Heading For the Normandy Beaches

French holiday road trip from Calais to Cabourg.

We leave the UK from Dover; which is a town so unpleasant and sinister that it makes a great place to leave from – always better to start a journey from some from somewhere so awful that anywhere else is better – the somewhere else is Calais – on the opposite side of the English Channel – another miserable port town – in the news over the past few years for the vast number of migrants, in and around the town. From Algeria to Afghanistan, they come in their hundreds with one singular intention – to cross to the UK and make a life there. In between there lies the Channel – only 23 miles wide between Calais and Dover. The immigrants will try any way to get across, hopping on lorries, hiding in trailers, walking through the Channel Tunnel – any risk is worth the risk for the promise of a new life in Britain. Escaping war torn countries, or grinding poverty in the lands thy called home, they cross Europe, last stop Calais, waiting to take their chance in a chance crossing. For years, the migrants were huddled in an illegal camp knob as “The Jungle” – that was dismantled by the authorities and the migrants were “dispersed” to other parts of France, but many just headed back, intent on crossing to Britain. The migrants err around the town, along the highways into Calais or on the car parks of petrol station or lay bys on the roads into Calais. They have become such a familiar sight that what was once “shocking” is now commonplace.

On the road out of he port, mile upon mile of high wire mesh fences surmounted with rolls of  razor wire to stop the migrant eating into the port. The once sedate Channel Ferry port now looks like a prison camp.

From Calais, we head to our destination of Cabourg – a small family seaside resort on the Normandy coast, near Caen, very popular with Parisians. Welcome to Cabourg – revel in the nostalgia of what the seaside looked like a generation ago.. Along this stretch the Normandy coast is all slong, windswept,sandy beaches with iconic beach huts.

Beach huts in Cabourg

Cabourg beach front with a sepia finish

Sandcastles in Cabourg

Low tide in Cabourg

Once in Normandy – A pilgrimage to the Normandy landing beaches and a viitto the Bayeux Tapestry. Today it is raining, his is definitely not a beach day and every tourist in Normandy has headed to a museum. Lines of wet tourists snake their way around the entrance to the Arromanches museum. No pre booking by Internet, you just wait in the rain. At Bayeux, the queues are o great that they have had to close the museum.

Waiting in line in Arromanches

Rainy day for the beach

Rainy beach misery

On the Beach in Arromanches

Next leg from Cabourg to Lorient

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Down to the Sea in Ships

Back from my brief summer road trip – a short tour of historic sights (sites) in Nprmandy and Brittany. Yes, rather than lolling round like a giant slug in the sun, this year we decided to do what real tourists do and be tourists (oh dear it is hard work being a tourist)

For your viewing pleasure, in this first flurry of holiday snaps – a few very unseaworthy boats. On holiday, I like nothing more than a stroll around a port, and I have a curious passion for sailing craft – the more unseaworthy the better. Snapped on this holiday (and a few previous ones) a selection of gloriously precarious and even dangerous vessels.

 

Blue sailing boat – Lorient August 2017

 

In Need of TLC – Lorient
August 2017

TLC 2

Checking up at low tide.
Lorient August 2017

 

Boat or submarine?

Yes it floats
Ile d’Yeu 2013

And now a few assorted small craft. No titles on these

Here’s one from Scotland circa 2011. Redolent of neglect. You wouldn’t treat a person like this. Why do this to a boat? Yes, boats have souls too.

Lobster fishing in Scotland July 2013

And now something a little more seaworthy

In full sail – old Tuna fishing boat

Red sails – but not at sunset

Wishing you all plain sailing

Small Day Hot Town Blues- No Road Trip this Summer

“I got those small day hot town blues baby …”

Yep, temperatures are starting to soar again on this, another weekend for the great French summer getaway. All routes to the sea have been at gridlock all day, with police and the national road authorities describing driven conditions as “black” – meaning just don’t leave home today if you want to get anywhere soon.

Small town, hot day, I am reminded of all those songs about spending a long hot summer “kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town,” – My dreary small town favorites – that Tom Petty classic “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” – slow summer in a hermetic tupperware kind of town. For urban boredom – the Jam song “That’s Entertainment.”

Your soul i screaming for adventure but your bank balance is telling you to stay home. No titles on these, just your judgement. “Small Day, Hot Town.” or “No Road Trip this Summer” – it is 35°c and all you want is shade or a week by the sea. You need release.

You need to get away “Autres destimations” – written on every mail box in France – that slot where you post letters to other places where you want to be. Those places that others send you postcards from, wishing that you were there, and you wish you were

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No road trip this summer. Your car ain’t fit for tripping.

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If you can’t afford a garage, you’ve just gotta keep the car in the garage.

No money to get away, you gotta look closer to home for your place in or out of the sun.

