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Yves Rossi – The Aeroplane Man


Paragliding by Matthew Bietz

John Hillman looks to the skies in wonder at man’s perpetual stupidity

Almost one hundred years ago a young Frenchman set out to become the first person to fly across the English Channel; his exploits remain the benchmark for kamikaze adventurers to this day.

Louis Blériot took off in rough weather, on 25 July 1909, from Les Barraques, Calais, at 4.30 a.m. He was strapped into a tiny monoplane, powered by a 3 cylinder engine and a wooden propeller, which just about managed to cough and splutter its way across the 22 mile stretch of seawater before crash landing somewhere in a field in Kent.

Amazingly he did this at a top speed of 40 miles per hour and an altitude of 250 feet in conditions that were so poor he lost sight of all landmarks. He had to contend with torrential rain, which threatened to shut off his tiny engine, and just to make him even more Steve McQueenesque he did it while suffering from serious burns from an earlier practice flight when petrol leaked onto him and set fire to his foot.

But nothing rewards suicidal stupidity like the art of getting away with it and this he did, claiming his £1000 prize from that true godfather of modern entertainment, Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail, and going on to enjoy some proper Edwardian celebrity.

Fast forward 100 years and it is heartening to see that the spirit of Blériot lives on, as Yves Rossi seeks to join the great pantheon of human apes that have successfully blasted themselves over this small stretch of water.

Strapped to an 8 foot long carbon-fibre wing Rossi will (once the weather clears up) bomb across the Channel at 115 miles an hour, reminding us that human achievement is not all about numbers on a balance sheet, but about a person’s unquenchable desire to defy the physical limits put on them by the rules of nature.

In troubled times around the world it’s good to see that someone is still subscribing to the same spirit of adventure that got us all to this point in the first place.

Rossi we salute you; you crazy Swiss cuckoo clock.

Embattled little Lille


Lille - Palais des Beaux Arts - 24-07-2008 - 11h47 by panorma

John Hillman gives us a snapshot of Lille, the capital of the Nord Pas de Calais

There is something quite special about border towns, perhaps a sense of peril through proximity that you can’t help but pick up on whenever you visit a place like Lille.

The ancient city of Lille, the capital of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, did not actually become part of France until 1668 when it was conquered by King Lois XIV

Known as the Sun King – presumably because of the ‘sun-king feeling’ everybody had whenever the randy little toad appeared on the horizon – he set about winning over the hearts and minds of the prosperous townsfolk with a series of impressive public works, such as the Citadel and the quartiers of Saint-André and la Madeleine.

But the curse of geography had been placed on this city when the first inhabitants turned up around 2000 BC and, Sun King or no Sun King, the proximities of the English Channel, the Germanic northern regions of Europe and the fault line of the Christian faith ensured that this town would remain a perilous place to live throughout modern history.

It must come as quite a relief to the inhabitants of Lille to now be living in a benign part of a reassuringly secular Europe, which hopefully got all the fighting out of its system last century.

Lille celebrates this fact by now being a city of eternal youth thanks to the 97,000 odd students that study here each year, and by hosting France’s principal comic festival every November. Well, having been invaded and liberated more times than a Hentai Heroine itself, it comes as no surprise that it identifies with the ‘hero-to-the-rescue’ theme that underpins every comic book ever written.

An excellent week of European cinema awaits


European Cinema has a tough time in Britain because we struggle to embrace movies shot in a foreign language.

Despite the fact that European films are often funnier, sexier and more poignant than a lot of the Hollywood glitz, people seem to have a deep seated fear of subtitles and this sets them at a permanent disadvantage.

But recent box office hits such as Pan’s Labyrinth have helped a new generation of film goers to open their minds to the idea that not all foreign language films are about two people sharing a cigarette in a studio flat in Paris. Some of them are actually pretty good.

This September the San Sebastian International Film Festival gets underway by showcasing 15 of Spain’s most critically acclaimed new films in their ‘Made-in-Spain’ section. It promises to be an excellent week of European cinema and anyone who is a fan of non-Hollywood movies will be tempted head out that way between 18th – 27th September.

Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas will be picking up the festival’s Donostia Award, while Liam Neelson’s The Other Man, and The Brothers Bloom starring the excellent Adrien Brody, will all get the festival underway on its first day.

The festival is now in its 65th year and is an increasingly important part of Spain’s cultural calendar. Therefore anyone who wants to go should get their skates on as Hotel space can be hard to come by.

Some good advice is to try booking in Bilbao, as this is just a short train ride away from San Sebastian but much less likely to be full of movie-moguls chomping on big cigars and cutting multi-million dollar deals.

P&O provide extra tickets for stranded travellers


Euro Tunnel Locomotive Jose Carreras by amandabhslater

P&O Ferries announce an increase in services after a fire in the Channel Tunnel disrupts the plans of thousands of holiday-makers

Thousands of tourists hoping to cross the channel via the Channel Tunnel are tonight facing an uncertain wait after a fire ripped through the heart of the tunnel.

