The Man with the Van – Part 2

The Man with the Van – Part 2

When we left Mr.T – who is also known as the Man with the Van and the Plan (well … sort of) – he had already invested far too much time and expectation into his dream of owning a vintage Citroën H van. The fact it had confirmed links to the Tour de France was simply the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. In anticipation of a successful van purchase he’d even even started wearing a beret and attempting (unsuccessfully) to cultivate both a pencil moustache and an air of insouciant indifference.

Then he’d had his dreams cruelly shattered by an American who plaintively didn’t understand the basic tenants of the Anglo-US “special relationship.”

As we pick up the story, the Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong has just outbid our plucky Brit and the dream is in danger of dying …


That Damn Yankee, Stretch Armstrong evidently had far more money than sense and a reach that might just have exceeded his capabilities. To be fair though, he had managed to extend his long, rubber arms out across a very large Pond and snatch away an historic H van right from under our noses. A van that lay so tantalising close, it was almost taunting me and sitting virtually on our doorstep.


Stretch up close
Demonstrating the long, long reach of Mr. Stretch Armstrong. (Is it just me or was Stretch modelled on Donald Trump?)

Perhaps I should have left it there, resigned to my plucky, loser Brit role? Still I messaged the BMX Bandit to say that should the sale fall through, for whatever reason … well, you know…

And it did!

The fleaBay ad had clearly stated collection only and for Stretch over in the US of A that seemed … well … a stretch. Now he was pestering the BMX Bandit for shipping costs.

“Uh-uh… no … no way” was my polite interpretation of Bandit’s slightly more salty retort, which, even across 2,000 miles and entirely different cultural barriers seemed a quite emphatic response and one that was decidedly not open to interpretation or negotiation.

So the van was ours?

Well no, not quite.

Even though we’d been in constant contact with the Bandit throughout this, he only went and relisted it on fleaBay!

After a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, effing and jeffing, cajoling and coercion, he finally agreed to end the listing early.

Yes! The van was ours.

But now, after many months of the van providing both exotic garden ornamentation and weed suppression, the Bandit and his Moll wanted it shifted. Like yesterday.

Bolleaux! As the French might say.

An emergency call out to the Club Facebook group for vehicle moving solutions rejected the idea of harnessing two score or more riders to tow ropes, for a more credible response from Dragster, who had a mate, Zander, who just so happened to have a recovery truck.

Bike commute day had rolled round again but was shelved for a lunchtime appointment with the BMX Bandit which meant I’d have to take the car instead. (Just the latest in a very long line of pitiful excuses: SLJ)

Zander, replete with his girlfriend (eh?) “in tow”  was already on station when I arrived and sizing up the job. Things were tight. Zander had to pull up on the drive of the neighbour opposite, close enough so he was almost touching the brickwork and his winch controls inadvertently interfered with their electrics, flipping their TV channel over and setting the washing machine off on a spin cycle.


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Finally though, winch and ramps did their thing and the van was hauled inch by inch up onto his truck. Good job it wasn’t a busy street as we made a great, if slightly exotic road block.

With the van on the back of the truck and Herman vee Dub’s postcode tapped into his Sat Nav, Zander and his girl set sail. As I watched van and truck disappear out of sight I idly mused about Zander’s companion and what possible reasons she had for tagging along on a routine pick up. Perhaps she was just a van fan, or perhaps they were going to make a day of it. Maybe have a picnic en route? The weather was good and Herman’s place was suitably rural and buccolic.

Some hours later in the office and still waiting for confirmation of safe van delivery, I was beginning to put even more credence in my picnic supposition. Surely it wasn’t that far to Herman’s?

A sense of foreboding was starting to build. What if the van had come loose? Would it be on the local news? An impromptu road block in a country lane. How damaging would it be to Anglo-French détente? Would I be liable? And, just how quickly could I round up two score or more riders with tow ropes to perform an unlikely rescue mission?

And then a text came through. It was from Herman and simply said “The eagle has landed.”

Panic over. Or perhaps picnic over. One of the two. Either way, our Historic H was now in safe hands.

So, spotted, bid for, lost, foreign bidder seen off, re-listed, negotiated, bought and transported in just over a week. That was one hell of a ride.

