Funky Staircases: Number 1
(For numbers 2 - 5, see below)
In this blogposting…
*Durham: The Police Box
*Some More Helpful Advice
*Blogposting 279
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war…

In posting 277 I reminisced wistfully about the strange old days when traffic through the centre of Durham City was controlled from a police box in the Market Place. The ever-resourceful Sid has now sent me an online link to a rare piece of video footage about the police box. It brought back so many memories - and confirmed many of my recollections about bus liveries, as well!

If the link below doesn’t work directly from here, copy and paste it into Google’s ‘Search’ box.

Thanks very much indeed, Sid.

Truckshunter Miles - previously unknown to me - was so impressed with the advice I gave in posting 275 about the avoidance of being struck by lightning that he immediately grabbed his quill (as he puts it) and wrote me a list of the best advice he has had over the years….

Never put off to tomorrow what you can put off to the day after tomorrow
Never believe anything you hear - and only half of what you see
Always look inside your shoes before you put them on
Nobody ever leaves money in the street meaning to go back for it
All cinemas are bigger inside than they are outside
It is always better to give than to receive - because you don’t have to write a Thankyou letter
When in doubt, have a banana
Croquet brings out the worst in people
Always carry a corkscrew with you, for one day you are sure to meet a man with a bottle of wine and no corkscrew
Never applaud a vicar’s sermon - it only encourages them
Everyone would be vegetarian if we left the heads on the animals we eat
Do not expect postmen to write letters
Never go out with anyone who is better at arm-wrestling than you are
Avoid actresses
Avoid anyone who is interested in amateur dramatics
When someone insults you, think very seriously for a moment about whether he is right or not
There is no point offending your enemy - he is offended already. You would be better off offending a friend
No man is an island - though some are cut off at high tide
Man is the only animal who has ever thought it worthwhile to design and manufacture facsimile dog turds
Never accept second helpings of sloe gin
The more we learn, the more we forget
People who give advice rarely listen to what they themselves are saying

Thankyou Miles; that’s one of the driest and funniest lists I’ve read in ages. More please.

And if anyone would care to add to Miles’ list, please feel free.
Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Sunday 12 June. I’m not sure where though. In a comment to posting 277, Hildie mentions two suggestions: the Bowes Railway (at Springwell Village) and a new cafe in the park at South Shields.

If anyone knows which of these two we’re meeting at, please get in touch.

Wherever it is, I am absolutely unanimous in declaring that a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
I am on holiday next week so the next blogposting - number 279, for heaven’s sake - will appear the following week. I know how much hardship and mental anguish this will cause to countless thousands of truckshunters and I feel profoundly guilty about it.

However, it would be physically and mentally impossible for me to abandon you to truckshunter cold turkey so, to keep you occupied and safely off the streets, here are three intriguing ‘neurological’ tests sent to me by Eric and Jean, from The Commercial at Tantobie.

First of all...
Can you raed this?
Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid! Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? And I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Secondly, find the C in this lot (without help from your computer cursor)…

If you thought that was easy, try finding the 6 in here... 99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999

And finally - the trickiest of all...Find the N…

In an emergency, I can be contacted at:
Ward 74
The Dale Winton Home For The Terminally Bewildered
Back Gasworks View
Bishop Auckland
Au revoir...


Durham City is a truly spectacular place.

To the people of north-east England, that may seem like a fairly fatuous thing to say, akin to asserting to the people who live in its shadow that the Taj Mahal is stunningly beautiful. It goes without saying. We all know how spectacular Durham is and we don’t need a reminder.

But I think we do.

It is the way of things that people who live cheek-by-jowl with great monuments tend to get so used to them that they don’t give them a second look; most of the time, Londoners are not to be found gazing with wonderment at St Paul’s Cathedral, Parisians hardly see the Eiffel Tower, even out of the corners of their eyes, and Sydneysiders, I imagine, cast only the occasional glance at the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House.

In this perfectly understandable way, some of the world’s greatest works of architecture are taken for granted by the folks who are lucky enough to live near them. And I’ve often thought that we are the same with Durham City.

