Category Archives: France

The World of the Mysterious (5)

I said last time that I would take Cliff Barackman, James “Bobo” Fay, Ranae Holland and Matt Moneymaker back into history and legend, to see if I could find any creatures, perhaps based on Bigfoot, mentioned over the course of the last 5,000 years or so.  I spoke of Enkidu, and Moses’ Twelve Spies in the land of  Canaan. I also rejected Goliath, and I described Grendel who, although I thought he was possibly not as dangerous as he has been portrayed, I thought was not necessarily armless.

This time, I would like to touch upon the story of Jean Grin, a subject which I have explored before. It all took place in early 19th century France  in the wonderfully picturesque and unspoilt region of Lozère, which is here:

This time the situation is a little more complex in that Jean Grin was, supposedly, a historical figure who was active as recently as 1800. He lived in a mountain ravine, in a crude cottage of stone with what is now a collapsed roof, surrounded by pine trees and dry scrubland. Inside, against the very rock itself, there is the oven where he roasted children to eat. Outside are several piles of stones covered with soil, supposedly the burial places of his victims:

Jean Grin was living here because of his inability to get along with his neighbours. They called him an ogre, and considered him an ambiguous being, “mi-homme mi-bête”, half way between animal and man. Soon after his arrival in the ravine, he seemed increasingly to take on the attributes of a savage, brutal, wild person that no social norms could restrain:

Young shepherds and shepherdesses began to disappear in the surrounding region. At the time, in a neighbouring area, there had been severe problems with some kind of mystery animal, either a very large wolf or a canid of an unknown species. It had been termed the “Beast of Veyreau” or “La Bête de Veyreau” and I have already written about it:

Whatever the killer in Lozère was, it only attacked weak people or children. In just six months, from June-December 1799,  three victims were killed and eaten.

Physically, Jean Grin was by now dreadful to look at. He supposedly wore just animal skins and he could run extremely fast across the countryside and up and down slopes:In the dark, his eyes gleamed bright, shining red and you could see him coming from far away. Jean Grin too has been given the attributes of a Bigfoot. Memories from centuries ago have been added to his story. He had luminous red eyes.  He possessed prodigious speed both going up and coming down mountainsides. He had an appearance generally thought to be “mi-homme mi-bête”. In addition, photographs show that he lived in exactly the same kind of dry, rocky environment where Bigfoot lives nowadays in the Sierra Nevada of California:

It is my contention though, that the story of Jean Grin is obviously much, much older than a mere 200 years. Indeed, I think that quite a complex process has therefore come about here.

Firstly, the people had a dim memory from centuries previously of Bigfoot type creatures in the forest and in the mountains. Secondly, there was an eccentric and unpopular man called Jean Grin who lived in the area. He was big and ugly. Thirdly, an unknown animal,  the “Beast of Veyreau”, was attacking, killing and eating the young children who were left on their own to guard the flocks of sheep.

And what has happened is that these three elements, of Bigfoot, of gory deaths and of weird loners have all been melded together to give us the present legend. There are no Bigfoots in France nowadays, but in the centuries when the east of the country, in particular, was covered in extensive thick forest, I think there were, and recent enough for memories to linger on.

Next time, England’s Bigfoot.

 

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Film & TV, France, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

Nottingham High School on ebay (7)

Last time I showed you the strange writing on a postcard I bought from somebody on ebay. At the same time, it was a magnificent coloured picture of the High School:

Just look at the chimneys, the pinnacles, Dr Dixon’s house on the left, Brincliffe School on the right, the gas light and the beautiful, light and complex metal fence. And just look at that Shrubbery:

I actually think that if you watch this second scene right to the very end, when the knights actually get their shrubbery, that the High School arguably received a much better one:

My researches have revealed that if you want to view the peculiar writing on the postcard of the High School, it is as legible as it is ever going to be on an ordinary tower computer.

In actual fact, the beginning of the letter begins on the reverse of the postcard as the writer begins with “Mon cher André” because (did you realise it?) the correspondence is conducted in French. Here’s the first bit:

This second section ends with “une lettre”:

The third bit starts with “soit une carte” which goes with the end of the last line of the second section, which ends with “soit une lettre”.

