Weekly read 152
Monday 19th May 2014 week 151 France
New and Improved.
Nothing ever stays the same. Take it from me, if you want to stay ahead you have to periodically reinvent yourself. Its a well known marketing ploy. The reason for this is simple, us! We like change, particularly the visual kind. If something continually looks the same we can soon lose interest in it and look for something else bright and shiny to keep us amused. We're a fickle bunch. If you doubt me then just look at Microsoft. Every three years they faff about with Windows, throw in some new icons, move the menus around and hide the shut down button, as in their latest incarnation of Windows 8, but this hasn't stopped millions of us rushing out to buy something we already have.
Washing powders are a classic example. They are constantly being improved upon. Its not enough they have added whiteners or they're kind to colours or gentle on woollens or wash at lower temperatures and therefore care for the environment, no! now your family will catch a wiff of that spring freshness each time they dress. Advertising agencies would have you believe that their lives are made immeasurably more happier because: you're a woman who cares!......... Fair brings a sexist lump to my throat.
Still I'm no different. As this is the start of our last year on the road I thought now would be a good time to revamp my diary and give it one last makeover. You'll see I've included a comments box again. I don’t know for how long so feel free to drop me a line any-time. I’ve missed your comments.......... no really, I have.
Apparently this colourful chap is St Quentin, clearly got a way with women.
We scootered into Saint Quentin over the weekend. By the way it's not connected, in any way, to the infamous American prison of the same name. This Saint Quentin was named after a saint. The US prison was named after a red Indian called Quentin. Until I looked that up I thought red Indians were all called something like Running Wolf or Crazy Bear or......... Frank. Quentin, seems a rather posh name for a red Indian. “I say Quentin, pass me an arrow there's a good chap”. It just doesn’t sound right.
The city of Saint Quentin is small, and while quite pleasant is not one I would hurry back to visit a second time. It does have a towering basilica, that's two up from a church and one up from a Cathedral but the only difference I detected was in its height. You need a one hundred and fifty foot ladder just to change a light bulb. (It is very beautiful, I recommend a visit. Ed).
The city has suffered a difficult historical past. The Germans, in both wars, cleared the town of it's inhabitants and ran a defensive line through it. This resulted in it being pounded by the allies in both wars. The Russians occupied it a few times as did the Spanish. Even the French fell out over it a couple of times. All this may account for the quite unusual fact that fewer people live here now than in 1911, only around 55K. I can't help but think the inhabitants, having been run out of town that many times, couldn't be arsed to return.
The famous 'Eglise de Saint-Quentin. Basically one room.
After some photos we found a little bar/café off the beaten track and popped in for a coffee and a croissant. Walking in I felt as if we had entered one of those classic noir French films where a couple, he with striped jersey, her with fishnet stockings, stare at each other with accusing eyes over two glasses of Armagnac for the duration of the film. And in keeping with the film 'theme' we were served by an elderly blonde haired women wearing far too much make-up and dressed in a tight black top and red neckerchief.
I swear, I make none of this up.
Tuesday 20th May 2014 week 152 France
Right, well, apparently I wasn't being quite honest with you all yesterday. Part of the reason for revamping the web site, apart from those reason given, is because I have fewer reads lately.
I had a chat with the Editor this morning and she reckons my ramblings should contain more light hearted caravanning/touring/holiday information and less of me banging on about the woes of the world or, as she put it, nothing in particular. Cheek!. She went on to say I'm in danger of alienating my readership if I'm not careful.
Find that hard to believe. True, I may have upset a few people in the past. I know, for example, those who fear gay rights have given up on me. I've probably not made friends of people with left, or right wing, political views. It could be argued, I suppose, I've been a tad critical of the bible and organised religion and the whole creationist argument as well, I'll not deny that. And its also true I believe we should legalise prostitution and some banned drugs which is hardly a vote catcher. I know I've certainly peed off a few other groups. royalist, militarist, the anti smoking lobby, patriots, possibly the Americans, all politicians, the Vatican and..........! I'll stop there. Truthfully, its a wonder anyone reads my ramblings, I'm not sure anyone’s left?.
Starts when we are young.
Perhaps, as the editor has suggested, I should focus on the caravanning and touring lifestyle and not comment quite as much about issues of the day. After all she's got a point. I mean, I'm not writing a newspaper column here. The problem is I've never been very good at keeping my opinions to myself, ask anyone who knows me. I like gobbing off. Sure, some of it might be a load of old tosh, controversial and unconventional but do I care? Do I bugger. Far too many tow the line if you ask me.
Besides, I have this sneaking suspicion that if I was to ramble on about how jolly nice everything is it wouldn't be long before I had no readers at all. And lets be honest here, who wants to read about someone whose constantly having a better time than you? fucked if I would.
