions in the orphanages were discovered. But then those conditions exist throughout the world. India still has at least 700 million people living permanently well below the poverty level (a dollar or two a day) – much worse than any migrant in Europe. Who can cope with that? Where is the rush to help there?
Memories of War-time Internal Displacement
None of the migrants have ventured down into the Peloponnese; they have a single aim of getting out of Greece by any means, going north and west towards Germany.
As an evacuee (internally displaced) from the bombing in Hull in WW2, I have little sympathy for them. At least half are economic migrants, jumping on the bandwagon; many are young men who should be helping to sort out the problems in their own country – fighting, rebuilding, whatever. Children should be found a safe place if they really are in danger (much of Syria and Iraq are still safe). Carrying them across Turkey, across a short stretch of water only made unsafe because of the poor equipment, and then right across Europe, choosing which country they prefer, is certainly not safe. Many children have been abandoned and are travelling on their own. Let us be realistic about what kind of people we are dealing with here!
Certainly Greece in the middle of all its other woes should not be subjected to all this pressure and the waste of its scarce resources. There is still talk of Greece leaving the euro since it is making little progress on all the reforms it promised but can't make.
Civil War?
We see that the Greek tractor blocks have been removed and we hope that traffic is now flowing freely on the main road to Sofia. It's Macedonia's turn now, getting blocked up with migrants. And the UK may well leave the UK on a whim whilst one side of the Tory party fights against the other. When will normality return?
On Leaving Greece
But we are still here, finding it as hard as ever to leave this beautiful land. Not because of the tractor blockades, not because of borders blocked by and against migrants, not because of random strikes by dockworkers and ships' crews: it is just because this is where we belong. However, we do have a Minoan Line ferry booked from Patras to Italy on 10 March and thence we aim for Sicily – though, given the informality of Greek ferries, a brief telephone chat to a young woman in Patras could soon change the date once again!
February 2016
Travellers Blogs
We use your log of that great overland journey from Delhi to Edinburgh as an example of the best of travel writing. It has a vibrancy that comes from the reality of the account. You present it just as it was with all the artefacts of a journey. Too many people moving about in motorhomes (we wouldn't necessarily call them 'travellers') and write 'blogs' that are far too self-centred. The written equivalent of the 'selfie' photographs we are now plagued with. We call them 'ego trips'. In contrast, your account is refreshing and inspiring. You made real contact with the people and places along your route. We and others thank you for sharing those memories.
Wheelchair Walks
Having taken another look at your Wheelchair Walks, we are really impressed by how the site has grown and that the information now includes videos. We watched the '5 Weirs Walk' with amazement and wonder how many Sheffield people know about it.
It's good to see the Blackpool to Fleetwood route, which we have cycled. It goes through Cleveleys, where Margaret was born and grew up. Mum ran a boarding house on Beach Road, Dad was a tram driver. Mind you, the so-called improvements to the promenade have erased all the landmarks of childhood (free playground, open-air theatre for the Punch & Judy man, site of travelling circus and fair, etc) and replaced them with paying attractions. The new trams are very good, though, and a nice idea for covering the return route.
A Family Divided Against Itself
Life at Ionion Beach has become even more interesting. George and Theo, the two sons of the original owner and originator of the campsite, have fallen out and finally agreed to split the campsite into two parts: Theo gets the apartments, the existing swimming pool and beach bar, while George gets the campsite and is now building his own swimming pool and some bungalows-to-let. Each side now has its own Reception office and WiFi system (ours is very good) but things like the central restaurant, shop and laundry with washing machines remain in dispute: Theo is currently building his own Breakfast Bar! There is a wall between the two halves (the Austro-German residents call it Berlin) but the beach and the sea remain undivided (so far!).
Who are the Motorhomers?
You speak of an idealised world of motorhomers, all travellers sharing and empathising, in tune with each other and with the world they live in. Sadly, we meet many others who are no more than holiday-makers with loungers to lie on, glasses of wine to sip and cheap novels to read. And many more who have spent their children's inheritance on a German luxury model, wanting only to show off their latest gadgets: they no sooner stop than their satellite dishes search the sky for familiar and comforting programmes And then there are the cheapskates, forever free camping in their worn-out Kombis. And the moaners, complaining about how 'Europe' is so different from where they live in the UK (which presumable isn't in Europe). And the members of UKIP, unhappy at how 'their' money is being wasted throughout the EU. How good it is to meet a real traveller, someone just simply on the road as a way of life, open to whatever experience brings.
