29 September, 2013

“....This story shall the good man teach his son......”

In the big Premiership football match at Tottenham yesterday (Saturday, September 28th) the Chelsea star – a hugely paid and idolised player - Fernando Torres was eventually (and rightly) sent off by the referee. One of the reasons for his dismissal was that he intentionally grabbed and gauged the face of an opposition player, Jan Vertonghen. I saw the incident on TV and read about it in today’s papers and it put a sharp modern day contrast and perspective upon my week.
 
The "delightful" Fernando Torres displays his "sportsmanship"
You see, I have, this week, just finished reading a wonderful book.  I have read it, I think, faster than any other so involved was I. It’s written by sport’s journalist Duncan Hamilton and is called “The Footballer Who Could Fly”. I’ve read all of Hamilton’s books to date – and each one has been outstanding but this one really did tick all the right boxes. My son bought it for me thinking I might quite enjoy it – he was wrong, I was quite overwhelmed. When I say it brought tears to my eyes I feel no guilt in admitting that. Apart from hugely enjoying Hamilton’s writing I genuinely felt it was speaking to me. Reading the book made my week.

As anyone who has read my blogs before will be aware I have long loved football but increasingly in recent years have fallen out of love with the game (and, indeed, other sports too). The mindset of modern players and “fans”, the gross commercialisation, the total lack of sportsmanship, the ludicrous amounts of money paid and spent and worst of all the thuggery, cheating and mindless behaviour of players, managers and many fans leaves me yearning for a better time. Duncan Hamilton’s book reminded me of those better times but, more importantly, revived some of my flagging interest and enthusiasm for this once great game. I finished the book off in two days and am now on the verge of re-reading – and, in the process, boring everyone I meet with my commentary and my quotations from it!

Despite the fact that the book is about football and footballers of the past that is not its central theme.  It is a personal journey for Hamilton as he relates the bond with his father (now dead) and how football was such an fundamental part of that relationship – indeed football is what held an otherwise  tenuous link between father and son together. It is a journey through footballing heroes, great games, memorable moments  and dashed dreams but all within the context of an emotional trip between father and son against the back drop of coal mines, drab post war Britain, hopes and dreams,  great football stadiums and footballing gods. It is at the same time a tale of remembered happy times for father and son but also of regrets at things not said or done. It is about being human.

Hamilton was called Duncan after the great Duncan Edwards – who many might argue was the greatest player England ever produced and who has gained almost mythical qualities in the half a century since his death. Edwards, at the early age of 21, died with several of his Manchester United team mates – the Busby Babes - in the Munich air disaster of 1958. He was the youngest player to play for  England and by his late teens revered as something quite extraordinary. His early death gave him a status unique in footballing folklore – a mythical quality that he still very much retains today. For football fans of my generation (and, I suspect, for many who are not particularly involved in football), just as with President Kennedy’s death, people can remember what they were doing or where they were when news of Edwards’ death came through. Having read of and seen the incident at Tottenham yesterday I wondered if modern fathers would be tempted to name their sons Fernando to remind themselves of this “delightful” young modern day football star and his nasty on the field actions. And I wonder whether, skilful though Torres is, he will  be remembered with the affection, awe and worship that Edwards still is. I would like to think not on both counts.
The book that has so enthralled me.

In the book Hamilton’s father tells his son (of Duncan Edwards) “I saw him only play once........” – an innocent enough comment - but when I read it a shiver ran through me because those few simple words are the ones that I have used on many occasions  when speaking of Edwards and they hide a myriad of emotions still.“I saw him only once....”  and  I can still remember the day in November 1957 when almost 40,000 squashed into Deepdale, Preston’s ground. United were already top of the Division and would go on to win the Championship. Preston finished third that year and on that day the game ended as a 1-1 draw.  The local paper had been full of it for days – the Busby Babes were coming to town in a top of the table clash between United and Preston. But there was probably even more press coverage given to the fact that Duncan Edwards was expected to play – he was the player everyone wanted to see – and play he did. This interest in a star was remarkable for it was in age when the “superstar celebrity” was unknown. Few people had a TV and so in reality few had actually seen Edwards play – it was all by word of mouth or by newspaper reports that the young player’s fame, skills and personal qualities were becoming known.

I remember going to the game with my friend Tony Clarkson. We pushed our way to the front to sit on the cinder track in front of the great crowd and on the very edge of pitch (as was the fashion for children in those days). I don’t remember much of the game – it was Duncan Edwards that I had come to see. I was not alone – I’m sure that the majority of the Preston fans there had come only to see this young colossus (a word more than any other that is used to describe Edwards).  At the end of the game at 4.40 pm (in those days there was only a 10 minute half time and 4.40 was when games finished – none of the nonsense of today when they can drag on and on because of stoppage time)  Tony and I both pushed our way through the exiting crowd and ran. We had newspapers to deliver at 5 o’clock. As I collected my Saturday evening “first post”/early edition round from Joe Unsworth’s newsagents (and got a telling off from Joe for being late!) the headlines were still of the upcoming visit by United and Edwards – they had been printed prior to the game. But by the time that I took my second round – the “Football Post” - just after 6 o’clock the match report was there and the photograph on the front of the paper was not of the goal scorers it was of Duncan Edwards! I walked around the streets reading the report and knowing that I had seen what we would call today a superstar – but to me, and thousands like me, he was a true hero not simply a great footballer.“I saw him only once........”  -  I am absolutely sure that over the past fifty years since Edwards’ death those few words, or something similar - have been uttered  by many of my generation.(See blog: http://arbeale.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/those-whom-gods-love.html ).
Duncan Edwards

And this was one reason why the book meant so much to me and why I felt that in its way it was speaking to me. I cannot write with the same skill as Hamilton nor do I have the same sporting background or knowledge but I found myself time after time almost knowing what Hamilton was going to say when he described some of these great players from the past – Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and the rest. I also knew that many of the points that he made – or that his father had made to him and which were recorded in the book – were exactly the same points that I had made in some of my footballing blogs or in some of the programme notes that I have written for football matches over the years. For me it was gratifying to think, or even know, that I was not alone in my views. When Hamilton rightly criticised the modern game he used much the same arguments that I have used.

