Marlowe’s Blog, Part 2 – in which I reflect upon my new life and companions at Les Hirondelles

P1130412So much has come to pass and changed since I moved to Les Hirondelles two months ago that my head is in a whirl, and it could just as well be two years that have elapsed! I scarce know where to begin. Master and Mistress have been passing kind to me though it has not always been an easy task for them to adapt to the excesses of my temperament – I am, let it be said, a creature of passion, and my high spirits, ebullience and jubilant good cheer are not to everyone’s taste. And so I have learnt… I have learnt above all that change begets change, and that it must come from within or not at all. Thus it was that my first colossal task was to acclimatise myself to my new surroundings and the creatures with whom I was to share my new life. Let me jump in at  the deep end, to employ the vernacular, and make a frank confession. I have quirks, propensities and habits that I had never questioned until my arrival at Les Hirondelles. Given my keepers’ reactions, I have now been forced to reflect upon their propriety.

A couple of examples will suffice.

In common with other members of my species, it is my custom, on first making acquaintance, to sniff the groin of the other animal and to accept a reciprocal sniff with equanimity, and in all honesty I did not restrict this practice to fellow canines. It soon became clear that Master and Mistress were dismayed to be welcomed thus and sought to avoid nether contact with my nose. This misdemeanour seemed even more heinous to them when the object of my attentions was a neighbour or the post lady, and they would be forced to apologise on my behalf.

There are also eleven cats at Les Hirondelles and not all take kindly to my olfactory attentions either, however much they too enjoy a good sniff between themselves. In short, I perceived to my horror and chagrin that I was being viewed as a lewd, uncouth and ill-bred creature – by humans and cats alike – a judgement that would have mortified Havane, my mother, were she present to witness it. At the very least, my deportment was considered unmannerly and, as a gentleman by birth, this has discomfited me no end. I have sought, therefore, to rein in my instincts and in this respect may be said to have become more civilised, perhaps at the paltry cost of betraying my natural drives and inner promptings, for in truth, my sense of smell is acute, and humans have no idea of the rainbow of delightful fragrances and odours that assail my nostrils throughout the livelong day.

The practice of licking has also come under review in my new abode. While I can comprehend how sniffing can be seen as somewhat brazen and forward – assuming a familiarity where sometimes there is none – licking seems to me a perfectly acceptable and hygienic practice, carried out purely for ablutionary purposes. The other dog with whom I must share this habitation, of whom I shall speak further at a later date, licks himself incessantly, to which he has the added charm of discharging urine against the furniture with an insouciance that is frankly outrageous. Honestly, there is no love lost between us.

The cats, needless to say, are inveterate lickers and groomers of themselves and each other, yet for them to do so appears to be entirely admissible. The humans even permit the cats to lick their hands, clearly not finding this attention repulsive. My own attempts to lick Master and Mistress are, of course, no more than an exuberant expression of my love and devotion, yet at times they seem to ward me off as if my reactions are disproportionate and need to be kept in check. Mistress was particularly dismayed when I licked her on the face on one occasion shortly after finding and consuming the corpse of a baby rabbit in a field. It is true that the corpse was partially decomposed and maggoty, which no doubt was reflected in my breath, but I am still taken aback by her reaction to my perceived disrespect. Is it because my tongue is large and not abrasive, like those of the cats? I must continue to observe their reactions to the licking convention until I get to the bottom of this behavioural conundrum.

But forgive me, dear reader, for beginning with negative points, or at least aspects of my comportment that patently require adjustment and adaptation. Far be it from me to wish to appear ungrateful. While the move from a château to a lowly farmhouse could be seen as a demotion to some, to me it was nothing of the sort. From the outset I have felt wanted and adored by Master and Mistress, and this – to use a new expression I have learnt – has warmed the cockles of my heart. The garden is mine to romp in as I please, and Master walks me every day in the surrounding fields, come rain or come shine. On other occasions he attaches me with a lead to his bicycle so that we may fly along together like the wind. I live for these excursions and try my best to obey Master’s calls when he screams my name and blows on his whistle until his face turns red, for I know it to be for my own good, so that in my headlong enthusiasm I do not suffer the misadventure of a traffic accident.

