Thursday, 31 March 2016

Spring has truly sprung in the Perigord

We have moved northwards again and are now at the
beautiful Camping Le Bois du Coderc which is at Antonne et Trigonant in the Perigord. The site itself is green and wooded - as you might expect from its name - and, after the practically flat camping pitches, slopes down to the river L'Isle. Despite being in the ACSI book so well publicised to off-season travellers, it is very peaceful here, perhaps because it's not on the main migration routes. Yesterday we were disturbed by fighter planes looping overhead for half an hour or so, but the soundscape is mostly birdsong and nothing else! We heard our first cuckoo of the year as well as a woodpecker, and skylarks high in the perfectly blue sky.

French prices are still shockingly above long-stay Spanish prices so our €16.50 a night seems steep, but that does include free and good quality wifi across the site. The shower block is pretty good too. I love that there are hand stencilled bluebells and ivy fronds painted onto the walls. The showers have plenty of warm water, but they could be hotter! There are several bookcases in Reception which I am looking forward to browsing through. I've got Sophie's World to swap and am waiting for Dave to finish The Herring Seller's Apprentice. The restaurant-bar is closed up (and the ping pong tables folded away) even though several of the static caravans here seem to be occupied on a long-term basis. That is one thing we have noticed about French campsites in the low season - the ones that stay open throughout the year all seem to have more long-stay residents going off to work every day than they do leisure tourers like us.

Reception lent us a photocopied map of the local area from
River L'Isle past the campsite 
which we managed a two hour walk on our first evening here. Having only intended a half hour stroll, we hadn't bothered with water, hiking poles or proper boots so got our trainers a bit muddy along the riverside path, ourselves a bit thirsty climbing uphill through forest, and Dave a bit of backache after an hour. However we saw loads of yellow cowslips, some pale mauve violets and our first bluebells. There were wide fields of rapeseed flowers already in full bloom with that distinctive sweet scent. The villages seem more of strung out communities than clusters, and several of the smaller houses looked more like holiday homes. The older big stone-built houses are probably farms, or ex-farms. One was 'a vendre' and we loved its sky-blue shutters. It had five bedrooms and was somewhat out of budget though (we looked it up!). Another disappointment was arriving just one day to late to sign up for the local hunting society's steak and chips night - the posters made it look good.

We hope to visit the nearby town of Perigueux tomorrow for a spot of history and culture, and will stay on here a full week before moving on again. Hopefully we can get more walking and maybe even a bike ride.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Nestle thinks a public right to water is 'extreme'. Story Of Stuff disagrees and so do I

I recently discovered the Story Of Stuff project which is an
American initiative, but one with a global message and hopefully a global reach. Basically their philosophy is to preserve, repair, reuse and recycle, enabling our planet to sustain us all. Sounds great, if a tad utopian, but many of their ideas are so stunningly simple, anyone can get involved saving themselves money in the process.

A current campaign discusses our clean water and the modern trend to buy and buy and buy overpriced plastic bottles of the stuff - even though we already pay for perfectly good drinking water to come out of our taps at a fraction of the cost. Now, perhaps if you live in Flint, Michigan, or somewhere with fracking going on under your doorstep, then bottled could be the safer option. However if you merely buy bottled water 'for convenience' or as a brand status statement, please reconsider. A fresh small bottle of water every day could cost you over £150 a year. Couldn't that amount of cash be put to better use?

Story Of Stuff has this to say about one of the biggest water-grabbing corporations:

"Across the globe, Nestlé is pushing to privatize and control public water resources. Nestlé's Chairman of the Board, Peter Brabeck, has explained his philosophy with "The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution."

Since that quote has gotten widespread attention, Brabeck has backtracked, but his company has not. Around the world, Nestlé is bullying communities into giving up control of their water. It's time we took a stand for public water sources.

Tell Nestlé that we have a right to water.

Stop locking up our resources!

At the World Water Forum in 2000, Nestlé successfully lobbied to stop water from being declared a universal right -- declaring open hunting season on our local water resources by the multinational corporations looking to control them. For Nestlé, this means billions of dollars in profits. For us, it means paying up to 2,000 times more for drinking water because it comes from a plastic bottle. Now, in countries around the world, Nestlé is promoting bottled water as a status symbol. As it pumps out fresh water at high volume, water tables lower and local wells become degraded. Safe water becomes a privilege only affordable for the wealthy. In our story, clean water is a resource that should be available to all. It should be something we look after for the public good, to keep safe for generations, not something we pump out by billions of gallons to fuel short-term private profits. Nestlé thinks our opinion is "extreme", but we have to make a stand for public resources.

Please join us today in telling Nestlé that it's not "extreme" to treat water like a public right."

I was certainly shocked by that CEO's attitude! Companies like Nestle will only follow such aggressive practices as long as they have a market for their product. No market means no profit so no point in continuing the enterprise. And as the first graphic shows, it's not like they have limited profit avenues! In fact my own attempts to boycott Nestle have turned up numerous products that I never realised were part of the 'family'.