There was a second reason why I loved the book – it explored Hamilton’s often difficult relationship with his father and how football rescued it. I could identify with that. I didn’t have a difficult relationship with my father but saw little of him as he was a long distance lorry driver and our opportunities to do things together were infrequent. As I have grown older and especially since my father died I have increasingly regretted the things that we didn’t have the chance to do or say. The few things that we did do together like occasionally going to the cinema to see some 1950s adventure film such as “King of the Khyber Rifles”, “Cockleshell Heroes” or “A Kid for Two Farthings”, or a visit to watch Preston North End play football were and still are much treasured events and memories – and become even more so as each year passes (see blog  http://arbeale.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/wooden-ships-and-iron-men.html).  When my mother died Dad and I talked more than we had ever done before but by then he was an old and ailing man so my regrets for the lost years have became even more important to me.   I’m sure that Hamilton would recognise this and this is why football is so important to him – it was the vehicle to his Dad.

And finally, I enjoyed the book because it reminded me of better times – that there once was something called sport and that football had higher ideals than it has now in the age of Fernando Torres. It restored much faith that I had lost. For the first time in many months it encouraged me to think that I might attend another game – not a big Premiership match (I wouldn’t, as a matter of principle, pay the bloated entry fee to feed the pockets of multi-millionaires like Torres!) but one of my local games to enjoy not only the game but the touchline banter and the half time beer in the bar.
The young Edwards after the match

"Society is founded on hero worship," the 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle once observed and in his book Hamilton paraphrases Bertolt Brecht when he comments  ''Unhappy is the land without a hero and unhappy is the land that needs one” and I suppose Brecht’s rather downbeat observation is true. Read any newspaper or watch a few nights’ TV and it won’t be long before a new “hero” is paraded before us. The trouble is that it seems to me that society’s modern day heroes are maybe of a different stuff from those of past times. True, we might today still celebrate and look up to someone who has shown exceptional bravery  but all too often  the modern hero is a hero because he or she is a celebrity rather than for what they have done or is. Young people, especially, today look up to the fame, the riches and the glamour of the football star rather than for what they are as a person. They are quite prepared to worship and glorify a football star or TV personality or pop singer knowing that they have many faults – that the football star will openly cheat or display bad sportsmanship, that the TV or film star may have a very dubious life style or present a not too pleasant persona.  Amy Winehouse, Louise Suarez, Russell Brand, Wayne Rooney, Paul Gascoigne, Tiger Woods, Jimmy Savile, and a thousand others have all been in their time worshipped and adored and often treated as heroes; they might have very fine skills is some area or other but they lack the human attributes that define a true hero and so are false gods.   And, as a result, in the modern world, our heroes quickly become our “zeroes” as the media circus moves and to an even bigger or better hero as we increasingly  discover that those we thought were heroes were not so heroic after all as their past or behaviour comes up to bite them!

I do not believe that this was so true in the past – sportsmen, politicians, film stars and the rest were idolised because of what they were and the values they portrayed rather than their wealth or fame or celebrity status. They represented the best that we could aspire to as humans and because their heroic qualities were largely based upon what they were as people rather than some particular skill or their wealth or stardom it is my belief that they have stood the test of time and remain heroic. As was famously commented about footballer Bobby Moore “Ask me to talk about Bobby Moore the footballer and I will talk for days. Ask me about the man and I will dry up in a minute – he was what you wanted all men to be and what we all want to be” or as is inscribed on Moore’s statue plinth at Wembley stadium: “Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time." Or, as broadcaster Alistair Cooke said of the golfer Bobby Jones: "In his instincts and behaviour, he was what used to be called a gentleman.......I do believe that a whole team of investigative reporters, working in shifts like coal miners, would find that in all of Jones's life...he did nothing common or mean." In the case of Duncan Edwards, after the Munich disaster Edwards clung on to life for almost two weeks before finally passing away and throughout that time I remember his struggle to live being headline news and people with no interest in football being moved at the loss of this young man who not only held such sporting promise but who was, all agreed, someone who you would want to call your son or for your daughter to marry – both, I would suggest heroic personal qualities. And that I think is why so many people, like me and Duncan Hamilton’s father, would say with sad regret as they look back, “I saw him play only once....”. It is in memory of the qualities of a hero – not simply a good footballer – and a reflection of what might have been.
 
Edwards wearing one of his England School
boy International caps
I have no doubt that it is part of the human condition that  we need heroes because they define  our aspirations and our ideals - courage, honour, selfless love, intellectual brilliance, sporting prowess...... and these in turn define ourselves. Heroes symbolize the qualities we'd like to possess and the ambitions we'd like to satisfy. Sadly, in the modern world, many of these heroic human qualities have been forgotten at the altar of money, commercialization, stardom for its own sake. Too often, it seems to me young people and wider society wishing to be defined by, and aspire to, wealth and fame rather than sportsmanship, intellectual brilliance, selfless love,honour or any other of the heroic qualities. Duncan Edwards – like many of his generation - was never sent off nor would he have resorted to such unsporting or unpleasant behaviour as Mr Torres. Of course, the current system for penalising offending players or sending them off for misconduct is a relatively new phenomena - it was only in the 1970s that it was introduced - so it is perhaps unfair to judge players like Edwards in the same terms as modern players. Having said that it is perhaps a sign of how the times have changed in that such sporting legislation is needed today - it was not required in the times of Edwards. I have absolutely no doubts that most players of Edwards’ generation would look in horror at Torres’ actions and at the casually aggressive, vindictive and unsporting manner in which modern players routinely behave. Edwards himself wrote this shortly before he died: "Sport is a character making occupation and it is up to you to discipline yourself to see that the effect it has on your character is good.......never argue with the referee,,,,,never get involved in duels [with an opposition player] ....allow the losing team to leave the field with dignity".  Hamilton’s book  reminded me of this better time when real heroic qualities  could be attributed to  footballing and sporting greats like Charlton, Best, Edwards, Moore and, without doubt the greatest of them all  the "Preston plumber" - Tom Finney -  a man whose footballing skills were applauded in equal measure to his sporting and loyalty qualities - a man whose skills, mindset and conduct both on the field and off it  would simply not be understood by today's players and supporters. (see blog "How Times have Changed": 5th April 2011).

