Gourmet Nantes

This weekend I was lucky enough to be offered a “Chocolate addict workshop”(Thanks to my lovely wife!) in Nantes, run by the great people at “Epicure vous Salue” (https://www.facebook.com/epicurevoussalue/?fref=ts run by Marion, a trained diététicien ) and “Le Gâteau sous la Cerise” (http://www.legateausouslacerise.com/)  managed by Floriane Millet).


I love chocolate, but really know very little about it, and even less about cooking or using it proprerly. Ok, I’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl when a child, and loved it, and probably had a more or less permanent chocolate moustache on my lips/face/ and chocolate smeared liberally over my hands/clothes/  when a child/adult/today.

So I entered the shop and said hello to the other participants, (Liz, Thomas and Mary ( who runs a tea shop https://www.facebook.com/Marys-Tea-Room-904536599588888/?fref=ts). We started with a great cup of tea from the store, and settled down on our chairs to listen to the story of chocolate.


For me as a child Chocolate was just “stuff” I gobbled down (what a PIG) and as a child in the UK the big brands were Cadbury’s or Mars, Rowntree, Nestlé , Milka or even a rare bar of Toblerone. Later, as an adult , I would graze the aisles of the supermarket and buy a bar, but the best was probably Green and Black  or Lindt.

Then one day we went to a big store in Lakeside, Essex and I found a “real ” chocolate shop, sadly closed now, but the owner had a whole range of bars of various % chocolates.

But I hadn’t really “understood” the story until yesterday’s fantastic workshop.

Marion and Floriane walked us through the  story of the different varieties of plant (there are 3!) and why chocolate is so expensive (basically the pod is a fruit from a flower with

no perfume, that lasts 48 hrs, and so is rarely pollinated , and when it is very few go onto produce fruits ). A tree produces 6000 flowers, but only 20 pods!. Once the pod has been harvested (you plant a tree and wait 4 years!) then you have to do loads of things to it to get chocolate.

So the pod is very careflully harvested, so as not to damage the tree, and then opened. The inside is spread out and left to ferment, much ike a wine or beer or bread, to develop the flavours, and then dried , either in the sun (best) or an oven (cheapest) to prevent fungal infection and rotting. Then the beans are cleaned, and processed,then roasted and the shell is removed and the inside (a nib) is ground into a paste. There are two components to the paste, solids and butter. At the workshop we got to taste the bean in all its forms, throughout the process, and you’d never believe chocolate came from such a bitter tasting bean.

The chocolate is blended (or not if its a pure single plantation ) and different % of cocoa paste are added and sugar. Then its conched, tempered and finally poured into moulds.

So each step needs skill and hence really good chocolate could be compared to a fine wine, or  tea.


We nibbled our way through the three types of chocolate, white, milk and dark chocolate, testing the varous countries of origin, % of choclate or cocoa butter,  the notes of red fruits or nuts , the acidity or bitterness, and at the end I felt that I’d just scratched the surface of a passion. We climbed up the choco hill from 30% all the way to 100% (wow!) In between we had a fun quiz, and learnt so much, drank cups of tea or water and chatted, cracking jokes, and learnt that Chocolate was a drug( it must be as there was a garden gnome stuck on the ceiling of the shop!)


Then finally we made some chocolate covered cakes , kindly supplied by Floriane. They didn’t last too long!

She had spent the evening before melting the chocolate  and all we had to do was make a mess!WP_20160116_11_48_00_Pro

The time ran like rabbits and at the end, mouth smeared with cholate and new friends made, we bought some stuff and visited the shops of the presenters. A great gift!

After we browsed in Marion’s store and bought some goodies, and visited Floriane’s store for some great ideas, which I’ll use when I try to make Easter eggs. I MUST pop back to both shops and get some equipment ASAP! Why not give it a go yourself?









Picking blackberries

So we walked, Tupperware boxes in our hands down those leafy country paths,bushes and plants towering over our heads, giving the impression we were walking into natures green cathedral. Its a Sunday afternoon, the heat is shimmering on the tarmac, and the breeze is slight. Its not so hot that you have to lie in the shade panting though, and this afternoon looks promising. We walk towards the Méron Marshes. Along the hedgerows we see many bushes bearing fruit, rose hips, hawthorns ,sloes, blackberries, all laden with ripening fruit. Autumn is early this year. Here and there, in those deep dry ditches, we can here animals scuttling, lizards, birds. I warn Tom about snakes, and stay close. But they are just lizards, darting over the stones.

Picking sloes and blackberries, the summer heat beats down on us, walking through those country paths, chatting in the long grass, being stung by nettles and buzzed by insects.Our hands are scratched, blue with juice. Tom and I fill up our bowls with fruit, and head back home.The crunch of the stones as we walk, the summer sun slowly sinking, shadows lengthening.We get to our kitchen and empty the bowls, and head out again.We’ll make a blackberry pie, and the sloes will go in the freezer, and I’ll make sloe gin with them. The warmth of the summer sun can still be tasted then, even in the depths of winter.

Remembering the beginnings.The Medway Poets.

When I was 16 or 17, perhaps a little older, around 1986/1987, while we were students at what was Rochester Tutors, my brother and I would go to the Old Town Hall, in Chatham and read our poems every week. Our dad would drive us, dropping us off at the town hall, behind an old cemetery.
We were probably still listening to Punk music, listening to bands like Dead Kennedy’s and The Sex Pistols, we were young and naive.
Here would be a collection of poets, and artists, including Charles Thompson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thomson_(artist)#The_Medway_Poets) and Sexton Ming (whose name was remarkable!) as well as Billy Childish and others would gather and read there poems. We would turn up, breathe in, stand up and dare to read our poems. People clapped or laughed, or ignored or even respected our attempts. I remember poems about Benson’s and Hedges and thin end of wedges, and the Thames being full of effluent.
People would come and ask Charles Thompson about publication advice, or copyright issues, he gave his time.
We went many times, perhaps over a period of years, but were never in the limelight like Tracy Emin. Eventually, around 1988/1989 we went off to University and stopped going.
Later my brother went to university, where he did English and then Children’s literature at master’s level, and he now teaches this at a private school,and I drifted to science, coming back to English as an adult. I currently teach English writing at UCO and St Edward’s University, Angers, as well as training business people in local businesses.

Anyway, looking back at this time stirs many memories, and I still think we were really brave to stand up and read our poems, certainly my heart beat rose, when none of or friends (who just thought it bonkers!) thought poems were cool. And today some of those Medway Poets have become internationally famous. But I must stop basking in their reflected glory.
I can’t claim to have been a key member of their group, or even in their group, we were planets in the outer reaches of their solar system, drifting on our own course. And The Medway Poets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Medway_Poets) had been going as a group for over ten years when we turned up!

I recently found a dusty file full of my poems, written between 1980 and 1990, all terrible, written in earnest, written in hope. There was even a book with a hand drawn title page, 70 poems in all. I even typed them out, on paper, rather pompously.

Here is a poem from way back then. Charles Thomson (his work can be seen here http://www.stuckismphotography.com/pages/charles.html) and my brother helped write this one, and Kirsten (my then friend and co-student at Rochester Tutor’s) re-read and corrected the (many!) spelling mistakes, so I can’t claim it’s all my own work. Bear in mind the summer job that year for my brother was raspberry picking, which he hated, as you can see from the poem. We were young, so go easy!

