Nobody Expects The Chinese Inquisition!

Recently we met a descendant of the last Chinese emperor. He was camping. How strange it was to meet this ridiculously high born man in such a lowly place. It was an exceptional encounter which we thought would bear retelling, in view of this weeks announcement by the British Government to remove all Huawie products and services from all telecom businesses operating in the UK.

Our new best friend.

We were visiting Morocco, motorcycle touring with no plan, and had come to the lagoon town of Moulay Bousselham. On our first afternoon in the stunning campsite a fellow English man turned up in a tatty pickup truck, and we fell into comfortable conversation. In no time at all we had agreed to share an evening meal and the three of us took a sunset stroll to the little market to see what we could find to eat.

Moulay Bousselham market

Well provisioned, we headed back to the campsite to prepare a feast. Now this guy had it all, a tent on top of his pickup truck, and in the bed of the pickup, under the base of the tent, was stored all his ‘essentials’, accessed by dropping the tailgate. Where we had a simple trangia to cook on, a plate and a fork each and a couple of penknives for food prep, he had the works. Out came a home made, three part bar-b-q, plates and cutlery galore and cooking pans of all descriptions. What his vehicle lacked in style, it more than made up for in substance.

Three part, homemade BBQ

The three of us chatted as we ate a delicious and very simple meal. We agreed that what had caught our eye here on site, was another pick-up truck; pristine, bright, cherry red, with a tent on top, and sporting a blemish free, bright daffodil yellow, sea kayak. This was pure bling. It had Chinese number plates and everything looked brand new. Who on earth owned something like this? What were they doing here?

Camping in Moulay Bousselham, Morocco.

We went to bed that night full to bursting. The next morning our new friend was gone; we had said our goodbyes the night before, as he had planned a dawn getaway. The super-duper pick-up truck was still on site. We admired it before heading out to explore the lagoon. When we wandered back, there was the cherry red pickup truck, parked outside the campsite cafe. We decided it was time to have a drink and strike up yet another conversation. We stepped out of the sunshine and into the cool, dull gloom of the cafe.

This way to the interrogation centre

Sitting at a table, facing the door, was a robust Chinese man. As we entered, I said, in my very best, ‘help the foreigner understand’ simple English, “Hello. You have kayak?” Point at the boat on the pickup truck. “We have kayak. We kayak sea,” Point at myself then, wavy hand gesture. “You kayak sea?” We waited, as, saying nothing, he fixed us with a condescending stare. Then on I blundered, “Where you from? We from England.” He pointedly looked us up and down. I began to feel a bit of a Wally as I stood at his table with his contempt washing over me .

He drew a languorous breath, swished a regal hand and asked, “Would you care to join me? You’d be most welcome. Please, sit down.”

His English was flawless, well pronounced and more complex than my first few sentences to him. And so began a long conversation, or interrogation, lasting several hours.

We had stumbled into a trap which has left us pondering the Chinese State ever since. He told us his name; we forgot it, he said that he is a non teaching professor who is married to a professor, who teaches in a German university; we cannot remember which university and finally, he is a direct descendent of the last Chinese emperor; that much we remember about him. He was a drifter, who could come and go from China as he wished, sponsored by the Chinese government. It soon became clear that, what at first seemed to be a flattering degree of interest in us and our lives, was really a quest to garner the zeitgeist of us and the non-Chinese peoples and how we perceived China, it’s people and it’s politics.

It was interesting to hear how the Chinese people had to be governed by a totalitarian state, as they were happy with this and would find it impossible to cope with a full range of choices, should they ever be afforded the chance. The State oversaw all businesses, so no business was fully private. As all business exists for the good of the nation, it is only to be expected that the nation is involved in all businesses. He had difficulty understanding why we found that preposterous. He felt all peoples would be happier if controlled by a paternalistic state. Of course he was looking for a visceral, honest response, rather than a polite, British understatement. The conversation was wide ranging and frank. He was phenomenally well read and intelligent, able to call up any and all facts, figures, international historical details and dates as well as financial and political information, as needed to illustrate his arguments. Academically, he left us standing, and we have our foot on at least one rung of the clever ladder.

The Emperor’s descendant’s rig.

So we now knew who owned the red pickup truck and what he was doing here. The emperor’s descendent was wandering the world to find out how the people of other nations, any other nations, would respond to being ruled by a Chinese Government. How hard might it be to subjugate an entire nation? Would it be worth the trouble? Would we, the non Chinese, submit to totalitarianism and, if not, would we at least be happy to keep buying their goods?

