Travels with Rocinante – The Wine!

The French wine regions are always a great draw for foodies such as us. We had done Burgundy, Rhone, Provence the Southern Languedoc and Roussillon in past years. On this trip we intended to take in the Loire and Bordeaux. My personal favorite wines all originate from the gravels to the south of the Garonne.  So Grave was a target for our travels but first we headed for the Samur region of the Loire.

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La-Cune wine domain.

We had joined an organization called: ‘France Passion’. For a small yearly fee one gets a list of places that welcome motor-homes or ‘camping cars’, as they are known in France. These are mostly vineyards and artisan food producers who will provide a place to park overnight for free. One can of course, taste their produce and perhaps buy some, but there is no obligation to do so. We headed for the village of La-Cune and the domain of Jean-Luc and Jean-Albert Mary.  We were given a warm welcome and parked up right beside the winery on the edge of the vineyard. We set up our generator for the first time and were therefore truly self-sufficient. Having spent an hour with Jean-Luc tasting his produce, we bought three six-bottle cases. Two rouge and one fizzy rose.  We popped one for our dinner of grilled veal chops. It was a wet evening but we managed a wander round the bucolic and pretty village peering at ancient homes and bemoaning the many high fuck-off walls that spoiled our nebbing and nosing curiosity.

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Tank museum at Samur.

Next morning we went to visit the city of Samur and the tank museum there. I hate war but love machinery – go figure – big boy toys I suppose.

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We moved on to a site on the banks of the Loire at Montjean near Angers. Then another further east near Montrechard. The grand chateaux of Chenonceaux was the main event here. I have to admit great houses are not really my thing but B loves them so…

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Montjean on the Lorie.


Next stop a nice site 18k from Bordeaux city.


We had a booking at a much vaunted restaurant in the city called La Tubina. This place is renowned for simple regional produce cooked over wood fires. B had a starter of scallops poached in clear and simple tomato broth. It was divine and I was green with envy. My choice of baby squids, and I mean minute little things, was great but didn’t reach the heights of B’s. I followed with a main of crisp coated sliced sweatbreads. (I’m a sucker for offal.) B had simple grilled-over-wood beef fillet. We had a great and very potent 14.5% Grave to wash it all down.

La Tupina restaurant.
Enjoying a great meal and big robust Grave.

The day was a scorcher 40c (110f.) We suffered on the walk back to the car park and drove only a little out of town before finding a shaded spot to park up and collapse on the bed in-back to sleep off the excess of wine, food and fierce heat.

We headed south through the Grave region and tried without success to visit and buy some of my favored wine. Everywhere was closed! Either for an extended lunch or for their pre-peak-rush break. We added a dozen bottles to our under-bed stash at a few supermarkets that kindly provided a sampling of the Grave that the producers didn’t want to sell to us direct.

Leaving Bordeaux we drove south through the scorched plains of the the Landes heading for the ‘supposedly glamorous’ resort of Biarritz.

Travels through storms with Rocinante.

Camp at moténo

A holiday can be a very stressful thing. A month-long tour living in such close proximity to ones partner can bring that stress to boiling point very easily. We had invested a huge junk of savings in Rocinante and this was his first serious test, so I was anxious lest I’d forgotten something or something broke or didn’t work. So I was tense for the first week. As we settled at out first camp site on the north Brittany coast, that was expressed in my increasingly annoying supervision of everything B did.  We had a few minor yaps and barks about that and I tried to back off; not entirely successfully. Even though the van had been very cleverly designed and laid out we had to be careful about exactly how items where stored and where. Efficiency became an obsession for me so as I watched B, I’d be saying things like: “That goes there and needs to go in before that so they don’t rattle and you’d be better to snap-shut the lock now or you might forget later.” Real pain in the ass micro-management stuff.