While writing this blog a bit of Shakespeare has been rattling around my mind: "....... This story shall the good man teach his son........". I have many “favourite” bits of Shakespeare – phrases, verses and speeches that I am both familiar with and can quote at the drop of a hat. But one bit of the Bard, for me, stands out above all others - and those few words "......This story shall the good man teach his son....." come from it.  Not only do I love the language of the piece and the way the words roll off the tongue but it works for me, it raises my spirits and makes me feel good – which was exactly what it was supposed to do when it was written and subsequently spoken in Henry V. It is Henry’s great motivational speech to his generals before the Battle of Agincourt:

    “........This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

For many years I used this speech as a starting point to introduce 10 & 11 year olds to Shakespeare and to be a starting point for some writing of their own. We would read the passage, talk about it and then usually watch the actor Kenneth Branagh speak the words in his film version of Henry V. Then we would watch the battle scenes of carnage and blood letting – and for the kids Shakespeare wasn’t boring. The boys loved the blood and guts and the girls said “Ugh.......”. But the lesson always worked and after it the class got down to some writing of their own – not in iambic pentameter or rhyming couplets or whatever – but simply writing a motivating speech of their own. It might an imaginary speech by a football or netball team captain before a big match or a leader of some explorers about to go into some dangerous territory or a King or Queen trying to inspire their people to rise to some great occasion. The results were always good or very good – and there was always a bonus - a long list of children who wanted to borrow my video of Henry V to watch at home! Shakespeare was being seen as enjoyable and worthwhile!
Henry V (Kenneth  Branagh) rouses his men
to heroic deeds......"This story shall the
good man teach his son...."

And, in  reading Duncan Hamilton’s book this week, on thinking back to the great Duncan Edwards and other sporting heroes, and on sadly reflecting upon the behaviour of the distinctly unheroic Fernando Torres I have reflected on  Shakespeare’s words:“......Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember, with advantages........” .  They remind us that the old soldiers who took part in and survived Agincourt would, in their dotage, have looked back to  that great day when they were heroes and fought with heroes. Maybe, like me, they would look back with rose coloured glasses – maybe they and their comrades and their generals weren’t quite so brave as they remember.  Maybe Duncan Edwards or Bobby Charlton or Bobby Moore were not quite so good or heroic as I and Duncan Hamilton want to believe. But that is not the point - the point is that what they projected at the time and what inspired thousands to idolise them and to remember them was intrinsically good and represented the best that humanity could aspire to.  They had true heroic qualities.

And just as Shakespeare forecast, these old men will each year tell their sons and daughters of their great deeds and of the heroes who fought with them:

“....This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered......”

This was what Duncan Hamilton’s father did with the young Duncan when they talked football and of the great heroes who graced the field half a century ago and a bond was made between father and son. These father/son discussions were not just about football they were much more. They were about the values and aspirations that these great sportsmen – our heroes - stood for and projected and these values being passed on when “the good man” taught his son.  In short sporting heroes of the past  were largely  about what is good and worthwhile in the human condition – and in projecting these values and aspirations they, in turn, formed the values, dreams, beliefs and aspirations of those who watched and worshipped them. And that is why I loved the book - it was full of memories – all happy – but it was also inspiring and about  what all of us would want to pass on to our children. As the Bard wrote  “....This story shall the good man teach his son...”

22 September, 2013

Vive la France!

As the ferry glided out of St Malo harbour at the end of last week I looked back at the receding coastline of France. It was the end of a lovely holiday and although I was ready to return to the reality of home – we had been away for almost three weeks – my overwhelming feeling was of regret at leaving this wonderful country and its people.  For almost three weeks we had meandered through the French landscape and its towns and villages. We had sat on beaches on each of its three coastlines – the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Coast and the English Channel. We had covered well over two thousand miles as we journeyed along empty country lanes and speeding motorways, we had walked around timeless villages, eaten wonderful meals, admired the quirkiness of French life, gazed into village shop windows or walked around swish town centres where French chic was so obvious, we had sat and enjoyed our jambon baguettes each lunchtime and bedded down at night in a series of super B&Bs – and been lucky that for the whole of our time there the sun shone.  
Our wonderful B&B at Hendaye

Every country, I am sure has its problems – and the average Frenchman, I know, would soon disabuse me of my few rose coloured views gathered in only three weeks of sun, sand and sightseeing. But my overwhelming impression was of being in a country that seemed, on the surface at least, to be largely at ease with itself. There was a sense of continuity and tradition which in turn seemed to engender a timeless atmosphere. Loud and noisy it was not – there appeared, outwardly at least, to be certain gentleness where people made time to “stand and stare” rather than the mad cap, busy, busy rush and bother atmosphere that seems to permeate so much of our British way of life. As I reflected on many occasions during the holiday one of the most obvious contrasts related to the very beginning and the very end of our holiday.
Narbonne

The day before we left England we stopped off in Sussex – only a few miles across the Channel from France – to attend a family function. It was a depressing overnight stay in one of the resorts along that stretch of coastline: dismal streets, a succession of bleak sad looking shops (which mostly appeared to be betting shops, cheap bargain establishments and cheap booze shops), glum looking down at the heel people and sea front hotels or once grand houses converted into dull windowed, shabby flats and bed sits complete with wheelie  bins, peeling  paintwork and cracked tiles looking out across the Channel. When we arrived at our hotel and pulled onto the tiny rear car park an agitated receptionist rushed out and told us “You can’t park there – we are having a delivery. You’ll have to park on the sea front.”   We asked if we could just bring our bags in to save having to carry them from some distant parking spot – this was reluctantly allowed and then I did battle with the local one way system and set off to find a car parking spot not too far from the hotel. It took one back to the oft portrayed image of the English seaside resort of a bygone era – stern landladies, shared toilets, a once a week bath in tepid water, badly cooked food and throughout it all “kiss me quick” hats and sticks of rock trying to convince everyone that they were having a good time. It was a depressing start to our holiday making one feel that much of our nation has lost all pride in itself or its environment. I don’t blame resort – I often get the same feeling here in Nottingham – but somehow I expected more of a holiday venue. But in contrast, at the end of our holiday we stayed for a few days near Dinard – just across the Channel from the English coastline. What a difference – bright and well maintained building, smiling people, shops which were a joy to wander round, a wonderful market and a sea front to rival anywhere in the world. During one afternoon we wandered past a wonderful fountain commemorating the author Jules Verne who had connections with that part of the world. We sat at the end of lovely street leading down to a secluded beach and then ate our evening meal in a sea front cafe where the waiter practised his English as we practised our French. It was a far cry from the depression of the English south coast only a few miles over the horizon where, it seemed to me (as with much of the rest of today’s England) we have, as a society,  given up on national and personal pride, where we are content that our towns and cities have become hollow boarded up shells or concrete retail parks and where cheapness, bulging wheelie bins and tat try to outdo each other as we race to the bottom. I am tempted to agree with the old adage that it is not buildings that make slums but people!
Carcassonne from the motorway

But on to brighter things.

