Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Some of the Principals and One Headmaster(ex)

From top
Andy and Chris,
Ken Ford, and Frank Grigg.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leslie Waddington

Leslie at the entrance to Stonehenge. Note the early Celtic ticket window.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mdme Lemoine and Grandchild

Freed from the Parking Garage

Ah, it was with an intense sense of relief that we negotiated the exit ramp from the car park and emerged into the gray early afternoon light. We entered the co-ordinates of the B and B with the fluent English into the SatNav and confidently set off with Kathy to find it. On our way out of town, the digital readout on the speedometer added a dot matrix warning to the yellow light that had been steadily glowing on the fuel gauge for some time. The exact phrase was "Low fuel warning", so we took this to mean, "Look, the light has been on for some time now, and its not there for back up illumination purposes so if I were you I'd stop somewhere and fill up, soon". We intended to comply with this friendly advice just as soon as we had found "La Rose des Vents", which was somewhere to the north of Caen. Driving out of town, it became obvious that we were driving out of town, and by that I mean leaving the trappings of civilisation behind, including fuel stations, but we weren't too worried because our destination was "Straight on", and we were getting amazing mileage. In fact, we had not fuelled the car since I had picked it up, a distance of well over 500 miles.

The school of thought is that Diesel cars won't sell in the US, for a variety of reasons, but I wouldn't hesitate to own one of these. It had a low Diesel throaty purr, but really went like the clappers when you needed it to, and didn't seem to lack pickup. (You can Google the Fiat Bravo 1.9 Multijet, TurboDiesel if you'd like to see more about it). After reading about it myself, I know that although we had a standard I am wondering if we had a six-speed,because if we did, neither Les or I ever put it in sixth!!

Although the light was on and the dot matrix message had appeared in the instrument cluster, we weren't worried, because it was only 6 or so miles to our destination. Once there, we'd get settled and then go somewhere for fuel. It is so easy to look back now and see what I would have done differently, but at the time, each individual event seemed to take on a life of its own and consume all our attention at that moment. I had actually been planning the trip for some months, but hesitantly, trying to marry the places we needed to be with potential lodging, and on a strict budget,but not being familiar with the area I wasn't sure how far a place may have been from another place. Generally speaking, and very general it is I know, in the US, or at least where I live, the shortest distance between two points road wise is a straight line on at least a two lane road designed for the vehicles which use it . In Europe it is not the same, once one leaves the motorways and autobahns. There, the shortest distance between two points 6 miles apart may include 5 roundabouts(which hold little fear for me, I think they are cool and we could stand to use a few more in this country), and a jaunt down curving roads that are narrow to start with, but become more of a challenge as you go through a village with cars parked on either side of the road., or in heavy traffic. Couple this with the fact that the average European(UK included) driver is far superior to the average American driver in both knowledge of the rules of the road and actual driving skills, and it is easy to get intimidated. I hadn't even factored in the language barrier. The difference in driving skills may be illustrated for me by my own neighbourhood street. I am in a residential area, and it is common for cars to be parked on both sides of the street. It is also common for one car to give way to another car when approaching each other if there is a car parked between them, I guess because the thought is there is not enough room for both. In Europe, both cars would probably proceed normally, which means rapidly, with no slacking of pace. I remember trying to keep up with my brother-in-law some years ago following him home after picking up a rental car. On several occasions I just took a deep breath and hoped for the best in negotiating the tight spaces he sailed through without a thought. Anyway all this to say that I knew that driving was going to be a challenge anyway, and it wasn't helped by having an English drive car on the Continent, so I wanted to stay as close as possible to intended points of interest.

Therefore, although I had researched potential places to stay while we were on the Continent, I had not made any reservations, my thinking also being that locking in places to stay might hinder our quest by putting us under pressure to be at a given place at a given time. The converse of that is, of course, that by committing to a location, we may have been more focused in our travels and thereby done a few things planned that we eventually left out. My basic plan was to combine the two ideas by making reservations in the morning of the evening we would need them, giving us at least an aiming point for the end of the day. To that end, I had bought a new, bargain basement, basic notebook computer with a wireless card, purchased a one month subscription to a wireless Boingo Global plan(with over 50,000 hot spots worldwide, none however where I was), and updated my Skype membership to unlimited Skypeout calling to landlines, which works really well if you have an Internet connection. The bed and breakfast we were aiming for this first day in France was one I had checked out while home,and it had wi-fi, as so many places I checked did, so I was quick to grab the brochure when we were in the Bureau de Tourism. It had an address, so into the SatNav it went as a favorite, and off we went with Kathy(the Irish voice of TomTom) reminding us to "Go straight on," or "Go left at the next roundabout, second exit" until the final "After 200 yards, you have reached your destination." Only we hadn't. This was my first close encounter with a GPS, so it was a learning experience as well. They are marvelous contraptions, but as most folks know, there are a few idiosyncrasies that one has to be aware of and learning about them on the fly in a foreign country was at times irksome. Couple that with our unfamiliarity with the nomenclature and architecture of the area, and you sometimes find us sailing past "Your destination". This is in no way meant to be a rant, just an observation from one who is no stranger to traveling, yet often felt at sea(no pun intended) during this trip.

Since we are at our destination but not, we continued on in the hope of seeing something looking remotely like a Bed and Breakfast, or as I now know, a Chambres d'Hotes, but decidedly less chipper as the fuel gauge needle had decided to play like the Titanic.

The town we were in was very small, and soon we are heading out into the countryside again. Approaching an intersection, we decided to back track. Not being the stereotypical male afraid to ask for directions I decided to go back into the small town of Basly we had just left and find someone to ask where the heck the La Rose Des Vents was. I pulled into the parking lot of what looked like an official building, hopped out and strode to the door, only to realise it was closed. We traipsed over to another hopeful looking building, but it, too, was closed. Walking back to the car, I decided to wave down a small service type van. The driver obligingly stopped and rolled down the passenger's side window. I stuck my head in the window at the same time an indignant Rottweiler the size of a grizzly stuck his head through the partition separating him from the front of the car. I removed my head before he did. The usual post-Babel routine commenced, with me smiling and nodding, from a distance, and in the end merci-ing as the man and his dogs drove away, but with us no closer to our destination or fuel. We then looked closely at the address on the brochure, studied the numbers on the houses around us, made an educated assumption that the road we were standing next to was the one we needed, and decided we were close to the b and b. Actually we were across the street from it. Here is the website: www.chambresrosedesvents.com

