Category Archives: France

UK National Fish and Chips Day

Grimsby Fish and chips

In the UK June 1st  (for this year anyway because it is always on a Friday) is celebrated as National Fish and Chips Day.

Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.

Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar.

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Scrap Book Project – Joan of Arc and French Women Wearing Trousers


The modern French revisionist assessment of Joan of Arc is that she is credited with winning the Hundred Year war by defeating the English and she is revered as a military heroine. She is seen as a martyr who died at the hands of the English invaders when she met her char-grilled fate and was burnt at the stake in Rouen in 1431.

This modern interpretation has not always been the case however and the French themselves had a significant part to play in the capture, trial, conviction and death of someone who they now revere as a symbol of national heroism and as a Catholic Saint.

Interesting however that in 2005 in a French TV poll –  (The Greatest Frenchman of all Time) that Joan only came a very disappointing thirty-first.

Joan was born in about 1412 into a relatively well-off peasant family in Donrémy in northern France somewhere near the border of Lorraine. At this time English troops were running riot through France and at one point raided and plundered the village of Donrémy and the d’Arc family had to flee into exile.

During this time Joan convinced herself that she had a visitation of saints and angels and heard patriotic voices that told her that she was chosen by God to save France. This was a bit one sided of God and there is no real explanation for his anti-English sentiment.  Joan kept hearing the voices for a further three years and when she was finally convinced she left home with her brothers and presented herself to the authorities as the saviour of France with a mission to put the Dauphin on his rightful throne.

Word of Joan quickly spread and it was claimed that she was the embodiment of a prophecy made by a mystic called Marie d’Avignon, that a ‘virgin girl from the borders of Lorraine’ would come to save France. To test whether Joan was genuine the Dauphin had her questioned by a committee of clergymen and asked a group of respectable ladies to test her virginity. She passed both tests and with religious sincerity and sexual inexperience being considered more suitable qualifications than an education at an appropriate military academy she was given a suit of white armour and an army of forty thousand men and sent to fight the English at Orléans.

Joan rejected the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership and attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed the next day with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc, which was found deserted. The next day with the aid of only one captain she rode out of the city and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins and two days later attacked the main English stronghold and secured a stunning victory that took everyone by surprise. After that there was a run of French victories as the English and their Bugundian allies fled from the field of battle when challenged by the invincible Maid of Orléans fighting, it seemed, with God by her side.

From here however things started to go wrong for Joan and she was betrayed by the King, Charles VII, who was beginning to find here her to be a bit of a nuisance and to get her out of the way he dispatched her on a hopeless mission to fight a Burgundian army at Compiègne, a city north of Paris, where she was defeated by a much stronger army, captured and taken prisoner.

She was held at first by the Bugundians but senior French clergy began to insist that she be handed over so that she could be tried in a religious court on the grounds that she had ‘great scandals against divine honour and the holy faith’. In short they wanted her tried for heresy which if proven would mean execution by burning at the stake. The captors however wanted cash and the clergy failed to offer a suitable ransom so instead Joan was handed over to the English Duke of Bedford who paid a handsome sum for the prisoner.

Contrary to what the French would have people believe however it was not the English who tried her for her crimes, this was carried out by two Frenchmen, Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais and Jean de Maître who had the alarming title of ‘Vicar to the Inquisitor of Heretical Perversity’.

The charges against Joan were many and serious including witchcraft, blasphemy, fighting a battle on a Sunday and wearing men’s clothes and these plus the other sixty-six almost all carried the death sentence.

By all accounts Joan defended herself well in intellectual and religious debate on the issues of heresy but she couldn’t get away with the issue of clothing because in medieval times it was sin for women to cut their hair short and put on armour and fight because this was a role reserved for men. Joan refused to change out of her trousers because she was afraid of being molested or raped by the English prison guards and when the judges failed to prove the religious charges against her they turned to and relied upon the unholy business of dressing up as a man.

Eventually the judges persuaded her to do a bit of plea bargaining and they offered to spare her life if she would wear a dress and confess to the crimes. Joan agreed and she owned up to everything in a ceremony at Rouen Cathedral but immediately afterwards she was betrayed and thrown back into prison (by the French) and so afraid again of unwanted sexual advances she put her trousers back on. The judges were delighted and declared her a relapsed heretic and condemned her to be burned at the stake and the the sentence was carried out on 30th May 1431 in the market square of Rouen by her English guards.

