Weekly read 153

    Monday 26th May 2014 week 153 France.

    Balls.

    Can I ask you a serious question? Good. Thanks. Would you join, and become a member of, an organisation you were fundamentally opposed to? I'm guessing you're going to say No!. If it's 'yes'' then I wouldn't bother reading any further as the following point might well be lost on you. Okay then, what if I now told you this organisation will pay you £6600 a MONTH! and give you £250 a DAY! living expenses. I reckon your now wishing you hadn't been so quick with your answer. I know would I be. Like you I'd want to know more about the organisation before I reconsidered my answer, so let me give you a little background info. 

    The EU was formed with grandiose ideas in mind. When conceived, those involved, must have thought they were on the cusp of altering European history. A new and exciting Europe, strong and united was in the offing. A collaboration of like minded countries who would form a formidable alliance, the likes of which the world had not seen. The financial future of Europe, and all those in it, would at last become secure. A new economic force, to rival any in the world, would be realised. And most importantly, as unlikely as this sounds today, we wouldn't get embroiled in WW3. All very laudable sentiments I think you'll agree. The thing is, few people seem to give a rats arse about those lofty ideals any more. For the few that bothered to vote, it was all far more personal.

Town, more of which I will tell you about tomorrow. Iit very interesting and no polotics, promise.

    So here’s the dilemma. Do you take the job of MEP or not?. For me personally, I can't see the logic in being anti an organisation, then rushing out and joining it. I'm opposed to the BNP which is exactly the reason I've not joined it. Surely joining something you're opposed to is akin to say........ being an anti smoker and then lighting up a fag in your tea break. Someone would rightly question your motives.

    Some might argue that it's only from within can one bring about change. But hang on. Nigel Farage, he of UKIP fame, has been an MEP for fifteen years, since 1999 and in that time he's achieved bugger all. He still constantly blames Brussels for all of Uk ills. He's always moaning about how much membership costs the British tax payer. And he should know. After all, according to him, his earnings, as an MEP, are in excess of three million pounds. For that kinda dosh I'd sell my granny. -I can say that as I don’t have one-

    So what are we to make of this new crop of anti Europhiles who have just been elected. I wonder, come their first day in office, will they take their seats within the EU Parliament armed with what? a hidden agenda?. Will they be out to thwart the EU at every turn? Will they be plotting to bring down the whole house of cards around their ears? Will they sit there, arms folded, long faced, with the hump simply to show their collective disapproval? I doubt any of it. I reckon their Euro scepticism will start to vaporise about the same time they bank their first monthly pay-check of £6,600. (less tax) and fill in their first expense claim form. I also think they'll quickly become accustomed to travelling around Europe, first class. And I fully expect they'll get used to the endless European parties, the official functions, the dinners at various embassies. They’ll trot along merrily on all those free fact finding junkets around Europe. In short: being an MEP will seduce them. I'll not lie, it would me. And on the rare occasion they actually have to do anything, it will be to sit and debate the length of the Euro sausage or the standardisation of condoms. Hardly revolutionary stuff.

    It's a British parliament, through a referendum, not a European one that will see us stay or leave the EU. Thing is, no government has the balls to call one! well apart from Ed I guess.

 

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 Tuesday 27th May 2014 Week 153 France

    Tale of two city’s.

    I know in the past I've been a tad critical of the French. Reason is: I'm still not sure if the buggers actually like us. Just as I begin to think they do, I get a rude one, or one that ignores me or doesn't return my smile and that resets my do-they-don't-they meter back to square one. Anyhow, having been back in France two weeks now I've realised, I actually missed them.

This, to the children of France. in a small one horse village

    I like, for example, their inherent disrespect for authority. I love the way they philosophically shrug their shoulders when their President has been caught in bed with an actress. I envy the way they park on street corners, pedestrian crossings and pavements and no one gives a monkeys because, this is France and motorists have rights too. I like the fact shops are shut on a Sunday and few open on a Monday. I'm jealous of their carefree attitude to so much that us Brits fret and angst over. I envy they’re a republic and not a monarchy and therefore live in a near classless society not governed by a bunch of hooray Henry’s. And importantly I respect the way they remember the wars and those who died in them. In short, I like their Frenchness. And I know, if I could talk like a French native, I'd come across as sexy as hell.

    But I am not a Francophile. I don't love it all.

    Take where we are now. Before arriving, I read that the camp-site is situated below Mount Olympus park. Wow! sounds impressive right? That’s what I thought. I immediately had visions of us tramping around Mount Olympus trying not to get lost and enjoying the fauna and flora. Scaling the peak to take some awesome panoramic photos. Turned out, the name somewhat over sold the place. Its actually a chaotic collection of trees, on a hillock with a path running through it. A ten minute walk and we were out the other side standing in some residential street. If ever a park needed serious renaming, its Mount Olympus.

    The Hotel ville. looks like something Disney would knock up

    The City itself was once two towns on either side of the river Meuse. One called Charleville, the other called Mezieres. Then, in 1966, it was suggested the two became one. All agreed it was a cracking idea. But what to call it? After much debate, argument and many suggestions the highly imaginative name of Charleville-Mezieres was decided upon. Excellent, only took em two months to come up with it.