She was nervous too and that showed in anxiety as I drove, she’d second guess the sat-nav or warn me about stuff I’d seen and was reacting too. In other words we were getting on each others tits big time! The crisis came to a head one evening when we had heavy rain and there was something in the cab we needed. (There are three front seats in the cab and one can’t walk through to the living quarters.) Rather than get out and get soaked I wiggled over the top of the seats and got the item from the glove box. Wiggled is not accurate – stuffed – forced – fell head first  might be more accurate. I’m not as lithe in body as my mind thinks I am! I flailed about like a stunned tuna trying to return to where I’d so impetuously come from. My thrashing legs got tangled in something and I was yelling for B to clear it and hold my legs so I might return. I was not too polite about it as I was beginning to hurt and thought I might do-in my back or lose my dinner all over the front seats. “Move that fucking stuff. What stuff? The fucking stuff tangled in my legs of coarse!”

When I got out, B lost the plot at me, cursing and yelling as she went off on an indignation rage. I lay on the bed and begged her to stop. She didn’t and the van shook with the yelling with me mostly shouting for her to: “Just stop! Please just stop.”

When we did eventually calm down I spoke of humiliation and how I reacted badly to feeling it or having it inflicted upon me or doing it to myself with stupid errors. I was humiliated by my mistake and my bodies failings. A childhood tortured by a mother, who delighted in humiliating me at every opportunity, has made me ultra sensitive to the feeling. I get too controlling trying to avoid mistakes that might produce the feeling.

B saw she had, and often does, use humiliation as a tool. We had a big break through of understanding and empathy. That was the last of the stress eruptions and we truly settled into enjoying the holiday, as we headed to the south coast and a camp site near Lorient. A place called Moténo Camping on the shore of an oyster filled bay called La Ria. (My daughter is called Ria and I love oysters nearly as much as her.)

La Ria bay

Lorrient Uboat base

Lorient itself was a disappointment, but the world war 2 U-Boat pens were worth the visit. They are still in use and many world ocean racing teams are based there.

the pens

still in use

I found the place awe inspiring but not in a good way. I could not escape the melancholy thoughts about how much resources and cleverness the Germans put into ever more efficient killing.

ocean racing centre

We enjoyed our four days in this area, walked the shore, visited the little towns, delighted in a local blues band at the little village pub while eating crepes, and getting a bit drunk. We went to Carnac and looked down our noses at the beach-set and sun-worshipers, as I tried NOT to notice the acres of nubile female flesh on abundant display.

We stopped at a… a field full of antiques and jumble. A big tent surrounded by row upon row of jumble. We collect pewter and we found a nice big jug that we paid a whole six Euro for. It polished up a treat and serves as reminder of how wonderful travel can be – after the storm has passed.

Rocinante – the adventure begins.

People travel for different reasons, for us it’s all about curiosity on the small scale. The details of how others live, where they live, how they eat. We are long term Francophiles and have traveled there often. It is a big country and the regional differences are striking and fascinating. This 32 day maxi-venture in Rocinante presented us with an unrivaled opportunity to see the country in a new way. No route plans, no itinerary and lots of time to poke about in the detail. In particular have a fully equipped kitchen on-board allowed me to explore my passion for French regional cuisines. Markets and supermarkets are a constant source of delight for me and B often joshed me about suffering what we called ‘kitchenitis’ when we stayed in hotels.

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Ready for the off at the ferry port.

No kitchen longings this time. We got off the ferry in Cherbourg with our fridge empty. Our first stop was a little town famous for the making and selling of copper pots – Villedieu les Poéles. We’d had a lovely sauté pan from there many years ago but that was destroyed by a wire wool wielding pot washer in our restaurant. So we returned and left with a splendid new pan. We then found a supermarket and stocked up on goodies for that nights supper. Veal was the main event.

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B departure excited and suffering just a little anticipation anxiety. Mine was off the scale!

