How I came to miss the Bayeux tapestry and was surprised on the toilet by a French doctor

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I am a hypochondriac traveller. I have something in one of my bags for anything that might happen to me on this trip. From an Emergency survival kit and storm shelter, down to first aid kit and a pair of tweezers. I even bought rescue remedy. I have never bought rescue remedy before not having a clue what it actually does. It just sounds good and some of my friends use it. And I figure at least one rescue is an inevitability.

However when I tell you I did not come prepared with an implement designed for the removal of objects irretrievably wedged in orifices you may not be surprised. Before you imagine that my first night in France was more strange than it was let me tell you I woke up on my first full day in France to find one of my ear plugs firmly wedged too far down my ear. I am not the sort of person to react with absolute calm to the residence of something in my body that really shouldn’t be there.

Cursing the morning loudly I tried to extricate it with my panicked fingers…and pushed the plug further in. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried removing something from your own ear whose only gripping point is a thin slice of silicone but I can tell you it’s not at all possible with a pair of tweezers. It was a plug of war and the plug won. All I could hear, very loudly reverberating in my ear, was the twang of silicone. This sucks, I thought to myself, literally and metaphorically.

Now, to continue with this drama I must Tarantino you back in time a moment, to the previous evening. When I arrived at the friendly hypo camp in the dark I interrupted the owner in a family crisis. “I have a problem… with my wife…please take a pitch in front of the sanitary block”. Not as bad as it sounds at all by the way.

Skip forward again to the next morning and picture Allan sheepishly emerging from the flaps of his tent door and walking back to reception with his plugged ear, the one liberated ear plug and a pair of tweezers.

After greetings, I announce this time that “I have a problem” “You have a problem?” “Oui”. Master of French conversation am I. With my show and tell Kit and hand gestures I explain my predicament, hoping at best to be given directions to A and E. First he says, “why do you need plug it is very quiet here”. This is true. I was too embarrassed to explain that I am camper who is sometimes kept awake by the wind.

He says “You want me to av a go”. Well it wasn’t what I’d hoped for on my first day in France but I handed over the tweezers and before I knew it Yannick the Hypo camp owner had his hands in my lobe. Twang. Twang. Twang. Tweezers and silicone. Silicone and tweezers. The great unknown comedy double act.

Whilst we are performing this unusual cross channel mail bonding ritual I remember to ask him how his wife is. “She is in hospital” And then he starts to be very upset and on the brink of tears. “She had a fall and the hospital won’t let me see her” I feel dumbly embarrassed by my over sensitive fear of wind in the face of Yannick’s tears.

And then, the ear plug proving itself twang happy and irremovable, he proceeds to drive me 5 miles to Port en Bessin (pictured) to see a pharmacist, followed by two doctors (the first wouldn’t see me because she had no time!). When he has to return to the campsite he asks the other patients in the waiting room to explain to the doctor what has happened. In return they got my story to take home.

Soon the Dr has his hands in my ear, with an implement I never caught sight of. After a brief struggle, the good Doctor successfully tugged the plug and I left the surgery, stopping only to use the toilet I had spotted next to the waiting room. Two things happened next. Number One, nature brought forth number twos. Number two, I didn’t lock the door properly.

Its amazing how eminent a man can look one minute and down to earth the next. I’m obviously talking about the doctor, who had already undone his belt and was reaching for the flies as he rushed open the toilet door. The looks that passed between us I shall remember for the rest of my life. Shock, repulsion, laughter. All in a moment. And I thought to myself humans really are an odd brilliant lot, wherever you are in the world. Anyhow, that’s how I came to miss the world’s most important historical tapestry but instead got surprised on the toilet by a French doctor. C’est la vie! What could I say about it that hasn’t already been said.

Next time…how the rest of that day planned out, no pun intended.

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Cycling the Normandie beach landing sites

 

The ferry journey from Portsmouth to Caen is the closest I could find to the route taken by British soldiers in their liberation of Normandie on June 6th 1944 – D Day.

It arrives not in fact in Caen but in the port of Ouisterham, adjacent to the long thin stretch of sand now known as Sword beach. The armies of other nations landed further along the 120km of Normandy coastline designated the liberation front by allied high command.

Even though Caen is only a handful of miles further inland it was not liberated until July 20th 1944. There is a beautiful flat cycle path straight from the ferry terminal. Cycling along it and alongside Sword beach i found it hard to imagine what level of misery and tragedy those 50 days must have brought. It must have been hell.

The people of Normandie paid a high price for their liberation – 18,000 civilians were killed during the campaign. Their resistance groups committed over 1000 acts of sabotage to help the liberation. Families risked their own lives to shelter allied troops.

It is clear that there is an abiding love of the liberation story in Normandie. People are proud to fly multiple flags in their gardens. I passed a giant replica of the Statue of Liberty in one window. This is not the celebration of military victory but of freedom itself.

