Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Tom Otterness sculpture, image from Flickr
Buzz, tuning, newsletter, chat and talk are all words, Anglicisms, much scorned by the purists of the French language.  In an effort to combat the gradual invasion of their language, they held a competition to Frenchify these five words.  The competition was open to all students who had until February to submit new words as replacements.  I imagine someone has realised that enlisting the help of young people might just be more successful than laying down the law.  The suppression of "le weekend" wasn't a noticeable triumph.

Last week the jury met to decide which words would stand a chance of being used.  For "buzz" they chose "ramdam", a word already in the French language.  Oddly it's also an import, from Arabic, but that presumably is all right because it's not Anglo Saxon.  It means noise, representing the noisiness of Ramadan evenings, bush telegraph, and information flow, and it was unanimously accepted.

Next it was decided that "bolidage" would replace the word "tuning" (of a car).  "Un bolide" is a racing car so there is some logic there.  But at that point they came to a halt.

The suggestions for "newsletter" were narrowed down to "cybernote", "périodiciel" ou "netzine", though again I don't think the last one sounds too French.  Périodiciel is just far too long and hardly trips off the tongue.

Boringly, "talk" could be replaced by "débat", with "parlage", "parlotte", "discut'", "échapar", "débadidé", "débatel" and "débafusion" all up for discussion.  Discussion but no decision.

As for "chat", the possibilities are apparently endless.  Eventually it was narrowed down to either "tchatche" which is little more than a Frenchified spelling, and the very best of all of them: "éblabla"!

Eblabla, how superb! It has a certain ring to it, don't you think?  I'll very happily adopt it.

PS.  I have to add that the article where I read about this had comments following.  The first started off "O M G".  I think there is a long way to go before the battle is won.
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Saturday, 27 March 2010


Fresh water

Fresh growth

Fresh as a daisy

And yellow daisies are fresh too!
The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks, and gapes for drink again;
The plants suck in the earth, and are
With constant drinking fresh and fair.

Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), Anacreon
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Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Obituarists

I came across a poem bu UA Fanthorpe called "The Obituarist" recently, written to show how much is missed by a single point of view. 

The obituarist/genealogist is so concerned with facts and evidence that he misses the spiritual side of the life he is attempting to define.  The playwright jumps straight into the action.  Storytellers focus their attention on the shape of the whole, full of detailed characters, with side tracks and diversions all beautifully woven. The visionary, the idealist, is full of abstract images where facts play no part. But the essence of the man is in his small, quiet voice, always in danger of being overlooked.

The genealogist is meticulous.
He harries his subject back to Adam
(Forty-two generations – if you can believe that).

Scene 1: The playwright’s way in,
Smack in the middle of a river.
Enter a man wearing camel’s hair,
Chewing insects.

The novelist deploys more characters
Than Cecil B. de Mille: shepherds, angels,
Emperors, wizards, mother (a mute).
He keeps the hero up his sleeve till later.

Babies, bit players, aren’t part
Of the mystic’s agenda. He starts with aplomb
And a metaphor.

The subject himself: a man not much given
To writing things down. Once
He scraped a message on the ground with a finger.
No one seems to have noticed.
If they did, it was soon scuffed out.

The Obituarists ~U. A. FANTHORPE (2000)

The poem was written because UA Fanthorpe worked in a hospital, dealing with neuropsychiatric patients whose still, low voices were often not heard by the doctors in their pursuit of symptoms.  There are undoubted truths there, in the medical world, but there must be a wider truth.  We're often guilty of defining people by our own standards, from our own point of view.  We must take the time to listen to the quiet voice, to read the message before it is scuffed out.

While I was looking for an image to use, I came across a seven step guide to writing an obituary using a word processor.  On looking further the internet is full of these guides, all reducing a life to a check-list.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Everything comes in threes, or so they say.  Not when you're looking for photos to illustrate it, they don't.  But enough do, and there is something very satisfying to the eye about a group of three.  That of course should mean that I post three photos, so I'll start off with one from Bourges Cathedral.

These are three stained glass windows from the cathedral.  Most of the windows date from about 1215.

