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Spain – April 2016

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Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech

I visited the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech on 11th October 2010 and it was hot in the sunshine as we queued for our tickets and then went inside through the gates.  The garden was designed and laid out in the 1920s by the French painter Jacques Majorelle who designed marble pools, raised pathways, banana tree plantations, groves of tall bamboo, stately coconut palms and blousy bougainvilleas.

First of all we followed a path through species of prickly cacti collected from all over the world.  The path led to a limpid lily pond that reminded me of Monet’s garden at Giverny in Normandy in France and which stood in front of a house, a museum now but closed today during refurbishment, which is painted a unique shade of blue.  This seemed odd, it was in contrast to every other building in Marrakech and I wondered how the painter had managed to get around the crimson decree.  The blue is called Majorelle and is made from pigment found only in the Moroccan soil and he must have been especially fond of it because as well as the house the garden was full of large pots all painted predominantly in this colour and contrasting nicely with others in orange, yellow, red and green.

    

Majorelle, it turns out wasn’t a great artist and his garden, rather than his paintings, was his masterpiece and it is composed and coloured like a work of art.  As well as the pots, water is an important feature and there are flowing channels, lily ponds with reflections of the towering palm trees and bubbling fountains.  He was an avid plant collector but after he died in 1962 the house was left empty and the garden abandoned for nearly twenty years.   After a long period of neglect however the garden was then taken over and restored by the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

As we wandered along the meandering paths the blue sky suddenly gave way to grey cloud and within seconds we were in the middle of a heavy rain fall and we had to take cover in a café where there was shelter under the leaves of the banana plants planted around the perimeter.  It took about twenty minutes for the heavy rain to slow down and before we could leave the shelter and then as the rain eased off we returned to the gardens which somehow managed to look even better now with the shiny wet pavements catching shimmering reflections of the brightly coloured pots.

The path took us around the blue house with its bright yellow windows and strategically placed pots, through wooden pergolas where exotic climbing plants raced each other to the top, past ponds full of goldfish and shiny terrapins and through the towering bamboo swaying in the breeze.  A second wave of heavy rain passed over and we had to shelter next to the memorial to Yves Saint Laurent but it passed over quite quickly and we were able to continue the visit as rain drops splashed us as they dripped from the overhanging leaves.

On balance we would have preferred to have visited the garden without the rain but I suppose the plants all enjoyed the drenching.

Political Cycle and Public Services

I have come to the conclusion that if one thing is life is true it is that everything happens in cycles.  Take British politics for example – there are two main parties in the United Kingdom and every ten years or so they alternate in Government and everything changes.

If, like me, your career is in the public sector times are generally good when the Labour Party is in power when there is a wave of investment in state services and not so good however when the Conservative Party gets an election victory and takes up occupation in Whitehall.

As a small side observation it’s a strange thing but many people who work in the Health Service and the Police and the Schools actually vote Conservative and personally I find that a strange thing to do! Actually, I find it totally bizarre that anyone would vote Conservative when they represent the interests of only a tiny minority of the population!

On 9th June 1983 the Conservative Party won the General Election and Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister and the country was engulfed in a wave of public sector bashing that as usual picked on local government for a real good kicking.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Tories thought that the private sector was, by definition, much more competent and efficient in these matters than the public sector and local authorities were required to offer certain services for open competition under what was called ‘Compulsory Competitive Tendering’.  If only she had known the truth!

Rubbish collection was one of these services and so that the waste management companies could cope with all the new work and local authorities couldn’t cheat, the Government set out a phased three year programme and one by one local authority services were thrown into a private sector pond full of hungry piranha ready to strip the flesh off of public services, cynically reduce service standards and hopefully get fat at the council tax payer’s expense.  As soon as the waste management companies spotted a contract they took a liking to they would express an interest, obtain the tender documents and specifications and go to work sharpening their pencils.

This was never a scientific process and the first thing the tendering manager did was to get up early one Monday morning and sit outside the council depot and count the dustcarts and the number of men in them as they left to go to work.  And that was about all there was to it and half an hour later over a bacon butty and a cup of tea he would write this down on the back of a fag packet and by mid morning he would have a price in his head.  Nothing else in his head, just the price!  Sometimes, if he was being especially thorough, he would go back on Tuesday morning just to check his calculations but this would be quite unusual.

The tendering manager at Cory Environmental was called Tony Palmer and for Tony arriving at the tender price was gloriously simple.  If the Council had ten refuse collection rounds, the company would do it with nine, and just in case the Council could do it for nine then they would do it with eight so that would immediately undercut the Council price by 20%.  Just to make absolutely certain they would find out how much a refuse collector was paid each week and then they would reduce that by 20% as well.  If the Council had three mechanics to keep the fleet running they would do it with two and so on and so on. There was no way these boys could fail to win tenders!

