Archive for September, 2009

Ode to Joy


One of the most amazing things for me in the last week was the dust cloud which enveloped Sydney.  I have family living there and, through the wonders of Facebook, they posted pictures of the impact in their neighbourhood.  It is one of the thing s that I welcome about technological developments like Facebook is that I am able to keep in touch with family I am interested in and care about, but previously would not have known about in the same way because the number of members of the family you keep in touch with by phone is so small.  It has already led to me finding out more about the lives and personalities of wider members of my family and has lead to members of the family at a distance to each other to be in communication in ways they hadn’t before.  When we meet up it will mean we are less strangers to each other, people are brought closer to each other.  Anyway for those who missed it, here is a photo gallery of the dust storm and here is a thorough report with some more amazing pictures from a British paper.

In less than an hour I will be off to join colleagues from the Strasbourg Strollers, the city’s premier cricket team, for the last match of the season against Freiburg Nomads Cricket team, apart from Strasbourg Combined, probably our closest neighbours and therefore something of a derby match.  We had not played each other for a couple of years because their team used to be ultra-competitive whereas we play to enjoy ourselves.  The weather has been a wonderful end to the Summer all week and it looks like being perfect weather for playing cricket.  Add in the fact that Freiburg, is one of my favourite cities and somewhere I would like to live at some point whilst here and it makes a day I have been looking forward to, as well as the fact that over the Summer I got my Strasbourg Strollers shirt and cap, I make no apologies for being excited about this afternoon’s game.  Here I am in February 2008, a day far to sunny and warm for February, people say the place has its own micro-climate:

DSCF4107The coming week is also a busy one with le Racing at home on Monday night.  They’ve made an awful start to the season.  They sacked the manager who had them relegated to Ligue 2 and then didn’t get them promoted back last season and his replacement lasted only a couple of games before he was sacked and they are now bottom of the table propping up the league.  Then on Tuesday it the English Speaking Community-Alsace Music Quiz at the Dubliners.  As reigning champions it is important that we fight to keep our crown.  Then on Wednesday and Thursday it is celebrations for the 60th Anniversary of the Council of Europe which on the second night includes a visit from one of the great men, and a hero of mine, of the last century, Mihajil Gorbachov.  So, it will be welcome relief to get to the end of the week and stay in.  Here is the anthem of the Council of Europe and now seen as the one for Europe too:

Touch my dirndl


All eyes this weekend will be on Germany where there are elections tomorrow and where last weekend the Munich Oktoberfest started.  At the start of the election campaign it looked like Chancellor Angela “Angie” Merkerl and her CDU/CSU party would get enough votes, as would the pro-business FDP, for them to form a government.   A Report in the German media on Wednesday showed that despite what has been called one of the most dull elections it was now looking much closer and that after the German result may see another left/right grand coalition.  This would be something of a success for the leader of the SPD, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had been all but written off.(And has gone from being seen as something of a bureaucrat to having his own version of the Obama Girl.):

One of the things which has been picked up has been the growth of the Pirate Party.(here, here, and here)  After the success of the Swedish Pirate Party in the European elections where it polled enough to gain an MEP, people are questioning whether it might happen in Germany too, or are they a small, very well organised, noisy minority able to get people to a flashmob when Angela Merkerl is speaking but not to get out the vote?  Certainly, in the first round of a by-election in France their Pirate Party managed just over 2% of the vote.  Elsewhere there (and here) has been interest in how well the left party will do.  I might just be sad enough to watch the results come through on German TV tomorrow.

At the same time in Munich the annual Oktoberfest has been taking place.  Here’s Der Spiegel’s quiz about it and here a photo gallery of it.  If you look at the pictures you’ll see women wearing traditional Bavarian dresses (called Dirndl) which is my excuse to show this, “touch my dirndl”:

Village life


As well as a rather long wake, spending time getting new work and then starting doing it and trying to make the most of the end of the Summer there’s not been much time for posting.  Some rare time during the day when I’ve been out in the sun for some time so here I am.

