This week in bigge pics

Monday 30th September 2013 week 119 France.

    All smells a tad fishy....

    Le Puy-en-Valey is a small city almost a mile above sea level which houses a population of just twenty thousand. Oddly, in my opinion, the city is mysteriously twinned with Tonbridge in Kent. Why?. I don't know what criteria they use when it comes to twinning one town with another but it sure ain’t anything obvious. I'm sure Tonbridge is a very nice town. In fact I know it is, but it's not in the same league as Le Puy. For example: does Tonbridge have a 280 ton, 75 foot high iron statue of The Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, made from over two hundred captured Russian canons?, erm...nope. Le Puy does. In winter is Tonbridge a popular ski resort?, erm..... nope. Le Puy is. Does it have a chapel built on top of an extinct volcanic vent almost in the town centre? Does it heck-as-like! Le Puy has. So what then?

    The guide book isn't a big help. It tells me Le Puy is famous for it's green lentils which are grown locally.... fascinating. Trouble is when a guide book leads with that golden nugget of information you know it ain't going to end well. It also holds, the guide book continues, a famous Jubilee. Well that sounds better. If you want to experience the celebrations be here in 2016 because that,s when the next will be held. If you can't make that one, no sweat, you can catch the next in 2157, and no that's not a typo. The festival only occurs when the feast of the Annunciation falls on a Good Friday. The last time this occurred was in 2005, so I wouldn't go grabbing your diaries just yet. The Jubilee is in memory of a monk, Bernhard. He, mistakenly, predicted the end of the world in 992. The dreaded date came and went and Pope John XV, being well chuffed he'd not met his maker, (His boss, Ed) declared that each such date would be marked with a Jubilee. This must have rubbed salt into Bernhard's wounds. After all, if you’ve predicted the end of the world and it doesn’t happen the last thing you want is a festival to remind you of just how wrong you got it.

    Now before I go on I should tell you I liked Le Puy-en-Valey, a lot. I thought Dole was a great little town but Le Puy has outdone it with ease. Its attractive, quintessentially French, and an ancient town steeped in history. The old town is a maze of interesting, narrow cobbled streets. After spending an hour strolling around I doubt we found ourselves on the same street twice. Each one offers you a new perspective into its past and is a photographers dream. However it did smell of urine and fish. (It did not. Ed) It did! (Well only in a few places. Ed). It positively reeked around the old church. Clearly someone has been using the church steps as a urinal for some time. The stains were clearly visible. The smell cropped up again, further on. Around the Cathedral we got a dreadful smell of fish, old fish. We made our way down the hill, passed an empty restaurant and got a whiff of something totally unrecognisable, drains perhaps.

    The old town is breath taking and I'll say no more than that. I'll leave you with some very nice scratch and sniff photos.

 

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  Tuesday 1st October 2103 week 119 France.

    Talking double Dutch.

    I've said this before but I do find the French language quite lyrical and attractive. It also seems to lend itself well to politeness. For example: Walk into almost any high street shop in the UK and you're lucky if you get a hello from staff, unless it's a mobile phone shop. In those the staff have been specially trained to be extra annoying. Walk into one of those and some spotty kid, probably the manager, will say 'wasup dude?'. He will then ask you a series of questions which, not only will you not know the answer to, you won't actually understand. He will then explain all 102 different tariffs Vodafone has to offer before telling you that what you need is the 'Billy-no-mates-super-weekend-saver-package-with-optional-bonus-freebies. I have that. What this means is that Vodafone is my most frequent caller, constantly texting me about new tariffs, deals, up and coming pop events, and reminding me I've save twenty bonus points and if I text back my reward number I spend them on a free Big Mac!. Sorry, have I missed something? All I wanted was a cell phone I could make calls on! ............I don't want all the shite that goes with it, thanks I digress. For some reason a red mist falls over me when ever I mention mobile phones.......... I'll go into that another time!

The medival side of Le puy.

    If they are young, people in shops that is, they'll probably not even acknowledge you exist, let alone greet you. This is because A, your old and B, they'll be too busy texting, and therefore adding spice and purpose to their lives through social networking sites.

    In France you always get, at the very least, bon jour (Good day). Often it's the slightly more formal bon jour Madam, Monsieur, this, regardless of the age of the person greeting you. On leaving you are frequently wished a bon journey, (good Journey). Now it might be because I'm getting on, but I like politeness, it's free, infectious and just makes the world spin that much easier. The other day we were out walking, when a guy, digging a hole, called out to us as we past: Excusez-moi Madame et Monsieur, le chemin est bloqué. Roughly translated means: Excuse me sir and madam the way is blocked. How polite is that?. In the UK a shirtless fat bloke wearing a hi-vis jacket would have shouted, “Oi! where'd you fink your going?”

Most of the old part of town is like this, ancient. 

