I got back a couple of days ago from my trip to the UK to what is now a rather soggy Plazac. When I left we were still enjoying temperatures in the upper 30s and the grass was brown and burnt. But in my absence and since I returned home, the heavens have opened several times and now it’s beginning to turn green again and the weeds are thriving more than ever.
I chose Dunkerque rather than Calais for my return Channel crossing in view of the current problems at Calais and even after stopping several times for meal, fuel and rest breaks, arrived there comfortably for my 10.00pm sailing despite not leaving home until after 10.30 in the morning. The roads on the French side were typically uncongested and free-flowing and the drive north could (almost) be described as a pleasure. There was a bit of a delay sailing from Dunkerque due to the disruption at Calais but that gave me a chance to finish off the salad that I’d prepared that morning and taken with me and take a short nap in readiness for my drive on the other side.
The contrast on the English side could not have been greater. Just getting out of Dover onto the M20 motorway on the fiddly narrow, winding roads that were more or less fully taken up by the international lorry traffic that had also come off the ferry was bad enough with roundabouts seemingly every few hundred metres, but that was only the beginning. The real problems started as soon as I hit what is now laughingly described as the UK trunk road and motorway network.
Getting up to any kind of speed on these roads is impossible because of the never-ending roadworks at most of which there were miles of traffic cones but seemingly no signs whatsoever of any meaningful ‘work’ activity. And in any case, you can’t get up to speed because you’re not allowed to on account of the seemingly ubiquitous ‘average speed check’ speed limits that have now been imposed on top of the never-ending road closures – yes, even on what are supposed to be main trunk roads – deviations and diversions.
The result was that my drive up from south-west France to the Channel took a comfortable nine or ten hours with plenty of opportunities for rest breaks etc in the myriad of delightful parking areas that are found all over the French road network while it took more than a further four excruciating hours just to get from Dover to Dorset.
It’s a wonder that any foreign tourists ever bother to visit the UK at all by road nowadays as it’s like a third-world country compared to France and other major EU countries. And whereas once we used to crow about our roads on returning from foreign holidays in years past, the UK is now very much the poor neighbour and looks as though it will remain so given the pathetic sticking-plaster attempts that are now being made to ‘modernise’ them.
While in the UK it was delightful to spend time with my family who I haven’t seen for many months, including my mum who will be 97 next birthday, and it was also great to be able to spend time again with old friends. I also got the welcome opportunity to drop into Specsavers to get my specs repaired, all of which had let me down within a few days of each other and which I’d had to cobble together with heat-shrink insulating rubber tubing and locking wire, a bit like the mad professor 🙂
Then it came time to return home to France. My mate Ken kindly offered me some left-over roof insulation which totally filled up my car by the time we’d loaded it all up to the point that the view rearward was totally blocked and I could only see out backwards using my door mirrors. Another unfortunate outcome was that as I could neither move my seat nor recline its back by even an iota, napping in the car was impossible, so it left me with a Hobson’s Choice of driving non-stop through the night from Dunkerque to Plazac when I got off the ferry.
My scheduled crossing was at 10.00pm but when I arrived early at Dover, DFDS once again came up trumps and pushed me forward onto the 8.00pm sailing. This departed slightly late at about 8.25pm, so after the two-hour crossing and the time-change, I found myself driving out of Dunkerque at about 11.30pm local time. The drive south was once again characteristically uneventful despite, that is, for a slight fuel scare.
I’d tanked up with cheap diesel at a Carrefour that I’d found a few miles outside Dunkerque on my way up and I’d been monitoring consumption while looking for a ‘moins cher’ place to fill up again at one of the much more expensive main-road filling stations. My low fuel light had been on for several minutes but as the on-board computer was still showing that I could drive for another 55 kms before running out, I wasn’t too worried. That was until with the fuel gauge needle hovering over the ‘E’, the ’55’ suddenly became ‘0’.
Quel horreur, what a time to run out, in the early hours at some indeterminate location in the middle of rural France! I gulped a bit, dropped my speed and carried on with the lightest of right feet hoping that I’d get to the next service station before the otherwise inevitable happened. The next sign came up – 25 kms to go – oh crikey, would I make it? Why on earth didn’t I just drop into the last one when I had the chance? I did, of course, breathing a huge sigh of relief as I drove in, but whether I’ll learn my lesson this time, who knows 😕
I got back home again at about 9.30am after losing about half an hour on a little detour through a satnav misunderstanding. Despite having had no sleep the night before I didn’t feel too bad so I thought it best to see the day out without taking a nap and go to bed normally but a bit earlier than my usual time. It worked fine and after a bit of a lie-in, the next morning I was more or less back up to speed again. After a welcome drink with Wim and Sophie yesterday evening before we scattered in our various directions when storm clouds came overhead and the rain began to pelt down, I’ve spent much of the time since I got back reformatting my old laptop.
I’ve got an elderly Dell Inspiron 1501 which is well past it’s use-by date but which I’ve been reluctant to either dispose of or replace as I rarely need to use it nowadays. I mainly need it when I’m away from home so I can send and receive emails and stay connected to the internet and although it serves its purpose, it’s become increasingly frustrating to use. This is because it’s now very slow by modern standards anyway, but with Windows Vista installed, it took several minutes to boot up with it’s little disk drive seemingly to constantly be whirring away at 5800 rpm and when it wasn’t doing that, it seemed to be permanently occupied receiving and installing updates.
I had the idea a few weeks ago of attempting an ‘upgrade’ before finally giving up on it, by replacing the original hard drive with a SSD (solid state disk drive), increasing the memory from 1GB to 4GB (not approved by Dell, but possible) and installing Windows 7 Pro 64 Bit, which is why you can install the extra memory. For those who do not know, all of the hardware can be bought directly from China at relatively low cost, and the operating system can also be acquired similarly from Ebay Germany and in ‘activatable’ form if you choose both product and supplier carefully.
Dell don’t want people to be upgrading and extending the life of their old laptops as they’d rather that you junk them and buy new, so they don’t make it easy to find the drivers etc that you need. Nevertheless, there are lots of places on the internet where others who have succeeded in doing the same thing have posted details on methods and sources, and although many old links have disappeared in the usual way, it’s possible to get hold of ‘legacy’ Vista 64 Bit drivers, for example, that still work well with Windows 7. If you can find them, that is, and Dell’s own support area is the last place to go looking, as it sends you around in circles, quite intentionally I’m sure.
But as usual, Google and persistence pay off and as a result, my old laptop that used to take a full two minutes or more to boot up, now does so in 45 seconds, and as disk activities now occur almost instantaneously, it has been transformed for the kind of simple activities that I use it for. It even shuts down in just over 10 seconds, whereas previously you used to click the button and then go off to have your dinner, so who knows, maybe it’ll do me for another couple of years or so 😉