Category Archives: United Kingdom

France, La Croix du Vieux Pont Campsite and Fishing

One of the popular activities at La Croix du Vieux Pont Campsite was fishing.

These days I can’t really understand the point of catching fish (if fox hunting is illegal then why isn’t fishing – it is the same thing) but I used to go fishing for about three years between ten and thirteen years old.  I had a three piece rod, two parts cane and the third part sky blue fibreglass with a spinning reel which, to be honest, I never really got the hang of, a wicker basket, a plastic box for my various floats and miscellaneous bait boxes for bread, cheese, garden worms, maggots and ground bait.

Fishing was generally quite boring but one day became quite lively when my friend Colin Barratt (who was forbidden by his parents to go to the canal on account of not being able to swim) fell in while struggling to land a four-ounce Perch with a home made rod and line.

He had turned up just as we were about to go to the canal so we made him a rod from a garden cane with a bit of string and a nylon line and hook and persuaded him, against his better judgement, to join us.  One minute he was standing on the towpath with his garden cane rod and bit of string and there was an almighty splash and Colin was thrashing about in the water, spluttering and gasping and generally struggling for his life.  Between us we dragged him out without having to jump in ourselves and took him home and left him dripping and bedraggled on the doorstep.  We didn’t see him again for about three months after that but to make him feel better we told him that it was a monster Pike that had pulled him in.

This story was not all childhood fantasy I have to say and had some dubious foundation in fact because there was always a story that there was a big fish lurking in the reeds on the opposite bank to the towpath that was alleged to be a trophy pike which is a rather big fish that can live for thirty years and grow to over thirty pounds in weight – always supposing that no one is going to drag it out of the water on the end of a fishing line that is.

We never really caught very much, a few greedy perch, the odd roach and loads and loads of gudgeon but there was never enough for a good meal.  Sometimes if we were fishing too close to the bottom we would bring up a crayfish and the only sensible thing to do was to cut the line and throw it back, hook and all.

Actually by the time I was thirteen I had tired of fishing in the same way that I had tired of Boy Scouts and Saturday morning cinema because by this time I had discovered girls and the only good thing about the canal towpath after that was that it was a good place for snogging.  I didn’t really like catching fish at all, I thought it was cruel, so used to dangle a hook in the water with no bait attached while I concentrated on adolescent activities.

Water always had a special attraction and when we weren’t messing about on the canal there was always Sprick Brook where we used to fish for minnows and red-breasted Sticklebacks and take them home in jam-jars in the days before goldfish.  Sprick brook ran under the railway bridge on Hillmorton Lane and was just the sort of place where you could have an accident and no one would find you for days until someone organised a search party.

I still find fishing completely pointless and I am always amused by people who have twelve foot rods and sit on one side of the river and I always want to ask them why they don’t just get a shorter one and go and sit on the opposite bank?

Ponte de Lima Portugal

Maybe it is because fish are just too smart.  One time in Portugal at the  the ancient town of Ponte de Lima I walked across a bridge that crosses the River Lima into the town and watched some men optimistically trying to catch the huge carp that we could see clearly swimming in the water below and teasing the optimistic fishermen on the bridge above.  They were big fish and had been around a long time so I don’t think they were going to get caught that afternoon.

If it was a pike that pulled Colin into the canal that afternoon I like to think it knew exactly what it was doing!

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

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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.

Armistice 1918 1940

It is a clearing now but in 1918 it was still part of the dense forest.  On the site is a memorial stone on the site of the railway carriage where the armistice was signed, a statue of Marshall Foch who led the Allied negotiations and a reconstructed Alsace-Lorraine Monument, depicting a German Eagle impaled on a French sword.  Alsace-Lorraine in eastern France had been annexed to Germany in 1870 after French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, an event that France had never accepted, an open wound as it were and 1918 was the date that it returned to France.

“HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN REICH. VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE.”

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There is also a small museum in a squat, ugly building with relics and artifacts from the war and a faithful reconstruction of the railway carriage in which the armistice was signed.  I’ll tell you why it is a reconstruction in just a minute…

The terms of the Armistice represented total victory for France and the Allies and abject humiliation for the Germans.  There was a revolution in Berlin, the Kaiser had abdicated and now the country was saddled with crippling war reparations and the ultimate humiliation of occupation.  In France this must have seemed like a good idea at the time but it began a process of resentment that twenty years later would become the Second-World-War.

There is nothing so satisfying as rubbing peoples noses in the dirt but generally this sort of satisfaction is only ever temporary.

Armistice Train 1918and 1940

The Armistice was signed at around seven o’clock on 11th November and came into effect at eleven o’clock – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Ceramic Poppies Hull

What I didn’t know is that whilst we use the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance in France they use the blue cornflower in recognition of the traditional colour of the French army uniform.

CPA_Bleuet_de_France_1914-1918

The railway carriage immediately became a symbol of the victory, for a while it became part of the official Presidential Train and was paraded triumphantly around the country and then after a couple of years  it was taken to Paris and exhibited on public display.  Later it was returned to the Forest of Compiègne and the museum site and statues were erected in what was now the clearing or glade.

Fast forward twenty years now and Adolf Hitler is in power and in1940 attacks France and the country is defeated and overwhelmed in a matter of only weeks.  Hitler visited Paris to celebrate his victory and then turned his attention to the terms of the armistice.  This was the moment in history when Germany took its revenge for 1918.

On his way back to Berlin Hitler stopped off at Compiègne, had the railway carriage moved from the museum to the exact spot where the 1918 armistice was signed and there dictated his terms to defeated France.

Gedenkstaette_Compiegne

When he had finished rubbing French noses in the dirt the railway carriage was moved to Berlin as a trophy of war and a symbol of restored national pride and the Armistice site was brutally demolished by German army demolition experts on Hitler’s orders three days later. The Alsace-Lorraine memorial was ceremonially destroyed and all evidence of the site was obliterated, with the notable exception that is of the statue of Marshal Foch – Hitler intentionally ordered it to be left intact, so that it would be left honouring not a victory but only a wasteland and that he could look over it forever and see that everything that he had achieved in 1918 had been reversed.  Germany didn’t just have Alsace-Lorraine it had all of France.

For somewhere so significant in European history it is not a big site, an hour or so is enough to see it all but for me this was not the point.  I have visited several places where previously the monsters of history might have walked and breathed, Stalin in Moscow, The Emperor Caligula in Rome, General Franco in Madrid, Maximilien Robespierre in Paris but I cannot be absolutely positive that I walked in their exact footsteps, at the armistice sight in the Clairière de l’Armistice I can be completely certain that I walked across the same piece of ground as Adolf Hitler and that is a slightly uneasy feeling.

Hitler at Clairière de l'Armistice

Who do you think is the biggest monster in World history…?

Evil People

Adolf Hitler – 60,000,000 WW2 deaths and 6,000,000 Jews in the concentration camps

Joseph Stalin – 60,000,000 citizens of the USSR in a series of political purges

Maximilien Robespierre – 17,000 guillotined in nine months in the Reign of Terror

Emperor Caligula – Mad, Bad and Bloodthirsty, no accurate data available

Pol Pot – 3,000,000 deaths in Cambodian genocide

Margaret Thatcher – 500,000 miners jobs sacrificed on the altar of political dogma

Michael O’Leary – 2,000 flight cancellations 2017 because he is a gobshite twat!

Please feel free to make alternative suggestions…

Back now to Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice.  In 1945 as the Red Army closed in on Berlin the railway carriage was moved for its own protection to a secret site in a forest in Thuringia where at some point it was burnt and destroyed.  There are conflicting accounts about this, some say that German SS officers destroyed it to prevent it falling into enemy hands, some say German POWs set fire to it as an act of revenge and others that US troops unaware of its significance dismantled it and used it for firewood.  That is why there is a reconstruction at the museum site.

As I drove back to the campsite I reflected on the visit.  I had to smirk when it crossed my mind that in 1914-18 and 1939-45 we fought alongside France against the tyranny of Germany but today these two countries gang up against us because we exercise our democratic right to leave the European Union.

Anyway, back now to holidays and the innocence of childhood…

… My granddaughter, she knows nothing about war, conflict, genocide, politics, unpleasantness, not even a little unkindness…

France 2017 Vic Sur Aisneecause he is a twat

France, Soissons and Making Sense of Unfortunate Nicknames

Soissons,_veduta_con_la_Cattedrale

It was too early to book into our holiday accommodation which was only just a few miles away so after a surprisingly good IBIS Hotel breakfast we set out to explore the town of Soissons.

The place was unusually quiet for a Monday morning and many of the shops in the town centre were closed (maybe it was a public holiday or perhaps they just don’t open on a Monday) but we didn’t let that bother us, we hadn’t come for the shops but rather to do some sightseeing.

It is a peaceful town today but it has had rather a turbulent past and on account of its strategic location was once a much more important place than it is today.

I was amused by a passage in a guide book which read – “The election of Pepin the Short took place in Soissons in the 8th century and in 923, following a battle outside the town walls, Charles the Simple gave up his throne in favour of the House of France”

I mention this because if I had been a King at around this time I would have taken great offence to names like these and would have preferred something like Andrew the Brave or Andrew the Wise, something altogether a little more flattering.

This is Pepin the Short…

Pepin The Short

Although in fairness rather like the unfortunate Pepin I wouldn’t have been able to effectively dispute the title Andrew the Short.

A quick look at Royal history reveals that the French had a habit of giving their monarchs uncomplimentary appendages, Louis II was the Stammerer, Louis V was called the Do Nothing, and Louis VI was known as the Fat!

My research throws up what simply has to be my all-time favourite – sometime in the late thirteenth century, Ivailo of Bulgaria was called the Cabbage! Rather like the England Football Manager Graham Taylor (1990-93) who was unflatteringly branded Turnip Taylor after a run of disappointing results and failure to qualify for the Football World Cup Finals.

turnip

I couldn’t help wondering if they were aware of these nicknames or if they were like school teachers who were all given names behind their backs by the students. Come to think about it now however, although we always thought that they were secret I am inclined to believe that each and every one of them knew exactly what we called them.

We used to have a geography teacher called Nogger Hickinbotham, a woodwork teacher called Plod Barker, an art teacher called Tap Underwood and a French teacher called Pluto Thompson but I am afraid that I am completely unable to explain the origin of any of those ridiculous names.

In the first year at Dunsmore School for Boys in Rugby my younger brother Richard helpfully recorded all of these names for posterity in the 1969/70 school Year Book…

Dunsmore School Teacher NicknamesDunsmore Staff 1970

Back now to Soissons.

During the Hundred Years’ War, French forces committed a notorious massacre of English archers stationed at the town’s garrison in which many of the French townsfolk were themselves murdered. The massacre of French citizens by French soldiers shocked Europe and Henry V of England, noting that the town of Soissons was dedicated to the Saints Crispin and Crispinian, claimed to avenge the honour of the Saints when he met the French forces at the Battle of Agincourt on St Crispin’s Day 1415.

The last big upheaval in the town was during the First-World-War (1914-18). In the German Spring offensive of 1918 Soissons fell into enemy hands but after massive bombardment by the French in July the town was recaptured. When I say town what I really mean is what was left of it after repeated attacks the centre including the Cathedral was almost totally destroyed and had to be almost completely rebuilt in the post war years.

soissons 1919

During the battle the Allies suffered 107,000 casualties (95,000 French and 12,000 American), the Germans suffered 168,000 casualties and the French High Command justified the deaths and the destruction on the basis that Soissons was an important strategic town that protected invasion and occupation of Paris. More about this later…

An interesting fact about the Battle of the Soissonnais and of the Ourcq is that during the campaign Adolf Hitler, the future Führer of Nazi Germany was awarded the Iron Cross First Class at Soissons on August 4th 1918.  More about him later…

Anyway we spent an enjoyable morning exploring the streets of Soissons, the Town Hall, the Cathedral (every French Town has a mighty Cathedral) and finally the ruins of the Abbaye de St-Jean-Des-Vignes. The Abbaye is a magnificent place even today but could have been even more magnificent but for the fact that in 1805 the Bishop of Soissons approved its demolition to provide building materials to repair the nearby Cathedral – there was no UNESCO World Heritage Committee to prevent this sort of thing in 1805.