We enjoyed the conversation that evening. It is not that often that we have to work hard to answer deep and searching questions whilst parrying with our inquisitor. He was leaving early the next day and he asked that we meet him before he left as he wanted to exchange details. He hoped that we might get together again in the future. He offered to drive with us across Europe and into China. Sadly, by the time we crawled out of our tent, he was gone.

We were relieved. I think we got off lightly.

Weird as it may seem, this is a true tale. If you’ve an unusual encounters tale to tell, please share it with us; we love hearing from you. Simply use any of the options below. The Wallys xx

Bad Belly or Bad Battery?

How to tell when your leisure battery needs replacing.

One deep dark night, as we slept, all snug and warm in Barri, a massively loud and penetrating alarm sounded. We jolted awake. What was it? Where was it?

The Wailing Wallys

We had to scramble; it was so loud that it felt as if it was inside our heads, stopping our minds from functioning. Naked and disorientated, we fumbled for light switches, both horrified that the neighbours must be waking up too, and unstintingly cursing us. There was no way they could sleep through this, as the teeming noise forced it’s way, pell-mell, out of our open windows and ricocheted into every crevice in the campsite. We had to track down the source of the noise; and kill it.

We grabbed the obvious suspect, a carbon monoxide (CO) sensor from it’s home on the shelf. Held it close to our ears. No. It was not that one. We had another one at floor level. We grabbed it. Yes! Turned it off. Put it down and it started screaming at us again. We ripped out the battery and opened all the windows and cracked open the door, just a little. Back to bed. The next morning, we replaced the battery. Over the next couple of weeks it went off a couple of times.

The final straw? We returned from a night out, it was 2am, and the windows were closed. Even before we saw the van, we heard it. Some poor soul had gone into Barri and shut the windows. That bloody alarm. Those poor neighbours. Our shame. We let ourselves in and gutted the alarm, again.

The next morning Wally consulted Dr Google. Batteries can give off hydrogen and CO alarms will sound when they sense this gas. Well, that was news to us. We have no bottled gas in the van when we are parked up and we do not burn gas in Barri, so we knew our problem was not CO. So why had our alarm gone off? The batteries are leisure ones and should be sealed. Barris batteries live inside the vehicle, unlike most modern motorhomes, where the batteries are held in an outside compartment. As hydrogen is explosive in air, we decided we definitely wanted this gas out of our Barri. Wally vented the battery cupboard to the outside air. 

Everything was fine. We thought we had solved the problem, until one evening, as sat in Barri happily sketching and writing, we were hit by an appalling odour; rotten eggs. It floated across my nose in waves. Wally said he felt fine. Really? Were we breathing pure methane? Better not strike a match.

The smell was still drifting around the next day. Once again we asked Dr Google for a diagnosis and it turned out that the distinctive smell of stink bombs is a sign of a battery breaking down. A few checks later with a multimeter and we had our answer; one dead-ish battery. 

We teamed up with another person on site who also needed to replace his battery and secure a minute discount for a ‘bulk’ purchase. 

Bargain Leisure Batteries

I guess we learned a few things here that might be handy for all happy motorhomers.

Keep a CO sensor low down in your vehicle (CO is a heavy gas) and consider leaving one in the battery compartment.

Carry a multimeter. Never used one? Google for instructions. 

When you go to bed, consider opening a window at head level or lower.

If your CO alarm sounds, never assume it is faulty, ask yourself why it is sounding and sort out the problem.

Always wear bed clothes as you never know when you might be alarmed.

If you smell bad eggs, you have a problem. Try changing your diet, your partner, or your battery.

One Shiny New Leisure Battery

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Madam, Consider Yourself Pollinated!

Windless February days along the Mediterranean coast, bring a golden dusting of pollen that rains down from the pine trees. On breezy days it billows about in great khaki coloured clouds. When the wind is up, it flies, thickly, horizontally, until it rams into the crevices in vertical surfaces. Nothing and no one is spared. It even finds it’s way into sealed containers. No part of a motorhome, camper van, awning, car, motorcycle, canoe, bicycle, or body, is spared. The dust is released so consistently, that the moment it is cleaned away, more lands. Gleaming surfaces recede into distant memory. A romantic dream of halcyon times, when the world and those who people it, were not a dusty and jaundiced yellow.

Pollen on my keyboard. How very dare it?!

The old trope that no part of a pine tree is poisonous is no consolation for a small minority, for whom this is a tissue issue. It is boom time for the local pharmacy, as sales of antihistamines rocket. Misery ensues. Inhalers whizz.

Pollen on a puddle of water.