But what now? Well MGL hadn’t yet seen the eagle that we’d landed, so a road trip to Herman’s was in order. We were off to York that weekend and Herman’s place wasn’t that big a diversion … honest.

Arriving at Herman’s lock up, the French van stood out proudly against its German cousins, seeming to curl its lip in disdain at its muscular, Teutonic company. After some introductions (all communication had been by text or phone up until that point) MGL and I inspected our van.


Herman 2


I think MGL was beginning to wonder what exactly it was we’d “won” – Bandit had started and then stopped a camper conversion on the van that hadn’t gone that far – just some half finished bench seats and shelving above the windows.


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I love this photo from Mr.T of his van – I’ve no idea what it shows or even if it’s the right way up! SLJ

Other than that the van was just bits and pieces – engine cover, cab seats and petrol tank cover all detached and lying round, as if we’d bought a random pile of bits from a scrap yard and they’d thrown in an old, rusted and useless van carcass just to store the bits in.


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Up until now Herman and his crew had only seen the van on fleaBay. Having inspected it in the flesh so to speak, they declared the job a “good un”. That was reassuring at least. The H van would stay in the yard until there was space in the workshop and then work could commence.

At least Bandit had made the van water tight through the ingenious use of a pint glass, the perspex front of a washing machine door and copious amounts of silicone.  Even with my less than expert eye  I recognised that these weren’t original features, although I don’t know what it was that gave the game away- perhaps the fact that the glass was in Imperial measures, or maybe it was the word Zanussi stencilled on the washing-machine door.


Herman 1


We had a quick chat with Herman and impressed on him the three golden rules he needed to understand:

  1. We were working on a very tight budget
  2. We had a tight budget, and
  3. The budget for the project was extremely tight.

We thought we had an understanding and the basis for a good relationship. Time would tell.

The first task was for the van to be stripped back and then for it to be bead blasted so we could see what work really needed to be done. By the time this was complete we’d need to have an idea of how we wanted to proceed with Historic H and we still only had half a plan.

After taking some more photos we bade Herman a hearty  “auf wiedersehen, pet”  and continued on to York. When we got back we’d need to firm up our plans and find the money to support them. Good job nothing was going to happen straight away as we had a pre-booked holiday which was looming in 3 short weeks.

So, no pressure then, what could possibly go wrong?

To be continued …


Spare 2 minutes and help Mr.T shape the future of his van by completing this short survey he’d be very grateful.

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The War in the Trenches

The War in the Trenches

Club Run, Saturday 29th April, 2017        

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,200 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 22 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                        22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                   16°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cool


 

 

29 April
Ride Profile

Last week the nice people at WordPress, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say their politely programmed bots, sent me best wishes on Sur La Jante’s 3rd birthday.

So three years in and still churning out this lowly ‘column’ (as one reader rather grandiosely labelled it) or my ‘diary’ as another refers to it. (I thought diaries were meant to be honestly truthful, whereas I’m very liberal with the truth and have been known to outrageously embellish – in fact anything for a cheap laugh).

Anyway, it remains to me, nothing more than a humble blog or, as we decided a couple of weeks ago after adopting the Ashington idiom, blerg.

I think blerg seems an especially appropriate name as it sounds onomatopoeically redolent of vomiting; the disgorging of the wordy effluvia that passes as wit and wisdom around here, but I digress.

Saturday morning found me working up to another blerg entry as I pulled up at the meeting point after a wholly remarkable ride to get there, where nothing much happened at all. After the travails of the last few weeks, I’ll take that kind of boredom any day.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

I found Taffy Steve in mid-spiel talking about Uh-murca, Uh-murcan politicians and how to make Uh-murca great again, all the while pondering why the ruling elite always referred to their country as Uh-murca and never America.

This provided the perfect cue for my entry into the dad-joke of the week competition – which, by the way I feel I won hands down: “I hear the Trump Administration are trying to ban shredded cheese. They’re trying to make Uh-murca grate again.”

I swear you could actually hear the wind soughing softly through the tumbleweeds as I dropped the punchline.

