THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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May 2023

Preparing to move on

IMG_5042I had a quiet day yesterday after the various social and engineering excitements of the trip. I did some washing, some reading and watched some TV.

My local friends in Mougins had told me I reminded them of Raymond Reddington; the anti-hero of the Netflix FBI procedural The Blacklist. So I watched a few episodes to see what they meant. They insist they intended the comparison as a compliment but, while he's certainly a clever and resourceful chap unfazed by obstacles, he's also a murderous psychopath so I have mixed feelings! It's a good show though.

Yesterday was a bank holiday, so I couldn't chase for updates on Speranza. Today I heard that the dealer in Luxembourg still doesn't have the parts they ordered from Ferrari. So she's not going to be fixed by the 4th June for me to return to London on the 5th as planned. In fact they're not now expecting the parts until 2nd June, so it could be a while.

In keeping with the indomitable spirit of this trip, I won't allow this to change my plans. I will drive to Luxembourg on the 4th to drop off Nira, my hire car. I will stay with my friends there as planned for a night. Then I will return home by plane or train and keep my Eurotunnel ticket to use when I return to collect Speranza - whenever that proves to be. I have a FlexiPlus ticket for LeShuttle which their service team confirmed today is totally open.

In other news, I also heard today that the final consent order has come through in my divorce. I agreed with Mrs PII that she can push the online button to make it all final. So that's progress. I shall be a single man again in the next 48 hours. Form an orderly queue, ladies. Not.

My Polish friends whose house in Cannes I am so very much enjoying never managed to join me because of a sad family problem in Warsaw. That's a shame as I had looked forward to spending my first real time with them for a long while. Visiting them was the founding idea of this trip. I will leave their lovely home tomorrow to drive to Bandol, where I will spend three nights with my French friend before heading for Luxembourg and home.

I have to say there's no need to feel sorry for me – despite all the malice of the gods of engineering (and marriage). I am enjoying being out in the world again and dealing with life's ups and downs like an adult. Sulking under my metaphorical bedclothes was no way to use the gift of life.

Yes, the trip has not gone remotely as planned, but oddly that seems to have helped restore my self-confidence. Shit has happened, but so far (and perhaps I shouldn't speak too soon) I have cleaned it up and moved on regardless. Days on tour involving rescue are now down to 30%. Let's hope that percentage continues to fall.

Another misadventure

Screenshot 2023-05-29 at 04.39.48Yesterday was - for the most part - an excellent day. I had arranged with an old friend from Moscow days (let's call him Monsieur D.), now resident once more in his native France, to meet him for lunch at my favourite restaurant in the whole world. I was very much looking forward to it. 

Having showered and dressed I had an hour to spare before I needed to set off. I decided to check out the sea views my friend had told me about from the top floor of the house. They were indeed superb. The house has a lift - a tiny tubular device for one person only. I thought I'd try it out and set off to the ground floor. I almost made it. It stuck a mere six inches above the ground and I was trapped in a coffin-sized space. As I tried to escape, it became hot and sweaty and the glass tube misted up. It was too small in there even to sit down while awaiting help.

Fortunately I had my mobile phone in hand. I called my friends' long-suffering concierge. Within 30 further minutes help was at hand. Within an hour of my original confinement, he managed to open the external door. The internal glass door could not swing out because it was trapped by the frame of the lift. It swung inwards too, but I would have thought it impossible in such a confined space to get it past my bulk. Freedom is strongly attractive however and – hot, sweaty and anxious as I was after my ordeal – I managed to squeeze out.

A520A34C-087E-4C05-9E41-0DF612DB8056 A520A34C-087E-4C05-9E41-0DF612DB8056Thanking my saviour heartily, I headed out in Nira to collect Monsieur D. from Antibes and drive us to the restaurant. We were installed in the shade on the terrace outside with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean under a flawless azure sky. Our reminiscences of Moscow were few. Both of us were too sad about the current situation and too disappointed that the marvelous country we'd worked to help rejoin the free world was once more as cut off as it had ever been.

Neither of us knew any more about the situation in Russia than anyone else because all our friends in Moscow are afraid to say anything as their communications are closely monitored. Modern tech allows that to be done more thoroughly even than the old KGB could manage.

My friend is still very active in my old world of real estate. We talked about his business (in which I have an investment) and the projects he has in hand, before catching up about our marriages (two each) and our daughters (I have two and he has three). When I was giving myself a calming talking-to back in that broken lift, I couldn't have imagined that life would seem so happy and so normal so quickly!

I'm counting my lift adventure as equivalent to a roadside recovery, so my percentage of days on this tour involving a rescue is now back to 38%. It's hard not to believe that the Universe is telling me something on this trip, but I still have the humility to know (at least after giving myself a severe talking-to in that anxious hour) that it doesn't know or care that I exist!

