Thursday, 25 May 2017


Vide grenier
Lots of words all meaning that the village turns out and flogs off its junk. 

There is at least one brocante every Sunday morning, if you are prepared to drive.  You don't  usually have to drive far. 

Two or three weeks beforehand  a crop of little roadside signs go up.  Brocante.  Name of village.  Date.  Sometimes you have never heard of the village.   Where on earth is Yvrencheux?  Sailly-Flébeaucourt?  Vacqueriettes-Erquières?  Usually it is quite hard to make out the detail - when? where?   Occasionally the organisers are aware of this and put up three A4 signs - Brocante.  Fontaine-l'Étalon.  19 Juin.  But usually it is a single sign,  and driving by at a moderate 70kph it is impossible to read it all.  Pass by a few times and you might get it.  Or perhaps you are supposed to stop your 2CV and read it.

Assuming you find the village and get there on the right day, what will you find?  First sign is a row of cars parked up on the grass verge.  Both sides.  The French love this stuff, and frankly there isn't a lot on in rural France on a Sunday morning.  St Louis' church opens for mass maybe once every six Sundays.  There are probably no pavements so there will be families walking along the single lane between the cars.  You might as well park up somewhere half a mile away and walk in like them. 

Every house in the village, pretty much,  takes this opportunity.   They are decluttering.  You are collecting new clutter.  They put a trestle table outside the gate.  Sometimes just an old bedsheet on the ground.  Then spread out their stuff.  Grown out of kiddies clothes and toys.  Grown out of biker gear and helmets.  Scythes and similarly mediaeval agricultural implements.   Ornaments.  60s Johnny Halliday albums.  Videos, DVDs,  CDs.   Hand painted plates.  Tarnished cutlery.  Relics of ancient holidays in Morocco.   Outboard motors.  Beer glasses.  Books, many obviously never read. 

There are a few professionals here - people who are selling leather belts, sunglasses, heavy metal tee shirts - but it is mostly the neighbours.  There is a lot of strolling and chatting.  This is la France profonde.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Ramparts of Montreuil sur Mer

It isn't Sur Mer any more, but be careful to tell your satnav it is or you will get directed to the Montreuil in Paris or even Switzerland.  

The town is on a hilltop dominating the surrounding countryside.   And at some point they have been to a lot of trouble to make their hilltop hard to attack.  The walls rise up sheer from the low lying fields. 

The ramparts surrounding the town are almost perfect.  One breach allows traffic though into the town.  There is another access road which enters through a gateway.  

And those ramparts are scary.  No namby-pamby health and safety fencing.   You are 30 metres up.  Fall off and you die.  I stay as close to the inside edge of the path as I can.  I'm not particularly scared of heights you understand.   I just prefer not to fall to my death if it's all the same to you. 

There is a complex arrangement of ditches and outlying fortresses.  I think the idea is that if an invading army breaks through the walls, they find themselves trapped in a ditch with the Montreuillois pouring boiling oil over them. 

The town is on the inside of those mediaeval wall. And for the most part it's a higgledy piggledy mediaeval town of small houses and narrow streets.  There are a couple of more modern tenements which look like barrack blocks, and certainly out of place.  A place to wander. 

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Plage du Cap Blanc Nez

Plage du Cap Blanc Nez - this is the best beach in France according to Paris Match magazine.  I think their reviewer might have wanted to get away from the crowds of Paris that day.

If what you want is beach and lots of it, then it's hard to beat.  The beach here runs from Normandy to Belgium.  Over there is England and the White Cliffs of Dover.   Just behind you is Cap Blanc Nez itself.  Gris Nez is down the coast a little.  The Aire des Deux Caps national park keeps the place rural. 

If your idea of a beach involves palm trees and pieds dans l'eau restaurants then perhaps you need to look further south.  Did I mention  rhat England is about 30 miles away?  Today it's blowing from the north and if you put your pieds in the water you will be snatching them out pretty quick.   The French kids who have been playing in the surf are distinctly blue. 

You park at the top of the cliffs and walk down to the beach.  Take everything with you that you will need - there is nothing down there except for the beach and the sea.  An ice cream van might turn up in the car park come summer. 

It's a broad expanse of sand, though there will be much much less of it at high tide.   At the foot of the cliffs is a 10m wide strip of stones,  fallen from the cliffs and ground smooth twice a day by the high tides. 

Turn left for Normandy, right for Belgium.   There's a WWII bunker at the foot of the cliffs, guarding the pathway up to the top.  Walk away from the bunker and you have the beach pretty much to yourself, although perhaps in high season you may have to walk a bit further. 

Lots of footpaths at the top if walking along the beach hasn't worn you out.  Try the climb up to the top of Cap Blanc Nez and gaze out at England, as famously, Adolf Hitler did before you.  I doubt that the Führer went for a paddle though.  

The village of Escalles is the place to go for things like cafés and restaurants.   You might as well leave your car in the car park and walk back to the village.  In high season I think you might struggle to find a space.  In low season you may struggle to find somewhere open. 

