This picture of a French Army Knife was sent to me - mischievously - by Peter in South Shields
In this blogposting...
* The Sheepdog and the Panther
* The World:  A Truckshunter Geography
* Barcelona
* Fenwick's Window 2
Make of it what you will...

No matter how old and crusty we get, I reckon we never grow out of hearing those old-fashioned stories that have a ‘moral’ - fables that teach us the basic truths of life and the human condition in a gentle and often humorous way.

This one was sent to me recently by Eric and Jean….

An old sheepdog started chasing rabbits and before long, discovered that he was lost.  Wandering about, he noticed a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old sheepdog thought ‘Oh, oh! I'm in deep trouble now!’

Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settled down to chew on them with his back to the approaching panther. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old sheepdog exclaims loudly, ‘Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder, if there are any more around here?’

Hearing this, the young panther halted his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror came over him and he slunk away into the trees.

‘Phew!’ said the panther, ‘That was close! That old sheepdog nearly had me!’

Meanwhile a squirrel, who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figured he could put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So off he went.

The squirrel soon caught up with the panther, spilled the beans and struck a deal for himself with the panther.

The young panther was furious at being made a fool of and said ‘Here squirrel - jump on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!’

The old sheepdog saw the panther coming with the squirrel on his back and thought ‘What am I going to do now?’ 

But instead of running, the dog sat down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hadn't seen them yet.  Just when they got close enough to hear, the old sheepdog said...

‘Where's that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!’

And the moral of this story is...

Don't mess with the old dogs.  Age and skill will always overcome youth and treachery. And remember - bullshit and brilliance only come with age and experience!

Please don’t forget our extra special seasonal AGM.

The amazing Kev has invited us to hold it at his workplace so it will take place at 1100 on Monday 19 December at South Tyneside College in South Shields.

If you’re not sure how to get there, just ask.

And remember - a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Be there!

Please don’t forget to send me any quirky and/or surprising information you can find about the weird little country that is the next port-of-call on our ambitious round-the-world trip:  Andorra.

Get in touch in any of the usual ways.

I can’t wait to find out what you come up with!

In a few days’ time it will be my 63rd birthday and, for the first time in all those years, I won’t be getting a card from my Mam.

I thought a lot about how Mam would want me to ‘manage’ the day without being overcome with sadness and I decided that a good way of doing that would be to go away somewhere - somewhere I’ve never been before - so that the day might be very special and memorable in positive rather than negative ways.

I mentioned my thoughts to a friend, and he immediately drew my attention to the newly-instated cheap flights easyJet are operating from Newcastle to Barcelona.  Wasn’t Barcelona, he asked, one of those places I’ve always wanted to go?

He was right, too.  Everyone I know who has visited Barcelona says it is a remarkable and magnificent city.  Its Catalan culture and Modernist architecture makes it a truly unique city which I have wanted to visit for many years.  It even has trams!

(And Andorra is just around the corner.)

John was right about the airfare, too; a return train ticket to London would be much more expensive.

So I’m going. 

By the time you read this, I should be on my way or may even have arrived there already.  I’ll be staying until the day after my birthday and will have my phone and laptop with me - so, if you’d like to, you can stay in touch.

To be honest, I can’t think of a nicer way to honour and remember my Mam on my birthday.  I think she would approve.

To keep you occupied while I’m away, here are three more short videos of this year’s Christmas window at Fenwick’s.
Better yet; if you haven’t already done so, go and see it for yourself!!!

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Lawrence
* A Kev Conundrum
* What The Toilet Is For
* Insults
* Quotes of the Day
Proceed with caution...

As you’ll have seen if you’ve checked out the comments to the last blogposting, today (Sunday 27 November) is Lawrence’s birthday.

Although work commitments mean that he hasn’t attended many AGMs, Lawrence is as important a member of our select community as anyone else.  For a start, it was one of his beloved rats - Grosvenor - that we adopted as our mascot on The Nightshift.

And our wayward On Your Doorstep chats were a landmark in the art of unpredictable radio journalism (for which I ought to apologise to Lawrence, but won’t).

After each early-morning recording, Lawrence and I got into the habit of having breakfast at a ‘greasy spoon’ on Motorbike Hill - a tradition which, I’m glad to say, continues regularly to this day.

So truckshunters all - wherever and whoever you are - please raise a congratulatory glass to the remarkable and redoubtable Lawrence.

Happy Birthday, Lawrence - from all of us.

In my last posting, I said that AGM XXX would take place on Tuesday 16 December.  I was wrong.  So pay attention…

Kev is one of our most loyal and devoted truckshunters; his involvement with the ‘movement’ goes all the way back to Nightshift days and beyond.  For various reasons, though, he can never make it to our AGMs - wherever or whenever they are.  So he has kindly suggested that we hold our Christmas AGM at his workplace in South Shields.

So I am delighted to tell you that AGM XXX will take place at 1100 on Monday 19 December at South Tyneside College.

This will be a truly ground-breaking AGM; it’s Kev’s chance to put faces to names and your chance to meet a man I’m proud to have known for quite a while now.

