That time of the year

Since my last article, I seem to have spent more time away from this blog than usual. Let me reassure you, Dear Reader, that I have not abandoned this enterprise, nor am I dead. Quite the contrary really. I have been living life. I have been drinking tea. I have been eating cake. I have been taking photos. I have spent time with friends. I have spent time with family. I have celebrated Christmas. I have survived Christmas. I am presently on holiday.

After I had written my last article, I had one more week at work. Let me be thankful for small mercies, it was a four day week! And here I am with another week having flown by! Isn’t that the way when you’re on holiday?

There were still as many days in the week, hours in the day, minutes in the hour, and seconds in the minute, but mere word “holiday” seems to brush that notion of time away. Physics no longer exists.

You are wrapped up in action, like those presents under the tree. You don’t have the time to take a step back and reflect. Well you do, but it’s part of the action. How’s that for irony?

All this to say that I am still here and have decided to spend some time in reflection, and having a break from the action. I have photos to share with you, thoughts to share with you, maybe the odd story… Time to have a real rest from trying to pack stuff into every second just because I have some time…

Do I really have time after all, or can I decide to just take a break?

Out to tea

It’s a slightly miserable Friday afternoon but has been made wonderful firstly, by my boss, who said I could leave work early, secondly, by a friend who works at the Fnac, but doubles up as a pro photographer, and lastly, by those lovely people at the Sugar Blue Cafe .

Those of you who know me, and those of you who don’t, but have read my blog, know that I have a weakness for cake, and cheesecake in particular. That, and a cup of tea.

I’ve been thinking of buying a drone to do some aerial photography, but after having talked to my guy at the Fnac, have decided against it, so no aerial photography on here. Sorry!

So, as I was leaving the Fnac I could see people with drops of water on their coats. My coat of course is in the car. Remember, I am an idiot after all. As I went through the doors, without the intervention of the security guards, I saw people coming in and shaking umbrellas dry. I could see drops of rain falling on the ground.

Bugger!

I wandered through the Marché de Noël, selling all kind of things that I have no interest in buying. At least there was some shelter from the little bit of rain. I went through the rain into the Place Royale where the fountain, which in all fairness can be described as a statement piece, has almost been hidden by chalets selling jewellery, saucisson, food, games, and all kinds of stuff that they want us to put into our stockings at Christmas.

There was the Carousel and I can imagine the children riding the mechanical horses having harassed their parents to the point of giving in. Or was it the parents off loading their children?

Phew. I managed to pass without giving into the urge to do the same as the children. I mean riding on a mechanical horse and not harassing my parents. At 47 years old I think I’ve grown out of harassing my parents, or have I???

It was nice to take some night time photos of the lights in the streets and of the square. I’m usually a right Humbug, which sounds so much better than a grumpy old fart!

Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open. I do like this place. Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open, and there is somewhere to sit. On a Saturday it can get very full very quickly, but the wait is always worth it. I love the food they do. It’s fresh, sometimes vegetarian, and always lovely. I ordered my vanilla cheesecake with the fruit of the forest coulis, and a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea, which has been a favourite of mine since I was an angst filled teenager. I had a bit more hair back then…

On either side of me are young twenty something women talking about pregnancy, the fact that her dad didn’t like the book she bought last year for Christmas, a friend who was refused a bank loan for a small business. Telephones are on the table next to their plates and cups. Modern teatime I suppose.

I look just like an old fella typing on his phone. I can’t be really bothered to listen anymore. When I write in English, I seem to block out any French. It’s as if I’m on my weekend now and I’m not interested in making the effort. Now they’re talking about marketing and business communication. You see Dear Reader, you’re not missing anything.

Apart from the cheesecake and tea….

Mass in the Cathedral

If you’ve read the Lourdes article then you’ll know that I am a practicing Catholic, and after a break away from the Church I’m trying to get back to Mother Church. It was Sunday, and well, I hadn’t been in the morning as I could see the clock turning. I remembered a friend telling me about the 7pm in the Cathedral. I know it sounds like it could be a horse race (try the 7pm in Nantes…) but I thought I could make it.

I’d been in town taking photos; now there’s a surprise! Trying somewhere different in town where the last time I had gone with a film camera and messed up my film development. That will be for another article though.

A friend of mine is very very pregnant and about to pop. I found out when she told me on Facebook but I hadn’t got around to seeing her during her pregnancy and I was so happy for her and her partner be able to start a family. It couldn’t happen to nicer people.

Hang on, I’m missing bits out. So we’ve done photos. Check. We’ve done pregnant friend. Check. Have we done cake? Ah. Not yet.

Ok. Back on track. Right. So I have a pregnant friend about to pop and I asked if I could pop round for a cup of tea. She said yes of course, and I couldn’t turn up empty handed now, could I?

I know a place that does rather nice macaroons. The really nice French ones. The really nice French ones that everybody says, “We can’t eat all those,” but invariably prove ourselves wrong. I saw all the flavours and had to have three of each. I must have come away with about 30 of them. There was chocolate, praline, pistachio, almond, vanilla, lemon, raspberry, mango, salted butter caramel, and I think that was it… oh OK, not thirty, but nearly…

I arrived with my meager offerings and was promptly told that I shouldn’t have, but a large plate appeared and the macaroons were ready to be “tasted” flavour by flavour. We drank Ceylon tea, and talked about the fast approaching birth, and how people should stop giving expecting couples advice on how to raise their children. So I gave them unwanted advice on how to raise their children. Whatever you do to your children, do it with love, and you won’t go far wrong. Time flies like and arrow, and fruit flies like a banana. Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave and head off to Mass, hence the name of this article…

I am obviously a fool. My wife will confirm this. I trusted my GPS to get me to the church on time. Reminds me of a song… I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass. I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass, and, with this very pressing need to pee. That’ll teach me to drink so much tea in so little time.