    Charleville was the brain child of one Charles de Gonzague, an Italian prince. In 1606 he had a master plan to build a city in France to rival some of the great cities in Europe. He set about building Charleville in a baroque style. It's streets were laid out geometrically, he did a splendid job. It must have looked stupendous in its day. Unfortunately, its been going downhill ever since. Today its a queer hotchpotch of building styles, although the square is still very impressive. Problem is, as always, no one has the money to keep these wonderfully grand old buildings in a decent state of repair nor can afford to live in them. The wealthy tradespeople, shop owners and well-to-do who once lived in them moved out once the French countryside became safe to live in. Living out of town was not an option when considering a home unless it was practically a fortress. Once law and order arrived, Europe’s affluent moved out and the slippery slope of decline was set in motion.

    Today many of these grand old buildings are left empty. Their façades intact but their windows dark and lifeless. Soot and traffic grime now cover the ornate stone work. Now, no one wants them. They are too big, too impractical, too costly to heat and maintain and sadly, as wonderful as they are, you may as well pull them down, after all, who wants to live in a museum?

 

 

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 Wednesday 28th May 2014 Week 153 France.

    Novice v Experience.

    We left Charleville-Mezieres camp-site under a blanket of grey clouds and headed East toward Verdun. It was a nice enough site but being in town its just too noisy. I'm fast approaching that time in my life when the only noise I can tolerate is my own. On route it started drizzling, not hard enough to have the wipers on full, but too fast to have them on intermediate so I ended up playing with them to stop that dreadfully annoying squeeeeeak they make when they hit a dry patch.

    The road, which wound across a soft rolling landscape, took us through picturesque farm land and sleepy villages. Many of which consisted of little more than a few houses strung along the main road. And all had their share of empty properties looking, if not for the neighbouring properties support, ready to collapse.

    On route we chanced upon a Lidl seemingly in the middle of nowhere so took the opportunity to stock up some much needed supplies. Yes we were out of wine, again!. Where does it all go? I picked up eight bottles for £9.32. You'd think at that price it would come with a heath warning or at the very least a 'Danger highly inflammable' label but its actually pretty good, that, or I've drunk so much of the stuff my taste buds are shot. You'd also wonder, at that price, why everyone isn’t permanently pickled but the French attitude to alcohol is wine based, rather than beer based. Wine is a social family drink here. You can't say the same for beer.

   The experts

 Les Breuils is a camp-site on the outskirts of Verdun. We had been here before in 2011. I instantly recognised the guy behind the desk. I have this odd gift of remembering faces, it's dates and names I'm hopeless at. It is, as I had cause to assure Hazel recently, an as yet unnamed medical condition. She's doubtful.

    That last time here we were newbies. We pulled on, found an empty pitch, parked up and then put the kettle on. How times have changed?. Today we are seasoned campers, veterans, we know the drill. Here’s my ten point guide to finding the perfect pitch. This honed from the hot fires of camping hell.

    1, Most important. Don't accept the pitch they give you. Ask if you can look around.

    2, Go for hard standing rather than grass. Nothing gets you nagged at quicker than stepping into the van with a field stuck to your boots. And if it rains hard, you'll not get bogged down.

    3, Don't park near loos. While it might be a convenient convenience it can be noisy.

    4, Use a compass to get the optimal orientation for parking. Might seem hugely nerdy but you want to get maximum East/West Sunshine. We've parked wrongly. The Sun has risen and set behind us leaving us sat in shade the whole day.

   Its an app

 5, Find as near level pitch as you can. Nothing is more aggravating than having doors swing open or close under the force of gravity.

    6, Check for overhanging branches which, if it rains, will drip water on you long after the rain has stopped.

    7, Check for the position of the water taps and waste points. You don't want to walk miles to get water. It's heavy.

    8, If they don't have wi-fi throughout the site, only in reception, park close to it, you may pick it up as I did all last week.

    9, Check your neighbours. Avoid, teenagers, kids, families and Romanians. Nooooo I'm only joking about the Romanians. Old folk are good., obvioulsy.

    10, And lastly, if you pull onto a site where we are, for Pete's sake come and say bonjour, we'd be upset if you didn't.

 

 

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 Thursday 29th May 2014 week 153 France

    Test my metal.

    You'll have noticed I rarely mention tourist attractions or if I do, it's only in passing. The reason for this is two fold. A: I don't think it makes for good reading and B: I can't do it justice which may explain A. However the Citadel in Verdun deserves a mention not least because two hundred and forty thousand Germans were killed in the Battle of Verdun, trying to take the city. The same number of French, plus allies, gave their lives trying to stop them, even though only 15% of the city remained standing.

    It's one of the biggest tourist attractions in France. The military Citadel was started in 1623 as a fortification against Germanic and Prussian claims to the area and was finished in 1914. It comprises of five miles of tunnels dug out from the limestone. It housed two thousand troops, supplies, a hospital, kitchens and munition dumps etc.