So please come and join us for a celebratory pre-Christmas cuppa and chinwag.

A particularly splendid time is guaranteed for all.

(If you’re not sure how to get there, get in touch.)

Speaking of Kev…

I met him for a coffee the other day, during which he mentioned in passing the following statistical conundrum.  (Kev is very good at this sort of thing.)

I’m sure he explained the flaw but I was so confused that I’ve forgotten it.

So pay attention; here goes….

Let’s say (for the sake of argument) that 20% of road accidents involve people who are drunk.

This means that 80% of road accidents - the vast majority - involve people who are
not drunk.

It therefore follows that, when you’re driving, it’s much safer to be drunk than sober.

True?  Of course not.

But why not?

‘All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. There are passages in Ulysses which can be read only in the toilet - if one wants to extract the full flavor of their content.’

Henry Miller said that and personally I think he was wrong - or at least, he didn’t go far enough.  The toilet is the only place where I would even consider reading Ulysses at all; like many other people, I’ve tried to get to grips with it but have only ever succeeded in reaching the bottom of Page One.  On one unforgettable attempt, I didn’t even get that far.

Ultimately, though, Henry Miller was absolutely right.  The toilet is a wonderful place to read a book.  Think about it.  You’re alone and will not be disturbed (unless your household is of a peculiarly perverted kind).  The toilet is a small, quiet room with few distractions, which means you can really get to grips with whatever’s to hand.  As it were.

I’m now so deeply hooked on the habit of reading in the the toilet that, if I ever visit one that has no books by the bowl, I end up reading the shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes.  You know the kind of thing:  ‘Specially formulated by Tesco to give your hair age-defying bounce and colour’ - whatever ‘age-defying bounce’ might be.

Or ‘with natural extracts of horse-chestnut and cabbage to help relieve those tired muscles’.  They obviously know something about horse-chestnuts that escapes the rest of us.

I am, in fact, deeply suspicious of anyone who has no books to read in the toilet.  After all, what else is there to do in there?

You have to be careful, though.  The great novels of history  - like Ulysses - are not good toilet books.  Neither you nor your guests want to relieve themselves whilst struggling with Great Expectations, after all.

No; what you need are books that can dipped into at random; trivia books of one sort or another.  They need to consist of items just a page or two long, so that you can inwardly digest the contents in the time it takes for you to dispose of material you have previously digested inwardly.

Inspired by these considerations, I’ve just paid a visit to my own toilet here.  Here is a list of some of the books that you can dip into if you ever choose to visit me - and it.

All Gong And No Dinner:  1,001 Homely Phrases and Curious Domestic Sayings  - unearthed by the lovely Nigel Rees and his Quote...Unquote programme on Radio 4…

The Book of Lists:  The Original Compendium of Curious Information
This astonishing book includes lists like ‘9 Body Parts You Didn’t Know Had Names’ (such as the philtrum, the vertical groove in the upper lip) and ’12 Librarians Who Became Famous’ (such as Mao Tse Tung and J Edgar Hoover)…

The current catalogue of Clas Ohlson, an amazing new shop in Newcastle...

365 - Your Date With History which, for each day of the year, describes unexpected or neglected events.  I bet you didn’t know that on this date (November 27) in 511AD a man called Clovis - regarded by the French as the founder of their country - died in Paris, aged 45.  He is so revered that a version of his name - Louis - was afterwards used by 18 French kings....Or that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway today in 1582…

The Old Dog and Duck:  The Secret Meaning of Pub Names (a gift from Hildie).  Why, for example, are there so many pubs named after the Marquis of Granby?  Why are there three pubs in London called The Case Is Altered?  Why The Eagle and Child?

The Book of Insults
I love this book so much that I actually filched it from the toilet of my friend Brian, who has excellent taste in such things.

Here are some selections….

About Mohammad Ali..
He floats like an anchor and stings like a moth
About Clement Attlee….
He is a sheep in sheep’s clothing.

About Edward VII…
A corpulent voluptuary

About Eisenhower…
He is the only living Unknown Soldier

About the Queen…
She is frumpish and banal

About Gerald Ford…
He can’t fart and chew gum at the same time
About Charles de Gaulle…
He is like a female llama surprised in her bath
An artlessly sincere megalomaniac

About Gladstone…
He hasn’t a single redeeming defect

About Jerry Hall….
Try interviewing her sometime - it’s like talking to a window

About Katherine Hepburn…
She ran the whole gamut of emotions from A to B

About Hitler…
He is a bloodthirsty guttersnipe
About Mick Jagger….
He has big lips - I saw him suck an egg out of a chicken.  He can play the tuba from both ends.  He has childbearing lips…

About Lloyd George….
He couldn’t see a belt without hitting below it

About John McEnroe…
He was as charming as a dead mouse in a loaf of bread
About Robert Peel…
His smile was like the silver plate on a coffin

About composer Ethel Smyth…
It’s bad when they don’t perform her operas; when they do, it’s worse

About Margaret Thatcher…
She speaks to me as if my dog has just died

About Vaughan-Williams….
Listening to his Fifth Symphony is like staring at a cow for forty-five minutes

...and many more.  Perfect toilet reading matter, I think you’ll agree.