Ah, Fluent English, a somewhat debatable term. Workable may have been a better description of her English, but helpful doesn't come close to our would be landlady's efforts in finding us place to stay. We turned through a gate in a very high wall, and entered a parking lot/courtyard.  We parked and alit, and walked towards the house, which apart from the small sign in the front, showed no sign of being a boarding house. A lady walked towards us, inquiring first in French, and as a result of our blank l00ks, in English. Here is where my plan to reserve a room as needed broke down, and why the posts are so haphazard. There were no rooms to be had at La Rose Des Vents,  which google translation tells me means  The Rose of the Winds, but could more correctly be translated, Gone with the Wind, as my plan crumbled in the face of no wifi and set in motion a sequence of spasmodic communications. The hostess offered to find us other accommodation, and disappeared into the house for a considerable time. At one point, Leslie asked me if I thought she was coming out again, and that we had misunderstood her. But, sure enough,  she did return, and with an address for us. She had obviously struck out on the place she had originally hoped for us, but had rung round and found us this place in a town called Authie, about 1o miles or so, as the drunk crow flies. She said that there was no wifi, and she didn't think the lady spoke English, but cutting our losses seemed prudent, and since the lady, you know her as Mdme.Lemoine of Le Clos Hamon, was expecting us, we said that would do nicely, and oh, by the way, where might we be able to purchase fuel. She gave us directions to go back out of town, in the direction we were originally going before we turned around, and go a couple of miles. It always amazes me how far it seems one travels when one is unsure of the locale. We followed her directions,  misunderstood a billboard for a service station, and turned off the road. I think it was here that we utilised the SatNav's Points of Interest feature, which contained fuel locations, and seeing as how we were very interested in fuel, entered the request to find the closest place. Well, it seemed we were less than two miles from our goal, which proved to be true, as we tootled past the point we had turned around earlier, went straight through the intersection we had been approaching and gratefully pulled up to a fuel pump in the coastal town of Courseulles, a town the Canadians came through on D-Day.
  After putting in 51 litres, which meant we probably had at least 6 or so remaining(over a gallon and a half)and paying our 64 Euros, we programmed in the post code for the location of Le Clos Hamon, which I think means Hamon Field, and set off once again. By this time, it was clear that it was getting late and we had decided the number one priority was lodging.
We arrived at Authie, some place I had never heard of but which saw some grim fighting,
 http://www.normandie44lamemoire.com/versionanglaise/fichesvillesus/authieus2.html#without further ado, but again the final 200 yards proved to be a bit tricky. We stopped at the town square, close to the memorial for the battle in 1944, and walked over to what appeared to be newsstand, but in point of fact was a restaurant, bar, newsstand, convenience store, and meeting place, all in an area the size of a normal McDonald's seating area. We asked for directions, and with some ingenuity and inspiration on the part of the shop owner, who drew us a map, we knew where to go. In thanks, we purchased one of the local brews.  We strolled out to the car, drove past where we had asked directions, a distance of 50 yards, and drove another 5o and there we were!! 
  We were greeted at the door by a small French speaking whirlwind, see picture, who, unlike so many we had spoken to or so it SEEMED to us, was genuinely glad to see us. She showed us our rooms, chatting in French all the time, I smiling and nodding in English all the time, and then wrote on a piece of paper our cost for the night. A nod on our part sealed the deal, we paid in advance, dragged our stuff upstairs, and drew a couple of deep breaths, glad to have a place to rest our heads.
  Later, in the evening, we drove into a nearby town to buy provisions in order to make our own dinner and save a few Euros. We stopped at the most likely looking place to have cigarettes and food, made our choices and went to pay. Of course, I had no cash, as I never do, preferring to pay with my debit card. This was fine with the owner,  but my 3 or 4 Euro, about $6 purchase, didn't meet the minimum of 15 Euros in order to use a debit card! So, back I went in search of some other stuff to buy that we could use later. This done, we ran my card, but the machine ate the receipt. Running a card was a bit of an adventure in itself, as European credit cards are not signed for, but utilise PIN's in the manner of our debit cards. Consequently,there is a different procedure for using my card, and I was always handing it over in order to be swiped, then they had to do a special printout for me to sign. At last we managed to pay and escape, drive home, and eat our bread, cheese, and French TV dinners. Later I tried to find a wifi connection, and managed to find an unsecured one outside the house, as previously noted.  I am not sure why it didn't occur to me to try to find accommodation for the next night, possibly because I wasn't sure where we were going to be, since we had done very little of what I had expected to do on our first day in France.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Parking is Such Sweet Sorrow

Day Two- Caen- Continued

This is post breakfast on our day in and around Caen and pre going in search of Fluent English, but really needed its own space.

We strolled, if one can stroll while limping, back to the car park. We casually entered the multi-story facility and proceeded to the car, or so we thought. Hmm, wrong side, so gimped around to the other side. Not there. Maybe we had the wrong level. Down one we went. Not there. This went on for 10 minutes or so, until I glanced across an open area and saw our little Bravo. Getting to the car, we hopped, literally, in and proceeded to the exit.
In the part of the country where I live, if you get a metered ticket when you enter, you pay someone, a human that is, as you leave. In Europe, there are a couple of different procedures. One is the Pay and Display method, where you go to a centralised ticket metering machine, put in your money for the amount of time you plan to stay, and out pops your ticket, which you display on your dashboard. Our particular car park utilised the system whereby you get a ticket as you enter, the barrier is raised, and off you go to park. Then, when you leave, you go to the payment center, stick in your ticket, and you are told how much you owe. After payment, one motors to the exit, stuffs the paid for ticket into the exit gate, and if everything is tickety-boo, the gate goes up and you go out. That is how it is supposed to work, and usually does so without much ado. We had a bit of ado.
Thinking of the way that I was used to, I drove to the exit, ticket in hand, expecting to pay someone, anyone, in person. No, there was no one at the gate. At first, I think we thought that it was a free car park, as it was close to the Bureau de Tourisme, and Guillame the Conqueror's castle, and that by inserting the card, we'd be freed, as it was just a method of access control, and keeping track of how many spaces were available. Eventually the light dawned and the realisation hit Les that we should have paid back in the car park, which would have validated our ticket, and sanctioned our effort to depart. A few other thoughts flashed through my mind, as they do at times like this. Les offered to hop out and scurry back to the payment center, which sounded like a good idea to me, but not to the driver who had pulled in behind me, and the driver behind him.