We completed our walk and finished the morning with an ice cream at a pavement bakery and with the clock ticking towards check-in time we left and made our way the La Croix du Vieux Pont Campsite where we still a little bit early so we waited patiently for our lodge to become available and while the children swam in the swimming pool I acquainted myself with the poolside bar facilities.

Does anyone have a favourite memorable nickname?

France Countryside

France, The Annual Family Holiday and French McDonalds

France 2017

“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

Every year I make myself a promise and every year I break it.

Generally around about February/March my daughter gives me a call and tells me that her holiday plans are disrupted because someone has dropped out and she invites me along instead. This time I said that I would be strong and resist. These holidays require the sort of preparation and training exercises that are considered even too tough for the US Navy Seals or the British Army SAS.

When the inevitable phone call came I was ready and said no, I said no in a firm voice, I said absolutely no, I declined several times and then about an hour or so later I started making travel plans and ferry bookings because this year we were going to Picardy in Northern France.

Actually I booked some airline tickets to Paris with the intention of hiring a car to avoid the long journey but the costs started to mount alarmingly and eventually I had to abandon the flight idea and take a financial hit on the fares and accept that there was no real alternative but to drive which was something I wasn’t really looking forward to if I am honest.

P&O Dover to Calais

We set off early on Sunday morning and made surprisingly swift progress along the UK’s congested motorways, caught the scheduled ferry and then made the two hundred mile journey from Calais to the town of Soisssons where we were spending the first night in a cheap IBIS Hotel.

We were staying at an IBIS hotel because my daughter Sally had got the booking dates wrong. We were due to stay at a nearby holiday park but the reservation didn’t begin until the next day so we had no alternative right now but to find a temporary stop over.

We didn’t stop driving until we reached the ubiquitous edge of town shopping mall which are a disagreeable feature of most French urbanisations as everywhere it is almost certain that the approach to any historic town or city must now pass through an aluminium clad collection of temporary industrial units, supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

And this is another curious feature of France because every town we drove through had countdown signposts and specific directions to the nearest McDonalds restaurant as though the French need the constant reassurance of the nearest set of Golden Arches.

The poor French. There they were, with their traditional bistros serving cassoulet, soupe a l’oignon and confit de canard and now all the people really want is rectangular food-like objects that taste vaguely of chicken, and a side of dipping sauce.

Mcdonalds France

Well, actually it turns out to be not so curious at all because even though they maintain that they despise the concept of the fast food chain an awful lot of French people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants (restaurants?) and in Paris alone there are almost seventy, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.

McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.  That could almost be considered as sacrilege.

A consequence of the French love of fast food is a growing obesity problem in a country that has always prided itself on being slim and healthy with a belief that there is something in the French lifestyle that protects them against obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This is called the ‘French Paradox’ and is now being exposed as a myth because they are straying from the very dietary habits that made them the envy of the world – eating small portions, eating lots of vegetables, drinking in moderation, and only limited snacking.

Overall six and a half million French, that’s 15% of the population, are now classified as obese.

When in a foreign country I like to savour the local culture so after we had settled in and the children had finished dismantling the rooms I drove to the nearby McDonalds to get something to eat.

This was a tricky experience. The place was heaving and the only way to order food was by using the interactive display boards which is relatively straightforward in England but a bit difficult in France where there is no English language option and my assistant was a four year old grandson with faster fingers than me and who was impatient for nuggets and fries.

It took a while and I thankfully avoided a massive order of about 5000€ and then we waited.  And we waited.  McDonalds is supposed to be fast food but the preparation process was slightly slower than glacial and it took over thirty minutes to be served our order.

Back at the IBIS Hotel it took about thirty seconds to eat it and when the children were all safely in bed I poured a gin and tonic and drank it and then a second stronger gin and tonic and drank that and started to worry about the next ten days and what I had let myself in for.

Ferry over to Calais

Ireland, Holy Shrine of Knock – Pictures

800px-Knock_ShrineLoaves and Fishes KnockKnock Religious ShopKnock Holy Shrine 02Knock Apparation MosaicKnock Shop SouvenirsKnock Signpost

Ireland, Research and Knock Airport

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There is a simple pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong.  The question is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’.