Tragically (and I am getting to the trouser bit now) the technical reason for her execution was on the say so of Moses who was responsible for the Biblical clothing law set out in Deuteronomy 22:5: ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God’. It seems that Moses was much less than tolerant than we are now on the issue of cross-dressing!

After the end of the Hundred Years War a posthumous retrial was opened. The Pope authorised this proceeding, also known as the “nullification trial”, at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan’s mother. The aim of the trial was to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly and according to canon law. Investigations started with an inquest by a priest carried out in 1452 and a formal appeal followed in November 1455.

The process involved clergy from throughout Europe and a panel of theologians analyzed testimony from over a hundred witnesses. Brehal drew up his final summary in June 1456, when he described Joan as a martyr and implicated the late Pierre Cauchon with heresy for having convicted an innocent woman in pursuit of a secular vendetta. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture and the appellate court declared her innocent on 7th July 1456.  If Joan was watching she must have been delighted!

So, history is not always what it seems and the French were probably equally, if not more so, to blame for the death of their greatest heroine than the English. The same church that arranged for her to be burned at the stake, canonized her a Saint on 16th May 1920, nearly five hundred years later. She is now France’s Patron saint, and her legacy to both France and the world runs deep.

It is interesting as well that in England she is also in some part considered a heroine and in 1960 Airfix introduced two new model kits into the famous people range, Edward, The Black Prince and Joan of Arc, hardly the sign of a country that holds a grudge!










To conclude the story:

The French seem to take this ladies wearing trousers thing rather seriously and since November 1800 it was technically illegal for a woman to wear trousers in Paris without a police permit.  Just over a century ago, exceptions were introduced for women riding horses or bicycles. Otherwise, the by-law remained in force.

The law appears to have been introduced because French revolutionary women started to take the whole ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ thing far too seriously and demand the right to perform men’s jobs and wear men’s clothes. The law was last applied in the 1930s when the French Olympic committee stripped the French athlete Violette Morris of her medals because she insisted on wearing trousers.

The ministry of women’s rights only finally proclaimed the edict unconstitutional in February 2013 when it declared:

“Ruling Number 22 of Chief of Police Dubois of the 16th Brumaire of the year nine (7 November 1800 in the revolutionary calendar), entitled ‘ruling on women cross-dressing’, is incompatible with the principle of equality between men and women enshrined in the constitution.”

I wonder if Brigette Bardot had the necessary license or maybe was just exempt?

Bridgette Bardot

Scrap Book Project – Rugby Town Twinning, The Town Hall and The Saracen’s Head

Rugby Town Hall

In a previous post I recalled my memories of going every week to the Saturday morning pictures at the Granada Cinema in North Street in Rugby, the town where I lived.

As I thought more about the location of this once important part of the town I began to remember other buildings and places all around it in this part of the town and what they meant to me.

At the front of the cinema there was a road junction and following the road to the left it became Evreux Way which since 3rd May 1959 has been Rugby’s twin town in France.  From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town in Normandy and then entertaining French visitors the following year.  Being a sociable sort of chap with an interest in overseas travel I happily signed up and joined in.

Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair shattered relationships with their neighbours and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town.  Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of international dating service and introductory agency.

Anyway, I never found the answer to that question but I did enjoy a couple of visits to France.

Rugby Evreux Town Twinning

Rugby Town Hall was opposite the old Granada Cinema and was built some time during the early 1960s and had a rather functional Eastern European construction of brick and concrete with a soaring arch entrance.

n 1975 I started work at Rugby Borough Council and my boss, the Borough Treasurer, John Lord, was the captain of the office cricket team so amongst my other duties he gave me the job of team secretary and it was my job to arrange the fixtures, book the pitches, look after the kit and make sure we had a full squad every week.

I seem to remember that during the summer I didn’t do a great deal else and I neglected my studies to become an accountant, failed my exams and told him one day that I didn’t really want to be an accountant anyway so he punished me by transferring me from an office on the front of the building where you could watch the girls go by to a job in internal audit which was in a portacabin at the back with a view of the print room.

Saracens Head Pub

With little interest in work after this I used to get through the morning session and then at lunch time go to the pub with my pals.

This was the ‘Saracen’s Head’ and was directly opposite the old Granada Cinema and here we would have our lunch and a couple of beers.  In my final job at South Holland District Council in  Spalding in Lincolnshire a nasty little member of staff called Sarah Naylor wrote a staff behaviour policy which forbade staff from drinking at lunch time or even making friends with people at work but in the 1970s this was still quite acceptable.