For some reason, driving a car with the controls on the opposite side that you are accustomed to can be at times a non-event requiring no extra thought at all, and then at other times it seems as if your brain just will not accept the fact that you are sitting on the WRONG side of the car. Here I had one of the latter moments, which was compounded by the rental agent's warning as I initialed the rental agreement, "Right, so you are responsible for ANY damages to the car". Couple all this with the fact that I have to back up(reverse back, as they say in England) with a couple of irate drivers behind me. Thankfully, I manage to get back enough to clear a path to freedom for the other drivers. Les does indeed hop out, from what would be the driver's side of the car, and catches an earful and some friendly waves from the occupants of the other cars who obviously think he is the driver!
As Leslie starts off in the direction of the pay center, I realise that I can pull up and re-enter the flow of parking traffic, thus getting out of the way of exiting traffic. I decide to do this, shouting at Leslie that I will drive around to the payment machine and pick him up. Which I do, only to see him looking somewhat befuddled. I see the problem immediately. He has to insert the card into the machine (think back to the toll booths)and it is deja vu all over again. I don't know if you have ever stopped to think about how many different ways there are to enter a card or ticket into a machine, but the permutations must be endless, or so they seem, and he nearly wore the paper ticket out trying to get the machine to accept it, which at some point it finally did. But at this part of the proceedings we are only halfway home, as this is just the point where the fee is calculated. Now comes time for payment. I forget what the exact amount was, but I don't think Leslie had enough Euros on him, so I said in a moment of insanity, "Here, use my credit card." He beetled over to me, grabbed the card, and scuttling back to the machine began another exercise in deciphering the instructions on how to complete a payment with a card. At this point, I am not sure how what happened happened, but happen it did. It was also at this point that I actually wondered if we weren't secretly being filmed by a member of Monty Python. As Les was standing at the machine, a young woman, girl, who knows, when you get to be my age everyone at a certain age look to be the same age, came rushing up to the machine. Somehow, and I am not even sure the machine should have let this happen, she managed to make the machine accept her ticket, at least I think she had a ticket, paid the fee, grabbed the paid ticket, and hared off in the direction of the exit in about the time it took you to read this. Here is where things really got interesting. Whatever ticket she grabbed, there were no others emerging from the machine. We pondered that for a bit, then decided to see if we could get another ticket from the entry dispenser. I drove to the entry/exit area, they were side by side, jumped out, and tried to get a ticket. I assume there was a weight sensor or some sort of sensing device, because the machine absolutely refused to give me a ticket, even when I jumped up and down several times. Then I thought, hmm, sometimes the exit gate can just be lifted, which in this case proved untrue. We drove around the car park looking for an attendant, with no luck. Back to the entry/exit we go. Here I am beginning to wonder if we could just swoop out after another car, but fear for the gate coming down as the injunction "Right, so you are responsible for ANY damages to the car" rings in my ears. As we sat there, two French ladies came over from the direction of the toilets and asked for change for a Euro. They needed to, as they used to say, "Spend a penny,"(Google that term if you aren't familiar with it) and didn't have the correct change. Neither spoke English, which was okay, as neither of us spoke French, but somehow they got their change, and gratefully hurried off to the WC, leaving Les and me still with our dilemna. Somewhere about now a gentleman with a bag in his hand strides in the direction of the locked office next to the exit. I hold my breath, hoping that he is an attendant. When he unlocks the door, we both glimpse a ray of hope and scurry in the door after him. This could be a long drawn out explanation, but somehow, and I do mean somehow because as far as I could tell neither of them ever understood a thing the other said, we conveyed to him that although we did not have a ticket we owed him 3.2 Euros. We made the payment and went outside to get to the car. Just as all three of us emerged from the office, the two ladies who got change from us emerged from the bathroom. Ever hopeful, and mindful of the fact that I wasn't convinced the attendant knew why we owed him the money, I shouted out to them, Do either of you speak English? I recognised the look on one of their faces that people get when they think they might be able to help but are not really sure. Anyway, over they came, and I explained, in English, to the one with the look, what has just transpired over the last 20 or 30 minutes. When I finished, the other one, who professed no understanding of English, turned to the attendant and spoke about 5 sentences. He immediately slapped his forehead, went Ahh!, and we all laughed. Many "Merci's" followed, we got in the car, the attendant put in his manager's card, up went the gate, and off we went, as previously mentioned, in search of Fluent English and an even more pressing need, fuel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Backtracking-Nov 15


Day 2
We rolled off the ferry sometime shortly after 8 am. Here is an American reaction for you. I was immediately struck by how everything was in French. And having taken only Spanish in high school several eons ago, didn't understand a word of the signage other than cities and distances. Les drove off the ferry but felt a little uncomfortable driving a right hand drive vehicle on the right side of the road. It must have been very uncomfortable, in all actuality, if he was willing to sit and let me drive. We got off to an inauspicious start, going the wrong way on the motorway. By wrong way, I mean wrong direction compass wise. This was easily rectified by exiting and turning around. Unfortunately, we had just paid a toll to get on the motorway, and then had to pay to get off, and then had to pay to get back on. All told, we did do our part in helping French road maintenance. It seemed as if there were tolls to pay every ten miles,but that perception may have been fueled by the rate at which we were traveling. The toll booths proved to be an adventure as well as a challenge, as again, for some reason, all instructions were in French. They did accept credit cards, which made it somewhat easier, but the machines are designed somewhat differently than the ones with which I am familiar. They utilised the pictogram system of instructions but this generally consisted of a picture of a card being inserted into the machine, with no indication of which side was up, or of the orientation of the magnetic strip. They did have a picture of a little arrow on the card showing to insert the card in the slot. That much I didn't need help with. Actually Les had the bulk of the toll duty, as he was sitting on the side of the car that the driver normally occupies when driving on the continent. This may be hard to believe, but he had never seen a toll booth before and was somewhat befuddled by them, especially the different options at them. Just as he was getting settled into the routine of shoving the card into the slot, murmuring at the price charged for what seemed an awfully short distance covered, and waiting for the bar to raise, the procedure changed into the toll booth dispensing a ticket which we had to insert, see earlier problems with inserting credit cards, and wait for the sum to be displayed before inserting the credit card. Later, in Belgium, we avoided these problems altogether, as we dealt with human tollbooth workers who gave us our total to be paid in Flemish. I know even less Flemish than I do French. But that was later, a couple of days later, as we were driving to Germany.
 Eventually, after and hour or so of going in the right direction in France, we came to the city of Caen, a major objective in the Normandy invasion. The Normandy Invasion of June 1944 was a joint U.S./British Commonwealth operation. The most notable, or most noted maybe, part of it was Omaha Beach. But, there were 5 beaches that the Allies used, and  three them were British and Canadian, these being Gold, Sword, and Juno . Their casualties, while not as extensive as those on Omaha, were still significant. Omaha had roughly 10%,  Gold and Sword 2-3 %, and Juno up to 5% .  But this was just the first day. The battle to break out of the beachhead actually lasted until almost the end of August and resulted in some desperately appalling casualties on both sides. The Commonwealth troops were assigned the task of capturing Caen, a city seen on both sides as a key to the success or failure of the the invasion, and as such the Germans fought for it accordingly.  A quick aside here that will be discussed in more detail later. Another factor relating to the success of the liberation of Europe was the ability to supply the troops.And aside from the beachhead, the Allies had no port under their control, and Hitler saw the English Channel and its weather as an ally and felt that if he could hold out long enough, the weather and the Channel would combine to starve the would be liberators of materiel, which very nearly came to be. The Allies put paid to this with an artificial harbor. And it was over this artificial harbor, in place less than 2 weeks after the invasion, that my uncle came as a reinforcement with the 43rd Wessex Division. The division was made up of numerous regiments, armoured units, etc, but for the sake of clarity only the basic structure of the division is briefly listed here. The 43rd Wessex Division consisted of the 3 brigades, one of which was the 214 Brigade. The 214 Brigade consisted of three English county regiments, one of which was the 5th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, consisting of about 1000 men, one of whom was my Uncle, Lance Corporal. He had been with the DCLI since 1940, but actually did not have to be in the army at all. When hostilities broke out, he was working in the factory that made Hurricane fighters, and playing for the factory football(soccer) team. Evidently they were quite good, and Les has newspaper clippings of Waddington doing this and Waddington doing that. He was good enough to be asked to tryout for a professional team, but Leslie doesn't know what became of the trial, or if he even went.
 That may be another story. For now, Les and I are in the area where his father, he has a hard time calling him Dad, as he never knew him as such, where his father first put to use the training the regiment had been doing for almost 4 years. The plan was to tour as much of the area as possible, but in reality started slowly and finished the day that way. We drove to Caen, and parked in the heart of downtown in an underground parking garage. Leslie has a surgically repaired ankle, which truth be told needs a bit more repair, and I have a right knee that once every 6 months or so, decides to lock. Today was the day. There we were, ascending a steep drive way out of the parking garage, limping along like a couple of actual veterans. We wandered around William the Conqueror's home before he set up shop in England, and then went in search of the Bureau de Tourism. European architecture can throw one for a loop, especially if you are not familiar with it or the signage. I couldn't seem to find the Bureau but I think it was subconsciously I was looking for a certain sort of building and wasn't prepared for it to be in a 400 year old hotel building that had been converted to office spaces. The fascia gave little clue to the ultra-modern chrome, plastic, and brightly lit office it contained. After finding it and perusing the brochures, all in French, I found one I recognised for a bed and breakfast that I had researched. I grabbed it and the straw it represented as on the back, next to the phone number, were the words, "Fluent English spoken". This really was a serious matter, as it seemed no one around us spoke English, and no one in our party spoke French. Here I would like to interject an observation. I have seen numerous comedy skits about Americans and British who feel that by shouting or gesticulating, they can be understood. Many of the French we encountered have obviously embraced this school of thought, and eschew even the use of paper and pencil to draw maps, or fingers to display numerical values. At this point, I want to make it clear that I don't think that just because I speak English, then the whole world should. Really, all I mean to convey is that it really was a strange feeling to be surrounded by people who looked just like me, yet I couldn't make myself understood to them or they to me. 
 Before heading off to find the b and b that spoke fluent English, we decided to have breakfast at a cafe that billed itself as Cafe du Tourist, or something of that ilk. I had a traditional petit de jeneur french breakfast of a cup of coffee(small and very strong-I immediately thought of my caffeine-a-holic daughters and how it would put Starbucks to shame), orange juice, a massive croissant(think two or three times the size of Burger King's only without the meat or eggs), two pieces of hard bread(I love hard bread) and jam and butter. Les got the Breakfast Anglaise, which consisted of what I got, plus two eggs, and a plate sized piece of ham, and cheese. We each got a second cup of coffee, which increased our bill by almost half again,(I suppose I was thinking of the bottomless cup of coffee in American cafes). We paid our 20 Euro bill, about 28 dollars, and prepared to go in search of some fluent English.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Backtracking a bit-Nov 14

