A stop off in Paris on my way back to the Dordogne, South West France following my trip to London provided an opportunity to catch Burberry’s exhibition “Here We Are,” featuring the “British Way of Life.”
Visiting the Republique district of Paris for ten days after London and Hong Kong, the exhibition was held in the former premises of the newspaper “Liberation.” The exhibition, occupying three levels of the premises features works by over 30 major British photographers including Janette Beckman, Jane Bown, Brian Griffin, Dafydd Jones, Karen Knorr, Martin Parr, Charlie Phillips, Andy Sewell and Jo Spence.
The collection was co-curated by Lucy Kumara Moore, director of the London fashion and photography bookstore Claire de Rouen Books, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and photographer Alasdair McLellan.
The photographs offer a nostalgic look at British documentary photography which even today continue to inspire Bailey and his designs for the Burberry brand. Although Moore explains “What you see in the photographs is not really the way Britain is anymore.” The photographs document British style and society between World War II and 1986.
Alongside more recent photos of Burberry ad campaigns, the historical images show iconic British looks from various eras: working-class laborers wearing plaid jackets, equestrian riders in red jackets and tall boots, soldiers in uniforms, punk kids in suspenders, and socialites in gowns at decadent parties. The photographs begin in 1955 with a Teddy Girl an Edwardian-dressed rebel member of the 1950s girl gang the Teddy Girls, and end in 1986, with raucous scenes of a London nightclub shot by the street photographer Tom Wood. Moore says these years in particular are telling of postwar progress in Britain: They span the end of rationing, and the launch of the first mass-market home computer package.
The bare concrete walls and unfinished open space proved a perfect backdrop for the more urban photographs in the exhibition. The more colourful photos, particular those of soldiers in their dress uniforms were less at home against the grey background of the concrete walls. Burberrys own fashion display spanning the period of the exhibition had its own vibrant story to tell.
The exhibition, in addition to the photographs and fashion featured film reels of the occupants of a London tenement providing their very different accounts of how they spent their post war black and white days.
After wandering through the exhibition, it was up to the roof top terrace for some champagne and canapes. Even with grey cloud filled skies and a chilly wind there was no denying the views of the Sacre Coeur and Eiffel Tower were spectacular. Thank you Burberry.
It was an enormous privilege for me to visit the Jozef Pilsudski Institute in London. The Institute is housed in the Polish Social and Cultural Centre in King Street, Hammersmith which ironically I recognised immediately as a result of television interviews of the president following an outbreak of hate crimes against Polish citizens following the Brexit vote.
The building itself must be a haven for Poles living in London and those out with the city who are able to travel there. From the moment the doors close, shutting out the London street noise you have a sense of crossing a border and entering another country. Polish notices, the buzz of Polish voices from the bar and restaurant and a forceful rendition from a musical-first in English then Polish leave no doubt but that the institution is well used. A fountain in the reception area offers a peaceful respite for those who wish a little calm before going outside and facing the challenges that presents.
The London Josef Pidulski Institute is a museum dedicated to the memory of Polish General Josef Pidulski,who halted the Russian advance at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. At that time rated the 18th most important battle ever. The work of the Institute includes collecting, archiving and examining documents concerning Poland’s most recent history. The Institute organises lectures, book presentations and exhibitions based around the life and times of Josef Pidulski. The Institute also presents the #Enigma Relay Project which is designed to explain the often overlooked part played by the Polish cryptanalysts in the race to break the Nazi German Enigma machine code.
I found my way to the rooms on the second floor. To visit the Jozef Pilsudski Institute was for me amazing. I was very impressed with the exhibits relating to Enigma especially the manner in which it had been chosen to present the achievements of the Polish mathematicians in breaking Enigma. The exhibition focused on the whole story, not the initial breaking of the Enigma code which has undoubtedly carried out by the Poles in 1932.
The exhibition, the #EnigmaRelay focusses on the group of individuals at the core of the Enigma code breaking story. Throughout the II World War. This begins with Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski as the mathematicians but also references among others Major Gwido Langer, Maksymilian Ciezki, Alan Turin, Captain Bertrand, Dilly Knox and Gordon Weschman.
One of the highlights of my visit was to see on display an Enigma machine constructed to Polish design in France whilst France was under German Occupation. The machine was hidden by the cryptologists at their base near Uzes in the South of France and was recovered by Marian Rejewski and Henryk Zyglaski after the 2nd World War.