You can stand up for communities that are fighting the loss of their water by signing this petition and sharing the video below, and please consider your own part in the global water cycle - do you really need to buy another plastic bottle full?

Monday, 28 March 2016

Three Deaths Of Magdalene Lynton by Katherine Hayton / Reflections Of Queen Snow White by David Meredith / Treasure Darkly by Jordan Elizabeth

The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton by Katherine Hayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received an advance copy of The Three Deaths Of Magdalene Lynton by Katherine Hayton as a reward for successfully nominating it, via the Kindle Scout program, for publication by Kindle Press.

The novel is a police procedural set in New Zealand so I was reminded of Tin Larrick's Manukau Bluebirds, however the two are very different tales. Manukau Bluebirds has a bustling 'big city' feel to it whereas Three Deaths' vibe is more rural.

Maori Detective Constable Ngaire Blakes finds herself digging up the past when a dying man, Paul Worthington, suddenly decides to confess to a murder he committed some four decades before. The death of fifteen-year-old Magdalene Lynton had been attributed to accidental drowning, but as Blakes and her partner DC Deb Weekes begin asking questions, they discover more guilty consciences than just the one. Hayton creates an intricate web for her readers to try and work out and I liked the handling of Paul's illness storyline. Having seen the combined effects of cancer and chemo, I appreciated her sensitivity. I am not sure that all aspects of Three Deaths are realistic though and Blakes does tend to play the lone hero to extremes. Having said that, the resolution of the case is satisfying and I enjoyed the portrayal of Blakes and Finlay's friendship which made a refreshing change to the usual rush towards intense romance that has irritated me in other crime novels.

I did wonder if I had missed earlier instalments in the series as elements of Blakes' back story aren't explained in much detail, even though they have great bearing on her current psychological situation. Three Deaths is the first book though - I had a good look around to make sure! Perhaps this will be expanded upon in future stories? I look forward to finding out.

The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Reflections Of Queen Snow White from its author, David Meredith. The book takes as its starting point the Grimm fairy tale of Snow White but, instead of simply being another retelling, Meredith looks into Snow White's future to imagine what happens after the Happily Ever After. We find Snow White, depressed and alone in a cavernous throne room. The rest of her court rush about outside delightedly preparing for her daughter's forthcoming marriage while Snow White still mourns the loss of her beloved Prince Charming who died of old age a year before. Meredith's story is dark in the Grimm tradition and includes descriptions of violence, sex and child abuse that will certainly be extra-shocking to those who only know the Disneyfied Snow White. I liked his idea of Snow White visiting her past by way of her Stepmother's enchanted mirror. She longs to reclaim happiness and her inner strength. Perhaps the mirror's reflection will show her how?

The adult Snow White is experiencing a crisis of confidence and has sunk into depression so her frequent woe-is-me wailing is understandable, if irritating. She seems determined to only ever value herself in relation to a man as would have been normal for the Grimm story's era, although the mirror tries to guide her towards independent strength. Meredith mostly uses historically appropriate language which adds to his well-crafted atmosphere, but occasionally slips into modern-day Americanisms such as 'mommy' which grate. Words are distractingly misused too. Amongst others we have dust moats instead motes, hair is quaffed not coiffed (surely she'd choke!), and my favourite was reading about courtesans in place of courtiers - although some behaved more as the former than the latter so perhaps the substitution wasn't so far off. Reflections Of Queen Snow White is a good read and an interesting examination of grief and introspection, but it needs a more robust proofreading and I would have preferred more to have been made of the ending as it wraps up with an unexpected haste.

Treasure, Darkly by Jordan Elizabeth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Treasure, Darkly by Jordan Elizabeth, via her street team, in exchange for my honest review. Having enjoyed my last Jordan Elizabeth steampunk read, Cogling, and loved my first, the horror tale Escape From Witchwood Hollow, I had high hopes for Treasure, Darkly. Instead I have finished it feeling quite disappointed.

The first of a Wild West Steampunk series, Treasure Darkly introduces us to young Clark Treasure, the illegitimate son of a wealthy ranch owner whose mother was killed by one of his customers. Clark drank a stolen potion believing it to be absinthe, but instead of simply becoming inebriated he developed the power of necromancy. I expected this interesting ability to form the main storyline of the novel, but it is mostly sidelined in favour of a bland romance. Steampunk inventions such as steamcycles and laser guns get mentions, but aren't fully described so I found it difficult to visualise this world as Elizabeth sees it. Other than Clark and his flighty love interest. Amethyst, few of the characters are developed to any great extent and I missed the great atmosphere creation at which Elizabeth excelled in Escape From Witchwood Hollow. Treasure, Darkly feels as though it was written by a completely different author. I would still try other Jordan Elizabeth books in the future, but I won't be continuing with this series.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Saturday, 26 March 2016

We set a new Longest Cycle Ride Ever record!