Sarah didn’t have any friends and she doesn’t work there anymore.

My favourite memory of lunchtimes at the ‘Saracen’s Head’ was a colleague who worked in the Technical Services Department called Merv who was guaranteed to be there every day.

As a drinker Merv would have challenged Oliver Reed and he would regularly drink six (yes, six) pints of beer in his lunch hour!  He was a big Rugby Union fan and followed the Rugby Lions and I asked him once how much he would drink on a match day.  He told me that if they lost the match then he would only have about twenty pints but if they won then it would be at least twenty-four.

I seem to remember that Merv passed away quite soon after this conversation.

Crown House Rugby

Also at the bottom of North Street and directly behind the cinema was Crown House, the head office of Rugby Portland Cement and at ten stories high seemed almost to be a New York skyscraper.  We used to play a team from Crown House in the Rugby Advertiser twenty over cricket league and if I remember correctly they always used to beat us.  Actually, I think every one used to beat us so this doesn’t take too much remembering.  Just like the Granada Cinema there is no Rugby Portland Cement anymore and it is now owned and operated by Cemex of Mexico.

In the middle of all of these buildings and wedged in between the Council Offices and the ‘Saracen’s Head’ was and is Caldecott Park which outlives everything around it with lawns, gardens, tennis courts, a bowling green and a Victorian bandstand and when on the very infrequent occasions that I didn’t spend lunch times in the pub then I used to take a stroll through the paths that looped around this fine old park but I never really appreciated it as much as I might now if I still lived and worked there.

Caldecott Park

Scrap Book Project – Bank Notes


Foreign travel and different bank notes remind me of my dad’s insistence on always returning home from foreign holidays with currency for his personal memory box.  The note above is from the former state of Yugoslavia which dad visited several times in the 198os.

Even if it was 90˚ in the shade and everyone was desperate for a last drink at the airport dad was determined to bring a souvenir note or coin home and would hang on with a steadfast determination that would deny last minute refreshment to everyone so long as he could get his monetary mementos back home safely.  How glad I am of that because now they belong to me and now my own left over bank notes from my travel adventures have been added to the collection.

The euro is useful because it has simplified travel to Europe but I miss the old pre-euro currencies. To have a wallet full of romantic and exciting sounding notes made you feel like a true international traveller. I liked the French franc and the Spanish peseta and the Greek drachma of course but my absolute favourite was the Italian lira simply because you just got so many.

When going on holiday to Italy you were, for just a short time anyway, a real millionaire. The first time I went to Italy, to Sorrento in 1976, the notes were so worthless that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard of a handful of sweets.

My most favourite bank notes are probably from Switzerland.  Everyone knows that the Swiss are fond of money and they leave no one in any doubt of this with the quality of their notes.  Not only are they brilliantly colourful but they are printed on high quality paper as well and one is thing for certain – these notes are not going to fall apart easily.  Another interesting thing about the Swiss Franc is that there is something about it which prevents it being scanned and half way through the process the scanner stops and produces a message on screen that it cannot copy a bank note.



Cyprus £1 front

Lottery Disappointment Syndrome (LDS)

19th November 1994 was the day of the first UK National Lottery draw and a £1 ticket gave a one-in-14-million chance of striking lucky and guessing correctly the winning six out of 49 numbers.

I remember that everyone was talking about the National Lottery and I bought my ticket a few days in advance of the Saturday night draw.  This was in the days before ‘Lucky Dip’ so I had to choose my numbers and like a lot of people I selected meaningful dates like my birthday, my house number, my age and so on.

In 1994 I was working for Cory Environmental at Southend-on-Sea in Essex and I used to drive there everyday from Rugby, a journey which took just a little under two hours (it was a company car so I didn’t mind putting excess miles on the clock, running up a massive fuel bill or making a major contribution to global warming with my diesel emissions) and on that Saturday morning I was on weekend duty and as I drove along the M25 that morning my head was full of plans for spending the winnings that I was confident of picking up later.  I mean, how difficult could it be to pick 6 numbers out of 49?

After a day at work the return journey was the same, would I move to France or Spain? Would I have a Ferrari or a Lamborghini? How would I tell my boss to shove his job and how much would I miss my friends and family? I was totally confident of a life-changing moment in just a couple of hours or so.

