Monday, June 30, 2014

Cherbourg to Portsmouth

The disco I mentioned yesterday failed, thankfully, to materialise but in its place I contracted a stomach bug. After way too many visits to the sanitation block this morning, Clare prepared an emergency kit consisting of a plastic bag, wet wipes and a toilet roll. In the event I nursed a dull ache on our trek across Normandy to Cherbourg, and troubled not the pristine fields of France.

I write this on the ferry as we wait to leave the harbour en route for Portsmouth. Feeling better already, buoyed up by copious infusions of iced tea, and reflections of how much Carrefour wine we bought a few hours back.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yvre l'Eveque, Le Mans

Tomorrow Cherbourg and a ferry ride home. Tonight, camping near Le Mans. No bikers, slimy leathers or gasoline machismo, just another out-of-season half-deserted campsite.

We arrived in sunshine. Tent up, we were cowering inside twenty minutes later as another deluge hit. In fact the much-sprayed canvas is coping well and we remain resolutely dry.

Oh wait! As I write this, someone has started an open-air disco: the tent is throbbing with Europop bass while some forlorn chanteuse .. well, you know.

Gonna be a long, hot night.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Oh to be in a tent as the thunderstorms roll by; we are deafened and deluged.

The weird weather seems to have short - circuited The Executioner - no more incandescent cracks, just a mild tingle which leaves the mozzies befuddled.

We did an epic drive today from south of Florence to Cluny along the Mediterranean toll motorway network. A lot of it is tunnels: kilometre length boreholes through the Alps culminating in the 13 km Mont Blanc tunnel, a kind of Freudian birthing experience.

More bad weather is predicted so it'll be a damp night tonight. Tomorrow we move on to a campsite near Le Mans where we hope the amenities are better and dryer.

The picture is from our restaurant this evening at Cluny Abbey. Cluny is a delightful mediaeval French town,  more so when not inundated with hailstones.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Staying at the cottage today. Tomorrow we leave early, dropping the young gentlemen at Pisa airport (one hour from here ) and then onto our target campsite at Cluny (six or seven hundred kilometres and God knows how many driving hours).

Italian heat is very different to the English variety. It has a suffusive quality, swaddling your body in its total embrace. I guess the grass, trees, walls .. the whole environment is really, really warm.

Alex has now finished two books on the Kindle. Given his habit of sneering at the ebook reader and his track record of abandoning fiction after just a few pages with some dismissive comment, this has to be a record.

The two books were:  "All you need is kill"  about a young soldier in a powered suit who keeps dying in combat against aliens and being reincarnated; and "Steel World" which features a young soldier who fights aliens in a power suit,  dies on a regular basis but is reincarnated again and again.

Don't know about you but a pattern seems to be emerging.

Picture shows Clare being decadent in the garden this morning.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

San Gimignano (reprise)

San Gimignano wasn't just about torture. It has narrow italianate streets, picturesque markets, hordes of tourists .. and a gun shop.

We loved it.

San Gimignano

Who could imagine? A town with not one but two torture museums. 

It's possible to wander around superficially, declining to engage with the reality of what you're seeing. But let the slightest degree of empathy manifest itself, and the conclusion is unavoidable: being on the receiving end of this stuff would be unimaginable agony. 

"Show the prisoner the instruments of torture."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Gosh! It's been a while since I've seen grown men duking it out in the street. I was sat in the Duomo square, all cathedraled out, while the rest explored the interior. Loud, high-pitched shouting from 100 metres away, at the shops lining the open area. Through the crowd I saw a young guy - looked like Bruce Lee - punching at a bigger guy wearing a high - viz yellow jacket. This style-atrocity did not seem to be the proximate cause of the conflict.

The violence must have lasted all of twenty seconds or so before both men ran off. Two cops arrived a minute or so later - impressive, I couldn't see any cctv - but the evidence had thoroughly departed.

Here are some pix. We left the car at an out-of-town car park and trammed in. Clare was keen to photograph the young gentlemen against the background of the Ponte Vecchio, repeating a snap taken twenty years ago.

Firenze cute

The nun on her mobile. The fish, people - watching from its shop window. The ice cream, channeling sea floor nodules. The couple checking out the bling on the Ponte Vecchio. The David sculptures. The Banksie-inspired street furniture. Florence in June.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A rabbit?

A reader asks: "Why is Clare eating a rabbit?"

The wisdom of Robert Heinlein

"Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig."

Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love.

Profound and moving!

Nicolas Gómez Davila

Sheer genius.


For Adrian. Davila channels Marcus Aurelius.

Monday, June 23, 2014


The slip roads onto the urban motorway at Siena are short - perhaps a couple of hundred meters - and terminate in an obstruction such as a wall. A large STOP sign helpfully advises in the event of a failure to merge.

As we swung onto the slip road on our way back from Siena,  I saw a large lorry barrelling in on the slow lane. An instantaneous calculation concluded that I couldn't beat it so I slowed, keeping an eye on the looming wall.