    It's worth remembering that French was the official Language of the English for around 300 years. It's why we have so many French words in our vocabulary. For example any word that ends in 'tion' is just the same in French, just pronounced differently. As is any word ending in 'ment', there are other examples. The average Englishman knows about a 1000 words in French, you just need to know how to pronounce them. However I've discovered speaking French is almost all about accent. For example if I say something in a kind of nasal, over the top, thick as treacle French accent, they seem to understand me irrespective if I say it in French or English. If I throw in, for good measure a, fatalistic shrug of the shoulders at the same time they think you're a bloody native, and I'm using some regional accent they've not come across. It works, you think I'm joking, try it. I'll say something like, I need to send a fax. Not knowing the word for fax, I'll say unfac, like Inspector Clouseau, and they know instantly what I mean.

Voilà

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Wednesday 2nd October 2013 week 119 France.

    Moving on.

    Someone asked about the exhaust. -I'm so glad people pay attention-. Well it cost £114 fitted. The guys at the Fiat dealership were professional and friendly. We muddled through with the language. They, with their smattering of English. Me, judiciously shrugging my shoulders at all the right moments. It was all good humoured. I know some people worry about having vehicle problems while travelling around Europe but they needn't bother. Every European country has perfectly good mechanics all eager to take your money, just like they do at home.

Prepare to be breathtaken.

    We left Le Puy-en-Valey yesterday and headed south, a hundred miles to the town of Millau. We managed, again, to shy away from the toll roads. I'm getting jolly good at this. From leaving Germany, crossing France and into Spain it would have cost us 97 Euro's in tolls had we stuck to motorways. Because I'm a bloke, and therefore hate spending money if there’s a way to avoid it, we will end up paying a mere 8 EUR. And I have to say, once again, that using the Route National pays handsome dividends in terms of the breathtaking scenery you get to drive through. France is a beautiful country, there’s no denying that. We crossed over into the Pyrenees yesterday and picked up the E11 which, for some reason, is a toll free motorway. Yet it's one I'd feel happiest to pay for, as building a motorway across, around and sometimes through a mountain range doesn’t come easy nor cheap.

A British design! God, I can feel myself welling up.

    You may have heard of Millau, at least you may have heard of the Millau bridge. Which is a spectacular construction and, if you ask me, quite beautiful. It's the tallest bridge of it's type in the world and was designed by a British chap, well done to him. The town of Millau is in the valley the bridge was built to span so we didn't cross it. We found a charming little camp-site on the banks of the river Tarn.

Ok here’s a list of twenty things, as a Brit you are used to seeing in the Uk but which are a bit thin on the ground in France. (That’s' not to say they don't exist here, Ed). No.

    1, Lamb, other than in some large supermarkets and then only a very small selection (hugely expensive! Ed)

    2, T-Bags without a bit of string attached. (The daftest invention ever)

    3, Sheep in fields (see one above)

    4, Road works. (Unlike Germany)

    5, An off motorway Petrol station where you can buy anything other than just Petrol.

    6, British foods.

    7, Gangs of eastern Europeans offering to clean your car.

    8, Charity shops.

    9 Car boots. ( Apparently you do get some now)

    10 Speed cameras off motorways (we've seen one in 450 miles of driving)

    11, Traffic wardens

    12, Super glue for less than a fiver (don't get me started)

    13, Anything that says it's open 24/7

    14, High streets dominated by mobile phone shops.

    15, Indian or Chinese restaurants.

    16, A sliced loaf that has the nobble included.

    17, Pound shops or equivalent.

    18, A town without a war Memorial

    19, French toast, French fries and French letters, because none are French in origin.

    20, And finally, just an interesting fact. France was the first country to legalise same-sex sexual activity in 1791. This contrasts sharply with the USA who legalised it 212 years later in 2003.

 

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 Thursday 3rd October 2013 week 119 France

    Boys and their toys

    If you've read my diary regularly you'll know I occasionally like to highlight some of the differences between us men and the fairer sex. And I know, from some of the male responses I’ve had, some blokes think I sell my own sex a little short. Granted, in some of my comparative examples us guys do come out holding the short end of the stick while the women turn out to be the heroines of the day. That’s true, but I do believe, in some ways, women are just a tad smarter than us guys. I put this down to what motivates the sexes on a genetic level. I'll not expand on that today but just repeat my view that we are hot wired differently. Both have strengths, and both have weaknesses. Now I'm only reminding you of this to excuse what I'm about to say.

Our View each moring, lucky us.

    This morning I positivity threw myself out the van, not because I was full of enthusiasm for the day, which promised warmth and sunshine, but because, just as I stood on the van step, it broke. This then launched me out the van as if I was Bruce Willis trying to avoid a hail of bullets. Fortunately my cat like reflexes saved me. (Cat like? Ed). Today then, was spent repairing the step. This involved drilling out the broken stud and replacing it with a nut and bolt which, it itself, involved going out and buying a drill.