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On the Run in the Edgelands

The Edgelands – that parallel peripheral sub world that marks the transition from civilization to nowhere, from riches to poverty from being to existing.

Everything starts in nowhere places. Those places you thought you’d never be. On your own in those places that you would never choose to go. Those cheap hotels on the edge of the edgelends – lost and forlorn in the shadow of the high rise wasteland and the deserted shopping mall – long neon lit corridors of shuttered up shops and gangs of kids wandering aimlessly in errant boredom. In the shopping mall there is the restaurant – all ersatz, mid-west, plastic rustic burger in a basket, dirty round the edges with unkempt staff wearing geasy uniforms and nochalantly chewing gum in «don’t give a fuck» faces. They slap the food on your plate like they are slapping you round the face and we eat here because it is affordable and feels almost like a real meal. I got tough stringy steak, luke warm overcooked chips and a slice of anemic apple pie for my limp apologetic desert. «Try our delicious steak platter – a thick juicy steak, cooked just the way you like it, served with home made chipped potatoes» and for desert « a traditional home made apple pie served with whipped cream.» The waitress plonks down my anemic apple pie with leaden indifference. I ask her for the cream. She takes an aerosol from a pocket in her geasy apron and splurts «cream» everywhere. «Home made» or made in a place that someone calls home. Away from home you notice just how many people either, don’t have a home, or don’t have a home worth going to. In this ersatz parallel world you also notice just how many people are on the road, working away from home to pay for that home they never see. I call it the «survival circuit», the road trip from hell – plumbers, builders, labourers, criss crossing the land in their white vans, driving at break neck speeds, from job-to-job, from town-to-town,, mobile phones pressed permanently to their ears, that they might just need surgery to get them removed. Miss a call, miss a contract, miss a job, miss a mortgage payment and miss any semblance of a normal family life as you sacrifice any normal life to pay for a dream. And the wandering working classes are here in this grubby, formica farmhouse kitchen – this seedy shopping centre eatery where lost souls seek affordable nourisment – this down-at-heal diner where families from the neighbouring high rise have come for a «family treat» – a meal out in a restaurant. Nothing shocks me now because over the years, I have become used to these places. I am here in a spirit of tastless utilitarian indifference. This is one of those weeks when I am forced to work away from home and home has to be a cheap functional hotel in the insipid mediocrity of the edgelands – that forgotten, hidden, parallel world on the periphery of reality, but maybe this is reality and I spend my life living in a bubble. I was thinking how difficult it must be to run away home, because you end up in places like this that make you want to run away even more. When I stay here, I begin to feel how hard it must be to be «on the run.»

Following photos taken in France – Bourges, Toulouse and Orleans.

Hotel

Cigarette Break

Drive in skyline

KFC Dawn

Giraffe

The Middle of Nowhere

Saturday shopping

Sunset shopping

Bag man

Pushing cross the car park

Way in Way out

Trolleys

Welcome

Random Political Street Art or ALL RIPPED UP

Yes, we are having an election in France today. Elections “breed” their own form of unintentional and chaotic art – I am referring to election posters. Night after night, the party activists and workers head out and “slap” up their propaganda –  party-by-party, layer- upo- layer – it all builds up, and when the posters get ripped down you get a unique, fleeting and random image on each billboard. No collage artist could intentionally produce such “works of art” – Election posters as “pop up, random political street art” – here is a quick “exhibition” of a few favorites, all  photographed over the last few weeks on my wanderings around town. Taking theses photos has to be as random as the images themselves. Here we go. (have to add that there are a couple of personal collages in this batch. I daresay you’ll find them) Happy viewing.

 

 

Road Movie Biker Wanderlust and Swedish Furniture

Unstructured ramblings on over 50’s wanderlust, Swedish furniture and sympathies for all you poor bastards with hybrid cars who accelerate at the speed of a dead snail. Enjoy

If life was a road movie at the moment, I’d be cruising sedately through those areas of commercial space known as “edge lands”, where the first ragged remnants of countryside, rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards meet the last drab dregs of urban sprawl – rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards

I’d be cruising along an endless highway, lined with supermarkets, DIY stores, car dealerships, fast food outlets and discount shops.

No 67 Chevrolet Impala convertible for me – I’d be driving a modest, white, four-door-family saloon ; possibly of Japanese manufacture with a hybrid petrol/electric motor.

On the radio, nothing as dangerous as Rock and Roll, but perhaps an adult « AOR » or «  easy listening » station with just a hint of Rod Stewart or Elton John wafting out the speakers

Nothing too dangerous in this road movie comfort zone and nothing magical, mysterious, subversive or even vaguely interesting about my destination – I’m probably just driving to a Swedish furniture store to pick up a beige sofa or a set of shelves. I’m not even going to get out the car and go in the shop to look, I’ve done a click and collect

I’m not looking for a Thelma and Louise Blues Brothers Fast and Furious Grand Theft Auto adventure – that’s all just a little too much. I think I’m like all those in-between late middle aged early retiree guys of my generation – I’ve got a kind of wanderlust but I don’t want to wander too far in case I miss my dinner and my favourite early evening TV shows.