I can never resist the gulls on the beach.  "When shall we three meet again?  In thunder, lightning or in rain?"

And finally, three flowers on the pot plant I bought the other day.  I'm sure I should know the name of the plant, but I don't.

Three photos with nothing to link them other than the number three, this week's theme.  If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt, and find other other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.

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Friday, 19 March 2010

The route and castles of Richard the Lionheart

A year ago, just over that now, as we drove south in central France I noticed the magic three little dots on the map that signify a ruin, or maybe a castle, possibly both. Whatever they mean, as far as I'm concerned they are generally worth investigating.

The three dots were marked Châlucet. The signposts on the road offered a choice of Châlus-Chabrol, Châlus-Maulmont, or Chalusset but eventually I found the right one and saw the scene above. The castle ruins loomed out of the trees and mists. Spooky, don't you think? I had to get closer.

After a few detours, we arrived at the right place and found to my satisfaction that it's not just an ordinary ruined castle but one that's on Richard the Lionheart's route, la Route de Richard, Coeur de Lion, as they say around here. It's an impressive sight I must admit, and it is interesting too, to find that there was a connection with Richard I of England.

On reading up the connection of this particular castle with Richard is shaky to say the least. Richard as the third son of Henry II of England, wasn't expected to become king and was raised to be Duke of Aquitaine at his mother's, Eleanor of Aquitaine's, request. This castle and the other points along the route are a collection of medieval of châteaux, churches and fortified towns along the borders of the Duchy of Aquitaine, which belonged to the Angevins/Plantagents, against the King of France to the north and the Viscount of Toulouse to the south.

The signposted (but ignored) Châlus-Chabrol is on the route, as it might be, as it's the place where Richard died, but its nearby near-namesake, Châlus-Maulmont, has nothing to do with him at all, part from being in the right area in the right era.

On the other hand, Turenne isn't mentioned at all.

The castle and its surrounding area was ruled by the Vicounts of Turenne and was almost an autonomous state.  Richard's brother, Henry, died in a castle nearby in 1193.  It's an interesting place in its own right, and I particularly like its unofficial motto which is all but untranslatable but pleases me nevertheless:
Pompadour pompe, Ventadour vente. Turenne règne. 
Roughly, it could mean that while Turenne rules, Pompadour and Ventadour are full of hot air.  Of course Pompadour and Ventadour are worth visits too.  So many castles, so little time.

Route Richard Coeur de Lion.  Source.

Updated to include a map of the route.  Click to enlarge
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Saturday, 13 March 2010


There seemed to be plenty of spirals around in my photo archives.  My first thought was for spiral staircases.  I've climbed many of them in my time but when it comes to photos, it's not so easy to show the spiral properly.

This is a picture from inside the steps leading up the north tower in the cathedral at Bourges.   There are 396 steps.  It says the panoramic view from the top is a photographer's delight.  If you have a great head for heights, it may be.

Closer to home there are quite a few examples.

Though in fact these aren't close to home at all, but were over a bridge in Montauban, near Toulouse in the south of France.

The rusty gate, though, really is very close to home.

But my favourite is very much less mundane.

Pillars from the painted interior of the church at Saint Savin sur Gartempe.  The interior of this 11th century church was painted during the 11th and 12th century.  The pillars were intended to look like marble and even the walls were painted to look like bricks.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Judging by the consternation caused when I first mentioned it in connection with a beach, I rapidly realised that shingle isn't as widely recognised as I had thought. In this context it's neither a roofing material nor a disease. It's neither a haircut nor a sign to denote a doctor or lawyer. It's a mass of small pebbles

A shingle beach.  Apart from the fact that it's made up of pebbles, it looks normal enough.  The pebbles themselves are made mainly from flint which has been eroded from the cliffs by the waves and then tossed around until they are relatively smooth.

What you can't see from this angle is the banking and shelving characteristic of shingle.

The waves wash the pebbles up, but because pebbles are so much more porous than sand, the backwash is much less strong and so the pebbles aren't sucked back into the sea.  It causes some difficulty for local fishermen, as you can see, but at the same time provides a safe place to pull up boats, well above the reach of the tides.