Our ferry trip to Santander in northern Spain was pleasant – and for the Bay of Biscay tranquil! We stayed overnight in a splendid hotel right on the Santander beach – and promised to return. Next day a meander along Spain’s northern coast, a visit to the stunning Guggenheim Gallery of Modern Art in Bilbao and then on to the French border where we put down roots for a couple of days at the lovely town of Hendaye. No English resort this. Bright, cheery, spotlessly clean, a car park to lift the heart and friendly smiling faces. We enjoyed the beach, ate at an open air restaurant by the marina but best of all enjoyed the warm hospitality of one of the best B&Bs we have ever stayed in. A beautiful room with everything that anyone could possibly want (including a balcony overlooking the garden) and jolly hosts who welcomed us warmly. They spoke little or no English but between the four of us we got along famously. Madam’s breakfasts were a treat to behold and enjoy while Monsieur would race out when we returned home each evening to ensure that I was able to park the car safely on his drive. Nothing was too much trouble and as we left we promised to recommend their home to any others coming their way. We will return to Hendaye – it’s not one of the big names of the area. No St Jean-de-Luz, San Sebastian or Biarritz this – we had no great expectations of the place – but it is a real jewel; gentle, picturesque, homely and welcoming. In short it is right up there in the list of wonderful places we have visited on the planet.
Narbonne Plage

From Hendaye we travelled along the base of the Pyrenees stopping off along the way when the fancy took us. We parked in Pau and bought coffee and baguettes for lunch and then enjoyed the splendour of Pau’s Boulevard des Pyrenees – looking out over the distant mountains from the city walls and from the beautiful and beautifully maintained Chateau de Pau. After Pau we meandered through the Pyrenean landscape and finally came to rest for the night in a remote village B&B at Mancioux. Next morning we made our way towards Carcassonne. We enjoyed coffee in the lovely working market town of Auterive with its delightful market by the side of the river - and by lunch were sitting enjoying our baguettes on a motorway Aire looking down on Carcassonne.  Surely few motorway stopping points anywhere in the world can enjoy such a view as this one. A French family – several generations plus two dogs - squashed onto the picnic table at the side of ours took out their table cloths and set out a meal fit for a king – making our baguettes and orange juice seem paltry! Only the silver candlesticks seemed to be missing! The French know how to do a picnic!
Hendaye Plage

And by mid afternoon we were sitting in the sun by the side of the Canal du Midi at our destination Argens-Minervois – a small village in the heart of the Minervois area which would be our base for the next few days as we explored the region. The beautiful city of Narbonne was a joy, Narbonne Plage - beautiful but very hot, Carcossonne everything that we hoped for and more – imposing, majestic and sensitively and beautifully maintained.  The tiny villages and hamlets of the Minervois silent and serene in the late summer sun and the landscape timeless and beautiful. An ex-colleague of mine who retired to the Minervois region said to me that she has to keep reminding herself that “this isn’t a holiday and she actually lives there” – having been I can understand that feeling. We travelled along the Mediterranean coast and back into Spain stopping off at resorts like Port Vendres and each evening returned to Argens to eat outdoors on the banks of the Canal du Midi.

And then it was on the road again – to stay with friends at Villeneuve-sur-Lot for a few days.  The great river Lot runs at the bottom of their garden and we sat in soaring temperatures seeking shade under the trees. Villeneuve is a homely working market town –– but pretty and, as always, beautifully maintained. As with all the places we visited one sensed a pride in the area. The bridge over the river brightly decorated with hanging baskets gave views down the river reminding us of the Arno in Florence as the backs of ancient houses hung over the waters. The many ancient buildings witness to the age of the town. Our friends took us to visit the village of Pujols overlooking Villeneuve. This really was picture postcard stuff – almost too pretty to take in. We sat enjoying a coffee under the flowers and sun of the market square before heading back home to the shade and lunch.

After Villeneuve it was off on the road again – this time to La Rochelle, a place we had long wanted to visit. En route we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on items and buy petrol. We laughed with surprise when we saw the row of commercial washing machines at the entrance all spinning round doing the washing of French families as they shopped in the supermarket. Since by this time we had a boot full of dirty washing it passed our minds to strip off and get all our washing done as we walked naked round the store! Maybe that was one step too far – we would not have wanted to break the Anglo – French entente cordiale or cause a diplomatic incident! As we ran up towards La Rochelle we travelled for mile after mile through the great vineyards of the Bordeaux region stretching to the horizon almost as far as the eye could see.  We had so often only previously seen these as names on wine bottles in our supermarkets but now we were seeing where the contents of those bottles had originated! We stopped for lunch on the coast at Blaye and sat under the chateau walls to enjoy our lunch and then in mid-afternoon enjoyed a walk around another gem, Talmont – a village set amongst the mud flats and oyster beds which looked as if it had been there providing the French with their beloved fruits-de-mer since the  beginning of time. As we drove along the edge of the great Gironde estuary – one of the great waterways and estuaries of the world - I was reminded of the great but tragic story of the Second World War Cockleshell Heroes (see blog: http://arbeale.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/wooden-ships-and-iron-men.html) and thought about these brave men paddling their little canoes through those dark waters as they made their way at night to the port of Bordeaux to attack the German fleet. Perhaps we actually passed one of the fields where the men lay in the day time hidden from the watching eyes of German sentries. Like so many places in France it is history made real – but more of that later!
Throw on another steak!