If the Scottish Nationalists ever get their way then there will be two correct answers to the question which is likely to cause a lot of bar-room arguments!

I suppose I have always been a bit hesitant about travelling in the British Isles because being English I have always been rather conscious that we are not going to win many popularity contests with our nearest neighbours.

A lot of Scottish people seem to hate us and the Scottish First Minister, the Anglophobe, Nicola Sturgeon, desperately wants a vote in favour of independence. Until quite recently the Welsh used to burn down our holiday homes and the last time I went there I got a speeding ticket which I am convinced was issued only on the basis that I had an English registered car.  So I was a little concerned about visiting a country who apparently regard the English responsible for all their recent disasters from the Irish Famine to the failure to qualify for the Football World Cup!

On a more positive note, although it is a thousand miles away or so, Gibraltar seems to like to retain its British connections even if this is motivated by indecent self-interest!

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The British Isles are a group of islands off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland and over six thousand smaller islands. The term British Isles however is controversial in Ireland where there are objections to its usage due to the association of the word British which in terms of Irish history continues to be considered colonialist. The Government of Ireland does not recognise or use the term and it prefers the term Britain and Ireland as an alternative description.  Even the British Lions Rugby team is now rebranded as the British and Irish Lions.

The England Cricket Team has an Irish Captain who refuses to sing the National Anthem which to me means he is simply not eligible!  Previously there has been a Scottish captain, Mike Denness and a Welsh Captain, Tony Lewis who  didn’t have the same problem.  I would say to Eoin Morgan sing or you don’t play and get the appearance money!

Ireland Guiness

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting. Most impressive is that Ireland is placed eighth in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top ten of the most highly developed countries in the World and before the recent economic crisis it used to be in the top five.  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.

The economic crisis has had a negative effect on Ireland’s position in the European Happiness Index however and it is rated at only fourteenth out of thirty which is a very long way behind the United Kingdom but I was interested to see that in a recent poll in the Irish Times that Galway was voted the happiest place to be in Ireland and I was glad about that because that was where we were planning to go first.

Ireland has only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which, let’s be honest, is a rather poor performance and I would suggest that someone in Dublin needs to start travelling around and making some applications – Australia has got nineteen for goodness sake!  The country also needs to do something about its Blue Flag Beaches because it now only has seventy when a few years ago it had one hundred and forty-two!

Ireland Inch Beach

But some statistics continue to be impressive and Ireland remains the most successful nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which with seven wins is higher than all other competitors so who really cares about the economic crisis anyway?

We arrived in Ireland (an hour late thanks to unannouced Ryanair flight rescheduling) at Knock Airport, or Ireland West Airport as it is now known and as we descended the aircraft steps the wind tugged at the buttons of our shirts and the rain stung our cheeks as though we were walking through a swarm of bees.

Knock Airport

It turns out that this is a most unlikely airport. The site, on a hill in boggy terrain that is often shrouded in dense fog, was thought by airport planning experts to be hopelessly unrealistic but was built following a long and controversial campaign by Monsignor James Horan who had a sort of evangelical business plan to bring pilgrims to the nearby religious site of the Knock Shrine (more about that later) and who convinced both the Irish Government and the European Union to fund the project.

Perhaps due to Devine Intervention it is now the fourth busiest airport in Ireland after Dublin, Shannon and Cork and we were happy about that because on our quest to visit all of Ireland this provided us with a gateway to the North West.

Knock Airport 1

Religion, Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a children’s sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like Arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Knock Shop Souvenirs

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   More charitable folk said that it was communion wine.  He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he also came to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.

I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  He had one leg shorter than the other and wore a corrective shoe.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

I must have inherited this from my mother…

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I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.

At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.  The girl in the middle was called Elizabeth and was my first girlfriend!

I auditioned for the choir but was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that I got to wear a scarlet cassock, which I thought made me look like a Cardinal and had the important job of carrying the processional cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling (there is no such thing as a sign unless you want there to be) and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply got forgotten.

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

Once again I didn’t get a response from the Big Man!

Craggy Island Parochial House

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Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

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