Written around the mid/late 1980’s, perhaps around summer 1986


The grim raspberry reaper is back in town
He beats up the other raspberry pickers
Working for 50p an hour
More weight, more cash
The grim raspberry reaper gorges
A tray of pest ridden raspberries
“Like eating pots of grease , like drinking pints of phlegm”
Look at the grim raspberry reaper
Look at the rooting , tooting raspberry pickers
Look at the grim raspberry reaper booting rooting tooting raspberry pickers

Don’t worry about capital punishment
Just send ’em raspberry picking
The pickers are getting angry now
There is going to be a riot
The grim raspberry reaper gives them electric shock treatment
The grim raspberry reaper annihilates the raspberry pickers
He recruits more and more raspberry pickers
Never go raspberry picking
Never eat raspberries

(This statement has been issued on behalf of the national board for the promotion of Kiwi fruit)

Hurray for Hollywood?

More than 100 years ago, Hollywood films were black and white, short films and silent. The idea of a feature-length movie, 3D film and colour and sound all came into films in a very short period in or around 1920. However, Technical challenges meant some ideas were only adapted later, when the technology was really available.

So the time line looks like this. The first feature-length film was in 1906, an australian invention, as population density and distribution issues meant that shipping shorts around such a large are was a challenge, so why not charge more for a longer film? However shorts were the mainstream form until the 1920’s, when feature films became more prolific than shorts in Hollywood production. 3D was invented in 1915, but really only became technically possible in the 1950’s and beyond, and its only the last ten or twenty years when this form really looks mainstream.Indeed, Audiences seem to move away from this film, and it seems increasingly aimed at the cartoon marked. Pixar released Cars 2 was in 3D but Planes, effectively a Pixar release under the Disney flag wasn’t.So is this the end for 3D? perhaps the end of this cycle.

Sound came in 1921 also, but didn’t really take off until 1927. Look at Harold Lloyd, who made 600 silent films, but only a handful of talkies.Colour film was also available early on, but again, cost and technical issues meant it was rare and really only became mainstream in the late 1930’s

Early stars

  • Ben TurpinMabel NormandEdna PurvianceRoscoe “FattyArbuckleCharlie ChaplinBuster KeatonHarold LloydCharley ChaseStan LaurelOliver Hardy and The Marx Brothers were all early stars , often coming from acting or theatrical families and backgrounds. Many of these names are forgotten now, perhaps Chaplin and Keaton live on in people’s memories, but the others, even though they were big stars in their day, are long forgotten now. Few of these stars won Oscars, as the Oscars only started in 1929, but there films really influenced the art form and arguably continue to do so. Indeed Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton as well as Charlie Chaplin all made millions from film, Harold Lloyd made over 15 million dollars. (compared to Chaplin’s 10 million dollars or so)

The Art form develops

We can see the at form develop, and the authorities trying to control it. In the beginning, slapstick was prevalent, with pratfalls and slips,then the Keystone Kops introduced the idea of ridiculing authority in the period just before WWI. Chaplin and Keaton challenged authority, Keaton with ‘The General’ and Chaplin with ‘Modern Times ‘ and ‘The Dictator’. Harold Lloyd continued in his slapstick daredevil theme, probably running out of steam, or the public changing its habits/expectations and of course talking pictures came in and ended many careers. In 1920, 70% of the adult population in the USA went to the cinema every week, today it’s about 10%.Indeed until the late 40’s, and early 50’s no one really had a TV and the only way to get news was through the radio, or news reels at the cinema. TV ownership took off in the 60’s and 70’s,  and Cinema audiences dropped to an all time low in the 1980’s. However, since then cinema audience have been growing, with the growth of block buster films and special effects.

Silent films may well be laughed at due to their camp overacting but look at the timing and stunts and consider the technology; Chaplin was really good at timing. You can see this in his very first film, with the soap box cars, he gets his hat off the race track; This looks incredibly dangerous, but is probably the result of planning and calculation; a gag, done off the cuff http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQNK6ag4kSQ

Did TV take over from cinema, well yes and no. Certain forms, like the short and the news reel have become either an art form or extinct.Newsreels died out in the 50’s and by the 60’s were dead. Indeed JFK’s death was probably the first big event on TV but not newsreel. Which magnifies its intimacy.

Films seem to have got longer and longer, the short evolved to become an hour ,60 minutes became 90 minutes became Longer still; as early as 1914, 8 hr films were being made and released in mainstream, all be it as a test of the audience. The longest film now is a whopping 15 hrs.

Hollywood invented ways to control the audience and censors , and of course the FBI and McCarthy made sure certain acts and writers were not seen or used. America descended into a paranoia . Many countries established boards to give films certificates and codes of conduct.However, filmmakers did perhaps seek to shock the public or to tantalize with swearing, nudity and other lowest common denominator tactics. The audience loves a shock, but not too much. Hitchcock understood that as well as anyone. In Physcho, nudity is minimal, violence is almost suggested rather than visualised and graphic. You don’t see the knife go into the body, just the blood running down the plughole. The corpse is wrapped in the shower curtain. You don’t see the naked body. But the audience was/is petrified. Filmmakers then thought(or still think) that if we showed audiences the grisly details, and the graphic images, the film would be somehow better. It becomes like the Black Knight in Python’s Film, almost stupid and funny. In the end, film has to be more than a recording of events, but also leave some interpretation for the audience.

The best films were made before 1950? Well a lot of those on the best 100 lists or top ten films do seem to be from the “Golden Age’ of Hollywood, and we could cite Citizen Kane or The General. The list here http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time probably has cinema greats from many eras, and probably forgets many films. Anyway, we must remember that The Film Foundation estimates half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.  The Film Foundation supports “hands-on” preservation and restoration to ensure that these films – these works of art, historical records, and essential representations of our culture – will survive for future generations. Imagine if this was painting, or even theatre! Consider Shakespeare, with one lost play to whet our appetite.

But of course excellent films are still made, and these lists will look silly in 100 years time.

The future

Perhaps new ideas involving multiple sensory experiences will become mainstream. I recently went to a theatre to see the story of a rain drop, animated,  in 3D and had fog squirted in my face and a vibrating chair, as well as the use of smells and odours to heighten the experience. Here the objective seems to be to try to touch all the senses, sight, sound, touch, taste and hearing. Will we see a cinema designed for mainstream use like this?. Will the short continue its journey towards art,becoming more and more progressive and perhaps even pretentious? Every 70 years or so, the public seems to change . Its 70 years since the end of WW2, and society has radically changed, and many mainstream forms of communication have become democratized. Newspapers , the stalwart of my parents generation won’t be as widespread for my children’s or grandchildren’s generation. YouTube and Daily motion mean that with simple software, which is often free to download or included in software packages or even pre-installed on home computers , films and film making are open to all. Social networks will evolve and of course be used and abused.

Perhaps we will see films which change according to the audience expectation. So if the audience expects X to marry/kill or whatever Y, the story could evolve so that this happens, or to give an anticlimax so that it doesn’t. The chair of the theatre could monitor heartbeat or even brain activity, or perhaps the audience could just vote and the film could be released with 5 endings, so you could decide which you preferred. Of course, the best film lets the audience decide for themselves on the way home!