Catching up

My first outing from my new base was to visit my friends in Mougins  – let's call them Mr & Mrs L. I respect their privacy so no photos today. I met them 18 years ago through their son. A mutual friend sent him to me in Moscow. He was 18 and looking for work experience so I introduced him to some of my clients. His father sent a polite thank you note and invited me to dinner "if you are ever near Mougins". I replied I would be there the following month, accepted the kind invitation and we've been friends ever since.

I always used to attend MIPIM in Cannes - the annual jamboree of global real estate. Dinner at the Ls' became part of my programme each year. 

Their son was only visiting. He is living post-COVID life in London, where he works in the City, but his parents still observe COVID restrictions. Their other guest at dinner – a French lady – pretty much compelled the traditional kissing, but I took the view "their gaff, their rules" and refrained from our usual hugs. It was a sad reminder of the fear governments instilled in the hearts of many citizens. They run their business from home and have not really left it since I last saw them.

Fist-bumps done with, we spent a splendid evening. I told my sad stories and was given much sympathy from Mrs L and a lot of avuncular advice from Mr L.

He is a classic car and motorsport fan. He owned 38 classic vehicles in his time, culminating in his present treasures – a flawless factory rebuild, which is arguably the best Bond-era Aston of its type and a Mercedes formerly driven by David Coulthard. The Monaco Grand Prix is this weekend and he regaled me with stories of his experiences there as a guest of one of the team sponsors. I was very envious of his pit-walks and chats with famous drivers. When he was a teenager, he used to trespass at Silverstone, which is next to his old school, Stowe. His very first glass of champagne was given to him by the great Juan Manuel Fangio, who was celebrating the purchase of a couple of cars from Jack Brabham! He has both their autographs.

I really enjoyed looking at his pictures of all the cars he'd had. Understandably, he finds my 12 year loyalty to one vehicle odd. He had many interesting ideas about what I should now be driving.

I have hopes we'll now have more chances to spend time together. The L's are thinking of retiring and Mr L promised to "bother me" more in London when they visit their son. We also talked of going to Goodwood events together.

I am thinking – as part of the return to my old life after the dark era of COVID and divorce– that I might go again to MIPIM next year. Many people from my former real estate universe will be there. It  presents a great opportunity to catch up with many friends (including the Ls) in one beautiful place – and is the perfect excuse for more road trips to Cannes.

I only stopped going because it clashed with the Goodwood Members Meeting, which I started attending with my Dad after I retired. I am a huge fan of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a 260,000-visitor motorsport event, and used to go every year. My Dad was already too frail to cope in such massive crowds. The Members Meeting is restricted to members of the GRRC, so was perfect for him. We had good father/son moments there before he became too frail even for that. I went alone this year, but it was not the same. I will go to the Festival of Speed instead next year, making a return to my old haunts at MIPIM possible.

I had a small misadventure. I arrived home in the early hours and couldn't unlock the front door. I was preparing to sleep in the pool house before calling for help in the morning, but ventured a text to the local concierge to see if he was awake. Thankfully he was. He explained what I was doing wrong and I was able to sleep indoors!

My plan for today is to chill by the pool. I may venture out later for dinner or order my first French Deliveroo.

Days on tour involving recovery trucks are now down from a high of 50% to 28.5%. Long may that trend continue!


One of my favourite places in the world is the little village of Mougins, up in the hills above Cannes. It was the home of Picasso in his later years and is just ridiculously cute. If you have a mental image of the perfect French village, this is it (although St. Paul de Vence can give it a good run for its money). Every time I visit, I ask myself why I don't live there. Wiser friends who've looked into it less impulsively, tell me I shouldn't because of people like me – gawping tourists - who make it uncomfortable during the season.

20180609-Mougins etc-048

20180609-Mougins etc-048
20180609-Mougins etc-048
Old friends of mine live there and I shall dine with them tonight. Until then, I am just relaxing after the stresses of my unduly exciting journey. I am off to keep cool in the pool until it's time to get ready. 

Safe in Cannes

I breakfasted handsomely at my castle hotel in Italy, looking out at the splendid landscaped gardens, which must alone cost many thousands to maintain. I was alone for dinner in the restaurant last night and there was only one couple in the breakfast room this morning. I am a little puzzled as to the hotel’s business model, but I hope they keep making it work. It really is a beautiful place. There was some kind of banquet, complete with speeches and national anthems, there last night, so maybe the business is driven by events? Not that I have another marriage in mind, but it would be a marvellous wedding venue. 