I was preparing to sweep out behind the truck as it zoomed past, just before running out of road. I even began to steer the car on a convergence course.

The rear of the lorry never appeared; the vehicle became endless. Somehow I avoided steering into it or ramming the end-wall. I came to a juddering halt, not without inducing catatonia in my near-side passengers who were inches from becoming the meat in a metal sandwich.

Later, catching it up, we saw it was indeed a double-lorry, one pulling a trailer of equal size.

Pix below include the interior of the church of San Dominico wherein lies the head of St Catherine, a holy relic and Siena Cathedral -  a wonderfully elaborated and adorned structure. Also the Campo fronting City Hall.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Just some pix of the cottage, and Clare enjoying breakfast on the terrace.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The killer at the gates of dawn

Six am this morning and I'm awoken to the crisp crack of mozzies being flashed out of the air. She was on to seven before I got the camera out.

Onwards today to our cottage south of Florence.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Church and Anfiteatro in Lucca

Gay; Asperger's syndrome; football

Here's a thesis. Being gay and being an "Aspie"  are both under the control of a large number of alleles of small effect.

In the 'gay'  case, less means a sympathetic, empathic personality; in the Aspie case,  less means a focused, dispassionate and logical intellect.

In both cases the full deck decreases reproductive success while a partial hand can enhance it.

Perhaps Asperger's syndrome is the gentile equivalent of Tay-Sachs disease and similar neurological collateral damage found in Ashkenazi Jews under selection for systemic, analytical intelligence in the mediaeval middle classes.

World Cup: England loses to Uruguay. The English looked hard-working, stolid and flat-footed ; the South Americans  (of Mediterranean lineage)  were dynamic and explosive. What do you think, agrarian farmers  vs  pastoralists?

Once you get your eye in, genes are everywhere!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

So many years of recession here

How many years has Italy been in recession? Since 2008? Walking around Pisa today -  well, it's kind of unmaintained. The paint is peeling, graffiti unfixed and stuff needs repairing. The atmosphere is listless, and not because of the heat.

It is hot though. The picture from our tent below looks like an African safari. The Executioner is doing wonderful service in the tent dispatching mozzies, of which there are more than enough.

A passer-by en route to the toilet block at 2 am might have seen  an actinic flash behind the canvas, accompanied by a sharp crack. Another humming horror taken out as I return to bed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


In comparison with memory, Pisa seems curiously down-at-heel and unloved. It's early in the tourist season and the African street-sellers of tourist-tat pursue their trade lethargically, without enthusiasm. Tomorrow we'll see whether the shopping zone is more upmarket.

I am  a magnet for mosquitoes here.

The picture shows our sheep/goat encounter as we entered Italy through a high pass in the Alpes Maritimes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A tonic for the truckers

Taking a roadside break en route to the Alps. The truck drivers were beeping their horns in appreciation.

Institutions and Protocols

Some people seem very attached to "democracy" (scare quotes for when  sacralised), others seemingly can't get enough of Islam. Everyone thinks their own institutions are the best. For a systems person, they're all instances of protocols.

Best known in the case of Internet RFCs we start with a collection of entities (computers, people) which need to collaborate to accomplish some function. The protocol provides a solution: an architecture specifying particular roles assigned to the various entities and the relationships between them, and messaging protocols specifying message formats and dialogue /transaction formats.

Human institutions evolve by some combination of design and trial and error,  but distributed system protocols they are nevertheless.

Somewhere in Burgundy

Our planned campsite (near Vaizy) was a windswept municipal field - unattended till five said the note on the door.

Half an hour's drive to our alternate and there was absolutely nothing at the GPS coordinates. We never managed to crack the mystery.

We found our current site by serendipity, en route to out third choice. Hotel Camping is owned by a Dutch couple; there is a banner supporting the Holland world cup team; flags fly. We are so deep in la France profonde that there isn't even a phone signal, let alone wifi.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Fresnay-sur-Sarthe, a pretty, tiny town in southern Normandy was dead Sunday night. As we drank in the only open bar in town a solitary boorish Brit in his forties was hectoring a group of French teenagers at an adjacent table. Why he was explaining - in shouty English  -  about butlers eluded us. The  kids responded with embarrassed giggles.

Later, back at the camp, a fellow  camper,  a military search-and-rescue helicopter pilot based out in Iraq, showed us an otter swimming down the river next to our tents. Yes, Fresnay is swarming with Brits.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Camping near Dorchester, Dorset

At last mid-June warm weather. Before our trip to France/Italy we've been rehearsing camping at a site near Moreton, Dorchester. Near Lulworth Cove.

Where we vaguely remember how to put it up.

Clare has a theory: more space without the inner sheet

The coastal path above Lulworth Cove

Thomas Hardy's self-designed house, Max Gate. Clare unimpressed.
This 'skip the inner tent' theory. Jane tells us we'll regret it when it rains; I fear mossies sneaking in under the eaves. We shall see.