Remember high tide.  If you decide to go for lunch in the village, it might be wise to take your towel with you. 

Parc du Bois de Moutiers

Varengeville sur mer looks pretty posh.  And poshest place in town is the Parc du Bois de Moutiers. Even the car park is smart.   It's a historic monument rather than a private residence these days.  
The house itself was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens who went on to design much of the Raj and of course the Cenotaph and associated Remembrance monuments, which must make him the most built architect in the British Empire.  It isn't open to the public,  at least it wasn't today, but I think in high season they take guided tours round. 

We guided ourselves around the posh garden, designed by the famous landscape gardener Gertrude  Jekyll.  No, neither have I.   But it is a pretty good garden, with something for everyone  - walled gardens with flowers in flowerbeds at the top of the hill and around the house, a lawn running down the slope towards the sea (must be a beggar to mow), then a hillside covered in rhododendrons stolen from the Himalayas.  Plus the swamps - it must be challenging to build a swamp on the side of a hill.    We probably spent a couple of hours following the recommended route around. 

Ambience by P G Wodehouse.  One finds it easy to imagine Bertie Wooster sorting out the tangled love life of Gussie Fink-Nottle and Amber Rudd in this setting.  Lots of benches for clasping of hands and declarations of undying love.  No shagging in the bushes mind you.  Not PG's style. 

Money by Guillaume Mallet.  I've no idea who he was, and there is no information about him in the bumf we got from the ticket office.  But he's the chap who paid for it all.  Not unlike Bertie's Uncle Tom (Aunt Dahlia's husband).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Election Time

The posters are up outside every mairie.   All the candidates for the president of France.  Unusually the incumbent isn't running - perhaps M Hollande feels he has little chance and he is probably right. 

Round the Pas de Calais, Marine le Pen has posters everywhere.   It probably helps to be the only woman in the race and therefore instantly recognisable.  It probably doesn't help that two strokes of a black marker pen give her a Hitler moustache.   So her supporters have been tearing off her upper lip.   FN posters must have been either defaced or mutilated all over France. 

Le Pen has done well in softening the image of the Front Nationale.   Under her father Jean-Marie it was unashamedly racist and fascist.  She has worked hard to lock the nasty old Nazi up in a box.  Is she now electable?  Much more so than before.  She has skilfully applied make up to the pig so you can hardly tell it isn't kosher. 

The socialist candidate (what IS his name?)  is pretty much dead in the water, suffering from the unpopularity of the current government and having his support on the left eaten away by M Melenchon, the Corbyn of France.   Not to mention M Poutou, a gift to francophone political satirists. 

The right wing candidate has been caught with his fingers in the till, allegedly employing his wife and kids at public expense to do nothing whatsoever.   M Fillon was the front runner until the judge took an interest.  Now he is languishing way behind.   Too late to quit and let another man of the right have a go.  Not that he wants to.  

Which leaves Emmanuel Macron, something of an unknown quantity.  As is traditional, he has set up his own political party  En Marche!  It's broadly centrist.  And collecting support from both left and right. Hope so.  Can he beat Le Pen?

The way it works is that anyone can stand for the presidency if they can get enough mayors to nominate them.  I think 500 mayors have to sign the paperwork, which sounds like a lot but every commune in France has a mayor; that IS a lot. 

So there are something like 16 candidates standing from across the political spectrum.  On Sunday the people of France vote in the first round, and if one of them gets a majority, he or she becomes President of France.   Nobody expects this to happen. 

The expectation is that Marine Le Pen will win the first round but not an overall majority.  She and the man who has the second largest vote - and that currently looks like Emmanuel Macron  - go through to the second round in a couple of weeks time, and all the others are eliminated. 

In the next vote,  everyone shudders at the thought of President Le Pen and votes for Macron.  He wins and the Republic stays on an even keel.  But after Brexit and Trump, nobody is quite certain. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Wifi tu me manques

Coming back from France - In the queues for check-in,  douanes and borders agency, there was no wifi within range. 

At least none I could access - I saw four strong signals for ECIS - Ecis guest, Ecis wifi, and a couple of others, all needing a password. 

 In the queue waiting to board the train, I got a signal, for the first time since October. Yay!

In the train, nothing.

What is going on?

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Traffic Management Gone Bad

The terminal at Folkestone has taken to doing something odd.  They have built a maze of red and white bollards.  You go in one end and park up.  Then when it's time to go to France you follow the lanes and you double back on yourself.  And after about ten times as far, end up in the same place.
It used to be that when they called you to your train you headed to the passport and security checks.  So since there were several lanes of parking, several lanes of traffic had to merge into one.  It wasn't ever a problem that I could see.  

But now about 20% of the parking spaces have been taken up by traffic management bollards.  And we all have to get into a single lane and snake through the car park .  Come the spring bank holiday weekend, it is going to be chaos. 

I anticipate chaos, come the bank holiday. This is a bad idea idea M Gounon.  Ditch it