Still Crazy After All These Years
Now entering our third decade on the road, we still agree with how we felt soon after setting out:
“Long-term travel is associated with retirement, and for us ageing gives urgency and poignancy to the whole process . . . we may never pass this way again! We have no regrets about our choice of this rich way of life and remember vividly the moment we finally closed the front door of our house, started the engine and set off for the Channel ferry! We hadn't owned a motorhome or caravan before, all our travel had been with bicycles and a tent, but we quickly realised that a motorhome was the only way we could afford to travel for long periods of time, comfortably, freely and carrying all the things we need for a full life (including bicycles and tent!)
The rewards of travel are enormous and it doesn't lose its freshness and its challenge. Subjects that were dry as chalk dust at school – Geography and History - take on colour and vitality, joining others as a natural part of everyday life: Ornithology, Geology, Languages, Economics, Politics, Religions, Art and Architecture, Photography. Our own qualifications in the Sciences, Business, Education, Archaeology, Modern Languages, Computing, Secretarial Skills, take on new meaning and usefulness. The radio again becomes the miracle it once was; books and maps become travelling companions; and travellers met for an evening become friends for life!
Motorhomers need only do what they are doing – no more and no less. Life can be lived more intensely in the present moment, replacing habit and routine with the ever-fresh stimulus of journeys on Robert Frost's 'road less travelled'. This is the way to slow the ever-accelerating rush of time.”
When a Chum is also a Friend
Cheers mate, where 'Mate' is Australian for Chum. In the Nederlands it is 'Kameraad' which isn't quite so friendly. Don't think there is a Yorkshire word for Chum, they are too circumspect. Lancashire has 'Pal', the Germans use 'Krumpel'. Geordie is 'Marrer'. We don't have any French friends.
What a nice word 'chum' is. It's somehow more friendly than 'friend'. It also has a special Scottish usage, as well as referring to a large Pacific Salmon (not the Scottish MP, although he may be somebody's chump). More worryingly, the word derives from 'chamber-fellow', or so it said. And then there is (or was) the dog food, enriched with nourishing marrow bone jelly.
Tractors Block Tyres
We got 4 new tyres fitted last week, which took a long time to be delivered from Athens due to the tractor 'Blocka'. We've also had the motorhome serviced at the excellent Ford garage in Pirgos (which had a small earthquake on Sunday), so at least the motorhome is ready for the road, if not us.
Cleaning up Quotes
Starting a little spring cleaning around the website and tidying in little visited corners, we came across the following quotations about bicycles and bicyclists. We can identify with all of them: http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1654/29/
Greece under the Heel of Enforced 'Austerity'
Now all the work is done in the olive groves, it's time to go on strike and take the tractors out to block main roads, motorway junctions and border crossings, to protest about pensions or subsidies or hospitals or Germans or the price they are paid for the crop. The Greek word is 'Blocka'. Sadly, the popular protests are rising in intensity and the economy is back in peril, with almost continuous talks going on with the European Central Bank, the IMF and Eurozone ministers, negotiating the next tranche of the loan.
How sad it is to see the effect of all this enforced 'austerity' on ordinary people and the many simple small businesses that have had to close. Meanwhile 840,000 migrants passed through Greece in 2015, while it got no support from the EU and relied on volunteers on the Aegean islands. Now Greece fears that borders to the north will close, and it will become one giant refugee camp, something it can ill afford, not to mention the effect on tourist numbers to the islands of Kos, Lesbos, etc.
Where have All the Motorhomes Gone?
We've been here for over 2 weeks now on the best campsite we know in Greece, and apart from the 3 long-term couples who George calls the Winter People (Hans & Inger, Kurt & Heidi, Walter & Monika), there are no other campers at all. A French van came for 2 nights, a Dutch van for one night, and that is it! German motorhomers are simply afraid to come to Greece. We walked through the next campsite along the beach the other day, and they are also empty – just one Austrian van and everything very overgrown.
Labourers in the Olive Groves
There's nothing but olives for many miles around here and the orchardists have been busy for weeks now, stripping olives off the trees by hand to fall into nets stretched on the ground. Then bagging them. Then taking the bags on overloaded ancient pickups to one of many olive mills (there's one in every village). What would they do without undocumented illegal immigrant labour? It used to be Albanians and Bulgarians, now it is people from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Syrians seem to get fast-tracked towards Germany.
