Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Bad Road Trip (Part Three)

Daylight, raining some, back on the autopista (or whatever the french call them, you know freeways/motorways, whatever). As I had free internet I googlemapped Le Mans and confirmed that, yes, of course, I could continue by getting back on the same place I got off the day before. Obvious, really, but by now I'm feeling a little paranoid about details. I really can't afford for anything to go wrong.

There's a little fretting and concentration as I make sure I'm pushing on in the right direction. The sort of thing that goes, 'yes, it's okay to head for Orleans because Tours is also on the sign' but after a while I'm confident I'm set of Tours and after a while I'm seeing Bordeaux on the signs and a green E05 and it's the E05 and I know I'm fine right the Spanish border. Yay. And all I have to do is stay on this road. I have slight misgivings about Bordeaux as I've driven round it, in inadvertently into it, once before. But all fine for now. Tours, Poitiers, and I'm kind of tired and for some reason decide it's okay to drive in Bordeaux at night.

I still recognise some things, though, so it's okay. Big arc of bridge, check. Funny kind of looks-like-it-should-be-something-else bridge, check. Follow the E05. It's fine. It's fine. And the signs are less than ideal, but I come up to a turn off for the E05 that looks like it might be the turn or should be the turn but it looks dark and poky and uninviting and... I decide on the spur of the moment to come back onto the ringroad because surely that dingy little thing can't be the main drag south from here....

But it is, because the E05 doesn't show anywhere and, oh, nuts. Bordeaux. Did it again. Off into a gas station and park up. Buggrit. I need a map of Bordeaux. I'm done guessing. Well they have a map, and coffee because I want to buy the right to point at the map and ask where the heck am I on this map? Just after te turn I wanted? Oh. Perfect.

The people are sweet and one has some Spanish so we are fine. I'm glad because the last thing my tired brain wants to do is strain to hear and grasp any French. My brain likes Spanish fine, but won't cooperate with Spanish. For the record, it also does German fine. Odd, I know, but that's just the way it is.

Anyway, I decide I'm too tired to go on and I'm going to sleep in the car. Inside the ringroad, Bordeaux, despite the associative name, looks very seedy. I remember the centre looking pretty run down when I accidentally drove into it years ago, and the ringroad looks just as grim. Not my first choice of place to sleep but it's a gas station and there are cameras and just over a barrier there are a few trucks with the drivers doing the same as me. Head down and snooze. It's coldish and not that comfortable and I more snatch naps than sleep, but it's okay. I've slept less comfortable and colder places, though not in recent history. Dawn rolls around seemingly slowly and I know that there is a cambio de sentido ... which reminds me. A truck driver once phoned me for directions to a small town in southern Spain. He said "I'm somewhere near Cambio de Sentido, must be a big place because I'm seeing it everywhere. Anyway, I don't want to get back on the ringroad and the map says I can come of at the next exit into some backroads that will take me round the block to the road I'm on.

The map lies. Or, more accurately, it is less than entirely truthful. For an hour or so I follow the map through the suburbs of Bordeax. Through Gradingnan, through the nice suburb of Canejan, and really quite pleasant suburb of Cestus (yes, a fighting claw, which strikes me as an odd name for a town but probably it means something else in French) and there are no roads that link to the 1010 which I know from the map will take me to the E05 which is, you may remember, where I want to be. The map suggests there might be but non. Still, it's pleasant enough and I am once again struck by how little road traffic there seems to be in France - it's something I've noticed before but never investigated. Maybe it's just that the country is big and people more spread out. Whatever. I head on to Le Barp and soon find myself presented with a sign to the desired E05 and make it back on without issue and relax.

It's easy from here, I know. I'm still putting gas in the tank in dribs and drabs because available funds are tight. The sun comes out for the first time and it's warm and pleasant enough and I keep running figures in my head and I'm not going to make it. It's somewhere round Bayonne where I'm absolutely sure I just don't have enough to put in the tank to make the distance. The guides are rubbish, the mileage of the Jeep isn't close to what the book says, whatever.

Well, just after Bayonne I come off at a gas station and there's nothing else to do but phone Jane, the best person I know, my editor, my friend and one best wife imaginable. We are still close. Still friends. Friends for ever. And, as I know will, Jane drops a couple of hundred bucks into my account and I relax some. I'm back to probably going to make it and I'm close to the border, so I chill a little, invest in a bottle of water so I stop dehydrating and take the advice to actually eat something. A cheap packet of cookies.

Next day I stop for gas somewhere and the guy speak Spanish and though I overrun the meter by a couple of cents he shrugs and just takes the note with a causal 'forget the few cents, dude' - I would put that in Spanish but I forget exactly what he actually said and don't want to make something up without being obvious about it (if that makes sense to anyone I'll be surprised). I relax a good deal at this. In Spain I know how things work. In Spain I can do stuff to fix problems.

Which is just as well.

And my time is up. Back to work. And the work is going fine. I think it's going to be a very productive year.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Bad Road Trip (Part Two)

Where did I leave us? Oh, yeah. Right there.

I'd had just enough credit on my phone to try and go through the long process of saying 'yeah, it's okay, it's me, and I'd run out during the helpful bank listing things I'd paid and cash I'd taken. Incomplete, but I had given passwords on a multiple choice basis. Incomplete, though, so I was concerned when I came off the toll road at Le Mans.

Of course, had a human been involved they might ave though something along the lines of "Oh, look, he booked the Channel Tunnel with the card so he's likely to be in France then, isn't he? No worries." But no. No human involved and the usual mess for software.

Okay, so I'm just off the toll road, just off a roundabout, in an paligano... I mean industrial estate, or whatever you habitually call this kind of area. No gas station in sight, no ATM in sight, but I'm stopped, parked, thinking. It's raining some so it's jacket on and a quick walk about to see without stress what the signs say and try and figure out my next move. Still no gas station and no ATM, both of which I want even though I suspect both will be useless to me. But one thing at a time, right?

I toy with the idea of walking further to investigate but decide, sod it, I'll drive but short exploratory moves. In short, all plans aside, I follow my nose. Back onto what I suspect is a ringroad(ish) kind of thing and then off again by instinct. A little ways through more paligano, then stop, pause think. Hmmm, nothing looks good here, so back the way I came and there's a way under the ringroad. Instinct again, yes. Then a road up to a Restaurant and again, instinct, yes. I'm sure going to have to talk to someone and get directions and this will do nicely.

The guy behind the bar has some English, which is handy as my French is so bad as to be useless. I express my desire for an ATM and gas station in the same place. "Ocean," he says, emphatically. "Shopping centre," or words to that effect. A Mall, in other words. Just the job, I think as I try and interpret his pointing figure. Roughly the way I was going before I came into the Restaurant. Yay. I hope it's not far as I've no idea what fuel is left in the Cherokee (it runs for ages on empty but it already has, so.... who knows?).

I drop back down to the road, follow the way I was going round a corner. More Paligano. A roundabout and I decide I'll go straight on, intuition again. And another one. Same same. And there it is. "Auchen" it says in big bold letters tacked on the side of a Mall. There's a gas station and a big carpark so I nod and sigh to myself and park up.

I'm not leaving here without gas.

No matter what happens. I'm no stuck with what I have available right here. ATM. Gas Station. It aint gunna get any better. Stay put. Solve the problem here.

But I'm cautiously pessimistic (not optimistic, truly) as I wonder into the Mall and look around for an ATM and find one and find... use of this card is suspended.

Ok, good. Now I need a phone. I have five bucks in my pocket in change (no idea why, I just do. I guess I must have bought something other than gas with cash but I have no idea what at this point and sure don't remember now). The phones I find are no cash card only type phones. Perfect.

Sit around and wait for someone to call me and see how things are doing? It is to laugh. That could be days. No cash, no water, no food, no shelter but the Jeep. And boredom boredom boredom ... nope. Not liking that idea.

Well, I have five bucks so maybe I can get some credit on my phone. Nope. I knew that but it was worth a try. Same company but nope, we can't charge a foreign phone here, even if we are the same company (thanks Orange, you're so cool I could drop you in a vodka and be happy). I have a Spanish chip I used a few months ago but... it has no credit on it either. So, more trogging up and down. More thinking. I need credit on my phone, contact with the outside world. What are the alternatives? Abandon the Jeep and start walking? Head for where? Paris, maybe where I can find the Consulate maybe and get repatriated to an airport probably with no cash to call anyone so it would be a long walk from the airport to somewhere useful.... and I don't like this idea. It isn't a solution as I'd have to re-jig money and come get the jeep and continue.

In any case, I'm lucky. I have my laptop and when I spot a small sign saying Free WiFi I know I'm in with a shout. I have a bad battery in the laptop but there just might be time to send one email if I can get into the system fast, into my emails fast and write and send fast. Maybe.