And so we arrived – not at La Rochelle but at Fouras a little resort south of the city. We knew nothing of Fouras but thought that it sounded a pleasant spot to base ourselves for a few days and not so expensive as La Rochelle itself. Wow – what a surprise, it was wonderful! A superb B&B and the resort truly stunning. Each morning we ate breakfast at Madam’s bulging table so beautifully laid out with delicious food that it seemed a crime to spoil her hard work in setting it out for us.  A wonderful fortress looking out over the estuary, a superb beach, the town market an absolute joy, a good selection of cafes and restaurants and lovely quiet streets and beautiful houses . Would we ever want to leave? – we didn’t! Indeed we have already said what a lovely holiday it would make to spend a week or so in Hendaye and the same  in Fouras – the perfect seaside break and recipe for a  relaxing and peaceful time. We walked around nearby La Rochelle enjoying the busy atmosphere of the big town and the French chic on display in the shops. We spent a lazy afternoon when we crossed Le Pont de Re and the meandered around  the Isle de Re and we spent yet another day wandering the market of Fouras and in true tourist fashion having a ride on a little train around the town and its environs. We enjoyed walking around the fortress, watching the men play boules by the town’s bandstand and yes, sitting on the beach - as Pat said at the time – her idea of  a perfect Sunday afternoon! Unlike our last view of England there were no sea front hotels or houses here covered in peeling paintwork and cracked tiles, no cheap booze shops or betting shops on every corner, everyone walked around smiling and taking pride in themselves, their dress and their town. - No one raced out to harangue us about where we parked – indeed the huge beach side car park was completely free – and so pleasant was it that we sat and ate our baguettes and read our books on the edge of the car park looking out over the sea. And at the end of each day we ate in a busy restaurant where we were greeted as old friends after the first night and the food was outstanding.  A wonderful place is Fouras – we will return.
 La Guinguette depicted in Renoir's
painting - not toodissimilar from
where we ate each night in
Argens Minervois

It was with sadness that we left – to head north towards  Dinan in Brittany. En route we stopped off at Chateaubriand – another unspoilt and unexpected gem. We wondered almost, alone through the silent ancient building and enjoyed a wonderful display of art gathered by a past owner of the Chateau. So strong was the sense of history that as we wondered the beautifully laid out gardens I fully expected a Tartuffe or Moliere or Lully or some other character from France’s great past to leap out at me from behind a bush or pillar. And then north to Brittany - an area we know well and love. 
This plateful was just my starter at
La Guinguette

The sun continued to shine (although a  change in the weather was promised) and when we arrived at our B&B close to the great river Rance  we  we were the only two diners that night in a nearby restaurant overlooking the river. Little boats bobbed up and down in the marina and for the first time there was a slight chill in the air and the evening sky suddenly looked a little autumnal. But we woke next morning to sunshine and spent a lovely day in Dinard and its environs enjoying the sun, sand and sights. Dinard, a town that can’t but evoke thoughts of Alfred Hitchcock – indeed his statue stands resplendent on the sea front commemorating a past film festival held in the town.  But it is the great houses of Dinard that remind one so much of the man and his horror film “Psycho”. Any one of the houses could be named “Bates Motel” and as one walks along streets it can’t be put out of the mind that a Norman Bates like character might lurk behind every shutter! It is not “Psycho” that the Hitchcock statue commemorates – but his other great horror film “The Birds”. Evil looking crows sit on his shoulder and flutter around his head – wonderful. Dinard’s wonderful market ensured that our car boot became even fuller with gifts for our grandchildren and at lunch we sat in a little park high over the town and the sea eating our baguette and quiche while enjoying a spectacular view and sea gulls hovered around us looking for crumbs.
Chateaubriand - I expected Molierre
to jump out and accost me or
Louise XIV to stride down the garden!

And so to our last full day – a meander around the area revisiting places enjoyed in years before: Combourg, Dol-de-Bretagne and Dinan. All three like so many of the other places we had visited were steeped in history and preserving that history so well. In Dol we sat outside a cafe enjoying a mid afternoon coffee and noticed that the main street where we sat is named Rue Grande Rue des Stuarts - called this because the Stuart dynasty that became the Kings of England in the 17th century came from here. It evoked the same feelings that I had had while in Carcassonne that our own English history is so closely bound up with that of France.  As nations we have allied and fought but always respected and that it seems to me is what a “special relationship” of any kind must be based upon – mutual respect based upon a shared past (for good or ill) and awareness of our differences as well as our similarities. This is not the fawning “special relationship” that our politicians seems to want with the USA which is a euphemism for simply doing America’s bidding. In Carcassone we had already been reminded of the links between our country and the Medieval knight/warrior Simon de Montfort. De Montfort was responsible for many of the religious atrocities in the area in the early 13th century. He was the son of Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester which is a city just down the road from where I live here in the UK. Two or three times a year Pat and I visit the Beaumont Leys shopping centre on the outskirts of Leicester. Simon’s son, also called Simon de Montfort, became the de facto King of England following the rebellion against Henry III in 1265. In that capacity he called two famous Parliaments – one which stripped the King of unlimited authority and one which admitted ordinary citizens as members of Parliament for the first time – both huge steps towards the democracy that we and other nations enjoy today. The local University in Leicester is the De Montfort University. Yes, our countries are linked by a common heritage.
The fortress at Fouras

Early next morning we made the short drive to St Malo for our ferry home. As I said at the top of this long blog I was ready to return home but not to leave France we had, I think, even more grown to love its people, its countryside, its towns and villages, its quirkiness, its traditions and its atmosphere.

And what are my abiding memories and feelings?

Fouras Plage
Firstly, I think, the sense of tradition and links with the past that runs through French everyday life and culture. Strange this since it was France with its great Revolution who heralded change was so instrumental in setting the parameters for our  modern world - and yet despite that the French, it seems to me, cling to their past with an admirable reverence. This manifests itself in so many ways; whilst much of the culture and art of France is progressive and about change and modernity (think the Impressionists, think the music of Ravel or Debussy, think the writings of people like Sartre, think French cinema, think generations of quirky French cars like the Citroen 2CV or the DS19...........)  their past is celebrated with a vengeance. There can surely be no French village or town that does not have a Rue de Victor Hugo or a Rue de Pasteur, their ancient buildings are maintained with pride. Where we pull down great swathes of our cities to rebuild or throw down motorways the French, it seems, largely renovate and renew. One of the most telling moments for me was in the tiny and beautiful village of Caunes Minervois near to Carcassonne. As we wondered around its silent streets at lunchtime, all the houses shuttered giving no hint of whether they were empty or full of people we felt intruders. We sat at the edge of the beautiful little car park (yes, I choose the  word “beautiful” carefully!) and ate our baguettes looking down onto the sparkling little river. All along the edge of the car park were delightful marble statues. The area is famed for its red and pink marble mined there since Roman times and these lovely works of art decorated the car park – not a sight we would see in England. The marble from the town has been used through the length and breadth of France – most notably, on the orders of the Sun King Louis XIV, at the Palace of Versailles and later at the Paris Opera. And a few minutes later we sought shelter from the burning sun under a great tree in the tiny market square – the Place de la Republique. The sign by the tree informed us that it had been planted in 1792 – when the revolution was at its height and the guillotine was doing its dreadful work! Yes, the French have an affinity with, and pride in, their past – they do history well. No child growing up in Caunes could be unaware of his country’s heritage and his village’s past.
Marble statues at
Caunes Minervois