Taffy Steve then tried to put the Garrulous Kid’s Uh-murcan upbringing to the test, by having him re-enact the pledge of allegiance that all school kids are supposed to start the day with. It was a decidedly disappointing, lame, half-hearted performance though, carried out with about as much conviction as (I like to hope) any real American kid with half a brain would adopt.

The Prof rolled up on the Frankenbike that he’s adorned with some deep section, carbon rimmed Zipp wheels – something akin to slapping lipstick on a pig. He still struggles getting on and off a “proper” bike without a mounting block, even after a couple of years of trying. I blame far too long riding his glorified-Meccano built, folding-shopping trolley of a small-wheeled velocipede, with its girlie step-over styling.

Yet again I instructed him to try tilting the frame away from the vertical before swinging a leg over it. Yet again, I’m not sure he quite grasped the concept.

Crazy Legs was chatting with OGL about new cars and comparing notes on the Citroen Picasso. Crazy Legs himself has somewhat reluctantly just swapped his own Picasso for a Cactus and the memories of his old car brought a sad tear of reminiscence to his eye. He professed that he really, really missed the ability of opening up the Picasso’s hatchback so he could sit sheltered under the tailgate whenever it rained. It was left to a clearly perplexed Taffy Steve to ask the painfully obvious and perfectly logical question, “Err, couldn’t you just sit inside the car when it rains?”

Princess Fiona reported that she had successfully led her “fish out of water” expedition of cyclists on a walk into the Cheviots last weekend, but the pleasant stroll had unintentionally turned into a 6-hour forced death march. Caracol was conspicuous by his absence today and while Princess Fiona was quick to re-assure me he was actually at a music festival in Leeds, I have my suspicions that she may somehow have broken him.

Crazy Legs outlined the planned and pre-publicised route for the day, which was heavy on climbing with perennial favourites, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench and Middleton Bank all thrown into the mix.

Zardoz shuffled up, already enacting another charade to highlight his (entirely feigned) dreadful enfeeblement and pitiful inability to propel a bike with any great vim or vigour.  In a perfectly judged, slightly quavering voice he pleaded, “You won’t abandon me in the Trench, will you?” a line I’m fairly certain he lifted in its entirety out of some patriotic, creaky old movie about the Great War.

With only 22 lads and lasses out, we decided not to split the group until the Mur de Mitford, when those looking for less hilly alternatives could follow OGL for an alternative, slightly gentler ride.


Off we set and I was soon shuttling between OGL and the Garrulous Kid, trying to follow two random conversations at once. We passed the eye-brow raising sight of what appeared to be a runner in cyling shorts and jersey. “Hmm, I think he’s forgot his bike,” someone quipped, even as the runner seemed to wave and acknowledge us as being in the same “tribe” as him.

I was discussing the Badlands of Dinnington, with the Garrulous Kid and talking about what a strange place it and its (possibly) unjustifiably denigrated citizens were. Then, as we swept down from the village,  frantic hand signals upfront sent us swerving around a major obstacle in our path. This turned out to be a black bin bag, stuffed to overflowing with the countless, bloody corpses of dead pigeons and dumped on the side of the road. Too weird for words.

Unfortunately, this prompted a bizarre and rather random conversation with the Garrulous Kid, which started when he ask if I’d ever been to the Royal Fee-ayter in Newcastle (I have) for the pantomime (yes, to that too) which he insists always, always, always, traditionally includes a sketch about dead pigeons. (Err, no.)

Naturally, once I’d doubted the veracity of his claim, he then had to work back through the entire group, trying to find someone who’d been to the Royal Fee-ayter and seen the pantomime that involved dead pigeons. I think he’s still looking for some sort of positive corroboration.

A quick pee stop found two of the oldest members of our group immediately reaching for their mobile phones, like social-media obsessed, needy teenagers, or perhaps sex pest’s let loose on Tinder.

Then a sharp scramble upwards, followed by a sharp dip down, found us approaching the Mur de Mitford around a tight, momentum sapping left-hand turn, horrible for anyone who didn’t realise what was coming  and found themselves caught in the wrong gear. Up we went in a rush, before regrouping over the top and assessing the damage and who was left.

Surprisingly only a couple had taken the opportunity of a less demanding route to the café and followed OGL and I was somewhat surprised to find Szell still with us, but reasoned the lure of tackling his bete noir of Middleton Bank had been too tempting to refuse, no matter how hard he had to work to get there.

