Thursday Thanks #6

france_sm_2016

At the end of this week I shall be going back to France, a country whose language, culture, food, wine and climate I love. As a welcoming liberal modern democracy, it is a far cry from the country it was when my father made that journey seventy-seven years ago. He went along with hundreds of thousands of others as part of the British Expeditionary Force to help defend France. At that time Nazi Germany had invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and Panzer divisions were attacking France through the Ardennes, driving the British troops back towards the northern coast around Dunkirk. There they were trapped with no means of escape until Churchill and his war cabinet drew up a plan, which was codenamed Operation Dynamo, to evacuate all the allied soldiers  from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk at the end of May 1940. Churchill, in a speech to the British Parliament had described the events in France as “a colossal military disaster” and that “the whole root and core and brain of the British army had been stranded in Dunkirk” and were about to perish there. What happened there seventy-seven years ago, he also later described as “a miracle of deliverance”.

Because between 26th May and 4th June 1940, thousands of soldiers were rescued by a hastily assembled  flotilla of over eight hundred boats of varying shapes and sizes, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats, and merchant marine sent from the south coast of England. On the first day of the evacuation only seven and a half thousand were rescued; but by the end of the evacuation three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twenty-six soldiers had been saved from certain death or capture. As it was, over sixty-eight thousand soldiers lost their lives, and almost all of the tanks, vehicles and other equipment were abandoned  in northern France.

I am proud to say my father was there and certainly saved in that evacuation. He never spoke to me of those events in Dunkirk or of eventually being rescued; I am sure that something like that left deep scars on the psyche of a twenty-two year old. And so in this Thursday Thanks, I want to thank my father (who died sixteen years ago in 2001) and pay tribute to all those others who have allowed my generation to have the freedom that we enjoy today, and in particular for me, being able to make those regular journeys to France which I so enjoy.

Photo on 28 May 2017, 16_16_18

My father is pictured just to the left of the striped post in the centre of the photograph, on his return to England after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Thursday Thanks #5

IMG_1423

There are a few more days left of this holiday, staying at our house in Canet-en-Roussillon. Just a few hundred metres away, the town’s new Medical Centre is nearing completion. Health-wise we are well served in this area, with a world renowned clinic just a few miles away, a large brand new hospital in Perpignan and two private clinics in the city. The new centre, due to open later this summer will be an important addition to the town’s health facilities for both locals and tourists.

I often pass the building site (photo above) where the centre is taking shape, and that has led me to think about healthcare this week, and for it to be the subject of my Thursday Thanks blog post. It’s not just the new building  which has prompted this, but also a number of friends who have recently undergone medical treatment. Healthcare here in France is supposedly amongst the best in the world, and one of my friends, an eighty six year old ex-pat is recovering well from recent major surgery, and what she describes as excellent treatment, to replace a ball and socket joint in the shoulder.

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom comes in for a lot of criticism, but it is also something that the British are usually very proud of. I certainly am, and with respect to any American friends reading this, I don’t really understand your country’s opposition to a National Health Care system like ours in the U.K. As I get older, like most people, I find I’m needing healthcare more and more, and I know it will always be there when I need it, and it will be free of charge. Another friend has recently had day surgery, and if she is reading this we wish her well.

Most doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare system do a wonderful job, and we can all be grateful for their expertise and care, but many of them on the front line suffer abuse, and of course, we know that there is severe understaffing in the British system. Today, in my Thursday Thanks, I am expressing my gratitude for healthcare in general and for the healthcare that I have received over the years, and those dedicated people who have cared for me and enabled me to be as healthy as I am today! I look forward to the new Medical Centre here, Medi-Canet, being opened and improving the health of the people of this town for many years to come.

Thursday Thanks #4

IMG_1385

In the past week we have travelled to our home in the south of France, to the town of Canet-en-Roussillon to be precise. This town is a seaside resort on the Mediterranean coast in the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, or PyrénéesOrientales to give it its correct French name. The department, similar to an English county, is the southernmost department in France, and has a border with Spain along the Pyrenees. It also has a strong affinity with its Spanish neighbour across the border as the locals here, as there, consider themselves Catalans. French may be the language of this nation, but Catalan is widely spoken here as it is in north eastern Spain down to Barcelona and beyond.

