Category Archives: France

A Challenge Accepted

Just recently a blogging pal of mine challenged me to tackle these three questions. I don’t usually respond to challenges but in this case I have made an exception.

1. Which philosopher do you most admire and if they were alive today in your country/town how would they focus or direct their main theory and to what end?

Thomas Paine Thetford Norfolk

I immediately thought that I might go for John Locke “The Father of Liberalism” because I think that “Two Treatises of Government” is where nearly fifty years ago I formed my own views on politics and society.

I then considered Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (not Voltaire himself of course even though it neatly sums up his contribution to the principle of Free Speech.

But I have decided to choose Thomas Paine. My interest in him was rekindled when I visited his birth town of Thetford in Norfolk.

Thomas Paine Hotel

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law. In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention. In all of the turmoil of the revolution he was arrested. He only narrowly escaped the guillotine during the reign of terror and was then (not being welcome in England) allowed to travel to the USA.

The Declaration is important, it is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration became a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If he was here now I’d like to think he would have a solution to the crisis of democracy in the UK which has been brought about by the whole BREXIT fiasco.

Thomas Paine Memorial

If he was here now I’d like to think he would have a solution to the crisis of democracy in the UK which has been brought about by the whole BREXIT fiasco.

2. If you could completely “remove” three things from this planet what would they be and why? By “things” I don’t mean poverty, disease, discrimination etc, I mean tangible items, goods, or artefacts that really bug you. 

Dogs

alsatian

In the UK you need a licence for a shotgun or to keep poison or even weed killer but not for a killer animal!

Apologies here to my canine loving friends but I really don’t like dogs, I suffer from Cynophobia – I am scared of them, and this isn’t completely irrational because they really don’t like me either – but they are not frightened of me!  As soon as people with dogs realise that I have an unnatural and unexplainable fear of them then they seem to take sadistic delight in subjecting me to the terror of their company.

I don’t like dogs because I see no redeeming features in them. They sweat, they are greasy, they smell, they have bad breath, they foul the pavements and they piss up my garden wall.  What is there possibly to like about them?

My dislike for them started as a boy when I was taken one day for a walk by my granddad and on a piece of waste land opposite my parent’s house in Leicester an Alsatian dog knocked me to the ground, pinned me down and stood on my chest.  The inconsiderate owner had let it off its leash and I was absolutely terrified.

I couldn’t sum it up better than in the words of Bill Bryson…

“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s arses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.” 

I wasn’t always frightened of dogs…

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Garlic

I hate garlic, I mean I really, really hate garlic. I hate the taste, I hate the aroma, I hate the way that it dries your mouth out and I hate the way that it makes you smell for twenty-four hours after eating it. I know that it is useful for warding off vampires but that is all I really have to say about garlic.  I am not even going to post a picture.

Plastic

truckers rubbish

I wish plastic had never been invented.

I have recently become more upset than ever before about litter alongside roads and paths. While littering of the oceans is now at the forefront of public concern, general littering of the countryside and communities is barely on the national radar. Yet the amount of eyesore litter, not just plastic, is increasing exponentially on roadsides, in rivers, in public spaces and in the countryside and has a hugely negative impact on our lives.

Litter ruins people’s enjoyment of the countryside and makes open spaces feel like waste grounds. In Lincolnshire, where I live, many road verges are strewn with plastic sheets and bags hanging from trees, discarded meal containers and sacks of general rubbish.  Rubbish collection, or lack of it, compounds the problem. Bins for public use are relatively scarce, and litter collection is less frequent as councils simultaneously promote recycling and cut budgets.

This is me  at work in 1990 trying to tackle the litter problem with local school children…

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3. Magic wish …. you can visit and see anything or any place on earth for a week, what is it, where, why?

Easy, my garden with some bottles of fine wine and a plate of my favourite nibbles!

So that is my challenge completed.  It is my job now to pass it on.  I have decided not to nominate anyone specifically but to invite anyone that has a care to, to think about and answer my three questions…

1 Most disappointing place ever visited

2 Which King or Queen of England would you invite to dinner and why and what is on the menu

3 Should the World build walls to restrict free movement of people

If you don’t like my questions then you could always use Brian’s…

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Check out his amusing and informative blog pages right here…

https://thetwodoctors.wordpress.com/

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Armistice Day, Pictures from Northern France

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end…

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Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and The Tree of The Year

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For our few days in the caravan at Whitley Bay we didn’t do a great deal that was different from our weekend there the previous year, this time we were entertaining family, but one thing that we did do was to visit Hadrian’s Wall.

Although a lot of people think that the Roman Emperor’s Wall marks the border between England and Scotland it never has and never will because it runs a conveniently short distance between Wallsend near the River Tyne in Newcastle and the Solway Firth in Cumbria. When it came down to military expediency the Romans didn’t concern themselves too much about geography.  The wall is entirely within England and although it is close to Scotland in the west at its eastern end the wall is fully seventy miles south of the River Tweed.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, people so frightening that even the Romans wouldn’t take them on.

It was a very pleasant day for our visit and the sun was shining but I guess this would have been quite a bleak place two thousand years ago.  I imagine a legionnaire waiting for details of his posting and hoping to go Spain or France to the warm inviting beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and  bit of sunshine would have been bitterly disappointed to discover that he was going to the bitter cold north of England to help build a massive stone wall.