I learnt early on in my ride that the people of Normandie also

adore a cyclist who is over carrying – my euphemism for bad packing. Within 2 minutes of leaving passport control I received a round of applause from a group of middle aged promenaders. Did they shout bravo? I like to think so.

And so it continued for the next 50kms. Jolly bonjours, horn toots, even a fist salute on one tricky ascent. At last I know what it feels like to be appreciated by other road users!

I had booked into a campsite near Omaha beach, almost half way along the landings coastline. En route it was hard not to stop at the many monuments, signs and memorials depicting the liberation story. But with 3.5 hours till nightfall and legs delivering 12kms an hour I was wary of giving everything the time it deserved. The maths did not add up.

At a particular moment I noticed I was riding into a reddening sun, and every glorious falling shade of it made me think of a thing I shouldn’t have packed. The disadvantage of Google maps is knowing how far you have to go, and how far you’ve been. At some point I chose not to look. I just watched me the dot moving along a line on the map and knew this was a good thing.

Bereft of calories I found myself struggling up a hill at one point, only to find in front of me a giant monument staring out to the sea, chaperoned by flags and lit from behind by the countdown sun.

The sight of it took me up the hill where the calories could not. By the brow there was a car park. I pulled into it and devoured a Waitrose sandwich I had bought in Portsmouth the day before. Never have I loved asparagus more. Or Waitrose. Or my own foresight.

I must have looked like a hungry dog to the quiet dignified rememberers around me.

Darkness fell mercifully slowly. When it came I passed a family eating dinner around a table in their front garden. I wanted to force myself upon them and wondered how long they had been there and how many courses had passed.

The greetings continued but were now bon soir. I adjusted. A moped cyclist fantastically stalled as he passed me and I was able to get directions. “Two kms more”.

Next came a beautiful sight. A restaurant named Liberty. I found it hard to pass. But within 5 minutes I had parked my Gazelle and was looking for the owner of Camping d’hypo camp, which according to Google translates as hypo camp. Who knew?

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Follow my new blog The Grand Depart

Back in March I came up with a bonkers plan to visit all the remaining 27 countries in the EU by bike and train before March 2019, the date set for Brexit. The month I will lose my EU citizenship and all the rights that go with that, not least the right to move freely across any border between any of these countries. The first leg of my journey starts tomorrow at 7AM. I’m heading off on my beautiful Dutch bike to Normandy and onwards towards Spain, Portugal and possibly Sicily and Malta.

For the next six weeks I’ll be blogging about my experience on The Grand Depart. Some of that will be shared through this website as well but if you want to track my journey head over to the other blog. I have no idea whether I’ll complete my quest as this is a massive challenge for me but I reckon at this point starting is more important than getting to the finish line. Whatever happens for the next six weeks I’ll be squeezing my life into four panniers on two wheels. And maybe that’s enough!

 

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Cambridge Open Eco Homes: Book a tour

For the last five months I’ve been working for Cambridge Open Eco Homes and really pleased to say we have a great line up of tours available this year and you can book now at www.openecohomes.org Tours include Europe’s first eco-Mosque, a co-housing development called K1 and a wide range of individual new-build and retrofit homes. If you live near Cambridge then its a great opportunity to get some individual advice and information direct from householders who have done the work themselves. October 8th and 14th.

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Hello Open Eco Homes 2017!

I’m excited to have just started work again on the Open Eco Homes project in Cambridge. This is my second year for OEH Cambridge and I’m really pleased to be back working with the wonderful folks at Cambridge Carbon Footprint, a great group of staff and volunteers who between them put on many many key events in Cambridge. I’ve just written a blog on the OEH website about what we’ve got planned in 2017. You don’t have to be based in Cambridge to enjoy OEH. The houses and technologies you see are relevant anywhere. Take a weekend: spend one day on OEH and one day sightseeing. Whether you live in Cambridge or not put October 8th and 14th in your diary and make some space for Open Eco Homes! If you live in Cambridge and want to open your eco home for those two days in October please do get in touch.

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Happy International Women’s Day

Women are going on strike today as part of a global day of action for International Women’s Day. Yay! Amazing response to continued repression, inequality and misogyny. In celebration of the day just thought I’d post this link to a selection of audio clips of women talking about their experiences living and working at CAT. This was recorded as part of the Holdfast a project originated by Ariana Jordao and Rosie Leach as part of International Women’s Day in 2014 and continued with a live group oral history interview at the National Library of Wales later that year. Men, if you want to do something today, as well as supporting your friends, colleagues, mothers, daughters, sisters in whatever they are doing, then sign up for the White Ribbon campaign as a commitment to stand against violence towards women.

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Beautiful and haunting documentary

It’s hard to see the world the same way after seeing this beautiful and haunting film about photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

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