In this blogposting…
* Cliches
* Things You Don’t See Very Often
* An Unforgotten Local Hero

* * *
I lead such a pointless and desultory life that a cliche-listing competition which a friend and me indulged in the other day scores as highly for me as bungee-jumping or freefall parachuting would for anyone else.

Wikipedia defines a cliche as ‘an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.’

And you can’t say fairer than that (to use another cliche).

As my friend and me got deeper and deeper into clichedom, and the bottle of wine got emptier and emptier, our list got much longer than we had originally intended…

We found that you can have your back against the wall, be back in the saddle, go back to square one (or back to the drawing-board…)

You can be better late than never, better safe than sorry, better the Devil you know…

There are birds in the hand, birds of a feather and birds and bees…

You can be on the nose, on the wagon or on thin ice…

You can take the bull by the horns or take the plunge…

You can keep your eye on something, keep the noise down, keep it simple (stupid), keep up with the Joneses, keep your cards close to your chest, keep your chin up and keep your powder dry…

You can let sleeping dogs lie and let the cat out of the bag…

Something can be as easy as 1-2-3 or as easy as pie…

You can give someone a break, or the creeps, or the time of day…

Something can be in a nutshell, in the blink of an eye, in harm’s way, in your dreams or in your face; it can be clear as a bell or as clear as mud...

You can jump in with both feet, jump on the bandwagon or jump the gun…

You can be down in the dumps, down the pan (or the drain), down the hatch or down to earth…

And all this because the Institute of Leadership and Management published a list of the most irritating and overused cliches commonly heard in the nation’s boardrooms and on management training courses.  Here’s the list….

10 - Take it to the next level
09 - I’ll ping you an agenda 
I’ve only heard ‘ping’ used like this once
08 - Best practice
07 - It’s a no-brainer 
I completely misunderstood this the first time I heard it
06 - A win-win situation
05 - A low-hanging fruit 
I’ve never heard this and have no idea what it’s supposed to mean
04 - Flag up
03 - It’s on my radar
02 - Touch base
01 - Reach out

In a spirit of brutal honesty, I’ve glanced back at a few random blogpostings and am prepared to admit that I am not averse to using the odd hackneyed cliche myself.  I’ve found far too many examples of as well he might, not unexpected, needless to say, stranger than fiction, time and again, by and large, twist of fate, beat about the bush, best since sliced bread, bark up the wrong tree…

So I’m as guilty as anyone else, I suppose.

Your nominations for the be-all-and-end-all list of most irritating cliches gratefully received.

* * *
That’s the name of a set of photos sent to me the other day by Eric and Jean.  I suspect that, like most other viral photos, almost all of them have been photoshopped or are even pure invention.  They’re innocently ‘cute’, nevertheless - so let’s suspend our disbelief.

Here’s a selection.


* * *
Let’s hear it for the redoubtable Emily Wilding Davison, the fearless suffragette who threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913 and died for her trouble four days later.
Amongst the many ways that the media have been marking the centenary of this unforgettable event has been a documentary about it shown last week on Channel 4 - and presented by the ubiquitous Clare Balding, who appears to be everywhere at the moment; the new Stephen Fry.

It was a fascinating and insightful programme and came to the tentative conclusion that Emily probably did not commit suicide that day.  Digitally remastered film footage seems to show that she was attempting to drape a Votes for Women sash around the horse’s neck and tragically misjudged the speed and power of the animal.

Of more local and personal interest for me was the film of her funeral in Morpeth - her home town.  It quite clearly confirms what a Blue Bus listener told us when we covered Emily’s story from Morpeth some years ago.  The listener told us that his father was present at the funeral and recalled that almost all the menfolk lining the route deliberately kept their hats on, as a mark of disrespect for Emily.

Last week’s documentary was the first proof I’d had that what our listener told us was true - that the menfolk of Morpeth engaged in an act of misguided, tasteless and straightforwardly nasty spite which has ended up by dishonouring not Emily Davison but themselves.

* * *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Farne Islands Blog
* Davidia Involucrata

I hope you’ve been keeping an eye on the Farne Islands blog.  This year, as every year, it’s made exciting and thought-provoking reading - and about now, things are starting to really come alive there.

I’m genuinely ashamed to say that I’ve only been to the Farnes once.  This is not through any lack of interest or curiosity; the unfortunate factor I have to take into consideration when contemplating a visit is the unhappy stretch of water you have to cross to get there.  I made my one and only trip over twenty years ago and still feel more than a little queasy at the mere memory…

It was summer and the sea conditions were described as ‘calm’ - a usage of the word previously unknown to me.  The boat began to pitch and yaw - or whatever the right mariner expressions are - as soon as it escaped the protection of Seahouses harbour; and to such an extent that I instantly regretted the ice-cream I’d just eaten.

It’s not really that far to Inner Farne but the crossing seemed to take hours. By the time we reached the little jetty I wasn’t at all sure what direction to look in to see the horizon - or even whether I wanted to see it at all.  And naturally, the time I spent on the island was marred by the knowledge that I’d have to make the return trip sooner or later.

