Heading Home (Looking for lunch)

Heading home after a walk in the woods, entering Bourges from the north east through the Edgelands – those places on the periphery of town – the final frontier of fast food restaurants, DIY stores and shopping malls, marking the limit of urban sprawl, that seems to sprawl ever further, every year, eating up the countryside. The Edgelands – vast warehouse shops with unlimited parking space. The downtown is dying as consummers opt for accessible, automobile friendly stores where there is more choice – that is actually no more than more of the same.

Bourges Skyline from the edge – The cathedral between the pylons.

Awaiting development.

Looking for lunch. Hey we’ve got traditional American cuisine out here in small town France.

Chez Ronald.

Buffalo Grill - a nation chain of French steakhouses and a firm lunchtime favourite for families because kids eat cheap.

Southfork Ranch? We’ve got an invite to munch from the Ewings

Bouncy Pink Giraffe for the kids.

These perihperal places are all so depressing. How about a delicious Pizza in town?

Buy ten and get one free.

Count to three for Pizza

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Autumn Drive

When it feels like my small town is getting smaller, there is only one solution – ESCAPE – an escape to the country – a glorious autumn drive through mighty forests, golden vineyards, sleepy villages, smelling of sweet woodsmoke – and finally down to the banks of the Loire. Thought I’d share a few photos. though not all the world his yet in its full glorious autumn hue.

Sancerre rising from the Vines

Out on the highway, destination, the world famous wine town of Sancerre – half an hour’s drive from home, the highway starts in the flat plains round Bourges and rises, twisting like some kind of nonchalant corkscrew  to the vineyards.

In the woods

Textures

Through the woods from La Borne and Henchrichemont to Sancerre. Sleepy villages, nonchalant outposts bathed in glorious autumn sun and the air filled with sweet woodsmoke

Woodpile

General store

The store, open when the owner feels like it, and those hidden back years and gardens where we like to peek

Hidden places

Meeting the Messiah at a crossroads. The countryside is peppered with crucifixes

Meeting Jesus

Boat on the banks

Moored on the Loire

Road Trip from Cabourg to Quiberon

Last leg of our road trip along the north and north western coast of France. From the English Channel at Cabourg to the shores of he Atlantic on the Quiberon Peninsula – from Normandy to Britanny, via the Mont St Michel.

Month St Michel

On the tourist road to Quiberon, another vital stopover on the tourist trail – the standing stones at Carnac – miles of menhirs dating from 5000BC and no one knows what they are there, other than to attract tourists.

Standing Stones at Carnac

The Road to the Stones

Stone-spotting tourists

And on to Quiberon – a popular family holiday resort at he end of the Quiberon peninsula – who says peninsula also says one road in and the same road out – huge traffic jams and a lengthy wait for the delights of Quiberon

Quiberon

Black and Whire Quiberon

On the beach in Quiberon

And from Quiberon we head home to an empty fridge, empty bank account, utility bills and mountains o lessons to prepare before heading back to school. We’ll be back next year.

Semi Circular

Driving cross London – the A406 – or North Circular Road – a three lane 1960’s built highway that cuts a swathe through the north east London suburbs. Residential streets crooned off from the road by walls or wire fences. This is the worst of suburbia – mad urbanization meets neglect. This for me is like some kind of parallel world. I wouldn’t believe that people could live in places like this, unless I saw it with my own eyes – we are not totally detached, jet semi detached – mile upon mile of that unique “English” housing format, built everywhere by private developers between the two World wars.

After the slaughter of the Western Front, the returning soldiers needed “Homes fit for Heroes”, built on they premise that an Engishmans’ Home is his castle – the result – small “cottage like” three bedroom houses. A unique and national but non imposed housing format – I’m not even sure that Soviet Russia could have achieved such uniformity.

A few photos of semi detached house on the North Circular Road, hence “Semi Circular”

 

 

Forgotten Soldier

It’s one of those  airless,  hot summer Sundays. The world is on holiday, deepest France is in full summer slumber – a perfect time for a country drive, on uncluttered winding roads – across the fields and through the forests. On a photo safari down to the village of Souesmes, sight of a major battle in 1944 between local resistance fighters and the Wehrmacht heading north to reinforce German forces fighting in Normandy. This is the centre of France, where, in July and August 1944 over a quarter of a million German troops  heading north to south and west to east, were stopped in their tracks by the local Resistance. There are hundreds of small roadside monuments commemorating such events and occasionally village war memorials inscribed with the names of the dead from World war Two and World War One – in many villages nowadays the names of the dead from both wars are greater than the number of current inhabitants. Here are some photos of an “unknown soldier” on a village war memorial. His face shows the suffering and scars of war and his state of decay shows the indifference of modern France where once the link between the nation’s army and its citizens was a true historical and moral bond. here is the forgotten soldier.

