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It was a normal day at the Edinburgh Festival (The biggest arts festival in the world)–sitting for seven hours imbibing the creative juices of others.

Time it takes to fly to New York–with breaks.

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In-between shows coffee break at Spoon Café Bistro–the laid back café, where J K Rowling sat for hours conjuring up Harry Potter.

Starting at 10am at the Traverse Theatre and finishing at 11pm at the Festival Theatre.

We saw four remarkable shows and walked home happy.

Mark Thomas–who combines stand-up comedy with political activism–started our day with a sad tale entitled Cuckooed.

Comedian Mark Thomas, whose new show Cuckooed will debut at the Edinburgh festival in August.

In a brilliantly funny display of controlled anger–he tells the true story of how he and a small group of friends, members of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were betrayed by someone they thought of as a trusted comrade and friend, who was in fact an undercover spy for BAE–the UK’s leading arms manufacturer.

The fellow had been warning his paymasters of every move planned by the protest group.

Some of the people affected have had mental health issues as a direct consequence,” Mark says. ” I want audiences to understand the emotional turmoil something like this kicks off.”

Doesn’t sound like a barrel of early morning laughs but Thomas managed to send us out of the theatre an hour later in a merry mood of indignation–keen to take on our next audience challenge.

A taxi ride across the medieval old town of Edinburgh

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took us to the Festival Theatre and the prospect of seeing The James Plays;

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Left to right and King James I, II and III–actors James McArdle, Andrew Rothney, and Jamie Sives.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s new three play saga written by Rona Munro, set in medieval Scotland.

No coincidence of course that there is a referendum coming up on the 18th of September–a vote for or against independence for Scotland.

“YES” and “NO” signs high and low across town–signaled a campaign in full swing.

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We were in the Upper Circle for James I and II and in the Stalls for James III.

From on high we could make out the faint markings of the Scottish flag on the stage floor–white cross on blue background; the plays tell the story of a nation emerging through the 15th century.

James I was at Agincourt (1415) as long time prisoner of England’s Henry V. 

James II was on the throne when Leonardo da Vinci was born, April 15 1452–five hundred years to the day before the birth of Meredith Wheeler!

Towards the end of the reign of Scotland’s James III, England’s hunchback Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485).

Not a whiff of Shakespeare, more Stratford East than Stratford upon Avon, with a rude boy Henry bullying his captive–future James I of Scotland–with Saturday-night-out language that our taxi driver would recognise.

An exhilarating experience and destined for The National Theatre down south.

Sweet William’s way with words would describe one common theme in the plays.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown“.

Twenty- four hours later, we were back in the Tarn.

While the audience was arriving for the final performance at the Festival Theatre…

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…we sat outside, eating our pasta, watching the cows.

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We were on top of the world Saturday afternoon in the high hills of les Monts de Lacaune to the east of Lautrec–waiting with an expectant crowd…

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…for four French paratroopers to fall from the sky.

Both the crowd on the ground and the “angels” about to descend, were–perhaps unknowingly–re-enacting events that happened here, in an occupied wartime France, 70 years ago.

In early August 1944 the Allies organized several parachute missions to deliver weapons, supplies and soldiers to the resistance fighters in the Tarn. The German occupation forces got wind of one of these midnight drops and on the night of August 8th, they attacked the drop zone killing seven young maquis fighters. Their sacrifice was being remembered and honored at Saturday’s event.

In 1944 Guy de Rouville (below) was commander of the Maquis of Vabre–the Resistance group in charge of the secret drop zone. He was 29 years old.

At 99 his memory of these events is remarkable and his enthusiasm to communicate it, undiminished.

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Guy de Rouville laying  flowers in honor of the slain young men whom he had once commanded.

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Guy, in full flood, telling his story.

Guy and his wife, Odile (96), still live in the hill village of Vabre, where they once welcomed a young English major and two French officers from the Jedburgh mission who had parachuted onto this hillside on the night of the 8th August 1944.

The previous night they had taken in an American soldier who had broken his leg landing in the same drop zone with 14 comrades. They were an OSS commando unit sent from a base in North Africa to support local partisans and disrupt the German supply lines before the still little-known southern D-Day landings near St. Tropez on 15th August 1944.

All the parachute drops, made under cover of darkness and in a remote place, put the local population in peril on a day to day basis from the Nazi occupation forces.

The drop zone is on the opposite side of the valley from Vabre near the village of Viane.

Viane is en fete this weekend and murmurs were heard about the commemoration stealing its thunder.

Small murmerings–most of the crowd, like us, were looking forward to the parachute jump by the 8th RPIM (8e régiment de parachutistes d’infanterie de marine) based in nearby Castres.

We were not disappointed.

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Despite an unpredictable wind making it more difficult…

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…three hit the orange target…

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…and the fourth was within twenty feet or so.

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Meredith and “an angel that fell from the sky”!

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Guy stands with today’s “angels”, 70 years after he welcomed the war-time flights.

