Friday, December 31, 2010

Hats Off

And so ends the year of my big adventure.

I was very surprised by the number of people who said to me, both in print and face to face, "Hats off to you, sir!", when they knew what I was doing. This seems quaint and old-fashioned, but I like it.

Similarly, in France I have frequently had the word "Chapeau!", which means exactly the same thing.

I am a hat-wearer myself and have a bit of a collection. It seems a shame to me that hat-wearing went out of style. It is particularly a shame in the area where we now live. Our local market town of Esperaza at one time had 36 hat factories. There were others in nearby towns. Now there are none.

But have you noticed that the wearing of hats is on the increase? Shops and market stalls have piles of hats. This very week we have seen people queuing to try on hats at Mirepoix market.

Tom Mix (above) would be pleased.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Well, Well, Well!

Our old friend Peter T Labrow has been busy lately. Not content with putting in a full day and more at the coal face of his marketing business and watching his massive collection of DVDs, he has been writing his first book.

The Kindle edition of "In The Well" is now up and running on Amazon. The print version will be coming soon.

What is it about? Amazon has this to say:

Trapped. Missing. Cursed. Fourteen-year-old Becca Edwards and her stepbrother have fallen to the bottom of an ancient well. Their parents are away; they won't be missed for days. The predatory man who had been stalking Becca now switches his attentions to her best friend. Two women who know where Becca is trapped are desperate that she should never escape. Over the course of a week, family, friends and strangers are drawn together by a terrible shared fate - from which not all will escape.

'The Well' is a darkly gripping tale about how we respond to the hand fate has dealt us - and the consequences of our choices.

Set in Bankside, a quiet Lancashire town that hides many secrets, The Well deftly intertwines a story of supernatural horror with a tale of one of the greatest fears of modern life. As the book progresses, the two stories become one- driving relentlessly towards a single, thrilling finale. The Well is a fast-paced, riveting story that will grip you - and keep you guessing - until the very end.

Do you want to be in at the beginning of a new publishing phenomenon? You will find the book here:

p.s. Peter points out that I have neglected to point out the role of my very own wife Gay, who test-read two earlier versions of the book. He says "all the test readers really helped to refine the book and give it much more depth, Gay's input was excellent."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Click Here

Happy Christmas everybody.

Click here for a bit of fun:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End Of The World Part Three

Our friend Valerie, who lives at Bugarach, is quoted in the Telegraph article mentioned in my last post.

She has now been approached by the Norwegian news agency, and is being interviewed on BBC Radio Five Live at 1725 GMT today.

With BBC iPlayer, you can listen to the programme (5 Live Drive) on your computer for the next 7 days.

You will find the programme here:

To use BBC iPlayer outside UK you must first download Expat Shield from here:

End Of The World Part Two

The Daily Telegrarf has now got hold of this story. under the headline "
French village which will 'survive 2012 Armageddon' plagued by visitors".

The fame of the tiny village and the mountain of the same name spread. I am not sure the inhabitants will welcome this. It is likely to have the effect of attracting even more Noahs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

2012, December 21

The Pic de Bugarach, at 1230 metres, is the highest summit in the Corbieres region of the Midi. It is roughly 20 kms from our home, as the bird flies. We can see it by walking up the hill to the Puivert castle.

There is something very strange about Bugarach. In fact there are many things very strange about it. The most obvious is that it is upside down - the oldest geological layers are on the top, which should not happen.

Many people believe that there is a colossal cavern under the mountain, with a huge lake, and a civilisation, earthly or otherwise, fully equipped with flying machines. Mysterious lights are to be seen hovering around the mountain at night. There are tales of close encounters.

The tales really are many and varied, but Bugarach has been hitting the news lately, at least in the local press, because it is featuring largely in the growing apprehension about 2012. I am sure you know that, according to some interpretations, the Maya predicted that the world will end in December of that year. A slightly less apocalyptic version is that the world as we know it will end, and a new era will begin.

Well, it seems that you should come to Bugarach, where you will be safe. It is one of the few places in the world which will be exempt from the destruction involved. This whole area is already home to many alternative, hippy types, attracted by the various Rennes le Chateau, Templar, Visigoth and other histories and mysteries. We are knee-deep in these people at the Sunday morning market in Esperaza. Strangers there have tried to engage us in conversation about 2012.