This last bit then links up with the front of the card with the view of the School. Hopefully, somebody out there will be expert enough to read this French missive. I found it rather difficult, because I was never able to decipher a sufficiently long run of words to extract much in the way of meaning.

The card was addressed  to Monsieur André Mallieu. The next line is “Caporal avec le 4 ème Génie 14/2” which means “Corporal with the Fourth Engineers”. The Little Corporal is based at Grenoble in Isère in France. Tne date is difficult, if not impossible to read. It was probably not written in wartime though, because the stamp shows Edward VII who died  (“qui s’est poppé les clogues”) in 1910.

I’m always amazed at how different the past is. Just look at this amazing photograph of Nottingham I found on the Internet. Notice the Watson Fothergill pub called the “Yorker” or the “Rose of England”, on the right edge of the photograph. There’s Shakespeare Street and at the far end, the Victoria Station. To its left is the vast hole containing what was then a working station. And don’t miss the road suspended over the abyss. Just try to pick out any other landmarks you can identify:

 

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Filed under France, History, Humour, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

Nottingham High School on ebay (6)

My last two posts in this series are a little bit out of the ordinary, perhaps. I bought this postcard on ebay. It is very strange to say the least:

The post card has been coloured beautifully and it is interesting to note the wonderfully delicate fence, the gas light and a shrubbery that the Knights who say “Ni” would be proud of. The full set of chimneys and pinnacles are there and, back left, is Dr Dixon’s house and back right is Brincliffe School, both of which were still standing when I started in the High School in 1975. But what about all that writing?

Well, I’ve spent some time working on it, and here are my enlargements, in order, from the top right to top left. Here’s No 1:

And No 2:

And No 3:

And No 4:

Why not have a go at trying to read it? Writing like this was fairly common practice in the last century. To save money, particularly money spent on mere paper, people would frequently write on it twice, once horizonally, and once vertically. That must have been a little difficult to read !

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Filed under Football, France, History, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

The Battle of Britain (3)

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There is no better person to tell the story of the Battle of Britain that the greatest ever Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill:

“The Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science” :

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“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

He produced a second speech which gave us another memorable phrase:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”

We actually know exactly how that phrase “Never in the field….” came about.

On August 20th 1940 Churchill was travelling in a car with Major General Hastings Ismay to give a speech about the Battle of Britain in the House of Commons. Churchill was reading the speech out aloud to Ismay and it was originally “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few”. Ismay interrupted him and said “What about Jesus and his disciples?” Churchill concurred and immediately changed it to its present form “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Politics

1792 : a vintage year

The details that I found for the year 1792 come from a source that I have used quite frequently before, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”.

The year started in spectacular fashion on February 25th:

“Between the hours of eight and nine this evening an alarming shock of an earthquake was felt in the Midland counties, but particularly at Nottingham, many of the inhabitants running out of their houses, expecting them to fall upon their heads. The shock was preceded by a rumbling noise like the rolling of a cannon ball upon a boarded floor.”

A bit like this, then:

At this time, there was, of course, no real sport in the city…no Nottingham Forest, no Notts County, no Nottingham Panthers, no Nottingham Outlaws, no Nottingham Rugby Club. And so people had no choice but to busy themselves by showing enormous interest in council planning applications:

May 9th . “On the arrival of the intelligence that the bill authorising the formation of the Nottingham Canal had received the royal assent, the bells of both churches were set a-ringing, and other congratulatory manifestations indulged in.”

Thank the Lord. We’re going to build a canal. Canals are wonderful :

If you look after them, and remember, like pot plants, to water them regularly:

I think by now people’s nerves were already on edge after over indulging in their personal celebrations of the success of the planning application for building the new canal. They were a little like small children who get fractious and behave badly after their routine is disturbed:

May 12th.  “A number of people assembled in a riotous manner in the Market-place, on account of the high price of butchers’ meat:

The Market-place did look quite different then:

The account continues:

After a stout endeavour to retain possession of their property, when further resistance might have proved dangerous, the butchers retreated from the Shambles, and left the mob in undisturbed possession. It being Saturday, the stock of meat was large and in a few moments the whole of it disappeared.