January 2016
Old Harmanli
“Harmanli ('Threshing mills'): Our favourite town, 10 km NW of Biser, founded by the Turks in the 16thC around a caravanserai for travellers on the road to Constantinople. It has a wide range of places to eat and drink, post office, banks, shops and a bazaar, with a busy Saturday market for local produce. The only historic sights are a stretch of wall from the Ottoman caravanserai, near the tall Hebros Hotel, and the old hump-backed Gurbav Bridge built in 1585. It now spans a dry diverted river bed, behind the police station, near the tennis club/restaurant.
Reading on a Wet Afternoon Indoors
I've just been reading the draft chapter of the next Eddie Malloy on your pitmac books website. It has brightened up an unusually cold rainy afternoon indoors and I'm looking forward to the finished book. There seem to be some old favourite characters, as well as new ones to get to know.
A Reflective Irishman
Patrick O'Gorman first contacted us when he was travelling in Portugal in his campervan. His was probably the most reflective indeed introspective travel account we have ever had (other than our own, of course). He has now settled back into life in Ireland and he is now encouraging both Literature and the Arts: http://www.patrickogorman.co.uk/Iconclast/Welcome.html
The Contemplative Reindeer
Especially liked the photo of reindeer outside the meat factory (not to be shown to the under-sevens)!
Making Contact
The incident with the toaster in Penang was indeed one of those moments that take on a significance only with hindsight. We had a similar 'co-incidence' with Rebecca and Kevin, which led on to totally unpredictable things such as further meetings in Australia, the UK and Greece, a considerable sharing of ideas and, not least, our website.
What both episodes have in common is that the participants – us, you and them – were open and ready for all that might be possible in a meeting. Perhaps this follows because we were and are all travellers. It's becoming increasingly unusual for us to meet people with whom we feel an immediate connection. Perhaps this is a function of ageing, of being increasingly surrounded by people not only of a different generation but also of a different persuasion, a different ideology, seemingly of a different planet.
Twenty years ago the world of motorhoming was populated by a bunch of people who were also travellers, 'on the road to find out'; alert, interested and interesting. Now motorhoming has become yet another expression of affluence, of competition, of class and nationalistic divisions. Rather than journeys, people are making ego trips, carrying their social and suburban values with them.
Bec and Kev's Morning Chronicle Project and the Cotton Mills of Manchester
Many thanks for the fascinating insight into the Morning Chronicle project. As soon as we saw the photograph of the Morning Chronicle page, we realised what an enormous change there had been in the media, the way information is presented and in the sheer quality (one could say beauty) of the language. A wall of words when now people want videos where the image changes every 3 seconds! The content of the articles is also amazing.
We notice that we are receiving fewer serious long pieces of writing. The end of year letter has been replaced with daily semi-literate tweets and endless online phone-photographs, Facebook etc.
Margaret's Family History and the Cotton Mills of Manchester
Margaret's granddad Herbert was a foreman in a cotton mill in Manchester, where he clocked up 50 years' service. Grandma Annie worked at the loom in the mill until she married granddad and produced Margaret's mother Ethel and Uncle Harold. I came to know and admire Harold; he served in the army in Italy, was involved in the landings at Anzio and the taking of Rome. Fascinating to listen to him.
Herbert's mill closed in 1939 and he looked after it through the war years, keeping the machinery oiled etc. Ironically, when the war ended, the mill never re-opened.
The detail in the Chronicle article about working conditions and the different specialisms of the mills is all new to us. We were aware that Manchester was the home of liberal thought and practice, led by mill owners who had a good reputation for looking after their workers – eg keeping to the agreed length of the working day. The Guardian, once the mouthpiece for the Liberal Party, was of course founded as the Manchester Guardian.
Engels, Marx and the Cotton Mills of Manchester
Although born German like Marx, Engels lived and worked in Manchester for about 2 years between 1842 and 1844 and for 20 years from 1850 to 1870, during which time he was employed in his father's cotton mill. He helped to support Marx financially and worked with him in his writing, publishing and political activity. Engels' own writing included 'The Condition of the Working Class in England' published in 1844.
1848 was the year of revolutions throughout Europe, it was also the year of publication of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. But somehow, England remained untouched. Indeed, capitalism continues to reign supreme, its ideological apparatus evermore effective.