Meredith is an American porte drapeau, carrying the American flag at ceremonies of remembrance in the region.

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It was at one of these ceremonies where she heard the story of the American OSS team’s landing and their vital contribution to the liberation of the south Tarn two weeks after their arrival.

She received a Fulbright grant to document the history of that mission, interviewing most of the surviving members of the maquis group involved with the OSS mission. Two of the OSS men were killed in action in the Tarn. Their sacrifice and the memory of their deeds are honored by French veterans every year here–sometimes in the presence of American family members who come to see where their loved ones served.

Unlike the French paratroopers we watched Saturday, the OSS and the Jedburgh teams parachuted at night, laden with heavy equipment, into occupied France–with little idea what awaited them.

Their courage has never been forgotten here.

 

 

 

 

 

Bye, Bye, Dr Halse!

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A week today at roughly 5.05 pm the Reverend Dr Halse walked out of the card room on the ground floor of George Warleggan’s impressive mansion and disappeared.

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It had been a bruising encounter.

That pest, Poldark–more than a pest–a ruffian and a rogue–had challenged him and indeed any of his esteemed colleagues on the bench to “meet” him at any convenient time.

An outrage.

As he headed for the door he was heard muttering:

He is a traitor to his class and he WILL get his come-uppance–such men are dangerous and must not be tolerated!

Next meeting of the justices…!

If it were up to me alone, he’d be following Jim Carter to Bodmin Gaol or better still–the Antipodes.

And then he was gone–in a puff of self-righteous, sulfurous smoke.

*          *          *

In truth, he popped in a unit car and with Meredith by his side was driven the short distance to the unit camp.

There he was relieved of the wig and the costume and–Jekyll and Hyde-like–resumed his everyday guise as Robin.

In a trice the car was off again, speeding towards Bath and the London train.

All that was left of the Reverend Dr. Halse was a name on the dressing room door–

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a pile of sombre 18th century clerical clothes, a beautifully woven wig and a faint smell of sulfur in the air….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…no, we’ll never tell them:

We spent our pay in some cafe, And fought wild women night and day, ‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had”.

And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,

Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them

There was a front, but damned if we knew where.

~Oh What a Lovely War

When we returned from UK there was a small package waiting for me from my cousin Geoffrey Andrews.

I was expecting it.

It contained the First World War medals of our grandfather–James P. Weakford and a sheet of paper with photographs of the medals and a photo of Geoffrey’s father, my uncle, the gloriously-named Merlin Andrews.

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Uncle Merlin served on the Western Front at Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele as a Lewis machine gunner.

He survived to continue in business with his brother Fred in their butchers shop in the Fulham Road, West London.

He died aged over a hundred after receiving the Legion d’Honneur (with the red ribbon) from the French government.

Imprinted on the back of one of our grandfather’s two medals are the words: The Great War for Civilisation.

Geoffrey says Merlin never talked about the war.

This seems to be a common factor–few who survived were willing to revisit the horrors they’d seen and lived with.

Harry Patch–one of the last survivors–told no one, not even his wife, he said in a BBC Radio 4 interview, until he was persuaded to write a book about it when he was well over one hundred.

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Understandable reticence but regrettable….

Telling it like it was would have helped counter the myth-making intentions behind the phrase imprinted on the reverse of Grandfather Weakford’s medal.

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The “Great” War?

The Catastrophic War of Unintended Consequences” more like.

 

It’s the 14th of July, Bastille Day–La Fête Nationale, celebrating the day the notorious prison La Bastille in Paris, was stormed and destroyed, in July 1789.

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The fall of the Bastille, symbolizes the start of the French Revolution, which led to the killing of the king–Louis the XVI and the end of the ancient regime (old order).

Shortly after, on 4th August, feudalism was abolished and on 26th August 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was proclaimed.

Momentous stuff–allez les Bleus!

Things were a good deal less momentous here this morning!

The distant whizz-bangs from the fireworks in Lautrec late Saturday evening and the sounds of one side’s ecstatic celebrations in Rio de Janeiro last night have given way to blessed silence.

Just the cooing of a dove and the chirps of birds telling each other about our bird feeder.

The supermarkets are closed (Sundays too–a new edict from the Prefet of the Tarn, our department) and there’s no post.

Visitors are always puzzled, often dismayed and sometimes angered about the eccentricities, as they see it, of commercial opening hours here.

There are four rush hours on normal weekdays as people take off at midday for lunch, chez eux (at home).

The Tour de France–the jauntiness of the logo below belies the task they face today…

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is in the mountains of the Vosges, close to the German border, for a second day–just a few ups and downs!

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A Frenchman hasn’t won the tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985–an astonishing and damning statistic.

Wearing the yellow jersey (maillot jaune) today, which denotes the leader, is Tony Gallopin, a Frenchman.

French pride restored, if only for a day–but the biggest day in the French calendar.