It's been the most glorious day here in the Haute-Garonne
A canal lock is called an ecluse in French 
and we made the most of it by spending several hours cycling along the beautiful Canal Du Midi. By the time we got back to Camping Violettes we had completed our Longest Cycle Ride Ever! We cycled 45 kilometres which is about 28 miles and just snuck above our previous 26.6 miles from Cullera last Spring! In tree terms, that's going from plane tree number 35721 to plane tree number 33428 And back again. I love how all the plane trees along this part of the canal are numbered. I have no idea why though. (Informative answers in the Comments?)

Interesting sights along the way included frolicking water
Water voles in the Canal du Midi 
voles and a heron, none of which I managed to photograph though Dave got some good shots of the voles. He spotted the first one and also saw two herons.

We appreciated a rest stop at Gardouch which has picnic tables, toilets and a drinking water tap. We sat to eat lunch at one of the tables and I was flattered by another cyclist admiring my 'jolie velo'! The cycle route has benches regularly spaced all along it and people were sitting in the sunshine at the locks and on the grassy banks too. I do think it lacks food and drink facilities though. We saw one Salon du The barge, but it hasn't opened for the season yet. Otherwise there seems only to be a bistro at Mongiscard on the other side of the water. Perhaps there are more temporary cafes open in the summer months? We thought, as it is a sunny Easter weekend, everything would be open and we could get tea and cake en route! Perhaps we should have booked ourselves on the 'gourmand' boat pictured below. It looked like they were having a birthday party.

Birthday boat on the Canal du Midi 

My favourite sight, just back from the canal, was a line of
A car in a field! 
buildings that appeared to be some sort of commune. We first noticed the white car unended in a neighbouring field next to a blue windmill tower. Then we saw that the garden fence was actually a line of reclaimed bicycles and wheelchairs. Waste not, want not. Elsewhere, the back end of a blue minibus gave the impression that it had been driven into the wall. Dave commented that the only thing missing from the arty-boho vibe was a vegetable patch. That was on our outward journey. A couple of hours later as we cycled back, two men were digging away! Maybe they heard us?!

Recycled fencing 
Our ride was about four hours including stops for lunch,
I'd like to try a bicycle carriage ride 
gawping at wildlife, and just because we wanted to enjoy the ambience. It was great to be two of so many cyclists and walkers. We saw all combinations of people from solo men haring past like they were in time trials, to families with small children all pedalling away, and even two guys who looked to be well into their eighties pottering along on battered bikes that couldn't have been much younger! One bike rental place looked to be doing good business and we also saw a Camping a la Ferme site which had bicycle carriage thingies to hire. One was in use on the path and they look great fun - tandem cycling but with less of a falling off hazard!

Friday, 25 March 2016

Dragons and a Japanese garden in Toulouse

It's almost exactly a year to the day since we last visited
Toulouse and I was glad that we got a fairly warm sunny day yesterday in contrast to the previous year's grey damp! We got the train from nearby Escalquens station. The journey is only about twenty minutes on comfortable seats at a grand total of €11.60 for return tickets for us both. There's free car parking at the station too, and a friendly cheerful man staffing the ticket office. Off peak return tickets would have been a euro each cheaper, but we would have been limited to early afternoon trains or those after seven pm. As our train in wasn't until half past ten, we chose the open return instead and actually caught the quarter past five. Six hours of walking around Toulouse was plenty and we were both pretty shattered by then!

There didn't seem to be the same wealth of public
69 Allees Jean Jaures, Toulouse 
sculpture and street art in Toulouse as I had appreciated in Spain, however we did discover the above pictured Antonio Saura fountain sculpture, created in 1987, and I liked this architecture at number 69, Allees Jean Jaures. (I haven't been able to find the artist responsible by Googling so if you recognise the work, please comment.)

The pedestrianised old town centre starts fairly close to Gare Matabiau and we spent a while taking in the sights and atmosphere. There's a good selection of independent shops and boutiques to browse and the streets didn't feel as enclosed as in many historic parts of towns. Perhaps this area doesn't retain as much of its medieval plan as is the case elsewhere. Escaping shopping opportunities for waterside tranquility, we walked along the Canal Du Midi until Dave was suddenly surprised to realise we were exactly retracing our cycle ride from last year along the Canals du Midi and de Brienne to the River Garonne.

Our dragon sighting was in the park Jardin Compans
Tholus by Tom Petrusson 
Caffarelli where this fabulous sculpture by Tom Petrusson is sited in the centre of a pool. It is entitled Tholus and was created in 1993 from pieces of scrap metal.

We sat in the sun outside a little kiosk cafe for an excellent hot chocolate before taking a stroll around the Japanese garden that we had seen marked on our town map. The Japanese garden only covers a small space in the Jardin Compans Caffarelli so it would be easy to miss if you didn't already know it was there. Part is neatly raked grey gravel studded with largish boulders, then a pathway leads around an open sided wooden building to a traditional space with green trees, huge koi carp in a pond, and a red painted bridge overhung by a blossoming cherry tree. The Japanese garden, and indeed the whole park, was quite busy so we didn't experience any Zen serenity, but it was beautiful to visit.