November 14
I got up at 0530 in order to leave early enough to get Leslie and make all the stops we had lined up for that day. Under the planned itinerary, this looked to be the hardest day, but turned out to be one of the easiest and most enjoyable, albeit tight timewise. We even added an unplanned stop, but an unplanned detour later on took a little of the luster of the journey. The proposed day was to start with me driving from Tonbridge to Godalming, about 55 miles, in order to pick up my cousin. From there we were to drive 200 miles across the country to Cornwall, the site of the regimental museum of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, Leslie's father's regiment, where we were to meet an 85 year-old survivor of the battalion. From there we were to drive to Portsmouth, another 120 miles or so in order to catch the ferry, but not before stopping in to visit the author of several WWII books, a couple of which deal specifically with battles in which Uncle Alan fought. Leslie showed he had inherited much of his father's mettle by sitting uncomplainingly in the passenger's seat whilst his American cousin bombed along the motorway in an unfamiliar car on the opposite side of the road than he was used to. I had wondered what we were going to talk about for 5 or 6 days, as we only talked to each other a couple of times a year, and had last seen each other nearly 10 years ago. This proved to be an unfounded fear, as we talked almost as furiously as I drove. I tried to fill him in on what the agenda would be, and who we would be seeing. As we were tearing along, he casually mentioned, "There's Stonehenge". And, true enough, there it was right in front of me in a wye in the road, and I thought "I am not driving past Stonehenge", so I whipped the car to the exit and drove to the parking lot, which had traffic cones in front of it. We drove past then came back and asked the guard what was going on. In a rich Cornish accent came the reply that they opened at 9, but if we would hang on for a couple of minutes, he would open a little early. He was a man of his word, and we pulled into the car park. We then walked to the entrance gate and again were met by Keith the guard, this time telling us that the site itself would not open until 0930. He told us that they had caught someone just the night before intent on carving his initials into one of the stones. Whilst chatting with him, we also discovered that we could not actually go up to the stones, so we just walked up the road and looked at them through the fence. We decided not to stay until opening, finished shooting a picture or two and continued on to Bodmin without further ado. I had only that morning remembered that although I had agreed to meeting Frank Grigg, the war veteran on Friday the 14th, who was to make a special trip from his home in Penzance in order to meet us, I was also to confirm the time when things were clearer about when we would be there. Therefore, I sent an email at 6 am on the 14th, saying we were on our way, hoping for the best, but since we had to go to Portsmouth anyway, it was worth the risk of Frank not showing. Evidently he sent an email back to Andy wondering where we were when our ETA of 1100 passed. Upon our arrival at The Keep, as it is called, I suggested to Les that he park the car while I went in search of Frank. I saw through a window in a door a group of people, obviously a meeting, and my heart sank a bit as I thought that he had never showed or had come and gone. But there, to my right, through another windowed door, sat a smallish man with a shock of snow white hair and eyes sparkling elvishly. Upon entering, I said, "Are you Frank?",to which he replied in the affirmative, cheekily followed by,"I am glad you showed up, I was just beginning to cuss you, as I had to drive in from Penzance and have to go to a regimental dinner tonight." I excused myself and went to get Les. Introducing the two, I again stepped out in order to get my backpack full of books. When I came back, I set up the camera and prepared to let it roll whilst Frank reminisced. Frank was the signal sergeant of the regiment. He ran wires between the companies for communications purposes and was often in harm's way. Prewar he worked at the Odeon Theatre, I presume in the Cornwall area. He is mentioned a couple of times in the books, as he is a natural entertainer and was a regular participant in regimental variety shows. Indeed, he is still much in demand, it would seem, as we were interrupted at least 3 times by people who had business with him, and at the last he was busy receiving several family histories from a man whose father and uncle had served in the Regiment. He has made several returns to battlefields, representing the DCLI in divisional as well as regimental reunions. As Frank dealt with another inquiry from a different quarter, then went to make us a very good cup of tea ,we wandered round the room that Frank has set up himself. It is dedicated to the 5th Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry and contains much memorabilia that Frank has acquired. We searched in vain for evidence of his father in any of the pictures then spent the first part of the time with Frank sorting our who was who. It seems that there was another two Waddingtons in the regiment, and he knew that one of them placed flowers on the grave of the other on their regimental returns to the battlefields. Alas, to our knowledge, neither were related to Leslie. Having negotiated that hurdle, we settled down to Frank's recollection of the battle in which Uncle Alan was killed. It was a joint operation, meant to capture a crossroads town in southwest Germany, which started out reasonably well, but deteriorated due to a variety of things. Alan was killed the first day of a 4 day battle during which his company achieved their objective but subsequently had to retire due to lack of support . Frank remembers it as very bad, lots of wounded, and as being lucky they only had 10 or so deaths. At which point he paused and said, "Well not for them", which was exactly what Leslie was thinking at that moment. After our time with Frank, we toured the museum, learning some of the illustrious history of the regiment. Of particular interest to me was George Washington's Bible, captured during the Revolutionary War. Later we printed out a copy of Alan's picture from the blog, thanks Debbie, then bought a copy each of the regimental history. There remained only to thank Frank with a small, 750ml token of our appreciation, which we did, and then prepared for the trip to Portsmouth. We called Ken Ford, who warmly greeted us, and told him we would be there in 3 hours or so. He replied that would be true if we were lucky. We weren't. Sailing along the motorway, with Les driving, we decided to stop for a sandwich and a drink, thinking we would hop back on the motorway. For some reason known only to TomTom, possibly it was one of THOSE exits that does not have an easy return, we were directed to continue up the road. To condense a torturous detour into a few sentences does not do justice to just how hair-raising the trip was, as night had fallen, a mist or light rain was present predicating a need for the wipers but only on intermittent, which only had three settings and none of which were the correct intermittent. As a result we were looking through either a totally clear windscreen or at oncoming headlights sparkling and diffusing through the buildup on the windscreen just before the wipers stroked. The wiper adjustments would be the only thing I can think of that I would change on the car, but change them I would. There was the one swipe wipe you get by pushing up on the wiper lever, but Les was far too busy to worry with it as he dodged oncoming traffic on a road that was obviously built to be just wide enough for horses, and semi-starved ones at that. At last we reached the motorway after what seemed like days but was more like an hour, and proceeded to Ken Ford's house witout further ado. Ken greeted us warmly, offered us a beer, which we accepted gratefully. I had not imbibed for 6 months, preferring to wait to have one with Les in honor of his dad, and this seemed like the opportune moment. We chatted about Ken's history, how he got started writing, he gave us some suggestions on how to approach a publisher, and then we discussed where we going and what we planned to do. We could have stayed and chatted for hours, but we needed to push off. Ken thanked us for coming and apologised for rabbiting on(of which neither of us thought him guilty), and said it was because it was not often that he could talk on that level with people who were as interested in the subject as he was.This made us feel quite good, I must say, to be told that by someone as esteemed as Ken. Thanks, Ken. We had arrived around 8, planning to leave at 9 in order to give ourselves enough time to check in with the ferry, but Ken was so cordial and engaging that we did not leave until past 9:30pm, and then only reluctantly, Which made for a few anxious moments for me that I kept to myself. I could see the SatNav and the ETA on it and I didn't like how close it was to the time of departure for which we were booked. But we motored on, arriving without detour at the ferry terminal, obtained our pass, got in line at 2005 hours for our scheduled 2030 departure, and waited until 2400 before we loaded. Then we did not actually depart until 0145. But, the important thing was, we were on the ferry and heading for France.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nov 18