The magistrates at once called out the military, and by the expostulations of the Mayor, and the firing of the soldiers in the air, the mob dispersed, and the military returned to their quarters.”

Here come the military. They do look a little bit regimented, I suppose, but they are a lot easier to draw this way:

“Very unexpectedly, in the course of the evening the depredators reassembled, and bearing down upon the Shambles with renewed force, destroyed and conveyed away every door, shutter, implement, and book they could find in the shops, and made a great bonfire of them in the Market-place, yelling and shouting round it like  savages. The fire was burning from eleven at night till one in the morning, when the military succeeded in extinguishing it, and tranquillity was restored.”

For a moment there, it must have been touch and go:

I would think that for the second military intervention, they used the soldiers with the silly hats. Most people, when faced by these picked German troops, just ran away clutching their stolen sausages:

“For several days after, symptoms of a recurrence of the disorder were apparent, but the vigilance of the authorities at length finally suppressed them.”

Nobody nowadays ever thinks of England as ever being on the edge of revolution, but it had already happened once during the reign of King Charles I when the king was executed. The end of the 18th century saw a fair few Englishmen holding up the French Revolution as an example of good practice. They were pushed into that by a royal family who were perhaps the least charismatic of the many Germans who have ruled over our country. Parliament was no better. It was a place where rich landowners were vastly over represented. Their excessive number of MPs kept the price of the food their estates produced artificially and permanently high.

Many revolutions around the world have started with hungry people robbing shops full of food they wanted to eat but could not afford.

 

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Filed under Criminology, France, History, Nottingham, Politics

They were only playing leapfrog…..

This story comes from a source which I have used quite frequently, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood”. On this occasion, the year is 1794 and the French revolutionary government has recently abolished slavery on February 4th of that year. Only a week later, on February 11th, the sessions of the United States Senate are made open so the public can come along and watch.

Today, though, is February 23rd and the slack jawed young locals in the Hockley area of Georgian Nottingham have all assembled in Broad Street. They are going to have a damned good game of leapfrog while they wait for somebody to invent football. On this modern map, LRTS marks the tram system. Look for the orange arrow:

I presume that leapfrog  is a universal game across the world. This is Harlem during the Jazz Age:

And here’s one of those old Victorian stop motion films:

You wouldn’t want to play  leapfrog in the middle of Broad Street nowadays, but in 1794 it was not a problem. So what happened? Well…….

“A number of young men, in a playful mood, were diverting themselves in a game of leapfrog in Broad-street, when one of them disappeared underground in a remarkable manner. He had leaped over the back of a comrade, in the customary way, and happened to alight on the spot where there was a well,  120 feet deep.”

It wasn’t as big as this…

But it was still quite big and it soon attracted a crowd:

Anyway, back to 1794…

“The aperture had simply been covered with boards and a little earth, and was uniform in appearance with the surrounding ground . Fortunately, the man was extricated perfectly unhurt, and with an oath declared himself equal to any pantomime performer on the stage, inasmuch as he dare leap without being caught in a blanket! The well was immediately arched over.”

Nowadays, Broad Street is a busy but basically, fairly ordinary thoroughfare, except some bored fool with nothing better to do has painted ” Broad St” on the floor in big white letters :

The other end of the street has a famous pub:

This pub is nowadays the only real attraction in the street. Things might change though, if “arching over” an old well doesn’t solve the problem for very much more than 200 years. Then we might see some more excitement.

Here’s a better view of the pub:

Once you’ve had a refreshing pint of ale in the Lord Roberts pub, above, you might even feel like a game of leapfrog yourself. Here’s the army’s version of the game in that magnificent anti-war film about World War One, “Oh What a Lovely War”. The song is entitled “They were only playing leapfrog”:

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Filed under France, History, Nottingham

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 4)

This is the fourth, and final, round of my Grandfather, Will’s, tales about his life in the First World War.