Oh - and Ulysses is in there, too.

I’d love to know what you read in your jakes.

Finally, here are two quotations that have taken Serge’s fancy recently.  Want to make  a stab at translating them?

Parle si tu as des mots plus forts que le silence, ou garde le silence.

L'humour est une façon de remettre en question les choses qu'on considère comme intouchables.

While you’re busy with those, here are some ‘random quotations’ sent to me by Lynne..

‘Just because that's what I said I want, doesn't mean to say that's what I want!’

‘After you get what you want, you don't want it.’

‘He's not the messiah - he's a very naughty boy.’

‘That's men for you; they promise you the world but all you really get is an A to Z of nowhere.’

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
What Hildie didn't see last weekend...
In this blogposting…
* The Rev Dogposture writes…
* Fenwick’s Window
* Laws of the Universe
* Lumiere at Durham City
* Kev
Help yourself…

This is the time of year when the National Register of People Who Change Their Names (NROPWCTN) releases its annual catalogue of drongos who, for reasons not within the purview of ordinary folk, change their names from perfectly innocuous things like Pete Smith or Julie Jones to Hamish Hoover McTavish or Exotica Fiji Sexbubble.

Naturally, this results in all the uproariously funny stories carried by The Daily Mail - stories far too tiresome and predictable to parrot here.

My attention was, however drawn to a letter in The Guardian (where else?).  It went something like this….

'All this talk of people changing their names reminds me of a friend I used to know at school called Steve Stinks.  Needless to say, this caused him to be bullied and ridiculed mercilessly so that, as soon as he was 18 and had the right to do so, he changed his name.

He is now called Phil Stinks.'

The last time I mentioned this subject, I mused upon the possibility of changing my name to the Rev Unseemly Dogposture.  And now, I wish I had.

In 1971, Fenwick’s in Newcastle decided to do something that no other department store in England had ever done before.  While other shops - then as now - understandably stuffed their street window displays with Christmas goodies, Fenwick’s cleared their long window onto Northumberland Street to make way for a fantastical seasonal display that didn’t feature any goods for sale at all.

The theme of this first Fenwick’s Christmas window was Camberwick Green - and the considerable gamble paid off.  Crowds came from all over the north-east to see it and sales naturally increased dramatically.

And they’ve been doing it every year since then.  This year's is typically lovely.
Some years ago, Paul and I recorded an item about the Christmas window on-site.  We were allowed to take a peek behind the display and, to this day, it remains one of the nicest and most rewarding features we ever recorded for our programme.

Anyone who has ever seen a Fenwick’s Christmas window will easily be able to imagine the hard work that goes into its design and construction.  Paul and I discovered that the entire staff of the store take it very seriously indeed and take great pride in the results of their efforts.
And they are quite right to do so.  We live in money-grubbing times and it frankly astonishes me that - at the busiest spending time of the year - Fenwick’s still chooses not to entice us inside with displays of washing machines, perfumes, handbags and three-piece suites but instead devotes itself to its hugely expensive Christmas extravaganza which onlookers love so much - whether they actually go inside the store or not.
This is what Wikipedia says about Fenwick’s….
'In 2008, the Sunday Times Rich List revealed that Fenwick's in Newcastle was the single most profitable branch of any department store chain in the United Kingdom with assets totaling an excess of £330 million.

It is widely viewed as one of the most luxurious department stores in the UK, specializing in a wide range of luxury products which are not available in other British shops.  There’s also its famous Wine Shop which has probably the largest selection of wines and spirits in the north-east.

Furthermore, its food court enjoys a reputation as a seller of some of the finest foods available on the high street, a selection of which is served in the store's six restaurants. It remains a tourist attraction in Newcastle upon Tyne, its green bags being iconic and arguably something of a status symbol in the city….’

So something else to be proud of in the north-east:  a successful business that actually seems to deserve its success.

A big seasonal Thankyou to Fenwick’s.
(This item was not paid for by Fenwick’s - seriously.)

Sent to me by Eric and Jean...

Law of Mechanical Repair
After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch.

Law of Gravity
Any tool, nut, bolt or screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible place on Earth.

Law of Probability
The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of whatever it is you are doing.

Law of Random Numbers
If you dial a wrong number, you never get the ‘engaged’ tone - and someone always answers.

Variation Law
If you change queues (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now.

Law of the Bath
When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.

Law of Close Encounters
The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want them to see you with.

Law of the Result
When you try to prove to someone that a machine doesn’t work, it works.

Law of Biomechanics
The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to your reach.

The Coffee Law
As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

Law of Physical Surfaces
The chances of an open-faced jam sandwich landing face down on a floor are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

Law of Logical Argument
Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.

Law of Physical Appearance
If the clothes fit, they're ugly.

Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy
As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.

If you’d like to add to this list, send me your suggestions.