If we look also at film making today, only last week a group of youngsters got arrested in Iran for making a “Happy” video of the Farrel Williams song and posting it on YouTube. So governments still see film and music as a dangerous tool for the population and seek to control using propaganda and chewing gum distraction films.Look at the problems Michael Moore has had, or other ‘parallel’ film makers like you’d see at the Sundance Festival . Indeed one could argue that a lot of Hollywood films was/is the Russians loosing, or the Native Indians loosing, or someone (generally a baddies) loosing, and the good ,generally white,all American guy winning. The story of competition rather than cooperation.

Early American film was very masculine, and I think it really continues t be so, with really very few global female stars.


The death of Hollywood? The death of America? The death of Film?

India makes more films than Hollywood, and has done so for nearly 40 years. Although Hollywood produces only a fraction of the number of films made all over the world, it garners a staggering 75% of total revenues. Also, 50% of its earnings(expected to grow to 80% in the next 20 years) come from the foreign market whereas for Bollywood it is 20%. But, India has a young and growing population, and Bollywood films are becoming more ‘western’ and less ‘Indian’s dance around in red spangle costumes whilst wearing a turban with an Elephant and some crazy musak” cliché. (I’ll let you decide if this is a good thing or not!). Can Bollywood break through the cultural barriers and make a film that excites audiences worldwide? Does the decile of American Cinema mean the decline of American society.Does the internet mean that people can now watch anything anywhere anytime, and that copyright is an outdated and unenforceable concept? Well probably not. people will still pay to spend time together, sharing experiences. Holding a loved ones hand while watching a weepy can be done in a darkened living room, or in a darkened cinema.

One thing is for sure, Films will evolve, as they always have done, going from grainy black and white hand powered things to the computerised 3D colour experiences of today. So society will too. Icons will remain, the silhouette of Chaplin or the music from Laurel and Hardy, and new stars will come old ones will die, or become “has beens”. Hollywood will continue to crank out films, as long as people worldwide want to go and see them. Indeed, Competing against TV means that quality could improve, either for TV or Film. Certainly the increase in TV miniseries and groundbreaking ideas, like series such as 6 feet under, Dexter and even Friends (which still works 20 years later) all make TV a great media. Breaking bad ! Desperate Housewives, all of these were & are great.

So to just end up, perhaps the old ways will be replaced by new. Those films where Rocky beats up the Veitcongs, or Dolph Lundgren kills people will become a thing of the past and we will see some intellectual finery in this art form! Next time you go to the movie theatre to sit and watch a film, think about what the film is really selling. Remember, James Bond never dies. One film maker who just baffles me is Clint eastwood, who has made such fine films and such ugly films, both from the same palette.Perhaps his success has been to adapt to the audience.

Old Determinism Machine Seperate units Atoms Exact quantities Observaton Control Competition Freedom is illusory
New Indeterminism Organism Interconnection Fields Articulated structure interaction participation cooperation creativity
implications Every moment is a chance to learn new things, an opportunity for discovery Learning in every moment of interaction Empathy, relationship,togetherness Why we do what we do Understanding involves sensitivity to patterns I accept to be changed by what I encounter I learn to engage with the world I look for mutual benefit I find new ways of being and perceiving

The walk to school

When I was very young, from the age of 5 to the age of eleven, every school day I would walk with a family friend ( an adult woman who was our neighbour)  from our house at 50 Edwin Road to our primary school, Fairview School in Wigmore.(in Kent)

We would walk, with our neighbour, my brother , her daughters and she would walk us to the school gates. We would make our own way home, walking through the alleys , kicking the dead leaves, all the way to Wigmore.

We would walk up Edwin Road, past Sylvan road and the junction with Marshall Road, up to Durham road. Then we would turn left, towards the row of shops(here was a sweet shop where we bought ‘Mojos” sweets for half pence (yes, the halfpence still existed), later, it became a video shop,now its just a house.) and cross Durham road and head through alleys, into Cambridge road, then Asquith road, then onto Woodside. On Woodside was another  shops, a post office selling, sweets and newspapers.We would cross Woodside, and continue along the alley, past a scout hut and walk onto Edwards Close, and then onto Drewery Drive. This was when we arrived at school.

It sounds difficult to believe all these years later, and when I look at the route on Google earth, it seems so far.


Then, when I was 11, we went to a different school,  Rainham Mark Grammar School. I walked with my sister , or alone from Edwin Road. We would walk down Edwin road, cross at the pelican crossing,  past the paper shop and filling station,go into Elizabeth Court, onto the Roman Track, down, past the garages and back alleys, past abandoned condoms and shopping trolleys.We would exit on Hawthorne Avenue, and continue past Ashley Road. On the corner of Ashley road were shops, selling sweets and cloths. I seem to remember Walley Wombat’s shop being here, as well as a great sweet shop. We would either turn down Ashley road, or continue down hawthorne avenue to the Dewdrop pub, turn and head towards Pump Lane and our school.


Later, I would cycle into school, or sometimes my dad would drop us off on the way to work, when they got a second car when I was a teenager.

Then, when I was 16, we went to Rochester Tutors. here, dad would take us in, or very occasionally(perhaps ten times in all!) I would cycle to college. But it was Dad who would drive  me and my sister (and my brother, who joined us later) until I passed my driving test and got my first car at 18.I would also take the train to college , perhaps for a year. So I would walk to Rainham train station and catch the train to Rochester.


Then , when I was 19, I went to university. I went to CCAT, which became Anglia Polytechnic, which became Anglia Polytechnic University, which became Anglia Ruskin University.

In my first year, I lived on Mawson Road,  which was right across from University until the last term, when I moved out to

the High Street in Chesterton


I lived there for two terms, not so long, and then, we moved with some friends for an Academic year to the bottom of Mill Road. Then, we moved to a dingy house for a couple of terms near  Romsey Road. Then I had a flat next to university, on Collier Road. After, I lived with my friend Sylvie, in Cherry Hinton.Then University finished.I was 23, and I went to Chelsmford to do a PGCE for a year.

All that is so long ago!

Blessed or Thankful Villages. Les Villages “Beni” ou “Chanceux”

1oo years ago, men and women  set out to fight in World War One

il y a cent ans , les hommes et femmes sont parti, dans la grand guerre. Voir la version francais au- dessous


Millions died, were wounded, lost , but some survived. The blessed or lucky villages were villages where no men died all the men and women returned.Some are double , both world wars.


13 of the English and Welsh villages are considered “doubly thankful“, in that they also lost no service personnel during World War II These are marked with a (D) in the list below.

