Sunday 31 August 2008

Beer, burgers and Burrels

The place - Waldron, East Sussex, almost a year ago, so it might be repeated soon. The occasion - a National Traction Engine Club Road Run with 'The Star' as its destination, coinciding with a Vintage Motorcycle Club jolly. A magical experience with the leviathan steamers parked in the village street as the boiler-suited crews drank, ate, laughed and kept a weather eye open for the water levels. A perfect day for steam and petrol heads as all persuasions conjoin for the purposes of conviviality, bullshit and a general disregard for health and safety.

Over the hedge

There's much to be discovered over the hedge. A little nosiness goes a long way and can enliven the most pedestrian of walks. Take this scene for example, not five minutes from my own front door. A derelict bungalow on the northern outskirts of New Anzac on Sea sitting adjacent to an unmade road and so redolent of the place only thirty years ago. Lots of exhortations neither to enter nor trespass, and being a law abiding citizen all that was required was a parting of the bushes to reveal this enchanting little scene. An early Renault 4 sits disconsolately rotting in the concrete garage which is in turn being taken over by the undergrowth. Not much longer for this world I feel and probably way beyond being salvageable if my experience of the tin foil thickness of the floor in these cars is anything to go by.

Monday 25 August 2008

Signs of the times

Being frequent visitors to France, what with New Anzac on Sea being only 3 or so miles from the channel port of Newhaven, on a recent trip I noticed how much France is changing. Not particularly profound as thoughts go I know, but the changes particularly in rural France really struck me... and it was as a result of being well and truly hooked by Peter Ashley's books 'Unmitigated England' and 'More Unmitigated England'. In these the author presents a fabulous collection of photographs of the sort of urban and rural ephemera in the forms of lettering, street signs, products and the minutae of English life that he had the good sense to record over the past thirty years or so. This stuff (with seemingly no value to planners or modern historians) just goes missing - overnight in many cases - and when it's gone, it's gone forever. So hats off to Peter Ashley for such inspiring work. Anyway, back to France. When motoring (or motorcycling) through rural France it was always the small villages that gave so much pleasure, nearly always with a tabac,a boulangerie or a boucherie, they were the living embodiment of what I considered France to be; that is a France informed by visual references from Jacques Tati films, Cartier Bresson photographs, Rupert Davies' Maigret and resistance movies. Add to this the fabulous advertising signage, the triumphant car design whose quintessential embodiment was for me the Citroen Traction, and the stunning architecture - well France seemed to have it all. 

Recently, however things have gone awry. The beloved villages seem to have become pedestrian-friendly with hideous cast concrete bollards diverting the traffic and multi-coloured tarmac informing the motorist where and where not to park. The friendly shops are all too often removed to an out-of-town 'Atac' or other supermarket which serve several outlying villages. The result is a sterile place which, if close enough to large urban conurbations serves as a satellite or weekend dwelling location. It all sounds rather familiar doesn't it?

Vanishing fast, along with the village is the signage. I like the old enamel French road signs, I like the way they cross out the name of the village after you've passed through. The Michelin-sponsored signs too, rather like our own AA and RAC examples are disappearing quickly. And the charming little yellow and white concrete kilometre markers in the verges, they're being replaced by fibreglass ones. Here's a survivor flanked by its two modern counterparts not a million miles from Dijon in the heart of wine country.