The BBC website has reported that both Eurotunnel and Eurostar have suggested that passengers should start looking for alternative routes as they attempt to clean the wreckage caused after a fire broke out on board a freight train. Thirty two people had to be led to safety through the tunnel’s emergency exits – fourteen of which had suffered from minor injuries.

The Guardian have reported that the solution to the problems faced by thousands of passengers is likely to come through the presence of the large P&O Ferries fleet, moored in the nearby Dover docks. They stated that although ‘P&O Ferries are currently operating to maximum capacity (that) the company is looking to increase its daily service from 28 return sailings to 30 to ease congestion.’

Pricing for P&O Ferries is based upon a sliding scale and foot passengers that checked in today were being charged £15 to travel as foot passengers. The Guardian reports that ‘this price was still available for crossings throughout the weekend’ and that they advised passengers to book before arriving at the ferry port.

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For the latest offers on P&O crossings to France, click here.

Taking your pet to the continent


Taking a pet on holiday by AE Moore

Are you considering taking a continental holiday with a pet in tow? Peter Moore looks at some of the advantages of getting a pet passport

At the height of their celebrity during the 1980s, The Monster Raving Looney Party decided to advocate the breeding of fish in a ‘European wine lake’ so that they could be caught ready-pickled. They also argued for the extension of the Channel Tunnel to Switzerland, so that Britain could be listed as a tax-haven. And as a third spur to their manifesto, they decided to lobby for the issuing of passports for pets.

Whilst the wine lake failed to materialise and the Channel Tunnel remains rooted close to the outskirts of Boulogne, oddly the government decided to adopt the policy for pets’ passports. When, in 2001, the scheme swung into action with the establishment of the PETS (Pet Travel Scheme) and the Monster Raving Loonies could relax, smug in the knowledge that they had unwittingly changed the course of British politics. It was one of those very occasional moments when democracy seemed to work wonderfully.

Brits have long been preoccupied with their pets. Holed up on this leaf, damp island, according to a survey taken in 2001 we have managed to breed around 7.5 million cats, 6.1 million dogs, 1.1 million rabbits and something like 900,000 hamsters. That’s enough to fill the cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester. Now, we’re free to ship them about on holiday with us.

As long as your cat or dog is vaccinated against rabies at least 6 months before you travel, they are micro-chipped and you adhere to the rules of the country that you are visiting – then there is little to stop you paying P&O a cursory £15 and carting them off for a bit of culture too.

This is all good news for us Brits. Having been bought up with the Beatrix Potter stories of Peter Rabbit and Pigling Bland, which were quickly followed up with the tales of Fantastic Mr Fox and Toad of Toad Hall, it sometimes seems that the prospect of leaching us from our pets is enough to stop us holidaying altogether.

As a quick aside, it is interesting to note how we treat our animals for a moment. They have their own royal society (the RSPCA), their vets are trained more intensively than our doctors are and if you look at the retirement age of a sniffer dog, which is set at ten years of age, the enjoy proportionally a much longer retirement than the average human being (10 dogs years equates to 56 human years). Now that they can travel across Europe, a pet even has the opportunity to absorb a touch of the joie de vivre of the Continent.

It is well worth trying to picture the scene for a moment: strolling down the Champs Elysees with your golden retriever jumping at the neatly dressed Parisians, or allowing your springer spaniel to dash into the sea on the Spanish coast amongst the surfers and the scorched beauties.

The departure lounge at Dover is not just exclusively for dogs. Cats and ferrets can both also travel for £15, and new EU legislation now allows rabbits and rodents such as guinea pigs and mice to make the trip too. Odd as it may seem, a P&O ferry could pretty much resemble the Hogwarts Express, with all manner of animals being transported along with the animals.

Organising a pet passport is a perfect way of avoiding the fascist bills of the cattery or the kennels and exposing your pet to a bit of continental swagger along the way. All you’ve got to do is say thanks to Screaming Lord Such for making life a little more sensible.

One last night under the stars


Zaragoza by night by perrimoon

As another English summer fails to turn up, John Hillman ponders upon a trip to Spain, where for a month or more to come, the sun will still be shining bright

As August skips effortlessly into September in a perfectly choreographed ballet of cold winds, torrential rain and floods, many people must be asking themselves if they are really ready for the onset of winter.

But over on mainland Europe, with September promising to be another warm and pleasant month, there are still opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts who relish the idea of one last night under the stars.

Catching the P&O Pride of Bilbao to Bilbao in the north of Spain will put you at the beginning one of the most fantastic coast to coast footpaths in the whole of Europe.

The recently opened Spanish GR11 and the French GR10 footpaths connect Bilbao to Barcelona, allowing visitors to hike or mountain bike their way past snow capped mountain peaks whilst crossing valleys of outstanding natural beauty.

Rural family run hotels provide a warm welcome at the end of each day, with the added bonus of some of the best local cuisine in Spain.

You can plan your route to take in the picturesque Roman ruins of Zaragoza, or even walk the same paths used as escape routes during World War Two; following in the footsteps of more than 33,000 Allied resistance fighters, soldiers and airmen who fled Nazi controlled Vichy France between 1940 and 1944.