The Institute is open Tuesdays 11am to 6pm and Thursdays 11am to 19pm and the first Saturday of every month 11am to 16pm. It is free.
I was chased of –very politely, early, from my visit as they were holding a private reception-I’m sure I’ll be back.
For the second time in two years I found myself trekking in the Pyrenees. I have to admit I found it a very humbling experience this time around. Not only was I overwhelmed with the beauty and majesty of my surroundings, but this time around I was all the more conscious of the hardships suffered by Marian Rejewski, whose life in the inspiration for my historical thriller, The Cypher Bureau, published by the Book Guild.
Marian Rejewski and his colleagues walked from France to Spain in 1942 to escape Nazi occupation.
The trek, difficult enough with modern clothing and equipment was impossible to imagine from the perspective of Marian Rejewski. He had been on the run for months. The weather conditions were at their worst. When Marian made the crossing, it was April. The most dangerous time of year. The prospect of Nazi capture and torture behind, the belief that ahead things could only be better must have been a forceful motivator.
Between 1939 and 1945 it is estimated between 30 000 and 100 000 made the perilous crossing from France to Spain across the Pyrenees. Allied service men, Jews, European nationals escaping the Nazi regime. Men, women and children fleeing for freedom, following one of the Chemin des Libertie which were established and run with fearlessness by brave locals who risked their lives to save those whom they led across the mountains. The elderly, children, the infirm and the injured. Crossing the mountains to save their lives, in the knowledge that if they could not keep up with their guide and fellow ‘parcels’ they would be left to die alone in the mountains.
Before the outbreak of the II World War, the flow of refugees had been from Spain to France, consisting primarily of Republicans escaping General Franco's recriminations in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The French authorities built concentration camps to house these refugees. The camps were later used by the Vichy government to house Jews.
Initially the patrolling of the Pyrenees was fairly relaxed but once the whole of France was occupied, escape became much more difficult. More efficient border patrols were put in place and there were vicious reprisals against French people who sheltered and aided refugees. Many French people were captured tortured and sent to concentration camps or killed for helping refugees.
Several well-organised escape lines were in operation throughout the war including the Comet Line, the Pat O'Leary Line and the Marie Claire Line. For each line the procedure was similar. Escapees were passed from link to link in the chain by a succession of local "helpers" who clothed, fed and hid them, usually at great personal risk to themselves. Having reached the mountains, the escapees were hidden in secret collecting areas and formed into groups ready for the final night ascent to the Spanish border.
The Freedom Trail or La Chemin de la Libertie was inaugurated in 1994 as an official way-marked walk. The path commemorates one of the several secret escape routes over the central Pyrenees into northern Spain during the Second World War and today many people make the walk to commemorate those who gave their lives to save others.
The New Year,
A time of celebration all over the world. A time to make resolutions, or not. A time of reflect on happy times, or mistakes made and to remember loved ones lost.
Brought up in Scotland, where the focus is always on the year which has passed, New Year has always seemed to me a rather melancholy time of year. Particularly in the North of Scotland where weather conditions drive all but the most adventurous, or those whose work necessitates going outdoors, to stay indoors in front of a roaring fire. This coupled with the short dark winter days seems to encourage the tales of ghosts and phantoms with which Scotland is so closely associated. From my childhood I remember the visitors and stories, dances and ceilidhs. Black coal and my father rushing to open the back door at midnight to let the old year out and then the front door to let the New Year in
Now that I live in France, it has fascinated me that the New Year celebrations here focus on the year to come. It is the coming of the New Year that is celebrated, not the passing of the old. Looking forward rather than backwards.
In France, the revillion de fin d’annee is typically a celebration to be spent more with friends than family. Generally, it is considered bad luck to wish anyone a Happy New Year before midnight on the 31st December.
Cards are not commonly sent however with the focus on the year to come New Year cards may be sent during the whole of January. Local town halls often have "Cérémonie de Voeux" sometime in early January which may or may not coincide with the traditional eating of the Galette des Rois. This ceremony usually takes the form of an apéritif to wish everybody good wishes (voeux) for the New Year.
The Fête des Rois is a traditional celebration in France on January 6. This is not a public holiday and the day is celebrated on the first Sunday of January, unless the first Sunday falls on New Year’s day, in which case it’s celebrated the following Sunday.
