Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Life after VE 1945, a bit of family history. 

For the boomers, like for our parents, our lives had been influenced by WW2. It is the first time without a lot of people celebrating in the streets. In her last speech, the Queen said "no one was immune from its impact", surprising that she talked about immunity while the present risk is a virus. Our lives are woven with all those long 6 years of terrible fights, and the lost of the bravest.


This summer, we took my father to the hamlet where his parents had their farm. He started to talk to us for the first time, about the difficulties he had ploughing a field with an ox. He was in his early teens not really strong enough, living on boiled sheep heads, and Jerusalem artichokes that he never wanted to eat since - today delicacy for Rob. He was the man of the family being the oldest, his father was a prisoner in Germany after June 1940. Seeing the river Creuse, he remembered his 3 cousins shoot on their boat by the Germans, at night they were helping people to go across to the "free zone". In the village people where still calling potatoes "kartoffel" long after WW2. All the german words I know comes from that period.


The house we live in since 1990, was bombarded by the german Air Force in June 1940. The old center of Blois was destroyed. The MP-Mayor of Blois, M. Laurens who was then living in our house, were watching the bombardements when a bomb fell in the garden, destroying the tower he was in; this tower has never been rebuilt. His sitting room is now Rob's library. M. Laurens was a latin teacher, Rob is a collector of néo-latine poetry. When we bought the house, we had to ask permission to build new windows to the architect of "bâtiments de France". He was very exited to advise us and give permission, deciding and drawing quickly the size and the positions of the new windows, he knew well our house, on the west border of the destructions. It was his last days in his job, he had been appointed after the war in his position, as a young architect, in charge to re-design the all central city and deciding which building was safe to keep or not. He did a very good work, almost "invisible" not medieval as it were before, but elegant and well proportioned. 250 building had to be destroyed, the rubble put down by the river, making a promenade cum carpark by the river.


Rob's mother was a war widow, and remarried after to the father of her 3 children. Rob's father was a young student in Latin, in the late 30's he was in a kind of Erasmus in Munich, he saw the development of NSDPA, his bedroom was search before Hitler's speech. He once met Ribbentrop - who been an ambassador in London in 1936. I knew that Aurea first husband was a navy officer called Phillips who died in Dieppe. I found few years ago in a bouquiniste, Les canadiens à Dieppe by Jacques Mordal. One always finds surprise in bookshops. The author took part to the fights in Dunkerque, sunk twice in 15 days and badly injured. Reading this book, on page 149 the death of "lieutenand-colonel Phillips" is described : "having put his white gloves to make his gestures more visible". The author adding, "one hopes that he noticed before he died that his heroic gesture had been understood". When Aurea was in her early 90's she was sorting her jewels, to give one to each of her granddaughters, when she picked a nice ring, she just said " not this one, it is bad luck". 


Rob's uncle was no more talkative about the war, he just told me one day "I went to Normandy on day 6". 


My mother had always been bitter about the war, not having been able to go to a lycée in a town, she lost her life dream to be a school teacher. She always encouraged us to study as much as possible, and always refused to teach cooking to her 4 daughters. One day, I must had been 12, I asked her "what's a jew ?", she said "we should not talk about that, those people suffered too much".


I kept one item when we emptied my parents house, the flag that my mother's mother put on VE in front of her village shop, faded colours, beautiful linen. When I was a child, I used to play with it in the attic, acting military parade.   


On the "8th of May", as we say in french, in an elliptic way, I was sad not to see on the photos in the english news papers allies flags, on the real VE day they were at least a lot of USA one's. Impressive Queen speech, short, considerate, universal, far from any PR usual empty rhetoric, no meaningless gestures. I also watched the speech of George VI, he talked about "peace in Europe" and keeping "faith and unity with our great allies". God help us to keep it like that. Not confusing meaning of words : freedom, law, liberty, with empty slogans ( like the freedom to go to the pub when it's put other people in danger). After all, we should be able to do what there is to do to fight a virus, even a bad one, and take its consequences.


Then and Now

Peter Scupham

Now: The Road Map

Hints for Young Drivers, for Sophie.

(Doggerel written for my grandchild, to help her with

the Driving Test - she passed !)


A Road Map to escape lockdown, by Boris


To blow your tyres up, tie to all the wheels

some massive fireworks. Now take to your heels.

When the smoke clears, just give the car a shine

and then you’ll find its wheels are running fine.

If on your way you meet a roundabout

go round and round and round. Do not get out,

but if the car feels dizzy, starts to roll,

just drop some aspirins in the little hole

where petrol goes. And as for traffic lights,

which often give new drivers fearful frights:

stop caution, go - that is red, amber, green - 

just do them all at once. That’s what they mean.

If you see S L O W marked on the road ahead,

it is a misprint. O W L S  it should be read,:

So give a friendly hoot (they’ll be in bed).

To park your car, just tie it to a bush,

and should you meet a hill, get out and push.

(That’s if the hill is going up, not down.)

If down, then still get out. No need to frown,

just hold the car back with a piece of string

and saunter down together. That’s the thing.

When you get home, sing it a lullaby

and hold a nice full watering-can up high,

sprinkle it well, inside and out, of course,

remembering it’s just a kind of horse

and needs its stable, bedtime, and fresh hay

to run away with you the following day.  


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

While my dog Jay continues to recuperate from his respiratory infection and forced convalescent lockdown, I have been forced to sneak out of the house early in the morning to continue on with my hiking exercise routine.