Thanks to Hildie for her description of the visit she made last weekend to Durham City’s Lumiere.

It sounds awful.

I’ve spoken to her about it and it seems to me that the City Council should perhaps get its act together by…

….spreading the Lumiere over more nights, so as to give the multitudes of people who want to visit it a wider choice of evenings; and…

….improving public transport from surrounding areas - perhaps running buses and trains beyond midnight; it is, after all, an event to be attended at night.

If I ruled the world...

In an act of indictable treason, Kev is now actively contributing to Serge’s blog as well.  Take a look - it’s a very funny video.

The final AGM of 2011 will take place at 1100 on Tuesday 13 December.

If you have any venue suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
The perfect bus to take you to the zoo...
In this blogposting…
* Bus Art
* Optical Puzzles
* Optical Effects
* An Audio Illusion
* Bad Taxidermy
* Pepere
Good luck - and may the devil take the hindmost…

Having blown my own trumpet in blogposting 300 about how many times this blog has been viewed, and by how many people in so many countries, I now find myself in the embarrassing position of having to eat most of my words.  Serge’s blog, which is much younger and less well-established than this one, is averaging far more hits than mine.

In a Nelson-like effort to prevent an outright French victory, I’ve therefore decided to make this posting audio-visual, a la pepere.

I’d be interested to know what you think - but only if you whole-heartedly approve and enjoy.

London Transport started a fashion for the all-over painting of buses; for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, 25 Routemaster buses were painted silver.  They looked very handsome indeed, as you can see.
Since then, bus art has come a long way, as these amazing pictures show.  They make me wonder why bus companies and advertising sponsors don’t get together and do it more often.

Can you see the hidden image in each of these two pictures?  If you can, say so in the comments box but please DON’T say what the hidden images are.
Just follow the instructions…
 Stare at her red nose for 20 seconds, then look at a blank, light-coloured wall...
 Stare at the centre of the picture for 20 seconds or so - it will gradually disappear...
 Keep looking at him; he will keep changing from face-on to profile...

This next one is a brilliant - and very unsettling - illusion.

If the text below appears as a web link, simply click on it.
If it doesn't, just copy and paste the YouTube link into the Search box of your browser.

Here’s proof that unexpected new experiences are waiting round every corner - even for someone of my advanced years and in places as unlikely as this blog. 

I’ve never heard an audio illusion before.  I’ve now heard this one several times and still don’t understand how it works.

If the text below appears as a web link, simply click on it.
If it doesn't, just copy and paste the YouTube link into the Search box of your browser.
Remember to press ‘replay’ each time the illusion ends. 

And if you can explain how it works, I’d love to hear from you.

The images below are all from my Website of the Month - namely, badtaxidermy.com.  I include them here to prove how tasteless I am capable of being.
To look at Serge’s recent outpourings of ‘images insolites’ (‘weird pictures’), go to his blog by clicking on his picture in the Followers part of this page, and then clicking on ‘pepere’.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
Blast Beach, Dawdon
Salterfen Rocks, near Ryhope
In this blogposting….
* Durham’s Coast
* Street Art
* Amazing Medical Facts
So - cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war…

This editorial appeared in an October edition of The Guardian.

The coast of the UK has been subject to all manner of intrusions, from caravan parks to wartime defences. But few stretches have been as drastically affected as the cliffs and bays between Sunderland and Hartlepool, which for years earned the nickname of the "black beaches" because of the spoil from coalmining.

They became notorious as one of the most dramatic settings for the iconic Michael Caine film
Get Carter, along with Owen Luder's brutalist car park in Gateshead, which was demolished last year. There was a campaign to save that, but no one wanted to keep the black beaches.

A huge and partly voluntary operation called
Turning the Tide saw 1.3 million tonnes of mining spoil and industrial debris cleared by 2002, and the Durham Heritage Coast Partnership, an amicable team of 14 councils and agencies long aware of the 'big society', has continued the job.

Footpaths, cycleways and nature reserves now mark a sinuous shoreline which contains 92% of the UK's coastal magnesian limestone. In contrast to the dark past, the rock gleams, and – through its easy handling by carvers and quarrymen – provides at least 8,000 years of archaeology.

This transformation has now been recognised by a commendation in this year's Council of Europe landscape awards, and very deservedly so.

But the harder task, of regenerating some of the country's most deprived and isolated communities in an area which has never recovered from the collapse of King Coal, remains to be done.

So BIG congratulations to the Durham Heritage Coast Partnership for its commendation.

For my part, these are no hollow applause.  I grew up in Easington and Peterlee, and - as I mentioned in posting 313 - the area had a quite justified reputation as being one of the most unbeautiful in England.  Pit heaps scarred the East Durham countryside in all directions and the coast was a coal-blackened, ugly and unvisited wasteland.

My Nana and Granda lived at Blackhall Colliery and I can remember the huge gantry network that dumped the pit’s spoil and waste directly onto the beach and into the North Sea.