It is time. Norbert, our guide will be here in 10 minutes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nov 18

We are here.
After three days of searching out the battlefields of Normandy, Les and I headed for Germany at 7:30pm and arrived here in Geilenkirchen at 2am Nov 18, the anniversary of his father's death.  On the way we invented a new game, or at least came up with a question for Family Feud-Name something Belgium is famous for. Actually, our question is "Name 20 things Belgium is famous for."I will post more later, right now it is time for a snooze.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This is the house directly across the street from Le Clos Hamon, and what I saw from my window.
My room is the upper left hand window. 
November 16 2008
  Les and I arose to a massive breakfast prepared by Mdme. Lemoine. I don't know if I was to supposed to eat a bit of everything, but I did including the tapioca pudding,bread and jam, crepes the size of plates, and heart shaped brownies. Through a combination of pantomime, signing, shouting, and pointing at photographs we managed to convey to each other the amount of grandkids we had as well as their professions. I have also learned a couple of French words, but the biggest thing I have  learned is to take a portable translator with me the next time I come. Very few French people, at least the ones we have contact with in this area of France, speak or even attempt to speak English.

Nov 17 for Nov 13

A sign in the Embankment Underground Station, London.

November 15 
  This is the first time since I last posted that I have had a chance to write properly. I am torn between writing thank you notes and this. This wins for the moment. I am currently in communication limbo, outside any wifi hotspots, unless I walk up and down the streets of this small French village, divining for radio waves with my Compaq dowsing rod. I am desparate to get this written before the events to be described fade, or to be more precise, are crowded into a corner of my mind from which they may never reemerge. I think I last left off preparing to go to London. I can't check at the moment because of WiFi Limbo. 
  London. I knew it was going to be a good day when I picked up the rental car and found my way home! When I made my reservation for the car, I also reserved a SatNav(GPS) for an extra 70 pounds, or about $135. The morning I was to pick up the car, I suddenly realized I could have bought one for that, if I had only thought so earlier. I mentioned it to Andy and he suggested we go early for the car and see if we couldn't find one. So, that's what we did. Sure enough, they were near to the cost of the rental one, but the one's for Europe cost more. Andy, thinking ahead, suggested we get one good for England, Ireland, Europe and the USA. He and Chris are planning to visit next year and drive the American west. I said that I couldn't afford the top of the line one, so he suggested I put in 50 pounds and he would foot the rest. I said no, I'll do 70 to which he replied,"the whole idea was to save money on the cost of the rental, so 50 pounds it is". From there, we went to collect the car. Actually, Andy dropped me off and said call if you need anything and left. I looked at my watch, gulped as I realised I had an hour to complete the rental, then find my way back to his house, and get dressed before we were to leave and pick up Chris before we walked to the train station. Getting dressed and picking up Chris were the easy parts, but  anyone who has ever driven in England will attest, finding my way back could prove to be tricky. I made the necessary arrangements, and the rental manager brought out the key to the small, frumpy economy car I had reserved. Or so I thought. In actuality, she said , we've given you a Fiat Bravo. Is that all right? I glanced out the window at the sleek silver machine sitting in my rental spot, and fighting fear they would realise their error, casually said,Okay. We did the walkaround, I got in, started it, took a deep breath, then another, then realised I had forgot to exhale after the first. Exhaling, I put it in gear, eased out the clutch, and drove straight to Andy's house. I did kill it one time turning a corner, but no one saw so I don't think it counted. I jumped out, rang the doorbell, warmed to Andy's Oooh at sight of the car and said to him"Are you surprised to see me?!" We gathered our stuff, went to get Chris from work, parked the car, walked to the station, got on the train that was waiting, and left Tonbridge for one marvelous evening in London.
 Andy, type A that he is, couldn't be satisfied with just toddling up to London, catch some tunes from the symphony, and beetle on home again. No! In researching the tickets for the London Smphony, he discovered that the venue, the Barbican Centre, was also hosting a war photography expostion including the works of Robert Capa, so he bought tickets for that so we could attend prior to the concert. Of course, looking at photogaphs on the third floor is hard work, so needing  to eat before we attended the concert on the first floor,  we stopped off at Searcy's, a top grade restaurant on the second floor for which he just happened to have reservations. 
  He, reading the menu, said, "Hmmm, Venison,Rabbit, and Pheasant Pie. Served for two." and casually went on to another subject. When it came time to order, I ordered for starters, smoked eel,poached egg, and beets, and then glancing at Andy-said How does the pie sound? He said it is for two, to which I replied,Do you want to try it. A flashing smile affirmed our menu choice, whilst Chris had a beautiful piece of pork on a bed of vegetables. After my smoked eel, I was somewhat leery about the pie, for fear that it couldn't possibly compete with the appetiser. Quite wrong. What a dish! Served with mashed potatoes, Andy and I easily ate a pie that could have fed a family of four(rugby players). Chris gave me some pointers on how to use the mashed potatoes to my advantage in getting the peas from the pie to stay on my fork.(I was eating English style, or attempting to, with knife and fork).My apple upside down cake was so light I think it only stayed on the plate due to the apple glace liberally coating it. All this was interspersed with good conservation, but this all took time, so we hurriedly settled and walked the two flights of stairs down to the concert hall.
 Finding our seats, we marveled at their placement. There were more expensive available, but I don' think they could have been any better for this particular concert. Within five minutes the Symphony struck up the first piece, Bartok's Wooden Prince, to which we all agreed was not the most catchy tune, but at times it did promise to break out into melody. It is a testament to how good the LSO was that it, for me, was enjoyable. But, what it did do most of all, was to give us a glimpse of Marin Alsop (Google her), and I knew, right then, that the New World was going to be a cracker. Andy and I enjoyed watching the crew bring the piano up from below the stage on an elevator for the next piece which was Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto #2, in A major, again marvelously played by the guest solosit Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Symphony. Again, we each thought that although played brilliantly none of us would be whistling it on the way home.
