There is, I’ve decided, a very real connection between the people who make urban traffic planning decisions, providers of  technology in hotels, and those who design the software supposed to cure the problems associated with trying to complete a hotel wifi connection.
Insert all three agents provocateurs into one day of travelling, and the results can be truly historic. As well as horrific.
Among the many other incompetent and useless things they do, traffic planners decide where the road signs should go, and what information they contain. What I can’t get a handle on is the criteria they use to make these decisions, and the qualities those who employ them think they’re after.
The two things must be connected, because otherwise we wouldn’t have the situation that pertains now. I mean, if the employers were looking for people to aid in the process of navigation (rather than social saboteurs whose minimum goal must be marital breakdown) we wouldn’t get the latter, would we?
Perhaps the linguistically strangulated ads do read like this:
Tylerborough District Council is looking for contrarian anarchist and antiChrist renegades with directional dyslexia syndrome to work in the important areas of motorised and marriage registry traffic. As part of its Diversity of IQ programme, preference will be given to those candidates in favour of all visual elements in the ongoiing outdoor information dissemination space being too late, too small, unclear, and behind trees.
Their job is being made both easier and more fun thanks to the existence of Satnav, but for those of us still memorising road numbers and place names, life on the road has become a never-ending series of 50/50 gambles as to whether right, left or turn round again is the answer.
It’s an international thing and thus, like paedophilia, a species problem most commonly to be found in Kent, Italy, Leicester and France. Mad signage I mean, not paedophilia. I don’t know whether there are competitions between districts and countries, I just reckon – based on long experience – that those four places excel.
France’s speciality is ‘too  late’. You approach Orleans, and only when you’re halfway round the ring road does it tell you the way to Chartres. You approach Rouen, and only after  a bewildering set  of roundaflyoverinterbouts does this minute sign appear saying ‘Dieppe’. I know people who would rather spend lunch with Keith Chegwin than go near the Parisian peripherique and its standard 3-second warning about each porte….which tell you the name of the porte, but not where it leads. Mind you, I knew people thirty years ago who drove through Leicester and were never seen again, except by the people of Leicester. They’re easy to spot, with long beards on the men and bald women eating the map book, their emaciated bodies clear evidence of many years spent running  out of patience, money and food.
‘Free wifi’ as a sign, however, seems at first sight eminently clear: at this motorway services, fast food joint or hotel, we offer wifi that costs nothing. On autoroutes in France, equally noticeable is a second sign that says ‘Wifi Gratuit Hors De Service’. The increasing tendency in such places is that it can only be accessed via an app on tablet or mobile; and in 50% at east of occasions, my browser’s security walls block anything unsecured.
Particularly galling is when Microsoft insist you’re connected, but the game little circular rotation shows clearly that you’re not….or the connection is limited, in that you’ve reached the server, but not the internet as such. That’s a bit too limited for my taste.
However, I have now realised (too late for this excursion) that one asks the hotel in advance is this your own server or some other poxy service designed to hack my pc into small pieces at the first opportunity, and over which you have no control at all? If that is the case then I think I’d rather stay at the Salvation Army than experience any more blank-eyed receptionists muttering that they don’t know but have you tried turning it off and turning it on again.
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The middle bit of Chartres is very nice, and the surrounding areas of the City are very not nice at all. I only went there to see the cathedral, although the frostbite I got taking shots of it will remain as a permanent memory.
To lapse into the architectural vernacular for a second, the cathedral  is fucking enormous. So totally does it stll, 600 years later, dominate the skyline, the construction stands as a sort of religious Bastille. I peered up at the two spookily high spires, and expected Lon Chaney to appear at any minute, swinging  about on ropes while yelling about how bells cause deafness.
The old part around the monster and the crumbling city walls are incredibly evocative. If a woman in a shawl and white cap had chucked the contents of a chamber pot into the street while shouting “Gardez l’eau!” it would’ve seemed perfectly normal.
But the intent of the building itself is blindingly obvious: to dominate any mortal coming close to it, and establish beyond doubt the glory of God. This is what fascinates me about such places: Sa Grada familia, Cologne, every one of them: “I’m bigger than you, now get down on your knees and appreciate how merciful I am”.  Mosques, temples, the Taj Mahal, the Vatican, Winchester Cathedral all suggest that God is called Bob, and he’s a builder who won the Lottery.
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As for Dieppe, well I’m bound to say there’s a certain likeable tragedy to it. This too is interpreted by the signage savants to mean you should only be directed to the ferries. These lie just beyond the modernised part of town, which is a dump devoted to selling les Rosbifs as many liver-damaging and/or stroke-inducing treats as possible via the gigantic Auchan and other emporia.
I ignored all these and discovered that there is indeed a place –  a real place – called Dieppe, but it was in hibernation. Driven by some Ian Fleming ember of romantic action, I had booked into the Hotel Casino. Fantasies of walking into the casino itself, dressed in a white Tuxedo and dressed to kill were in my mind…perhaps even with a licence to kill, and the expense account to announce at the roulette wheel, “Sixshty thoushand on 17 black and bring me a vodka martini, schhaken not shtirred”.
But it turned out, of course, to have the seedy air of addiction one finds in casinos from Vegas to Monaco. There was no Blofeld stroking a white cat – and more to the point, no youthful Shirley Eaton with perfect cheekbones and gleaming teeth undressing me with her eyes.  There is a severe shortage of dangerous intrigue in your average casino these days.
What renders most of the establishments irrevocably naff is the carpets. They all have swirly-whirly, multicoloured man-made fibre carpets; it always makes me think of the very large and vulgar lounge you might find in a neo-Roman-Abramovitch house, onto which some roadies have plonked twenty one-armed bandits, later covering the wires in black gaffer tape.
But in fact, the floorcoverings have a practical purpose. For the grey faces of those in search of five straight aces on these machines have lost not just their souls, but all sense of Time. They discard cigarette butts, dribble hard liquor and probably at times soil themselves onto the carpet below. Swirly-whirly carpets have been known to hide everything from blood to major oil slicks.
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Back in Dieppe, on the sea front it is for all the world like Lythm St Annes out of season, except somebody moved the sea nearer. There’s a strong wind carrying salty rain and the promise of a drizzly southern England to come. Yet despite all this, there is nowhere to park; it must be pandemonium at the height of the summer.
I wouldn’t describe what Dieppe has as faded elegance: whatever elegance it ever had disappeared a long, long time ago. Such appeal as it has now seemed to me abstract. The Hotel Grand du Casino, for example, represents the dream of a limited mind never quite realised. That dream suggesting that a neocon future might be one of the unlimited growth and trickling wealth the con artists promised.
This is not to do it down: it’s a well-run place with very helpful staff and a surprisingly good restaurant. It is not, as they say, up itself. And at €75 a night – bearing in mind that lasts from 3pm on arrival to 12 noon on departure – it represents staggering value for money.
I think on balance that Dieppe deserves more mooching around and discovery than I conducted. Down some of those windey back streets, one suspects, there are all kinds of cellar joints, family-run bistros and bars hidden by the sea front’s brutalism.
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But I’m not quite finished with hotel technology. Not just yet. There remains the question of door keys that don’t look like door keys any more. They are become plastic rectangles with holes therein, and they are thrust into horizontal door slits. The ridiculous idea is that this will open the door, but they rarely do. It cannot even imagine how many times I have returned to reception with these things, bearing the news of malfunction. One day I really will smile and say, “Door says no”.
Anyway, unless la Manche says “Non”, tomorrow I’ll be boarding a ferry on my first return to England in over two years.