Now groups of believers are to be seen on the mountain, robed or sometimes completely disrobed, holding ceremonies and muttering imprecations. There are walking paths up, down and around the mountain but walkers are having to take unexpected breaks until the chanting is done and the paths cleared. A local information centre reports that 70% of those calling in to their office were randonneurs or walkers - now 70% are of a mystical persuasion. M. le Maire has been quoted extensively in the press, expressing his concern about the effect all these people are having on his area. Even the local housing market is being affected as, believing that Bugarach will be safe from the worldwide disaster, believers buy up houses so that they can move into this haven well before the due date.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Emperor Strikes Back

Vlad the unsmiling Czar of Russia (did you notice that he didn't even break into a smile while singing "Eye find meye treel on Blurbirry Heel", which flashed around the world's television screens this week) has been troubling me again.

You may remember that during my walk, he was sending his Siberian winds to shorten my stride (on my blog here and here).

Today he really outdid himself, probably because we all laughed so much about him "singing the blues". I think he is no stranger to retribution.

I walked home from Quillan. The temperature was minus 2 degrees Celsius. When I arrived at the Col du Portel, after climbing 320 metres, I also emerged from the woodland which had been protecting me from the wind. And the wind-chill factor.

The effective temperature must have dropped to minus 12 or so. I was wearing thick mittens, but completely lost the feeling in, and use of, my fingers. At some points the wind stopped me in my tracks. When I arrived home my legs and even my stomach were bright red, even though they had been protected from the wind by several layers of clothing.

This was one of the toughest walks I have ever undertaken. I am really glad I was walking only 18 kms and not 30 or more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brilliant In Provence

We arrived back from Provence yesterday. Brilliant sunshine all the time, but very cold after the first amazing day at 19 degrees.

I am under strict instructions from "Tales from a Garden" to show photographs from our trip, so here they are.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ups and Downs, Terrain and Temperature

I haven't walked for a while because I have had a bad back and a cold at the same time. These aren't things which go together, as you find out when you sneeze.

So it was a bit of a weakened Vic who today walked home from Quillan. We drove there, of course, I had the usual coffee and tabnab, then I walked along to the barber's. We had seen Pierre in the cafe - he did seem to be dashing about and carrying things. I had been standing outside his shop for a few minutes before I saw the sign saying he would not be open today until 9.30. Being my normal early self, it was still not yet 8.30, the usual opening time. Gay by this time had driven home. I didn't hang around.

I am quite habituated to the 18 kms walk, with it's initial 6 kms climbing from 290 metres to 600 metres. I had to pause on the really steep bits, but it was the effort required for the small hills at the end of the walk which made me realise (yet again) that a cold can really take it out of you, not to mention that a bad back can be quite debilitating.

We were covered in snow a few days ago, but two or three days above freezing have cleared it away completely. Today the temperature is 15 degrees and tomorrow it is forecast to rise to 17, although it will plunge back to 5 or so on Thursday.

We are off to Provence for a few days, so it is likely to be even higher than 17 where we are going.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Can Still Read


I was talking to Bob Lim last night on Skype. He asked about my eyes. When I told him the latest he reminded me that I had not mentioned this on my blog and that people could be interested. He's right.

To remind you, last November I went along, I thought for a new pair of specs, only to find myself sent to the eye hospital for a diagnosis that I am in the process of completely losing my central vision. I will reach a stage where everything looks to me just as it does on the tv screen when they have blanked out faces to preserve anonymity. I will not be able to see faces and, appallingly, I will not be able to read. My eyes are pretty much well down this road due to a condition called pattern dystrophy. I have had the condition for a very long time and it is just now approaching a serious level. I mentioned it on my blog because there was a possibility that it could seriously affect the Big Walk - and in fact it did so because I could not read maps and my ability to walk on rough and uneven ground was severely compromised.

I went for a checkup this November and found, to everyone's surprise, that there has been no measurable deterioration since last year, which is better than the best possible expected outcome. A year ago I was told that not only is there no treatment, but that the only thing which coould "possibly" slow down the rate of deterioration by "up to" 40% was the consumption of Omega 3 in quantity. Since then I have been taking some special Omega 3 eye tablets and also have retreated from being a strict vegetarian and have been consuming fish. This, or something, has done the trick, although I understand that I should not expect the problem to have stood still - it is just having a rest before resuming the onslaught.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Biology Lesson

We arrived home from Cyprus in the wee small hours of this morning. Temperature yesterday was 27 degrees, today it is 3 degrees, but a lovely sunny day.

These extraordinary photographs are some which Gay took during a walk in Polis Chrysochous while we were away. I didn't have a strong enough Internet connection to show them before.

I know that biologists need to pickle creatures in formaldehyde to preserve them for study, but I have never seen specimens hanging on a fence before. They include are all sorts of giant insects and many varieties of snake.