  • Stoke Hammond
  • Llanfihangel y Creuddyn
  • Herodsfoot (D)
  • Ousby
  • Bradbourne
  • Langton Herring (D)
  • Hunstanworth
  • Strethall
  • Colwinston
  • Coln Rogers
  • Little Sodbury
  • Upper Slaughter (D)
  • Knill
  • Middleton-on-the-Hill (D)
  • Puttenham
  • Knowlton
  • Arkholme (D)
  • Nether Kellet (D)
  • Saxby
  • East Norton
  • Stretton en le Field
  • Bigby
  • Flixborough (D)
  • High Toynton (D)
  • Minting
  • East Carlton
  • Woodend
  • Meldon
  • Cromwell
  • Maplebeck
  • Wigsley
  • Wysall
  • Herbrandston (D)
  • Teigh
  • Harley
  • Aisholt
  • Chantry
  • Chelwood
  • Holywell Lake
  • Rodney Stoke
  • Shapwick
  • Stocklinch (D)
  • Tellisford
  • Woolley (D)
  • Butterton
  • Culpho
  • South Elmham St. Michael (D)
  • East Wittering
  • Catwick (D)
  • Cundall
  • Helperthorpe
  • Norton-le-Clay
  • Scruton

In France, where the human cost of war was higher than in Britain, Thierville was remarkable as the only village in all of France with no men lost from World War I, nor any memorials constructed in the subsequent period. Thierville also suffered no losses in the Franco-Prussian War and World War II, France’s other bloody wars of the modern era.

These villages have no war memorial in them. Knowlton, in Kent sent 30% of it population to fight , and they all came back.The bravest village.(http://www.hellfirecorner.co.uk/TV/knowlton.htm)

The 11th 11 @11hrs we shall remember them. 8,528,831 dead from WW1, 20,858,800 from WW2

Version Français…

Thankful Village (village reconnaissant aussi connu comme Blessed Village, village béni) désigne des localités d’Angleterre et du pays de Galles qui n’ont perdu aucun de leurs habitants ayant servi dans les forces armées pendant la Première Guerre mondiale. Le terme de Thankful Village fut popularisé par l’écrivain Arthur Mee dans les années 1930. Dans Enchanted Land (1936), le volume introductif à la série des guides The King’s England, il écrivit qu’un Thankful Village était un village n’ayant perdu aucun homme pendant la Grande Guerre car tous ceux qui étaient partis au combat en étaient revenus. Sa liste initiale identifiait ainsi 32 villages.

En novembre 2010, de nouvelles recherches  identifièrent 52 paroisses civiles en Angleterre et au Pays de Galle n’ayant perdu aucun soldat. Il n’y par contre aucun village ou paroisse en Écosse ou en Irlande-du-Nord n’ayant perdu aucun de ses habitants pendant cette guerre.

14 de ces villages anglais ou gallois sont considérés comme « doubly thankful » car ils n’ont perdu aucun habitant ayant servi dans les forces armées, ni pendant la Première, ni pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale  Ils sont identifiés par un (D) dans la liste ci-dessous.

En France, où le coût humain de la Première Guerre mondiale fut plus élevé qu’en Grande-Bretagne, Thierville, en Normandie, est le seul village français n’ayant perdu aucun homme pendant la Première Guerre mondiale et donc aucun monument aux morts n’y fut construit après le conflit. Thierville n’a aussi subi aucune perte parmi ses habitants ayant combattu durant la guerre franco-prussienne et la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Knowlton en Kent a envoyée 30% de son population, tous sont revenu vivant!

le 11 Novembre @ 11 hrs, nous nous rapellons celui qui ont tombée .

Adoption Travel to Haiti.

In 2009 we went to Haiti to adopt a little boy. Here is the travel diary I noted down.

Saturday 13th June 2009


We left home at 13.40, arriving in Nantes for 14.20. We had plenty of time. But in those minutes were lifetimes of waiting, hope and expectation. We were going to Haiti to adopt our beautiful son, after waiting, waiting, waiting.We met up with some family members, my sister and brother in law, and our niece and nephew.
The journey was strange, golden sunshine and summer heat filtered trough the trees.
Green leaved, heavy bags.
Our niece invented silly nicknames for us, as small children do, and our nephew walked with one hand in the air. He was just starting to walk,and walked in that puppet like way children do when they start to walk. .
We walked down to the train platform in Nantes station, carrying bags full of stuff. We climb on board the train, cry, hug and wave goodbye to our family. We booked first class tickets, and the train, a high-speed Train de Grand Vitesse pulls out of the station.
2 hr to Paris. 2 hr to recuperate,relax, stress, fidget, look out of the window and get excited.
Luckily we both brought tissues with us, it’s an emotional day. My dad phoned , but it’s just words.
We’re off. The train lurches, the click clack of the bogies, the hustle and bustle of everyday slides past outside.
We follow the Loire towards Angers,watching people cycle, fish, walk. The young mother and child in our carriage move out of the carriage, the conductor points to the sign which says ‘espace zen’. The train goes along. Past our house, past Ancenis. The train gets to Angers at 15:57, passing the barracks.We stop at Angers, but don’t take passengers, nor drop any off.A quick stop, and a small wait.
After Angers, I lost track of where we were. The countryside here is beautiful
and rural. My wife sleeps, she’s drained.The train seems to speed up. Passing strangely built octagonal wooden buildings , or burnt out buildings or falling down buildings.

We go through God-know-where, car boots opened, swallows flying. The fields are full of round bales of hay. Cows and church spires. Helicopters and sky scrapers, old farms and new houses, graffiti strewn walls. Poppies, factories. Into Le Mans.The train doesn’t stop.
Le Mans is busy, it’s the weekend of the 24 hrs race with many people in the town.
Then onward, past lakes,ponds, nameless town and cemeteries. France is flat, with low hills. Past châteaux on hillsides. Eagles in the air. Water towers pop out of he landscape like giant mushrooms.
Wind turbines. Fields of ripening oil seed rape, corn, barley.

Into Paris, its outskirts.Concrete and tunnels. We meet friends.
We eat out with friends. Our friends go to Greece on holiday, so it’s a quick visit, then they have to leave us. Another friend stays with us.
We are nervous. We are ready.

We’ve booked a taxi for the airport run.
We stay the night with a friend, in her flat. I like our friend, she’s got a new flat now, but this is written when we are in her old flat. She’s in the middle of moving, and its boxes and things in a mess. She’s put us up at a pinch, and we’re very grateful.
Its 6.13 am, taxi is due at 6.55.
Quick shower, quick breakfast, we dash to the cab and then to the airport.

Airports are unfriendly places,full of people wanting to go somewhere else.We had time for the quick look through the shops. Embarkation seems to drag on, The plane had problems boarding, another plane lands, and this plane unloads. This happens twice more, and we then get on our plane. We’re going to the Caribbean, and the passengers are everything from gangsters to witch doctors tourists and other adoptive couples.Its 10.08. The plane is supposed to go at 10.15, but we’re not loaded yet.

We sit.
In front of us is a screen,embedded into the chair in front, where you can watch TV, see the progress of the flight, and so on. It’s fairly comfortable.

Destiny calls us all in our lives, and this is the day we’ve awaited.
A beautiful day.
We go to Guadeloupe first, then after a 3 hr transit, we’ll go to Haiti.
The flight lasts 8 hr.
A bit of turbulence, but nothing major.
30° C in Guadeloupe.

The P A is blaring the safety announcement now, and the smell of kerosene is overpowering. Sometimes in life, you only get one chance.
Waiting for the take off slot.
We go. The guy next to us suggests a rum punch, and we gladly join him.

The alcohol works its magic, and we sleep.
When we wake, we are nearly there. We’ll land in an hour or so, a bit less. It’s a long flight and coming back, we’ll be 3, and we could only afford two seats, so it’ll be a bit cramped.
I didn’t have enough leg room.
We touch down.