The pinnacle, or perhaps, nadir, of Will’s relationship with the upper classes came when he was given an officer’s beloved horse to look after. This was the kind of thing:

In the stable, the highly strung beast decided it would kick Will, very hard and very painfully. Will, however, was not a man to take things lying down, so he took a run up, rather like a football goalkeeper about to take a goal kick, and kicked the animal very, very hard in the testicles. This would have been honours even, perhaps, but unfortunately, the officer had just returned to the stable to see how his pride and joy was faring, and was actually standing right behind Will as he did the evil deed.

For his crimes, Will was charged, court martialled, found guilty, and given Field Punishment Number One, which consisted of being handcuffed, fettered and then tied to a gun carriage wheel for twenty-four hours. This picture is the closest fit I could find:

In similar vein, I remember as a teenager, talking to another veteran, an old man who used to spend all day, every day, sitting on the bench seat, watching the traffic go around the Tollgate roundabout in our small mining village, Woodville. This man had been gravely wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When a shell went off in that disastrous attack, he had been knocked unconscious, coming round to find that he had lost both of his legs in the explosion.

Luckily for him, as he acknowledged later, he was found by the Germans, who saved his life. He was always to say that the levels of care among the German forces were so much better than those in the British Army, where the officers’ horses tended to be better looked after than the men. This is a German military hospital:

Much to my very great regret, I have forgotten the name of this man, but I will never forget the bitterness or the truth of his words. Sharply resentful, he told me how every day, for almost sixty years, he had no choice but to put on his two artificial legs. He began with leather straps under each groin, and then the large strap around his waist. Then came more straps over both of his shoulders.

Even after all these years, he had persistent sores wherever the rough leather rubbed into his skin, particularly on his shoulders, and the poor man was in constant pain. Many people in Woodville thought that he was just a moaner, but he had a lot to moan about. Like my grandfather, he was not much of a fan of Field Marshall Haig either.

At the end of the Great War, Will returned from France directly to Woodville, and the life he had known before he emigrated to the New World. He went back to his church in Church Gresley, where everyone was delighted to see him. So much so, in fact, that they presented him with his own copy of “The Methodist Hymn Book”

Inside the front cover, it was inscribed…

“Wesleyan Church, Church Gresley

Presented to Mr.W.H.Knifton as a token of gratitude to God for his preservation while on Active Service during the Great War, and as a momento of the hearty good
feeling with which he is welcomed on his return.

On behalf of the Church and Sunday School,

L.GREGSON
W.WILTON
A.DYTHAM ”

Will never seemed to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the war certainly affected some aspects of his thoughts and behaviour. In the trenches, for example, there was a seemingly permanent shortage of sugar. For this reason, long years after the conflict had finished, Will would never fail to celebrate the existence of the delectable white powder. If you visited him and he made you a cup of tea, he would normally put between six to eight spoons full of sugar in it, and even when there were objections, nobody ever escaped with fewer than four spoons full.

Another fear which Will brought back from the trenches, beyond that of running out of sugar, was the much more real one of rats. There were certainly plenty of them about. Here is a French military ratcatcher, “un dératiseur” and his dog:

Will knew very well that besides an entire suite of unpleasant, and occasionally sickening, behaviours, rats carried Weil’s Disease, an ailment which even now, as I write, has no known cure. In 1941, during his ab initio training for the RAF, Fred was to experience the same fear as his father had known twenty or so years previously, as rats, bold and unafraid, ran over his chest and feet as he camped out in the winter woods.

Incidentally, a lot of people nowadays want to think that the First World War was a “war for democracy”. It wasn’t. It was a war for power and empire. Just to knock the democracy idea firmly on the head , the figures I found on the Internet were that 7,694,741 people were eligible to vote in 1914. The population of the United Kingdom and its colony of Ireland was approximately 46 million. That is 16.72 percent who were able to vote. And who do you think did most of the fighting? The 16% or the 84%?

 

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