My sustenance remains the same as before, though the large bowl of food that is ever on hand for the cats has at times tempted me beyond endurance. I am capable of emptying it in seconds, but Master has now placed it on the buffet, so that the cats must leap onto that item of furniture in order to feed out of my reach. When Master is pleased with me, he gives me a butcher’s bone or a handful of “friandises”, declaring me to be a “Good dog!”, and by these little words and signs of affection I infer when I have done well, and I am pleased.

While reading a short biography of Lenin recently, I learned the curious and perfectly useless fact that “Good dog!” were the Russian leader’s last words before dying from a stroke – uttered of course in his native tongue. He was addressing his dog who had brought him a dead bird. I suspect that Mistress would not say “Good dog!” were I to do likewise! The eleven cats are Grim Reapers indeed, bringing a daily harvest of bird and mouse cadavers into the dwelling, and Master and Mistress most certainly do not exclaim “Good cat!” when they have to deal with the evidence of the massacre.

There are further subjects I wish to address concerning my new life in this curious menagerie – or what Master calls “The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Cats and Dogs”. My mastery of English has progressed by leaps and bounds – an appropriate metaphor, I hope you will agree, for a dog! – and it is with a certain indignity that I recall that my vociferations were once limited to barking and whimpering like some pathetic imbecile in an asylum.

There is no doubt that language, and Master’s assiduous commitment to advancing my education, has empowered me to understand myself and the world – and what a diverse and mysterious world it is! The days scarcely seem long enough for my studies after our morning jaunt, yet I pack in what I can, furthering my horizons in whatever ways come to hand, I am deeply indebted to Master because he has given me unlimited access to his library and computer, knowing that I shall put these resources to excellent use.

But what of bygone days? I returned but once to the château, and my delight at being reunited with my mother Havane was indeed unbridled, but it was not to last. I am reliably informed that her days are calmer in my absence, and our huge and reckless hunting trips are of course a thing of the past.

But such is life. When one door closes, another opens, and it is our duty as sentient beings to put aside ruefulness and nostalgia for that which will never return and trot ever onwards, following our noses and exulting with unflagging gratitude in the joys and sorrows that each new day brings!

For verily, as the sagacious dictum goes, every dog must have its day, and Marlowe is no exception!


Period Pains

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 23.25.13Thought for the Day…

Watching the film My Cousin Rachel, based on a 1951 Daphne du Maurier novel, the incredibly original thought occurred to me that one reason people love period dramas – this one is set in the 1830s – is the costumes. Not necessarily the satins and velvet of the dandy, but the ordinary clothes that most of the population wore – in wool, linen, or linsey-woolsey, for both men and women. The above photo of Sam Claflin, playing the role of Philip in the film, is a case in point. 

It also occurred to me that if we like them, it’s because they’re frankly much more stylish than what we wear today. Wouldn’t life be different, if only those high-collared shirts and waistcoats and overcoats suddenly came back!

A little research led me to discover that they are indeed still being made, for example by a Sussex clothing company called Darcy Clothing. The company has been in existence since 2004 and provides a wonderful variety of period clothing for men, women and children and says “The clothing is largely made specially for us and is taken directly from original garments. The shapes and fabrics are uncompromisingly genuine. We only ever use natural fibres in any pre C20th garments. We now sell all over the world to everyone from sheep farmers in Wales needing sturdy braces to Hollywood stars playing pirates.” Here is an example of one of their daily-wear Regency waistcoats. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 11.15.36

Aside from the obvious theatrical and cinematic clientele for these clothes, surely there are those who just like “dressing up”, or who believe that clothes were simply better made in those days, and had that inimitable hand-made feel about them. 

Another company that produces nostalgia fashion (though at astronomical prices) is Private White V.C. Here is what they say about themselves, and the explanation for their name: “Based in the heart of Manchester, Private White V.C. is managed by World War I Victoria Cross recipient Private Jack White’s great grandchildren, who all share his undying love, passion and dedication to British textiles and local industry. In operation for over 100 years, we continue to produce garments in an honest and traditional way; using only the finest British fabrics, trims and components, sourced locally where possible.”

