Off to the EU

We’re in mainland Europe again, briefly. Our two Labour MEPs for Yorkshire and Humberside host a group visit to the European Parliament every now and then. So we had to sign up. Last chance saloon.

And after a night on the high seas, a day in a coach, here we are. Not in Strasbourg, not even in France, but nearby, in Germany, in the Black Forest. Watch this space.

Approaching the port of Rotterdam at dawn yesterday.

Snapshot Saturday: a truly turbulent yet transient sunset

We had quite an arresting sunset the other night.  As with all sunsets, it was evanescent: here at one moment and gone the next.  I’ll show it to you at the end of the post, together with the rainbow that briefly accompanied it in a rainless sky.

That sunset though reminded me of another sunset, even more dramatic, which we experienced in France in February 2014.  Evanescent it might have been.  But it’s etched in my memory forever.

Sunset seen from the church at Laroque d’Olmes.
The moment is almost over.

Now then.  Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago.   Which do you prefer?

A response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Evanescent.

Snapshot Saturday: Danger! Death by chilli

M. Chilli’s chillies

When we lived in France, the easiest way to persuade a French friend that you did not have their interests at heart was to produce a spiced dish, especially one with chillies in.

‘Oh, we love spicy food’, declared Henri and Brigitte when we broached the subject of cooking them a curry.  All the same, we were careful.  We dished up a korma so mild that it barely qualified as spiced at all.  ‘Ouf!’ exclaimed Henri, after the first tentative mouthful – ‘are you trying to kill us?’

With this in mind, it was a huge surprise to us when one Friday in Lavelanet market, we came upon a man with a stall full of chillies.  Orange chillies, yellow chillies, green chillies, purple chillies, fresh chillies, dried chillies.  He had no customers at all.  So he had time to chat to us, and explained that he’d come to love chillies, and to be passionate about seeking out new varieties, growing and using them.  He was one of two such growers in France.  We bought from him.  He had other English customers.  The French?  Not so much.

Jean Philippe Turpin and his stall at Mirepoix market.

That was five years ago.  After relying on northern Europeans to bail him out, slowly but surely he started to attract a few French customers too.  He’s still in business.  Perhaps, despite the danger represented by a Red Savina chilli rated 500,000 on the Scoville scale, he hasn’t managed to kill anybody off yet.

M. Chilli’s smallholding, devoted exclusively to chillies, chillies, and more chillies.


This post responds to this week’s WordPress photo challenge: ‘Danger!’


My University assignment

Here I am, still slaving away at Blogging 101, the University of Blogging.  I’m beginning to get a bit on edge when I fire up the laptop in the morning, because I know Senior Lecturer and Course Director Michelle W will have sent out yet another assignment requiring us to tweak and tinker with our blogs, and generally bring them up to scratch.  I even played hooky the day before yesterday, and the day before that.  Doesn’t she know I have a LIFE to lead?

However, here I am again, back in the University Libary (aka our study).  Today we have to write a post.  And it’s to be inspired by a blog we found yesterday, a blog new to us, which we felt moved to comment on.

I discovered Katherine Price.  She can write in a way that takes me to her world, her street, her little stretch of the Thames and help me to savour with her the local trees and the daily rhythms of the birds, whether a clamour of rooks, or a solitary kingfisher streaking past.  The first post I read was a bit of a hymn to staying put and not moving on, a hymn to her home in suburbia.

And it got me thinking about where I live now, and where I used to live… and the time before that… and the time before that.  It reminded me of a post I wrote almost 5 years ago, and I thought it was maybe time to revisit it and re-work it.

I spent my childhood in London: population 8.5 million.

Then I went to University in Manchester: population 2.5 million.

A few years later I was living in Leeds: population 751,000.

And then we moved to Harrogate: population 76,000.

Then we went to France and I started a blog. We lived in Laroque d’Olmes with about 2,500 other people.

And now we’ve come back to England, and we live in North Stainley.  This is a village whose population is about 730.

Can you see a pattern here?

Everwhere I’ve lived has seemed special at the time.  I used to relish all that a big city could offer, whether the museums, cinemas, or the huge choice of shops.  As I moved onwards and downwards, I remembered instead and with some horror the crowds, the dirt, the general busy-ness of the place before.  Good heavens, even Laroque, not big enough to support a range of shops, much less a cinema or a swimming pool seems rather exotic compared with the facilities in North Stainley (a village hall, a church, and a pub,  to be re-opened in early spring). We’ve traded cinemas for a film on Saturdays once every 6 weeks in the village hall, and shops for the chance to buy eggs from the farm not far from here.  And this blog is where I often report on what we discover as we explore our local countryside .

I’ll leave you with a quiz: can you identify each of the places I’ve lived in from these images?


Here’s a town we Brits should know.  It’s where 1066 And All That really began.  William of Normandy and his troops set sail from here, landed on the English south coast and won the Battle of Hastings.  William became King of England, introduced a whole new French vocabulary into the English language (‘Pork or beef, madam?’), and his brother Odo commissioned the first strip cartoon, the Bayeux tapestry, to record and commemorate the event.  Later though, in 1431, the English held Joan of Arc captive here, before conveying her to Rouen to be burnt at the stake.

En route from France to England: a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons)
En route from France to England: a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons)

Even without those compelling reasons to make a pilgrimage, Saint Valery is worth a detour.  It was and is a harbour and a fishing town with a picturesque mediaeval centre.  Like many pretty towns on the coast, it’s popular with writers and artists: Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas  all had homes here, and we spent a pleasant day exploring, poking round the (rather touristy) Sunday market, choosing a restaurant-stop, and generally enjoying the pleasures of a seaside town.

While we were there, something special happened.  After lunch (moules, what else?) we wandered down to the beach.  There, on the other side of the estuary, were sheep, paddling.  Dozens of sheep, scores of sheep, hundreds of sheep.  They’re unique.  They’re bred from English Suffolk and Hampshire sheep, and they spend their lives grazing the salt marshes., which gives them a highly regarded flavour, rich in mineral salts, and the name ‘Estran salt meadow lamb’.  The life of those sheep, and their shepherds, and sheep dogs, is an energetic one.  They have to keep moving each and every day to avoid getting stuck in the damp and boggy sand.  Their shepherds keep an eye on them, oiling their feet to prevent foot rot, and every night the flock returns to pens with fresh straw via a special tunnel under the road.

Sheep grazing at the estuary.
Sheep grazing at the estuary.

Before we left, we wandered through the harbour, and up to the Chapelle des Marins, a neo-Gothic building, built on the site where the hermit-saint Gualaric, who gave his name to the town, once lived.  It’s a good place from which to say ‘Goodbye’ to the town and get some final views of the bay.

Farmland outside Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.
Farmland outside Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.

The sea, the sea

We’ve just had a brilliant few days away.  First of all in Norfolk, then the Baie de Somme.  I’ve realised I love the sea.  Not sun-kissed beaches, though.  Not  ‘miles and miles of golden sand….’ *.  Definitely no lying around sun-bathing for me, and building sandcastles is only fun for the first ten minutes.

No, I love the kind of seaside we’ve enjoyed this week.  In north Norfolk, we seemed to be on the coast whenever it was low tide, squinting at the distant sea in retreat, as it left behind belts of shingle, mud, scrubby dunes and sand.  We’d get a convincing work-out crunching along a stony,pebbly beach, taking in the views across a flat but ever-changing landscape in subtle shades of mossy greens, grey and beige, and across a sea foaming white as it crashed to the shore, but with its own varied palette of bands of blue and grey from the shore to the distant horizon. The sky went in for moody tones, too, rather than clear summery blues, with feathery scudding clouds chased along by the rather challenging winds.P1200181

We weren’t there just for the landscape though. Birds come here to live and breed, and as birds of passage too.  There are supposed to be as many as 420 species here.  We knew that while the birds are nesting they are less visible than at some other times of the year.  Though we’ve just got ourselves pairs of binoculars, we haven’t yet got the skills to identify everything we see.  But we still wanted to be down on the seashore, every chance we got.

