Sunday, 19 September 2010

Guillotine Gaffe

Look, we wanted some neck of lamb, right?  And we knew the word for lamb.  And we were in Bayeux, and there was a butcher close to the war museum, so we went in to get our dinner for the evening. 

Unfortunately, there were about, oh, I dunno, at least SEVERAL different cuts of lamb in the window and we hadn’t the faintest idea which one was neck.  We thought we knew, but it could have been collar and that would have been a DISASTER.

So MrCat, being the designated French conversationalist on our trip, was pushed forward through the door.  There were three or four customers in there and, as luck would have it, they were all French (wouldn’t you know it!).

“Bonjour”, said the butcher (that’s French, that is.  It means “hello”. I am FLUENT, me).

“Agneau” said MrCat, who had “I AM ENGLISH” written all over him.  The shop went silent and I swear the butcher had his hand raised with the meat cleaver in it, expectantly, like something out of Delicatessen.  (It is quite possible, however, that I’m saying this for dramatic effect and it bears no relation to the truth.  That’s for you to decide).

Anyway, MrCat gathered himself to make his point and at that moment, for reasons I cannot explain,  I inexplicably did this chopping motion with my hand across my neck.

What I was trying to say was “neck cut”, but I realise now that it could have been misinterpreted as some typical English mockery of La Revolution, and that unspeakable unpleasantness with Madame Guillotine, and Robespierre and Desmoulins and all that wig wearing nonsense and lace cuffs.  And heads rolling down the Place de la Revolution, pursued by mad Gallic personages.

Why does my entire life always come round to lace cuffs and fops?And in this case, a potential diplomatic incident which could have totally destroyed Anglo-French relations.

Anyway, the butcher had the good manners to smile, and gave us a splendid dinner, and for what it’s worth I would have supported La Revolution although I draw the line at beheading.

To be honest, I draw the line at mild punching.  Actually, make that a very hard stare and a look of disappointment.

In our next installment we shall verily expounde on the diverse variety of war memorials and suchlike, with a brief detour to Honfleur which is a town very pleasing on the eye, but well packed with tourists, for shame!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Life’s Rich Patisserie – Bayeux Pt I

No, no, I mean tapestry, sorry.

Bayeux was great. Abso-bl**dy-lutely great. And we didn't forget the sandwiches this time, which made it even greater. Mighty, in fact.

When I was a wee slip of a girl, an entire academic year was taken up in a tutorial room with lovely Mr Hodges and slightly less lovely (borderline insane if you ask me) Dr Edwards. Lovely Mr Hodges was everything a stereotypical history lecturer is supposed to be - quiet, comforting, a bit sleepy, cuddly like a small bear (large bear in his case, but never mind). He also wore clogs. There you go.

Dr Edwards used to run about at high speed and tell us off. On one memorable occasion he stopped a lecture after 5 minutes and told us all to get out, just GET OUT, I REFUSE to continue this lecture because not one of you has bothered to do your assignment (I had, as it happens, but he wouldn't listen and anyway, the prospect of an afternoon off made it not worth arguing the toss about).


You’re not allowed to take pictures of the tapestry, so here is some wool in a shop in Bayeux

The point is (there is one, yes), that both of these intellectual giants mentioned the Bayeux Tapestry with tedious frequency as a primary source to the point where we'd all doze off at the mere mention and wish to goodness that Queen Matilda had never gone to needlework classes, or had stuck to embroidering sequinned pants (as mentioned in another post). But I was so wrong.

The tapestry "in person" is awesome. You can get a wee bit blase if you've spent your life looking at history things, but I could have spent all day in there. Which would have gone down like a lead balloon as it would have caused a pile up and people would have either fallen over in a heap, or pushed me headfirst out the exit. It's a bit like seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower, you have to move along and try not to hold everyone up.


Here is a little sainted person in a church in Bayeux. Gasp in awe at yet MORE ARCHES!

Best of all, the audio tour was most definitely not rubbish. No made up nonsense about shiny swords, Matilda's lingerie or what William had for breakfast. Not unless these things were actually on the tapestry before your very eyes. Just facts. FACTS FACTS FACTS. Sparkly facts. You walk along, each panel is numbered, and the beautiful RADA trained voice in your ear tells you what's going on in each segment. Perfect.

And the best bit? The smiley horses. I loved the smiley horses. In order to highlight the fact that everyone, even the animals, were convinced by the rightness of William's invasion expedition, the industrious tapestry ladies sewed in a whole boatload of hooved characters, grinning away as their ship took them to certain death, or at the very least a very tiring and uncomfortable afternoon near Hastings with no time for oat breaks. And there they were - cartoon horses, embroidered centuries before, someone taking the time and trouble to give them smiles which are still visible to us all in 2010. Did the seamstresses all laugh about it at the time? Was it a private joke? Was it done to amuse a child? Did someone tell them to do it to impress the Duke and upset the Saxons, or was someone trying out a new stitch? I don't know, but it was beautiful. Just...beautiful.

And that, my friends, is why I love history. It is real and it is human and it is about people who are the same as us, just with longer frocks and less bandwidth.

Imagine getting that kind of finish on a garment from Primark? I don't think so, ladies.

In our next installment we really will (yes, verily and trulye) visit the French butcher that we didn’t have time to scribe about this time because we are verily disorganised and in a bit of ye olde rush.

Monday, 6 September 2010


I have been on holiday (yes, again.  It doesn't happen often so don't begrudge me).  I come back and what do I find?  A dead phone line and no internet connection.  And there I was, ready and eager, nay GAGGING, to update you on the rest of my highly exciting cake tour of Normandy.

I tried to build my own modem using a tin can, a selection of coloured strings, some glue and a pair of net curtains but, as you can imagine, this isn't really working out. I'm not terribly good at electronics.  Using a mobile phone to blog will only make me angry, mainly because my mobile was designed by Satan himself for the sole purpose of annoying me.  So best wait for the engineer to call, whenever that might be.

I shall sulk in the meantime.  You see if I don't.