Japanese garden, Toulouse 
A cute detail in the Japanese garden was this miniature
natural artwork that someone had laid out on a flat tree stump by a path. It would have been easily overlooked but for the eyecatching trio of red berries.

In order to see more art, we spent a couple of afternoon hours at Toulouse's modern art gallery. It is located in the former slaughterhouse and is appropriately called Les Abbatoirs. Fortified by our favourite coffee-and-cake lunch at a cafe called Baker's Lounge (I had croque monsieur and flan nature, Dave went with Brioche Suisse and pain aux raisins), we almost completely failed to understand the main exhibition of work by Antoni Tapies. We saw one of his large works in Ceret's Modern Art Museum and I didn't 'get' that either. Seeing dozens of pieces collated from across his lifetime should perhaps have been easier to comprehend but wasn't! I was a little envious of a small school group who were being taken around by a enthusiastic guide. She sat them in front of several works, discussing and explaining, and the children were knowledgeably joining in. I understood some of the French language discussion - but still not the art!

Upstairs, Les Abbatoirs had rooms with work by other
Picasso stage curtain, Les Abbatoirs, Toulouse 
artists including items from the Daniel Cordier collection. Some of the were interesting to see, but I think Les Abbatoirs is the first modern and contemporary art museum I have visited where there wasn't a single work to really wow me. A possible exception was a huge eight by thirteen metre stage curtain painted by Picasso in 1936 and now housed in the basement. It is best viewed from half way up the stairs and the mythical figures tower over visitors standing at ground level. Interestingly, it looks 3D in my photograph here, but didn't in reality.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L C Tyler / Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder / Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley

The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L.C. Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I chose The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L C Tyler from a limited English language selection when swapping books at Camping Casteillets, Ceret, France, so was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed the read. Cosy mystery stories aren't my usual fare, but my eye was caught by the great title.

The herring seller in question is the wonderfully named Ethelred Hengist Tressider, general hack writer by trade whose most popular book series is crime fiction, hence the fish moniker - he sells red herrings! When Ethelred's ex-wife is found dead under mysterious circumstances, his literary agent Elsie desperately tries to persuade him to undertake an amateur sleuth hunt for her killer. Ethelred would far rather leave all that to the police who seem to already have their ducks neatly in a row.

The mystery itself is nicely plotted with some interesting twists and turns. It's not too difficult to figure out - even I managed - but the ending is satisfying. I know the Sussex area where The Herring Seller's Apprentice is set so got the local references. However, what really made this novel for me was the first person narration which has lots of black humour and is very funny. Ethelred explains elements of his crime writing craft as we go along and I loved the clever way theory melded with its practice. Knowing comments such a second Point Of View introduction being over-obviously flagged to the reader with A Very Different Font rang so true and the drippingly sarcastic descriptions are great fun. Poor Elsie!

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Dave picked up a copy of Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder in The Children's Society charity shop in Garstang last year (Great book selection there!). We both knew of its hype, but hadn't previously read it so were interested to see how good we thought the book really was. Sadly Dave gave up about a quarter of the way through so, discouraged, I had let it languish on the shelf until now.

Having finished reading, I now have mixed views on Sophie's World hence the three star rating. On one hand I was fascinated by the potted history of philosophy, most of which I didn't know anything about, and am hoping that at least some of what I read has lodged itself in my brain. There are a lot of names and dates to take in so I would probably need to re-read in short sections - like a textbook - in order to really start learning. However the history is written in such an accessible way that this is something I may well do over the next few months.

The fiction elements of Sophie's World were very disappointing though. I think I understand what Gaarder was trying to achieve with the inclusion of his fictional characters, but I just didn't find their conversations convincing. We are repeated told that Sophie is a fourteen year old girl, but she doesn't speak or act like one and I don't think Norwegian teenagers are so very different from British ones! Everyone appeared more like a plot device than a real person and I frequently found that irritating and distracting. For me, the fictional interludes were a respite from the increasingly intense philosophy, but I would have preferred Gaarder to have written a similarly accessible history of philosophy instead. Then again, without the fictional hook Sophie's World probably wouldn't have hit the bestseller lists!

Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from New Zealand

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I received a copy of Coming Rain from its publishers, Text Publishing Company, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Set in 1950s rural Australia, Coming Rain has a distinctive style which made it refreshing to read. Daisley frequently uses sentence fragments, but in a way that suits his prose and effectively pushes forward the pace of his story. It's not just poor grammar as in some other novels I have read! He also writes in Australian, presenting explanations of dialect words within the text but not dwelling on the translations. This effectively gives authenticity to the writing and made me feel as though I was discovering a new-to-me culture. Two storylines run in parallel throughout the book. One one hand we have two human drifters, sheep-shearers and general handymen Painter and Lewis, who travel in a clapped-out truck across the Australian desert to isolated farms to shear sheep. On the other hand we have two dingo drifters, a pregnant bitch and an adolescent male, desperately trying to find themselves food, water and safety.