We first came on holiday here nearly twenty five years ago, and have seen the town grow and its amenities improve. Its near neighbour, the city of Perpignan, is only about six miles away, and thankfully for us has an airport with flights to both London and Birmingham, bringing sun seekers in the summer, and skiers to the nearby slopes in the winter.

This fourth Thursday Thanks allows me to express my gratitude for this place and all that it means to me. I’m a sun seeker rather than a skier, but I love the view that greeted me when I opened the bathroom shutters the other morning. The sky was a beautiful blue, but there in the distance to the south west were the snow capped Pyrenees, and as someone who doesn’t like snow, and is not that keen on being in the mountains, I do have to say that I never fail to appreciate that sight.

This is a home from home for me, but it’s not somewhere that I take for granted. I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to come here as often as I do, to enjoy everything that this region has to offer, beautiful scenery, good food, wonderful wine, and (despite my gripe about the wet and windy winter just past in my recent blog post entitled Postcard from Cuba), the climate too!

So today, it’s a thank you for this lovely corner of France, the mountains to the south west, and the sea to the east. Summer is not quite here yet, but it’s not far away!

IMG_0020

 

 

Postcard from Cuba

Photo on 30 Apr 2017, 15_19_29

After seven months overwintering at home in England we arrived back at our house in the south of France yesterday. We’ll be here for just over two weeks on this first trip of what will be a total of sixteen weeks here this year, and already I can see that we shall have to spend quite some time cleaning both inside and out, and doing a fair bit of gardening. They have obviously had a very wet and windy winter down here in the Roussillon. The Tramontane, that north westerly wind that Joanne Harris described in Chocolat, blows winter and summer alike, and this winter it has covered everything in a layer of fine sandy dust and has piled the leaves up against locked doors. It looks too, like the rain has fallen by the bucket full, as our flowering Oleanders are shooting well, the lemon tree has hundreds of buds on it, the vine already has the tiniest clusters of grapes forming, and even the bird of paradise, sheltered in a protected corner of the garden looks like it will give four huge flowers this year.

Our postbox, in typically French fashion, is set into the front wall of our garden. It has not escaped the ravages of either the Tramontane or the winter rains. Usually all it contains when we empty it on a first visit is a pile of junk mail, and the odd bill thankfully already paid by Direct Debit. Most of the contents had got wet at some point, and that inevitable sandy dust had then stuck to them. It didn’t take long to go through it all, throwing most of it in the bin, but there stuck face down to a flyer from a local estate agent was a dirty, damp postcard from Cuba!

The godson, (you’ll remember him, he was with us on our recent trip to Paris) had gone travelling on his own to Cuba last September. He loved the country and its people, but his experiences there were not all good. One night he woke up in a field miles from Havana, covered in insect bites, no wallet, no passport, no iPhone and his white Converse trainers taken from his feet. His drink had been spiked in a bar! The next few days were a mixture of Cuban hospitality and kindness from the hostel where he was staying, a British Embassy where the telephone lines were constantly down, and a sorry tale of trying to get money to him through the Foreign Office in London. Suffice it to say that all was eventually sorted and he was able to enjoy the next ten days, albeit on a temporary passport, paid for in Cuba, with money sent out by his parents through the British Foreign Office, and immediately removed from him on his arrival in London, and nothing but a pair of flip-flops on his feet!

We were here in France when all this happened, and were in touch with his parents and the British Embassy in Havana, so know how stressful it was for everyone. But like many young people he is quite resilient, and was determined that this unfortunate story would not totally spoil his view of Cuba and its people.

It didn’t! That dirty damp postcard sitting in our postbox for six months, having taken the best part of a month to get from Cuba, and suffering from the effects of the southern French wind and rain, told us he was continuing to enjoy his trip despite the setback. A reminder that all’s well that ends well in Cuba, and hopefully here too in the South of France after the winter winds and rain, we are set for a summer of pink flowering Oleanders, a tree full of lemons, a vine heavy with fruit, and those birds of paradise flowers all resplendent in their sheltered corner of our garden as the Mediterranean sun blazes down on us all. Happy days to come!

P.S. The message on the postcard asked if we knew who the two men were? We knew that one was Fidel Castro. The other we discovered was Ernest Hemingway, but perhaps you already knew that!
IMG_0019