We were heading for the north coast of Brittany and a site from the CC Camping Card book we’d invested 15€ in. This gives discounts at listed sights in the off season. Off season runs to around the 7th to 10th of July. We were aiming for the little resort town of Le Val-Andre on the Baie de Saint Brieuc on the North Brittany coast. This proved to be a longer drive than anticipated and we didn’t arrive at the site until 18.10. Our very first camp-site proved to be a vexing and discouraging problem. The entrance was closed by barriers, the office was shut and the contact number was a message. Our email booking had not warned us of their strict ‘closed at 18.00’ policy. We were saved by the Garmin sat-nav which pointed us to another site near by at Pleneuf Val- Andre. This little family run site was not in the book but was open, friendly and welcoming. Unlike Stalagluft 61 atop the hill in Le Val-Andre.

On the road in Normandy. B and D day?

By the time we got set up I was hot, bothered, a little flustered, and I made a real hash of dinner. The veal might have been edible had I remembered the electric grill we carried, but I fried it and it came out like boot-soles! Dinner was a disaster. We opened a bottle of wine, had showers and collapsed in our very comfortable loungers under the gazebo that B had struggled to put up, as I cursed over a hot pan.

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Our fist camp site – me knackered and still fuming!

After a few glasses and B telling me to: “Shut up and give over with ranting and apologies.”

The area and the site were so nice we lingered longer than intended and explored the area. The resort had been full of acres of short-short exposed thighs and assorted flesh when we’d arrived in scorching sun. Next day it was overcast  and the sun worshipers had vanished to be replaced by real people and a nice little market in the town center. I do love a French market. B bought a cheap woven bag and I bought nothing but looked at all the fish and offal. My previous night’s disaster had kerbed my enthusiasm for the pans. That night we ate out.

Soothed and beginning to settle.

So we settled into our routines and tweaked Rocinante to increase comfort. By the third day my anxiety had receded and our initial slightly tetchy stress had subsided. We knew we were going to have a wonderful adventure.

Travels with Rocinante.

Four days was he deliberating upon what name he should give him; for as he said himself, it would be improper that a horse so excellent, appertaining to knight so famous, should be without an appropriate name. … he finally determined upon Rocinante (Rozinante),  a name in his opinion lofty, sonorous, and full of meaning…..

The mount.

I had no idea to tilt at windmills but had an idea I might go to La Mancha on the hot Spanish plains to see where the mythic monsters live.  My steed was to carry two and it would be named Rocinante 6. Rocinante was the name Cervantes gave to Don Quixote’s horse. It was the name John Steinbeck gave to his camper in his book Travels with Charlie in search of America and it was the name I gave to my first camper – Rocinante 3 to be fair to the previous users. Now we have Rocinante 6 my latest and best camping-car /motor-home/motor-caravan.

The big red one

There is some disagreement about the spelling for the Don’s mount, I’ve seen it rendered with an S rather than C and a Z too. How so ever it’s spelt; it’s the idea that counts. The noble and faithful mount that carries it’s knightly and grandly deluded rider on his adventures and his final doomed tilt at a monstrous windmill.

The way forward
The freedom box inside the door contains the portable generator.

A knight errant without a mistress was a tree without fruit or leaves and body without a soul.

This area makes up into an huge bed.

My mistress was to be the ‘beloved B’. Brigitte shared my dream of romantic wandering over unknown lands filled with sunshine and lacking the rain so… always here, in Ireland.

The cooking, eating area and toliet room.

Our Rocinante 6 was a long time in the finding. Beloved B and I having decided we wanted to spend some retirement funds on a vehicle for our dreams – dreams of adventure and exploration – mini-ventures locally here in Ireland – midi ventures here and the UK for longer periods and maxi-ventures to continental Europe. Close encounters with windmills would be avoided and no lance would be carried.