    Now when buying power tools which, being male is the kinda shopping I can get my teeth into, I'm reminded that men design them and, in the main, men buy them. It's no coincidence that modern power drills resemble AK47's. They are purposely made to look like that to appeal to the macho, some might say childish, side of men's natures. I once bought a leather holster for my cordless drill. I wore it on my belt, slung low, for easy accessibility. I even had it laced to my thigh so it wouldn't swing about. Suffice it to say I felt like John Wayne and no sooner had I strapped it on than I started to walk like him too. Manufactures know all this. It's why they give them manly names and paint them industrial colours. Don't believe me? Then you try and buy a three speed impact drill, with twist grip key-less chuck in a pastel colour, you can't.

Just a pretty pictue.

    And that brings me onto the notion that perhaps tool manufactures are missing a trick because some women, at the least those that wear dungarees, also use power tools. So why is there not a range of power tools aimed specifically at the female market. They wouldn't come in a tough black knock about box but in small vanity cases, with an integral mirror. Rather than make them look like weapons they could make them look more like, say, hair dryers and also come in a extensive range of attractive colours to match their shoes. I can see them now. The Bayliss range of feminine power tools. I think that has a ring to it, don’t you? The Bayliss easy-drill or the Fem-sander with vibrator mode for effortless smoothing.

    Now I can already hear calls for my execution, but I don't think I’m being sexist just practical and realistic. The other day, while steadying something, I asked Hazel to pick up the hammer and give it a clout. (Don't tempt me. Ed) She immediately complained how heavy it was. I pointed out that was the whole point of a hammer, it was supposed to be heavy. She then took hold of it, by the neck, and tapped gingerly as if she was trying stick a stamp on an envelope. I've yet to find a women who can pick up a hammer and wield it properly and when I do I fully expect she'll shave more often than I. No, us blokes are simply better at something and we should rejoice in that fact. Although, the thought had occurred to me that perhaps when my back is turned, Hazel can drive home a six inch nail with one blow. This girly pretence of hers may be simply to make me feel more manly, who knows? (Darn! you have seen right through me darling. Ed)

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Friday 4th October 2013 week 119 France

    We only ever get older. 

    In some countries being old is revered. With age comes the wisdom of Solomon. With the folly of youth behind us our knowledge is sought after. We can, with ease, become both the carer and teacher of the young. With great age also comes position. We are, by virtue of years lived, the elder statesman in our families. Other members seek our council for they know our sage advice carries with it the gravitas of time. Of course this is before we start wetting ourselves, dribbling and calling everyone Sharon. (Such a promising start as well. Ed)

The old

    Did you read the report? and I quote?: Figures show the number of elderly people over the age of 90 has 'rocketed' in the last 35 years!. -Note the use of the word elderly, people would have done-. It then went on to say: The number of pensioners, aged over 90, has almost tripled in the last three decades. In 1981 there were just 2,500 people aged 100, this has now 'shot up' to 12,000.

    Now I'm not going to argue figures, I could, but I won't. No, what really pissed me off was the tone of it and the use of emotive words as in 'rocketed and shot up' which makes growing old sound more like an epidemic than a natural process. It was not an article rejoicing the fact that a few of us may, on paper, be getting to live a little longer, it was written as a warning!. There are far too many old people in England and the number is growing exponentially. What the fcuk are we going to do?

    Its true, older people today are healthier and we also have the medical technology to keep people ticking over a few more years past that point where they can make any useful contribution to society but haven't they contributed toward society their whole lives? That should mean something. In Asia, age is revered and respected and the old are well cared for and that’s where we should be heading.

The New

    Once, when the average age of a politician was sixty and all politicians looked like your grandfather, older people felt safe. Now that the dynamic duo are running the country, and quite frankly I wouldn't have put them in charge of each other, they don't. Politically 'age' is fast becoming an issue alongside education, welfare, housing, obesity and a hundred other concerns, something this government feels it has to deal with. They have already persuaded us to work longer by convincing us that at sixty five we'll all be getting our second wind. Remind me. Was there a national debate on the issue?. On the TV?. In the press?. No. We only ever heard their argument. An argument based, not on facts, but by crystal ball gazing statisticians. The legislation breezed through parliament. Politicians see age in fiscal terms only and therefore it's a minus entry in the accounts book. Rather than shape a country to fit it's people, they are out to shape it's people to fit the country. This is because they can’t manage public finances. Rather than manage, they simply demand more from us and we march to their drum beat. (so true. Ed)

    Age isn't celebrated. We don’t all congratulate ourselves that we are living longer. We see age as a problem for future generations. Something that will cost the taxpayers dearly. We are constantly bombarded with age related statistics. For example: by 2080 half the population will be so old there won't be enough bus seats to go around, or we will face a world shortage of Fixadent within fifty years. And that one day there will be more people out of work than in work. Well that ship sailed quite some years ago. It's all quite subtly changing your attitude to age. What amazes me, and I hope you too, is we never question our need to be the forth largest military force in the world, no!, just whether old people are really worth the time, effort and money we give them.

    It's a fucking disgrace. Now look, it's made me swear.

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