Two weeks after Christmas this tradition celebrates what is officially called the Epiphany or day of the kings and has its origins in ancient Roman and Christian traditions.
A Roman festival called “Les Saturnales” was a festival of prosperity during which masters would serve their servants, offering gifts –often a cake with a bean inside-called the fève. The servant finding the fève was nominated king for a day.
The Epiphany in Christian tradition commemorates the voyage of the three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus. The wise men became kings. As a consequence, they are called “les Rois Mages” (the Mages). In 1801 the date for the celebration of Epiphany was set on January 6th.
The “ Galette des Rois” is a special “cake” made for the celebration and contains either one fève or two ( a king and a queen) per galette. The word fève refers to a type of bean, which was originally used in the cake. The fève has changed greatly over the centuries and it’s now most commonly made of plastic and represents a small figure in the shape of a king, and queen if there are two.
.The person or persons finding the piece of cake with the fève become king, and queen if there are two, for the day and is/are entitled to wear the golden colour paper crown(s), supplied with the cake.
In France, again with the focus on the year ahead, there tends to be no office Christmas parties, instead an aperitif in January is more likely, similarly with clubs and associations, celebratory dinners often take place in Janaury.
However New Year is celebrated once January is over, it is time to clear up the debris and get on with the year ahead.
There was no way I was going to miss the Dordogne branch of the Franco British Chamber of Commerce Christmas Event on 14th December 2017. Wine tasting and nibbles with a live band thrown in. The event was held at College-Lycee Le Cluzeau, Sigoules-and, appropriately in view of the location focused on youth opportunity with significant contributions from many of the bilingual pupils of the establishment.
As one might expect from the chamber, the food and wine were both delicious and plentiful. As if to establish Dordogne as the French capital of food. The event also provided members with an opportunity to display their food and wine and offer samples to guests.
Founded in 1873, the Franco-British Chamber takes pride in its long and distinguished history. It is both the oldest British Chamber of Commerce in Europe and the oldest ‘foreign’ Chamber of Commerce in France. Despite two World Wars, the Great Depression and the recent Global Economic crises, the Chamber has proven a remarkably dynamic and adaptable organisation, uniting and assisting the Franco-British business community for 140 years.
The objectives of the Chamber are to
Promote business trade between the UK and France
Drive and promote the Franco-British business community
Assist members promote and develop their business activity in France and the UK
Provide members with information and expertise via its network of specialists.
All credit to the Dordogne branch who have not only managed to negotiate lower membership rates for rural Dordogne, but are also the only branch to provide some of the mandatory chamber of commerce courses in English.
The Dordogne branch hold regular networking events in Dordogne and usually have experts available to provide advice to attendees. The website http://www.francobritishchamber.com/ has full details and the Dordogne Regional Delegate is Roger Haigh Email firstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn’t all free wine and chocolate however. Immediately prior to the Christmas event there was a Question Time session with Matthew Lodge, the Plenipatentiary minister to the British Embassy in Paris. The subject matter for questions was Franco-British relations in the Current Political Climate. If the raised voices and anxious faces which were very much in evidence when I arrived were anything to go by the minister had found the focus of questions centered around worries about the effects of Brexit. I was very sorry to miss most of this session as a result of work commitments. It seemed to me that the minister had been sent to the provinces from Paris to reassure worried ex-pats regarding the uncertainty that is Brexit. Whilst he was able to assure those present that the Embassy and her servants were available to assist so far as they were able every individual case, he was unable to more much in the way of information. Another visit was promised as soon more concrete information becomes available. For those at the meeting who had very valid concerns about the uncertainties Brexit has brought to their lives, he could do little more than confirm that it was inevitable that there would be casualties.
BLOODY SCOTLAND Crime writing festival.
BLOODY SCOTLAND, Bloody Hell, Bloody Marvellous. –what a festival! What can I say? I’ll be back.