It did take a good chunk of Coming Rain before I really settled in to Daisley's writing style. I understand this is his second novel so I might now look out the first, knowing that I could get more from it by repeating the first pages to get into the flow before continuing on. I frequently found myself distracted too by different subjects running into each other. We might start reading about the dingoes, then move to the men in the next sentence with no break or clue in the text as to the change. I am not sure if these overlaps were deliberate on Daisley's part or if my preview copy hasn't yet been fully edited. However I didn't notice any other typos or publishing weirdness. The device could be intended to highlight the similarities between the humans and animals - their paragraphs and lives being interchangeable - but I just got annoyed at having to keep stepping back from the narrative flow in order to work out what was going on.

The richness of Coming Rain is in the information given in passing. At one point we learn that the man now charged with persuading the dingos to go elsewhere - by firing at them with rifles and shotguns - is the same man who had previously persuaded the indigenous aborigine tribes to leave. It is a given that similar methods applied. We also see repeated examples of derelict white settlements littering this huge empty land and even the sheep farm at which Painter and Lewis finally arrive appears to be a shadow of its former self. The two men sleep in dormitories that could house dozens and only the farm owner's daughter is left to help out. In seeing the violent poverty-stricken lives of Painter and Lewis I was reminded of American novels such as Cormac McCarthy's Suttree or John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Coming Rain has the same melancholy feel of desperate pride and harsh life. Daisley understands these lives completely and shows them without apology or any softening of the edges.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

From a Nailloux campsite car park to Le Canal Du Midi

After one chilly electric-free night back at Camping Les
Deer at Camping du Lac de la Thesauque 
Casteillets (using our heater on the gas is like trying to sleep over an aeroplane - as it takes off!), we were hoping to pitch up until after Easter at Camping du Lac de la Thesauque in Nailloux. Unfortunately on arrival we learned that the pitches there were still so soggy that the site itself isn't open to touring caravans yet. Instead we were invited to use the €6 a night motorhome area which is basically the car park! However the tarmac was level, it was peaceful with just one other occupant, and our €6 included an electric hookup. We will definitely remember Thesauque as an overnight stopping point for future years as the car park option is available throughout the winter months. There is a coin operated paybox to raise the entrance barrier and the electric hookup is in the garage! 2 euro coins are also needed to operate the motorhome water and waste point. Reception opens for three hours in the afternoon and we also got to 'meet' two deer who were dozing in a paddock above the crazy golf.

Our car park campsite - the bar is closed too 

Thesauque's receptionist helpfully recommended us to
Greenery at Camping Les Violettes 
Camping Les Violettes which is only about a twenty minute drive away in Deyme. It too has grass pitches, but is much less soggy - perhaps not being right by a lake is the key? We are sharing the site with maybe half a dozen other tourers, all French, and it is considerably more expensive than Nailloux at €19.50 per night. However, for that we do get a whole large pitch instead of just a bay! The shower rooms are excellent and there are all the other usual facilities as well as table tennis and a little shop in the reception. Wifi is €10 for a week, down from €15 as it's low season. It's very green here too which is a relief for the eyes after so much dry Spanish dustiness!

The bus stop outside will get us into Toulouse centre in
about an hour or we might get the train instead. There's a station nearby and that journey would be twenty minutes. Best of all, we are less than 1km from the Canal Du Midi and after the first 100 metres it is quiet back roads until we get to the canal. Yesterday we walked along the wide cycle path / footpath for about three hours. We thought it was busy because it was a Sunday, but today we jumped on our bikes and cycled for a couple of hours along the canal in the other direction and it was just as busy! We got to a large park and admired lots of houseboats were moored up at the Toulouse outskirts. There wasn't any sign of the temporary shelters we saw on the Canal de Garonne about this time last year. In theory we could cycle into Toulouse for our days out in the city, but we don't fancy walking around all day and then still having over an hour's cycling to get home afterwards!

Bridge over the Canal du Midi 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Hinkley nuclear plant faces an urgent Parliamentary enquiry

I have received emails from Greenpeace recently explaining what hopefully will be a great opportunity for us to prevent George Osborne spending billions of pounds of our money on the Hinkley white elephant nuclear plant. Even the French company due to build Hinkley, EDF, think it might bankrupt them! Please read on and sign the all-important Greenpeace petition against this waste of our taxes.

"Our campaign to stop Hinkley nuclear plant is about to go
to the heart of political power. An urgent inquiry on the new nuclear plant has been scheduled in Parliament next week and crucially, Greenpeace’s chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, will be there to give evidence. If our energy expert heads to Parliament with the support of 100,000 of us, politicians won’t be able to ignore how unpopular Hinkley is.

Can you sign the petition too? 