Well, it wasn’t to be of course, I don’t think I even got one number, eight people shared the jackpot that night and I wasn’t one of them and I never have been of course and except for the occasional £10 win I have suffered from sixteen years of LDS – Lottery Disappointment Syndrome!  I live in Grimsby, I have a Volkswagen Golf, my boss told me to shove off last year and made me redundant but on the upside I still have my friends and family!


World Heritage Sites


In 1954, the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations.  Despite opposition from Eygpt and Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.  At last the World was collectively protecting its treasures and hopefully never again will something magnificent like the Colosseum of Rome or the Parthenon of Athens be torn down and destroyed by following generations of rebuilders.

Building on this international success the United States then came up with the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation and a White House conference in 1965 called for a World Heritage Trust to preserve ‘the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.’ The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968 and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm.  A single text was agreed and the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16th November 1972.

Today there are eight hundred and seventy-eight listed sites and it isn’t easy to get on the list and to do so a nomination must satisfy impressively difficult criteria which in summary consist of cultral criteria:

to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; to exhibit an important interchange of human values; to bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition; to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or landscape; to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement; to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance,

and natural criteria:

to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, to be outstanding examples representing significant ecological and biological processes; to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity.

It is hardly surprising that with forty-seven listed sites Italy has the most but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty-three sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.


On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have been to twenty and that is nearly half of them.  In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba,  the  Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville.  In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct,  the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.

Even before I knew anything about World Heritage Sites it turns out that I have visited two more in the days of my beach type holidays, although when I went to these places neither of them were yet on the list.  In 1988 I holidayed on the island of Ibiza which was accepted onto the list in 1999 in recognition of its biodiversity and culture.  The following year I went to Tenerife and took a cable car ride to the top of Mount Tiede, a national park that was accepted to the list in 2007.  I have also visited Benidorm but for some reason that doesn’t yet seem to have made the list.

Even though they weren’t World Heritage Sites at the time I visited them I am still going to count them but the final two might be a bit dubious but anyway here goes.  In 1984 while driving back through Spain from Portugal I drove with friends through the city of Burgos which was accepted in that year because of its Cathedral and in Galicia in 2008 while visiting Santiago de Compostella I managed to drive over parts of the Pilgrim Route, which exists on the list separately from the old city itself.

Next time I go to Spain I am going to pay more attention and see how many more I can visit.

Turning for a moment to Greece it will surprise no one that the Acropolis and the island of Delos are both on the list but due to mistakes made in submitting the application form by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 2005 then for the time being Knossos is not there.    Everyone is accusing everyone else for this mistake and the Prefect of Iraklion blamed both the Ministry and UNESCO for leaving Knossos off the updated list of World Heritage Sites in 2006.  I am surprised that a site that important even has to bother with an application.

Gaudi chimneys

Florence and the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio that crosses the river Arno in Florence is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Germans as they cleared out from Florence in their withdrawal from Italy during the Second-World-War.  Knowing how the Germans were fond of blowing things up that must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!

The first bridge on this site was built a long time ago by the Romans and was constructed of wood on piers of stone.  It was ruined in 1117, reconstructed soon after but destroyed again in 1333 by flooding and then rebuilt once more in 1345, but this time more sensibly in stone.  Due to the high volume of traffic using the bridge, a number of shopkeepers set up shop to catch the passing trade.

The first merchants here consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to travelling soldiers who were passing through but when the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth and an appreciation for the finer things in life they promptly cleared the bridge of all the dirty trades, that were probably a bit of an eyesore anyway, and certainly responsible for polluting the river below.

They replaced them with goldsmiths and more similar upmarket shops and today it remains lined with medieval workshops on both sides with some of them precariously overhanging the river below supported only by slender timber brackets.  A number of these shops had to be replaced in 1966 when there was a major flood on November 3rd that consumed the city and damaged some of them but this time was unable to destroy the bridge itself.  The flood story is an interesting one and a good account can be found at

Running along the top of the bridge is a corridor that the Medici had built so that they could cross the river without having to mix with the riff-raff below and is now an art gallery.  When we visited the bridge it was busy with street traders and shoppers and the ever-present scrounging beggars of course.  Along the bridge there were many padlocks locked to the railings and especially in the middle around the statue of the Florentine sculptor, Cellini.

This, I found out later, is a lover’s tradition where by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.  This is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed it later.  Apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year.  To deter people there is a €50 penalty for those caught doing it and that is a much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this tale because according to ‘Eurostat’ even though the divorce rate has doubled in the last five years Italy has one of the lowest rates in the European Union.  Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for a fact I’m willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!