And their heroes are many and varied. While every town and village has a Place de la Republique and a Rue de Victor Hugo their street art also reflect the richness not only of their history but culture. Unlike England there are statues of people other than the warrior monarchs or stern faced politicians or sabre rattling generals that we in England seem to want to celebrate. Every town seems to have statues celebrating some writer or artist or scientist.  As we approached Dinan we almost tired of seeing statues of the Romantic writer Francois Rene Chateaubriand. Jules Verne, Alfred Hitchcock and a thousand others also stood majestically on their plinths reminding French people of their cultural heritage and of the important things of life. While enjoying the Ile de Re we came across a memorial to one Nicolas Martiau who fled France (he was a Huguenot) and eventually settled in Virginia with his wife. Martiau was the great great grandfather of George Washington and a direct ancestor of our present Queen Elizabeth II.

This sense of tradition and cultural heritage links, too, it seems with everyday life – the daily visit to the boulangerie, the aperitif taken in the local bar, the way that at mid day towns and villages become silent as many shops close and streets become deserted a thing which is repeated throughout the land and so it goes on – it all gives a sense of continuity; this is how we do it in France, it is part of our “Frenchness”, it is what we do and what we are, it has always been thus. I often reflect that we have lost this in the UK where it increasingly seems to me retail therapy and non-stop “doing” seems to leave us little time to “stand and stare” or to enjoy and undertake traditional activities. I’m sure that a French man or woman from a hundred years or more ago if they returned would still find much to recognise and would not feel too alien in modern France. I am not too sure that the same could be said of England. Maybe I’m wrong but at an everyday level in England heritage seems to  have been sacrificed in the name of “progress”. True we have wonderful historical buildings and venues – York Minster, the Tower of London, Stonehenge and a thousand more – but these it seems to me are increasingly “theme park” tourist attractions rather than everyday living parts of the community. In short the essence of France – its history, its traditions and its culture – seem self evident and alive in every community no matter how big or small – whereas in England we have increasingly sidelined them in our lemming like quest to “do” , to live in the fast lane and to be entertained rather than be involved.
1792 - I was planted
and I'm still giving shade
and reminding all
of France's past

These things all add up to the timelessness especially of French villages. We visited the exquisite village of Lagrasse in the Carcassonne area one Saturday afternoon. As we wondered around the medieval streets of the centre historique we passed a wedding party, enjoyed a glass of orange in a wayside cafe, marvelled at the old houses and wondered what tales each could tell. We looked into shop windows and sat by the beautiful river watching youngsters enjoying an afternoon swim. And we visited the beautiful working Abbey -  a gem of  a place - where we were welcomed by a smiling, gentle and helpful monk. We enjoyed the Abbey’s still calm and beautiful architecture and wondered at the many devout monks and worshippers who had trod its paths and buildings over the centuries. As we walked along the river it occurred to me that this gem had lain hidden in the hills and the forests for a millennia and although today modern day tourists like us enjoy its delights people have been walking its streets and living its life and its serenity for hundreds of years. Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Marks & Spencer, McDonalds, John Lewis and other everyday occupants of great shopping malls suddenly seemed all seemed a very long way away!
Lagrasse - serene and magical

Angers Minervois, where we stayed for a few days, was such another such place. On the banks of the great Canal du Midi and the Aude the village rises on a small hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. As each evening we walked through its silent streets to the open air restaurant we passed a tiny bar – room only for three or four people I thought. Often no one would be in there but when we returned at 9.30 pm maybe just one or two locals were enjoying their refreshments. They would mutter “Bonsoir” or “Bon Nuit” as we passed. As I mentioned before shutters hide the residents of the houses so one is never certain if the house is empty or full so all was silent and we whispered as we walked along, afraid to break what seemed a magical spell.

And the restaurant  that we patronised – La Guinguette – even I think by French standards is “different”. We were initially confused by its name but then discovered that it means an open air (often cheap) drinking or eating place – often by water. This described it completely – we sat right on the edge of the Canal du Midi. Apparently these places had become popular in France from the late 19th century – one is immortalised in Renoir’s famous painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. A great open BBQ dominated the place and a gentleman bearing a distinct resemblance to Asterix the Gaul would occasionally disappear behind the scenes and emerge with huge “lumps” of meat and half trees in equal measure – which he threw onto his bonfire! And what came out at the end the biggest and tastiest steaks imaginable. Pat selected lamb chops – she was looking for  a small meal but it was frightening to think of what size sheep it was that had sacrificed itself for her chops  – never have such lamb chops been seen! On our first night eating at La Guinguette the waiter gave us a menu in French - that was fine but the English people occupying the table next to us were given an English version. After a few minutes they asked for a French menu – they could not understand the English! On the following evening we received an English menu and hugely enjoyed reading the translations of French into English: Pat quite fancied the Pavement of Cod” which seemed appetising but in the end opted for “Filet mignon (better part of pig) with his sauce in honeys (sic) of scrublands (sic) and in almonds”. Wonderful - who could resist such a dish! I ordered a starter - big mistake - it was so large that I swear it would have fed the whole of my family includng the grandchildren!
Port Vendres

As everywhere we went in France we enjoyed simple but good, wholesome food. I firmly believe that good quality food does not need all the “additions” so beloved of many English restaurants – no need for a Tex Mex BBQ sauce” to liven up the taste buds or some piece of old cow  -  a simple well cooked piece of fresh top quality meat or fish has all the taste necessary. It was the same each day with our daily baguette or quiche – simple, fresh, good quality food which needed no embellishment to perk it up. And so too with a with a cup of coffee. On the odd occasions I go into somewhere like Costa Coffee or Starbucks I am given a bucket  of tasteless brown liquid – and to cover up its inadequacies a youngster sprinkles chocolate in the shape of lips on the top! In France it is a simple cup of coffee – with real taste and flavour – served by a waiter or waitress who generally sees their job as a profession and the customer as something to be valued. There are no chocolate flavoured lips decorating the tasteless brew and it is not served by a disinterested youngster sporting a shirt that tells me he or she is a “Barista” (am I supposed to be impressed by this or is it just to explain  the role of these people in case I am unsure since the liquid served rarely resembles coffee?). In England we have been taken over by the corporate image and  increasingly know no better. 
The Chateau at Pau