The great thing about these footpaths is that they allow you to be as idle or as invincible as you choose to be, all the while drinking in the fresh mountain air with the distant sound of some mountain goats braying in the background.

A perfect way to spend one of the last weeks of guaranteed good weather before autumn begins, before we’re plunged back into darkness with just the distant promise of Christmas to keep us going.

Cigarettes and alcohol


Ice cold beer ckaroli

Marie Kemplay remembers back to her childhood and her father’s motivations for carting his family across the channel. Was it all about the beer?

Ah the good old booze cruise, as British as the Queen herself. For decades us bargain hungry (cheap) Brits have been following an instinct so basic none can hope to fight it, to get one over on the tax man.

I have some especially fond memories of my father trying to convince me and my brother that our short jaunt across the channel to buy a boot full of fags and whiskey was somehow a special treat for us kids, funny that I don’t see the comparison between a wino hypermarket and Disneyland.

And then the classic line: “if anybody asks those hundreds of boxes of Benson and Hedges are for my personal use”…ok dad.

Of course P&O ferries would never endorse such unscrupulous behaviour but you might as well know that P&O offer return tickets to Calais for £32 each way. And with a crossing time of 90 minutes and 25 sailings a day, each way, you could easily be there and back within a day, along with your newly acquired selection of fine wines.

But seriously there is actually nothing illegal about stocking up on your favourite tipple en France, in fact the European Union actually regard cross border shopping as one of our fundamental rights as European citizens; a fact which upset our favourite then-chancellor Gordon Brown in 2002 when customs were finally forced to stop their draconian attempts at preventing us from enjoying ourselves. Such as confiscating our alcohol and pouring it away, a cardinal sin in my mind!

The rule is that it has to be for your own personal consumption, and who’s to say I’m incapable of polishing of 90 litres of wine and 3200 cigarettes on my own; I like to call that Saturday night thank you very much. With prices sky high over here who could blame anybody for stocking up over the channel?

For example a typical bottle of champagne in a British supermarket will set you back about £25, in one of Calais’s it can cost as little as £10. Who knew we could all afford to live the champagne lifestyle?

So I think the next time I hear the word recession I think I’ll just sit and sip my knockdown vintage Veuve Clicquot . Recession? Quelle recession?

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To find the very latest offers on P&O day-trips to the continent, follow this link

The British language tussle


choose your language by petoo

About five centuries after Charles V of Spain claimed that he spoke ‘Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse,’ us poor Brits seem to still be struggling with grasping the  basics of continental languages. Here John Hillman suggests that we should use the great swashbuckling Victorian hero Sir Richard Francis Burton as inspiration for a spot of linguistic exercise.

Britain’s isolation from the rest of Europe has had a funny impact on the people that live here. We drive on the opposite side of the road, stick jealously to our own currency, weights and measures, and above all we simply refuse to learn other people’s languages.

But with two centuries of global dominance by English speaking nations looking like they’re coming to an end, surely it’s about time we pulled our socks up, swallowed our pride and started reaching out to our cross-channel relatives. This is the age of communication after all.

Whenever travelling with P&O Ferries there always seems to be countless continental families who can speak English, and often another one or two other major European languages as well. But in England you are lucky to find a family capable of ordering breakfast in Boulogne, let alone Barcelona and Berlin.

This has to change. Despite this country’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, we are European, and as energy and food resources become more expensive, we are going to find ourselves being drawn closer and closer into the European fold.

This is unless of course we work out some way for P&O to tug our Island over to the east coast of the US, which I’m sure that some Brits would prefer.

However despite P&O’s many talents they have yet to engineer the art of intercontinental nation tugging, so it looks like learning a second language is going to be the easiest option after all.

If we are to take up this challenge then what better time than now, giving us four years to brush up on our French and German before the 2012 Olympics arrive and we are suddenly visited by millions of our near neighbours.

Like in most situations, we can all gain inspiration for this challenge by looking back at historical figures from our past.

One of Britain’s best ever linguists was the great Victorian swordsman, explorer and raconteur Sir Richard Francis Burton. Not only did he manage to learn 29 European, Asian and African languages but he also commanded around 200 other dialects.

His advice to a colleague on setting to work on a new language was simple: “Begin with the swear words; after that everything is easy.”

Not only did his affinity for languages lead him into some of the most celebrated adventures of the age, such as discovering the source of the Nile and becoming the first non-Muslim to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, it also opened his eyes to the eroticism of the east and lead him into numerous romantic liaisons with beautiful women from around the globe.

Why this man’s exploits aren’t taught to every young school boy in England to help them appreciate the value of their French lessons is completely beyond me.

But Britain’s cultural and commercial success has been its linguistic downfall. We can’t be bothered to learn another language simply because, as Jeremy Paxman says: “When an Icelander meets a Peruvian, each reaches for his English.”

But in this modern day and age we should be heeding the words of another great British figure, the poet Sir John Donne, who once said: “No man is an island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Let’s not forget that. Now go and book some French lessons.

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