Isn’t it ironic?

Europe eh. What more can you say about it that doesn’t sound oddly unexpected? The newly-formed Brexit party, led by the delightful Nigel Farage, won 29 seats to the European Parliament in the recent elections. A massive victory. And this was for a party only 5 minutes old that doesn’t believe in the EU and wants us out asap. That’s its only policy. It’s likely that none of its elected members will ever sit in the parliamentary chambers in Brussels and Strasbourg. Unexplainably weird? Yep. You want more?  We used to be pretty regular, and you’ve got to assume popular, winners of the Eurovision song contest. Then just over 20 years ago every country in Europe started seemingly hating us and we ended up just about last in every competition since then. It happened again a week or so ago; our chappie came last with a miserable total of 16 points whilst the winner received 492. That’s what it’s come to – the country that gave the world The Beatles, The Stones, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Elton John and countless other musical greats, got well and truly twatted in a popular music contest by dozens of countries that have contributed just about Jack Shit to such culture, including the musical giants of Belarus, Albania, San Marino and some place called North Macedonia. Sigh. OK it wasn’t a total surprise.

Then, not content, after a few days the event organisers made a statement admitting that they’d actually made an error in the calculation of the scores for the United Kingdom. So instead of 16 points we’d only scored 11 or something. Two thoughts; what kind of organisers get the arithmetic wrong adding up 16 points? And couldn’t the twats just have said to themselves ‘look it’s bad enough we have to admit this but let’s give those poor Brits a break and not inflict any more shame on them?’ Of course they couldn’t. They couldn’t wait to ladle on a bit more sardonic embarrassment. The nation that stood up to tyranny and evil, sacrificing over 1 million soldiers and civilians in the process, to save Europe in two World Wars in the last century and paved the way for a post-war federation of mutually supportive peaceful trading states, is now a European pariah.

How did it come to this? I really don’t know. Could you imagine them humiliating France or Germany in quite the same way? I doubt it. In fact any other country would have pulled their investment and left the whole overblown ridiculous Eurovision circus long ago. Except that we Brits take these things in our stride; millions of our people love the whole campfest and can’t wait to tune in to Graham Norton’s nice sardonic comments. We know we’re destined to be losers (currently) but we keep a sense of humour about the whole thing. Not because we’re losers – we’re actually a nation of unbelievable achievers – but because we are self-deprecating and enjoy irony. Unlike some nations I could mention here known for their national chauvinism and lack of humour. But I’ll resist naming names.

So undaunted by Europe’s seemingly hostile attitude towards us, we did the only thing that a retired British couple with broad shoulders and thick skins does and followed our irrational love of (almost) all things European, and headed out to Italy for a quick break.  To our place in Marche in fact. No doubt it’ll be sequestrated by the Italian authorities under orders from Brussels as soon as we officially leave the EU on 31 October, should it come to that. But until then we’ll keep heading there, even though the last visit was a sodding nightmare. In fact every trip seems to involve a bloody drama but this one was remarkably crisis-free. We were joined by our super eldest (17 year old) grandson Sammy and his good friend Zak. Sammy last came with us when he was about 6 and we loved having some cool Italy time with him again. After a very wet start, we enjoyed truly fab weather. We spent days at the beach and the boys had time at the gym and two long walks and one hot hilly run to maintain their fitness during close season. We ate out and also shared much time with our super friends and neighbours John and Christine and their friend Mac and lovely Freddy. We’re all pensioners and I’m the young kid on the block, so you can tell how jurassic the company was. So how the young fellahs felt holidaying with grumpy (not really) old senior citizens I do not know. But I think they really enjoyed it. And we loved having them join us. They never experienced Italian sunrises nor indeed any sense of mornings but they loved the afternoons. Teenagers eh. But reassuringly Sammy told us that he thought there was so much about Italy to enjoy eg the weather, food, girls, friendliness, helpfulness, atmosphere and views like this, love him…

You see Europe, we don’t do grudges. We genuinely wanted him to experience Italy as a young man and make his own opinion about it. And despite being surrounded by aged, silver and in my case shaven-headed people, he found joy. That’s what matters. And he found fun, contentment and a sense of wanting to belong without any sense of resentment towards we Brits. I believe real ordinary people in Europe want us to continue be a part of the whole EU enterprise. It’s not a song contest folks, this is reality. I don’t want to get all political; I just wish that our children and grandchildren are lucky enough to continue to embrace being part of feeling truly European.