Of course I am not sure that they are in formaldehyde. They are probably preserved in the all-purpose Cyprus alcohol zivania, the equivalent of Italian grappa. In Cyprus it is used for drinking, cleaning windows, rubbing on afflicted bodily parts - so why not for specimen preservation and display?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Greetings from Cyprus

We are in Cyprus for a week. Most of our walking is being done between Polis Chrysochous (where we are staying) and the harbour at Latsi. We lived in Polis for 8 years and it is also 8 years since we left. There have been many changes in that time, notably in the amount of building going on, the price of houses, and the price of eating out. Still, we have spent a happy week renewing old friendships and wallowing in nostalgia.

The weather is excellent, about 27 degrees every day so far and set to remain so until after we leave on Tuesday.

This picture was taken in Paphos during our journey from the airport. Cyprus has entered more and more into the Christmas spirit every year since we first came here on holiday long ago. Santa looks a little incongruous among the palm trees, does he not? Especially at eight feet tall and being particularly grimy - that beard and the white trimming on his suit were not made for such a dusty place.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Al's Big Walk

I am a bit late with this photograph.

Nicola has just emptied her camera for the first time since the summer.

This is one of my grandson Alessandro, who one day decided that he was going to join me in VBW, and dressed appropriately. How wise of him to wear two caps, and to put the rucksack on his front, where it is much easier to get at the goodies within.

As always, you can increase the size of the photograph by double-clicking on it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Tale Of Two Haircuts

The pictures were taken in Chalabre this morning. Nice day, isn't it?

Yesterday was much gloomier, in more than one way. We drove to Quillan, to visit the market and for me to have a haircut before I walked home to Puivert (18 kms).

There was not much market because it was very wet.

I have a haircut about every 3 weeks. Last time, my friendly barber Pierre told me that a friend of his had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Yesterday I asked Pierre how his friend was doing. "Il est mort," he said. Pierre was obviously very upset about the death of his friend and how quickly it had happened. Indeed it is very sad. Unfortunately it is the norm.

Pancreatic cancer is swift and savage. This is why it is so vital to fund research to find a cure and/or early diagnosis. And why I would like you to divert some of the money you would otherwise waste on the Annual Shopkeepers' Festival, as Clive James called it, and to put some instead into the fund I have set up for that purpose. The money arrives very swiftly with Pancreatic Cancer UK, where it is applied to good effect.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Recession And Carcassonne

Not getting much walking done this week as we still have Jean visiting.

The weather hasn't been too brilliant, but this morning was lovely and sunny so we took the opportunity to go sightseeing in Carcassonne. For those who don't know, this is a complete mediaeval walled city and one of the major tourist attractions in France. But we have never seen it so quiet as we have today. This confirms what we have been hearing from other sources, that the recession is really biting and local businesses are reeling. None of this will have been helped by the recent spate of strikes over the increase in pension age. For instance, foreigners have been reluctant to fly here because they didn't know whether they would be able to get home. Even people already in France and with an inclination to travel have been frightened of ending up far from home with a dry petrol tank.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Early Bath

We have been away for a quick visit to England to see Mary Chapin Carpenter in concert in Buxton. I used to live not far from there and frequently drove through Buxton, or rather round it. I have never before walked into the centre of town and was very pleasantly surprised. A lovely little echo of Bath.

Mr and Mrs Septimus joined us for the concert and for an overnight stay in the quirky Buckingham Hotel, with its amazing breakfast (for example, a choice of 35 cereals), and its 5 minute walk to the splendid Opera House.

The next day, Gay and I went up to the North East to spend a few days with her two brothers - or rather the two who live in England.

When we came back to France on Friday, we had Jean Dolan, a friend from the running club, with us. This is why, for a change, we had company as we did our now traditional Saturday morning walk to Quillan and back.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No Christmas Cards

We have decided that, once again, we shall be sending out no Christmas cards this year but instead putting the money into the fund for Pancreatic Cancer UK. Of course we would be very pleased if you would do the same.

One day a cure will be found. This will come through research. The research needs funds. Every little bit counts. Your contribution could be the one that makes the diffence and finances the breakthrough. To us, that seems much more important than the fleeting pleasure of a Christmas card.

Just click on the JustGiving button on the left of your screen. Ignore the "100%" sign. The fund actually stands at 116% of my original target. And of course there is no upper limit. Go for it.

The pictures are from the recent Apple Fair in nearby Mirepoix. All those sculptures are made from apples, the local crop. Each year the theme is different. This year it was a about Mirepoix's twin town of Palafrugell in northern Spain.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cracking Weather

October 28th.

20 degrees.

Not bad, eh?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Booking My Place

It was warm enough, along with brilliantly sunny enough to sit outside for our lunch today. One pays for these clear skies early in the morning, though. As usual, I started my Friday walk from Lavelanet, where the temperature was 0 degrees.