The Guardian is right; it’s very different now.  The pit heaps and Get Carter gantries have gone and the pit towns and villages along the cliff tops have been ‘tarted up’, as well - Seaham Harbour, Horden, Easington, Blackhall and even Dawdon, whose Blast Beach is a revelation.

The Durham Coast is once again a haven for wildlife and walkers and although this may not be the ideal time of year for a first visit, it would certainly blow away the tired winter cobwebs if you fancied taking a first look.

You could do a lot worse than start at the transformed Seaham Harbour, or a little further north, at Salterfen or Featherbed Rocks.

Or, south of Seaham, find the typical County Durham ‘hidden gem’ village of Hawthorn and scramble down the cliffs into its secret cove.

At Easington Colliery, a car park and path have been laid out from the former pit yard to the cliff top, where the old ‘cage’ from the pit now stands, a lonely sentinel looking out to sea.  It’s both educational and moving - a respectful reminder of the industry which once employed thousands of men hereabouts - including my Granda and my brother.

I recently visited Dene Mouth (between Horden and Blackhall) and was genuinely astonished at the natural beauty of a site I can remember as being grey-sanded and strewn with concrete and metal.

From here, you could walk into Castle Eden Dene - a nature reserve of national importance - or southwards down the coast to Blackhall Rocks and the beach at Crimdon, where we used to spend many happy weekends when I was a child.

The ‘re-invention’ of Newcastle and Gateshead tends to take all the glory these days but the breathtaking transformation from utter ugliness to outstanding natural beauty and power that has taken place along Durham’s coastline deserves some limelight, too.

All the pictures in this posting (except the two at the top) are of genuine ‘street-art’, produced either by recognised experts like Banksy, by art students or by ordinary members of the public.
To be honest, I always feel a bit ‘cheated’ when I see street artists drawing onto canvas taped to the pavement.  I’d much prefer to show my appreciation for artwork which is fresh each time, and which stays put and on show after the artist has gone.
Like the artwork in these pictures…

* There are only 4 words in the English language which end in '-dous', namely:  hazardous, horrendous, stupendous and tremendous.
* A newborn kangaroo is only about 1 inch long.
* March 14 is Save a Spider Day
* The electric toothbrush was invented in 1939 and the doorbell in 1831.
* The bones of a pigeon weigh less than its feathers.
* Gorillas can't swim.
* In an average lifetime, a person will spend about 25 years asleep.
* ‘Stewardesses’ is the longest word that can be typed with only the left hand.
* A dolphin’s top speed is 60kmh (37mph); a shark’s is 70kmh (44mph).

The mischievous Peter, in South Shields, recently emailed me this….

1 - Nobody can open their mouth all the way and stick their tongue out past their lips.
2 - 90% of you just tried it.
3 - All of you learned it was false.
5 - A simple majority of you - 51% - laughed, or at least smiled.
6 - Most of you haven’t noticed that that I’ve missed out number 4.
6 - Most of you just went back and checked.
7 - Most of you also didn’t notice that I’ve missed out number 2.
8 - Got you again.
9 - But did you catch me repeating 6?
10 - You didn’t want to look, did you?
(Then don’t look for the two thats in 6.)

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

In this blogposting…
* Remembrance
* The World:  A Truckshunter Geography
Gird up your loins….

As I write, the hour of remembrance has just struck - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Here are two poems about war.

The second is by the greatest English poet of the First World War - Wilfred Owen - and is arguably his best work.  It is his bitter rejection of the use made by warmongers of the infamous phrase dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - ‘it is sweet and right to die for your country’ - which he rightly calls ‘The Old Lie’.

The first was written by a 15-year-old girl called Rebekah Coomber, who visited Auschwitz last year.  Rebekah is Jewish.  It’s called…


Sent to a better life, they told us.
They lied.

Packed to go, our lives in a suitcase.

Forced on a train, sardines in a tin.

Destination? Unknown.

We'll be there soon, they told us.
They lied.

Half of us dead, most of us dying.

We arrived, our lives thrust into Nazi fists.

Families separated, people alone.

You'll see them again, they told us.
They lied.

They picked us out, worthy from useless.

Was this just a sick game?

Who were they to say? Who were they to judge?

It'll be over in a while, they told us.
They lied.

Fear for our lives.

People left and never came back.

Our backs broken, our bodies broken, our hearts broken.

'Heil Hitler, he will save the world,' they told us.
They lied.

No bravery in our eyes anymore.

Only tears.
 Sore from weeping, sore from sleeping.

'Work will set you free, work harder,' they told us.
They lied.

The innocent forsaken.

The faithful destroyed.

How so uncompassionate? How so empty? How so cold?

You are all bad Jews, they told us.
They lied.

I am God's child, I told them.

I am a light in the darkness, I told them.

It's just a shower, they told me.

They lied.
They lied.
They lied.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.



Algeria is a force to be reckoned with, as the French know to their cost (of which more later).

For a start - and this came as real news to me - it’s the 10th biggest country in the world, coming behind, but not far behind, such giants as Russia (which is at Number One), Canada, the USA, Australia and Brazil.  You could fit almost 20 Englands into it.