Much research and one false start led us to this bright red VW LT35, beautifully fitted out with exquisite carpentry by a fastidious enthusiast. It is not conventional in that it is all electric – no gas fridge or cooker. This means either an electric hook up in a camp site, a small portable gas stove or – we get out the 3kw generator hiding under the big box inside the side door.  (This was my way of giving us freedom to camp almost anywhere.) All though called silent, the generator running makes enough noise so we would not want to stop near other campers.

Rocinante 6 is the right size for us, big enough not to be cramped inside. We can leave the rear bed made up and still have a table to eat at and plenty of space to work at cooking and cleaning. It’s narrow enough to negotiate little mountain roads and easy enough to park. It is comfortable to drive and very fast but the economy is good too. All camper vans are by their nature a compromise but this one has the right balance of compromises for us. However, a few short trips showed us some mods were needed to the bed arrangement. My six two frame would not fit – so some woodworking was needed to extend the bed. It now sleeps two long folks in great comfort.

Rocinante’s saddle

Rocinante’s maiden maxi-venture was planed for June/July – 32 days in France and Spain. No actual route plans were made. We would land in Cherbourg and head southish – that was the extent of the planning.

In the next blog I’ll get into the actual travel and waffle about the philosophy of looking and touching the new.

The tec: VW LT35.  Max weight 3.5 tonnes. 2.5 ltr 5cyl turbo diesel. Shares body with Mercedes Sprinter. Top speed 100mph! Average fuel – 30mpg. Fully insulated and winterised. Fully loaded weight ready for maxi ventures = 3.1 tonne. ( Lots of space and payload to return laden with fine French wines!) Special alloy wheels fitted to save weight and allow heavy duty 16″ tyres.

On imagination.

My beloved B and I recently returned from four days in Barcelona. The Catalan capital has long been on our bucket list, largely due to an architect called Antoni Gaudí. We have seen many iconic images and films about his work. A potent appetizer. His natural forms and original thinking appealed to us hugely.

Expectation and images had created a… an appeal, an appetite that could easily have led to disappointment. Too often we have been underwhelmed when reality has failed to match such expectation. We have stood before certain great works in Rome and Amsterdam and been respectfully awed by the obvious talent and skill that created such work but somehow we remained underwhelmed, unmoved.


And so we approached Casa Batlló with restrained optimism.  Huge crowds stood outside the tall thin terrace and that kicked in my aversion to long queues. We looked from across La Rambla at the extraordinary exterior and that was enough to encourage me to cross the road. As it happened the dense crowd was content with the exterior and few had joined the ticket line. We were inside in minutes and since it was early it was not oppressively crowded.

As we climbed the stairs to the first floor we exchanged knowing grins. There was going to be no disappointment here. We pointed, smiled, touched and minutely observed a great deal but spoke little, as we drank in the detail and the forms. We were truly and properly awed by the small-scale spectacle of Gaudí’s achievement. The beauty was in the detail and the overwhelming attention to every tiny facet of the design. On the way back down from the roof I stood by a door with my fingers nestling in the ergonomically perfect form of a small handle shaped to fit the hand. I called B and she too held it and smiled and a tear moistened her eye. We sighed and smiled and touched each other and we were silent.

That day we saw more, so much more, but it was only when we lay side-by-side back in our hotel that we spoke of the Gaudí house that had moved B to tears of joy.

We replayed and synced our mind movies and talked: “The blue tiles in the light-well that were graduated from dark to lighter lower down to exaggerate the incoming light…”


“The turtle shell patterns…”

“The curved organic flow of wood in windows and frames and the way light was used to paint rooms through stained class…”


Those mind movies play still so that weeks later we share and try to find words to connect our imaginations so our four-day break will stretch into the future.

I marvel at the power of imagination; I marvel at the creative spark that can move others to a lifetime altered by that creative spark that ignites ones’ imagination to previously unknown heights of … what? ‘Aesthetic appreciation’ is accurate but too narrow. The nature and power of the human imagination, when done this well, is a soaring flight that lifts us and makes us feel glad we have that creative spark. Some, like me, try to find that spark in words, others like B, in dance movement, still others with music or paint or film or any of the other arts-and-crafts that seem so fundamental a part of the human imagination.


For me the majesty of Gaudí’s basilica Sagrada Familia, is a homage not to any religious mystical experience, but to that spark and leap of human imagination that can create joy and tears in us.

Chepi The Butterfly Effect. The next novel.

I am perhaps half way through the first draft of the last in the trilogy: The Butterfly Effect.  Chepi is a fascinating character that has a secondary but pivotal role in many of my previous novels.  A first nation Cree who grows to be a seer and medicine woman. I say woman because that’s how she lives but she was born a boy who is … I was going to say transsexual; but that is not accurate – Chepi transcends normal ideas of sexual identity.

In this novel we follow Chepi from childhood to extreme old age – she lives to be over 115 years old.  The fist half of Chepi’s story is as it was in the Prairie Companions, the Daniel series, and the West Cork Trilogy.

In this novel Chepi’s path changes as we follow the alternative story lines established in the two Rachel novellas and the Bonny and Lauren novels of this trilogy.

Thanks to Nancy G Photography, I have a perfect image for the cover of the Chepi. This image is exactly how I saw the young Chepi.

Chepi as a child.
Chepi as a child. The new cover.

What’s in a name?

What is in a name?   A whole world of meaning, inspiration and ideas that are highly personal to the namers.

Art was a surprise to me but the inspiration story was not. Ria and Paul were looking at the first scan print and she said, “It’s like art.”  A glance and a grin told these pair of creative artist they’d found their child’s name. Art it was.

Leonis came when they remembered looking at the night sky in Donegal during a late honeymoon when the baby was earnestly  wished for on the stars . Constellations were named and ’Leo or ‘Leonis’ spoke to them.

So we had Art Leonis Elliott.

Then  the birth fell on the birthday  of Paul’s much loved Grandfather, Parker Lindsay Legear so in tribute, Parker was added and we have Art Leonis Parker Elliott.

I have written about the First Nation tradition of letting a new-born find its name. The child or mukki will be known as say, Ria’s mukki until that happens.  In the western Christian tradition a child is named at birth in case it dies and it used to be baptised quickly too. So we tend to seek out names before the birth. My daughter Ria and her man Paul had names sorted because they knew it was boy well in advance.

Ria's bump henna Ria had a great henna design on the bump with the name rendered in Hindi. We did our heads in trying to translate it but never did get it.

Birth is about renewal and the passing  on of genes and influence from one generation to the next. Little Art found his names early and he can choose which fits him best when he is older.

We who are onlookers may be tempted to be critics but we shouldn’t be because we are not entitled – for what’s in a name is personal and belongs only to the parents and the child. On the 15th of June at 13.05  I celebrated this birth and the continuation of my line and the child with the unique personality who found the names: Art Leonis Parker Elliott.


Music in my novels.

In my novels there is one piece of music that features several times. It is the aria: Je crois entendre encore, from the little known George Bizet opera: Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers).

This beautifully haunting aria sung by Nadir (tenor) in which he sings of his love for Leïla has always touched me deeply. Why is not so mysterious. It is simply one of the most spine tingling, hair raising pieces of music ever written.

A scene from The Pearl Fishers - at the Met.
A scene from The Pearl Fishers – at the Met.

The Pearl Fishers is rarely performed, the last was created by the English National Opera in London in 2010. However the Met in New York decided to present this production as ‘a live to cinema and radio’ performance on Saturday the 16th Jan. It has been 100 years since the Met put on this opera featuring the legendary Enrico Caruso. I only spotted this on the cinema listings at four the same day when looking for times for the film The Danish Girl. I quickly got on line and booked one of the few remaining seats. I rushed off and came in to the cinema at 5.30 for the 6.00 performance only to discover I’d come to the wrong theater!

