The White Ship

Charles Spencer’s book The White Ship tells the story of the first Norman kings of England, and the shattering effect that one event – the sinking of a ship – had on the course of English history.

Of course, 1066 is the one date burned into the mind of every English child – when the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror effectively turned England into a province of Normandy, and the land of England was shared out between William’s favoured knights.

The job of every king at the time was to produce a male heir. If there was more than one boy, there was often conflict between the brothers. William had three sons, so there were years of conflict after his death in 1087, complicated by the fact that the English Channel split the ‘nation’ or empire.

Eventually William’s youngest son prevailed to become the dominant monarch, King Henry I, of the re-integrated country. After the final battles on the continent that assured his dominance, Henry returned to England from Barfleur in Normandy in late November 1120.

Henry and his wife Matilda had just one son, William Ætheling, and a daughter Matilda. There were also a number of illegitimate sons. Henry left for England early evening, on a favourable tide. William was to follow Henry back later in the evening, on a faster, White Ship, along with many of Henry’s supporters and heroes of the campaign. The story tells how drunkenness and revelry led to the ship running aground on rocks off Barfleur, losing all but one on board.

Henry I now had no male heir. The rest of the book details the contortions as he tried to get his daughter Matilda accepted as the next monarch, and the ensuing conflict and anarchy after Henry’s death in 1135, between his nephew, Stephen of Blois, who actually became king of England, and Matilda based on the continent. When Matilda’s son Henry took on the battle, Stephen was eventually forced to concede that this Henry should become the next king, Henry II, who became a dominant monarch in 1154 in the same mold as William and Henry I.

Similar tales have been recorded over the ages – the problems of succession, the intervening of natural disaster or folly. This one has a particular ring about it, at a key point in the history of England, Normandy and associated territories. It is well told by Charles Spencer in this book.

Featured image of the White Ship was produced in 1321, public domain.

D-Day Dissonance

I’m not the only one to notice a certain cognitive dissonance between the current D-Day celebrations in Normandy and the actions of our leaders.

Out of the experience of World War came a determination that such an event should never happen again, never again would European and other major countries resolve their differences by war. This led to the creation of international institutions including the UN, NATO, WTO, and ultimately the EU.

So there we have the leading politicians of France and UK, M Macron and Mrs May, pledging future cooperation, while in the process of the appalling Brexit negotiations that have signally failed to produce cooperation. While at home the ‘colleagues’ who have connived in removing Mrs May, due to their failure to support her, argue over the minutiae of negotiating positions with the EU – like monkeys arguing over scraps of food. Supported by M Macron, the EU has concluded negotiations and is determined to ‘give’ nothing of substance. The two sides appear determined to not agree.

And of course, there is Mr Trump, determined in his course to undermine all those collaborative institutions, because America can be great again by bullying every country individually in one-to-one negotiations. And the Brexiteers are willing lambs to this slaughter, in the supposed name of making UK great again.

Sometimes current politics seems like Alice in Wonderland!

Graves are at the American Cemetery, Colleville su Mer, Normandy

Chiggered

It seemed a good idea to go through the local lanes blackberrying with friends in Normandy. Due to the dry weather a lot of the berries were quite small, but there were plenty if you could reach, and we got enough to make a few jars of jam.

Wearing T-shirt tucked into long trousers, there did not seem too much danger of insect bites. But then a day or two later came an insane level of itching around ankles, thighs and waist, and the discovery of 36 ‘bites’. Our friends thought they were from local spiders, but subsequent research suggests that they were bites from chiggers, or harvest mites, or aoutats in France (August pests).

chigger life cycle
Life Cycle from Wikipedia

I was not really aware of these pests. See the above Wikipedia entry. The larval stage of the lifecycle of this mite is of size about 0.007inch, so hardly visible to the naked eye. Once on you they can come and go as they please! They burrow down and eat the inner skin, and can cause skin rashes, blisters etc. Two of mine blistered and took ages to heal.

Well worth being aware of these little pests, and beware those tempting blackberries in an area you’re not familiar with!

 

 

The French Village

During over 40 years of driving in France, we have seen, stayed and shopped in a large number of villages and small towns in France. Many of these places are nondescript, but quite a large proportion are quite charming or beautiful, due to their geographical situation – often by rivers, on hillsides or in valleys. The apparent changes in village life over those years have been marked.

salles la source
Salles la Source, Aveyron, 2017

In the 1970s I think we just caught the end of an era. As well as its war memorial, pretty well every village had its own boulangerie (baker) and a bar. French bread does not last more than a day, hence the boulangerie ensured fresh bread every day. And I got the impression that the bar featured in many everyday country lives. Indeed, we used to stop for a breakfast of delicious pain beurre (yes, bread and butter) with coffee at a bar in Normandy about an hour’s drive from our overnight ferry crossing to St Malo.

The one thing you did have to remember, was that everything closed over a lunch time of at least two hours between 12 or 1230 and early afternoon. Vital to remember when you needed to pick up fresh bread, but often forgotten!Read More »