More Photos from the South of France – a fabulous region.

It was in 2003 that we ventured back into France. I love the culture, the people, food and wine. The scenery is spectacular.

It was an opportunity for me to utilise the language skills I picked up at school – strangely the French people did not seem to understand their own language!

Anecdote – Hitch-hiking – the reality of France in 1964

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Hitch-hiking – the reality of France

The first thing you notice about hitch-hiking is that there is invariably more hiking than hitching. The second thing is that the universal constants, for which you have come to rely upon, no longer apply. Your rucksack starts off at a comfortable weight but with every step it gains a pound or two until it is ends up being of fearsome mass; the warmth of summer, which started as a pleasant uplifting balminess, mutates into a claustrophobic, sweltering furnace; the clear air becomes clogged with dust which adheres to the sweat and forms channels of grime.

Before we had even achieved step one and arrived at the port we were beginning to lose the romance of the enterprise.

It could only get better.

The crossing was brilliant. We could put the rucksacks to one side and peer over the side for a first glimpse of France as the choppy sea lurched us up and down and sent spray up into the air. We felt the adventure had really begun.

We rapidly found that hitching in France was similar to that of England. Motorists were probably put off by the two mountains of baggage as much as the two grimy kids sitting on it. We did secure three lifts but probably ended up walking nigh on as far during which time I discovered that my fashionable desert boots were no longer as comfortable as they were at the beginning.

We retrieved the map and did some precise calculations. We could see from our rate of progress that St Tropez would probably only take us three years to attain. Wisely we decided to set our horizons a little closer to reality and thought Le Havre sounded just as romantic as St Tropez – and had the bonus of not being quite so hot. While our rucksacks afforded shade from the sun they were proving a trifle cumbersome to lug about.

Making that decision was a relief. We no longer felt constrained by time. We settled in a very pleasant Youth Hostel with cooking facilities, toilets, showers and more importantly a table football machine and record player. It had big trees and benches in the courtyard and a small town with market place and market. They kindly allowed us to camp in the grounds at a much reduced rate.

We put up the tent, with the open front facing a wall, dumped our rucksacks and headed off into town. We soon discovered we were royalty.

Our long hair gave us instant status. All the French kids had short back and sides. Clad in their leather jackets and tight jeans they were in awe of us with hair touching our shoulders. We were Rock stars without guitars. When we walked past they would step out into the road to let us by and shout ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ as if we were Lennon and McCartney out for a stroll.

We soon made friends and they proceeded to teach us all the prerequisites of learning a new language. By the end of the first evening we knew more swear words in French than the whole of the rest of our French repertoire.

The second mind-blowing experience was the market. There were whole stalls dedicated to bread and cheese.

Now I know that in this day and age that is not surprising but back then it was revolutionary. In Britain we were still quite post-war and conservative. Bread to us meant white sliced, a bloomer or hovis. Here there was black bread (black bread for heaven’s sake) brown bread, huge loaves, French sticks, bread with holes in, bread with bits in, bread with nuts on, crusty bread, soft bread and orange bread. Cheese in Britain was cheddar. If you really wanted to be extraordinarily adventurous you could hunt out red Leicester, maybe a bit of white Gloucester or even gorgonzola or stilton. But this array was from a different planet. There were huge cheeses of all shapes, colours and smells. You could find the stall from the other side of town if the wind was blowing in the right direction. There were cheeses with holes in them!

Now I had always seen those pictures of the moon as a cheese and never cottoned on. I’d never seen cheese with holes in before. It was a revelation. Those drawings were based on real cheese.

Foss and I discovered that we could actually purchase wine and beer without any questions being asked.

We seemed to have everything we needed.

France, Paris and Terrorism – A response.

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The terrorist attacks in Paris are in line with the Islamic doctrine of fundamentalism that pervades in ISIS. Their views are extreme. They believe that all the doctrine of Mohamed has to be taken literally. The wish to return to the exact dogma of the seventh century, institute Sharia law, and practice Takfir. Takfir is a stringent application of apostasy that states all Muslims who have different views of that medieval version of Islam should be slaughtered or used as sex slaves, all infidels – kuffars – unbelievers should be converted, slaughtered or, in the case of Christians, subjugated. They wish to impose Sharia Law and bring about the Apocalypse.

There is nothing moral or tolerant about this doctrine. It is not rational or open to moderation.

Most religious people, including Muslims, are not fundamentalists. They do not take every word literally. They apply morality and rational thought to the words. Christians no longer believe they have to smash babies heads against rocks. Most Muslims do not believe they have to wear medieval costume.

I do not believe there is a god, afterlife or that any holy book is holy. I do not want sharia law imposed on me.

I stand with the people of Paris against the inhumanity of terrorism. Against those who wish to force their views on us. Their doctrine is pernicious.