Throughout our journey I became increasingly aware of the great waterways of France. Every village and town, it seemed, had a river central to its being. This, of course, is true of the vast majority of settlements – certainly ancient ones - anywhere in the world. But in France it seems they are heralded and not hidden away or unnoticed. Some of the places we visited had almost dry river beds with just the merest trickle while others – as with our friend’s house at Villeneuve-sur- Lot – were great slow moving waterways. Bridges were invariably decorated with brightly coloured flowers – again, it seemed to me, a local pride being apparent that is maybe not always there in England where rivers are just part of the landscape and  little thought about until a drought or a flood. At Lagrasse where we had enjoyed the river we carefully walked across it on the narrow walkway. A few children and adults were swimming further up stream and to ensure safety a life guard was on duty – yes, it was all well thought out and intended to ensure that the river was a valued and used part of the locality. It was not unusual as we travelled to drive for mile after mile alongside a river or canal – or sometimes both – and always it seemed they looked well tended and accessible - not only waterways of importance but also places to enjoy and to respect. On the day that we arrived in Argens Minervois we sat in the sun on the banks of the Canal du Midi watching as a succession of holidaymakers took out their hired canal boats for the first time. We laughed as one group of holidaymakers emerged slowly from the boat yard in a huge boat which once they turned onto the main canal lurched from side to side crashing into one bank and then the other as the “learner driver” learnt how to steer. At the B&B we were staying at we ate breakfast with  a South African couple who were taking a boat for a week on the Canal to glide through the French countryside in a slow and stately cruise. I must say, it sounded very appealing – especially as the sun shone down day after day.
Anyone for boules in Fouras?

While we were in the Minervois region the weather was particularly warm but the heat of the day was tempered by the cooling mistral wind that affects these regions. The wind blew gently each day and thinking of it took me back to my geography A level studies of fifty years ago  and reading of the mistral when I studied the geography of this part of the world. I have now experienced it. The owner of the B&B where we were staying told us that it can be particularly cold in winter when the wind blows.

As we drove and walked around all the places we visited – small and large, rural and urban - I became slowly aware that something was very different in France. At first I could not put my finger on it but then half way through the holiday it hit me. It was the lack of CCTV cameras on show. Here in the UK we cannot miss these blights on the urban landscape. In some places they seem to be on every street corner. Our roads and motorways are littered with them watching every movement and shops and businesses, especially, feel the need for them. As we drove along the motorways in France we would very occasionally see one but this was an exception. In the villages and towns I can honestly say that I didn’t spot one – maybe they just hide them away? Whatever, as the holiday went on, it seemed to me to be a whole lot more comfortable – it made me wonder if, in fact, the widespread introduction of video surveillance to the level that we have in the UK is counter-productive. Does it become self perpetuating as with widening a motorway - when motorway traffic becomes heavy and an extra lane is constructed and the natural consequences is that more people use the motorway so yet another lane has to be built! Are CCTV cameras subject to the same natural law?
Madam's lovely breakfast
table in Fouras

It seemed to me that maybe the French have a different take on home security than ourselves – perhaps more proactive rather than reactive. Walk down any English road like mine and would be burglars are presented with lots of possible easy options and clues. They can see if anyone is home since  the frontage of the house quite open and windows often easy to see through. Often houses have driveways that give open access to the back of the property. Our response to this is to put up security cameras and security lights rather than simply make it more difficult for the burglar to get near the place or to know if it is inhabited! Walk down my street at night and virtually every house (including mine) will light up as the security light sensors pick up the movement. The French, however, seem more proactive.   At the French B&Bs we stayed at front gates and drive way were locked – at one place we needed a code to get in, at another we were given a key. When we stayed with our friends in Villeneuve-sur-Lot most houses in the road to be completely were surrounded by fences to keep prying eyes out and making a physical barrier to entry. Fences are high and keep much of the property private. Windows often remain shuttered all day so it is impossible to gauge whether there is anyone at home. In other words burglars weren’t encouraged to give it a try so less need for security lights or cameras.

Since I returned home I’ve done a little research. The French apparently are in favour of CCTV for its practical use but anxious that they do not become a surveillance society – “We want to avoid the Anglo-Saxon approach” said one French mayor. Cameras are used and are big business in the country – about 400,000 - but this is only about a tenth of the number in England. There is currently a big government initiative planned to increase this, especially in big cities but in a nation where “Liberty” is written into the constitution and inscribed on every French heart they are careful about what they call them. With typical Gallic logic they prefer to call the use of cameras "vidéoprévention" or "vidéotranquillité" (I like that) rather than video surveillance!
The great Canal du Midi at
Argens Minervois

But France is not a wonderland. Despite my disparaging remarks at the top of the blog about the Sussex sea side resort we left behind in England and all the other (probably unfair) comparisons that I have made. I know that in the big French cities they battle with very much the same  – and sometimes more complex or threatening - problems that we do in the UK and the average Frenchman, I am sure, probably moans about France in equal measure to his British counterpart’s complaints about the UK.As well as all the wonderful things that stand out about our holiday there were two events that will be long remembered for the wrong reasons. 

On a scorching hot Sunday we drove along the Mediterranean coast – one of the premier routes in France filled with high end places and properties. Late in the afternoon and homeward bound we stopped for a much needed drink and toilet break at a motorway service area. The area was newly constructed and sounded very swish but as we drove we were horrified at the dreadful mess – litter almost ankle deep filed the car park and although the car park was not by any means full vehicles seemed to be scattered everywhere and people milled about or simply lay on the floor in the sun totally oblivious to where they were and the problems they were causing by laying on paths or in parking bays. The vast majority of the people appeared to be of eastern or middle eastern origin – burkas and similar garments filled the shop and the cafe. We trod carefully through the litter and stepped over the reclining bodies, visited the toilet, grabbed a bottle of water and were on our way. There appeared to be no staff intent on clearing up the litter it was simply left. As we eased out of our parking spot plastic cups, coke bottles and sandwich wrappers crunched under my wheels – we were glad to be on the open road. As we pulled away the joys (if there be such a thing) of an M1 service area like Watford Gap or Toddington seemed a long way away and perhaps something to look forward to!