After a few weeks, the pollen stops falling and we all breath a sigh of relief, apart from the allergic gang who still cannot breath. By now there is a thick, puce green meets yellow, layer of pollen on every possible surface and without rain, it is whipped up into the air with every puff of wind. It is nature battling to assert itself, one pollen grain at a time, in the face of the might of millions of pounds worth of huge, shiny white, diesel guzzling, planet destroying, motorhomes hunkered here on this tiny site of 109 pitches. The final assault is the ‘attack of the maggots’. Bucket loads of small male cones, the spent remains of all that masculinity, fall, pitter-patter, onto every surface. The final fling of the campsite sentinels.

‘Maggots’ (male cones), spent of their pollen and ready to fall to the ground.

Of course this rather tatty, basic campsite could go the way of many on the Spanish Mediterranean and cut down all trees, spread tarmac, add sun screening in the form of giant, overhead, horizontal blinds and pack in almost twice the number of vehicles in neat ranks. Seasoned travellers call this type of campsite a ‘car park’, because that is how they look and feel.

Playa de Bolnuevo campsite, Spain; a ‘car park’.

In fact, our site cannot chop down it’s pines as they are protected by law. The pine here, the Stone Pine to the British, Pino Pinonero to the Spanish and Pinus pinea to the overly interested, has to stay put, or else. They are a very tall, hard wooded, but light-weight, useful tree and can totter on for about three hundred years. With their parasol shaped tops and long, shingled trunks, they are a prehistoric beauty. The site owners could quite easily get rid of them, storm by storm, tree by tree, until there was nothing left. No one would be any the wiser. Thankfully the owners love the trees as much as the regulars here: despite the pollen and the ‘worms’.

The bark arranged like shingles on a roof.

Ancient species are always food for something. The Western Conifer Seed Beetle (Leptoglossus occidentalis) an American immigrant, is a sap feeder and deprives the baby cones of nutrient, which makes them drop off. The other pest is our old chum, the Processionary Pine Moth; more about his little house of horror here.

These are the trees that give us the uber trendy, uber expensive pine nut. It has been a food source for us for about 6000 years. Around the time that some of the local, neolithic cave art was created. These inventive people were collecting the cones from high up in these trees for the little seeds inside. A very long pole with a hook in the end and, I imagine, good eyesight are the tools of the trade.

Local Prehistoric Cave Painting, click on picture to discover more.

The cones are gathered whilst still immature, at about three years old, they are large, tightly closed and often still green. They are stored until they open up and release the hard shelled seed. The shells are broken open to reveal the fat and protein packed nugget within. A valuable resource to early peoples and us to us modern sophisticates alike. Some things never change.

The Stone Pine.

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The Happy Hoeple Grouple

The Dutch have a word for Hula Hooping, Hoeple, it sounds like hoople.

All it took was one person to turn up to a yoga class with a hula hoop and a group of old birds got into a flap; instantly. Why would anyone bring a hula hoop to a yoga session? Who knows. This was the moment that marked the start of what became The Happy Hoeple Grouple.

The Happy Hoeple Grouple

At ten every morning we would gather to hoeple, roping in any passing, or gawping person who was daft enough to make eye contact with a Hoeple Grouple member. Men and women, old and older, from all sorts of European nations were press-ganged into giving it a go, with varying degrees of success and much laughter.

Our tiny gang of English people burgeoned to include a Dutch beginner. It seems that what us plucky Brits take for granted, the enforced hulaing at infant and primary school, is a British preserve. For the rest of Europe, hula hooping is a novelty, like stilt walking or unicycling, best left in the circus ring.

Hoeple Grouple Movie

Our Dutch beginner took four weeks to learn to hula with grace, which meant she became our; Happy Hoeple Grouple Star Pupil 2019. She says she will lead the group next year, but not in hoepling, but in art. And when you take a look here at Josien’s work, you will understand why we are all as giddy as old goats about our next winter here, learning to paint beautiful handbags like a pro.

Artist and Houple Grouple Star Pupil Josien Broeren

Unexpected Pleasures

When we washed up on this campsite last winter, cold, bedraggled and unhappy, we thought we were running away to a CAMPSITE. And I guess we were. But this is no ordinary campsite as todays blog will attempt to demonstrate.

People come here for a variety of reasons. Like us, I’m sure you assume it’s to keep warm and live longer. Well, you are spot on there, but you win no coconut Sherlock. Once here reason goes out of the window and over the months and years, a real village community has formed, which some fully embrace, whilst others brush up against this bubble and bounce off onto pastures new and less invasive.

Like many people, we sit somewhere in between. We know that we will want to keep coming back, as there is something deeply appealing about a fully formed and welcoming community. It would very easy to fall into the habit of being here, year in, year out, but we doubt that we’re ready for the quiet life just yet.

Today, better late than never, we bring you a 4 minute video about the new year here as celebrated in our parallel universe.