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

Going home

Screenshot 2023-06-05 at 09.55.06
My friend is going to drive me to Luxembourg Station at 1215 to catch the 13:11 train to Brussels. I have a carry-on sized wheelie case from which I plan to hang my bigger grab bag full of (now mostly dirty) clothes. My heavy camera outfit (complete with tripod) is in a backpack and I have a laptop bag to hang on my shoulder.

I shall be quite the beast of burden today, but goodness knows this trip has taught me how much I need the exercise. My post-Wexit self-neglect did a lot of damage.

In Brussels I have an hour and twenty-nine minutes to transfer my burdens to the 15:27 Eurostar to London. I am required to be there sixty minutes before "check-in" (how pretentious – it's a choo-choo train, FFS) so that gives me an ample half-hour for haulage.

I shall then have a more or less relaxing (I'm in the cheap seats) trip of just two hours and four minutes to St Pancras for 19:00 (thanks to the time difference) and an Uber home to Chiswick. I should be home by about 20:00, deo volenti.

Fingers crossed that I finish the trip at my target percentage of just 18.75% "rescue days". At least, if one of the trains breaks down, I won't have to negotiate a recovery truck with some dodgy local!

I am no fan of public transport of any kind and rather dread the prospect of a day in the hands of unionised and probably Communist public employees, but it's nice sometimes to be irresponsible. Let's hope the train drivers don't feel the same way.

Update 1: the gods of engineering strike again.

My scheduled train to Brussels is cancelled. I catch the next one — an hour later and may well not make my connection. I have an “attestation” from Luxembourg Railways of my innocence in being late which should snag me a new ticket on a later Eurostar if necessary. I’m not calling this a rescue yet as I don’t expect public transport to work anyway. 
In the meantime, lunch  

Update 2: the gods of bureaucracy extort their tribute

Belgium passing byDo I even need to say I missed my connection? The train from Luxembourg lingered at each little station en route. It was a pretty run but the thought of the grief awaiting me at Brussels Midi Station preyed on my mind. I had to rush to the check in just in case but my train had gone.

Even if it hadn't, I was sixty sweaty, miserable minutes from the waiting area for the next one. I spoke to a staff member who directed me to the desk to change my ticket. With the aid of my attestation that went well enough. I asked if I could go to the gents before I proceeded. It was too late and the next ones were at the other end of a long security pantomime. She took pity on me and put me into the fast track. God help the poor losers in the slow track! 

I am old experienced enough to remember when countries only worried about the people arriving. The Brussels police took an age to decide it was ok for me to leave their country. I wish they'd put them to work fixing lethal potholes instead, but their gaff their choice.

Then the security theatre began. The bags their sister company would have left unexamined in the boot of my car (I've had three random checks in twenty years of using LeShuttle) were examined at length by people who'd done badly at school. 

Then a line for British Immigration to pretend they control our borders. Hundreds of Albanian cocaine-dealers must have landed on our beaches while I submitted to this farce. The automated passport control never works for me. Sure enough the robot invited me to "seek assistance". A grumpy Belgian Eurostar lady waved me into the middle of the manual check queue.

This caused a minor international incident as a group of Chinese Communist Party members (I lived there, remember? I recognise their style) took hearty Marxist exception to the Belgian lady's attempt to cut me in. I asked politely if they were all together and waved them through. At the same time I gave a Paddington Bear hard stare to the gentleman behind them so he'd do me the same courtesy. 

The family ahead of the Chinese was complicated. Each of their three kids had a different passport. Father got grumpy with the officer whose hackles visibly rose. Mother pushed him back and grovelled until bureaucratic pride was satisfied.

One further sweaty and unpleasant queue later I was on the train and deploying my luggage around the various racks. I must look a mess, but the ordeal is over. Provided the engineering gods leave this nineteenth century tech alone, I shall soon be at St Pancras looking for a ride home. 

I really hate trains. And it seems I hate them more if they're run by idiots trying to pretend they're spaceships. Lighten up, Fat Belgian Controller. It's just a bloody choo choo. 

It was not fun today, but – if I am spared a taxi breakdown on the way from St Pancras – I am claiming my 18.75%. Result!

Update 3: London is cheap

No, of course in general it isn't, but £36 was enough to take me – not in an Uber but in a London taxi that has to compete with Uber – 7.8 miles from St Pancras to home. In Luxembourg yesterday, it cost £65.47 to go 6 miles from the airport to my friends' house. There's the power of competition for you. In Luxembourg the government, lobbied by taxi drivers, has banned Uber. There is no legitimate reason to license service providers to rip people off, so perhaps it's best not to speculate was the actual reason was?

I had a nice chat with my London cabbie and was safely back home by 8.40pm. The trip is over – at least until I return for Speranza and use the return portion of my Eurotunnel ticket. What a ride it has been!

Last driving day

All went well on the way to my meh hotel in Dijon yesterday. I had left the booking too late because I was hoping to stay longer in Bandol if a couple days delay allowed the dealer to fix Speranza. Once it was clear I’d need to go home and return to Luxembourg later, I decided to stick to my original schedule. The American chain hotel was all that was available on short notice. It was like being in the States but with grumpy staff. The French do good customer service usually, but these guys seemed ashamed to have betrayed their country by signing up to serve “fries with everything.” It was forgettable and I already regret the time wasted on this paragraph!

IMG_1828I decided to breakfast en route and hit the road as soon as I’d showered and dressed. In the end I paused for a leisurely brunch.

My hosts in Luxembourg were returning from a holiday themselves and were not due home until 2pm so I replaced what would usually have been a Ferrari dash with a Kia saunter. It was a pleasant and relaxing journey through Bourgogne and onwards. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was picturesque and I actually found myself singing along to my driving playlist, while allowing the adaptive cruise control to keep me broadly legal.