We already know that renewable energy is a better option than nuclear power and at the meeting in Parliament next Wednesday, we’ll be armed with the facts and research to back it up. But we'll be even stronger if we can show the groundswell of opposition to George Osborne's plan to spend billions of pounds on Hinkley nuclear plant.

If it goes ahead, Hinkley is set to be the most expensive object on Earth [1] – sucking up huge amounts of money that could be spent on renewable energy instead. But right now we’ve got a chance to stop him. The finance director of EDF --the energy firm that plans to build the reactor -- just resigned amid concerns that Hinkley could plunge the company into a financial black hole. It’s going to be pretty embarrassing for George Osborne if he ploughs on when Hinkley’s cost could bankrupt the company building it. So let's seize this moment to turn up the pressure on the chancellor. Let's tell him now’s the time to scrap Hinkley -- and spend consumers’ cash on renewable energy instead.

If George Osborne pushes ahead, Hinkley will be the first nuclear plant built in the UK in two decades. But the chancellor's plans are going nowhere fast. The reactor design is so complicated that no one's sure if it will even work. One nuclear expert went so far as to call it "unconstructable" [2]. And three other power stations -- in France, Finland and China -- that are trying to use the same type of reactor are suffering from huge delays too. The cost of the project is staggering. Best guesses say Hinkley could pass £24 billion -- easily making it the most expensive power station in world history.

While Hinkley nuclear plant has spent almost a decade in limbo, renewable power projects have been far quicker to build. The London Array -- the world's biggest offshore wind farm -- took less than three years to construct. And even if building Hinkley was to begin tomorrow, by the time it's up and running the cost of renewable energy will have dropped even further. Though George Osborne might tell us we need Hinkley to keep the lights on, we know this is far from the truth. Recent research showed that as soon as 2030, the UK could be powered almost entirely by renewables [3]. The UK is one of the windiest places in Europe, we’ve got huge untapped potential in solar power, and we're surrounded by sea too.

If you agree that natural sources of energy like these should top government investment, not more risky and expensive nuclear power, please sign the petition now

 Thanks for being involved,
 Richard Casson Greenpeace UK "


Friday, 18 March 2016

Silk by Alessandro Baricco / The Children's Home by Charles Lambert / Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi

Silk by Alessandro Baricco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I borrowed a paperback copy of Silk by Alessandro Baricco from my friend Marta who absolutely loved this book. Written by an Italian author, the story is set in 1860s France and Japan. A French merchant, Herve Joncour, leaves his small town every year to buy silk worm eggs. He travels for a couple of months to the Middle East and always returns on the same date. However, diseased silk worms threaten bankruptcy for the town's silk mills so Herve is encouraged to travel much further, to isolated Japan, in search of healthy silk worm eggs.

The story in Silk is almost incidental to the book itself. The novella's great strength is its beautifully understated writing style which often feels Japanese. The incredible journey to Japan is described briefly, but this passage is repeated word for word each time Herve undertakes the voyage. The repetition reinforces our understanding of his effort. Once in the island nation, his clandestine purchases lead him to meet a concubine. Although the two never even speak, he becomes obsessed with her, taking his obsession home alongside his silk worm eggs. The scenes are so delicately written that they were unlike pretty much anything else I remember reading. At times I found the prose almost too ethereal and I couldn't completely accept the premise of such deep love based on such fleeting encounters. I would recommend Silk though, purely for the beauty of its prose.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Alessandro Baricco / Historical fiction / Books from Italy

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Children's Home by Charles Lambert from its publishers, Aardvark Bureau, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

The Children's Home is set in an unspecified country that is vaguely enough described that it could be almost anywhere. A man in early middle-age, Morgan, lives reclusively behind the high walls of his private estate seen only by a housekeeper, Engel, who arrived mysteriously in the relatively recent past. An earlier accident left Morgan facially disfigured and he copes with his self-imposed isolation by spending hours amongst his grandfather's library of books. He catalogues these books and only occasionally opens one to read it. When a baby is discovered on the kitchen doorstep Morgan allows Engel to care for it and soon other children begin appearing too. All are given a home within the sprawling house.

The Children's Home is another novel which has wonderfully written scenes. Like my last read, Silk, the prose is beautiful and there are numerous memorable images, although I am hoping that the dark moments towards the end of the tale do fade soon as some were disturbing to read. I have only awarded a three-star rating though because other aspects were irritating or baffling. Lambert has his characters be evasive on frequent occasions. One especially, a precocious boy named David who seems to age rapidly and soons becomes a kind of leader, repeatedly tells us, through Morgan, that we must be patient and the time is not yet right. However, the book isn't very long! Morgan is unbelievably passive and the children are never clearly defined. We don't even learn how many of them there are. The final denouement is graphic and powerful, but I ultimately thought it unsatisfying because I still didn't know what was really going on. The whys and hows aren't explained so it felt like I had read only the middle chapters. A shame because much of the writing itself is very good, but the overall story is so well hidden that, much like Morgan himself, I felt I had completely missed the point.

