Showing posts from January, 2011

Travel Tales #2 A spiritual haven for the New Age Traveller

Every so often the traveller stumbles upon a location that almost leaps out at him (or her) and such it was with this peaceful cobbled street in Antibes.

It was a hot day and had seemed a long one, not helped by a discourse with a passenger on a bus on the “merits” (he said) of the Revolutionary Calendar, this “supreme monument to human folly and stupidity” (I said) from the French Revolution.

The Revolutionary Calendar was a part of the Metric System which decided that everything should be divisible by ten. It therefore decreed that each year would be composed of ten months, each week of ten days and each day of ten hours.

“Clearly the citizens behind this foolery had never heard of the Laws of Nature and the cyclical movements of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth”, I told my fellow traveller.

He laughed amiably, but already I was in full flow.

“We can only be grateful”, I told him, “that your revolution occurred in the eighteenth century and not at the dawn of human …

Travel Tales #1 Charles de Gaulle Airport

We’ve all met them, on planes or on trains, maybe at train stations or airport departure lounges, bores who insist on telling you every boring detail of their boring lives.

I remember one at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport while waiting for a plane that was around five hours late. He droned on in his Estuary English, which is the fashion these days, and told me his life had once been routine and predictable, without any purpose or meaning, until one day he discovered what was missing from it.
“You’re probably wondering what it was that was missing from my life, aren’t you? he asked me.
“No”. I replied.
“Yes, you are”, he persisted. “Go on, ask me what was missing from my life”.
I breathed heavily and then with as much disinterest as I could muster said: “What was missing from your life?”
“MONEY!” he screamed and burst out laughing.

He showed me a photo of his wife who was absolutely stunning. 
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” he said.
“She is”, I said. “Did you win her in a competition?”

He wasn’t…

London: the city of kites and crows

It is 10 a.m. on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day, Tuesday 24th August 1604, as William Shakespeare leaves the house of Mountjoy, his Huguenot landlord, on Silver street, and sets off eastwards along Cheapside.

The day is warm and sunny, and the streets are full of the cries of traders and the rumble of carts bringing the day’s provisions from the surrounding countryside. 

Arriving at Bishopsgate, Shakespeare glances at the tiny church of St. Helen’s where he worshipped when he first came to the metropolis, then continues his journey towards the Bridge, the pride of all Londoners. It is a large and animated structure with shops and residences, and even a tiny chapel. Shakespeare pays his toll and quickens his step, for he has an important meeting to attend.

He looks to the left, to the Tower of London, the mighty edifice in which Sir Walter Raleigh languishes in his cell in the Bloody Tower, perhaps working on his Historie of the World, or reminiscing on the heady days of the School of Ni…

When in France do as the French do: Don't!

As an avowed and unashamed people watcher, I once observed a Japanese tourist in a Paris bookshop, his hand clutching a book, his face twisted with confusion and misery, as he struggled in desperation to understand the fiendishly foreign system operated in the bookshop to allow him to make his purchase.

The French have a mania for bureaucracy, a legacy of the Napoleonic era, and this bookshop seemed to embrace it with a patriotic fervour. To make your purchase, you took the book to a assistant standing at a pod. She kept the book and gave you a receipt which you took to the cashier. You paid the money, the cashier stamped your receipt, and you took it back to the assistant to exchange for your book. 

My poor hapless Japanese tourist was completely at sea. He wandered first to the cashier who waved him away, then to a floor assistant, who pointed in the direction of the pod, then to another customer, and so on in ever decreasing circles, until finally, I have no reason to disbelieve, dis…