It is also the biggest country in both the Arab world and in Africa.  See what I mean about being a force to be reckoned with?

It is, however, also almost empty.  Most of it consists entirely of ergs (sand dunes); the Sahara Desert occupies almost all of it.  This means that 80% of its population live along the Mediterranean coast - where they grow huge amounts of olives, tobacco, wheat, barley, oats and citrus fruits - or live in its capital city, Algiers.  Or both.

One of my correspondents, who has actually been to Algiers, describes it as ‘mostly quite dull’ except for its casbah, which is a World Heritage Site (WHS) and to which she wants me to go with her.  (If you’re not sure what a casbah is, or don’t get the joke, I will leave you to look it up.)

The country’s other most notable WHS is the M’zab valley, which contains many examples of astonishing mediaeval architecture, as you can see.
Amazing, isn’t it?

Even more astonishing is the Algerian enthusiasm - bordering on mania - for anything sporty.  They’re keen on camel-racing, athletics and handball (although how anyone can raise even the faintest cheer for handball is beyond me; it’s duller even than cricket). 

Camel-racing in southern Algeria; the man in the yellow turban seems to have camel satnav fitted

Their  loudest and most fanatical support, though, is for The Desert Foxes, the national soccer team which, as well as many other players, produced the wonderful Zinedine Zidane (one of the most beautiful names I’ve ever heard).

At last year’s World Cup, the team’s coach - a man called Saadane - motivated his squad really effectively by saying that ‘the principal objective is to not be ridiculous.’  A man after my own heart.


Algeria’s tragic and bloodthirsty modern history can perhaps best be summed up by listening to its National Anthem - perhaps at a football match or on its National Day, November 1.

Here are some of the words….

We swear by the lightning that destroys,
By the virtuous and fragrant blood,
By the shining, fluttering banners,
In the steep and majestic mountains,
That we have risen to revolution in life or death
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live -
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

...So we have taken the drum of gunpowder as our rhythm
And the sound of machine guns as our melody…

...O France, the time of reproach has passed
And we have closed like a book;
O France, the day of reckoning is at hand
So prepare to receive from us our answer!

It will not have escaped your notice that there’s a good deal of anti-French feeling in Algeria.  As well there might be.  France invaded Algeria in 1830 and - in one of the most brutally cruel conquests of European ‘imperial’ history - set about killing the natives and requisitioning their land.  By 1870, it’s estimated that 30% of native Algerians had been killed.

All this came back to haunt the French, though - as these things almost always do.  After the Second World War, Algeria was a very painful thorn in France’s side until it gained independence in 1962.  French citizens returning home were called pieds noirs - ‘black feet’ - and France is still uneasy about its experiences in Algeria.


The National Language of Algeria is Standard Arabic, although Berber (spoken by the same people who make all those lovely rugs) is also recognised.

Here are the (extraordinarily mellifluous) numbers from one to ten in Berber.

itjane sanne tlata rabaa khamsaa satta sabaa tmaniya tasaa aashra

Aren’t they splendid?

And speaking of numbers, its worth bearing in mind that Algeria’s unarguably greatest gift to the world is the miracle of our numbering system, from 0 to 9, and the way we use it - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  It began in ancient India, was borrowed and developed by Arab traders and finally entered Europe through the port of Algiers.

Of slightly less import culturally and technically - as well as in almost every other way - is Algeria’s other notable donation to human activity:  the Algerian Hedgehog, widely kept as a pet - and not just in its native land.

There’s more to Algeria than meets the eye…


Just to keep Vivienne’s records up to date, here is a list of the worst earthquakes Algeria has suffered since the War.

1954 Orléansville earthquake (1,000 dead)
1980 El Asnam earthquake (5,000 dead)
1989 Boumerdès earthquake (30 dead)
2003 Boumerdès earthquake (2,300 dead)

The unit of currency is the dinar and - another real shocker, this one - Algeria is the most highly-taxed nation on the planet.  An unbelievable 65.8% of all income, profits and capital gains are taxed; the equivalent figure in England is 37.7%.

High taxation like this is rare in oil-rich countries.  And Algeria is certainly oil-rich; there are 7,611km of oil pipeline, compared to just 288km of electrified railway line.  Although I personally would forgive Algeria anything because it has just opened one of Africa’s few tramways, as you can see.


If this has whetted your appetite for an adventure holiday in Algeria - and why not? - you may like to look at this list of some of its favourite food...

Buseluf (cooked lambs head)
Dowara (stew of lamb stomach and intestines with courgette & chick peas)
Mediterranean juices (grenadine, orange); very sweet green tea, and strong coffee.
Qalb El Louz (dessert containing almonds)
Baklawa (almond cakes drenched in honey)
Ktayef (a kind of baked vermicelli, filled with almonds and drenched in sugar, syrup, and honey)

I reckon I could manage all but the first two.

Absorb the following advice and information and you won’t offend your fellow-diners, either.