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Books by Charles Lambert / Horror / Books from England

Second Chance Grill by Christine Nolfi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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A promotion to get a free copy of Second Chance Grill was advertised by its author, Christine Nolfi, on Goodreads so I took advantage! The novel is set in small town America, the town of Liberty, Ohio, and begins when young doctor Mary Chance moves to town to take over the running of her aunt's restaurant. Mary is grieving the loss of her best friend and hopes that her sabbatical in Liberty will help her to overcome her sorrow in order to resume her medical career. She is meant to be returning to Cincinnati after a year, however she hasn't counted on the charms of the local garage mechanic, Anthony, or the perseverance of his terminally ill daughter, Blossom.

Second Chance Grill was an easy read and, to be honest, a light relief after my previous bemusing book, The Children's Home. Nolfi's characters are typical of the people found in small communities the world over and the camaraderie shown by everyone when things get tough makes for an uplifting novel. I was surprised by some of the medical plot surrounding Blossom's illness, especially the inhumanity of the American healthcare system. I am certainly glad of the NHS! Overall though the storyline went pretty much where I expected it would and the romantic ending is telegraphed from Mary and Anthony's first meeting. I am not sure I would read further books in the series as this type of women's fiction isn't really my bag, but as a change it was a fun novel. And I love the colourful image on the cover which encourages me to visit Ohio!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Christine Nolfi / Women's fiction / Books from America

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Where to find Repsol Propano (propane) gas in Cambrils

We love Spanish Repsol gas cylinders because they are so
Repsol propano 
much cheaper that their British Calor gas counterparts! Our original cylinder was obtained from another camper at Mojacar two years ago. They, and we, prefer propane as it is still usable at much low temperatures than butane (so perfect for an English summer!), however we have had problems finding propane exchanges in Spain. Repsol garages practically all stock lots of butane, but frequently don't have propane. Here it is just too warm to need it!

In January last year we struggled to find propane near Mojacar and eventually succeeded by my interrogating other campers at El Quinto. This year we have driven to three Repsol garages in the vicinity of Cambrils, none of whom had any and where staff at only one of which were vaguely helpful. The cashier there suggested 'behind the Esclat hypermarket'. Esclat has a petrol station at the back so we drove there optimistically. Nope! Having driven round the nearby industrial units, none of which looked hopeful, we returned to Esclat so I could ask at the Customer Service desk in my bestest Spanish.

Tiene Propano? No.
Donde comprar aqui?

I finally met someone who knew what they were talking about so big thanks to the Esclat staff, especially as we haven't even shopped there! What we needed to do was drive to the back of Esclat, turn right down a tiny lane, ford a small stream, turn left across the motorway bridge, turn right again at a rough metal Repsol arrow sign (towards the horse riding centre), and following a further two Repsol arrows until we arrived at the Repsol gas distribution centre. This is basically one man in a small prefab in a fenced yard that contains dozens and dozens of lovely full gas bottles. We paid in cash and an 11kg propane bottle was €13.10. That's even cheaper than last year!

Just in case my directions aren't completely clear, I've put a marker on this Google Map and the blue line is from Camping La Llosa to the Repsol yard. Hopefully this post will save someone else the runaround - or indeed us next time when we've forgotten where we went!


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

L'Aleixar to Vilaplana - our last Spanish walk of the season

We're planning to leave our Cambrils campsite, Camping
La Llosa, towards the end of this week and head back into France. The weather here has turned distinctly English - it's raining! - so our last good walk around here will have been the 13km circular route we took on Saturday beginning and ending just outside L'Aleixar and looping past Vilaplana. The walk is number 13 from the Baix Camp Senderisme map (available at Cambrils Tourist Office). It was tricky to find the start, but once we were underway most of the route was clearly marked and signposted.

Just outside L'Aleixar the Ermita de Sant Blai is signposted
up a white track on the right side of the road. There is a little car parking by the Ermita, but we had already taken advantage of a patch of rough ground by the small playground off to the left of the main road. From here we walked up to the Sant Blai Ermita and all around it, disturbing a couple of radio hams and completely failing to find the start of our path. We eventually discovered that we needed to face the Ermita then take the path on our right which heads towards town through allotments. Once at the large dry riverbed we saw the first of our green footpath signs. Slightly confusingly, another route crosses through here and we spotted points 19 and 20 of the Ruta Mir Manent - a touristic walk taking in locations important to the local painter Joachim Mir and the poet Maria Manent. The waterfall in this painting has now been replaced by a large ugly grey pipe. (If you're here and want to do our walk, head away from the river and then take the right fork away from the Ermita.)

Much of the early route is on wide camis through
agricultural areas that include hazelnut and olive orchards. Most of the nut trees were beginning to sprout leaves and others more distant which looked like cherry trees were in full blossom. Dave spotted this little bird's nest in a budding tree. We headed steadily uphill for at least the first hour of this four hour walk. None of the gradients were particularly steep but the incline was pretty relentless and the track was often quite rough having been washed away by rainfall in previous years. There were superb views out across the countryside from the heights.