Travellers Make Contact
We are motorhomers and cyclists and are very aware of the way in which a motorhome on its own can insulate you from real contact with people and places. On the other hand, in a motorhome you can carry all you need, have a great sense of freedom and are never at a loss for somewhere to sleep, eat and pee. More recently we have made journeys using a van or a car and finding rooms and places to eat, including some time in Tunisia and Bosnia. This was a good compromise for us – we feel past the strenuous days when we could back-pack and use public transport. There is no ideal way to travel, although our many long-distance bicycle journeys came the nearest!
Climbers' Songs
For some reason not to be understood by mere mortals, in my student days a song about Rothesay was included in the repertoire sung in the bus returning the East Yorkshire Mountaineering Club (almost an oxymoron in itself) to Hull from a day or a weekend of rock-climbing in the Pennines, North Wales or the Lake District. So much so that many of the words are still imbued in my brain, along with much else which is taking up space that might be better employed. http://www.rampantscotland.com/songs/blsongs_rothesayo.htm
The Puzzle of the German Umweltplakette
We had a 6-ton Fleetwood Flair RV until about 3 years ago, with a V8 petrol engine, but somehow we managed to avoid Go Boxes in that time. Nor did we enter German towns that require an Umweltplakette. So we have no personal experience. Like you, we can find no mention of emission categories for petrol-engined vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tons. Its clear below 3.5 tons (cars and light vans) and above 7.5 tons (hgv's). But not in between. You do need to have a category to enter into the Go Box, so perhaps you either make one up or ask at the place where you get the box.
We now have a 3.5 ton diesel-engined motorhome in part to avoid all the complexities of tolls, go boxes, entry to some towns, ferry costs, etc.
The Greek Peloponnese versus Portugal
Here in the Peloponnese they have the opposite problem to that of Portugal: there are virtually no motorhomes present. Most campsites are closed, the few that are open are either literally empty or with just a very few die-hards in place. Even the usual free camping spots are empty, although there are no fears of fines here and locals extend a warm welcome to any visitors. Indeed, the police are also missing, perhaps all in Athens and elsewhere keeping the lid on potential unrest, or 'encouraging' hundreds of thousands of migrants to get on their way north to Macedonia. However, beneath all that, the Greece we love goes on, albeit rather more slowly.
Banning Free Camping in Portugal and the Nature of Evidence
Thank you for your piece about free camping in Portugal which we will feature on our website with full attribution to you. You mention only two specific stories, which may be based on local factors; it will be interesting to see if this clamp down is more widespread, if it is part of a national policy. We fully agree with you that people who have spent tens of thousands on a motorhome ought to be able to spare a few euros for an Aire, helping the local economy in a small way. In Corsica, the locals call visiting motorhomers (largely French) the 'tomato-eaters', because that is all they buy. They free camp and bring everything else with them!
Greeks Bearing or Selling Gifts?
Was it Homer who warned to beware of Greeks bearing gifts? Seems there is no problem with Greeks selling gifts, except ice cream. The local supermarket had an Xmas tree on top of the ice cream freezer so we had to ask if we could see what they had. It's empty, we were told. They'll get some more next April.
Changing Places
The young woman who works in the car hire office in Pylos has the ambition only to work in London (she speaks good English). We laughingly suggested that we should change places, she smiled but it isn't really very funny.
Information for Motorhomers
This an interesting query, concerning the moral values of advertisers, dealers and magazines in the motorhoming world! Anything that is commercial is inevitably run on capitalist lines - which is why our website is entirely free of adverts and there is no membership or subscription. You will find plenty of unbiased free advice there.
The Greek Tragicomedy
The Norman Atlantic story is part of what we call the Greek Tragicomedy. There have been many tragedies in recent years at this end of the Balkans, but there is also an air of comedy in the way in which they arise and are handled (or not, as the case may be). In the case of the ferry, the tragicomedy also extends to Italy.
The point of tragicomedy is that it should never have happened, there is much there for those willing to learn and sometimes it's better to laugh than to cry. Greece now is full of black humour (if it's still OK to say that), their only realistic response to what is happening to them and their country as things continue to run out of control. Better that than riots. Reminds us of cycling in Iron Curtain countries in the 1980's as their economies were collapsing and people told Communist Jokes.
Special Days?
And, yes, Christmas and New Year are just yet more days for us. There is nothing different about those days in any noticeable way except what a false ideology imposes on them. Although the ideologies themselves are interesting – pagan, Christian and now 99% capitalist. Fascinating to see whole societies programmed into what they are supposed to do on these days. Acting out roles by the million! Even the Greeks are starting to put up fairy lights, although they probably don't know why.