Of course waves don't often hit the beach at right angles so the wash is at an angle while the backwash drags straight down.  This causes what is known as longshore drift, a zig-zag path moving along the shoreline. 

This can, in time, have quite a dramatic effect.

I presume at one time it was necessary to climb down to the beach from the path. Now there is barely any difference between the two levels.

Considerable effort is put in to maintaining the shingle beaches.  Not only do they provide key wildlife habitats, but they are a great defence for the shoreline by absorbing a lot of the impact of the waves.  Although in the area of these photos the shingle seems to be accumulating, a short distance down the coast there are houses built on the beach in an area where the sea has been encroaching.

Copyright Ron Strutt of Geograph under this Creative Commons Licence
It may seem highly desirable to have beach at your front door, and the properties do command a remarkable price, but it's virtually impossible to mortgage them.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


I set up a photo blog for photos from France quite a while ago now, but let it lapse.  Recently, in a fit of enthusiasm, I've started adding to it again, so I've made a link the sidebar under Here and There.  It gives me somewhere to put random photos when I don't quite know what to do with them.  Feel free to have a look at them if you'd like.

Saturday, 6 March 2010


The meaning of the word foreign can mean so many different things, especially depending on your point of view.  Britain has been invaded by foreigners so often that in time the invaders have become amalgamated into the population, and been invaded in their turn.

The first foreign invasion came from the Romans who crossed the English Channel and landed just to the north of Dover, here -

They probably thought the shingle (pebbled) beach was less of an obstacle that the white cliffs.

This stretch of coast was a target for all sorts of foreign invasions from the Vikings to William the Conqueror.  In 1539 Henry VIII started a defence programme of castle building along the south coast, and again in 1544.  Two of these were Deal Castle...

Deal Castle at sunset

and Walmer Castle.

Entrance to Walmer Castle

Cannon at Walmer Castle pointing out to sea

But the castle at Dover had been in existence well before either of these.  Its site, high on the cliffs overlooking the Channel, means that it has been a place of defensive significance throughout history.

Entrance to Dover Castle

It's spectacular enough when approaching from the landward side, the north-west.

Dover Castle from the sea

But it's when you are going out to sea and see it stretched along the top of the white cliffs that you realise just how significant the position is.  There are tunnels underneath which at one time housed 2000 men.  It remained important even until World War II, when the tunnels were used as air raid shelters and then a military command centre.  Many of the tunnels are now open to the public. If you enlarge the picture, you can see some of the windows and openings into the cliff face.

This has become rather long, sorry.  We've had a lot of foreign invasions!

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Face recognition

I use Picasa to manage my far-too-many pictures.  I find it very useful and always install the newest version when it's available.  Recently an upgrade came along which includes face recognition.  It picks out the faces in your photos and offers you the chance of naming them and will even offer some suggestions - not many, it must be said.  Apart from a few special family occasions, I rarely take photos of people but Picasa found thousands of faces.

Some were family and friends of course, others weren't the main object of the photo but unsurprising nevertheless, while many were a little unexpected.

I wasn't particularly surprised to find statues, even where they weren't the focus of my attention.

A statue on a bridge in Rome

But when all you are doing is looking at doorways, sometimes there was more there than I realised.

One of the doorways into the cathedral in Bourges, central France

I've been forgetting to look at the details.

The carvings in the entrances of Bourges Cathedral are worthy of attention in their own right but I hadn't really noticed until Picasa asked me to name the faces it found.

And again, somewhere like Versailles, you can be so absorbed in ornate style of the larger picture....

A corner inside the Palace of Versailles

....that you miss the smaller story being played out on the ceiling.

I have dozens of other examples I could show you, but it isn't always a total success.  You could never anticipate that Picasa would ignore all the available faces at the boulangerie.

A small town in France

.... in favour of this.

As you can tell, I have wasted spent many happy hours with Picasa, but in all honesty I can't see the point of face recognition in tagging photos.  I know who the people are in my pictures.  I don't need to label them.  If I don't know them, I can't label them, nor do I need to.  The great benefit for me is that it's shown me I need to look for the detail as well as the bigger picture.  I seem to suffer from the opposite of not seeing the wood for the trees.

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