I’m as guilty as anyone else. Perhaps moreso, as it has always been a matter of family ‘honour’ to accord Durham a special place in our affections. A love of the city - and an intimate knowledge of its buildings, its history and its folklore - have been passed down from generation to generation. When it was my turn to inherit this love, I absorbed it almost from the air around me, so intense was my family’s affection for ‘the City’. I’ve been thoroughly besotted with it almost since I could talk.

Lately, though, I’ve got to feeling that I haven’t been paying Durham the respect it deserves. In short, I’ve been doing what I so often resent and regret other people for doing - I’ve taken it for granted. Having grown up loving it - having been lucky enough to go to school there - I’ve started to feel guilty that I’ve neglected the real love of my life.

So a few days ago, I devoted the whole day to it. I caught an early train from Newcastle and, within minutes, that astonishing view laid itself out before me - the finest view on Britain’s railways.

I walked slowly down from the station through the lush growth of trees on Station Bank - hawthorns heavy with flowers, ash and rowan beginning to blossom too, and huge sturdy old beech and birch trees reaching above all of them for the sunlight and air. And, all the way down, I kept pausing to look across at that stupendous vista which we’ve all seen so many times before but which we really ought never to tire of.

For me, Durham City’s magic has always lain in its ability to be both overpoweringly majestic and almost other-worldly whilst, at the same time, managing the intimate, everyday friendliness of a regular English market town. I have been lucky enough to visit every cathedral in England and none of them - or the cities that contain them - manage to be as unselfconscious about their beauty as Durham does.

I think that this may be because Durham’s feet are firmly on the ground; its roots are deep within the local coal-seams, railways and shipyards. So the people who prize and admire Durham most as their local iconic city have been from environments where, until very recently, life was ‘poor, hard, brutish and short’ and who therefore have a greater capacity to appreciate the beautiful things in their midst.

As I happily re-acquainted myself with its streets, lanes and vennels, I realised how much ‘my’ city had changed while I wasn’t looking. Walkergate (a name stolen from the vennel that used to twist down from the Market Place to the river) is awful. The Gala Theatre and City Library hardly redeem a space of unspeakably dreary modern architecture which succeeds in being neither a foil nor a compliment to its surroundings.

It reminded of the uproar that followed the opening of the National Savings Bank directly opposite it - the planners and architects of which have never been brought to justice. They ought to have been taken out and shot.

It seems that Durham City Council never learns its lessons. Every development in the city over the last 30 years or so has been catastrophically philistine. You don’t need to spend much time in the ‘Prince Bishop’s Shopping Centre’ (full of those cursed, ‘identikit’ shops that besmirch every High Street in England) or ‘The Gate’ (cheap discount tat and empty shops) to see the truth of the matter.

Try as they have, however, the Council has not succeeded in spoiling Durham City. When I was there a few days ago, a busy Continental Market was pitched in the Market Place; German sausages, French crepes and breads, Italian sweets, Spanish paella. I loved it, despite the regrettable gaze of the hateful Marquess of Londonderry, the removal of whose statue is, I now acknowledge, a lost cause.

If I had the energy - or thought it might be a battle I could win - I would campaign now for a second statue in the Market Place. A miner should stand there looking across the square at the Marquess, reminding him forever of the many pitmen he murdered.

Many of the changes in Durham are to be welcomed, of course. I love the virtually complete pedestrianisation of the central area; when I was young, double-decker buses trundled across Framwellgate Bridge, up Silver Street and Saddler Street and over Elvet Bridge, all controlled from the Market Place police box.

As I sat there, I tried to remember how it used to be. And - being that sort of person - all I could remember were the liveries and names of the buses I used to see there as a child.

Let me see now….red and cream for United buses, green for the DDS (Durham District Services), deep blue and white for the SDO (Sunderland District Omnibus), grey for the Diamond buses (which used to run to Sacriston, I think), beige for the Gypsy Queen (to Langley Park), blue and white for the TMS (Trimdon Motor Services (Tarzan’s Meat Sandwiches or Trimdon Muck Shifters, depending on your point of view and your age)), brown for the G&B (Gillett Brothers - buses from Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill)….

I’m sure you can imagine the many, many childhood memories all that brought back!