Guadeloupe is tropical and humid.It really is 30°C,humid, hazy.Coming in we saw volcanoes, forests and mountains. Every plant , every bird is one I’ve never seen before!
Everything is green. I need to freshen up, airport lobbies are not the best places to be after 8 hours .
We’ve flown with the sun, my body says it’s 5 pm, but its 1 pm here.

People’s faces light up, meeting friends coming home.Body language, eye contact.
I try to freshen up . The airport is very modern.
I realize we are still in France!

Close to our flight to Haiti, the airport buzzes into life. We board, and the plane leaves. The plane is for Miami, but it’ll stop at Haiti.

We fill in the paperwork in a rush, in a bother.
More kerosene, air conditioning,mist.
Into Haiti.
Flying into Haiti, we saw eroded landscapes and mountainsides washed by tropical rainfall. The erosion marks were pronounced. Trees had been cut for charcoal, and the tropical rain washed away the soil.With no roots to hold it in place, the soil washes down great gullies.
We are through the airport in no time.
The airport is a ramshackle affair, corrugated sheets and tin huts.
We walk across the tarmac, into customs, through customs. Our feet don’t seem to touch the floor.
Across the car park.
There , in a jeep is a woman holding our boy. The boy we’ve come to adopt.
It’s the first time we’ve met him, and its all a bit too much.
He’s full of fear, and didn’t want to make eye contact, but cake ,water and toys change all that. We go to the hotel. We meet other adoptive parents.
We eat, and go to bed.
On the plane to Guadeloupe there was an enormous Irish Wolfhound, and I think of this dog now. It’s strange!

My head is full of irrational fears and “what if’s”. But then we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them, if we get to them.
We’ll stay in a hotel, in a thatched room.
Tropical rain in the night.Sunday lasted 31 hours.If that makes any sense.

Now its Monday
Birdsong wakes us. Last night there was a disco, but we slept through it, more or less.
We check his size, we didn’t know his shoe size.We need to keep the room tidy, last night we just collapsed in a mess.
All around the hotel are half-finished buildings, and mountains with erosion marks on them.Scenes of poverty, misery.

I see the smallest ants I’ve ever seen and geckos stuck to the ceiling.We cant leave food lying around.In the lobby are some computers, perhaps I can use the internet.
The room is spartan, basic, bare. Bedside lamps, but no bulbs.The air conditioning is a giant fan in the ceiling.The power browned out last night (it will do that every evening) and leaves us gasping for air.
We clean up, and go to the crèche. This is the crèche where our boy lived from 3 months old to 20 months old.
We have bags full of medicines and gifts. Other parents asked us to take toys, photos, recordings. Our boy coughs.
Everything worries me.
We’ll have to keep to our budget. I’m already worried about money. Everything needs a tip, and cash.
We fell asleep next to our boy last night, wonderful.
The hotel has a pool, which looks good.The room leaks with the heavy rain. Our boy gives me a ‘high 5’ .He likes tickles and songs and dances.He slept through last night.He’s a bit scared though, so it’s softly this morning. The shower taps take a bit of working out. A = hot, H = cold.
Creole sounds a great language.Its great to hear it spoken.
We need to be more organised.

I feel threatened , and scared out here, and we’ve already become defensive and un trusting.
Need to relax, and stop worrying. Train of thought here.
We eat breakfast, and our boy sleeps.We have a lazy lunch. The food is excellent. especially when you look through the hotel fence and see life outside the compound.
We go to the crèche.

The crèche was smaller , much smaller than I thought, or expected.I counted 37 children, plus 15 babies.All wanted to play, be tickled, sing, dance, have stories told,and be held.
It was hard to leave.
Haitian roads are very bad. Bumpy pot holes , craters in the road, boulders here and there, puddles. Its frightening here, people judge you. We are the rich white folks. Haiti is really poor, litter strewn streets, police and UN troops everywhere. All the children look smaller than their age. Our boy is 20 months old and weighs 9 kilos.

Another child held my hand, wanted me to play with him.Another family are also adopting a child while we are, and we participate in their joy.The children loved to play with us.The children love to look at bags, pockets.The boy holding my hand pointed to the ladies who work here and said ‘go’.Sure enough the ladies troop out. He knows.
The children asked for presents. We’ll give them on Friday. This makes me feel like Scrooge.
We had a party for the other family , cake, juice.We’ll know what to organize when it’s our turn Friday.
The crèche is a building site, with chocolate tablet brickwork which wont stand up(and didn’t when the earthquake came later).The ladies who worked in the crèche kept it very clean and tidy.
The streets were lined with people, hunger in their eyes.
We got back to the hotel. In the drawer of the table was a telephone directory from 2000. The room phone didn’t work.
My wife makes notes for other parents on the characters of the children they’ll adopt.We take photos of every child, for all the parents who are waiting to adopt. It’s the only link the waiting parents have.
It’s the beginning of the rainy season, and every evening it rains like I’ve never seen before.
Power cuts in repetition.
On the wall of the crèche was a picture of the Virgin Mary, with the words “Oh Mary, who is without sin,to whom we turn to in times of need”. It was a magic picture, which changes when you move your angle of view.
Very tacky, but somehow moving.
The heat hits us like a truck, like opening a furnace or an oven.
We want to go home!
We’ve taken 180 photos. The flight company have announced strikes, so we don’t know if we can go home! Perhaps it won’t touch us.

As we left the creche, other children begged us to take them too. I’ll remember this till I die.

We saw an unmarked army transport.
The situation in Haiti is extremely grave. We are both so tired.We eat, sleep, clean up.
First poo nappy!
The judgement of others really touches us, some who bless us , some who curse us.
We find it hard to relax in this beautiful country.The views of the mountains are superb, but the views in the streets are depressing.
Jan Arthur Bertrand says “It’s too late to be pessimistic” but its hard to believe it when you see people in Haiti arguing about the constitution instead of acting and enabling.It is as if the population is hypnotized by the wealth of America, waiting for them to help.They need to grow more food for themselves (don’t we all!) and the infrastructure that goes with it. Seeds, fertilizer, land, tractors, spare parts, etc.
People around need to work together, that would be the miracle that saves Haiti.
We can’t divide the world into rich/poor, have/have not, powerful/powerless. Money is just a tool, not the be all and end all.The world doesn’t need more rich people, just less poor ones.
In Europe, we have become lazy, selfish, decadent, oblivious.Self obsessed.
Every crisis is an opportunity. If we look beyond the pain, the poverty to the potential.

It’s a cloudy day today. Our boy fell out of bed in the night, bumping his head, scaring us, shaking us. But it’s an overreaction on our part. He’s ok.

He’s adopted a colourful monkey toy.Our son is beautiful.
The whole journey so far is like a film, etched into our memories.
Our son eats well.He shivered with fear in the shower this morning, I don’t think he’s used to the shower, or us yet.
He rocked himself to sleep (years later he still does this) and you ask questions, but in the end, its dust.
You just do what comes.
Today we’ll find out if the strike is confirmed or not, and if we need to organize an earlier flight or a later one .
We plan our trip to the French Embassy.This plan will have to change if the flight out gets cancelled due to industrial action, so it’s all a bit ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ planning.

We are not directly responsible for the woes of Haiti, yet something Mandela said echos in my mind, ‘We cannot be really free if others suffer from our freedom’.
In the end we need to stop gazing into the navel and act, or renounce. This is a journey which will change our lives not just with a child, but with ideas about the world, ideas I now assume.