I’m not proud that seasickness unmans me like this but I suppose I have to accept that it does and that, despite my enthusiasm to do so, I won’t be going back to the Farnes anytime soon.

But, if you have better sea-legs than me - and almost anyone does - this is a particularly auspicious time of year to go.

As proof, I reproduce here the contents of the latest posting on the Farne Islands blog, just in case you can’t access it.  I’ve never copied another blog in its entirety before but I reckon it’s worth doing so this time, specially if it encourages sturdier visitors than me to get over there and enjoy the breathtaking wildlife and scenery on our doorstep.

‘Friday 24th May
If you are are looking for somewhere to go this week, or unsure about weather, do not worry, the Farne Islands will be open and its going to be spectacular - trust me, I know these things. The weeks forecast is suggesting light winds (and even some sunshine!), the sea state should be good to sail and the breeding seabirds are doing their thing. It is a must this week - the Farne Islands, get it pencilled in.

For all those wanting to know, here is a quick seabird update....

Puffins - present in huge numbers, all now nesting and we've even got a live 'Puffin Cam' beaming images from a nest

Eiders - numbers appear up from last year and plenty nesting (one even nesting under a bench)

Arctic Terns - now on eggs so bring a hat - you have been warned!

Sandwich Tern - the colony is increasing daily but over 500 pairs now nesting on Inner Farne

Shag - the population has reduced but still plenty nesting

Razorbill - all now on eggs

Guillemots -  thousands present on eggs and the first chicks could be hatching later this week

Kittiwakes - finally now on eggs! Its full steam ahead.

So there you go. The Farnes will be open daily and in words of a certain Mr Bill Oddie recently "There are just a few places that I would recommend to anyone and feel absolutely confident that they would have an unforgettable experience.

The Farne Islands in Northumberland is – or are – one of them. I’d recommend April to early September, with June and July for maximum bird activity. I have visited sea bird colonies all round the world and believe me the Farnes are the best place to literally walk amongst terns, shags, kittiwakes and the photogenic and endlessly entertaining puffins. Simply the best."

So there you go. Get yourself here. The Farne Islands, the best in the business.’

We seem to have hit the organisational buffers with AGM XLI, which has therefore been abandoned to await better auguries and auspices.

A big Thankyou to Brenda for keeping us posted on the Pocket Handkerchief Tree in the quad of Newcastle University.

When I became interested in unusual trees and shrubs, two in particular caught my wayward attention - the Blue Bean (Decaisnea fargesii) and the Pocket Handkerchief Tree.  Actually seeing them in cultivation somewhere hasn’t been easy, though.

I’ve only ever seen one Blue Bean, in the grounds of Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran.

And, although Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens were the proud possessors of a Pocket Handkerchief Tree, I was never able to time a visit to coincide with its flowering season and so was seriously delighted to learn that we have one here in Newcastle.
I’ll be down in the Town again on Tuesday and with any luck, our local Davidia involucrata will oblige me with a display I’ve wanted to see for many years.  Fingers crossed.

And thanks again, Brenda - you’re a star.

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You should be feeling quite at home in St Georges de Reneins by now.  
 This little lane leads from the main road to Church Square.  The brightly painted railings were a welcome innovation from last year.  The church is to the right of the trees at the top of the lane.
The undertaker's shop (from the last blog) is just visible halfway up the lane, on the left.
 The main road looking south, just below the church steps.
The obscene-looking neon sign protruding from the building on the right 
is a stylised baguette - that's the baker's shop.
 The 'hostellerie' by the main roundabout.  
It's advertising a 'terrasse ombrage' - a shady terrace - not needed this week.
 Almost all the cattle you see in the fields hereabouts are Charolais - white and bad-tempered.
They were originally bred in the area around Charolle, not far north of here, and are now very common - even in England.
This butcher obviously specialises in their meat.
Notice the street-name, too.  Virtually every town and village in France has an 'avenue' (or 'rue' or 'route') named after Charles de Gaulle.  They really did worship the ground he walked on.  It's as if there's a 'Winston Churchill Road' everywhere you go in England.
 'Paysage' means 'countryside'; M Mechain is a 'paysagiste' - a landscaper.  Here, he offers to 'create and maintain green spaces and water features'.
 This is the village's other bakery.  It's good - but not as good as the one we'll be visiting later.
Marie-Claude, whom I would happily marry, works here.
 The station looking north.  A container train is on its way to Mâcon.
Notice the footpath across the rails - it's the only way for passengers to reach or leave platform B.
There are six trains a day in each direction.
 This picture - and the following three - were taken inside the bakery with the obscene neon sign outside (see above.)  Although the display looks mouth-watering to English eyes, today was a public holiday in France and the range of goods on offer was much-depleted.
I always put weight on when I visit the village.

 The two cakes that the divine Sara is about to box up are 'royales renemoises' - creamed chcocolate mousse on a dark chocolate and biscuit base, topped with a honey-meringe and caramel flakes.
And those were the last two in the shop.
A sign telling you the name of the village as you enter it is, of course, useful.  I have wondered sometimes, though, why - throughout Europe - they also tell you when you're leaving...

* * *
I hope you've enjoyed your picture-visit to the village - 
and that maybe you'll join me there sometime...