The real heavyweight nostalgia, however, was reserved for Durham Cathedral - the only building in the whole world which is, I think, impossible not to love. Its siting is incomparable; the river’s ravine, thick with mature woodland, hemming it in on three sides with the castle guarding it on the fourth.

Up close and personal, its majesty on Palace Green is mixed, subtly and subconsciously, with a sense of rest and calm to those pilgrims, like me, who have wandered so far uphill to say Hello to it. It feels very much as if the peninsula over which it presides was designed specifically for the Cathedral, rather than the other way round.

And its air of reassuring permanence is a deeply-felt invitation to its visitors to lay down their cares and worries, however temporarily, and to find tranquillity and peace in a profoundly unhappy world. Thus has the Sanctuary Knocker changed its significance.

To be inside Durham Cathedral is, for me, the most uplifting and liberating experience I am ever likely to have. That a single building can, at one and the same time, dominate and overawe with its power and yet feel so comfortable, intimate and ‘human’, has astonished me for decades. It is surely the most appropriate conceivable resting place for our two, very deeply human, local saints - Cuthbert and Bede. Their care for, and love of, the people around them, and for the animals and birds that lived alongside them, were genuinely ‘saintly’ - and centuries ahead of their time.

Even cathedrals must try to keep in step with the times. At Durham, three new stained-glass windows have been installed in recent years - you can get an admittedly rather poor idea of what they look like from these pictures.
The ‘Daily Bread’ window is a view of the last supper from above.
The Millennium Window represents the historic trades and industries of the county.
And the Transfiguration Window - installed only last year - is the most powerful of its type that I’ve ever seen.

They’re wonderful.

So my visit to Durham City ended not in movement but in stillness and silence - which is, I think, no more and no less than my ancestors would have expected. There, in the great open space of the nave, I realised that the personal significance of this place - that its symbolism and memories for myself, my family and the people I grew up with - was simply too much to cope with...

Sometimes, though, it’s good not to cope, isn’t it?

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
*You Can’t Take It With You
*My Pear Tree Has Gone Bananas
*1,001 Buildings
Proceed with caution - but not too much caution…

* Sales of knitting wool have gone up by 40% since the recession began
* Last year, a million people registered to become organ donors
* The number of children with access to the internet in their bedrooms has more than doubled in the last two years
* Elvis Presley earned £55m last year, despite still being dead (see below)
* Salmon have returned to the Seine
* There are only 33 native sperm donors in Canada
* You can now buy DIY DNA testing kits from the chemist

According to Forbes Magazine, this is a list of the highest-earning dead celebrities:
1 - Yves Saint Laurent ($350m)
2 - Rodgers and Hammerstein ($235m)
3 - Michael Jackson ($90m)
4 - Elvis Presley (see above)
5 - J R R Tolkien ($50m)
6 - Charles Schulz (‘Peanuts’) ($35m)
7 - John Lennon ($15m)
7 - Dr Seuss ($15m)
9 - Albert Einstein ($10m)
10 - Michael Crichton ($9m)

Some years ago, in the early days of the Blue Bus programme, a listener called Harriet French, from Tweedmouth, sent me an unforgettable little book called My Pear Tree Has Gone Bananas.

It consists entirely of the garbled sayings, mangled metaphors and punch-drunk proverbs which tripped and crashed out of the mouth of a man called Don Edwards. Don was an otherwise fairly unremarkable graphic designer - but his affectionate colleagues kept a record of his colourful use of language. In due course, it was published in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Ever since Harriet was generous enough to send it to me at the BBC, it has remained by my bed - just in case I need something to laugh at before I put the light out.

Here are a few tasters...
* He’s as deaf as a dodo
* Putting the horse before the cart
* You’re chasing a dead horse!
* You can’t chase a dying cow
* I feel as stiff as a newt
* Let sleeping ducks lie
* I’m caught between the devil and the frying pan
* That’s money for old jam
* Speak of the wind and in it blows
* The world is your lobster

Thankyou, Harriet. Your book has come to my rescue many times. And yes, I did make a donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Time once again for the next ten ‘buildings you should see before you die’, as recommended in the lovely book I got for Christmas.

The buildings in the book are in chronological order. This list brings us up to 1265.

If you’ve seen any of them, or plan to, please get in touch. I’m honoured to say that, with numbers 66, 68 and 70, my tally has gone up to eight!

61 - Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech, Morocco
62 - St George’s Church, Lalibela, Ethiopia
63 - Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Spain
64 - Chartres Cathedral, France
65 - Castel del Monti, Bari, Italy
66 - Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France (pictured here)
67 - Djenne Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali (pictured above)
68 - Salisbury Cathedral, England
69 - Cliff Palace, Colorado, USA
70 - Baptistery, Pisa, Italy

National totals so far are:
Italy 13, France 6, Egypt 5, China 4, Ireland 3, India 3, Syria 2, Croatia 2, Iraq 2, Spain 2, England 2 - then 1 each for Afghanistan, Armenia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, Isreal, Japan, Libya, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, USA, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Sunday 12 June. If you have any nominations for a venue for this unusual, weekend AGM, please get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
Newcastle - in a glass, brightly
In this blogposting…
* A Tale Of Two Cities
* Some Helpful Advice
Make the most of it….

Grand gestures - like royal weddings and state visits - are all very well but, in my experience, it is more often in the dew of little things that the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

I’ve just spent a few days in London and, largely because of my hopelessly inadequate time management skills, my friend and I found ourselves struggling through the West End and back to Ealing during the rush-hour; that frenzied, overcrowded time when, you’d think, all altruistic considerations would be ditched in favour of an ‘every-man-for-himself’ approach to survival on buses and Underground trains - and the devil take the hindmost.

The rush hour was living up to its reputation. The Tube train was packed, sweaty and slow. All thoughts of personal space were necessarily discarded as passengers stood cheek-by-jowl, so close together that we were holding each other up like terrace houses as the train lurched and clunked through the tunnels.

Then quite suddenly, a youngish bloke stood up and offered me his seat.

Perhaps I looked careworn, exhausted and haggard after an afternoon wandering round Covent Garden. Maybe I looked fragile, uncomfortable, sad - or just old. Whatever the reason was, I’ve rarely been happier to accept an invitation ‘to take the weight off my feet’.

Giving up your seat on a crowded Tube train during rush-hour is no mere goodwill gesture. You are sacrificing a journey of relative ease for one of crowded, jostling, strap-hanging discomfort. So I thanked the man in question profusely; a little too profusely, I think - he was about 25 and was in possession of a gently sexy smile as well as extraordinary good looks.

But the politeness of London’s commuters didn’t stop there. At the next stop, the middle-aged woman sitting next to me moved into a newly-empty seat so that my friend and I could sit together for our journey home.

I was going to say that such thoughtfulness, at such a time and in such a place, must be quite unusual - but I’m not sure that it is. I’ve seen care and consideration for others like this many times, in London and elsewhere. I wonder if we notice it more because we have become accustomed to discourtesy and selfishness so much that random acts of kindness like this are now noticeably exceptional.

Or - more likely in my view - we are living in a changed age wherein it’s so much easier, and even more fashionable, to be cynical about the actions and motivations of our fellow human beings than it is to recognise the good in them.

So - thankyou, Mr and Ms Wonderful. You made what could easily have been a day-spoiling journey for two frazzled old men into a strangely life-enhancing affirmation of the actual and potential goodness of our capital city and of the people who live there - in however small a way.

It reminded me of the 15 years during which I was a Londoner myself - I lived there after I left home when I was 18. Travelling back to Ealing the other day on that District Line Tube train reminded me of how much I loved London, and why I still do.

To return to my more customary scepticism, though…

Picture it.

It’s the same time of day. Rush-hour. All public transport is crowded. Every seat is fought for almost to the death. People are pushing and shoving each other with seemingly no thoughts except for themselves.

But you’re not in London. You’re on the Metro in Paris.

As the train clunks along, a man in his mid-20s stands up and offers his seat to an older, tired-looking man who looks as if he’ll die on the spot if he doesn’t sit down soon.

Along with everyone else, you gape at the young man in amazement. Is he a beggar? Is he going to extort money from the older man? Is this a practical joke? Is there a hidden camera? Is the young man ill? Mentally unstable in some way? A terrorist, God forbid?

Should you call Security? The gendarmerie? An ambulance? A priest? Your mother?

I know that my saying this will not endear me to the friends I have in Paris, but I’m prepared to risk it. The fact remains that hell would freeze over, the sky would fall on chicken-licken and hen-len and the Wizard would return to Oz - before the charming little scene of comfortable good-fellowship I described on the District Line in London would happen in Paris.

I know perfectly well that stereotypes are just that: exaggerated caricatures about which it is dangerously inaccurate and unfair to generalise.

Except for Paris. It seems to me that the stereotypical thoughtless and haughty smugness of its citizens is something they themselves relish and even cultivate. That’s how thoughtless, haughty and smug they are.

(Except for the ones reading this posting, who are considerate and empathetic to a man.)

On 8 April 1979, eleven soccer players were struck by lightning simultaneously while they were running for cover during a storm in Caerleon, Gwent. The bolt actually struck the waterlogged pitch, thus creating an electric gradient felt by everyone there, including the spectators. However, only one man was hurt.

Strikes like that, though far from common, are by no means unique. It had already happened at the Army Cup Final in April 1948, when eight spectators, two players and the ref were all felled. Two of them died.

Lightning strikes the ground about 300,000 times a year in Britain. On average, between thirty and sixty people are struck each year, of whom three (on average) die.

So, in the interests of public safety, and because truckshunters are nothing if not socially conscientious, I hereby reproduce the advice offered in a wonderful book I’m reading about the weather on How To Avoid Being Struck By Lightning During A Storm.

Ignore it at your peril.

1 Avoid open spaces and beaches
2 Do not shelter under a tree - especially a lone tree - however tempting
3 If in water - get out
4 If you’re caught in the open, keep away from metal objects (golf clubs, fishing rods, mobile phones, iPods, bicycles, wire fences - even coins)
5 Crouch as low as you can, feet together - and preferably in a ditch or hollow
6 Get into a car - the superstructure acts like a giant Faraday cage, guiding the charge harmlessly around the outside of you

And remember...if your or anyone else’s hair stands on end, or objects around you begin to buzz, run - lightning may be about to strike.

...if you have any advice - about anything at all - please get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
We ask a lot of our holidays.

We tend to overburden them with our expectations; we ask them too many questions and we give them far too much to do. Some psychologists have even ventured to suggest that desperation to ‘get away’ on holiday is an unhealthy symptom of the kind of lives that so many people are forced to live; that it is a very real need to ‘escape’ best met not by going on holiday but by actually escaping altogether.

For me, this theory is confirmed when I think of the type of people who say, casually and calmly, that they ‘haven’t been on holiday for years’. They are usually the people who have enjoyable and rewarding jobs and perfectly happy home lives. No escape is necessary.

For almost everyone else, though, a couple of weeks away on holiday is the pivot around which their lives revolve. It’s the time to step off the daily grind and flee - usually overseas.

And in those precious few days, lots of holiday boxes have to be ticked.

- most people normally crave some sunshine - for which our unbronzed northern European bodies are usually crying out;
- we need plenty of ‘do-nothing‘ time, too; time when all the everyday pressure of ‘getting and spending‘ is turned down, even if just a little;
- many of us want to try and meet a few local people as well; trying to converse across the barrier of mutually unintelligible languages is usually enough to break the ice and get everyone smiling;
- we need to ‘see the sights’; towns and cities, villages and countryside, beaches and mountains, buildings great and small;
- for many holiday-makers, a touch of edgy adventure, a hint of the unfamiliar and the challenging, adds zest to our time away from the daily, predictable grind;
- we also like to ‘let our hair down’ on holiday; we want to do things we don’t normally do - perhaps explore a little ‘nightlife’ before we go home to our slippers and pipe (so to speak).
- and, if we’re sensible, we also want to try some local food and drink in order to give our taste buds and digestive systems something to remember the holiday for, too.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that so many of us feel a little short-changed when we get home. The holiday was ‘nice’, yes, but it wasn’t at all what we cracked it up to be. There is a sense of anti-climax; a feeling that we only just started to scratch the surface of our time away when it was time to pack up and come home.