During the time I’ve spent working to get extra work I’ve been travelling to new, for me, parts of Alsace.  One place I’ve been to a number of times for both work and purchasing the flat we live in has been Pfaffenhofen.  It is a very typical Alsacian large village with a centrer comprising many old houses and shops and like many in the area it has a station but no train service, which has been replaced by a bus service.  Whilst the boundaries of the village are well set out with ramparts and defences still visible in some places, the growth of three neighbouring villages has meant they have become to all intents and purposes one larger area.  Here and here are a couple of views of shops in the village.  More recently I’ve started to discover Illkirch Grafenstaden at the southern end of Strasbourg.  As a completist by making a mistake and staying on the tram one stop further than I needed tram line A in Strasbourg was able to join C and D in the list of those I have travelled the full length of.  After leaving the municipal but not built up area of Strasbourg at Bagersee the tram travels past the cross at Place de Calvary and then past Quartier Militaire LeClerc named after the Major General of the same name who liberated Strasbourg in 1944 and recently announced home for some German troops on French soil – which caused some concern amongst more elderly Alsacians, although as many said “If it was good for France” then they would support it.  Then There’s the southern campus of the University of Strasbourg, the International Space University and the Parc d’Innovation.

I’m not the only one this week talking about places in Alsace.  Local boy made good, Arsene Wenger, in a management talk mentioned the things he had leant as a boy living in the pub in he village of Duttlenheim:

The Frenchman has also been waxing lyrical about his upbringing, claiming that growing up above La Croix d’Or (Golden Cross) pub in Duttlenheim, a village in France’s Alsace region, gave him the insight into the ways of men and human psychology for which he is regularly lauded.

Despite projecting an air of European sophistication, it was the earthier exchanges of his parents’ establishment that taught the young Wenger everything he knows, he told an audience of industry leaders at a management conference organised by the League Managers Association.

“There is no better psychological education than growing up in a pub,” said Wenger, “because when you are five or six years old, you meet all different people and hear how cruel they can be to each other. From an early age you get a practical, psychological education to get into the minds of people.

“It is not often that a boy of five or six is always living with adults in a little village. I learned about tactics and selection from the people talking about football in the pub – who plays on the left wing and who should be in the team.”

Being aware of the effects of alcohol also helped to shape the future beliefs of the Frenchman, namely “that drink ought not touch the lips of a player”. The drinking culture which existed at Arsenal when Wenger arrived in 1996 was swiftly broken up and the manager stood firm behind his captain Tony Adams when the defender struggled with his alcoholism.

In Memorium Paul Roberts


Paul Roberts died last Wednesday morning in the hospital here in Paul RobertsStrasbourg after a long illness.  We only met three times in person, but he was JTO‘s closest work colleague from the time he arrived here in Strasbourg and she spent more waking hours with him in that time than with me.  Although we met in person so infrequently, Paul was someone who would give so much of himself and was so close to JTO I felt I knew him so very well, and that he knew me well, so much so that I did what I could for him during his illness.  His memorial service is today in the Grande Salle de ceremonie du Centre Funeraire Nord, Strasbourg Robertsau after which he will be cremated and his remains returned to England.  The ceremony will include some words from the head of his division at work followed by a Welsh song Paul loved, some words from JTO as a friend and a colleague followed by ‘I Will See You in Far Off Places’ from Morrissey.  Another colleague will say some words followed by ‘La Paloma’ before Paul’s last partner will read from a Lorca poem in Spanish which Paul knew by heart and it will finish with a song by Carlos Gardel which is a goodbye to a quarter of Buenos Aires, a place Paul loved and lived in.

Nobody knows what human life is.
Why we come, why we go.
So why then do I know
I will see you,
I will see you in far off places?

The heart knows why I grieve
And yes one day I will close my eyes forever
But I will see you
I will see you in far off places.

It’s so easy for us to sit together
But it’s so hard for our hearts to combine
And why?
And why?
Why? Why? Why? Why?

Destiny for some is to save lives
But destiny for some is to end lives
But there is no end
And I will see you in far off places.

If your god bestows protection upon you
And if the USA doesn’t bomb you
I believe I will see you somewhere safe
Looking to the camera, messing around
and pulling faces.

Paul rest in peace, we’ll miss you.