Clayton_painting

At a length of almost seventy-five miles long it is the largest remaining construction anywhere in the old Roman world and it was started and finished in just about six years which is an impressive rate of progress compared to how long it takes to get anything built these days.

Seventy-five miles sounds like a lot of wall but by way of comparison the Great Wall of China is over thirteen-thousand miles long, Donald Trump’s Mexico wall is approximately two-thousand miles and even in England Offa’s Dyke running between England and Wales was one hundred and fifty miles long stretching from the River Mersey in the North to the River Severn in the South.  The Maginot Line in France (a sort of underground wall) was nine hundred and fifty miles long but ultimately completely useless because the French didn’t get to finish it and in 1940 the German Panzer divisions simply went around it on their way to Paris.

The Romans were more clued up than the French it seems and the wall goes all the way from coast to coast.  They didn’t leave a gap at one end that the Barbarians could conveniently use to get past.

Hadrians Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built almost completely of stone with a small castle every mile to act as a watchtower and a large garrison fort every five miles which was manned by a cohort of troops numbering as many as eight-hundred.  A cohort is considered to be the equivalent of a modern battalion.

It is possible to visit quite a lot of these old fortress sites and each one claims to be the biggest and the best but we chose Housesteads (maybe called Vercovicium in Roman times, no one really knows) simply because it is owned by the National Trust and being National Trust members we get to go visit for free, well, not really free but you know what I mean.

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I didn’t really know what to expect of the wall, when I was a boy I wondered why the Northern Barbarians didn’t just get some ladders and climb over it when no one was looking but here at Housesteads I got to appreciate the massive scale of the thing.  The wall was built on a natural hard granite rock escarpment called Whin Sill which rises dramatically and vertically out of the ground.  If this wasn’t enough, on the northern side the wall comprised a ditch, then the wall, a military road an earth rampart and then another ditch with adjoining mounds.  No Welcome Mats and if anyone was going to get over this wall it was going to take a lot more than a ladder let me tell you!

Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then whitewashed, its shining surface reflected the sunlight and was visible for miles around, an extravagant expression of Roman military might and the border of the Empire.

Robin Hood Tree

So we visited the small museum, watched a short video presentation and then wandered around the site and the excavations and then walked the short distance to Sycamore Gap which is a point in the escarpment where glaciers in the Ice Age carved a path through the rock.  The place is significant because here grows a sycamore tree which is said to be the most photographed tree in England and was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016.

Oh, I just love the idea that a country that is England has a Tree of the Year competition.  It is astonishing that with such busy lives and so many distractions people actually take time out to vote in a Tree of the Year poll.  What next? A weed of the year perhaps.

There is more to this tree however.  It is also referred to as the Robin Hood Tree, not because it has anything to do with Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak but because a scene from the movie ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ was filmed there, the one where he first comes across the villain Guy of Gisborne.

Major Oak

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest (above) was voted Tree of the Year in 2014.  The latest Tree of the Year (2017) is the Gilwell Oak in Epping Forest which has connections with the Boy Scouts and the founder of the movement Robert Baden-Powell.  He adopted the towering oak as a symbol for the growth of the scouting movement world-wide.

So, now we have been to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, The Maginot Line in France, The Great Wall of China, back to England and Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire and Epping Forest in Essex and once we were through with our visit to Housesteads we returned to the caravan in Whitley Bay.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

Looking Back, France 2017

A year ago I spent a week in Northern France with family and friends.  Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

Northern France, Commonwealth War Graves

Commonwealth war Graves Boulogne

It was early, peaceful and eerily serene and apart from a gardener carefully tending the flowers and the occasional snipping of his secateurs around the graves we were the only people there and there was no sound and I was struck by the quiet solemness that seemed to lay heavily on this place. Each gravestone is the same regardless of rank and they line up in rows as though they were soldiers on a parade ground.

Most of these victims of war were obscenely young but what struck me the most was that many were buried here but simply marked in the words of Rudyard Kipling as ‘An unknown soldier of the Great War’.  I didn’t care to think about the horrific injuries that they must have endured that stripped away their identity.

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France, The Medieval Walled Town of Dinan

Even as we arrived in Dinan I was thinking half an hour might be more than enough but I was forced to recalculate very quickly when we arrived in the old town which is a warren of narrow streets where it appears that time has stood completely still.

Dinan it turns out is one of the best preserved medieval walled towns not just in Brittany but in all of France.  After only a moment or so in this picturesque setting I had elevated it straight into my top ten of favourite places even leaping above Santillana del Mar in Spain, Shiltach in Germany and Hallstatt in Austria and before very long we were looking in the Estate Agent’s windows.

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Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Memories of World War – Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiègne

Armistice 1918 1940

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end and where in 1940 Adolf Hitler dictated the terms of the surrender of France.

The site is deep in the Compiègne Forest about forty miles or so north-east of Paris at a railway junction that was quickly prepared in October/November 1918 to enable the German negotiators to meet with the soon to be victorious allies.

It is not a spectacular site, there is nothing grand about it, it is one of those places that you visit because of what happened there not for what you are going to see.  Two momentous moments in European history.

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