With Biden Fecht and Ovis driving on the front, we were soon scaling the Trench and strung out in a long line. I eased approaching the top, recognising there were still plenty more hills to come and heard the unmistakable “swash-swash-swash” of G-Dawg turning a massive gear and climbing out of the saddle as he bridged across to me.

Another general regrouping and then we were climbing the long, hard drag up to Rothley Crossroads. At the top, an obviously fatigued Garrulous Kid was asking how much further we had to go. I told him it wasn’t too far, but heard a distinct groan when I mentioned we still had Middleton Bank to scale.


NOVATEK CAMERA


A rolling road led us onto the approach to this hill and hoping to take maximum advantage of any help he could get from gravity, Szell pulled out wide and began hurtling down the outside, pulling just about everyone else along with him, while Crazy Legs cried out in disgust at being swamped by hurtling bodies and chaos on either side.

We then hit the bottom of the bank and the natural order was quickly restored, with G-Dawg and Biden Fecht pulling away at the front, while those less enamoured of gravity began slipping backwards.

I found myself amongst the wheels as we reached the steepest ramp and, as the incline bit, the Garrulous Kid did a bit of ill-conceived fishing for another gear. With the change down, his legs started whirring round ineffectually and as he lost momentum, I pushed around him, rose out of the saddle and began to lead the chase to the front pair.

I ran out of hill before making it across, but the pace slowed briefly so we could reform and then we slowly started to wind it back up again. As we swept around Bolam Lake I manoeuvred to the back of the pack, waiting to see if anyone attacked up the rollers, but holding station as nothing happened up front. Where was the Red Max when we needed him?

Down the dip and onto the final climb and, as we rounded the last corner, Ovis attacked from the back and I slid onto his wheel. He dragged me up toward the front of the group and he sparked a reaction from G-Dawg before slowly fading and drifting to the side. Crazy Legs followed G-Dawg’s acceleration and I switched across onto his wheel, as we slowly wound in and passed Keel, hitting the front just as we crested the last rise and all finishing line-astern.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

As we stood at the counter being served, Crazy Legs unconsciously prepped my coffee with milk, while I handed him a knife for his scone. “We’re like an old, married couple,” he remarked.

“Well, except we don’t hate each other,” I replied.

“Speak for yourself,” he countered.

Charming.

For some reason, completely unknown to me, Crazy Legs then became fixated on describing pictures he’d seen of the Chuckle Brothers sharing a bath with a young female model, an image he encouraged everyone to Google – before concluding it would scar you for life. If that’s incentive enough for you, then feel free, I have to admit I’m not brave enough.

Under poor and imprecise instructions, we had G-Dawg chasing a speck of errant butter all around his face and I wondered if there’d be any aerodynamic benefits gained from greasing your head. This, quite naturally led to discussions about Spanish footballers, whose de rigueur, hairstyle of choice appears to be anything long, slicked back and very, very greasy.

Talk then progressed to Ronaldo’s unfortunate bronze bust, with its uncanny resemblance to ex-Sunderland plodder striker, Niall Quinn. We thought perhaps that only the Garrulous Kid and the artist would be able to see a resemblance between these two remarkably different footballers.

As if on cue, the Garrulous Kid then showed up, hovering over the table to ask everyone if they’d ever been to a pantomime at the Royal Fee-ayter, while I sat with my head in my hands.

Deciding to put him to more practical use, I asked him to go get some coffee and learned he wasn’t allowed coffee. I have to admit that far more than anything else he’d ever said to me, this made the most sense – he’s hyper enough that I just can’t imagine what he’d be like wired on caffeine.

I explained that what I actually wanted him to do was get refills for our coffees and off he went and dutifully delivered.

As he returned and finally pulled a chair up to the table, talk uncharacteristically turned political and serious, with Crazy Legs revealing he’d actually been paid a visit by his incumbent Labour MP. In person!

He’d discovered she was quite human, honest and had a decent sense of humour and he’d actually quite liked her. I’m not sure my MP ever leaves his party office, other than to shuffle down to Westminster periodically and draw his cheque and the only time we ever hear anything is when he wants our vote.