Once up this high, the tracks narrowed into single file sandy footpaths which wound through pine woods and past yellow flowering gorse bushes. We saw several butterflies including the bright yellow and orange ones that are our favourites here. The silence up on the hills was incredible. Sometimes we could hear birdsong, but mostly there seemed to be no sound except for our boots and the occasional rustle of a rapidly departing lizard.

We ate our picnic lunch perched on a low stone wall not
far from the Vilaplana sign pictured above. Setting out again after half an apple and a sandwich, we found ourselves again passing agricultural land. Several fields had stone shelters in them and we were amazed to discover that one particularly smart one was actually an Ermita. The Ermita Santa Maria De Mascabrers was set at the edge of a field of olive trees just below the path. A bright yellow sign told us that "La porta resta oberta per la pregaria i la oracio" so we took that to mean curious hikers could visit too! Inside was beautifully simple - whitewashed walls with an elegant peach painted border, six basic chairs pushed against each side wall and the altar at the front. It was refreshingly cool inside and felt serene.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Anhedonia by Nico Reznick / Villa Normandie by Kevin Doherty / Open And Read by James P Burns III

Anhedonia by Nico Reznick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.
One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

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I downloaded a copy of Anhedonia by Nico Reznick when I noticed it mentioned on Twitter in a #TuesdayBookBlog promotion. That was last year and I am kicking myself for not getting around to reading it sooner. I loved every minute of Anhedonia!

Reznick has created a wonderfully flawed and vulnerable lead character in Alex. Unable to experience any form of emotion, his only release is to tap into the intense grief of recently bereaved women, inventing temporary personas in order to trick them into sleeping with him. That sentence makes Alex sound like a hateful person, but don't let his actions put you off this novel because he is far more complex than a single compulsion. Instead add in a best friend that he doesn't really like, a family with whom he struggles to communicate, a job he despises, and an amazingly darkly portrayed Cotswolds setting that never once comes close to its famed chocolate box idyll.

Narrating his own story, Alex occasionally slips away from What Happened Back Then to give us a glimpse of himself as the author of his tale. I thought this an excellent device, especially for observations such as the potential heartbreak of apostrophe placement. Reznick has a poet's eye for both detail and language so her scenes are alive with unexpected observation. Even mundane settings become interesting and the bizarre dream sequences are great fun. I enjoyed the nods to influences such as Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and the narrative style sometimes led me to wonder if Alex was named for A Clockwork Orange.

A fascinating storyline peopled with thoroughly believable characters, set on the darker side of life and with plenty of just my kind of black humour made this a perfect book for me. I have already downloaded Reznick's first volume of poetry and fervently hope that she will write another novel too.

Villa Normandie by Kevin Doherty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Villa Normandie by Kevin Doherty from Endeavour Press to read ahead of their virtual Historical Fiction Festival in April.

Villa Normandie is set in a small town in Occupied France during 1944. The tide of war is turning in favour of the Allies, but German troops are still resolutely in control of Caillons. Doherty shows the horrors of this occupation through many eyes, French and German, civilian and soldier, as well as portraying how the instinct for self-preservation pits many of Caillons' residents against each other. He crams a lot into this relatively short novel, cataloguing many atrocities that I am sure must have been committed in real life, so there is always plenty of action, but I often felt this was at the expense of genuine character creation. It was difficult to empathise with many of the large cast several of whom came across to me as generic stereotypes. I didn't think the ultra-convenient 'happy ending' wrap up in the final chapter was convincing either.

As a light wartime adventure, Villa Normandie frequently has tense and exciting moments, but I would have preferred to read a deeper treatment of this subject in order to truly understand why these people acted as they did under such extreme circumstances.

Open and Read by James P. Burns III
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Open And Read by James P Burns III was recommended to me by fellow book blogger Olivia Savannah. The book is a poetry collection, but one with a difference as each of the hundred short poems, plus a final longer work, is a motivational composition themed around various positive thinking aspects. Titles such as Life Is Not Fair and You Can't Please Everyone mean that there is no need to try and 'understand' the poetry, each one's meaning is clear and there is often an overlap between poems which helps to reinforce the book's overall message. For an American book there is surprisingly little religion and the focus is very much on individual self-belief.

Burns intends for Open And Read to be dipped into on days when its reader is feeling discouraged or hard-done-by. Read in this way, I can see how it could provide a useful burst of encouragement. I, of course, read it from cover to cover in an afternoon which provided a different but also interesting experience more akin to reading an epic poem. All the individual short poems share the same rhyming and rhythmic structure so they easily flow one into the next and I only rarely noticed jarring word choices. If you're into motivational verse and writings or have a friend who could use a lift, I would definitely suggest Open And Read as a potentially successful purchase.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads