Friday, January 18, 2013

Club or Not to Club?

I've just renewed my Caravan Insurance, courtesy of the Caravan Club and that got me thinking, do I need to continue my membership of the club? What do I actually get for my money?

Access to Caravan Club sites, yes, but through 2011 I think that I only used a CC site once, they tend to be a little expensive for those of us looking for a site over a longer period. I did use CL sites on more than one occasion, finding the quieter, 5 van sites more to our liking, but I was only asked if I was a CC member once. I don't use the forum on the CC website, I prefer the one on the Practical Caravan site, using it quite often to answer a question I might have, and finding the folks on there friendly and helpful.

I've also looked at the Camping and Caravanning Club, not realising, until this year, that there was a distinction until we spent a weekend near Dunbar and were exploring other potential sites to stay. We looked at a C&CC site, where we were informed that the prohibitive site charge was because we were not members, but could join on the spot if we cared to. I asked at the time what the distinction was, and was informed that at one time both clubs were one and the same. The C&CC see themselves as the friendly club, and also one that is equally welcoming to people with tents.

Both club memberships come with a monthly magazine, but, again, I prefer Practical Caravan magazine. Membership in both run at about £40 per year - I've even thought that there might be an advantage in joining both. However I'm no nearer answering my own question, hmmmm, need to do some thinking and a little more investigation, before making a decision.

I know you've had snow at home, and as usual the UK news reports seem to suggest it is only one step away from Armageddon. Here in France we were quite lucky, but yesterday saw a flurry that disappeared as quickly as it came, however 5 to 6 inches fell over night, with no sign of stopping. The forecast is suggesting that temperatures are set to fall to around minus 12 tonight.  The French don't seem the slightest bit concerned and it isn't even figuring in the news. I've just heard the snow plough outside, and that is despite the fact we live on a really narrow lane, there is a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Joy of a Right-Hand Drive Car in France..Part One

We're in France for the winter, but I've told you that already of course, sorry for being boring.

Now, just in case you were wondering, they drive on the wrong side of the road here! How on earth did we, the British, let that happen? After all much of France was under English rule during the Middle-Ages, and when the French took exception to that we had to teach them the error of their ways at Agincourt. Wellingon did it again throughout the Peninsular campaign, fighting the last battle just outside Toulouse, (which is apt, more in a moment), and when they still didn't get the message, he did it again at Waterloo. So I think, I'll start  my own online petition, "Those individuals defeated in battle by the British, should drive on the left". Look out for the link shortly.

All this has a point though. Mrs SA needed to return her son to school and our nearest airport is Toulouse, (seamless link). So yesterday morning, saw us pulling into a frighteningly efficient multistory car-park at the airport. I'd done my homework, the car-parks are designated P1, P2 etc. P1 being the most expensive with the shortest stay time allowed, rising as we go. Not rocket science. I'd opted for P2, noting that it would just take the Landrover with about 10cms to spare, as proved the case. When you enter the car-park the lights were dim, but brightened as the car drove through. Lit green arrows on the ceiling above, directed you to the nearest available space. Any space that was occupied had a red light showing above it, with green lights above the vacant one's, making parking as simple as it possibly could be.

The terminal was equally efficient, but slightly bereft of coffee facilities on the cheap side of security. Clearly the French don't want people to wait around. So having waved Mrs SA off I skipped gaily back to the waiting car, (does anybody do that anymore), with the prospect of 3 days on my own lounging in front of the fire watching porn old black and white films and eating chocolate.

I started the car and headed for the barrier, and that's where the trouble began. The barriers were no different to those you might experience at Edinburgh Airport, so as I approached I stopped slightly short in order to leave room for me to walk around the front of my car to insert the ticket. This initially failed because my car wasn't far enough forward, so back into it I went to pull it forward to receive the not unexpected message, "s'il vous plaît insérer votre billet". Back around to the ticket machine, insert my validated ticket, (4 euros for 45 minutes, not too bad), the barrier rose. Back around to the drivers side and as I went to climb in the barrier closed. Climb back out, but a blank screen at the barrier meant that the machine assumed that I had left. Reversing the car and driving forward again brought the machine to life, and round to it I trekked again. This time when I went to enter my ticket I was greeted with, "s'il vous plaît valider votre billet", those cunning French, they never trust anyone, obviously I was trying to get two vehicles through the barrier for the price of one!

No choice for it, I would have to press the green button for assistance. Now, I'm not a betting man, but what odds would you offer me that they hadn't been watching my antics on CCTV, laughing at the stupid "rosbif". If I end up on Youtube, there'll be trouble.

My French is definitely not up to solving this, so I uttered the phrase I hate most, "Excusez-
moi monsieur, mais parlez-vous anglais". It's an admission of failure - Mrs SA starts virtually 
every conversation with "je suis anglais" - come on, that's a qualification, not an excuse!
Of course the attendant on the other end could speak English. Can you imagine a
Frenchman landing at Glasgow International and expecting "Wee Tam" the NCP chap on
the tannoy to be able to speak French - actually, if you were english you'd struggle to be 
understood. I explained the problem, and he asked me to move my car. 
He panicked slightly when I reversed, because the barrier behind had dropped into place. 
I was then instructed to insert my ticket, but I explained that this was not possible, as I had 
been through this once already. And there in lies the rub - the French are a suspicious lot 
and clearly I was trying to get a free pass. There was a degree of confusion on both our 
parts as he asked me for the number on the ticket - but which one? Eventually I read out 
the write one then answered some questions - what time did I arrive? How much did I pay
etc and eventually he let me out. I managed to shout a "Merci Monsieur" through the 
passenger window before making my escape. 

Less than 40 minutes later I faced the same problem again as I transited the A68 
Autoroute, a section of which is "à péage". Although this time, once I had inserted
my debit card and the barrier had risen, allowed me enough time to get back in my
vehicle and continue my journey, and at just under 2 euros for 68 kms of trouble 
free motorway driving is worth every penny.

I wonder how my Caravan is getting on, in all that rain and snow?

"bonne route"