The Garrulous Kid then derided Jeremy Corbyn as a communist and I couldn’t help wondering why he thought this was necessarily such a bad thing.  Apart from the preposterous notion that he was a traitor working for the (now defunct) Soviet Union, the big reason the Garrulous Kid gave for disliking Corbyn was he would … dan – dan – dan … raise taxes!

I find the common, prevailing meta-narrative that always portrays taxes as wholly evil and some how wrong to be incredibly facile and tiresome. Just to be bad, I found myself asking why he felt those with higher incomes and incredibly comfortable lives shouldn’t be asked to pay a little more to help support a crumbling health care system, or our shockingly under-provisioned schools.

The ensuing conversation had Zardoz wondering what school the Garrulous Kid went to and what they were actually teaching them, but Crazy Legs felt the answer for his views could probably be attributed closer to home than school.

Lending an ear to the fast evolving conversation the Garrulous Kid was now having with G-Dawg about PSHE and Citizenship lessons, Zardoz nudged me and muttered, “It’s alright, we’re back on safe ground now, he’s off talking about chlamydia again.”

Turning the tables on the Garrulous Kid, who always seems to find at least one obscure and unlikely resemblances between a club member and some obscure celebrity, Crazy Legs suggested the Kid reminded him of no one quite as much as Jar Jar Binks. I think this was quite a blow to his ego, as he sees himself more as a bad-ass, Kylo Ren.

It was far too early for G-Dawg to leave for home as he’s conscious getting back before 1.00pm would set a very bad and unhealthy precedent. So, while Taffy Steve joined up with the rest for the return back and then his epic solo journey on to the coast, we settled in to waste a little more time with idle and inane chatter.

Finally judging it was safe to leave, we left Zardoz in the café to meet up with his venerable wrecking crew of veteran cyclists, while G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, the Garrulous Kid and me set off for home.


Crazy Legs and G-Dawg took up station on the front for the first part of the ride, while I rode alongside the Garrulous Kid and asked him the burning, million-dollar question – had he ever tried riding and talking to OGL?

In my own mind I was already imagining with horror the tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that might be unleashed if the two spent any time together. Disappointingly though, the Garrulous Kid reported riding with OGL is boring, as “all he ever talks about is bikes.”

At the top of Berwick Hill we pushed through and took over pace-making duties from the front two. By his standards, the Garrulous Kid seemed quiet and a little subdued over the last few miles. Perhaps he ran out of words, or was feeling tired after our rather lumpy ride?

Perhaps he was just savouring his last club run for a while as he’s been condemned to more Saturday schooling to try and improve his maffs. Either way it was a quite peaceable end to the ride.

With the sun finally breaking through I declared it was probably the best part of the day. Crazy Legs then rather astonishingly claimed credit and declared that from now on we should refer to his bike, the much-cossetted Ribble, as “Cloudchaser.” Hmm.

The Garrulous Kid and Crazy Legs then turned off and I entered the Mad Mile with G-Dawg at a quite sedate pace. With Son of G-Dawg absent, I guess there was no competition for first use of the shower so we had a more relaxed run in.

I waved G-Dawg off and then set course for home, which, like the trip out that morning, was unremarkable and incident free. I unclipped at the front gate having ridden bang on 69 miles with exactly 1,200 metres of climbing. Hard but fun.


YTD Totals: 2,480 km / 1,541 miles with 26,625 metres of climbing

The Man with the Van

The Man with the Van

As threatened, my work colleague Mr. T has kindly agreed to chronicle his pursuit of something estimable, novel and worthwhile – the restoration of Citroën H van back from a wreck to full working glory.

The ultimate plan is to not only enjoy this unique piece of motoring and cycling history, but  to have it grace cycling events, or serve as a support vehicle for riders and racers.  In this role it will bring a note of the exotic – unique and redolent with associations to the Tour de France of the 1970’s and legends such as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thévenet, Freddy Maertens and Bernard Hinault.


tousfoudelacaravane.xooit.fr
Photo from: tousfoudelacaravane.xooit.fr

Seemingly inspired by the inane ramblings of Sur La Jante, or possibly just to show how easy good blogging actually is, Mr. T has agreed to file episodic, irregular reports outlining the pursuit of his dreams and his experiences wrestling with his own inner demons, dwindling bank balance, better judgement and the vicissitudes of dealing with the Great British Craftsman™.