It's akin to those people who insist on showing you their holiday photos. Thankfully now we all have digital cameras, no one can be arsed to print them off and thats a blessing. But show me a photo of you laying in the gutter after a heavy nights drinking wearing a tutu and I'd look at that. Or a photo of your wife sunbathing topless on the beach, I'd have a sly glance at that too, but that’s it. No one wants ordinary or mundane. People want to read stuff they either disagree with it, so they can call me a dick head or, nod sagely in agreement with, that’s life.
So it's from that angle I write my dairy. Not everyday is filled with fun packed frolics and merry gapes. Some days I do little but lazy about thinking of something spicy, clever or witty to write about. Clearly some days I fail, but occasionally, I get it right.
However to keep the editor happy I've promised to include a few more photos this last year and be less controversial.
Its that or start giving away free gifts.
Wednesday 21st May 2014 week 152 France
You've probably have never heard of Seraucourt-Le-Grand, why would you? Its the the name of the village this camp site, Vivier aux Carpes, is in. Its to the south of Saint Quentin. But hopefully you've heard of this area, the Somme. La Somme river runs behind the camp site. On the edge of the town, not ten minutes walk away from where I am writing this, is the collective graves of 1600 British young men, many mere boys only eighteen/nineteen. They came to fight in the trenches and die for King and country. Many were, bearing in mind this was 1911, virgins.
A few of the graves have inscription, but most are unmarked. 'Here lies the body of an unknown soldier, known only to God' most say.
Not a fitting epitaph for anyone, least of all soldiers who deserve recognition for their sacrifices. Walking around we were both very moved. Me, more so than I was when visiting Dachau. I visited Dachu because I thought I should. I owed it to someone. It seemed the right thing to do. I visited this cemetery because it was here, to take a look. Its tucked away and surround on all sides by silent farm land. Its extremely well kept.
One of the many Britsh military cemeteries in this part of France.
Reading the headstones you could read, your reminded, least I was, of the madness of war, any war. What do you say to the parents of a young lad who died at the bottom of a mud filled trench in some foreign land?. The military tell them what the military have always told the loved ones of a fallen soldiers. 'He died bravely, in defence of king and country.' This hopefully comforts the mother and makes a father feel proud and, hopefully, gives sense to the waste. But that’s far from the cold realities of any war. Soldiers don't fall, they die. Often miserably, often in sheering pain, often alone. Its morally wrong to sanitise their deaths and glorify them in an attempt to justify the madness. In one part of the cemetery is an ossuary. This is where they bury the unrecognisable pieces, bones, of soldiers found on a battle field.
In 1914 young men were eager to march off to France to fight, each filled with a sense of patriotism instilled in them by those that wanted them to fight. A million failed to return.
The first world war was brought about by European royalty and the politics of power, pure and simple. You can romanticise it as much as you like. Dress it up with fancy words in an attempt to make it more palatable but WW1 was about slaughter and carnage on a massive scale. 37 million died. War only makes sense to those in power, not to the misguided men that have to fight it.
Sitting amongst these lads in the cemetery, boys who had not known life, boys who once had hopes, dreams, loves and ambition and above all were innocent, I'm reminded we still owe them a great debt. What do you say to a young man mortally wounded at the bottom of a trench, or hanging over a barb wire fence, or laying on the battle field after being ordered to run at the enermy?. How can you convince them their sacrifice is not going to go unnoticed?. Perhaps you should tell him, we will never forget. You tell him: we will mark this day and we will all work to ensure that no young man has to waste his life in such a pointless and futile way ever again.
Then, and only then, can you say he died for a noble reason and one truly worth fighting for.
Thursday 22th May 2014 Week 152 France
Doh..Those wacky French.
Let me clear something up from the other day. I may have muddied the waters with a little comment I made about travel abroad.
In the good old UK you can stagger out of a pub with 80mg of alcohol sloshing around inside you and still drive home within the law. How do you know you’ve 80mg and are therefore legal, and not 85mg and therefore drunk in the eyes of the law? I've not a clue. Here in France it's only 50mg. Have say, Coq-o-vin for lunch with sherry trifle for pudding and you're probably bladdered in the eyes of the French law.
Now when president Sarcozy came to power he took one look at the numbers of French that died on the roads -four thousand a year- and said 'Sacre Bleu!'. He vowed to reduce that number by a thousand. I have no idea why three thousand is any more palatable than four but I'm neither French nor a politician. However he is both, and as such knows very little about anything, other than politics. (Much like all politicians across the globe then? Ed). Interestingly, had he taken the time to Google 'Deaths on French roads' he would have seen the numbers had been steadily falling since 2001, as they have across Europe. This means, that if he manages to hold onto office long enough he'll probably hit his magical target even if he does bugger all to achieve it. However he didn't, Google that is. He turned instead to his advisers for solutions, solutions he could take the credit for if they worked. They came up with the idea of making drivers carry breathalyser kits.