 After the intermission, we settled in for the piece'de resistance, Dvorak's 9th Symphony, From the New World. Settled is the wrong choice of word. I closed my eyes and listened to the first few measures, sighed, and knew this one was going to be good. I have listened to that symphony more than any other, as it was my mother's favorite. Any one who knew my mother will be appreciative of the fact that during one of the softest parts of the second movement someone unwrapped a cellophane candy wrapper! Be that as it may, this was a marvelous rendition, guided,urged,drawn and driven by Marin Alsop. The English audience brought her back three times until she finally turned to her orchestra, appeared to ask them a question, and before we knew what had hit us, fired off Dvorak's Carnival Overture!!  That one we whistled!! 
 Afterwards, we scurried back to the Tube. Coming out of the Embankment station in order to make our way back to Charing Cross station and the train home, I heard a busker strum the first few notes of his guitar as I glanced up at the man-made canyon of buildings I was entering and saw through a light mist the Union Jack flying atop a bulding to my right. I stopped for a moment just to breathe in the wonder of the moment, then hurried to catch up with my family. The train ride was one laugh after another as we discussed old tv shows and then at last, we were home at 12. I packed and loaded the car until 1:30, then went to bed after writing a note of appreciation to Andy and Chris. As wonderful as the day was, it was due in large part to having shared it with them.  As I said to them, "It isn't often that Life throws you a near perfect day, and I had just had one with them". Yes, Anthea, this is me, Alan, your husband writing this and no, no one is threatening me!!??:>)
At 5:30 that morning, I woke to begin the journey to France....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A quick note here. I slept well and woke fairly refreshed. Andy told me he was just going to wake me, at 8:30, if I hadn't appeared by then. The day is nearly here! I spoke to Leslie last night and he is ready. In spite of all the planning over the last few months, I am surprised at how much is undone. The long drive tomorrow does appear to be the biggest challenge. Hopefully the extra $125 for the use of a GPS will pay off. I wonder if I could have bought one in the US and uploaded a Europe map on it here. Or, bought a European one here and uploaded an American map when I get home.
Too late now.

November 12

The first day in England. The flight from Atlanta was uneventful. I managed to reset my watch, and it seems, my body clock. I managed to sleep for about 4 hours on the plane, which is no small feat when your left shoulder is two feet from the lav, and so I did not feel horrendously sleep deprived upon touchdown. I have been tired to the point of dropping off on a couple of occasions today, but have managed to stay awake through a combination of brisk conversation, brisk walks, and brisk tea. Not that whimsical stuff you get in American restaurants, made with a pot of lukewarm water, but the stuff that makes you wonder why the English would ever consider drinking a cup of coffee. Normally it takes a couple of days for me to adjust to the 6 hour time difference between home and England, but I can't actually afford that luxury this time. My brother-in-law Andy, his wife Chris, and I are going to London on Thursday the 13 to hear the London Symphony. This much was known by me, but Andy has added a little lagniappe. Barbican Hall, where the symphony is performing, is a multifunctional facility, similar to the Kennedy Center. At the moment it is also hosting a showing of Robert Capa, the Pulitzer prize winning war photographer, as well as other war photographers, I think. I had known of this, thought of trying to attend, but forgot about it in the rush up to departure, but Andy has booked tickets to the showing and afterwards we shall have a three course meal before we attend the symphony. Speaking of Andy and Chris...After not seeing them in person for over 9 years, although we have skyped a couple of times this past year, we picked up, in mid-conversation over a cup of Yorkshire tea and a piece of Chris' mince pie fruit cake. Oh, is that ever good!! Think a moist light fruit cake that tastes like a mincemeat pie. After safely negotiating the minefield of the Presidential election, we discussed family, friends, and a host of other things. During the drive from Gatwick,Andy, excellent teacher that he is, (although officially retired do real teachers ever stop teaching), gave me a five minute summation of the world wide financial crisis as related to land prices. Dry, you think? Not with an old Dudley Moore/ Peter Cook Tarzan routine thrown in for illustrative purposes. Later, Andy and I went for a walk around the area, stopping by the first school at which he was employed. When I hear his list of accomplishements as a teacher, and ultimately head master, I often wish I could talk him into coming to the US and starting his own school,(make no mistake, he could pull it off if he wanted to), or at least look for a principal position in an existing school. After a lunch of ham sandwiches and tomato and basil consomme, I called Anthea and we got skype ready. It was wonderful to see her and she looked up some reservatin information for me. I did a bit of research on car rental, finally settling on one I booked a couple of weeks ago. Then Andy and I looked at possible areas of interest for his and Chris' excellent RV adventure to the American West next year. Sitting in the kitchen, and Chris' way, whilst she prepared her Stilton and Pear Pie, we watched the episode of As Time Goes By where Lionel and Jean finally get married, and then watched the Strictly Come Dancing update show while eating the finished product. Unbelievable how good it is. Around 8 we visited Lucie and Nick at their home which they are remodelling. It was my only real chance to meet Nick, as we are off to London tomorrow and on Friday he is off to Turkey in order to indulge that inate desire that every man has of being a human kite!! It was great to see Lucie, and I am very proud of the fact that not once did we bring up the occasion of our first meeting. You know, that old schtick that adults do with younger people-"I remember when...". Looking at a family picture of my family, the subject of me shaving my beard in order to be an extra in a movie came up, including in which movies I had been used as an extra. She and Nick had one on DVD, so we fast forwarded to my 3 seconds of fame. I have 14 minutes 57 seconds left. At times it almost seems a thing of destiny, this trip, yet I want to be careful not to expect too much, while not limiting the possibilites. Indeed, as I type this, I have yet to arrange accomodation on the continent. I have some ideas of where to stay, but nothing confirmed. Well, tomorrow is another day. Actually, it is here now, as I have typed well past midnight. Make that 1. I think my body clock may have betrayed me a bit.