These are not theatre costumes, but clothes designed to be worn by the man and woman in the street – provided they can afford them. A single-breasted overcoat, for example, retails at £1,400. However, the detailing is extraordinary. A chore jacket will have so-called “butcher’s buttons” – beautiful buttons that can be removed when washing the article, a revival of a past vestimentary feature. 

Today, just about anything goes – which means period clothing “goes” too.

At Loches market, near where I live, I’ve often been struck by the number of people who dress eccentrically, with a local collective passion for medieval dress whenever the opportunity presents itself. My own preference, as I am saying, is for Regency and early Victorian, but also Edwardian, clothes, though I no longer, alas, have a “dressing-up box” (not since the age of 9). However, it is in the cyclical nature of things that the old stuff is coming back. A 1950s French chore jacket – “bleu de travail” – will command a very high price on eBay, and the more stained and darned and sun-bleached it is, the better. In much the same way, the Japanese buy ripped and stained old sneakers for ludicrous prices because second-hand is the new first-hand – the more worn something is, the more real, even if someone else did the wearing-in for you.

Clothing is the front line, of course, in the quest for identity and authenticity, suggesting that for the quest to be necessary both are somehow curiously wanting in modern life, or waiting to be invented.

Marlowe’s Blog, Part 1 – in which I recall the turbulent events of my early puppy days

P1130411Adrian’s Note: I have invited Marlowe to be an occasional blogger here. Marlowe is new to blogging, and is learning to type, but for the moment his contributions to his Dog Blog are dictated. “Master” has promised not to exercise editorial control over what he says but to encourage free speech in the interests of hearing the other perspective from across the species divide. 

Marlowe’s Blog, 28 September 2017
Where to begin?
It is with both humility and trepidation that I commit my thoughts to this medium. By no means do I consider my insights to be of especial interest, or indeed out of the ordinary, but to the extent that they may foster greater understanding between mankind and dogs, I will say what I have to say and so be it.
I arrived at Master and Mistress’s house in July of this year of Our Lord 2017 on what I knew was to be a trial basis. I was receiving temporary accommodation while my previous Master, Bruno, was on holiday with his helpmeet on the island of Sardinia and, at the same time, I was being considered for adoption, a fact that put both me and my prospective foster family under particular pressure. Ah, and not for the first time! 
 But let me start at the beginning…
My mother Havane, a working Cocker, lived a peaceful life at the château until one day a friend of Master Bruno’s visited, accompanied by a handsome swell of a dog, an Australian Sheepdog by breed. The latter popinjay’s tackle was in full working order and, though the coupling had not been foreseen, couple they did in the heat of momentary passion and seven puppies were begotten of that union. Needless to say, my father was never to be seen again, for thus it is with such “toffs”. Master Adrian has since told me the story of Tess of the d’Urbevilles and, were it not for the fact that the protagonists of that sorry record are human, this is most certainly my mother’s tale, though in the canine world there is little obloquy attached to such hasty liaisons, only the harsh realities of childbearing and child rearing when the progenitor of those children has done a bunk and the mother dog’s reliance on humans reveals itself at its most evident.
Thus it was that I was one of a litter of seven, and Master Bruno – overtaken by events – considered that he had little choice but to find separate homes for my siblings. One by one, over the coming months, he carefully selected adoption options, until there only remained Havane and myself, at which time I bore the name of Merlin – inspired by a triangular white colouration of my fur on the head which has since disappeared and my Master’s taste for the occult. It was Master Bruno’s original intention to keep the two of us at the château for, as he kindly remarks, I was the most handsome of the litter of seven.
 In those days, before my instruction began, I knew nothing of the so-called Oedipus Complex, but my relationship with my mother was of a most passionate and active, though strictly Platonic, nature. Above all we loved to charge off across the fields and woods to hunt whatever came our way – partridge, woodcock, grouse, rabbits – it really was of little consequence. The pleasure was in the chase. A Freudian might say that we were out to “kill the father” but for us it was just an instinct, and one which I still have enormous trouble in controlling.
Alas, this state of affairs was not to last. Our protracted absences, sometimes of up to five days, would wear down the nerves of Master Bruno who would, at the same time, be wondering what had become of us, but also whether we had committed some crime or misdemeanour for which he, as our guardian, would be considered responsible. When we returned from our jaunts, his relief was visible, though the estate was too large to form an enclosure for us and so our disappearances would continue at every opportunity or, to employ the English idiom (I am learning English and am already passably bilingual), “at the drop of a hat”. 
In my heart of hearts, I knew – as Master knew, to his sorrow – that this wild, untamed state of affairs could not continue thus. And continue thus it most certainly did not. I was entrusted to an elderly lady on the Ile d’Oléron, but within a week she called Master Bruno to ask him to take me back. She found I was too boisterous, too emotional. I could only hope that what to some may seem faults, to others would one day shine as qualities. I am not one for incessant barking, like some I could mention, but I must admit to other peccadillos. Yes, I leap with joy when I encounter my Master or Mistress. What dog in its right mind does not? If my claws pull a thread or two on their pullover, is that the end of the world? Is a mere garment more important than my spontaneous display of unconditional love? 
And so I returned to Master Bruno and – I confess – continued my shenanigans with my mother Havane. Furthermore, I developed the obnoxious habit of chewing on things when boredom struck. The edges of wooden tables, wooden steps, eviscerating chair cushions. I hasten to add that this was not to bring distress to my Master. It was some dark force within me that pushed me to do something – anything – even when I should have been in repose. Recently with Master Adrian we consulted professional documentation on my father’s breed, and it would seem that this sorry trait is not mine alone. My crazy romping flights into the forest, across the fields, into the night, with Havane also continued apace, and Master Bruno was driven to desperation.
Thus it was that I came to the household of Master Adrian and Mistress Geraldine in the early summer of this year. Thus it was that my new life without Havane began. What did it hold it store? One thing was sure. If I was to find love and security, I must tame the wolf within…
Dear reader, I am weary after this, my first attempt at autobiographical writing. I must to bed, but also to gather my thoughts and reflections for the second part of my story. For as Socrates said, “The life unexamined is not worth living.” These thoughts were strangers to me not so long ago and, as my education continues, I sincerely hope that my insight into this hitherto picaresque life will continue too, and that I shall find consolation in philosophy and peace of heart in the bosom of my new home. 