The highly questionable thinking behind this being that people don't always know when they are over the limit. By carrying a personal breathalyser the driver can monitor his or herself. The fact that they have just wet themselves, or puked into the glove box, or find themselves face down in the gutter is clearly not enough of a clue for some French drivers.
The French authorities imagined the scenario where Jean Paul and his wife Jeanette leave a restaurant. They climb into their Peugeot. He puts the key into the ignition and prays it will start -it's a Peugeot after all- But his wife stops him. “Jean Paul are you forgetting something”? She asked. He looks at her quizzically and then checks he's wearing his beret, he's French after all. “Non!” he says. She then digs out the breathalyser kit. “Quelle bonne idée !” he says. They laugh. He blows into it and fails. “Mon Nem me!, I am over zee limit”. They get out and walk home, narrowly avoiding getting knocked over by a real drunk driver.
Anyway before you could say 'that sucks!' it became law and 150 million Euros was pointlessly spent buying the things by the French and their visitors, regardless of whether they drank alcohol or not. Now, I would have argued, if I was French, which I'm not, that it was a completely daft idea on so many levels. I actually did talk about it, here, a while back because I had to buy two of the bloody things myself. And now I've been proven right, it's not workable. While it still is law to carry two, as of the January 2013 a driver cannot be penalised, in any way, for not carrying them. It is now a law which carries no penalty should you ignore it..
Now that makes as much sense as the actual law.
NB. The Editor asks all readers to excuse moi for any mistakes in La Françoise.
Friday 23rd May 2014 Week 152 France
What’s on my mind?
Well first off, guess who forgot his wife’s birthday? No, seriously, try and guess.... Got it in one. It was late morning when Hazel, who I should remind you is head of catering so it pays not to upset her, announced “it's my birthday today”. I froze. Buggering memory!. I had four options if I wanted to survive the next few minutes and stay married, and fed.
Getting older and shrinking by the day.
1, Laugh it off. But this approach is favoured only by the very bold or totally stupid, and I'm neither.
2, Feign I'd been suddenly struck with amnesia. This I could have pulled off quite convincingly I reckon by asking her “Who the hell are you? and what the devil are you doing in my motor-home?
3, Suddenly clutch my chest, stagger back saying I don’t feel very well luv.
4, Or promise to spend twice what I would have spent on a gift, had I remembered, as a way of penance. Fortunately Hazel isn’t a vindictive person and thought option four sounded pretty good.
Let's move on.
Well this might come as a surprise to you all, but I actually feel a tad sorry for Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader. I'm not a supporter of his, nor his right wing politics, although I did forecast, a while back, he's about to upset the political apple-cart in the UK. At present he's being hounded by the media, all out to prove he’s actually Beelzebub. It didn't help his case any when a fellow UKIP candidate blamed the recent bad weather on gay people, saying God wasn't happy with them. But as all seasoned politicians are quick to point out when one of their number says something particularly idiotic: 'Our party is a broad church, encompassing a wide range of opinions'.
Plenty to laugh about.
However this time he shoved his own foot in his mouth by saying he wouldn't like it if a bunch of Romanian chaps moved in as his neighbours. Naturally he was rounded upon. Accusations of racism have come from just about every quarter. Unfortunately, while his accusers hoped their comments would turn voters against him, it's not quite worked out that way. In fact, it looks like the reverse is true. Queer as it may sound politicians still naïvely believe everyone thinks like them. This, when none of us do.
Now the thing is, if I'm honest, when it comes to neighbours, I too have my preferences. Don't you? I've had some rum ones. I’ve discovered it pays to be choosy. So I'm not so sure I'd rush out with a pecan pie to welcome a bunch of Romanian guys into the neighbourhood, sorry.
No, I'd much prefer a couple of sweet old pensioners to move in next door any day. Pensioners make fab neighbours. For a start they can be quite comical shuffling about occasionally forgetting to put their pants on. They’re in bed early to, so you’ll not get a peep out of them much after nine. You, on the other hand, can wind up the volume of your Hi-Fi because, with any luck, they'll be as deaf as posts. They don’t throw parties for fear of getting overly excited and won't be miffed if you don’t invite them to one of yours. They are generally hugely accommodating. They'll feed your cat while you are away on holiday. Take in your parcels while you are at work and even keep an eye on your property during the day. Yep pensioners make brilliant neighbours. Which is something I can't say about a group of Romania men, or any men for that matter.
You all have a good neighbourly weekend.