Then it was the Baie de Somme, a mere 90 minutes from Calais.  We all know about the Somme and the bloody, ceaseless, pointless battle that took place some distance inland during WWI, in 1916.  But the Somme estuary is a peaceful place.  Like north Norfolk, it’s an area of marshland, water and sky.  It offers fresh, brackish and salted water as a rich habitat for a huge variety of birds – and seals. We weren’t very successful bird watchers here either, but it didn’t stop us trying.

*’…in Whitley Bay, Northumberland’.  Travel slogan, Whitley Bay,   February 1964

Ey up le Tour

North Lees, the hamlet after North Stainley, welcomes the Tour.
North Lees, the hamlet after North Stainley, welcomes the Tour.

The final post about le Tour de France.  I promise.  Because  it’s actually over, as far as Yorkshire’s concerned.  And as far as poor old Mark Cavendish is concerned too.

But Saturday was all about Stage One of the Tour.  Up early, I dashed over to the next village, West Tanfield, to buy a paper before the road closed for the day.  Six mini buses were disgorging security guards who immediately took up positions round the streets.  What could be going on?  Later, I found out.  ‘Wills and Kate’ ( the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to you, please), due to open the Tour at Harewood House between Leeds and Harrogate, were to be helicoptered into West Tanfield at 1.00 o’clock.  Later still, we discovered that my friend Penny was among those who had been presented to the Royal couple – and to Prince Harry too – since her husband’s Chair of the Parish Council there.

West Tanfield would have been a good place to be for other reasons.  The riders swoop down a hill into the village and make a sharp turn over a narrow stone bridge before the long straight run into North Stainley.  So there were vans from radio stations, cranes ready to hoist TV cameras aloft, and would-be spectators galore, already taking their places at prime spots and keeping the local pub and shop busy.

The busy streets of West Tanfield, 8.00 a.m. , Tour Stage One.
The busy streets of West Tanfield, 8.00 a.m. , Tour Stage One.

But we’d decided to stay put.  Daughter and family had come over from Bolton and we decided that we should profit from the fact that the Tour actually passed the end of the drive. We sauntered down to the village to the stalls on the cricket pitch, and watched a little of the early action on the big screen in the village hall.  Back home, we spent a happy quarter of an hour chalking ‘Ey up, Laroque’ on the road to greet all our friends in France when the TV cameras passed over.  It worked, as my camera shot of the TV screen proves.  But it only lasted a second and nobody but us saw it. Ah well.

If you'd watched the TV attentively, you'd have seen our greeting.
If you’d watched the TV attentively, you’d have seen our greeting.

What we saw though were billboard adverts that appeared for the duration all along the roadside for companies that don’t exist in England – PMU, Carrefour –  and which had already disappeared an hour after the racers had passed through.

Ellie, Phil, Ben and Alex welcome the publicity caravan.
Ellie, Phil, Ben and Alex welcome the publicity caravan.

Then, finally …. tour officials in their Skodas…. British police on motorbikes….. French gendarmes on motorbikes….. support vehicles… and the publicity caravan.  It wasn’t as extensive as it had been in France, but there WERE vehicles advertising French companies we don’t have in the UK, as well as British ones too.  The total haul of freebies my grandchildren had thrown towards them consisted of two Skoda sunhats and a key ring.  And then …….. the riders.  Amazingly, after five hours up hill  and down dale they were still riding in a solid phalanx, whirring towards us as a purposeful army.  And then…. they were gone.  Team vehicles loaded up with  spare bikes aloft, more police and ambulance support followed…. and it was over.  For us.  Time to switch on the television and follow the action into Harrogate.

Rabbits on Tour.
Rabbits on Tour.
My shockingly bad - and only - photo of the riders passing our gate.
My shockingly bad – and only – photo of the riders passing our gate.

Disappointingly, my crop of Tour photos is exceptionally poor.  So  I’ll focus on a final look at North Stainley, which took the Tour to its heart, and delivered a very special homage to France and the Tour de France.