Let's continue our walk into, and around, the village of St Georges de Reneins...
 This house faces the chateau's wall (shown in posting 456).  I love the way its owners
have tarted it up ready for Spring - although painting your shutters this colour is not
always a popular thing to do in these parts.
 I pass this metalworker's house just before I reach Church Square.  
With its seductive combination of care and neglect, it's much more typical than the house at the top.
 This splendid old distance-board is attached to a wall as I enter Church Square.
It tells passers-by what 'departement' they are in (Rhône), the name 
of the commune (St Georges de Reneins) and distances to the nearest communes going west.
No-one seems to know where 'de Reneins' originates, although it may be a corruption of 'd'arenes' - 'of the arenas'.  The main road through the village is the ancient Roman road from Lyon to Paris and there may have been an arena where the church is now.
 My first view of the spendid eastern end  - the apse - of the church of St Georges, which is built on a slight rise and dominates the square.  In England, this architectural style is called 'Norman'; 
in France, they call it 'Roman'.
 Directly opposite the apse is the 'Cosy' pizzeria and café.  
It's almost never open, which is a shame - their pizzas are lovely.
 A little to the right of the pizzeria, this rather grandiose building 
used to be the 'Mairie' - the Town Hall.  Every commune, however small, has a Mairie.  Many years ago, they moved the local one to the outskirts of the village; this building is now the Post Office.
The church is to the left, off picture.

 The village fountain.  I've never seen it working 
and I suspect that the serious crack in its base means that it never could.
The pizzeria and Post Office are behind the trees.
 On the other side of the church is another village necessity - 
the 'Pompe Funébre' and 'Marblerie' is the undertaker and monumental mason.
 I'm looking west now; the village fountain is on my right.
The street directly ahead leads to the station.  To right and left at the lights is the main road through the village - the old Roman route I mentioned above.
The shop you can see centre-right is the best bakery and patisserie in the whole of France.
Of which more later.
The shop to the left, by the zebra-crossing, is one of the village's estate agents...
 ...and here it is.
'Immobiliere' always seems to me to be entirely the wrong word for an estate agent, but there you are.
Incidentally, a house like the ones we've seen on our village walk 
would set you back a cool €250,000 or so.
 I'm on the main road through the village now - this is the church's western end.
The illuminated flashing sign says 'Welcome to St Georges de Reneins'.  All communes have signs like this.  They are used to promote local activities - 
and, if there aren't any, they tell you the date, time and temperature.
The shop on the left is a pharmacy, of which France seems to have one for every five or six citizens.
'Parking' means 'car park' (and not simply 'parking').
 The steps up from the street to the church.
I love these steps.
The hideous green flashing pharmacy sign - one of the ways you know you're in France - 
is on the left.
 The village's central roundabout, looking north.  The church steps are on my right.  
Ahead lies Belleville, Mâcon, Dijon and  - ultimately - Paris.
 Great care is taken - and much money spent - on the roundabout, and to often stunning effect.
The display changes every year.  Last year, I was treated to a giant, metallised 'tastevin' - the special cup used to taste Beaujolais wine.  This year, the wine-making process is illustrated with real, tied, vines, furrow-ploughs, barrels, presses and a tasting hut.  It's lovely.
On other roundabouts, there are oversized wine-glasses and old, preserved wine-presses.
The same roundabout, looking south.  You can see the church's west end, centre-left.
The main wine-making areas of Beaujolais are to the right (west); straight ahead lies 
Villefranche-sur-Saône and Lyon (which is about 30 or so miles away).


Rather than describe my regular walk into the village, and what I see when I get there, I thought I'd take some pictures...

 This is the view from the little River Vauxonne that flows past Serge's garden.  
The first houses of the village are about 1km away; the Beaujolais hills are in the distance.
 This house - Serge's neighbour - has the view you see above.
In its way, it encapsulates everything that French people look for in 'a house in the country'.
 A few metres along the road there's a 'moto-ball' centre.  
I'm sorry to say that I've never been to watch.

 Just before you enter the village, this lane goes off to the left.
It passes through the hamlet of Bel Air and leads to the riverside part of the commune - Port Riviere - as well as to the supermarket.
 Entering the village.
D20 is the road number.
 A little futher on - and a Merc owner has thoughtfully parked his car
right across the pavement.  He must be a friend of the Mayor - he does this all the time.
 The road winds and bends as it approaches the village.
 Looking back.  On the left is a commercial baker
and patissier - for 'weddings, funerals and anniversaries'.
 This forlorn and neglected - but still rather grand - house
stands at the next road junction.  'Cedez la passage' - 'Give Way'.
The right-hand corner of this house is visible on the left in the next photo.
Over half-way to the village square now.
Both of the houses on the right have ferociously noisy dogs.
At the end of the left-hand wall are...
...the park gates, which are always locked.
The flats here are next to the park.
I'm on the final stretch of my walk now.
The park gates are directly behind me and the long wall on the right marks
the grounds of the Chateau de Vallieres, the 'big house'...
...of which this is the only view I get.  I love looking at the shiny, purple-tiled ogee roof as I walk by...