Come back Kador!

P1130365My dog Marlowe’s full name is Marlowe Kador Mathews (MKM). “Marlowe” can hark back to either Christopher or Philip, as one pleases, but the “Kador” can only refer to the magnificent creation of Christian Binet in the pages of the comic magazine Fluide Glaciale, a precursor of the Les Bidochon strip cartoon that has been going strong since the 1970s.

The word “bidochon” has entered the language as a term for your average numbskull French person from the lower social orders, somewhat like “beauf” – a “yokel” or “redneck”. The Bidochon strip cartoon features a couple in their 50s, Robert and Raymonde Bidochon, and their friends and family, and the daily trials and tribulations of their lives in our modern consumer society. It has so far run to 21 albums, but in the early days the couple had an intellectual dog called Kador who is himself the hero of four albums that preceded the Bidochon albums.

The contrast between highbrow Kador the dog and the lowbrow Bidochons is wonderful. Kador likes nothing more than to sit in an easy chair by the radiator, a glass of brandy in his hand, specs on the end of his nose, reading Kant or David Hume. He is deeply interested in philosophy. He uses the toilet in the house and when Robert tries to teach him how to pee on a lamppost he feels his dignity compromised. He loves bookish TV programmes while the Bidochons only watch crummy game shows, and he is particularly interested in the beauties of medieval architecture. His interest in female dogs is limited, and he periodically writes to the Society for Protection of Animals to complain about his treatment at home. 

His creator, Christian Binet, is now 70 (see last photo below), and in the first Kador album he recounts how Kador presented himself for an audition at his theatrical impresario office, and soon became the star of the show. The Kador and Bidochon albums are very minimalist, in black and white, and in one early album Binet couldn’t be bothered to draw in the decors so he just put in the names of what should be there – table, wardrobe, window, etc. There are similar metafictional tricks in many of the albums. Throughout, the expressions and body language of Kador and the Bidochons are marvellously entertaining.

