SPOILER ALERT!! This is the last episode of 4. The first episode was uploaded on 3rd December (below).
Oh dear oh dear! How much trouble can a chap get himself into?
I thought I had figuratively put my pencil away until the new year and was embarking on a pre-Christmas clean of the surfaces in the front room when I took a call from my agent. Well! …………….
Far from bringing the Corsican affair to a close, episode 3 seems to have created a furore. Some were concerned that Sue and I might be hiding out in the maquis and how were they going to get their Christmas cards to us? I pointed out that there have been a number of verified sightings of us in Paddington, Greetland and, surprise, surprise Sheffield, but she said people were seeking reassurance. She also said that people were worried about the implied dodgy dealing and wanted to know what this was all about. And to top it all a group of workers in Leeds were seeking clarification about the nature of the giraffe print on the pyjamas – was it a skin print (brown background broken up with cream lines), or were there individual giraffes scattered across the fabric? I explained again that this was a difficult one as I didn’t own a pair of giraffe print pyjamas. I did wonder about saying the pyjamas were a skin print, off-set by a rather natty dressing gown covered with giraffes – but then I thought about my responsibility to my audience as a responsible travel blogger. I know travel writers can on occasion ‘big things up’ (take that Kevin F Rushby for example) but I thought I should draw the line at just making things up – my reputation was at stake after all.
She strongly recommended that I write a further episode to put minds at rest.
I opened the lap top on the back room table and was mulling over my options when I got an email from the film director. Having given the matter considerable thought she was now reconsidering whether ‘noir’, with its expectation of lots of murders, shootings etc, would be the most appropriate treatment. Moreover, she was now wondering whether the previously discarded giraffe patterned pyjamas could provide more of the core theme?
My heart sank as my dreams of a critically acclaimed filmic tour de force seemed to be slipping away and that my worst fears would be realised – viz that we would end up with an updated ‘Carry On’ treatment. I was just consoling myself that at least Sid James and Barbara Windsor wouldn’t be able to play the lead roles when there was a loud, insistent knocking on our front door.
As I opened the door a man in a dark suit, waving a warrant card, pushed past me into our hall and into our back room. It was Jim from MI5 (dept of cyber security). He explained that he hadn’t much time, so once we’d had a cup of tea and a couple of warmed up mince pies he got straight to asking about our recent trip to Milan.
I sensed some jeopardy here, so stuck to telling him about how good value the aperitivos were – typically buy a cocktail for e10 and then as much as you can eat from the extensive buffet – and that at one bar e15 bought you a double negroni (campari, gin and martini rosso) in a glass that had to be lifted with both hands! I had just got on to explaining how walking became a bit of a challenge after one of these when he interjected.
‘Was that at BAR 12?’
‘No’ I replied truthfully.
He nodded, then asked ‘Do you know Vladimir Vladimirovich?’
I shook my head, again truthfully.
‘I am afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.’
Crikey, here comes the shit, I thought.
‘Your travel blog has been hacked by the Kremlin.’
I couldn’t stop myself laughing.
‘It’s no laughing matter,’ he said sharply, ‘its fake news designed to de-stabilise international relations – your blog has gone viral in Europe and resulted in a diplomatic incident between France and Italy about how organised crime is operating across their borders. Italy is threatening to suspend all ferry crossings to Corsica from Livorno.’
‘Oh …..’ I said, making a quick decision that to suggest that all this hacking stuff was bollocks designed to prepare us for the coming war with Russia would probably not go down well at this point.
‘I must ask you to write a postscript that makes clear your blog has departed somewhat from reality – and that provides reassurance that you and your partner are safe and well.’
‘Oh well if it’s a matter of international importance …… I agree … of course …… but I’ll need some time to think about how to word it,’ I paused ….. ‘I’ll try and get something out for Monday.’
‘No … it has to be done now … and I have to see it and agree it. We can’t have a situation where the Foreign Office is pressurised by well-meaning folk to insist that the authorities in Corsica mount a search and rescue operation whilst all the time you are sitting here, wearing a duck patterned apron eating mince pies!’
I felt myself going red – I had forgotten to take the apron off!
‘But I have to clean and polish the brass fender this afternoon.’
There was a short silence as we stared at each-other, each with our own priorities.
‘I don’t suppose ….’ I trailed off.
Jim sighed, shook his head in resignation and then said ‘OK, where’s the Brasso?’
So we set too, Jim on one side of the table cleaning and polishing (now wearing the duck patterned apron), me on the other searching for some text I knew I had drafted a while ago when we were away vanning.