I believe:

  • Religion is the cause of much evil
  • People should be tolerant of each other
  • We should look after this world
  • We should protect wilderness, forests and wild-life
  • We should educate everyone
  • We should insist on equality
  • We should be prepared to struggle for freedom
  • We have to stand up for what we believe
  • War creates hatred
  • ISIS should be defeated by exposing its cruelty, intolerance, and psychopathy.
  • ISIS should be defeated by starving it of funds.
  • ISIS should be defeated by educating people against all aspects of fundamentalism.

ISIS and all religious fundamentalism hates tolerance, equality and freedom. I am opposed to all they stand for.

I want to live in a world of love, harmony, democracy and peace where all people and all plant and animal life are respected.

I want a positive Zeitgeist.

 

 

Anecdote – 1964 – Hitch-hiking round France for the Summer

I was fifteen in 1964 and had decided that I would head off for the continent with my older friend Foss. He was sixteen and about to leave school. Hence he was wise, mature and trustworthy. He would look after me.

We had it all planned out. We would catch the ferry to Calais and then hitch. It was fool-proof.

We worked evenings delivering advertising leaflets and somehow got enough money together to last us six weeks. We took ruck-sacks, a tent (with no front) and sleeping bags.

I’m not sure what was in the ruck-sack, I can’t remember taking much in the way of clothes, but I do know that I had the Stones first album and the newly released single ‘It’s All Over Now’ dangling from the back in a bag. I lugged those records all round France – well at least the little bit we trudged round.

It was a bit of an adventure.

The first thing we discovered was that we did more hiking than hitching. Probably due to our huge ruck-sacks, but possibly because of our long-hair, the drivers seemed reluctant to stop.

We ended up setting our tent up with the rats in the back garden of the Youth Hostel.

The French youth seemed in awe of us. Our long-hair caused a bit of a sensation. They would step out into the road to let us by and shout ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ after us. We got friendly with them all and they taught us a full range of swear-words in French. Sadly I’ve long since forgotten them.

A very large German guy called Hans was staying in the hostel. He adored the Rolling Stones and used to give us a great big bear-hug and demand that we play it at full volume. There were two timid Austrian girls who would invariably be clustered round the small portable record player listening intently to classical music. Hans, this giant of a lad, would go across with a jovial grin, thump the table with his ham of a fist, causing the needle to skid across, and say ‘Rolling Stones’.

The girls would scurry away and he’d play the whole album at full volume, nodding his head in time to the music and grinning.

That was a great summer. I became an expert at table football, discovered yoghourt, wine and that there were hundreds of different types of cheeses and bread. In post-war Britain we were living in the shadow of rationing and a paucity of food. The British had become extremely conservative. Cheese was cheddar and bread was white bloomers or sliced fluffy stuff. If you wanted something exotic you had a Hovis.

I was wide-eyed walking round the market. There was a whole stall of bread, black bread, brown, with rye and whole-grain. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then the cheeses; it was the first time I’d ever seen cheese with holes in, great round cheeses sliced open, goats cheese, sheep’s cheese, green cheese and blue-veined. It opened up whole new horizons. The expansion of my palate was augmented by two Slavic girls who took a shine to me. They would cook up these delicious meals and force them on me. They seemed to think I needed fattening up. I’d never eaten so well. The variety, spices and flavours were heavenly.

Shopping was an experience. I rapidly discovered that the French could not understand French; at least not the way I spoke it. I was reduced, after a painful series of pronunciations that were getting more and more like Peter Sellers, to having to point. But the shop-keepers had a sense of humour. On one occasion I wanted a single onion for my spaghetti. The greengrocer only sold them by the kilo and they were ridiculously cheap – something like 10 centimes a kilo. I tried to negotiate the price of a single onion which he found extremely amusing. From that day on, every time I went past the shop he would rush out and give me an onion with great delight. In other places the humour was not quite so benign. I bought, having developed quite a taste for this novel discovery, fifteen cartons of different flavours of yoghourt. But I had not taken a bag. The shopkeeper was very unhelpful and I could not get him to sell me a bag. He was determined to see how I would manage to carry those fifteen cartons. I was equally stubborn and decided to show him that I could. Somehow I got back only having dropped three.

A circus came to the market square. There were jugglers, tumblers, horse-riders, clowns and a strong man who lifted up weights with these great wicked daggers into his arm-pits so that if he bent his arms he would impale himself.

The summer was long and hot. We drank wine, ate bread and cheese and hung out with a range of nationalities.

I was fifteen and I discovered that people were people where-ever they were from, and we could get along famously. I also discovered that there was a world of difference and difference was good. The whole feel of the place was a world away. Oh – and foreign girls were terrific and they liked little English lads with long hair.

That summer shaped my life.