I got to the right place at 5.55 following a fast and furious drive to the far side of town. I settled in a house packed with Irish opera lovers of advanced age; I’d say I was the youngest person there by a decade.

I had listened to this opera many times on my iPod but this was the first time I’d seen the live performance. I was stupidly excited and worried I might be disappointed. I was not. The cinema fouled up the lighting in the theater which took the edge off a bit, but I left delighted, uplifted and having  had a supposedly unmanly blub just two times.

It confirmed for me the correctness of using this opera in a few high emotion romantic scenes in my novels.

It was fortuitous that I stumbled on this – it was without doubt a once in life time opportunity and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.



The year past and ahead.

It is almost a requirement of this time of year to reflect on the year past and the year to come – so – uncharacteristically I am going to follow convention and do that. This was my writer’s year:

The big interest in the past year centered on an experiment on the value of social media for book sales. I have long been skeptical about the value of social media to an author in generating sales. Facebook and Twitter in particular, are awash with posts that essentially say: “LOOK AT ME and BUY MY BOOK.” I have never bought a book as result of such posts and I know of no other person who does. In the main such posts get ignored, blocked or sent straight to the trash bin. Advice books for writers are full of how to use social media and how essential it is to any Indi author. You see this advice mostly in books being sold on-line about how to sell on-line. It’s very incestuous and mostly absolute bullshit! Indi authors rarely sell serious numbers of books and are an easy target for people telling them how to get thousands of sales.

Books sell the same way they always have – by word of mouth recommendation reader to reader. That is especially true for writers like me who are not writing about shades of grey, vampires or what ever the current hot formula or genre is. If one writes literary fiction and presents ones work with good covers, properly edited and designed; then reader’s recommendation is the only thing that sells that work.

I decided to put this idea to the test last year. I withdrew from almost all social media activity. No tweets, only a simple announcement of a new book on FB, my website and blog and that is all. I stopped blogging every month and did not participate on Goodreads or any other forum.

Result? My sales are better for 2015 than 2014 when I was doing the social media thang.

The lesson for writers is this: Don’t buy into all the hype. Make the best book you can and keep writing. You must keep new titles coming and they must all be to the highest standard possible. Then hope readers like your efforts enough to buy the next and tell their friends. Unless you are Random House and can throw huge sums at a launch, then huge sales are not going to come your way. Accept that and your life, as a writer, will be better, more satisfying, and more productive. If you are hoping for fame and huge sales as an Indi you are playing a lottery with very unfavorable odds of winning. Write because you must.

A slowly growing base of readers who appreciate my efforts; the smile I get every time I get a sale announcement from Amazon or Smashwords, and the steady trickle of money into my account is my reward. A good and genuine review is sure to generate a broad smile.

Last year I published the first two novels of the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. Bonny The Butterfly Effect and Lauren The Butterfly Effect. I also wrote the next novella in the Rachel series: Rachel’s War. I refined and republished The Prairie Companions and tidied up all my other titles. It was a very productive year thanks to the time freed up by my largely abandoning social media activity.


The next novel.
The next novel.

What of 2016?  I have begun the next in the trilogy called: Chepi The Butterfly Effect. The cover of this is used here. The photo on which my cover artwork is based has been a puzzle.

It is well known image but I cannot find the person who might own the copyright to this photo. If you know please let me know. I may not be able to use this for the cover if I can’t find the copyright status of the image it’s based on. I have changed the image a good deal in this cover artwork but still I am reluctant to use images in this way with out the owner’s permission.

Apart from Chepi, I plan one other novella and perhaps I will finish: Beloved Warrior. This is about my family during the first war. It has been set aside three times and is proving to be a difficult subject, too personal perhaps?

More likely I will rewrite the novella called: Leotie Flower of the Prairie and turn it into the full sized experimental novel it was always intended to be.

Have a happy and productive new year.

(All three of you who read this?)