November 11/12

On the plane: Overnight to England
Nov 11/12 Sitting on a plane halfway across the Atlantic. Smooth flight so far. Captain came on the intercom to apologise for keeping the seatbelt light on for so long. I hadn’t noticed it was rough. The ascent from Shreveport was noticeable. It is 1:30 in London. We land at 7. Must try to sleep now. Watched part of a Luke Wilson movie without sound. Looked pretty good. Trying to map out our activities for the next couple of days. Time for bed

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the way!!!

My favorite people and yours truly-Ariel, Aileen, Jesse, Anthea, yours truly with Caleb(Ariel and Jesse's 3 week old) at the airport.

 Ready or not, here I go. After weeks of planning, some haphazard and spasmodic, my last bag was packed and we set off for the airport. In just the span of time it took to say that, that is. I closed the laptop, or as I have been told, notebook case, and we walked out the door. Earlier my brother-in-law gave me a nasty start when he texted me at 2am on the 11th wondering where I was, as he is to pick me up at the airport. I frantically began to think back on when I had reconfirmed my flight, as you can only do it less than 24 hours from takeoff, and realised that I was okay. I hadn't missed the plane. Although I tried to even though we were there an hour and a half the scheduled departure. About twenty  minutes before scheduled departure I started the 10 minute process to get through security. Shoes, laptop, hat, coat, etc. After going through security, I strolled down the concourse, thinking to myself that there weren't many people going my way. And, when I got to the gate , there was no one there, but the plane was. The gate attendant, looking up, noticed me ambling his way, and said"Mr. Brock"? My first clue that maybe I should have hurried a bit. I said, "I didn't hear a boarding call." "We don't do that any more", he said. At least, not throughout the general airport.  Stepping onto the plane after my somewhat hastened perambulation down the gangway, I peered in at a full cabin of folks who I hope thought I was a standby. To my comfort, my seatmate said she didn't know that boarding calls are passe', because she has a fear of being late and proceeds smartly to the gate upon her arrival at the airport.
  Well we took off, a beautifully smooth takeoff it was, followed by a midair roller coaster through the weather that had brought the rain to Shreveport. The pilot even said it was nasty.
Now I am in Atlanta,with a 5 hour layover, but merrily typing away on the laptop(notebook) that we bought for this trip. I am also now a fully paid up member of Boingo, at least for a month, which allows me to dispense my musings to whomever wants to read this. Ain't technology wonderful!!
  In the couple of hours I have been here at Gate E14, not mine but it was secluded when I got here, I have heard the same CNN reports at least 5 times, another justification for having a notebook with wifi!! The plane is now boarding, non-stop to Paris. I have just finished charging a complete stranger's Ipod through the USB port on my notebook. It did occur to me that he has probably now got everyone of my email and account passwords!! It also occurred to me that if I hadn't been typing, I would  have probably been talking to him. When I heard them call the flight for Paris, I asked him if he lived in Paris. No, after having been to Los Angeles, he was on his way home to Tel Aviv, via Atlanta and Paris. He asked me where I was from, and he had a bit of a blank expression when I told him Louisiana. I was sorry to remember ,only after he left, the little pocket atlas in one of the 8 pockets in my new coat. Anthea told me I should familiarise myself with all the pockets and their contents!! I can't find my webcam, it is packed somewhere, otherwise I would have sent a picture of the area where I am. Maybe it is in one of my pockets.
  Back to CNN. Actually to the news in general. or specifically what today is in history. In the U.S, it is Veteran's Day, whilst in the UK it is Remembrance Day. It is the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It is also Les, my cousin's, birthday. Part of the spasmodic planning was a deliberate departure on this date, in order to in some way acknowledge the sacrifices of those we are to be remembering. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 5

Writing this without becoming maudlin, yet maintaining some pathos, is quite tricky. As is trying, without becoming melodramatic, to visualise or relive the movements during the last days of someone you never knew . But a parallel occurred to me a day or so ago. Our first grandchild was born three weeks ago, and fresh as it is,I was brought up with a start when I thought of my auntie still in the post partum recovery suddenly being dealt the blow that the child's father and her husband was dead.
Changing track, somewhat, but also hearkening to the first couple of sentences of this post. I have been doing a bit of extra(part-time) work to supplement the funds for the trip. Before I started this, a few weeks ago, I made a conscious decision not to complain about being tired or overloaded, or whatever, because I knew that the men in the field of battle for England had it far worse, with no choice but to be there. It reminded me that we often underestimate our abilities and capabilities, and can do far more than we make think we can. I take a bit of pride in being able to do a bit more in order to visit the resting places of so many who didn't have the chance to come back and work overtime.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November 2

I was born in England, in a hospital on a US Air Force base just outside London, which is no longer there. The base, not London.  I am an American citizen and a British citizen, although the British don't mind me being American as much as the Americans do me being British. But, being half English, half of my relatives, on my mother's side, live in England. My cousin, Leslie, with whom I will travel to the Continent, is the only one with whom I maintain contact. Not for want of trying. There was some sort of family split in the late 50's, estate related perhaps, but probably just an eruption of a sore that had festered for years prior. I have recently tried to contact another cousin who I haven't seen for 4o years. I managed to gain his email address, after a short phone call, to which I sent a short note stating my plans for the trip with Leslie as well as requesting information on any other family members with whom he may have be in contact. The reply was shorter. No, he didn't know where anybody was and good luck with the trip! 
  On the other side of it is the fact that I am married to an English woman, and,not surprisingly, her relatives are over there as well. And, they like me! Or they say they do. Well, they do enough to put up with me, er, put me up for a couple of days before I hie off across the Slip(English Channel to everyone but the French). And, bless their hearts, they have managed to get tickets to the London Symphony performing one of my mother's and therefore one of my, favorite pieces, Dvorak's 9th, "From The New World". Here is the proposed itinerary, although still not finalised(I am going to use English endings for words just because I want to). Actually, whenever I type a word that is spelt differently in the U.S. than in England, I always have to decide which version to use. Usually spell checker wins (i.e.,"American English"):