So, without further adieu (as an old boss of mine is fond of misquoting) here is his tale.

[PS: I can’t decide yet if this is a salutary warning to those with grand ambitions, or a tale of heroic fortitude, perseverance and inspiration. Perhaps, once we know the (still unwritten) ending, it will all become much clearer.] SLJ 09/04/2017.


The Man with the Van and the Plan (well … sort of)

A Guest Blog presented by Mr. T

My ride: (according to my fallible memory and rather poorly kept diary)

Total distance:        Not sure, but I know we’re not there yet

Ride time:                 1 year, 9 months, 4 days and 8 hours and counting

Average Speed:       0 km/h. Unless you count how quick my bank balance has shrunk

Group size:               7

Temperature:         Temperate. So far.

Weather in a word or two:      Turbulent – but with a bright outlook?


The Ride:

It started as most stories do on this sorry excuse for a blog, on a random morning one weekend. It wasn’t planned. It was completely spontaneous. You know, David Hockney once suggested you have to plan to be spontaneous. Well, sorry David, but your wrong … and you’ve never been more wrong.

So anyway, there I was, a Saturday or Sunday morning, relaxed, sipping a fine coffee and fully enrapt in Cycling Weekly and only very occasionally wondering where my club run was heading today and what I might be missing.

MGL (My Glorious Leader or My Good Lady – she who must be obeyed, or Mrs. T if you like) was quietly passing the time in companionable silence, flicking through fleaBay, apparently just for want of something better to do.

“There’s a van here, the type you like. It’s in Newcastle.”

Fully engrossed in an article about the rolling resistance associated with different tyre widths, I gave a Mr Delaney-type, distracted response, “Huh?”

MGL continued: “It says here it was used in the Tour de France”.

And that’s how this ride started…

fleaBay did indeed show a Citroën H van dating from 1973 and the copy did claim links to the Tour de France. After discussion with MGL about the benefits (I know … seriously?) owning such a van might bestow and what we might do with it, I was given permission to contact the vendor and organise a viewing.


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The vendor, the BMX Bandit, gave the all clear and so I arranged to pop round one day after work. It was a cycle commute day, so it not only added a few welcome miles to my (paltry, by all accounts: SLJ) Strava totals, but seemed appropriate too.

Somewhat fittingly, given its poor overall state of health, the van was parked up in the BMX Bandits front garden within sight of the local hospital. It looked strangely alien and out of place next to the neighbours fine collection of eclectic garden ornaments, but the BMX Bandit had an almost identical H van that showed what could be achieved.

Look, I say the vans were almost identical, but only in the same way those before and after pictures in women’s magazines claim to show the same person. One was beautifully and painstakingly restored, taxed and tested, white and gleaming and in full working order.

The other … well, the other, the van I’d come to see, looked like it needed a heart op or maybe even a full transplant. So, noting the need for what I euphemistically deemed some “engine work” I had a look around, not that I knew what I was looking for, but I took plenty of photos anyway to share with MGL on my return to base.


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This van definitely need some TLC and I’m useless at mechanicals as anyone in the bike club will tell you. So if we were going to take this on then it wouldn’t be me. Aha! What about Enzo? Our friend Enzo had rebuilt an historic Italian small car for us. He might fancy a challenge.

Before any excitement with fleaBay, a quick call to Enzo was required. The response was a little disappointing, “Merde!”said Enzo, “I don’t do French …”

“But … I know a man who might.”

It transpired that Enzo, the man who did Italian, but didn’t do French, knew a man, Herman Vee-Dubs, who did German and might do French. This maybe has to be one of the great unwritten benefits of closer European integration!

I left it with Enzo to put a call into Herman, who “normally did German but might do French” – if only for the novelty of attempting something different. Enzo knew we had a time limit and the clock was ticking.

Good news came through while I was out for an evening leg spin with Toposan. Herman, it seemed was was up for the challenge.

But, later that week we were outbid on fleaBay.

By an American.

Damn Yankees!

To be continued...

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