Fortunately, my solo outings have been been feeling less solo with the appearance last week of a field full of cows and sheep (and one Maremma sheep dog to protect them from coyotes and people who get too close). They belong to the Rockefeller Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and while normally they live in fields which are acres and acres away, they are currently populating a portion of my route.   


I imagine that for many of you, a field full of cows and sheep is probably not a novelty, but for me, living not far from New York City, the experience is unique and soul enriching. To stand near to such animals and to listen to them breath and rustle in the grass while admiring their physical presence and grace calms me down from the stressful state I have been in. Being with them makes me feel grounded again and only in the present.  I am so grateful to be having this early morning meditative time with my temporary neighbors.



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

My headmaster sends me daily updates about managing the crisis, we still mostly work from home meeting our students via mail, video conferences or telephone. I really look forward to seeing a small group of my students in real life tomorrow. During the last weeks I have been marking lots of exam papers staying at my desk predominantly.


Normally, I catch the train and the underground to commute to my two schools in the north of Hamburg. But due to the current crisis I avoid the underground and take my bike with me by train to the central station. What follows is a wonderful cycle of 35 minutes along the Alster (a big lake) and through the town park.


A lot of my colleagues are very afraid of getting ill hence some of them do not work at school but entirely from home. I hope my precautions should be enough to stay safe, but I get second thoughts when I see how careless some people are who disobey  social distancing rules, do not wear face masks etc. This is naturally especially noticeable in student behaviour.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



‘A good scotch 

will always do the trick’


were my father’s words

of comfort to himself


when, as he’d declare,

the world had gone to pot.


How readily it seems

I have become him now


and hear his voice in mine

as I hold an emptied glass;


‘By jiminy

I needed that!’



From our feline in St Just

Smokey, St Just

Jane is spending almost all the time talking to her machine. Sometimes it even sits on her lap, and I have to edge my way around it.


Yesterday when she wasn't talking to it, she found some old photographs - including this one. She said something about health and safety before the virus, and it made her laugh, but it seems very serious to me.



Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I am determined not to succumb to FOGO (Fear of Going Out) but I have become rather insular. I like everything coming to me. However, quarterly visits to London have always been something to plan and look forward to. Essentially, I coordinate these visits around my dentist and optician but for some time I have been wondering whether to move to local experts. However, if I do, will I start to forego visits to special exhibitions and favourite shops to stock up on treats?  


Well, all of these pleasures may be restricted in the future. Galleries and museums will determine more creative and immersive ways for us to view special exhibitions on line in much the same way that theatres, opera and the ballet have done. 


Fortnam & Mason, Carpo, Santa Maria Novella and Uniglo can all be accessed on line. But what of ritual visits to Lena Stores on SoHo’s Brewer Street? What of shop windows like Albert Amor on Bury Street or VV Rouleaux in Marylebone? What of that sense of home provided by the familiar landmarks, the squares, the skyline, the incessantly busy river? What of Maison Berteaux?!!!  How can Dr Johnson’s famous line ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life’ be adapted? I dearly hope that it will never have to be!


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham

Staying Alive


Most people will be thinking of how to stay safe now that the slogan has changed to STAY ALERT! To stay alert is more exhausting than staying safe in the comfort of your own home. Wild animals are used to staying alert. They have to be on the constant look out for danger which may come from anywhere. A characteristic of dogs is alertness. Our timid cat Lily stays alert just as much in the house (the doorbell might ring!)) as in the back yard.   When eating from her dish she is frequently looking around like big cats around a buffalo carcass but in the yard she is even more on edge, rushing back indoors, body low to the ground, at the slightest sound. It could be the wind suddenly springing up shaking the leaves or a bee on route to the lavender plant. Lily vanishes inside when Mrs Blackbird lands on the fence, beak full of wriggling worms for her fast growing clutch of chicks. The stay alert mode is working in the blackbirds favour, at least in our backyard. This pandemic crisis has passed them by. 


It was the stay alert slogan that the Government used in Phase 1 of easing the lockdown that led me to think of dogs... again. While looking at Titian’s paintings I noticed dogs, and that most were hunting dogs, so very alert. Apparently Titian loved dogs, he had a red and white spaniel, known as a ‘Titian spaniel’ but later the breed became known as King Charles spaniel. In his painting ‘Venus of Urbino’ a faithful spaniel rests at Venus’ feet on the couch. Definitely a lap dog but not looking very alert!. In the painting ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’ Titian shows a dramatic moment in the mythological text but in the foreground he adds his own elements such as the small spaniel, a black and tan one with whitish paws, defiantly barking at Bacchus’ noisy drunken followers and satyrs. The spaniel wears a collar and I read that this links the dog to humans rather than gods. Or did Titian forget to take off the dog’s collar? The spaniel is eyeing up the calf’s head that is being dragged along the ground by a small satyr.

I do like spaniels, they are friendly, can find and fetch an object if it is no larger than a small bird, and are great family pets. When they run around their longish curly fur flies around them like ripples in a fast stony stream.


The air is cold but the bright May sunlight brings relief on this first day of a loosening of lockdown restrictions. One of our walks takes us across a sports field (rugby) towards the industrial estate. For the first time in weeks we see groups of boys skateboarding, no social distancing but a lone girl was jogging around the fields perimeter at a steady pace. We crossed over the field. The grass was strewn with blown out dandelion ‘clocks’, an explosion of seeds into the air. We heard the thrum of the factories noise and cars in car parks. Slowly step by step we are easing ourselves into... what?