Saturday, 12 December 2015

Everything’s the same, and not the same

I think it’s fair to say that the good people of France, and particularly Paris, have not had a good year.

Things have happened in the French Capital that are the stuff of nightmares and it’s hard to imagine how things could ever be the same again.

And yet, at least here 800Km to the south in Marseille, people appear to be going about their lives as normally as possible.

The restaurants are busy, the Christmas Market by the Vieux-Port is doing a brisk trade and the Ferris Wheel next door is adding to the feeling of the festive season.

Along the harbour side the human statues, break-dancers and pan-pipe players are performing as I assume they have always done.

And everything would be normal if it wasn’t for the fact that every now and then you catch a glimpse of half a dozen soldiers patrolling in full combats with scary looking guns, reminding you that this is still a nation in a State of Emergency.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that, people appear to be going around their normal lives with only minor changes – more routine bag searches and the big red triangles at the entrances to buildings and parks reminding everyone the country is on a very high security level.

Is it, casting around for an appalling cartoon style stereotype, the spirit of the Indomitable Gaul?, or is it just human nature to try and get back to the routine as quickly as possible, to not let yourself succumb to the wishes of those who use violence?

All I know is at present the people or Marseille, and France, against everything that has been thrown at them are showing the won’t be cowed.  I’d like to join with them in saying Je suis Paris, Je suis libre!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Everything’s connected in the end

Belfast and Ramsgate.

There aren't many obvious major connections between the two places.  One is a major city on the Island or Ireland, the other is a medium sized harbour, now devoid of it’s ferry service, on the Kent coast.

However, within a week I've found the same name crop up in both locations, and it was so far out of left field that I spotted it almost instantly on walking into the Maritime museum, despite the name being in small type on a sea of information.

It’s also a tribute to the type of person that they don’t appear to make anymore, and made all the more poignant as there is currently a key anniversary going on.

Ramsgate is currently bustling to the commemorations of the 75 anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the desperate but eventually incredibly successful evacuation of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkerque in 1940.

The story is all the more remarkable for the flotilla of little ships, tug boats and yachts that were the mainstay of the evacuation.

However, one of those motor yachts – the Sundowner – was possibly even more remarkable for the man who was at the helm, and bringing me back to last weekend in Belfast the ship in 1912 he was the second mate on.

To be a hero once in a lifetime – by rescuing thousands of Soldiers from the beaches – would probably be enough for most people, but Charles Herbert Lightoller had previously saved lives as he guided women and children to the lifeboats on the Titanic and after the ship sank keeping a group of 30 alive on an upturned collapsible lifeboat.

A key part of Operation Dynamo and the last Titanic survivor brought on-board the Carpathia – that’s one hell of a life, and one hell of a connection between Ramsgate and Belfast.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

What are those funny coloured lights for?

First thing to say is that I've travelled a fair amount in Spain and everywhere I've been the driving has always been of a high standard with almost all drivers obeying the law, which makes it all the more strange the driving style of Zaragoza.

It could be that in the last 12 months the driving standards of the entire nation have plummeted (Though I think we would all have noticed the appointment of Señor Clarkson to the role of Spanish traffic minister), it could just be something unique to Spain’s 5th City (in which case the good citizens of Sheffield, Frankfurt and Nice [Source: Wikipedia] may feel free to copy)

Of course I'm not ruling out that in a city of 700,000 people I just kept coming across the same small handful of idiot drivers, or there’s something about a bus – either public or tour – that brings out the worst in Zaragoza's drivers.

The most noticeable difference is that the pretty coloured lights at every junction, and crossing, around the city appear to have their own unique meanings, and are therefore mostly installed for their aesthetic rather than practical qualities

Green – Blast your horn wildly at anyone not travelling at the speed you want to be doing.  This is particularly important in the nanoseconds immediately after it has changed to green.

Amber – Prepare to ignore what the vehicle in front is doing, probably best to check your wing mirrors just to make sure.

Red – Accelerate, the longer the light has been on red the faster you should accelerate as this will ensure your safe passage through the junction.

What’s remarkable is that it does appear to work as there were far fewer cars with dints and scratches on them in and around Zaragoza than you’d normally see in London, Berlin or Stockholm.

So perhaps, as they appear to now have some time on his hands, it is time to replace the department of transport with the presenting team from Top Gear.