Algerians usually dine sitting at low couches around a big table or on mats on the floor around a low table.
Try and wash your hands before and after the meal.
Food is usually eaten by hand.
Couscous is eaten with a tablespoon while stew is eaten with a fork.
If in doubt follow people sitting near you.
Only use the right hand for eating and for passing dishes.
You will be urged to take more food. Try and start off with small portions so you can take more from the main dish and appear to have eaten a greater quantity.
Leave food on your plate or it will be filled up again.

The dialling code for Algeria is 213.


One final, indirect, personal link I have to Algeria….

My favourite composer - Saint-Saens - wrote a stirring Suite Alegerienne at the height of French power in Algeria, including the striking Marche Militaire Francaise.
He died in Algiers in 1921.


So much for Algeria - and a very big thankyou to the dozen or so truckshunters and others who supplied me with information about it.

For our next port of call, we travel from one of the world’s biggest countries to one of its smallest:  Andorra.

Go to it!


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The garden in November...
 The garden gate...
 Opposite the garden gate - maize waiting to be harvested
 Hildie (at the back), Julia and Jean......don't ask!


As I write this, I am once again in Beaujolais - in deepest rural France - after an absence of almost three months.  It’s good to be back again and - as in England - to observe the seasons changing over the land.

The endless fields of waving sunflowers and low-growing salad lettuces have gone, replaced by leeks, or maize - standing tall and awaiting the harvester.

Above all else, though, Beaujolais is wine country.  From the garden gate here, I can see the long, blue and misty ridges of the Beaujolais hills just a few miles away to the west, and I know that virtually all the land between here and those serrated hilltops is covered with a carpet of grapevines - a patchwork of vineyards clothing the slopes and surrounding each of the area’s villages and chateaux.

Wine has - as it were - flowed in the veins of local people since the Romans introduced its production when they passed this way 2,000 years ago.  So to say that they know what they’re doing and how to do it well, is something of an understatement.  After all, Parisians drink more Beaujolais than any other wine.  We Brits get through enormous amounts of it, too.

There are reasons for this.  Many experts prefer to enthuse knowingly about burgundies and clarets (the name which, unaccountably, the English give to the wines of Bordeaux).  They turn up their toffee-noses at the wines of Beaujolais, saying that they do not age well, are therefore best drunk fairly young - and thus never cost the Earth. 

To Beaujolais‘ enthusiasts, though - such as myself and the hedonists of Paris - these are precisely the best reasons to drink it.  It’s always of (at least) acceptable and reliable drinking quality and thus rarely lets you down.  And it doesn’t cost much either, so you can have a supremely enjoyable and Beaujolais-fuelled evening without breaking the bank - an increasingly important consideration in hard times like these.

Producing it is a year-round love affair, whether it’s by the wine-estates - large or small - or by the numerous village co-operatives that still manage to flourish all over France, but especially here in Beaujolais.  (You can support these enterprises by choosing a wine marked Beaujolais Villages.)

Winter is the time of rest and recuperation, for the growers as well as the vines.  Neither wants month-long snows or deep, hard frosts.  A close watch is kept on the hillsides and in the valleys for damage, and for signs that the long, straight rows of vines are more than merely surviving.

In Spring, the vines are nursed and mulched and pruned (a little) and cosseted to within an inch of their lives.  The first signs of grapes are welcomed throughout Beaujolais, for far too often in the past, the crop has been ruined by harsh weather or disease - or sometimes both.

Late Spring and Summer are the times of the hardest work:  harvesting and production.  The grapes are not allowed to drape decorously over the hillsides for very long.  They are cut, pressed, fermented and bottled quickly.  This year’s Beaujolais is laid down.
And now, in mid-Autumn, is the time of turning and burning.  The growers and their assistants march between the ranks of vines with their soil-adzes - upward-curving, wide spades - turning the soil as they have done for generations.  (You can see some variations on these tools in the picture).  Small, motorised ploughs have been tried but most growers seem to think that they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
This is also when the major pruning takes place.  The vines are trimmed right back to within a foot or so of the earth to encourage fresh, new shoots for the Spring.  The wood trimmed off is either sold to souvenir manufacturers (who make those corkscrews with warped and twisted handles out of them) or are burned at the row’s end.

So Autumn is hard work.  It’s when many of the surrounding villagers, usually concerned with other things, join in the communal work of turning and burning and are rewarded with Beaujolais Nouveau Weekend, due in just a week or two from now, when the new wine flows freely down the thirsty throats of all the local folk who have helped to produce it - and many others, besides.


Elsewhere in the blog, I’ve said how interesting it’s been for me to learn about this ‘folk‘ industry and much if what I’ve found out has been courtesy of the Wine Museum at nearby Romaneche-Thorins, where the pictures below were taken yesterday afternoon.  As you can see, we were both particularly taken by the locomotive preserved outside the Museum, and by the Shop’s extremely effective Christmas display!

The hilltop windmill near Romaneche-Thorins
 (You can usually buy a good bottle of Beaujolais - produced at the Museum - in Fenwick’s.  Look for the name ‘Romaneche-Thorins‘ - but be warned; they aren’t cheap!)     