I remember reading once that “a Gentleman should never run” and with my level of unfitness it has never been easier to be a gentleman… but I will accept walking at a brisk pace. I arrived at the cathedral doors and entered, trying to catch my breath, and compose myself. I saw the Père Hubert already dressed in his robes and in the starting blocks. He gestured to me as if to say, don’t worry son, you’re not late yet…

The music is amazing. They have the Cathedral organist just whacking one out on his massive organ. Yes. You know what I mean and I certainly don’t mean that! This is church after all!

Mass took its usual course but with the echo I couldn’t make out what the people were saying during the readings. The place seem quite full and I was very impressed by the whole feeling of the mass. Looking towards the high altar all light up. And the columns taking our prayers directly to God. I went to communion and regained my seat. At the end of Mass I recited the rosary as if to say thank you and please look after my family. Then I heard a bell being rung as the sacristan told people that he was going to lock all the doors and make sure every one was out. There was a small boy with his parents who seemed really impressed by the whole shebang.

Afterwards, I headed off to the pub for a couple of pints. Well, not really, I just had to find a place to pee!

À la recherche du temps perdu…

At the moment I seem to be suffering from nostalgia. A longing for things past that I wish were present. Not in the sense of the good old days in the way certain of my countrymen seem to feel Brexit will bring. It is of course impossible to bring back the past. And in some respects I’m very happy about that. Those of us who have been through puberty will be quite thankful not to have to repeat the experience.

I’m talking about the nostalgia where the mind wanders. Where the mind meanders through the memories that are stored there. Some, quite rightly too, are suppressed, and not to be delivered on a plate to some head shrinker. Others rock us like babies in our cribs. Days where things seemed to be different and before we made those decisions, wise or not, that made who we are today. And those decisions that were made for us by others, and that we wished had been made differently.

My mind is in the past. That past can be yesterday where I was very grateful to have the warm air from the car heater hitting my face, or it could be my very origins, where a 16 year old girl was forced by her elder brothers and sisters to abandon her child and give him up for adoption.

Smells can trigger these memories that seem to jump back at us and surprise us. The smell of ink for fountain pens, bees wax, and incense, that take me back to boarding school. Or the smell of lasagna that takes me right back to sitting in front of the TV when I was a teenager, avoiding tensions with my parents. The smell of bitter beer that accompanied those first visits to pubs. The woff of cigarette smoke that reminds me why I gave up smoking. The smell of ground coffee and hot pains au chocolats which signalled breakfast on a Sunday. The smell of military clothing. I’m sure mud has a smell. The smell of cordite and gun oil when out on the ranges. The smell of nappies from when I would change my son. The smell of good pooh and bad pooh. Yes, it does exist. The smell of wood when I worked on machines making door frames, to the smell of metal. Yes, metal does have a smell. I work in a store in the factory where I stock hinges, screws, etc

Taste can work in the same way. If you’ve read any of the other articles, you will have heard about my weakness for cheesecake. But I was just trying to recapture a dessert that my mum used to make and would sometimes disappear from the freezer. If anyone says anything I will deny everything and blame it on my imaginary friend…

But I think the moment that brought it on this time was when my old German teacher, known to everyone as Slick Rick, and even to this day remains particularly slick, sent me a section of an old school photo that I appear on. I was 16. About to sit my GCSE’s. And thought that I could still do what my mum wanted me to. I didn’t of course know what she wanted. To be honest, neither did I. I had an idea, but it wasn’t set in stone yet.

A right motley crew, and it seems so long ago…

At 16 I would never have imagined the life that I have now. I now live in France but at the time saw myself living in Germany. My German was better than French thanks to this brilliant teacher who managed to install a rare passion for the language. At the age of 18 my German was practically fluent and I felt so much at ease. But time has a strange way of sending you down another path. Some call it destiny, some karma, some a vocation. I have no idea. But here I am in 2019 transported back to 1988.

Yup, nostalgia gets me everytime and I wonder where that lost time went.

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Ranville

In my last article I talked about Normandy and the battle to take Pegasus Bridge, and in this article I want to talk about the soldiers that didn’t come back. Ranville is a town, not too far from Pegasus Bridge and the men that fell in that engagement are buried in the Parish Churchyard. Just next to the chuchyard is a Commonwealth War Cemetery.

The cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. A large proportion of those interred were members of the British 6th Airborne Division. These places are always very moving, even more so when one looks at the ages of some of those that died in June 1944. My son is 20 and the same age as so many of those soldiers.

Even when dead they are still on parade in ranks with perfect dressing. They died as soldiers and even in death they remain soldiers. When you look through the photos you will notice certain anomalies. One was a tank crew that was buried together, as a crew. One is a grave of a German Jew who escaped to join the British army, and was given a pseudonym so if he was captured his name wouldn’t betray him, One grave is of a parachutist and his dog who were buried together.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon