Weather Changes, Autumn comes Knocking, No Guests but Always something Going On
Posted on 30th September 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
Last week we were walking on the beach at the Somme coast in 27 degrees then 2 days later the thermometer plunged to 11 degrees and wet and windy weather. At month end it has settled to a drizzly but mild , certainly autumnal weather front. So, the landscape is changing, softening. Leaves changing colour. Fields once plump with crop have given up their treasure to feed a nation, but never empty as ploughing and reseeding continue the cycle of agriculture. The light is more golden, there have been some dramatic skies and sunsets. Autumn has its own soft beauty. And we love it.
It brings to mind this poem by Ernest Rhys written in 1918 – The Leaf Burners, which ends:
Much I thought then
of men that went forth,
Or dropt like the leaves,
to die and to live;
While the leaf burners
with their long brooms
Drew them together
on the day of their death.
I wondered at that,
walking the fell —
Feeling the wind
that wafted the leaves
And set their souls
free of the smoke,
Free of the dead,
speeding the flame
To spire on the air —
a spark that should spring
In me, man of men;
last of the leaves.
With quarantine in place for UK visitors returning home from France, borders closed in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, we have had no guests this month. It is hard, we miss everyone, but nevertheless we keep busy and there has been plenty to keep us occupied this September.
Covid 19 Update
Things change so quickly with Covid but we hope it is useful for us to update on the current situation in France. France remains on the UK’s travel ban, with a need to quarantine on return to UK if you visit France. There is currently no reciprocal quarantine in France.
The number of cases in France continued to rise during September with several cluster hotspots. Thankfully the development into hospital admissions, ICU and deaths has not reached anywhere near the levels in the spring and the health system is managing very well. So, the virus is circulating and there is a continued need for vigilance. There is no national lockdown, no bubbles, but local prefets have the power to instigate local measures where necessary. The worst clusters are in Paris and Marseille and more closer to home, the area around Lille and the Belgian border. The Somme Department is not currently under any special measures, no curfews, so life for us continues as “normal”, but of course social distancing, masks in all enclosed and public areas and frequent handwashing. We are very careful but as we go out on our walks you can forget the virus is wreaking such havoc everywhere. The Somme is peaceful.
So with no guests, what do we do? Well, we are never short of things to do. From walking in the beautiful landscape, paying respects to those who lie here, meetings, events, cooking and friendship, there is always something to keep us busy.
Remembering the Tank Men
On 15th September we commemorated the 104th anniversary of when tanks first went into battle. We joined Poppy Mercier at the tank memorial in Pozieres for a short commemoration, during which Poppy read a poem written by AA Milne (he of Winnie The Pooh fame) which ends:
So remember, whenever you talk of the Tanks,
The newest invention, the wonderful Tanks –
The older invention – the men in the ranks;
The wonderful men of all ranks.
For they’re just the same men, only more so, in Tanks.
You’ll remember them?
The original of the poem was found in The Tank Museum’s archives.
Those first tank men were real trail-blazers. Formed out of the Heavy Section, Machine Gun Corps they did not know what would happen on that first day they went into battle. We took the opportunity this month to visit the grave of Lieutenant George Macpherson, tank commander who died of wounds sustained in the first tank battle on 15 September. Aged just 20 he was a Winchester College boy, keen on soccer and full of life. He is buried at Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, where a Casualty Clearing Station had been set up to deal with the wounded from the Battle of Flers Courcelette in September 1916. Rest in Peace young George.
Grove Town Cemetery
George Macpherson is not the only grave we visit when we go to Grove Town Cemetery. It is a favourite Cemetery of ours as it is a little off the beaten track, though only a 10 minute drive from us, and on leaving the Cemetery we go for long walks on the tracks which criss-cross the open landscape which surrounds it. It is the place to see hares, birds of prey, pheasants and even deer.
We filmed our visit last week as part of our Facebook Live events in which we like to bring the battlefields to you as you cannot visit us at the moment. It was a chilly, windy day so we had some technical problems with the camera cutting out near the end, but we managed to finish, and that is why the video is in 2 parts. Every man has a story, we wish we knew them all, but at least we can share some of them.
On 18th September we attended a special event at the Industrilab in Meaulte which is the R&D arm of the Aerospace industry here in Albert/Meaulte.
With a limited audience and Covid compliant, we attended lectures and workshops about the historic aviation past of Albert and developments for the future. The morning centred around Henry Potez who is the father of aviation from Albert, and his legacy. From humble beginnings he designed aircraft and founded what was to become the world’s largest aviation factory. Between 1930-1935 the Potez factory produced 1500 aircraft per month. During the Second World War he was removed from his own factory and it was used by the Germans to repair their aircraft. So since Potez’s day there has always been an aviation factory here. From a turfed runway for those early pilots, there is now an international grade runway and it is why Albert has its own international airport. Now on site, Stelia make the nose cones/cockpits for Airbus. In the afternoon we had a chance to look at some of the aviation industry innovations which will lead to greener flying in future years. Bigger brains then ours are working on some exciting innovation and prototypes. It was a fascinating day, and in normal times we would be energized by such a day, and we were, but this was tempered with a fear for the workers at the current factory and its sub contractors as nobody is buying planes at the moment. The aviation industry has been really important to the economic heart of this area for the last 100 years, and while we hope that continues, we really worry about the security of jobs in the current climate.
Potez Grave in Albert
One of the speakers at the Symposium was Stephane Demilly, our local MP (called a Depute here in France) who has been Mayor of Albert as well as a Depute and has written a book on the life of Henry Potez, he too is passionate about aviation in the area. He is visible and approachable and we have met him on many occasions and he knows our business. We were therefore delighted to learn this weekend that he has been elected to France’s Senate, as Senator for The Somme, The Senate being the 2nd tier of Government which sits at the Palais de Luxembourg in Paris. We hope he will continue to do good work for our region.
We have had more time to catch up with friends this month, so it has been lovely having early evening aperitifs (aperos) on the terrace in the good September weather with our friends and neighbours. Always Covid careful, our terrace is the perfect place to sit and catch up. We will miss it when the weather is not so good. Catching up with our French friends always gives us a new perspective, a chance to exchange news and ideas and so many of our friends are knowledgeable about the history of our wonderful area. David took our friends Ludo and Chantal on a battlefield tour, completing it in French!
As we said at the start, life is never dull and we have a rich variety of interests and projects to keep us entertained. We made some spiced plum chutney using plums and apples from our garden, the chutney now maturing in the larder. It is a good opportunity to catch up on preserving and baking for when guests do start coming around our table again. Autumn is a rich produce time! The freezer filling for future goodies to be shared.
We are also helping the daughter of a friend with her English. Once a week we meet with Cheyenne (14) for an English lesson to supplement what she learns at school. Julie plays the firm but friendly school mistress, and, well, you can imagine David’s role…while Julie talks about rules and conditional tenses, and pronunciation tips, David talks about Spongebob Squarepants living under the sea. Last week we were looking at sentences which contain “I have to and I like to….” Next thing David is playing “I like to… move it move it,” from the film Madagascar.
Please come back guests, I don’t think we can take anymore.
For those who need a little cheering up, here is the song:
More sad news this month. In the space of a few days 2 more of our old girls died. Two of our red hens, Edie and Harriet flew over the rainbow bridge to join their dear departed friends. No trauma, just old age catching up and peaceful ends to their feathered lives. It leaves us with black hen Marge (in charge) and red Florence. Thy were a bit confused for a few nights with just 2 of them, but they have settled into their new routine as room mates. It is sad seeing just 2 of them now, but we have decided to wait until they are gone before getting any more chickens. We know our chickens have the best possible chicken life. Fly free dear girls Edie and Harriet.
In happier times , the hens love to sunbathe!
On Tuesday we had a visit from a goose, she was a little confused, we found her in our garden and she stayed for several hours. After a good rest and a drink of water she took off again. We think she was on the migration path and had got tired and dehydrated. We hope she makes it to warmer climes where her friends await. As we (and Forrest Gump) say - life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.
All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well. Stay cheerful. See you soon we hope.