And the second event that we will remember with something less than joy?  We arrived late one afternoon at our B&B. We were staying there only one night and it was in a tiny remote village. A car was parked outside and we knocked on the front door but to no avail. As it was so remote we sat in the sun waiting. An elderly French man who was digging his garden next door assured us that there was someone in so we tried again – to no avail. Time ticked by and by 5.45 we were getting quite concerned - would we have a bed for the night?. The elderly French lady from the house opposite offered to ring the owner but just as she offered we spotted a bell on the gate post. We pressed the bell and almost immediately the shutters were thrown open at a bedroom window and a loud English voice castigated us for turning up early. The harangue went on for some minutes, cutting through the silence of the village - and we felt very contrite. “We have to get our sleep” we were told by the dressing gowned and wild haired harridan who hung out of the window, “It said on the e-mail I sent not to turn up before 6 o’clock, we have been very busy.........” And so it went on.  We were clearly in the wrong and for that we apologised profusely – we just hadn’t noticed the time requirement.  By the time that she had dressed and we were at last unwillingly admitted we felt well and truly told off. During the evening, as we ate a very pleasant meal we were reminded several times that she was so busy and that people had to understand that – it all made one feel as if we were intruding on this lady’s life. On this occasion the customer was very definitely not right!
Talmont - feeding the French
obsession for sea food

Since we have returned home I have looked at comments on Trip Advisor about this place and many, rightly, speak well of it and its meals – and, as I say, we were very happy there (but glad we were only staying one night). We would undoubtedly use the place again if in the area. But in equal measure to the very positive comments on Trip Advisor were people  (both  French and English) who had had similar experiences to ourselves and who described the owner as rude or “horrible”. Clearly the lady didn’t learn from her feedback.

The incident, however, hides a wider commentary - and something that was reinforced for us on several occasions during our time in France. We stayed throughout in B&Bs – every one was good or excellent – the ones in Hendaye and Fouras amongst the best we have stayed in anywhere in the world. We would happily return to any. But there was a hidden difference. Unbeknown to us until we actually turned up on the door step (we had pre-booked them by internet) three of them were run by English people – including the one mentioned in my tale above. In each of these we felt very much an item of business – we were simply clients whereas in the French run chambre d’hotes  we were welcome and much appreciated  guests in the house. We have experienced this many times over on previous visits to France. It is not related to cost – indeed the French owned places we stayed at were on the whole cheaper than their English counterparts. The breakfasts in the French B&Bs were universally better – freshly baked bread and croissants, wide selection of (often home-made) jams etc. - quite simply a feast to be looked forward to. In the English run establishments although the breakfasts were more than adequate they were neither a feature of the stay or memorable. Too often it was defrosted stuff from the freezer, on one occasion slightly stale bread, pre-packed butter, jars of jam from the local supermarket or packaged croissants or a bowl of cornflakes.  As I say, we would return to any one with pleasure – all gave us a great holiday – but my lasting thought is that the English run B&Bs were  out to make a profit but the French wished to welcome us into their home and make our stay memorable.
Fouras B&B

And in the end that is what we “do” in England -  we run businesses (was it Napoleon who said we are a nation of shopkeepers?) – profit drives us  and we manage our lives through the demands of the balance sheet. Increasingly it seems to me we have sacrificed our heritage, values, culture and in this case our hospitality at the altar of making a fast buck. In England our schools and universities are now driven and judged not by educational philosophy or ethical arguments about what should constitute a good education but by value for money, the needs of the economy and the economic worth to the student; our doctors and hospitals are now forced to prove the economic worth of actions and care rather than make decisions based on need and clinical requirement; when we are involved in some great event – the Olympics or the Royal Jubilee our government defines it in  economic terms and what it adds or detracts from the national balance sheet rather than it cultural or national significance.  As a nation we have no shame when it comes to taking a moral stance – we will happily sell weapons to anyone no matter what their politics history or policy and justify this by saying "If we don't sell them then someone else will",  London is  always open to welcome global corporate tax dodgers because it makes the Treasury a fast buck and our present government has no qualms about introducing legislation that actively seeks to disrupt the quality of life for millions in the local community because it saves money. 
Alfred Hitchock in Dinard

We have blindly fulfilled Margaret Thatcher’s famed maxim “There is no such thing as society”. But "society" is firmly rooted in values, traditions, culture and heritage – I do not mean  the “high culture” of the art gallery or the concert hall but the culture of the community whatever and wherever it is and we have, unlike the French, it seems to me torn that up at the accountant and politician’s behest.  At an everyday level cheapness and value for money takes precedence over quality and taste – we see it on every High Street with its array of pound shops, we see it in the growth of cheap flights (never mind the quality feel the width!), we see it in the demise of tradition, individual and community values and habits in favour of seven day a week/24 hour shopping and supermarkets or the visit to McDonalds whilst shopping instead of a family Sunday lunch. Politicians of all persuasions talk of schools being “family friendly” when what they actually mean is “ economically friendly and family and destructive” as they encourage and fund the growth of pre and after school and holiday clubs which ensure that children actually spend more and more hours away from the family than in it. This morning I read that the Labour party, as a "family friendly initiative" is promising 25 hours a week of free child care for all 3 & 4 year olds. This might be justified and desirable in economic terms, or to satisfy the personal/professional  “fulfilment” of parents. It might even be justified educationally. It might be financially friendly, professionally friendly or educationally friendly but it cannot in anyway be described as "family friendly"-  it marginalises family life and its values and practices as all the members of the family are away from each other doing their thing whilst the children are cared for by "responsible others" in some "institution". And so our society races to the bottom and never more so than in these economically blighted times where every item of government policy is not driven by what is right or desirable but what pays.
How many roads did we drive down
like this?

 “The main chance” defines our culture our psyche and our outlook and it is the reason why we don’t have time to stand and stare or to value the things that the French so often do – their traditions, their heritage, their culture. In Britain we are too ready to sacrifice all these – the things that make life worth living and are intrinsic bits of being human - for a balance sheet and for profit making mentality. We know the price of everything and the value of nothing. It again confirms my long held belief that the French know something about life, living and about being human that we can never know – and they are not sharing it.

And that is why, as I stood on the ferry watching France disappear over the horizon I was sad – not that the holiday was over but that I was leaving France. “Vive la France!”