In the hotel we meet charity workers, religious people, people working to try to bring some semblance of normality to Haiti. Unless we cut the Gordian Knot of debt, then their efforts will be in vain.

In the hotel.There are staff with two characteristics. Nice, and absent.

The plane strike is still not confirmed. We will be placed on another flight if the worst happens.

Look at the adoption file and discover loads of stuff about our son.He has step brothers, and two parents. I know their name, ages. Later, when he’s old enough, well look at this. I’ll never hide the fact he’s adopted(and I tell him every now and then)

Before our journey I thought we’d adopt a second child, but when I wrote this I wasn’t ready for it, and now, in 2013 I’m still not.
I think the timing is amazing, now or never. The economic situation in Haiti is life or death. Survival, not living.

We spent a quiet day. Power cuts come and go. The heat is stifling. The jet lag is kicking in.
Our boy sleeps. We saw his character yesterday, a ‘cheeky chops’.

I feel the hand of God around us.Or something. I’m not the most religious person, but this is God’s presence.Protecting us.

Our boy has woken up, and needs me. He doesn’t cry, he observes a lot. He likes songs and games. He isn’t so responsive yet.
I think the visit to the crèche was a shock for everyone. I wasn’t prepared for that level of poverty.Misery has a name, and its called Haiti.
He saw all the children in the creche and played with them.
At lunch today he tried communicating with another boy, successfully.
He’s a bit of a glue-pot, hanging on to us.
This morning he wouldn’t or couldn’t communicate, and when my wife tried to play he cried and it took until lunchtime and a full nappy to cheer up.

After, he slept.The view from the room is mountains or shanty towns.
TV is American, cotton wool for the mind. Chewing gum for the brain.
More power cuts.
When the Air conditioning goes off, its unbelievably hot.Then it comes back on, and the ceiling fan blows all the hot air that has risen up back down on you, so it’s worse.

The evening sees big storms.

We had a bad hour today, when my wife and I kissed, our boy wouldn’t accept this and it took an hour to calm him, I had to leave the room and let my wife cuddle him and that worked. He’s got to get used to us, and us to him.

You idolize the adoption moment so much, but it’s not ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or ‘The Walton’s’ from TV.

It’s a rather slow process, getting to know each other, and we’ll just have to do our best. I’m worried because I’ll have to immediately go to Rennes for 3 days after the trip for a training.We’ll have the August holiday together though, then it’s his birthday.


I was ill in the night, grogged out and I’m OK really.
I drink plenty of water from a bottle. It’s the heat, mosquitoes, and tiredness combined.
Today we’ll break it down into doable chunks, it’s the way to survive.

Here I thought about tips for other travelers to Haiti. So here goes….

1) You’ll have to share your wealth, so come with dollars in cash and tip everyone. One or two dollar tips are fine. Oh and yes you are rich. Remember 2 dollars a day is the Haitian average wage.
2) Bring medicine for holiday tummy. We’ve been meticulous hygiene-wise, alcohol based soaps and washing hands, but still got ill.
Only drink bottle water. We paid 4 dollars a bottle, and you’d pay more in a western hotel.
3) Don’t expect western standards of service . Service is polite, but slow at best, surly and slow at worse.Tip the one’s who deserve it.Money is like honey, it attracts the flies.
4)If you leave the hotel tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back, as Haiti is dangerous.
5) Infrastructure is poor or non-existent. Roads are shockingly poor.Don’t compare Haiti to The Dominican Republic which has a well-developed tourist industry.
6) Chose a good hotel. A French Logis hotel would beat the hotel standard we used, and it wasn’t a poor hotel.
7) Many people view international adoption as best as “wrong” and as worst “sinful”
Remember if it wasn’t you adopting the child,what would happen to the child. We saw a child aged 9 in the crèche. What hope for her?
She’ll have no education and watch the children come and go, never leaving . (In fact she was later adopted)Let them judge you, they don’t know your path.It’s not about them.
8)Try not to feel isolated or afraid. Many people were genuinely supportive.Over 800 children were adopted from Haiti to France in 2009 and they all came back to France alive.
Try to relax. You bring valuable money into the local economy.If you stay 5 days, you’ll pay 200 dollars per day for food and accommodation (2009 prices)with 3 meals a day and drinks included. For a week in the Caribbean,all-inclusive, its cheap.
9)Tidiness. Be tidy, keep it all tidy.Don’t leave food lying around or valuables on display.
Ants find food quickly.The valuables you’d do in any hotel; I’m not saying Haitians are master criminals(far from that) but it’s just common sense.

10) Despite its many problems, Haiti has enormous potential as a holiday destination.

Wednesday was a lazy day.
Tomorrow we’ll go to the embassy and buy the stuff for Friday’s party.Friday is the party, and Saturday we’ll fly out back to France.

Our boy is happy, sucking his fingers, playing with his toys. We slowly start to make contact with him.
We’ve only just started being parents.

We saw some American aid workers today, and nuns doing charity work.Saw a 3 legged dog. The locals joked that they had eaten his leg. Was it a joke? I wonder, now? I didn’t see many pets!

We let our boy sleep too long and he coughed a lot due to the air conditioning.
TV broke down today.

This morning we had a big breakfast then we went to the embassy.Our Guide came to collect us, in a hire car, as his jeep broke down. We’ll have to pay for it all! And there aren’t many banks .
We ordered his cake from the baker’s, then visit the craft shop, then the supermarket, with its armed guards.
Port Au Prince is a ramshackle, broken-down, rubbish-strewn, burnt-out place, a car crash strewn out, a collection of half-finished houses, rich areas with iron gates and bottle-glass cement walls, barbed wire. Pot-hole filled roads, sided with open air markets. These markets sell everything, from TV antennas to exotic fruits, honey to rum.Bush meats, goats,fruit, wood, drinks, bee swarms, honey all get offered at the window as we pass.
We didn’t see too many beggars, but they exist, with their shriveled eyes and withered hands, or even stumps.Arms missing hands waved pitifully.

There are no really old people here,people die before.

The supermarket was amazing, armed guards told us where to park, and armed guards inside told us to be good.
I don’t think you’d dare shoplift in there!
1 dollar = 40 gourds.
The down town traffic was frightening and bad.
In the street every part of life took place. People urinated, defecated, fornicated.
The street was an open air sewer and rubbish was everywhere.Today was the funeral of a famous Catholic priest in Haiti, lots of people were on the streets to celebrate his life.
A killing took place, right in front of us, we didn’t see anything, but heard the gunshots and saw it on TV later. Our guide bundled us into the car and we sped to the Embassy.
Traffic lights are vertical and optional.People drive on both sides of the road, every journey is a white knuckle ride.
All along the route are political slogans daubed on walls ‘ Be realistic and hopeful’ or ‘Without rules there is anarchy’.
The buses or tap taps are colourful, with slogans like ‘God is my boss’ and ‘God is love’ on them.
The churches were big, bold and ugly.
The slogans say ‘What dos the constitution and the law state’ and so on. Reminding people to be law respecting citizens.All this because on Sunday, its election time in Haiti.

One gets the impression that not much will change.The crafts are excellent, though, people do have a talent here.
Today was like a bad film, too crazy to be true.