Dans le Nord


On 11th September most people think and talk about what happened eight years ago, 11th September 2001.  For me and JTO, however, more important is what happened 10 years ago 11th September 1999.  It was the warmest day of the year, far too hot to be dressed up in finery in order  to get married but that’s what we did, especially as my suit was made from gabardine.  A couple of large gin and tonics took the edge off my nervousness.  I had forgotten the three pounds you have to pay on the day but fortunately my brother had it and everyone settled in the town hall in Reading before JTO entered in Jasper Conran to Bob Dylan looking gorgeous.  With friends there were then readings and the ceremony before we headed out to Frank Sinatra.  Photos and one incident where someone tried to join in when photos were being taken in the local park before the wedding breakfast in our favourite local Portuguese restaurant, Eduardos.  The evening do was back in the town hall and is remembered because my father was the fight having taken umbrage with the music policy of the DJ’s, who were only playing what we’d asked them.  We left to spend the night at an old inn nearby, not having stayed in hotels in Reading as I’d lived there all my life choosing one to stay in had been hit and miss although it was certainly a hit for our wedding night.  We had a relaxed rise the next morning and had brunch reading the papers in a nearby hostelry before leaving for the airport and honeymoon in the Maldives.  I’d chosen to travel in my wedding suit and it wasn’t really suitable for the weather in the Maldives either but it did feel good taking my boots off and walking through the sand to our cabin where we spent a wonderful time relaxing, swimming, reading and eating, as well as seeing some of the islands.

So that’s what happened ten years ago, but that’s a long ways off from the ‘le nord’.  No, because to celebrate ten wonderful years we went to the Nord-pas-de-Calais, to be more precise Dunkerque.  The reason for choosing the area was to get some of the atmosphere and see some of the sights of the biggest ever French film, ‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis‘. (Film website here)  Below is the P1040447beffroi for Dunkerque on the left with the church, eglise St Eloi, on the right, they were separated in the 18th Century.  In the background is the town hall which also has a beffroi (belfry) and we were assured that Dunkerque is the only place with two World Heritage belfries.  As you can go up the belfry to see how the P1040472clocher works and to get a great view of Dunkerque.  The picture on the right shows me with JTO and the town hall then the sea of the English Channel behind us.  We caught the train the short distance to the amazing walled town/village of Bergues, which is where the film was P1040570shot, and after a very nice lunch spent Saturday afternoon on a tour of the village looking at the places in the film and going up their bell tower.  But that is for another post.  I  leave with a picture of a beach-hut and people playing football on the beach at the Ch’ti-side.

Come on England


Despite living in France I remain an Englishman and will be heartily cheering for Fabio and the boys in their match tonight.  The only problem is I don’t know where.  There are plenty of Irish pubs in Strasbourg but the ones I’ve tried before have Irish managers so will be watching the (Northern) Irish game and then any other game before they show the English match.  French terrestrial TV shows the French match and no highlights of anything else.  We have only had our satellite for a short period so expecting it to work already is beyond hopeful.  The best bet at the moment seems to be trying to watch it via the BBC text facility and then see the highlights on German TV after their match has finished.  Or I might just watch the French match to hear the yelps of the commentators – after the failure to beat Romania at home last weekend there was anguished soul searching about whether ‘les bleus’ will even qualify for South Africa – before watching the highlights of the England match.

There is the same problem about where I will watch Hope Powell’s side in the final of the Women’s 2009 European Championship the following day where we are up against our supposed old enemy, and my friend, the Germans.  The schedules are not too promising at the moment but I hope some German channel will broadcast it otherwise I will be trying to follow it too on the BBC.

Finally, congratulations to Ghana and Brazil who qualified on Saturday for the final in South Africa and, I was going to comment on this being the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year but someone has already beaten me to it.(Add it to the list so it wasn’t Bird Flu, the Millennium bug etc which killed us all off….)

UPDATE: So, it’s congratulations to the England team and what a comprehensive way to qualify for South Africa.  Well done to Fabio and all the team.  I had to follow the match via the BBC website and then saw the goals in highlights on German TV who the next day broadcast the Euro 2009 final live.