A price worth paying, though. What a pleasure it is to walk in this weather, especially when one seems to have the world to oneself. Except for all the gunfire, or course - a constant worry in France during the very long hunting season.

I have finished my book and am revising it, at the same time as praying for a publisher. I am fortunate in that I have been offered a limited amount of professional help in assessing the manuscript and advising on possible routes for publication.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cold For Which Time Of The Year?

A lovely sunny day, and quite warm in the sun once the day had woken up a bit. But the temperature was only 7 degrees as I set out to walk from Lavelanet to home. That's a bit chilly for legs wearing shorts, but not too surprising for the middle of October.

I have spent many hours lately working on the book of the walk, which is very near to proof-reading stage. So it has not escaped my attention that there were many mornings of similarly low temperatures during VBW, and amazingly, on June 21, the day on which the sun is at its nearest to northern hemisphere inhabitants, the temperature as I started the day's walk was only 5 degrees.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dying man looking only for the positive

No photos today, but just look at this link.

A man dying of pancreatic cancer gives a truly inspirational lecture.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Big Walk Challenge 2012

I walked from Quillan to Puivert today. Nothing unusual about that, except that I really only started distance walking for Vic's Big Walk, that walk finished more than two months ago, yet here I am, still walking for several hours, several times a week.

The new version of the walk from Quillan is about 20 kms and rises from 290 metres, reaches 650 metres three times before gradually coming down to home at 500 metres. I took the picture soon after I set off, at about 400 metres. Between there and home, where 8 Egyptian vultures were resting on thermals just above the house, I had a brainwave.

What about a Big Walk Challenge? I walked from Puivert to Blackpool in 70 days. Many people, all over the world, were interested and followed my blog. How many of those people would be interested in following the same route themselves? In competition with others, to see how long it would take them.

The Challenge would take place in 2012, to give everybody time to prepare. There would not be a mass start because not everybody would have 70 days (plus or minus) available at the same time of year. Each competitor could start at a time of hir own choosing. There would be a handicapping system - those over 70 would have a day knocked off their time for each year over 70 - those between 50 and 70 would have a day added on - those under 50 would have 20 days added, plus another half year for each extra year of age below 50.

There would be prizes for the winner in each 10-year age category. The entry fee would be £100, to be paid as a donation to Pancreatic Cancer UK through my JustGiving webpage. Additionally, each competitor would be required to set up hir own JustGiving page to raise funds for my charity or for one of their own.

Would this fly? Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October Views

These pics were all taken above the beautiful village of Ginoles.

Double-click on each picture for a bigger version.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Steve Jobs To Launch Apple iCar

You read it here first! Apple are secretly testing this innovative new car, moving out of their electronics comfort zone and into transport, on their way to taking over the world.

The car's provenance is revealed by the distinctive Apple logo perched provocatively on its derriere. It's heritage is clear - simple but functional, eye-catching design.

Test runs in France are almost complete. The vehicle is expected to go on sale soon, after the usual spectacular launch by Steve Jobs. Prices are yet to be revealed but are expected, as with Apple computers, to be at least twice those of the competition.

One month ago the temperature in these parts was 42 degrees celsius. This morning it was 7 degrees and snow has appeared on the visible Pyrenees.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


We have been in Italy for a few days. The first picture was taken there. Double-click to make the picture bigger. What's that all about?

The second was taken during my walk from Quillan this morning. At this time of the year the valleys are frequently full of mist. It is a photographer's paradise. The views from higher up, for instance, at 600 metres before we descended to 290 at Quillan, which was totally mistbound, are spectacular. This one was taken just above Ginoles, when I had walked up and out of the mist. By the time I got to the top, the sun had completely burned the white stuff away.

Thanks to Gill Nurse, who was the first to spot that my fund-raising has reached £8,000. And thanks to Kathleen Howard, who made the donation which achieved that. Both ladies I have never met, but who are followers of my blog and of VBW.

The other day I mentioned in the blog that if somebody made a donation of £46.60, this would achieve the £8,000. Kathleen obliged. So Gay suggests that I point out that if somebody were to make a donation of £1,000 (and it would not be the first of that amount) the fund would jump to £9,000. Go for it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Book-Keeping, Book Writing

The fund is now even closer to having raised £8,000, against the original target of £7,000.

Donations are still trickling in, although I continue to be amazed at the number of people who promised me, unasked, that they would donate, but who have not yet done so.

One donation of a mere £46.60 will bring the total up to the next thousand.

In the meantime, I go full steam ahead with writing the book which will hopefully raise much more money for the same cause.