We open the iron gates to the French Embassy, wave our ID cards at the guard and enter into the compound.
The French Embassy was impressive.Colonial, and grand, making a big statement. Columned and sculpted.
The morning was very stressful . We waited, got the paperwork signed sealed and delivered. Now we could leave Haitian territory with our adopted child.

The afternoon was cloudy, stormy. Tomorrow is the party, presents. Our last day in Haiti.

We are ready to leave.
Everything in the supermarket was imported and expensive. 6 dollars a small pot of Nutella!


The flight tomorrow has been confirmed. I phoned from the mobile today, but now I have no credit left, after a ten minute call!Today we’ll do the party and give the presents.
Yesterday’s adventure was difficult to digest.We get the cake, with its bright yellow icing and piped white letters.
We go into the gaudy bustling anthill of a town.We’ll come back from this trip with almost no experience of Haiti because it’s too dangerous to take photos or to go sightseeing. Still, we didn’t come for a holiday.

The party goes well, fizzy drink and cakes, biscuits and crisps. Children are sick. We took more films and photos. We gave the presents to the children, but some children hadn’t a present(because the presents we gave were from their parents in France, and some children have no allocated parent)
Many children asked for a present, but we just didn’t have the luggage allowance or the cash to do everyone.
The crèche was dusty.
We gave the women helpers presents. The lady who looked after our boy fed him one last time, and then, we left.
A tearful parting for all.

The party was hot, sticky and smelly. I remember one girl being like a zombie.42°c


Last night we got back to the hotel. Very tired, and emotional. We will go to the airport this morning.
8 am flight. Loads of hassle at the airport.
Porters ‘hijacked’ our stuff, and insisted on a ‘tip’ to get it back.
The people want something to change, but won’t be that change themselves.
They have no future if they need to survive for today.
We check in, try to relax.We wait to board. The paperwork for our son passes through customs.Massive relief.
This is Haiti.
They search for a solution without first considering their own potential.
The country isn’t independent really, and in the hotel were Chinese people, who were doing business here. They can smell the potential!
People don’t want the responsibility, even if all the history and pain of Haiti has coloured the picture now. Haiti needs to look to the future and forget the past. Those complex problems of today won’t go away by bellyaching about the past.

Onto the plane.Walking to the plane we relax.When the plane lifts off, it’s a release. We did it. It took us 5 years to get to this moment, 5 years of waiting, hoping, praying. Our little boy is with us, and my wife looks ten years younger. It’s been hardest for her, I think.

Busy, crowded Air France flight.
The PA burbles into life. The plane lifts off, to Guadeloupe. Then Paris.
With 3 on the plane, its less comfortable.
None of us sleep, we arrive exhausted. I change a nappy as we leave the plane. Another 30 hr day, adrenaline ,excitement.
Sunday Paris.
My wife’s parent meet us, we spend some time, hugging, holding, laughing, crying ,then back home.
I fall asleep in the car.


I go to Rennes for my job. The dynamic doesn’t take with this group, I’m too jet lagged and tired.

The earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, 5 months after our visit. The crèche was destroyed, and all the workers scattered to the winds. 300 000 people lost their lives, from a population of ten million.
Then cholera. From UN forces who didn’t treat their sewage properly.
As of August 2012, the outbreak had caused 7,490 deaths and caused 586,625 people to fall ill.

We and our association sent a container of equipment in 2010, 2011, 2012 to Haiti. Dock workers refused to unload it from the ship till they got a bribe, and then the life saving equipment inside the container was given to the crèche.
We donate regularly to the creche.Contact me if you want to participate.

Transplanting hope. Bob’s story

I’ve thought long and hard about sharing this story, about keeping it private or about telling others. To protect myself and others I will however change the names of the people involved.

Bob (that’s not his real name) is in his 40’s. He’s married  to Cindy ( no, you guessed it , not  her real name) and has a kid, a little boy, Fred (that’s not his real name either) 

When Bob was 18, he was really ill, with a kidney disease called IGA nephropathy. What’s that? I hear you ask.

Well, lets keep it simple . Its a disease where typically a sore throat or other streptococcus infection goes wrong. The body produces antibodies to fight the bacteria and the antibodies stick in the kidneys. No-one knows why they do, but they do. Or did for Bob.

So what? You say. Bob had a sore throat. No big deal.

Well, me too. but Bob tells me it was a big deal. He urinated blood colour urine (never a nice thing, he tells me) and spent 3 months in hospital, losing weight and worrying about if he was going to live. (and worrying his family in the process too) Indeed, in the ward on the left hand side and the right hand side  of his bed , the patients (who had the same as he) died in the night. Bob got scared; he was 18. He as supposed to be out partying with his friends, but instead, he was stuck in a hospital bed.

Bob had A levels to do, they are the exams to take at the end of school in the UK, you take them when your 18. Bob couldn’t take the A levels that year. He had to go back to school, and do another year. But he didn’t know that yet.

Bob spent a long time in hospital, measuring carefully what he drank, and what he urinated, measuring the weight he lost and trying to recover.

Finally, Bob came out of hospital. it was a few days after his 19th birthday. He’d been in hospital for over 3 months, but he was alive. The kidney function was back, but long term, things would be different for Bob. Bob didn’t know all that though, not yet.


Bob was a big fan of rugby, playing and working out. but the doctors told him that he’d have to stop contact sports. No more rugby for Bob. Bob took his boots back to the club, and told the coach he couldn’t play anymore. The coach understood, Bob had been ill, and looked like a skeleton. But he took the boots anyway. Wished Bob well.


Bob went back to school. But all his friends had sat their exams, and Bob was in a sea of faces he didn’t know. Bob worked hard, (or fairly hard anyway) and passed his A levels , and went to University. Bob went to Polytechnic in Cambridge.  School was different, people pitied Bob, or avoided him.

Bob spent 3 years studying , and partying , and learning. but in the third year, Bob was ill again, This time Bob missed his final exams  due to illness; but Bob bounced back, coming back to University to finish the fourth year, once again in a sea of faces he didn’t know. Again, people pitied Bob, or avoided him.

Bob went to teacher training college, and became a teacher. Off he went to work after a year of training. Bob was a teacher. 

Years ticked by. Bob got married , and bought a house, had kids; all the stuff you do.

Bob saw the doctor every so often , nothing special, check ups with the GP.

Bob changed job, changed country. In the new country, the new Doctors took one look at Bob and decided a treatment was probably a good idea. The GP in the UK had given him tablets. Now he’d get more, and tests to see what was happening. Bob had to urinate in a bottle for 24 hours. Have blood tests. Bob saw the doctors every 6 months for 10 years, and Bob’s kidney function slowly declined. And there was nothing he could do, except take the tablets, and keep fit. Bob watched his diet, kept fairly fit.

Bob’s health got steadily worse. Lack of EPO (a hormone produced by the kidneys which helps produce red blood cells and which is used by dopers in athletics) production from the kidneys led to anemia , and uric acid build up lead to painful gout. Bob’s lack of EPO led to nerve problems, trembling. Because Bob was so ill, he had a influenza vaccine shot, to prevent any problems.  But Bob got influenza anyway, and after, he had Guillain–Barré syndrome.( a neurological disorder) And Bob was really ill now.