European fair


As stated on Saturday’s post late in the afternoon we left for the Foire Europeenne.  We were lucky that the local PS MP had obtained some tickets for party members so we were able to get in for free, nothing like junketing eh?  Never having been before I was unsure what to expectP1040388 but as the picture on the left shows even for later on, on Saturday, there were lots of people getting on and off the tram.  Through the entrance into the site of the large display area at Wacken which I had last been to when encouraging French people to play cricket with the local team earlier this Summer.  Gone were the stP1040393umps and paraphernalia for other sports advertised that day replaced with exhibition halls full of beds and other household goods.  Another pavilion featured goods from artisan producers in Alsace then another featuring kitchens, bathrooms and other interior requirements like chimneys, P1040398stable half-doors etc.  Outside, between the exhibition halls there were examples of boy toys like those above and in the spaces between were walkways where you might come across out of work actors trying to be interesting, including the almost necessary people P1040402on stilts, like that above.  All the walking around had made us hungry so we went to the very Alsacian restaurant, the three little pigs.  Though not sentimental about matters as the menu was all pork and whilst JTO had a trotter I had some spare ribs P1040412and watched a pig being put into the over for later.  The food was very good and so well cooked it fell off the bone.  Then we toured the food halls and it was good for first my wallet, then my weight, that we had eaten first as any pull to buy things could be resisted all the better.  Above is a picture of the P1040417smelliest stall we passed with Italian cheese.  There were lots of stalls offering tasting of wine from all over France and others with food and drink from mainly France, but also elsewhere in Europe.  What was good was that there was also a mini farm display which showed that the food didn’t come from a plastic tray wrapped in plastic but from animals.  The picture above shows two children with not very old chicks.P1040424 Lebanon was being highlighted and the sweet but also exotic smell going into their exhibition made me want to leave for the country immediately and question whether it had been so wise to eat earlier.  A nice afternoon out but I had wondered whether next year to enter via the food area and, if I did, whether I would get much further.

Short post


Just to say I’m delighted we beat the Dutch and are through to the final of Euro 2009.  Here’s to beating the Germans or Norwegians on Thursday.  Well played England’s footballers.

UPDATE: Oh dear, well all credit to the Germans who totally outplayed England and were well worth their 6-2 victory.

I’m Back


Six weeks later and, to quote the great Em, I’m back.  Teaching Italian youngsters English for 40 hours a week left little time for doing anything more than eating, sleeping, preparing and teaching.  At the weekends It was nice to get hammered on Friday, sleep on Saturday and get totally away from the site, either in Hull or to the coast at places like Bridlington,(also here or here) or on a wonderful day walk from Kilnsea to Spurn Head. (The walk took only a couple of hours but the two bus journeys, one from Hull to Withernsea and then on to Kilnsea took more than a couple of hours each way – it need not have done because I didn’t realise the two buses connected in a little village, but then it did allow me to see the two castles at the site of where the pier used to be and the mass line-dancing, both of which I might feature pictures of here in due course.)

After finishing in Hull and returning, via the journey from hell, I had the joy of a visit from my brother and my sister-in-law where we took them around Strasbourg and Alsace and then a few days holiday in Chisinau, which all readers will know, is the capital of Moldova, which was great and well worth revisiting.  That leaves five capital cities in European countries to be visited before the end of next year.  On the way back I had two wonderful days in Riga before another overnight journey home.

With me on these travels I took a Sony Book Reader which was this years gadget present to myself from the money I earned working.  It was great having lots to read with me but it was all stored on the reader so I didn’t rip my shoulder off.  One I’m still reading is Strasbourg in Transition available free on the site.  It’s been very interesting to learn about the history of the city from the time it was an independent city like the rest of the decapole and allied to the Holy Roman Empire, through the changes when it was taken over by the France of King Louis XIV in 1681 and then to the changes to and in Strasbourg that resulted from the Revolution in 1789.  It’s a very interesting and readable book and what’s better, free.  Later were off to the Foire Europeenne but for now here’s the Em song mentioned earlier:

And here, gratuitously and for no reason whatsoever, is the fabulous one for ‘We Made You’:

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