Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Day 2 - Zeebrugge to Orléans

The crossing last night was very comfortable indeed, although the cabin was rather over-heated for the first few hours. Whilst the sea was moderately rough, the ship is well-stabilised (as I knew from previous crossings) so any movement was very minor. After a decent dinner and some coffee watching the news on TV and reading, I headed straight back to my cabin and continued reading for a while. But I was very tired (not having had an enormous amount of sleep the night before leaving home) so soon put my book down and got to sleep.

The ferry arrived bang on schedule in Zeebrugge and by 12.30 pm I was heading down the highway to Bruges and then on into France. The weather was a bit hit-or-miss; quite a lot of rainy showers really until nearing Paris, when the sun came out briefly. Going round the Bd Périphérique was every bit as tiresome as I had anticipated; I was hitting Paris just around 4pm and by the time I was on it it was already about 4.20pm and the late-afternoon traffic jams were in full swing. That probably added 45 minutes or so to my journey time, but apart from that the journey was straight-forward. Only problem I had was that my SatNav kept falling off the windscreen - the new model (a TomTom GO 720T) I got a few months ago is a lot lighter than the earlier model and I've not had this problem with it before; perhaps the suction cup has become a little weakened or I need to clean the windscreen thoroughly. Anyway, it got me around Paris efficiently and up to the door of the hotel. I think part of the problem is that there was a lot of stopping and starting going round Paris and some pretty uneven road-surfaces. However excellent meal here earlier this evening made up for most of these frustrations; a really nice steak cooked exactly as I had asked - saignant - when one asks for the equivalent 'medium-rare' in the UK it is invariably what the French would call au point (i.e. 'medium'). It is impossible to get a proper bleu (very rare) steak in Britain in my experience. Being in France again is very reassuring if you care about what you eat - even in the most basic establishment (e.g. motorway eating places, for example) they try their best to serve decent fare.

Tomorrow the plan is to drive to Millau to see and travel across the spectacular Viaduc de Millau, designed by Sir Norman Foster and opened three or so years ago; supposedly it's a 4 1/2 hour drive from here, so with lunch I expect it'll take me at least 6 hours. This is the whole reason I'm travelling this route rather than down the A6 Dijon/Beaune/Lyon route I have always taken before; I'm looking forward to seeking the Viaduc de Millau a lot!

Now to other matters completely. Whilst driving down toward Paris I heard on the radio that Derek Conway MP has announced he won't contest his seat at the next election, after having had the Conservative whip withdrawn yesterday by David Cameron. I think this was inevitable and very welcome - he really had got to go. I saw his Commons apology before I left and the way he made it sound was as if it had been a minor 'oversight'. Stuff and nonsense - simple pure crookery instead and he has been found out and humiliated. It's a remarkable change for someone who was thought a possible future Speaker to fall so far so fast. His case was blatant, but frankly so are some of those on the Government benches - why is it taking so long to get these ... [delightful people] out! It seems that the difference between the Conservatives and Labour is that when a Conservative does it, the method is blatant and spectacular, whereas 'sleekit' Labour politicians nudge the laws as far as they can, so it is too often difficult to prove rather than just very strongly suspect they are wrong 'uns. I think also that when Conservatives are found out they treat it more seriously and respond quicker - this was as true when the Conservatives were in Government as it is now. I'm sorry to be old-fashioned about it, but whilst the Conservatives may often be 'cads', they have some modicum of honour, whereas for Labour everything seems to come down to 'finessing' the rules, but has precious little to do with dignity or self-respect. As for the LibDems, well I abjure swearing in this blog as regular readers will know, but I will permit myself to say this - the LibDems are far too often two-faced, self-serving swine of the very worst kind. Much as I dislike what Labour is supposed to be about ('socialism'), I have long accepted that most of those who support it are sincere in their deluded ideas of what might make Britain a better place, even if the present crowd are rapidly reaching the same end which has befallen every other Labour government - spending far too much on the wrong things and doing so poorly; as I suspected almost from they were elected in May 1997, Brown's claim to be a prudent guardian of the economy has proven just as false as every other Labour government previously in power.

Oh, and to close, a couple of topical subjects about France, as I am currently enjoying the hospitality of these wonderful and highly individualist people:
- there was a discussion programme earlier on TF1 about the SocGen affair with some of the great and good of French politics and television alongwith a lawyer acting for SocGen. The burden of it was that whatever happens a foreign takeover, or any takeover, of the bank must be prevented - this being France I really don't think the EU telling France to avoid protectionist moves will stop them if they have a mind.
- the other item was about the President's latest squeeze; such reporting would have been impossible to imagine in France before Sarkozy deliberately changed the long-standing rule (at least so far as he is concerned) about not reporting on the private lives of important people. Apparently it was Carla Bruni's birthday recently and there was a report about all the guests arriving at her swanky apartment in the 16th arrondissement of Paris (*) and how big were the gift packages they were carrying; really cheesy tabloid stuff and completely revolutionary in France, unlike in the UK, the US or indeed Italy where reporting on public personalities is exhaustive and exhausting. One of the guests was a certain Monsieur Bouygues, ultimate boss of TF1 and long before that the boss of the eponymous engineering and industrial group which is the source of his wealth and power; another guest queried cheekily of the reporter whether they had a heated mobile film unit vehicle and if not perhaps they should ask their boss to provide one, specially on such a cold evening. This kind of thing is completely novel in France; whether it's a good thing is another question entirely.

(*) Not a million miles from where I had my apartment when I lived there - one of the great and good of French television was a regular visitor to another apartment (of a relative, I believe) in the building. Most such people live either in the 16th, or perhaps the 7th, the latter particularly for 'old money'.

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