Bob spent more time in hospital, losing mobility and muscle mass. His wife was worried , his family was too. His colleagues too.

Bob came out of hospital. Now Bob would need dialysis and a kidney transplant. But he wasn’t ill enough to go on the waiting list.Waiting to go on the waiting list, Bob had gout again, and couldn’t walk. Bob had to go back to work anyway, He needed the money for the house he’d bought. So hunched up and doubled in pain, walking with a cane, Bob went to work. The kids in the school  where Bob worked were worried now, and whispers went round the school.

Bob’s toes and knees and elbows and shoulders all swelled up with gout. Bob now had jackal halitosis , as the urea in Bob’s blood increased. Bob had cardiac problems, tachycardia due to the urea.

Bob became weaker and weaker, waking up with the metal taste in the mouth. Bob couldn’t sleep, the gout would wake him up; and every night Bob would get up to go to the toilet, because the kidney’s worked in the night. Bob’s skin got bad, and he started to itch. 

Bob couldn’t go to the restaurant with his wife, he had to watch what he ate, and what he drank; A glass of soda or a bar of chocolate was out of the question. Foods high in potassium or purines (proteins which cause uric acid to be formed) were best avoided.That  cuts out loads of everyday things, such as beef, pork, chicken, seafood, mushrooms, asparagus, etc… Bob would have to think about becoming a vegetarian. And alcohol was now off the menu.

Bob figured he’d drunk enough anyway.

Bob got depressed. But not for long.

Bob Lives in France, like me.

He knows there are people with worse things, and he knows he’s lucky to live in a country where health care is free and he can have access to the medicines.

He’s lucky to have a family and friends and colleagues to support him, and a great medical team around him.

He’s lucky enough to be on a list for a new kidney. OK, he knows that it’ll be a challenge, and tough, and his family will worry, and his friends too. But Bob knows he’ll come out the other side, with a new kidney and a better quality of life. Thanks to the gift of an organ from someone.

Bob’s lucky enough to live in a country where they will give him an organ. Where the technology exists.

Bob will wait for a new kidney and do the dialysis. If he doesn’t, do dialysis, then he’ll die.

Bob is on the list as an organ donor. OK, his kidney’s may not be any good. But the rest, help yourself! Liver, lungs, eyes, Bob’s told his family.

Why not tell your family what you want to do when you die. Do you want to donate your organs , or not? Clearly tell your family. That way, they’ll know your wishes should the worst happen. Maybe they’ll take comfort from knowing that you saved a life, or if you choose not to donate, then they’ll respect those wishes.

Bob has the greatest gift. Hope. The day has come for Bob when the risk to remain the same is greater than the risk to change. 



Industrial heritage of Western France

Not so very long ago, Western France was a hotbed of Industry and had large factories employing vast numbers of workers.
Lets have a look at some famous examples and try to colour them .

Angers is today a small town , with small and medium firms making products as varied as disc brakes and card printers, as well as Cointreau and Giffard who make the famous liquors. But not so long ago there was an enormous factory, Bessoneau, who employed 10,000 workers in 1920 and which was spread over 25 hectares on one site and 59 for the total  produced 80 tonnes of finished product per week. The factory had its own train station!

The tour à plomb  and mills at Angers. Carte postale, Arch. mun. Angers, 4 Fi 773.The next Angers industry I’d like to look at is the Lead production tower, The first factory was , unbelievably, in the Saint-Aubin, tower, now a classified monument in Angers. From  1822 to 1904, lead was melted and formed here. However,there were other lead towers in the town.One at the end of  Bout-du-Monde, next to the castle, where there is a long drop, and the second  at la Roche-de-Mûrs. Making lead shot requires a great height, to drop the molten lead down into a big cooling pool at the bottom. So workers would have had to carry the lead up some 30 meters, melt it and then ladle it into the containers which then dripped it down to make the lead shots….you needed arms of steel and legs of iron, as well as a head for heights. .

At the beginning, business was good, and other companies came . A match factory, a quick lime kiln, and even a canal was created and this zone became  a port, called  Port Ayrault   .
However, the Saint-Aubin tower was then classed as a monument, so the owners built a new tower.

La tour à plomb, huile sur toile, Alexis Mérodack-Jeaneau. Coll. part.
People will tell you that the tower was 45 meters high, but the architects drawing say 38 meters !
From the Courrier d’ Ouest newspaper and from the municipal web site from where the photos on this blog are taken,,(in French here) I can say the following: Work began at 4.30, by making a huge fire under a cauldron, in which  were placed lead ignots of 50KG each. Then the temperature would climb to 300 °C The lead was white hot, blue hot. Antimony and arsenic and graphite were added, for hardness, and shine . then using ladels, lead was placed into huge strainers, 12 meters in diameter.Six tons of lead per day, by hand, using ladels.
The laboratory  Philippe Cayla, 1984.
Lead was toxic, and of course it was a dangerous, hot, hard sweaty job. Lead production waned, and stopped in 1972
The tower was demolished in 24th July 1984. Today, in France you can see a similar tower, in Couëron.(here, in French)
also here in French.

One last factory to talk about is the LU  factory.
Another town in a town, with thousands of employees and thousands of square meters, and still producing today, all be it it more modern and cleaner location.
Unlike Bessoneau, where pay and conditions were bad, conditions and pay here were not so bad.However, Bessaneau had an infirmary, and so did Lu, so not all bad.
Lu now belongs to Kraft foods! 

Rainham memories

I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, but I spent all my childhood in the south of the UK in Kent, more precisely in Rainham.
We lived on Edwin Road, and in our garden was an army stone marking the territory. This is the mark for ‘Rainham Mark’, or so I’ve been told.
All around us were characters who lived on Edwin road or Marshall Road.People we knew for years, people with their families , their jobs, their problems, their sorrows and joys.
I remember our cleaning lady, Mrs Mac, who would come and clean the mess of our house. She was a figure, strict, neat but homely, ready for us, ready to look after us.She was the cleaning lady for years.Then, she got old, and Sheila came to help out.

All around us then were the doctors and medical people in my father’s professional network. Dr Coral, Dr Cockrell, Lorna,Lena,  all in parties with whiskies! All these people who I remember are dead now.

I remember Berengrave Lane , and Mogs and his lady friend. We bought our veg from her. She ran the fruit and vegetable shop, she was kind and friendly, letting us play with jigsaws, her friendly face beaming out from the leather-like wrinkles that  lined her work worn face. Mogs was her lover, he had one arm and one eye. I wondered if he was a war hero! As  a young boy, I couldn’t work it all out, why they lived together but weren’t married. No one elese we knew ‘lived in sin’ .She told me Mogs lost his arm and eye in a farm accident long ago, and she looked after him; later, she fell ill with breast cancer and my father was her doctor in Rochester. Mogs, who couldn’t drive, would walk the 7 miles every day to see her. He held her hand, sat by her bed, sang her songs and loved her till the last. Later, I remember seeing Mogs, looking lost, pained and heartbroken. All he’d done wrong was love her.The house they lived in had a big concrete clad all, but behind was just kindness and love. She left her will to a local girls school, and Mogs got to live in the house till he died.Maybe they weren’t lovers, I never was told the truth !

At the end of Berengrave Lane was a chalk pit, full of wildlife. Another doctor lived here, with his wife and her sister.