Having being unable to attend Bloody Scotland 2016, I was determined to make the most of Bloody Scotland 2017. This meant I attended every event I could –My Bloody Scotland got off to a good start with an excellent writing workshop led by writer Doug Johnstone. The official start of Bloody Scotland took place with a reception at Stirling Castle, an inspired choice of venue. Guests walked up the cobbled street to the castle, which enjoys panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, and were then were piped through the courtyard and into the Great Hall. Here we were treated to glasses of fizz, a selection of excellent nibbles including haggis in breadcrumbs with a spicy sauce- not a variant I had tried before but it tasted delicious. The writers participating in the festival were piped into the hall, to much applause, followed by speeches and more applause. As a finale, Denise Mina was announced as the winner of the McIlvanney prize for her novel “The Long Drop.”
The piper returned to lead Denise Mina, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin and the other writers from the Great Hall out onto the ramparts of the castle. Those who wished to carry a torch in the torch procession from the castle to the Albert Halls waited as night fell and the torches were distributed and lit.
I, off course, had enrolled for the torchlight parade at the first opportunity, and, by chance I had been at the back of the Great Hall when the reception came to a close. I fell into place behind the writers as they were piped from the hall. Again, by chance, I found myself just behind Denise Mina, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid as the procession began to form and I tucked myself in behind them as the procession began to wind its way down the castle wynd and along the Spittal to the Albert Halls, which is how I managed to appear in the background in a number of photos of the procession.
Stirling old town is medieval, and very atmospheric. Walking along the cobbled streets, holding a lit torch it was easy to imagine another place and time.
After the procession Ian Rankin gave an entertaining talk on Thirty Years of Rebus. I attended further events on Saturday and Sunday. The events, for the most part involved several writers talking about their projects and inspirations with a period at the end of each session for questions from the audience.
I enjoyed all the events I attended. Highlights, what can I say? There were many. I was thrilled to hear Dame Sue Black, forensic anthropologist, anatomist and Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee, a native of Inverness, who has long been a hero of mine. She was in the course of her talk at great pains to thank Bloody Scotland and the Scottish Crime Writers for their assistance in raising funding for the recent morgue in Dundee. It was great to hear John Simenon talking about his father Georges and forthcoming Maigret projects, Graeme Macrae Burnet chatting about France and his writing-for me His Bloody Project is an extra-ordinary book. Chris Brookmyre –one of my favourite writers, as entertaining in person as in his books. Can You Handle the Truth was a must for me-three talented lawyers by day, three talented crime writers by night. G.J.Moffat, Steve Cavanagh and Imran Mahmood each read a section from their book. All were completely different but equally compelling. Another must for me was From Cops to Robbers- three former police officers turned crime writers. This was the most author exposed event I have ever attended. All three speakers had differing perspectives of law enforcement and its operation yet all three were passionate, some to the point of tears about their work as police officers. For me, an added bonus to meet R.J. Mitchell, not often I run into someone who worked in Blackhill, Glasgow at the same time I did. Another unexpected bonus was hearing The Fun Loving Criminals in action. A band formed from the ranks of the writers proving just how talented these people are. Val McDermid has an amazing voice, Doug Johnstone- fantastic drummer, Chris Brookmyre-shaky egg-a league of his own. Lynda LaPlante wound up the Crime writing festival that is Bloody Scotland. All I can say is –if you ever get an opportunity to listen to this lady –grab it.
Best of all I left with some great new friends-thank you Vicki Clifford, Wendy H. Jones and Robin Morton.
I was thrilled to be invited to the British Ambassador’s residence in Paris as part of the launch of Les Fete des Voisins particularly as it was a short piece of writing which led to my invitation.
“I think one of my fondest memories of France is of tearing around L’etoile in Paris with a group of French people, of a similar age to me, who for some reason adopted me when I moved to Paris for an extended holiday about thirty years ago. There were at least five of us jammed into Christophe's 2CV which was post box red and customised with long black eyelashes. It was rush hour and the traffic was crazy, but somehow Christophe managed to safely co-ordinate the round-about. The moment has stayed fresh in my memory after all these years, somehow summarising the wildness, unpredictability and care freeness of youth, with a quintessentially French twist.
Je pense que l’un de mes meilleurs souvenirs, c’est la descente les Champs Elysées à toute vitesse avec un groupe de jeunes de mon âge qui, pour une raison que j’ignore, m’ont adoptée à mon arrivée en France (au début pour des vacances, qui se sont un peu prolongées) il y a 30 ans. On était au moins cinq entassés comme des sardines dans la 2CV de Christophe, une voiture rouge pétante qu’il avait personnalisée avec de longs cils noirs. C’était l’heure de pointe, il y avait des voitures partout, mais Christophe a réussi à naviguer à travers le rond point sans problème, je ne sais toujours pas comment il a fait. Ce moment est resté gravé dans ma mémoire à jamais, symbolisant l’abandon, l’imprévisible, l’insouciance de la jeunesse, avec une nuance typiquement française.”