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.

Be Kind, Random or Otherwise.

Everyday is a national or international day. Every lobby or interest group has its day. One American website (http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com) claims there are more than 1200 such days every year, a similar French website (http://www.journee-mondiale.com/les-journees-mondiales.htm) lists 459 – one thing you can be sure, there are only 365 days a year, so some of these « promotional days » or « awareness days are going to clash.

The world is just recovering, from the emotional and Financial strains of Valentine’s Day – but rather than the ritual and often forced celebration of love, wouldn’t you have rather celebrated National Ferris Wheel Day? So, this one didn’t figure on the French calendar of national days, meaning that depending were you live, all awareness days are different.

It seems that the Americans have far more national days than anyone. Take this last week as an example

13 February  National clean out your computer Day

14 February  National Ferris Wheel Day

15 February  National Gumdrop Day

16 February  National Do a Grouch a Favor Day

17 February   National Acts of Random Kindness day

18 February  National Drink Wine Day

19 February  National Chocolate Mint Day

Every lobby has its day and I for one will certainly be celebrating National Drink Wine Day, which in France is everyday – in fact there are none of these days I would not consider celebrating, but there also just too many days to celebrate.

Today, 17th February is officially International Acts of Random Kindness Day – so it was announced on this morning’s news. The journalist however failed to mention that, in the USA at least; it is also National Cabbage Day.

What exactly is an act of random kindness? (I would suggest that not serving your loved ones cabbage for dinner this evening is an act of kindness.) And how can kindness be random?

Take the journalist on the BBC this morning, standing outside a train station and offering cakes to total strangers. Already by having decided to offer up cakes was not a random, but rather a conscious and pre-planned act. Of course there were no takers, just bemused faces of passengers entering and leaving the station. A complete stranger offers you a cake in the street – my first thought « is it poisoned », secondly « what is the pay off? Nothing is free » and finally « just ignore this person, he or she is obviously mad and I just don’t want to get involved »

How do you decide what act of kindness to perform, on whom and when?

Why simply be kind today? Kindnesses can be performed everyday and in that context they are simply acts of common courtesy.

Holding a door open for the person behind you. Kindness, yes, but also common courtesy and common sense. I’m not just going to let go of the door and send it smashing into the face of the person behind me. We live in a litigation age, if I dent your nose with a closing door, you might just get one of those injury compensation lawyers on to me.

Simple acts of daily courtesy can make all the difference

There’s the lady behind me in the supermarket queue, she’s only buying one item and I have a whole cart load of shopping – hey just let her through – common courtesy – I often do this and sometimes live to regret it – the day I let an old lady pass through and she called up her husband who appeared with huge bags of shopping. I protested. « But you let me in front» she protested back and it all finished with me jostling back in front of the old dear.

Courtesy on the road to help traffic flow. Let the car out the side street, slow don and let the guy changing lanes to get in … perhaps he’s having a rotten day, perhaps he’s in a hurry. I’ve just made his life a little easier.

I’m a great believer in that old phrase « what goes around comes around » which I suppose is anther way of saying « you reap what you sow ». Enough acts of daily common courtesy and you’ll find that when you need to change lanes or jump the supermarket queue, it will happen. Kindness always happens and perhaps where you least expect it or when you most need it.

So, National Drink Wine day on 18th February in the USA, whilst in France we will be marking the International Right to Strike Day – that’s very French, my only question, why does it fall on a Saturday and not a working day?

I guess some of these national and international days are a bit frivolous. February 19th (according to my French website) is International Whale Awareness day whilst in the USA it is National Mint Chocolate Day, when the US National Confectioners Association will have you all guzzling … mint flavoured chocolate (is that different to chocolate flavoured mints?). My favourite up and coming day is February 21st when Americans will be marking National Sticky Bun Day. Perhaps as an act of Random Kindness I’ll stand in the street on that day and offer up sticky buns to bemused passers-by.

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/rak-week