It’s a well-known fact that “BD” (bande dessinée) culture is alive and well in France, and at every vide grenier you’ll find a welter of albums for sale, if not a professional collector selling and trading his collection. I’ve always admired the artistry of many of their creators, but when it comes to great stories with superb characters, the magazine Fluide Glacial is hard to beat. It was founded in 1975 and when I first came to work in France in 1976 all the young people were enthusing about it. It’s fair to say that I learned a lot of idiomatic French from this magazine, and it is still thriving. But I do regret that Kador slipped out of Les Bidochons. He was such a wonderful contrast with the moronic Bidochons – the French Snoopy, a Left Bank intellectual hound.

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Badgers Bike Squad Goes to Montrichard

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 21.15.37This Badger’s Bike Squad trip consisted of Adrian, Steve and Bruno. Battling fierce winds, they managed 68 km, from Genillé to Montrichard and back again. A very scenic route, but when you’re fighting 28kph winds with gusts of up to 55kph it can be like cycling through treacle – or semolina, if you prefer! Definitely a bad hair day…

CLICK HERE to view the video.

The Farthest (2017)

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 22.26.42In 1977. Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched to explore our solar system. In the 20 years that followed, they sent back fabulous pictures and data on the other planets and their moons, vastly expanding our knowledge of other worlds. Having done their job, they are now heading out into interstellar space and will encounter other stars in approximately 40,000 years time. They are still sending messages and images back.

In The Farthest (2017) this mission, and the people behind it, receive the attention they deserve. One of the curiosities is that 6 weeks before the launch it was decided to send a metal LP with encoded songs, messages and images (only 100 photos) in the event that other life forms should intercept the crafts. Chuck Berry is the representative of modern western music. And much to many people’s consternation, images of naked people were included to inform aliens about our anatomy. 

If memory serves – and this was not alluded to in the documentary – the English-language message of welcome to alien civilisations was recorded by ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim.

The question remains, do we want extra-planetary species to know about our existence and whereabouts? It is cheerfully optimistic to expect a tea party. As many dystopians have pointed out in recent years, the likelihood is that any alien species will be as rapacious as ourselves and our little Voyager invitation to them will be nothing less than an Invitation to a Beheading – namely, ours.

At any rate, an excellent documentary about one of the most marvellous scientific ventures of the 20th century.

Badgers Bike Squad Returns to Azay-le-Rideau

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 19.27.11Badger’s Bike Squad – Adrian, Steve, Yves and Bruno – did a round trip of 97km to Azay-le-Rideau and back, the second such trip this year. En route, we met a fellow cyclist, Philippe from Tauxigny, and pedaled together for half an hour with him. He told us about the Descartes bike club he belongs to and how they go on “very long” trips of up to 70 km – definitely not Badger-material, then! Anyway, we spent a nice time chatting to him until we parted ways. The route was long, hilly and hot, but a Ricard, some rosé and lunch in Azay-le-Rideau and an ice-cream from an excellent Italian ice-cream parlour soon revived our flagging spirits for the return. We lost Badger Po somewhere towards the end, but he reappeared a little later, looking somewhat disoriented, poor old chap. We ended back at Adrian’s place and Geraldine had made a cake to welcome the Badgers! As you will see from the video, the trip was not without its ups and downs… Click here to view it!

Streetscapes: The Bland Leading the Bland

P1120653Paris is famous for the Art Nouveau beauty of the 19th-century street furniture that grew out of Haussmann’s town planning, from the Wallace fountains – financed by the British philanthropist Richard Wallace – to newspaper kiosks, street lamps, railings, Morris columns for advertising, benches, and so on. Even the few remaining “vespasiennes” – named after the Roman emperor Vespasian, who purportedly introduced public urinals of this kind to Rome – are objects of outlandish beauty. On the Internet, there is a short film that can be viewed of Alfred Hitchcock visiting the one beside the Prison de la Santé in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. 