Nira and I set off after breakfast to make our way to my friends’ home in Cannes. There was an accident on the autostrada on the way there, and I saw the cab of a large truck embedded in a tunnel wall when we eventually passed the spot. This incident caused us to come to a halt for half a hour or so while it was dealt with. I got to see how French and Italian drivers respond to being stationary on a motorway. Many got out, stretched their legs, sunned themselves and had picnics on their cars. 

They seemed quite relaxed about it. The two lanes of traffic had squeezed to the edges to allow the emergency service through with impressive efficiency. One burst of the leading cop car’s siren had us all manoeuvring helpfully. I feel sorry for the truck driver, but it was nice not to be the person in trouble today. 

After an otherwise uneventful run, I enjoyed the increasing familiarity of my surroundings as I neared my old haunts in Cannes. I updated my friends’ local concierge on my ETA by texting using Siri. We arrived at the door of their beautiful holiday home at almost precisely at the same time.

I am now ensconced in considerable luxury, having brought in my luggage, showered and taken a cooling dip in their pool. I hope, gentles all, you don’t feel too let down by such an uneventful travelogue! I’m afraid Nira and I will be working hard to keep it so! 

Goodbye Yoko

I had a great breakfast in Lucerne and set off in good spirits. The only nagging concern in my mind was that the blood/alcohol limit for driving in Switzerland is low and I'd had a skinful of wine and martinis the night before. Best not to get breathalysed eh?

Yoko (my hired Toyota) and I made good progress until, emerging from a tunnel in the Italian bit of Switzerland, something went bang. It turned out it was both tyres on the right side and I was running on metal! I pulled immediately into the hard shoulder, in a horribly exposed position, and called the Swiss emergency services number. A helpful guy on the telephone listened to my description of where I was, found me on a surveillance camera and despatched a squad car. The nice young policemen offered a menu of French, German, Italian and English. In English they then politely asked me to blow into a breathalyser. 

My Russian colleagues often observed that with such a big "organism" as they put it, I should be able to take more alcohol than most. It seems they might be right. I passed the test. Phew! The policemen waited until the recovery truck arrived and then escorted us back onto the motorway. All very Swiss as Toblerone and punctual trains, to be fair. 

Yoko’s penultimate journey

I had tried to contact the car hire company (as required by the contract) but none of the numbers on their contract slip worked. Eventually I thought to call their corporate office and was given a breakdown number in Switzerland that worked. I put the guy onto the policemen who – in one or other of their native languages – talked him through what was wrong, where we were and whose truck was on the way. I have only ever met a helpful cop in the States before. These Swiss ones even laughed when I observed I was 66 and today was the first time I'd ever been happy to see a policeman.


The car breakdown business seemed less shifty in Switzerland than my recent experience in Germany too. I guess it helps if you're summoned by the cops (although in Poland or Russia, the cop would be taking a markup). The repair business lived down to industry stereotype. The garage fitted the new tyres, took my money (later to be reimbursed by the car's owner) smilingly handed the keys back and said I shouldn't drive it far as the wheels were damaged and the tyres would come off again! Calmly I called the car hire contact and agreed it was safe to drive 50km to their nearest rental office, in Lugano, and swap Yoko for another car to proceed on my journey. The new car is a Kia ProCEED, so let's hope that's an omen. I've christened her Nira (Korean for Lily) and she's delivered me (about three hours later than planned) to today's overnight stop in Cervesina. 

It's magnificent and would have made a great Italian backdrop for a photo of Speranza. That was not to be however and Nira has to earn the right to feature in something better than an iPhone snap. 

Onwards to the South of France tomorrow. Let's hope I can steadily improve the percentage of journey days without a roadside recovery from its current 50%! 

To Luxembourg and back to Luxembourg again


Screenshot 2023-05-23 at 18.08.00Gentles all, this was my plan. In my first serious road trip for a long time, I aimed to visit seven good friends (five of whom I haven't seen since before COVID) and to begin to enjoy life again after a miserable period of which I have already said more than enough.

The first day was all I hoped for. Speranza sang. I drove through France and Belgium to Luxembourg and had nothing but pleasure from the day. 

I was warmly welcomed in Luxembourg and skilfully entertained. We then plotted a route that would maximise my time on unrestricted autobahn so I could try to max Speranza out. The prospect of this frivolous endeavour had already been cheering me up for weeks!

Next morning (yesterday) I said my farewells and went for it. I was 80km from my start when I opened her up and got to 150 mph. At this point, a VW pulled out and I had to brake hard. A July 4th of warning lights came on. ABS had failed. The CST (traction and stability control) had failed. Even the mannetino (the little switch that selects the drive mode) had failed.

The brakes worked and in driving terms all seemed well, but I decided I should pull over and check. In the two or three kilometres to the next parkplatz I noticed my left rear brake was making a weird clicking noise when applied.

IMG_4992I pulled in alongside the A1 autobahn. Restarting the engine reset the warning lights. Phew! That left the clicking noise, so I checked the left rear wheel and this is what I found. 