A day trip to Florence

Venice three visits three hotels

Celebrating 1066 and the Battle of Hastings

1066 is probably the most memorable date in English history.  On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down at the Battle of Hastings, and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”. William, who was using Hastings as his base, then claimed the crown and changed the way England was governed forever.

Unlike the Scots who sing national anthems (unofficial) about fighting the English and the Welsh can’t get over the military campaigns and begrudge the castles of Edward I (even though they generate lots of tourist revenue) it is a curious fact that the English actually celebrate and embrace the 1066 Battle of Hastings. I suppose this says a lot about the nature of the English because instead of sulking behind a defensive nationalist barrier and bristling with rage and resentment we have actually hijacked the event and reorganised our subsequent history around it.

After the successful invasion William the Normans set about imposing their military domination and completely reforming the previous Anglo Saxon administrative and political  regime and they were so successful that modern English history really starts from that date.  The subjugation and the transformation was so completely successful because the English (except Hereward the Wake of course) recognised the benefits of this, allowed it to happen and simply got on with their lives.  They didn’t sit in caves watching spiders or retreat to Anglesey to brood and get angry about it.

Today the French irreverently refer to the English as Anglo-Saxons (in the same way that we refer to them as Frogs) but their description is entirely incorrect because for a thousand years we have been Norman-English whereas the French do eat frogs!

In 1966, I was twelve years old and England went into a frenzy as the 900th anniversary was celebrated and it was such a success that Hastings Borough Council decided to mark the date every year as Hastings Day.

On the build up to the event there were commemorative stamps and gold coins, tea towels, pencil sets and mugs and everyone got in on the act: “Battle of Hastings 1066—Bottle of Guinness 1966” frothed a thousand billboards. ‘Whoosh! It’s another big breakaway conquest,’ proclaimed the makers of Bri-Nylon clothing in advertisements showing mounted Bri-Nyloned models setting out against the Saxons and another alternative version of the battle showed the Norman warriors armed with Desoutter Power Tools.  Heinz offered a chance to enter an archery contest in which the first 1,066 winners would be rewarded with Kenwood Chef food mixers.  Every English town that could claim the remotest connection with either Harold or William beckoned tourists with such  attractions as Conquest puppet shows, town-crier contests and battle re-enactments by grown men who still liked dressing up and playing soldiers.


Naturally, in the forefront of all this  was Hastings, which, as its local newspaper proudly pointed out, ‘is better known internationally than almost any other town.’  To give the anniversary its deserved importance and promote tourism, the Hastings Town Council spent a small fortune building a triple-domed exhibition hall called the Triodome.  The principal exhibit was intended to be the great Bayeux Tapestry but the tapestry is the property of the town of Bayeux in Normandy, which, fearing damage to the precious artefact, refused to lend it for the occasion, and so, rather than sulk,  like the Greeks and the Elgin Marbles, Hastings produced its own.

The Hastings Embroidery was made by the Royal School of Needlework in 1965. It took twenty-two embroiderers ten months to finish and it was intended to be a modern day equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry.  It consists of twenty-seven panels, each nine by three foot, and shows eighty-one great events in British history during the nine-hundred years from 1066 to 1966.

The Embroidery is worked in appliqué by hand, with the addition of couched threads and cords in the same way as the Bayeux Tapestry.  It incorporates tweed from Scotland, fabrics from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and feathers from London Zoo.  When completed it went on public display in Hastings, firstly in the Town Hall and then at the White Rock Pavilion.  The Embroidery is currently in storage, and, despite local campaigns to have it brought out of the bottom drawer, apart from two panels on permanent display in the Town Hall, it is not on public display.  The reason given is that to preserve the cloth and appliqué that special storage displays would have to made and the cost would be prohibitive.  I can’t help thinking there may be another reason – perhaps it isn’t that good?

I began this article by trying to rise above patriotic smugness but I cannot finish without reminding the French that, in a delicious twist of fate, less than three months before the 900 year celebrations of a French victory over the Anglo Saxons, England beat France in the World Cup group stages by two goals to nil.  France finished bottom in the group, England finished top and went on to win the Jules Rimet trophy!