    Before taking the interior tour we opted to walk around its perimeter. The path was deserted, unofficial, but well trodden The near black walls of the Citadel, a metre thick, rose to around seventy feet above our heads.. Along the last section stood the ghostly remains of the officers quarters, time and nature had reclaimed it some tome ago. We stopped and took some photos, I pointed out it would make a great location for a scary film.

As we walked on I became aware of two young men, some distance away, coming towards us. It occurred to me that this is just the kind of place tourists should avoid unless they actually wanted to get mugged. Cut off from the road. The rising wall of the citadel on our right, a sixty foot bank topped off with trees on our left which led into a social housing development and only one way out.

    The two young men dressed in track suits which had their crotches around their knees and wearing baseball caps set at a jaunty angle - though I doubt they would agree with that description - swaggered toward us talking noisily looking more like American rap singers than Frenchmen. What's wrong with the beret? I ask.

Its creepy enough!

    We continued on, closing the gap between them and us. I put myself between them and Hazel thus keeping my sword arm free. - I'm pre programmed that way - I kept to a straight line, it doesn’t pay to veer away or look as though you're deliberately giving them a wide berth. You need to exude confidence even if your not. It also never pays to look or act like a victim, that much I know.

    I pushed my sun glasses up my nose, pulled my shoulders back and did my own version of a manly self assured swagger. Quickly realising I probably looked more like John Wayne camping it up, so I stopped. As we grew closer, from behind my sun glasses, I fixed a steely gaze on the biggest of the two. Take out the biggest one and the other will give you no problems........ apparently. I was poised ready to spring, inspector clouseau like, into action should it all go pear shaped. They talked loudly and animatedly to each other as they approached. As we drew within a few feet of each other they stopped talking. The closest one looked at me and, just as we were and neck and neck, said “Bonjour”.

    Fuck! He'll never know how close he came to a world of hurt.

    The Citadel, if you are ever in this neck of the woods, is hugely interesting and well worth the six Euros entrance fee for the train ride around the underground passages. To see where soldiers lived and died, is quite sobering.

    I'd just avoid the walk around the outside if I were you.

 

 

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 Friday 30th May 2014 Week 153 France.

    What's on my mind?

    Well we are fast approaching the end of our third year. So last evening found Hazel and I in reflective mood. We reminisced about some of our mini adventures, looked back on some of our experiences and relived some odd moments. Today, I thought I'd share one of them with you, but I should warn you, in contains an adult theme.........

    We woke to an annoying shrill from the alarm. Why even don't alarm clocks simple ring any more?. We had set it for six in the morning. I'd practically forgotten such a time existed, it's been that long since I've had to get up at such an ungodly hour. After our ablutions and breakfast we decamped and sped off toward Calais for our pre-booked 11.40 sailing and our temporary return to blighty for a wedding. What I didn't know was the 11.40 sailing didn’t exist, in fact it never has, but more of that in a moment.

    En-route we pulled into a large service station to fill up. I took the opportunity to slip into the gents. While standing there, minding my own business, I noticed a large and very solid looking vending machine in the corner. Once I'd finished and while washing my hands I took a closer look, purely in the cause of investigative journalism. To my bemusement it sold, amongst other things, 'A travel Pussy' and a 'Vibrating cock ring' both for the princely sum of four Euros each, something of a bargain I think you’ll agree. Now if asked, I'd say, I'd not lead a particularly sheltered life. I've been around the block a few times however both items were something of a mystery to me. 'The cock ring' I might be able to have a stab at, as to its uses but the travel pussy? No, I'm in the dark on that one. The packaging threw no light on the delights within however, judging from the scantily clad female on the box, it had nothing to do with cats. Clearly this was not something you'd buy your cat to keep it from getting bored on a long journey. Oddly, the packaging was in English. Why this should be and what johnny foreigner made of that I can't say. Perhaps he thought this type of product was routinely sold in UK filling stations, who knows. I then noted the machine was half full. Obviously then, a must have item for some motorists, and this worried me slightly. I imagined that flying up and down the German autobahns were businessmen happily pleasuring themselves when they really should have be concentrating on the job in hand.......! Erm...., not sure that point was well made.

Verdun

    Anyways I left none the wiser and I certainly wasn't about to risk four Euros to be enlightened. Besides there always a danger that the machine might not work. Then what would I do? Go to the pay desk and try and explain the vending machine has eaten my four Euros and I'm out one travel pussy?. No Chance!. It will have to remain a mystery.

    We left the gas station and hit the highway as time was moving on. We had driven for perhaps an hour before the traffic slowed to a crawl and my earlier fears were realised. We came across an accident. Perhaps brought about by travelling too close? a lack of concentration? driver weariness? excessive speed? or the misapplication of a travel pussy, we can only speculate.

    We arrived at Calais only to discovered that the 11.40 crossing didn't exist! At least not in Calais. It did, however, exist in Dover. I had booked going in the wrong direction. In my defence this has less to do with my age and more to do with the amount I'd drunk at the time of booking it. The French guy at the P&O check-in was polite and philosophical. He explained my mistake without, thankfully, using the phrase, you dick head!.

    You all have a good weekend

 

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