Big sigh. In some parts of the world free wifi all over is taken for granted, but not here. Relief and despondency and swearing are the order of events. Close. Real close. But no cigar. Yet... this is the answer. I need somewhere to plug into power and keep the laptop juiced and send out an SOS

There's a cafe and I wonder in, waving the plug and asking if there's a socket I can use. The guy is cool about it and points one out with a 'hell yes, of course, no worries' air that I like very much. Problem solved, bar the waiting. I sit and send out some SOS's of the 'hey, can someone please put some credit on my phone so I can get this dumb thing sorted?'

I also get into my online banking page, find who to bitch to and bitch away. Phone twice, fraud prevention squad, because you don;t know what's happening on the end of the phone and this is your customer who could be in any situation and you know what the first rule of business is? Don't try and kill your customers. Don't put hem at risk. They don't much like it as a rule. Asshats.

I also think they might get the message (action required section(s) is filed in No.1 "Reactivate my card. NOW!" But what happens first is some credit kindly put on my phone by a well loved family member. Yay. I call the fraud squad. They fix it. Card works. Double yay!

The gas station only takes credit cards (not my sole debit card) and there won;t be anyone to take cash until the next morning, nine hours away. Booo.

But I have cash ... that I dare not spend because I'm doing this on a shoestring budget and I'm still in northern France and unsure I have enough funds available for gas to get there. In fact, I rather doubt it.

Turns out my doubts are justified and I don't, but that's to tell another day. I'll leave it there for now.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bad Road Trip

It became necessary to move a Jeep (the call it a Limited Edition Cherokee but I've seen hundreds of them) from the UK to Spain. It is a Spanish Jeep and not much use in the UK, and that was surely part of the reason. It turned out there was no one else to move it but me, and I more or less wanted to be in Spain anyway.

Simples. I'd drive it. No problem.

Okay, I knew I had a very limited budget because... weelll, these days I always have a very limited budget. Still, I did some research, found the tank size and milage of the vehicle, did a route planner thing on line, saw it was possible. It looked possible. I knew it was going to be tight and when I rolled up in southern Spain at the destination town (ish) of Malaga I would be doing it on fumes. Still, I'm brave and strong. Nothing could go wrong that I couldn't deal with.

I won't go into details about what money was in my account, but think 'not much' and then halve that figure. It was always going to be tight, even if all the figures were bang on the money. No room for error. No room at all. I was going to be sleeping in the Jeep, just for example, right from the start. I had no plans to eat. Eating wasn't in the budget. I'd done the trip before, from Roscoff having taken a ferry from Plymouth. In a classic mini. Heads down mindless boogie, stopping only for fuel, 80mph all the way, twenty-hours none stop driving. It was fine, except the boredom and fatigue and the storm that started before Granada and had wrecked Malaga. I stopped after seeing three parallel cars in a ditch on the road from Granada to Malaga with the weather in mid storm. I slept in the Mini in a Gasilonaria carpark. Drove on in the morning and wimbled around malaga trying to find a road out that hadn't been washed out. Then I had credit-cards and spare cash and frankly didn't care much what happened. No stress except that which I put on myself. It was almost fun. Almost.

The first part of the Cherokee trip went well. M5, A303, M3, M25... well, the M25 is the ring road around London and it sucks. Not as bad as Paris, which is not as bad as Bordeaux, which is better in many ways than Madrid, but I get ahead of myself.

The M25 is where I had to speed up some from my gas saving 50mph as much as possible target speed. I didn't want to burn gas and the M25 made me. Bad M25. Then the M whatever to the Channel Tunnel. I stopped for fuel by guesswork one off-ramp early and had to go ask directions for the gas station in a pub (bar) bur didn't stay for a drink. I was on schedule and didn't want to blow it. More gas, then, next off ramp and a new experience.

The Channel Tunnel is great. It's brilliant. Cheap (£65-£70 for a one way trip). The getting on experience is easy, the ride is smooth and almost pleasant and best of all, short.