Bruges, Canals and Carillions


At seven o’clock there was blue sky and sunshine but it had turned cooler with a stiff breeze from the sea blowing across the fields and into the garden of the gîte.  We were driving to neighbouring Belgium today to visit the town of Bruges in the north of the country and by the time we had packed the car and set off there were big spots of rain falling on the windscreen.  This didn’t last long and it was one of those days when there were different weather conditions in all directions and it was a bit of a lottery about what we were likely to get.  It was about a hundred kilometres to drive and on the way we passed through a variety of different weather fronts so we were unsure of what to expect when we arrived.

We needn’t have worried because as we parked the car the sun came out and the skies turned a settled shade of blue and without a map we let instinct guide us down cobbled streets towards the city centre.  I had visited Bruges before in 1981 so I thought I knew what I was looking for but over the years I must have got mixed up because the place looked nothing like I remembered it.  I knew that we were looking for a large square and I had in mind something classical like St Marks in Venice so I was surprised when we reached the famous market square to find nothing like that at all.

Belgium became an independent European State on 4th October 1930, the Year of Revolutions and Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.  In the middle ages, thanks to the wool trade, it was one of the most important cities in Europe and the historic city centre is an important UNESCO World Heritage site because most of its medieval architecture is intact. The Church of Our Lady has a hundred and twenty metre high brick spire making it one of the world’s highest brick towers. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo’s only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime and the most famous landmark is its thirteenth century belfry, housing a municipal carillon comprising forty eight bells where the city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis.  The Carillion is a feature of Northern France and the Low Countries and the Belfries of Belgium and France is a group of 56 historical buildings designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. The city is also famous for its picturesque waterways and along with other canal based northern cities, such as Amsterdam in the Netherlands; it is sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North”.

We really needed more time to appreciate all of this but the price to be paid for convenient close to the centre parking was that we were restricted to just two hours.  Even though I didn’t remember it quite like this the city square was delightful, fully pedestrianised except for the odd horse and carriage and surrounded by bars and cafés all around the perimeter.  We liked the look of the Bruges Tavern which had tables surrounded by pretty flowers and a vacant table with a good view of the square.  The official language in this part of Belgium is Flemish, which is similar to Dutch and the man who came to take our order identified immediately that we were English and spoke to us in that delightful  lilting sing-song voice that Dutch and Belgian people have when they speak English.  He made us feel welcome and we enjoyed a glass of beer sitting in the sunshine.

The girls wanted to shop again so whilst they went off in the direction of the main shopping street we finished our drinks and then took a leisurely walk around the square overlooked by brightly painted houses with Dutch style gables and facades and then disappeared down the warren of quiet side streets that had something interesting to stop for around every corner.  Making our way back to the car we stopped in another, more modern, large square for a second drink where the service was slow and there was an amusing exchange between a flustered waitress and an impatient diner. ‘Alright, alright, the food is coming’ the waitress snapped when she was asked a third time when it would be served.  Our beer took a long time to come as well but we thought it best not to complain.

As we left Bruges to drive back towards Boulogne the sun disappeared underneath a blanket of cloud and we drove through intermittent showers along a road cluttered with heavy trucks all making their way to and from the Channel ports.  This was not an especially interesting journey through a flat featureless landscape and although we had taken our passports with us there wasn’t even any real indication that that we had passed from Belgium back to France except for a small EU sign that that seemed hopelessly inadequate and could be easily missed.

Car Parking – French Style

In September 1978 on a Town Twinning holiday I stayed with a family in Evreux in Normandy.

Charles prided himself on being able to slip into the most improbable parking spaces always claiming with a certain sort of logic that that is exactly what bumpers on cars are designed for.  Even if it was quite obvious that there was insufficient space to squeeze his vehicle into he would be determined to get in there one way or another.  One way was to reverse into the vehicle behind and shunt it a few centimetres backwards and the other was to drive into the vehicle in front and shunt that one a few centimetres forward.  He repeated this a few times until he was satisfied with his unorthodox parking arrangements and then he unashamedly got out of his car, locked it and walked away without the slightest guilt.

Apparently however this is quite normal in France and to make it easier for other motorists French Drivers never leave a car in gear when parking their cars.

Charles also had a curiously impatient habit of when waiting at traffic lights and being first in the queue of driving beyond them a distance of about two metres or so.  I asked him why he did this and he explained that it was so he could make a quick getaway.  What was illogical about this however was that he couldn’t actually see the lights change colour and invariably had to wait to be prompted to move off by the driver in the vehicle behind.

Curious drivers the French!