Old-fashioned English street furniture is no less striking. The red Royal Mail pillar boxes and red telephone boxes, matching the red double-decker buses, say “England” to everyone throughout the world. The telephone boxes, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, were a thing of beauty and it was one of the most asinine decisions ever in the 1980s to remove many of them because “they no longer meet the needs of our customers. Few people like to use them. They are expensive and difficult to clean and maintain and cannot be used by handicapped people”. Only some 11,000 remain of the previous 73,000. Admittedly, everyone has mobile phones now, but had they been allowed to stand they could have been repurposed as Internet posts, or something else. But there you go – England is an old hand at asinine decisions and allowing cultural wealth to slip like sand through its fingers.

The above relates clearly to Paris and London, but what about street furniture in the little villages of France? Up until recently, all was well. Most villages maintained pleasant fittings that were either 19th-century or in keeping with that time, from pretty lantern-style lamp posts to the bollards, benches, bus shelters and street dustbins. But now something is happening, and it isn’t nice. In Touraine, it is creeping in everywhere. The same uniformly tasteless or downright ugly intruders are ubiquitous. 

As one enters a village by car or bike, one sees a red tubular steel “7″, hung with flower baskets, and announcing “village fleuri” or some such redundant piece of information. The next thing are the plant pots. I mean those giant plastic plant pots that you can plant a tree in, and come either in a terracotta colour or more garish versions. There are new bollards, like something out of a science fiction film, and the benches are like barbecue grills and uncomfortable, apparently in semi-conformity with the “anti-sit/lie”philosophy and CPTD (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) theories from the United States, mostly related to discouraging homeless people from sitting or lying down and wordlessly instructing them to “go away”.

A case in point is the little village of Reignac-sur-Indre, near where I live. The main village square is in fact triangular, and boasts a friendly bar-café called La Joie de Vivre, a flower shop, a store run by the local dairy, a bakery and a now defunct butcher’s shop, with nearby a pharmacy and Superette mini-market. A year and a half ago, this square had nice fully-grown trees and a gentle, ramshackle appearance, with cars parked there, the occasional pizza van or fruit and vegetable seller. Then the municipal council decided to move in for the kill. The resulting changes were to cost them a quarter of a million euros – the money coming from the regional council, the state, the Réserve Parlementaire and the Commune de Reignac – and the result is disastrous. 

The nice old trees were pulled up and replaced with puny saplings that will take half a century to reach the growth of their predecessors, the parking was severely delimited, so nobody can actually stop there any more, and a sort of tiered cobblestone effect was introduced that seems more urban than rural, possibly with skateboards in mind. The plastic plant pots suddenly popped up everywhere, as did bollards that look like cattle-prods, the barbecue-grill benches, hideous smoke-stack-style rubbish bins, and a water fountain that was clearly inspired either by a black granite tombstone or by the monolith in 2001 a Space Odyssey. The red iron “7″ greets you as you enter the village and sees you off as you hurriedly leave, and the overall effect is absurdly brutalist and urban – showing no sensitivity to the beautiful old stone of this pretty village on the Indre river. 

The cherry on the cake is the Orwellian electronic billboard, which now glares down on nearly every village square. Why a little village of 1,000 inhabitants or less needs a giant lumino-kinetic electronic billboard to announce the date of a jumble sale or the opening times of the pharmacy is beyond me – but there it is, bulldozing sleepy little Reignac into the 21st century. In short, a quarter of a million euros to replace a gently shabby-chic beauty with brutish cast-iron hideousness. Bravo, Reignac… Photos of the atrocities can be viewed below. I am only grateful that my own village, being incredibly poor, has not embarked on this ultra-modern design binge.

Who decides these things? Well, the mayor does, and conscientious mayors also involve the municipal council. They then have access to “mobilier urbain” sites to choose their street furniture, and doubtless big-city designers who pop down from Paris on the TGV to pontificate, decree and line their pockets with euro-grants. 

It’s all so depressing.

