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.