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Cruel world

Last week in August we headed down to Italy for a week’s break to get some hard work done on the house before the winter. Regular readers will know there’s usually a bloody drama with our visits but this time there was no sense of looking back afterwards and smiling wistfully.

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Moved

Well we’ve just returned from a super family holiday with my lovely daughters and son-in-laws and great grandsons spent in a delightful old farmhouse down in the Lot valley. Everything went beautifully and we had loads of fun, great weather, and nice food and wine. Sadly all great holidays are over much too quickly and we spent the last couple of days driving back. Yesterday we were en route to Calais from our overnight stop in Compiègne and we had a little bit of time to spare. We’d pulled off from the autoroute and headed to Arras to get some shopping from a Leclerc supermarket. Having done that we headed on the A road up to Bethune before picking up the A1 again. En route we passed several of the war cemeteries which pepper this part of N France. I passed the turning for the one at Vimy ridge which I fancied seeing but the traffic was heavy behind me so reluctantly I continued on for short while and came across the British cemetery at Souchez called Cabaret Rouge, named after a former cafe on the site. It looked beautiful and I pulled over for a walk around.

Now I’ve been meaning to visit a First World War site for ages. It may sound a bit dark but the reason is my grandfather saw action in this area losing his leg and killing several of his unit colleagues when he triggered a German mine’s trip wire. He returned home from the war badly smashed up physically and emotionally at the age of just 17. It’s staggering when you think what these young men endured. I was talking to my son-in-law about it on holiday. He had a bit more time on the way back and he and my daughter and the boys were planning to visit Ypres to witness the last post which sounded cool. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the terrible war after all so what better time to make a visit?

I wasn’t disappointed by Cabaret Rouge. It contains nearly 8,000 graves – it’s nowhere near the largest but the sight of all those pristine white headstones is just so moving. The British soldiers buried there were mostly from London regiments and there were many headstones for fallen Canadians. So many of the graves were for unknown soldiers. I couldn’t believe just how many there were. I have to say the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do a fantastic job keeping these cemeteries in stunning condition. We were the only visitors and spent some time just walking round taking things in. It is a poignant sight and I had a moment or two to think about my grandfather and all these men who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we and my family have the freedom today to visit France on holiday. Nobody spotted but I got a little, er, reflective.

I left some words in the visitor book. Many, many people had been there before us and obviously felt similarly. Back in the car I talked to C about making another less hurried visit at some point so we can check out more places and some of the preserved trench systems and the like. I’d like to take in the Somme where I believe my grandfather fought but for the moment I’ll have pleasant memories of an hour at Cabaret Rouge to round off our holiday…

Cabaret_Rouge_British_Cemetery,_Souchez,_France

pp

Italy, always a drama

Well we’re back from a short trip to our place in Italy and as ever it was eventful. First off bloody Stansted. What’s the matter with the people who work there? We rose early (3am!) and got there in good time, had checked-in in advance and only had hand luggage with us. All we had to do was go through the security check and catch a plane. Huh. Everything was going just fine until C handed them, as per security instructions, a clear plastic bag with her small cosmetics in. They had an issue with the bag because it was zippered; apparently it needed to be a plastic bag with a press strip closing. When C asked why, she was informed ‘because of cabin pressures’. Eh?

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catching up

Well it’s been weeks since the last posting – these blogging breaks seem to be becoming a feature of the site – so a quick catch up on recent stuff might be helpful. First off it’s been busy-ish on the work front, especially for C, but the main diversion has been a brilliant two week break over at our place in Italy. For once a holiday rather than a work camp!

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ola malaga

I’m over the World Cup now. It seemed only fitting for Iniesta, Xavi and co to win the thing as Spaniards seem to be winning everything on  the sporting front these days. So we figured if you can’t beat ’em then let’s join them, as last weekend we jetted off to sunny Malaga to attend the super wedding of our daughters’ very good friends Austen and Panni. The guys have been friends since they were all at school together and Austen and his brother Devin were always round our house as teenagers. Even so it was extremely generous of A and P to invite all our family to their wedding.

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the painful rescue

This posting is for G and J, two very good friends of ours. G is a regular commentator on the blog and reminded me recently of a trip we’d made to Portugal perhaps 10 years ago, where J and I helped a woman in trouble in the surf. The memory of it brings tears to my eyes, not because it was a notably joyous and life-affirming moment, but rather because the rescue technique was a little painful…. Continue reading