Posts Tagged ‘driving’

Motoring through the sleepy ruralness of France’s Limousin region with its gently rolling hills, mile upon mile of wheat fields, crops of sunflowers interspersed with oak and beech woodland you’d be forgiven for thinking that life here has been much the same for hundreds of years.

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And to a certain extent it probably has but an occasion in its recent history has left a scar so deep that is unlikely to ever recover. For a small town just north-west of Limoges memories from seventy years ago are still raw; events shouldered alone while the attention of the allied world was focussed on the major battle raging in the north of the country meant that no-one shared the agony of this small, tight-knit community.

On the 10th June 1944, just four days after the Normandy landings Oradour-sur-Glane, a prosperous little market town, was razed to the ground by the German S.S, its inhabitants brutally massacred.

Women and children were rounded up and locked into the church which was then set alight; men were rounded up into smaller groups, machine-gunned down, covered with hay and fuel and their bodies burned. Some were burned alive.

 There were very few survivors. On that fateful day, 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane lost their lives.

After the war, a new Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby but, on the orders of General de Gaulle, the original town was to remain exactly as it had been left after the atrocity as a memorial to its fallen.

Today there is a sombre visitor’s centre which leads you through a tunnel under the road to the original town where you are free to roam along the streets and view the devastation. There is no charge.

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Rusted cars remain exactly where they were torched seventy years ago; tram lines are still visible, running the length of the main street; an old sewing machine, battered yet still recognisable, has been left in the charred ruins of the tailor’s shop. Patterned ceramic tiles, fallen from the wall of the butcher’s store lay heaped on the floor while where the old garage was, an enamel placard advertising Renault Cars is still just visible.

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The butcher’s shop

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The Girl’s School

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The Church

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The Post Office with tram lines in front

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The main street leading up to the cemetery

At the top of the town, you cross a grassy flower meadow to the old cemetery. Only here is there evidence of human intervention – the place is kept respectfully neat and tidy while the ornate headstones provide testament to the truly shocking reality that so many families perished on the same day. There is a newly built underground memorial hall to the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane. Every name of those who died is engraved on its walls while encased in modern, light-filled  vitrines are some of the artefacts taken from the victims or discovered amongst the wreckage. Spectacles, pocket watches (with the hands stopped between the hours of five and six in the evening – the time of the massacre), pots, ceramics and the metal handles of handbags – all serve as reminders that this atrocity happened to ordinary people just like us.

As you pick your way carefully back towards the visitor’s tunnel along the cobbles separated by mosses and self-seeded wild flowers the atmosphere in the ruined town is one of reverence – people walk quietly around the shattered buildings each with their own thoughts, taking a few poignant photographs.

The preserved wreckage of Oradour-sur-Glane is a very powerful memorial.

For further reading, click here.

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Sitting outside a cafe the other day, enjoying the sunshine, my husband and I watched a chap attempting to parallel park his rather smart car. He made a total hash of it, managing to scrape both wheels along the kerb in the process. He leapt from his vehicle in a state of abject panic, crawled along the pavement, handkerchief in hand and frantically rubbed at the scuffs now apparent on his now not so gleaming alloys. Husband, who also drives a rather smart car, smirked and proceeded to tell me that on meeting a colleague in their office car park recently, the colleague remarked, on noticing husband’s scratched wheel trims:

“I see your wife has been driving the car, then.”

My response to this was not one of outrage, as you may expect. I calmly asked if he had put his colleague straight on this minor detail. Husband shrugged nonchalantly and continued smirking because he knows that I know that he concedes that I am a much better parallel parker than he is. He just won’t admit it. And if it helps him to save face with his co-worker, then who am I to care? – I’m never likely to meet the idiot. The fact that my parallel parking skills were honed because of the demolition of a low ornamental wall while parking nose-in-first during my early driving days is neither here nor there: we all have our flaws.

Husband also knows that I will get him back for this in some shape or form eventually: it’s part of our ongoing battle of wits – the trick is not to get reeled in.

Nevertheless, this got me wondering if I have ever been truly outraged by anything, and of course the answer is yes. Frequently, as it happens, but there is one episode which for some reason, sticks in my head. I’m not usually one to bear a grudge, especially one that lasts for over twenty years but I think you might agree that this one takes the biscuit. Picture if you will, the following scenario:

I was on maternity leave from the way I then earned my living with my louder-than-any one-else’s-wailing-infant in tow.  Son and I had been invited to one of those new mother-baby coffee mornings where you all sit round discussing horrendous birth details, comparing your off-spring’s developmental rate and competing over how much you paid for the Osh Kosh dungarees you squeezed your child into that morning. (Well, we do live in Surrey).

I was taken aback when asked by an immaculately turned out new mother (no sick stains anywhere in sight, brushed hair, clothes that matched – that sort of thing), what my husband did for a living.

I don’t think my out has ever been more raged. In that moment I understood what had compelled Jane Austen to write all those dreary books.

I had never met this woman before and after her opening gambit I rather hoped I’d never meet her again. Annoyingly, due to a severe lack of sleep (which carried on for at least five years), I was unable to come up instantly with a suitably crushing reply, mumbled something about him being in building, and left it at that. Unfortunately for me he works in an area of building where to know one end of a screwdriver from another isn’t a requirement; neither is the ability to put up a set of shelves unless accompanied by a lot of unnecessary swearing and several trips to the DIY store. (With reference to my first paragraph, I think that’s one-all).