‘How about this, although it’ll need some working up? It was originally going to be episode 2 before …’ I hesitated, then thought sod it ‘ ….. before Vlad and his bots got to wreak their dastardly deception.’
Jim came to stand behind me and read through the scrappy notes. ‘Yeah that’ll do, but you need to make clear that you are back safe in England.’
‘Don’t you think it’s, well you know …. after Vlad’s stuff …..?’
‘It’s perfect, people will lose interest after that – that’s what we need to do, close the whole thing down. You could quote that Deidre Farrington or what-ever her name is – that’ll provide a bit of diversionary interest.’
I worked the text up and he had just finished polishing the fender (for the second time, I had spotted some holidays in his first attempt) when I asked him to check it through.
He pulled the laptop towards him and worked his way through the text, muttering occasionally to himself ‘Mmmm …. Yeah ….. good ….. OK’ and then, at the end, ‘Can you put this bit in bold?’
‘O …… K .. if you think that’s really necessary?’
He nodded and then added ‘You’ll need a title, something that will stand out …….. ‘I know’, he beamed, ‘ You literary lot like that literyation stuff don’t you? How about Pre Post Truth Postscript?’
I sighed, but nodded, made the alterations and dutifully uploaded the piece and pressed the button for circulation.
Before he left we had another cup of tea and some more warm mince pies. He told me that the hackers had been blocked but that I had to sign to say I had received the official D Notice prohibiting me from circulating any more material on the story. I tried to object to this saying that my readership would definitely be asking for more information and clarification and that this was infringing the right to freedom of expression.
He shrugged, ‘If I were you I would be worrying about another very basic freedom.’
EPISODE 4: PrePostTruthPostscript
Meanwhile, for those concerned about what happened to us (and who prefer a tad more realism in a travel blog), we need to go back again to when we were waved past the chap’s car that had grounded on the lip of the drainage ditch …………
I drive on, resisting the urge to speed up. The sharp bends continue to loom in our headlights …… and then there are more lights approaching from behind! As the vehicle reaches us the lights flash and I slow more and indicate for it to pass, which to my relief it does – and disappears ahead of us down the road.
Suddenly the road flattens and straightens and we are on the outskirts of Porto town. Checking that there are no lights in our mirrors I take the turning for the harbour and am soon pulling into the car park at the back of the harbour, relieved to see half a dozen other vans there, all snugged up for the night.
We stop and set up for the night again. A few cars come down the road to the harbour and we wait slightly on edge until they pass the entrance to the car park. We are left in peace and can again enjoy the distant rumble of thunder – and settle down to resume our interrupted sleep.
Not surprisingly this incident became a frequent topic of conversation over the following couple of days as we tried to make sense of what had happened. We knew there was a degree of antipathy towards tourists on the island and that this was loosely linked to groups agitating for independence from France. We were also aware that however fantastic our van may be for us this may not be a universal perception and that certainly in the summer the narrow Corsican roads are probably snided with the buggers. The guide books indicate that wild camping is officially discouraged. We had perhaps not stopped in the most appropriate place (The Calanche is, we later discovered, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and indeed probably would not have stopped there for the night at all if it had not been for the challenges of the drive back down the road to Porto in the dark.
The following morning we decided not to return up the road to Piana, giving up on our planned walk in The Clananche and drove into the interior instead to tackle a spectacular gorge walk. The next two nights we stayed in a campsite further south down the coast in order to service the van – and ourselves (!).We did feel a little unsettled by this experience but quickly put it aside and were then back into the swing of wild camping. During our 17 night stay on the island we wild camped on 12 occasions, up in the mountains, on the coast, in and on the outskirts of towns. In the ‘shoulder’ seasons there is not much choice as few campsites are open and, it is after all, one of the joys of having a mobile bed sitting room and a weather app on your phone!
In the end we concluded that we had run in to a local who was pissed off with tourists and camper vans cluttering up his part of the island – and had drunk a sufficient amount of alcohol to let us know about his displeasure.
Now safely back in England we are not sure whether we made the right initial decision to move the van – maybe we should have been guided by Dorothy Carrington.
Sue at that point, had reached the part of the book ‘Granite Island’ where Dorothy is eating dinner in a hotel in a remote village on the island in the 1950s when a racket of shouting and banging on the shuttered windows erupts – to be completely ignored by the other guests and the staff. When the banging and shouting escalates in sporadic bursts – and continues to be ignored – Dorothy is unable to keep quiet and asks what is going on. She is told that the din is being created by an ex-soldier who receives an army pension which is sufficient for him to live on without working. As a result he spends most of his day in the local bar, and most of his evening wandering around the village letting people know he is around. She is told that he is harmless and best ignored …………..