I shall be urging them on from the comfort of the sofa; in awe at another day of agony suffered by the riders in this epic of athletic endurance.

Allez tout le monde!

 

Harry Comes Back!!

Harry–whose mother, the renown Mrs.Tiggy-Winkle, told him not to worry–

“You have a way with you, Harry” she said  “doors will always open for you–you’re a lucky one….’

CAME BACK last night!

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Meredith was in the kitchen, taking a late phone call; I was in bed reading about the causes of the First World War!

We’d closed up for the night–all the doors to the house were shut.

She heard a noise over by the cat bowls. “Someone is having late night snack,” she thought.

Not one of the cats though–the young ones were outside, Pippa up on the bed with me.

“Crunch, crunch…”

She couldn’t quite see the bowl from where she was sitting, so she got up, phone in hand and there–cool as you like–was a hedgehog, tucking into the cat food.

They looked at each other in a shared moment of disbelief–before he dodged round the corner into the larder.

She explained the situation to the friend on the phone:

“You won’t believe this but there’s another hedgehog in the house!”

Then shot upstairs to tell me the tale.

“Where is it now?”

“In the larder–we’ll have to get it out of there!”

“Is it Harry?”

“I’m not sure.”

No escape, I thought, put my book aside and rolled out of bed.

There he was–in the corner–protected by a roasting rack, as far away as he could get.

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Curled up into a tight ball, he looked smaller than Harry.

Was it another member of the intrepid Tiggy-Winkle family, “chancing its arm”?

We cleared the cluttered space and Meredith gently managed to grasp him, protected by a pair of tough gardening gloves.

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Two days ago, while Harry was still in the flying basket, before he scuttled back to Mum, Meredith had dabbed a spot of pink nail varnish on the tip of some of his spikes, to identify him should he return.

“Look, Rob–there’s the pink mark!”

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Hard to see at first but there it was.

We felt like a pair of nature conservationists!

It was Harry–the first hedgehog to fly in the history of the world!

Clearly emboldened by his first adventure and apparently finding that door open again, he may have thought, “Well, the worst that can happen to me is I get to fly a second time. Here goes!”

Meredith gently carried him outside and left him to find his bearings next to a bowl of cat food…and prepare another explanation for a worried Mother Tiggy-Winkle.

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Now Harry–this has got to stop!

 

 

 

A Tale from Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle of the Tarn

–with apologies to B. Potter!

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It was when she was about to iron Harry’s shirt–a day or two ago now, even three–that Mrs Tiggy-Winkle had a thought.

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“Where is Harry for that matter–haven’t set eyes on him for–well, a day or two now.

He’s always off somewhere–it’s a worry, but he usually comes back by dinner time!”

Harry’s hunger for adventure has its limitations.

What did he say?

“Ma–you know you always say–‘Harry, no need to worry about your future, you have a way with you; doors will always open for you–you’re a lucky one–I feel it in my water, you’ll fall in the butter dish, my boy, mark my words–you will!’

Well, today’s the day, Ma–I’ve spotted a door and it’s open…

And we know that Harry’s was telling the truth about the open door, because a day or two ago–even three, we started finding “EVIDENCE” of an additional presence in the house.

We’d grown accustomed to finding “evidence” these past few weeks to be sure, but always OUTSIDE the house; now this “evidence” was appearing INSIDE!

I found some on the floor of the larder–Meredith found some around the cats’ feeding bowls.

It took a moment for the penny to drop (or tuppence in this case!).

Then we looked at each other…

“There’s a HEDGEHOG in the house!”

But where?

Finding a hedgehog in hiding is only marginally easier than finding a needle in a haystack.

Concealment is their business–they’re professionals and even to a youngster like Harry, it’s second nature.

“I’ll look in the pile of firewood,” says Meredith unconvincingly and heads for the dining room.

No luck–but more “evidence”.

There’s hope though.

A late spring cleaning is seriously underway and tables and chairs are piled high with STUFF, reducing the places of safety for hedgehogs–in search of a quiet nook.

“Rob, Rob come here–QUICK!!”

Meredith’s voice is coming from outside the front door.

There, in a shopping basket that had been parked on the front hall floor, is Harry–just visible under a light cotton shopping bag, his cover blown, his singular adventure at an end–surrounded by “evidence”.  (How LONG has he been in residence??)

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Meredith thinks to lift him out with a pair of oven gloves.

“No! no!”  I cry, “in the basket–carry him in the basket round the corner, next to the woodpile near where they come from to eat in the evenings.”

A short flight but an historic one, through the gate and round the corner–one can’t be sure but maybe it’s the first recorded flight by a hedgehog in the history of the world!

Meredith gently lands the basket with Ben overseeing the operation.

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…and eating the cat food meant to entice Harry out of his basket home!

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After a deal of sniffing round the rim and peeking over the top Harry finds  a way out and scuttles off back to Mum!

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Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle wasn’t far wrong–things fall out well for Harry–he even got to fly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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