The campaign was launched on the 17th March 2017 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and was seen by many as an opportunity to show that Britain, notwithstanding the ongoing Brexit process, was very much open for business and keen to maintain close links with European neighbours.
14 million Brits visit France each year. 18 000 French students study in the UK. 60 000 passengers use the Channel Tunnel every day. 400 000 British and French people have chosen to live on the other side of the Channel. With stats like these it is easy to see the importance of staying on friendly terms.
The British Ambassador’s residence was sumptuous as one might expect. Entry required production of ID, a bag search and production of a valid invitation. Once through the wrought iron entrance gates, one found the courtyard filled with an impressive display of the Best of British cars. Thereafter sweeping steps gave entry to the residence itself. I was one of the earlier arrivals and had an opportunity to wander through the impressive reception rooms and beautiful gardens of the property before the majority of other guests arrived. The guests comprised other voisins like myself who had submitted stories to the competition run by the British Embassy in Paris and neighbours to the Ambassador’s residence.
The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo made a welcome speech as did the British Ambassador,Edward Llewellyn,OBE.
There was a delicious and impressive buffet including some particularly British specialities, accompanied by a selection of wines, and beers.
The evening passed too quickly and all too soon it was time to leave clasping my goody bag containing my very own kit to have my very own Fete des Voisins chez moi- a banner, stickers, invitations, postcards, pens, the recipe for the trifle which had been served, and a T-shirt.
This was a celebration about individuals, the people who had moved countries and made a new life in their new country. A celebration of friendship. My visit to the embassy was on the 17th May 2017. The recently elected President Macron visited the Ambassador’s residence only weeks after my visit to sign the book of condolences following a terror attack in London. A poignant reminder that neighbours are there for celebrations certainly but the sad times too.
Hello and welcome to my brand new website and very first blog. Today, there are only ten days left until the publication of my very first novel. I have been becoming increasing anxious about getting bad reviews and the possible reactions to my book. Each time I sat down to get started on my blog I was flooded with anxiety, almost as much as when I first started putting pen to paper, in my attempts to write stories, many years ago. It seemed destined that my first blog was just going to be an angst ridden splat on my brand new web page. But fortunately, an unexpected and exciting invitation has saved me and you, the reader from this sorry fate- until perhaps next week when the publication date will be even closer and presumably I will be even more anxious.
Yes, my salvation arrived in my inbox this morning. An invitation to a soiree at the British Embassy in Paris. With access to food, wine and journalists, this was not only too good to be true but every aspiring novelists dream. I could hardly say no, could I. Next week, instead of worrying about my book publication, I shall be making my way to Paris, to partake in the launch of La Fete des Voisins.
Funnily enough, my invite was occasioned though taking just a few minutes to respond to a notice which happened to catch my eye when scrolling through my facebook news. The British Embassy had requested, as part of a celebration of the good relations between Britain and France, Francophiles to take pen to paper, or more appropriately fingers to keyboard, and write down an experience which in some way typified life in France.
I have spent several periods living in France, once on a French exchange when I was sixteen when I lived with a French family for a month. Later when I spent six weeks exploring Paris, more recently an extended holiday in the south near Cannes and finally the last ten years during which I have been permanently resident in France.
I have many memories and experiences, which surely could only happen in France, but I can’t recount them with the justice they deserve in this short blog, but I do plan to share them in future blogs and short stories. Hunting for snails with a birdcage early one morning in Gertrude’s garden nearly featured but I couldn’t quite get the words to come together. Somehow there was only one that seemed to capture the essence of what was being sought succinctly. Fleeing round The Etoile, the roundabout, which has, at it’s centre The Arc de Triomph, in a bright red 2CV. I fondly recounted this memory from my youth and it has been selected as one of the many stories to feature on a website to form part of the campaign. I had no idea when I sat down to write my account that anything would follow from that. Now I am going to Paris!
Just another small example of all the opportunities that are out there if only we can see them and grab them with both hands.