It started on Sunday, when I nipped out to buy a newspaper. The lady at the counter handed me a « new » magazine for « young seniors » or « the active over-fifties » – the latter written in an exciting red typeface and screaming me at me from the front page.

No way am I a young senior
Yes I’m over fifty

Yes I am active BUT I have a mental age of nineteen and I am a singer in a rock and roll band (with three other guys who are all over fifty) and that actually sounds pretty sad. I shouldn’t be out gigging of a night, I should be home wearing a tracksuit and slumped in a sofa with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other.

So, it was my Sunday morning newspaper buying mission and I declined that kind offer of a special offer on the new young/oldie magazine. As my eyes scanned the shlves in search or reading matter though, I was attracted by wo magazines that might just quench my wanderlust – a monthly review of camper vans (or recreational vehicles as our transatlantic readers refer to them) – second a motorbike magazine with a special supplement on « biker dads » – all those “adulescents” like me who wanted a motorbike and never had one – I’m flicking thought the pages and – I’d love a Suzuki Van Van – a 125cc dune bike, with thick tyres and youthful looks – and just oozing biker dad attitude. Safe but mildly subversive

I wanna buy a motorbike and have sedate easy rider Sundays in the country. I wanna cruise down the Swedish furniture store in my leather jacket and have saunter round before I do the click and collect. I just wanna hop on my bike and go places that aren’t so far that I can’t be back home in time for dinner.

Bikes though, dangerous things. What if I fall off or got too fast or … Camper vans far better. I love camper vans. I’m always amazed how van designers manage to cram a luxury bijoux residence into such a small space – all fold out Formica lifestyle. I need a van. I want to drive to the sea, park up by a long deserted sandy beach, brew up a strong cup of tea and then stare out across the ocean, wondering what lies beyond.

Bike, or van, or both. The wife can drive the van as I ride the bike, and when I get tired, I can strap the bike on the back of the van.

Here’s the dream, to use the above combination for a great Tour De France of all the places I’ve lived or visited since I ever started coming to France as a kid in the seventies. What wondrous wanderlust.

Dreaming is great, but instead of writing about great travel plans, I should start by getting on the web abd booking a summer holiday.

The Ghosts of Deepest France

A night at the movies in La Courtine

In my pursuit of chartering those unchartered parts of France. Those towns and villages where the dead seem to outnumber the living – there are more people in the cemetery than   in town.

A few days away from civilisation in a place so deep in deepest France, that it can only be described as an abyss. Welcome to the heavily wooded but sparsely populated region of La Creuse, and more precisely the small town of La Courtine – one of these « forgotten » places that is also best forgot. A dead town of old souls reminiscent with overtones of « Deliverance » and « The Shining ».

Dead station in La Cortine

Deserted station at La Courtine

Almost a ghost town, La Courtine was one of these « outposts » that for generations, served as an important part of French military infrastructure – a huge military camp where national servicemen would be mobilised to do their patriotic duty, and fulfil their military debt to France. La Courtine camp was where national servicemen would do their basic training and after a hard day on the assault course, they would head into town for a hard night in one of the town’s numerous watering holes.

Last orders in La Courtine

 

Fat Sun’s pulled his last pint

Like hunters, diggers and cowboys of old, into to spend their pay and enjoy what few delights were on offer.

In 2000, President Jacques Chirac announced the official end to obligatory military service for all the nation’s able-bodied young men and La Courtine went from garrison town to ghost town.

Main Street La Courtine

Bars and shops shuttered up forever, tattered « for sale » signs » hanging forlornly in the window, both bankrupt former owners and local real estate agents knowing that no one in their right mind would ever want to buy in a place like this.

Alternative shot of the Bazar Universel

Dead bar in a dead own

Former Tabac Presse is just old news

There are ghosts of the past haunting every bar and every street. This town didn’t so much die as get shut in a time capsule.

No more cuts in La Courtine

Deceptively open

Staring in through the dusty windows of the former dance hall – the parquet dance floor still danceable enough for a quick twirl and the garish 50’s stage ready to welcome a local dance band. The long ‘s’ shaped Formica bar propped up by shadowy figures, as supernatural silhouettes trip the light fantastic across the floor and somewhere in the far away, the slight echo of a dance band. How many young soldiers got their first dance, first kiss, and first fight with jealous local lads at this dancehall?

Welcome to l’Esperance

Yes, this is France, this is dead France, this is old France, this is rural France, this is the France where Central government has almost given up on the people, this is neglected France, badly in need of investment. – This is deepest France.

War memorial fallen out of memory

Up the garden path