As I write this part of the blogposting, I am not out and about re-acquainting myself with all those aspects of la vie en France that I’ve missed so very much recently.

Instead, I’m cowering indoors, sheltering from the torrential rain which hasn’t stopped for 24 hours.  It’s filling up the little River Vauxonne that flows down from the nearby hills, past the garden here and into the Saone about a mile away.  Hundreds of other streams will dump their loads of rain into the Saone, too, which means there’ll be floods in a few days further south.

Fine city that it is, Lyon will probably - and quite undeservedly - bear the brunt of this Lake District weather.  It stands at the confluence of two of France’s mightiest rivers, the Saone and the Rhone, and must therefore withstand floodwaters attacking it from its north - here - and from the mountains of Switzerland as well.

Together, they are a force of nature to be reckoned with.  Judging from today’s rain, Lyon has a rare treat in store.  I’m glad I’m here and not there...

(In fact, floods have already been reported in the south of France.)

Formidable forces of nature are nothing unusual in the Rhone valley.  Not only do the cities, towns and villages along its banks have prodigious amounts of water to cope with, they also have one of Europe’s most pernicious winds:  the Mistral.

The geographical and meteorological conditions of south-east France mean that, if a slight breeze decides to blow there, it is compelled to accelerate in speed and volume and to proceed in the only direction available to it - southwards down the Rhone valley.  When it approaches the sea, it ‘fans out’ in all directions, shaking France’s south coast to its roots.

Make no mistake - the Mistral (‘masterly’ in the old language of Languedoc) is not merely a ‘high wind’ of the sort you have to lean into in order to get anywhere.  It’s the sort of monster that invariably blows tiles off roofs, knocks people over and disrupts public transport.  It is impossible to predict, and when it blows, it has the potential to wreak havoc along a corridor 50 miles wide and 100 miles long.  The fact that it doesn’t is a minor miracle of French life.

For, instead of rushing to get out of its way, the French seem to have adopted a cliched, shoulder-shrugging, attitude to the Mistral, as to an undesirable and unpopular law.  They accept it as a fact of regional life and simply ignore it.  They get on with whatever they are doing and wish the Mistral away.

Having experienced a slight Mistral ‘fore-wind’, I can confirm how difficult it must be to ignore the real thing when it arrives.

We were on holiday in Nimes earlier this year, a long way down the Rhone valley beyond Lyon.  We were enjoying a smashing meal on a restaurant’s outside terrace when, completely against the prevailing weather - which was warm and calm - the awnings over our heads began to flutter and wave wildly.  Their supporting poles were straining against the gusts of wind, the water in the neighbouring fountain was being blown upwards and I began to feel vaguely - and then profoundly - uneasy.

What I found genuinely amazing - even awe-inspiring - was the fact that the diners around us hardly seemed to notice anything at all.  They continued to eat, drink and chatter despite the wind-blown distractions going on all round them.  The only concessions they appeared to make were to hold on to their wine glasses and serviettes a little tighter.

Nobody made any move to get out of the wind - or even seemed to notice it.  It would take a lot more than a 50-km-per hour gale to disrupt and spoil a convivial repast or a bottle of fine Cotes du Rhone or Beaujolais.


Linguistic note:  That ‘-ais’ ending in French simply indicates an area of origin.  The Marseillaise is from Marseilles, Sauce Mayonnaise is from the area around Mayonne, Charolais cattle - fearsome and regrettably common in both countries - come from Charolle.  Beaujolais is the area around the profoundly ugly little town of Beaujeu.


When I first started visiting France regularly, it was the great and momentous differences between our two countries that made the biggest impressions on me, as you’d expect.  They speak an inscrutably mischievous language here, for example: and they drive on entirely the wrong side of the road.  You can read all about my grapplings and confrontations with these difficulties in earlier la vie en France blogpostings.

After a while, though, the little, ‘everyday’, variations of life and culture keep presenting themselves round every corner to remind me that ‘they do things differently here’.


Carpets are a great rarity in French homes; not even rugs get much of a look-in.  Throughout the house, floors are naked tiles or stone or marble.  I love this aspect of French domestic decor and it makes me wonder when wall-to-wall carpeting caught on in England - and why.

I also find myself wondering when and why we dropped the idea of shutters in England - replacing them, I suppose, with curtains.

Every window of every French house has external shutters.  To my eye, they are not just pragmatic and useful; they are an adornment to domestic architecture here - and everywhere else that uses them.  Which is just about everywhere in Europe.

Why don’t we?

This is a photo of some of the Millot family, with whom I love spending time when I'm here in France; Ludovic ('Ludo') is an old friend of Serge's and really is as big as he looks in the picture.

His wife is called Veronique but, despite having a lovely name like that, is known to all the world as 'Mam'.  She's as lovely as her name.

Their son is Julien - 'JuJu'.  He's eight years old and is a star - a real petit gentilhomme, as they say here.  But don't tell him I said so...

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