I worked for the private sector waste management companies for ten years between 1990 and 2000 and then thankfully with the return to power of the Labour Party was able to return to local government where services are provided properly through direct delivery.

You can probably imagine my horror therefore when ten years later ‘son of Thatcher’, the right wing extremist David Cameron, became Conservative Prime Minister in 2010 and has embarked on a similar dismantling of public services and twenty years after my first painful experience in the incompetent world of the private sector I find myself facing the same prospect all over again.

A Life in a Year – 7th May, The Kingdom of Greece and my Greek Travels

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Following the War of Independence a protocol signed on May 7, 1832 Greece was defined as an independent kingdom. The Ottoman Empire was indemnified in the sum of 40,000,000 piastres for the loss of the territory. The borders of the Kingdom were reiterated in the London Protocol of August 30, 1832 signed by the Great Powers, which ratified the terms of the Constantinople Arrangement in connection with the border between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and marked the end of the Greek War of Independence creating modern Greece as an independent state free of the Ottoman Empire.

I am glad about that because Greece is my favourite place in all of Europe.  For me the very best way to see the country and the islands is to hop on a ferry and drift between them setting down now and then to enjoy the history, the people, the food, the ouzo and the Mythos! 

 These are my journals about the places I have visited:

http://apetcher.wordpress.com/greek-islands/

Which one would you choose?

A Life in a Year – 19th April, The Curious Culinary Habits of the French

I have always liked La Rochelle ever since my first visit in 1996, I like the sea food restaurants, the patiseries, the busy harbour and the leisurely pace of life; so much so in fact that I have visited four times, the last being in 2007.

Our final day in La Rochelle (19th April) began exactly the same as the day before.  A Hotel Ibis breakfast and then out into the city bathed in a soft blue sky and the early morning sun burning off the remains of the sea dew.  It was going to be another fine day.  We decided to explore the town today and set off first to do that thing that has become a bit of a ritual and go and visit the local market.   And it was a very good one indeed, just the place to get our market envy fix.  The meat hall was full of interesting produce alongside the usual including big portions of wild boar, whole rabbits and bits of chickens that it certainly wouldn’t occur to us to eat. These included heads and feet, and like most people from England I always thought that the chicken leg stopped just below that meaty piece of thigh meat.  Shoppers would have a fit in England but the French seem to have an appetite for the most unusual. 

In the fish market, once again as with everywhere else we have been the variety and quantity was eye-popping, there were slabs and slabs of oysters all carefully graded by size from number one to number six and the breathtaking amount of shellfish and crustaceans simply served to confirm that the French will eat anything that swims, crawls or slithers through the sea.  Outside the vegetable stalls offered appetizing produce that was all arranged in spectacular displays with much more attention to detail and presentation than we had seen elsewhere. 

We enjoyed walking around the medieval streets with their timber framed houses and we visited the Cathedral de Saint Louis, which was impressive for a provincial city and later the Notre Dam Church that was dark and eerie and with an overwhelming smell of incense. 

Out of the town we sat in a green park and ate strawberries that we had purchased in the market and were startled by the most amazingly loud croaking noise, so loud we took it to be a man with one of those duck decoy whistles but when we investigated further we located the noise from the river and were surprised to find some frogs swimming about and making a really astonishing amount of noise for such small creatures.  Obviously not very bright either because given the French habit of eating practically anything and being especially fond of these little amphibian’s succulent legs you’d have thought that they might have learned over the years not to draw so much attention to themselves. 

As we relaxed over lunch we were amused by a motorist who was looking for a parking place and identified a vacant spot opposite the brasserie.  Actually it was quite obvious that there was insufficient space to squeeze his vehicle into but he was determined to get in there one way or another.  One way was to reverse into the vehicle behind and shunt it a few inches backwards and the other was to drive into the vehicle in front and shunt that one a few inches 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 and sat down at a table for lunch. 

This reminded me of an old friend, Charles who lived in Evreux in Normandy and prided himself on being able to slip into the most improbable parking spaces always claiming that that is exactly what bumpers on cars are designed for.  He 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 people the French!

 

2010 in review

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 54 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 63 posts. There were 238 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 120mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 22nd with 160 views. The most popular post that day was 1957 – a Sister, Spaghetti, Scouting, Sputnik and Stanley Matthews.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, search.aol.com, en.wordpress.com, twitter.com, and 74.125.67.100.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for baden powell, john f kennedy, ray kroc, john f. kennedy, and cold war.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

1957 – a Sister, Spaghetti, Scouting, Sputnik and Stanley Matthews December 2009

2

Age of Innocence November 2009
1 comment

3

1955 – Polio, McDonalds and Disneyland December 2009
3 comments

4

The Miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand March 2010

5

1960 – Beatles, Lego and Lady Chatterley January 2010

Hymn Book Theft – Finally the Truth

The true story of the 1968 Dunsmore School Great Hymn Book Robbery is soon to be revealed for the first time!