Nira and I arrived at 1440, unloaded my luggage at my friends’ home and spent a couple of hours relaxing in their garden before heading to the airport to hand her back to Hertz by the 6pm deadline.

Annyeong, Nira

Their guy told me the likely approach to the costs I’d incurred when Yoko broke down would be that I’d be reimbursed for the recovery truck but have to pay for the repairs from my €1,300 insurance excess. That was better than I hoped and so I went cheerily (if expensively — wow, the Luxembourg taxi drivers lobbying to ban Uber has paid off!) back to my friends’ home for espresso martinis, a delightful meal and a lot of chat and reminiscence.

The percentage of trip days requiring recovery or rescue is 20% as of today, Sunday. Let’s hope the Eurostar doesn’t break down! If it arrives without problem and my onward Uber gets me safely home the final trip percentage should be 18.75% tomorrow. 

Thanks for coming along for the ride, gentles all.

Autoroute du Soleil

On Thursday evening, after learning a little about French justice from my friend’s account of his visit to the family court with his ex wife and their daughter, we set off for dinner in another little yacht/fishing port of which I had never heard.

It was just as pretty as the better-known ports of the Côte d’Azur but entirely free of tourists. Just French families going about their leisurely business (and a Russian accountant on her way to being French, her Big Four company having found her a job here). Monsieur D seems intent on confirming every English stereotype about the French by chatting to every pretty girl he meets. On this occasion, as on all the others I’ve witnessed, his charm was well received (though with a pointed mention of the lady’s fiancé before he turned it up too high).

Yesterday, we had crepes for lunch in yet another unknown (to me) seaside town. This one was a tad more touristy, but still relaxed and charming. After a little tour of the local vineyards, we returned to Bandol and — ignoring the droning speech being made by the local mayor to a nearby boatful of voters in shorts and floaty dresses — had a drink and a chat before hauling my unfit organism back up the hill to where we’d parked. The anticipation of that climb had taken the edge off my enjoyment of my pastis, if I’m honest. 

Today I rose early for some online chores in the metaverse of which I am a long-term citizen. Then after breakfast on the terrace, and a last look for a while at the Mediterranean, I loaded Nira up for the journey home. 

IMG_1827I overnight at Dijon tonight, deo volenti. It’s nice to be back on the familiar Autoroute du Soleil, on which Speranza (and before her Vittoria and Claudia’s I and II) and I have so often driven in the past 20 years. There’s something to be said for the anonymity of a Kia. I haven’t had the usual paranoid sense of being juicy prey for the gendarmes. She ProCEEDs amiably enough, with no fuss and the benefit of electronic driver-aids of which Speranza can only dream. I’m sure she’d disdain them anyway. 

Tomorrow I head back to Luxembourg. Speranza is not ready, alas. Modena entirely failed to deliver the parts ordered on the day of my incident, so work has not even begun. Ferrari seems unaware that any of its owners actually use their cars. So many are, after all, mere showpieces. 

I will return home by train from Luxembourg on June 5th and come back again when Enzo’s heirs finally extract their elegant digits from wherever they keep them warm. It’s going to be a tough journey with a carful of luggage I never expected to be heaving into a rack on a train. 


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Monsieur D., with whom I lunched in Antibes last Sunday, lives in Bandol near Toulon. Yesterday I left the home in Cannes of my Polish friends and drove here to stay with him. It was the shortest drive of the trip and passed uneventfully. Having parked Nira at our home for the next few days, we set off in his car with his chocolate Labrador (one of the friendliest and calmest dogs I've ever met) for a quick tour of the town, a walk on the beach and a coffee by the sea.

Ring finger - 1He's engaged in a big deal at the moment and spent a lot of time talking and texting. So I checked my email at the café and read a notification from the Family Court that had arrived while I was driving. My divorce from Mrs PII was final. I confess it was a sad moment. I took off my wedding ring and sent her a photo of it on the café table alongside my finger, marked by its absence. My caption said "Now we are exes" and she replied "and friends." I guess that's about as well as a divorce can go. Still, I was glad to be with a friend when the news came through. His presence (and my male pride) kept me stoic.

In between his afternoon business calls and over our evening bouillabaisse in a local restaurant where he's a regular, we talked about business, our industry and our lives. We discussed his own – far worse – experiences with two divorces. He has a court hearing today about custody in the aftermath of the latest one so it's still fresh – and bitter. He received a couple of calls and a stream of texts yesterday from his ex. It was a reminder that things could have been far worse for me.

More entertainingly, we discussed the relative merits of his current girlfriends, one of whom (bless his optimism) he thinks might be "the one". If that makes him sound naive, that's misleading. His approach was rational, practical and entirely devoid of romanticism. In my life, I have had such discussions about which car I might buy next, discussing their relative merits and how they might suit me, but never about women. I remember worrying endlessly before each of my marriages whether I could make my wives happy. I never asked what was in it for me. Like some dumb teenager in a pop song, I just fell thoughtlessly in love. Everything else (in truth, most important parts of my life) I trusted stupidly (or, let's be kind, romantically) to "fate."

My friend's ruthlessly evaluative French approach has still led him twice into trouble and strife so God knows what hell awaits if ever I trust my naive lack of judgement again! I wish him (and all my friends) well in the quest for a perfect relationship,  but I am setting myself the simpler task of learning to live happily alone. To know your limitations is, after all, the beginning of wisdom.

While he's in court today, I shall take the opportunity to catch up with neglected commitments elsewhere. I shall rest quietly in his home in preparation for another un-but-should-be accustomed walk with his dog later.

Percentage of days on tour involving a rescue is now down to 27%.