In the 1970s, I worked for three months as an Information Officer at the UK Design Centre in London’s Haymarket. Apart from talking authoritatively to school parties about things I knew absolutely nothing about, one of my jobs was to lead visiting municipal bods to the archives and show them the catalogues of available street lamps or benches or whatever to adorn their home towns. The choice was wide and also ranged from the truly lovely to the downright unsightly, but at least there was a choice. More and more, the villages around here seem to be making the same decisions – from the red “7” to the giant plastic flower pots to the electronic billboards – as if in a blundering frenzy of unthinking mutual emulation. The iron space débris they’ve dumped on Reignac’s little square would be just about tolerable, or at least unsurprising, on some futuristic esplanade in a re-developed urban slum   – but not here, not in charming, picture-perfect rural France. 

This sort of crass municipal action reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Binsey Poplars, which is about how easy it is to destroy the beautiful. The poem was inspired by the witless felling of a graceful row of poplar trees near the village of Binsey, Oxfordshire, in 1879:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
            Not spared, not one
            That dandled a sandalled
            Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
            When we delve or hew—
    Hack and rack the growing green!
            Since country is so tender
    To touch, her being so slender,
    That, like this sleek and seeing ball
    But a prick will make no eye at all,
            Where we, even where we mean
            To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
    Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
            Strokes of havoc unselve
            The sweet especial scene,
            Rural scene, a rural scene,
            Sweet especial rural scene.


P1120574When I was a boy, I collected matchboxes, the cards from tea packets, books, postcards, coins and stamps, as boys were wont to do in those distant days. As an adult, I started a collection of wristwatches before realising I’d never have enough money to really do justice to this pursuit. Today, I admire people who do collect – they are the assemblers, the archivists of our history – but my own interest in collecting is minimal. Nevertheless, about two years ago, I started a collection of “extremely small but interesting things” (of which more, perhaps, in a separate blog post), but this too fell into abeyance. And a year ago, I started picking up anything vaguely connected with cycling.

The reason for this last mission was twofold: first, I’ve been a keen cyclist for a year and a half now, and am – as many of you know – President of Badgers Bike Squad; second, I enjoy going to vide greniers (the rural jumble sales) just to look around, so this decision gave me a casual objective.

My collection is in its infancy, but here are a few items I’ve ferreted out (photos below). There’s a 1934 copy of Le Miroir des Sports, covering the Tour de France in that year.

There’s a small working model of a bicycle: this, the previous owner told me, came from a school where it was assembled, from a kit, by the children and served to teach them how a bicycle functions. Beside it is another tiny model bike I picked up.

There’s a plastic model Tour de France cyclist. Occasionally one comes across whole sets of these on eBay or in vide greniers, and they date from the 1960s. I once went to an arts and crafts fair in a little village hall and a man was there with a model landscape he had produced with scenes from the Tour de France using these tiny cyclists, along with the publicity cars, the crowds, the mechanics and so on. I asked him why he’d started collecting this stuff and he said he had no idea, he wasn’t even particularly interested in cycling. Some of you may have seen my plastic model at the end of the Badgers Bike Squad videos, in the company of two others: they are owned respectively by myself, Yves Krier and Steve Birkbeck, the three pillars of Badgers Bike Squad.

There’s a cycling trophy – and it’s rare to find one with a sculpted cyclist, they’re mostly just cheap plastic trophy cups in the sports shops.

There’s a pendant from Notre Dame des Cyclistes, La Bastide d’Armagnac. This is a chapel and museum devoted to everything related to cycling in the Les Landes département, housed in the remains of a 12th-century Knights Templar fortress. It was created in 1958 by Father Joseph Massie, inspired by the Chapel of Madonna del Ghisalio in Italy. 

Lastly, there’s a fabric badge inscribed International Badgers Club. This has absolutely nothing to do with Badgers Bike Squad, but I had to have it. It is in fact a worldwide club of scouting organisations that shares badges – hence “Badgers”. For the record, the word “badger” originates in the 16th century and almost certainly stems from “badge”, an allusion to the animal’s distinctive head markings.

If you go to vide greniers, please keep your eyes peeled for further items to add to my totally serendipitous collection.

By the way, look carefully at the cycling gear in the photo above from the 1934 Le Miroir des Sports and compare to today’s Tour de France cyclist. OK, they may be faster and more aerodynamic, but all the style has gone…






© 2018 Adrian Mathews