Nov 11-Leave Shreveport, via Atlanta, for London Gatwick Airport
Nov 12-Arrive dazed after 9 hour overnight flight at 7am London time.
Nov 12-try to stay awake 
Nov 13 -off to see/hear LSO
Nov 14-Here begins the main focus of this journey.This will be long day as we drive a rental car to the far west part of England, Bodmin in the county of Cornwall, to visit the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry(DCLI) regimental museum and have tea with a survivor of the battalion. He landed in France June 24, 1944 , survived some of the most horrific battles you have never heard of, and was with the unit until VE day. H goes back yearly to pay tribute. He is now mid 80's and one of the few remaining of his regiment.
Nov 14-later that day we will drive to Portsmouth from which we will embark to LeHavre France., 2300 hours. If this day goes as planned, we will have gone all the way across England and halfway back again. If time permits, meaning if we haven't become hopelessly lost, before we leave England we hope to meet an author of numerous WWII books, one of which is entirely devoted to the nearly forgotten battle in which my uncle died, and another about crossing the Seine. The author lives just outside Portsmouth. I have been in contact with him, have an autographed book, and an invitation to give him a ring when we get near. If only he was a relative!!
Nov 15-After an 8 hour overnight ferry to France, we shall arrived fresh and chipper, ready for our excursion. I am sure we will arrive in much better shape that the DCLI men did in 1944. Our main destination in Normandy is Caen, more on that later, with some tentative visits to other points of interest in the area, among those being the Beaches, the Caen Memorial, the Bayeux Tapestry, Cheux, and other places. My uncle's unit landed three weeks after D-day, yet suffered some appalling casualties in the battles to breakout of Normandy during the next two months. Contrary to Tom Hank's statement in Saving Private Ryan, they weren't wasting their time, but they were losing their lives. 
Nov 16- Vernon France, where  in August 1944 the British forced a crossing of the Seine under heavy fire. This area is 5 miles or so from Giverny, Monet's home. We plan to visit both places.
Nov 17-Vernon to Arnhem, Holland -And points in between. For you history buffs, you recognise Arnhem as the town with the Bridge Too Far. Well, my uncle was there.
Nov 18-After a long drive south, we will be in Geilenkirchen, Germany. This battle is long forgotten by most, as it fell  between Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and was not a stunning Allied victory. It is notable to some, and I guess to him especially, that is the place that a young US Army officer named Henry Kissinger first saw action. It was a joint British-American operation, and due in part  to the unceasing rain, became almost a WWI- like stalemate. My uncle was killed the first day, Nov 18 1944, of the battle, in a "textbook" capture of a village that saw only minimal casualties. It brings to mind All Quiet on the Western Front. It was the first day that British forces had attacked Germany on their homeland.
We will be guided by a local citizen, who grew up in the area. He has served in the West German Air Force and was actually stationed in Mississippi, during a NATO exchange program.He is about my cousin's age, and his father fought in the war for Germany. He has emailed me pictures of my Uncle's headstone and has offered to show us the battlefield area. The battlefield is not that large, and after we see it, we will drive 2 hours North to the Cemetery. Here are over 7500 British Commonwealth dead, from all services. There are two crews of the famous Dambusters buried there. And one , in the words of my mum, "lovely man", who never saw the son he had just heard about.  At this point, I am not sure what we will do. Just seeing a picture of my uncle's headstone moved me to tears.
Nov 19-The drive from the Cemetery to the coast, Dunkirk, is not that long. In light of the events of Nov 18, we may stayovernight in the area to catch our breath and regroup. Or we may drive straight from the cemetery to Dunkirk, spend the night, and catch the ferry from Dunkirk toDover.
Nov 20-25 are open, possibly finding and visiting relatives who it appears don't want to be found or visited!! I think my brother and sister-in-law are planning on me being with them. I think I better check on that! And, maybe a trip to a real English Premier League footie match! Or even a brief stab at rock climbing, or hiking, or walking, or visiting the pub in order to get a feel for the local atmosphere. Or another hair-raising ride in an American left-hand drive Corvette down narrow English county roads!!coupled with a trip to the pub, the ride in the 'Vette becomes even more hair-raising. or playing with my great niece and nephews-let's hope I don't scar their image of Americans too badly!! Here is the rub, there are so many things to do, people to see, places to go, and limited time to do it.
Nov 25-Leave London Heathrow for Shreveport, via Houston.

November 2, 2008

Keeping a blog is a new experience for me. I am going to write it for myself, and not as though I am writing for an audience. Therefore, on occasion, it may not make sense to an outside reader, but I feel I must do it this way else my posts will be exceedingly short due to the time it takes me to frame coherent thought for public consumption. Questions are welcome, however, and I will do my best to answer any. The plan is to write at a set time each day, preferably morning, with the occasional short message or image from my cellphone tossed in throughout the day. Technology, though I am fairly familiar with it, may have other ideas.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November 1-

November 1, 2008

Eleven days before I depart on what may be called a trip of a lifetime. Or several lifetimes. My English mother was one of 6 girls born to a couple living just outside London. One of the sisters married a man, Alan George Albert Waddington, who eventually went to war. He became a Lance Corporal in the 5th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, a battalion in the much larger 43rd Wessex Division. When my mother was a little girl, she would sit on his lap and tell him that when she had a little boy, she would name her son Alan. She did. She was 11 when the official letter came to the family home, regretting to inform of another who would not be coming home. She said it was the only time she ever heard her mother swear, calling Hitler "That Bastard"! Alan's  son was one week old, having been born on November 11, the anniversary of the end of The War to End All Wars. The letter from the commanding officer came later, assuring the grieving widow that her man had not suffered,  the CO  arriving almost immediately at Alan's side shortly after he was hit and finding that he was already dead.  
 As a child, I did not like the name Alan. There weren't a lot of Alan's around in my school or neighborhood. Or so I thought. There were actually 9000 born in the U.S. the year I was born. It was different, though.Not like Jack or John or Bill. I am older and more aware of events outside my immediate circumstances now, but although not that unusual it was still only the 129th most popular name in the US last year. But somewhere, sometime, it began to dawn on me that I was named for someone who had died in the service of his country and at great cost to his family. I began to wear the name proudly and still do. I tried, spasmodically, for years to find our more about him and the regiment he was with, but it was not until the internet came along that anything much happened along that line. 
 A few years ago I learned that my cousin had never visited his father's grave. In all fairness, it is the grave of a man he never knew. And his mum remarried a few years after the war, and Uncle Bert became my cousin's dad, and a good one at that. But it still amazed me that, relatively speaking(no pun intended) my cousin lived less than 350 miles from the grave yet had never visited it. So we half way agreed that if I ever went, he would come along. Well, this is the year. On November 18 of this year, we plan to be laying a wreath at his father's grave.