Anyone who has driven long distances knows that the bulk of all thought is focused on the next right road going to the next right town and I'll spare you the boring details. The first part of the trip was night driving and easy enough, No one pushing me for speed. i pulled in somewhere and slept, then pushed on the next day. Lots of looking at gauges - fuel! - and fretting. If anything went wrong I knew I had no budget to fix it. I wanted very badly for nothing to go wrong. My plan was to nurse it through France, where gas is expensive, and chill through Spain. I put in €20's and €30's of gas and ran lots on empty - knowing that I had 'a bunch of miles' before empty really meant empty. The Cherokee is an automatic so I really didn't want to run out of fuel, but I really didn't want to put much in at a time either. Slow for max fuel economy and never much fuel in it.

Yeah, this was getting to be fun already. Oil, Fuel, Temp, road, signs, repeat. Give up the fight for non-toll roads, as my powers of concentration and decision making weren't up to it and I'd waste more gas than I'd save in tolls. Forget it. Stay on the main drag. So I did and all was well. I could see my budget stretching fine already. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it. May I would, though.

It was Ruen where things got interesting. The freeway/motorway/toll road just ended. No warning, some cones and a divert into Ruen (I'm pretty sure it was Ruen and I missed that it sounded like Ruin). In traffic, trusting my instincts to take me to the next road I needed as I sure hadn't planned on this (though it always seems to happen that I get diverted into a town somehow) the phone rings. I'm in traffic, strange town, hunting for the exit sigh which must must must be in the right direction and I don;t want to burn fuel in the town) so I don't even think about answering it.

I find my way out easy enough, more luck than judgement, but that's normal for me and I don't sweat it. I'm on a road that goes the right way after a little complexity and I have fuel. I continue to Le Mans, where I am now low on fuel and thinking to press on to the next gas station but... the read gets complicated with junctions and I'm suddenly done making decisions. I pull out and drop into the edge of Le Mans, knowing I need gas (I've been on empty a good while) and pull up just of a roundabout in a (place that's more warehouses than anything else - small business - there are words but none of them in any language are coming to mind right now). And I stretch, think about how I'm to find a gas station without too much running around as I don;t want to run out of fuel in traffic, and check my phone.

I missed call, one message. The message is my very nice bank telling me to call them at once as my card may be spending money without me. It hasn't been, of course, but they have suspended my card until I confirm I'm me.

Small problem. No credit on my phone. *sigh* Well, I have a Spanish chip and planned to swap and I'm working on a budget, you know? Pointless now as I have no cash, no fuel, and no functioning card.

What fun.

I think I have to leave it there for now - I'll let you know what happened next in par two. Right now I have stuff to do that needs doing and there is, as is often the case, only me to do it. So, have fun thinking about what you would do next. I know I did.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sapphire and Sumto: Two Books To Come

I've been looking around for the story to the next Sumto book for a while. I knew what pattern was needed and had a few ideas about what I might want to deal with next but the story wasn't there. I was even nosing around in roughly the right places for it but still couldn't smell it out. I guess I was too tied up in other things so I couldn't think the way I need to for this series. I did plan and plot half a dozen other books that I want to write but didn't have the next TPOF story... until I did.

I just spent a five days driving across Europe to move a car from where it was to where it was needed; basically a family thing. I was doing it on a shoestring budget and every decision was critical. I won't go into details here, though one day I might, but suffice it to say that is was very stressful, slow, long nasty risky journey. I made it. And as soon as my conscious mind relaxed a little, just on the last familiar stretch and sure that no matter what happened I would get where I was going (baring a fatal crash or something horrid) an my sub-conscious decided it would be cool to let me know what it had been doing while I was busy. Two novels dropped into my head pretty much entire.

Book Five (Book one of sequence 2, if you see what I mean): This is from Sapphire's point of view. His story of what happens to him in the north and what the consequences are. Some of the motives of others, Sumto's father for one, and some details that straighten out apparent kinks in the story so far. Most of it, of course, will be Sapphire doing what he does. We will see into his mind, and ... well, you'll see.

Book Six: This back to Sumto and will pick up at the end of his year in Exile. What he has been doing will be made clear enough but the focus will immediately be what he is doing 'now' - that being immediately I the moment where we leave off with Sapphire at the end of book Five.

I haven't yet looked round for the story to book seven (book 3 in the new sequence) but am certainly now toying with the idea of writing Jocasta's story. I'd like to and I think she deserves it. Also, it is now possible having set the precedent of changing POV's to people other than Sumto. We will see.

Speed is what you will want to know about if you are reading this. I think these two books will come along quite fast. I'm already happily into book five (one) and it's going well. It could be as little as a couple of months. I think that's most likely. In any case it will be as fast as I can make it.