However, there is a sequel to that ghastly coffee morning. I did meet four other Mums with whom I hit an instant rapport and who, like me, vowed to never attend another morning like the one we had just suffered. We set up our own independent, exclusive group and met up regularly while our boys and one girl were small, planning outings to the park, picnics in our gardens, celebrating the birthdays as they rolled by. Our infants, now in their early twenties, have all gone their separate and very different ways but still meet up once or twice a year to catch up with each other.  And as for their mothers – well, we all met up recently, as we have done for years – and do you know what? I still only have a vague idea about what any of their husbands do for a living.

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I spent last weekend lurching from chair to sofa to kitchen to deckchair and reading in between which was wonderful and not something I get the chance to do very often. Apart from acquiring sore, square eyes, it felt like I had achieved quite a bit, although of that I’ve absolutely no proof whatsoever.  I got through a book and a half, so have lowered my reading pile a smidge and caught up with blogs I follow, most of which caused me to deviate somewhere or other. (I now know a little about Galileo’s Paradox – impressed? I know – I amaze myself sometimes).

However, one funny account of early driving experiences, on Rod’s blog, jogged a distant memory which in turn, reminded me of a recent four hour car journey my sister and I took where we talked nonstop, all the way to beyond Liverpool.  ?????????????

The purpose of our overnight trip was to view Another Place, sculptor Antony Gormley’s iron men, spread out along the soft sand at Crosby, staring out to sea, as if waiting for a sign from some alien force. There are one hundred of them, all the same, although several years of salt water washing over them has given each his own patina, and in some cases, a clothing of crustaceans. It is an eerie place: windy, with a power station and cranes in the distance adding to the bleak atmosphere. Over the years, some of the men have become half buried in the sand while others stand upright, hands by their side, waiting, waiting…

But where was I? Oh yes, driving.  I mentioned above that my sister and I talked nonstop during our drive up north. So what, nothing surprising about that, I hear you mutter. Two women incarcerated in a tin box for hours – what else would you expect. Well, I know, but actually, for us to talk in a car at all is a bit of a novelty, as we acknowledged more than once during our four hour marathon.

We have fond memories of being bundled into the back of the family car on a Sunday afternoon, aged six and three, and told to be very quiet while Dad taught Mum to drive. We’d sit there scarcely daring to breathe as Mum crunched around the Kent countryside with Dad tutting as he managed to find impossible gradients for unsuccessful hill starts.  Now, whether the insistence of absolute quietness came at a crucial stage in our childhood development, I don’t know, but neither my sister nor I ever talked much in the family car ever again, apart from asking, before we’d even passed Guildford, if we were ‘nearly there yet’ on our annual holiday to the west country.

Mum eventually passed her test but not before bearing the good-natured brunt of many a joke about women drivers, culminating in Dad buying her the record of Bob Newhart’s The Driving Instructor.  So for Mum and for Rod, who I think will appreciate this – here is Bob Newhart, taken from that original record.

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Confession time

I have a confession to make. I break the law every day and I don’t feel guilty. The confession is rather that I don’t feel guilty than committing the crime in the first place. I break the speed limit. Not by much and I don’t drive beyond my ability and certainly never dangerously but I can’t stand being stuck behind a driver doing the statutory two miles below what is deemed to be safe. It drives me mad.

Something that makes me uncharacteristically competitive is the sign on the motorway which says:

17 miles to Junction 10: 15 minutes.

 Instantly I think, “Hmm, we’ll see about that;” I hear Dad’s voice saying, “Come on JJ, put your foot down,” and I proceed to beat the clock, getting enormous satisfaction if I reach junction ten in fourteen.

Dad taught us all to drive, not to pass the test. He would make us drive round narrow lanes with horrendous gradients declaring that we “could get a bus through there,” if we baulked at a slim passing place with an oncoming vehicle; we’d go out in all weathers including snow and ice so that we learned to control the car if it were to skid; he’d take us down dead end streets then get us to turn the car around, however many shunts it took.  When out in the country and the road was clear, he let us put our foot down.

I don’t have a fast car, I don’t watch Grand Prix racing and I’m not interested in performance models – I just like driving my ordinary, reasonably priced hatchback quickly when I get the opportunity.  How I’d love to go round a track with the Stig from BBC’s Top Gear guiding me round each bend and through every gear change. I wouldn’t even mind meeting Jezza, if only to prove to him that women in cars needn’t be anathema. I‘d show off my parallel parking skills – I’ve always been good at that – something to do with spatial awareness and vanishing points apparently, but I don’t need to know the physics; I can just do it. Better than my husband, as he’d be the last to admit. His luxury car is fitted with sophisticated beepers to help him perform the manoeuvre –like an articulated truck backing into a loading bay – but I think they are annoying, and anyway, if I was behind the wheel, I’d want to defy the beeps, then goodness knows what might happen.

So, if I ever had the opportunity to drive my little car (or one similar) to its limits, in an off-road situation, I’d take it. Perhaps one needs to know what danger feels like before it is fully respected. If circumnavigating a track is out of the question, then a skid pan would do.

Now, that would be fun.

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