All this is to say that I know very well how unusual my own life has been this last year or so. I have been given the opportunity (and the means) to spend a lot of time in France - not as a holiday-maker but almost as a resident there. I have been able to achieve what so many frustrated vacationers only dream of; to spend long periods of time ‘going native’ - learning the language, lazily exploring the countryside, getting used to the local diet, adapting to a different climate, discovering what the French are really like (notwithstanding the perhaps understandable animosity so many English people feel).

Very few people get the chance to do what I have been able to do; to spend time in a foreign country and not simply be on holiday there. And believe me, I know how lucky I am. Every time I visit Beaujolais, I am aware of the great good fortune that enables me to be there so often and for so long. And I try not to waste it.

One of the things I’ve made it my business to understand is the strength of French local tradition - largely, I suppose, because of the many north-east England traditions still going strong after many centuries. The recent egg-rollings and jarpings at Penshaw Hill (and some other places); the Shrove Tuesday football games in Alnwick and Sedgefield; the tar-barrel ceremonies in Allendale Town and Whalton; mayor-making in Durham City. I’m sure you can think of many more.

I am, for example, drafting this posting on May Day. In Beaujolais, May Day is forever associated with muguets, lily-of-the-valley. Children carry sprays of this delightful flower around with them all day, offering to sell you some for a few centimes - in much the same way as ours used to ask for ‘a penny for the guy’ on the days leading up to 5 November. Lily-of-the-valley is so much ‘nicer’ than a stuffed guy representing an executed traitor, don’t you think?

Naturally, Easter too is celebrated differently. On Easter Day families and friends gather together for a special, all-day party. Each person is given a large, fish-shaped cake made of a kind of soft shortbread and studded with almonds. A hard-boiled egg with the recipient’s name written on it sits atop the cake, and this, in turn, is surmounted by a pastry cross. You can see them in all their Gallic glory in the photos above.

But, for me at least, the most colourful tradition in Beaujolais - and in a few other areas of France, is les conscrits - the ‘conscripts’.

This is not as martial as it sounds. At least, not now - although its origins are very martial indeed.

Les conscrits is of fairly recent origin. In fact, it can be traced back precisely to a particular date and a particular village in Alsace.

During the First World War, Frenchmen (like men elsewhere) were called up according to their age. In one village in 1916, all the lads who had been conscripted decided to have a big, pre-Army celebration before they went to war. Naturally, they were all the same age - 17. And that’s how les conscrits started.

These ‘last night of freedom‘ parties spread rapidly across central and eastern France, each one attended by lads of the same age. Soon they were forming themselves into unofficial groups of ‘pals’, much as many of our soldiers did at the time.

And from these humble and inauspicious beginnings developed a pleasingly complex system of formalised local groups, membership of which depends entirely on how old you are - just as in that original Alsatian shindig in 1916.

It works like this. Everyone of the same age can join - but so can people whose age ends with the same number. So you can join, say, the 4 conscrit if you are 24, 34, 44, 54…..and so on. And, of course, there are conscrits for each year of a decade, from 0 to 9. Because I am 62, I would join the 2 conscrit whose members’ ages would all end in 2.

One of the gratifying side-effects of les conscrits is that they are cross-generational. Members of my group, for example, would be 22, 32, 42, 52, 62, 72 or even (if they’re lucky) 82, 92 or 102 years old. I admire the French for the many ways they have of bringing the generations together to enjoy themselves.

When they foregather (which they do - a lot), each group or classe, sports its own colour-coded ribbon attached to top hats. In the photographs below, all the menfolk enjoying themselves so hugely are in my classe - they were all born in a year ending in 8. I know this because their top-hat ribbons are blue.

I think the bouquets are a nice touch, don’t you?

I hope you’re getting all this.
I say that because it’s taken me a whole year to understand the system, and I’m still not entirely sure that I’m right. Understanding the system is, however, compulsory in Beaujolais, where the conscrits tradition is very strong indeed. The nearest town to my village is Villefranche-sur-Saone and, for one day every January, it is completely taken over by les conscrits - thousands of them. That’s where these photos were taken. You can see more if you Google the event.

So, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in Rhone-Alpes, Alsace or Lorraine, look out for les conscrits.

And remember, there’ll be a test on all this later….

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com