I sent the photo to my service guys in London and they advised me, under no circumstances, to continue. The brake discs are carbon-ceramic. In everyday driving this provides no real benefit. They don't stop better or quicker than metal ones. But they can withstand greater heat and that prevents stressed brakes "fading". 

They don't usually need replacing, which is a good job because they're ferociously expensive. They last for the lifetime of the car, which the industry assumes to be about 100,000 miles. Speranza has done 95,000 miles, so they've pretty much met specs. Like all carbon-fibre products, their integrity depends on an unbroken weave. Once a thread is broken, the whole thing can just fragment. It's one of the reasons we don't built carbon-fibre aeroplanes, an engineer once explained to me – though the weight/fuel economy advantage would be huge. 

The usual roadside recovery comedy ensued. An impressive looking local company with a very professional website and an adept manner - involving WhatsApp – of gathering location and other data to organise a breakdown truck, turned out to be a guy with the phone numbers of other guys with trucks. I was offered recovery yesterday at €900 or today at €350. All this was strung out over a couple of hours, leaving me stranded in a lay-by with no facilities while he assessed how much he could milk me for. Eventually, he promised to send a truck by 4pm, which could get me to the nearest Ferrari dealer (back in Luxembourg) before they closed at 6pm.

While I waited, I confirmed my service booking with the dealer, pushed back my next two hotel reservations a day, checked with my friend I could stay for a second night and kept my fingers crossed. A recovery truck showed up. A personable young German explained that he had been booked by wily website guy (WWG) at €200 less than the guy who was coming, but he'd then cancelled as he said I'd found someone else. Was this true, he asked? No it bloody wasn't,  I answered! Would I use him if he gave me €50 off for cash? Yes I would, I replied.

IMG_4997I called WWG but he hung up. He messaged me angrily to say I had to pay for "his" man who was 15 minutes away. I told him he could whistle as he'd cancelled a cheaper, quicker recovery for reasons about which it was best we didn't speculate.

It seems roadside recovery in Germany is just as dodgy as in England!

An hour later Speranza was in the hands of a maestro who confirmed what my guys in London had already told me. I left her in his safe Modena-certified hands and my new German "friends" dropped me back at my real friends' house. Before we headed out for a very pleasant evening, I booked a hire car to continue my journey. 

So I will now return to the Eurotunnel via Luxembourg to drop off  the hire car and pick up Speranza. I have yet to work out the details but will have plenty of time during my two stays in the South of France.

Today's journey in a humble Toyota (named "Yoko") was a joy. The pickup from the airport was easy and I fit well in the driver's seat. My iPhone connects to CarPlay, so I have my own music playlists and navigation tools.

I had a jolly run through France to the Swiss border, where I bought a second vignette (you can't detach them once affixed) so I could use the Swiss motorways. The policewoman who sold it to me was as dour as the stereotype would suggest and didn't laugh at my joke that – as I'd bought two – I should be able to drive twice as fast.

I am in a wonderful hotel overlooking Lake Lucerne. I brought the soon-to-be-ex Mrs P2 to this city on our honeymoon, but today I drove by the sights we saw that time and settled for the other side of the lake.

Tomorrow, I drive to Italy. If this sort of stuff is your thing, please watch this space.

Cannes 2023-1

On the road again

My political despair is too profound to blog on my once-usual subjects. The “deep state”in the UK has grown enormously under the “Conservatives” so they don’t now even serve as a brake on Britain’s crazed (and yet seemingly popular) lurch towards totalitarianism.

I carefully don’t say communism or socialism, because the idea of public ownership of the means of production remains unfashionable. The idea of state control of the use and application of capital, however, seems to have become the norm — for both major parties. Technically that’s not socialism but fascism, which is ironic as “fascist” is the preferred term of abuse for anyone who points it out. Hence my silence here. 

Despair has receded in my personal life, thank goodness. My divorce is a button press online away from final — and delayed only while Mrs P2 sorts out her work visa. It has disproved my lifelong theory that an amicable divorce is impossible. Both parties have conducted themselves admirably and, for myself, I must say the lady in question has even gone up in my estimation. I hope we will remain friends. My feelings for her are unchanged but — as a good classical liberal — I only want to be part of contractual relationships that are mutual, so have accepted my fate. 

I despaired personally not because of Wexit, but because the Misses Paine remained aloof. I’m happy to say that since Christmas a thaw has begun. Hope has resprung in your blogger’s breast and I have begun to turn outward again. I just wish Spring had come 40kg earlier!

As a step back toward my life as it was pre-lockdown and pre-Wexit, I’ve embarked on a continental road trip in Speranza. So The Last Ditch is back, but in travelogue mode.

Watch this space.