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The Booze Cruise


Peter Moore urges us good Britons to get in hunter gatherer mode and race off to Calais.

Booze cruises are one of those glorious inventions. The mere mention of them is enough to get the old blood pumping a little more fiercely through our veins. The reason for this, one would suppose, is really quite straightforward. Humans, as we all are, are primed to hunt and to gather, and prefer being part of a tribe. Can you think of an activity that better satisfies these primeval impulses than the old booze cruise?

If you allow me to be silly for a moment, then I’d suggest that it is quite conceivable to think that William the Conqueror promised his mates in the summer of 1066 that he’d be back by Christmas, and ‘would anyone fancy a few vats of mead?’ Then there is good old Henry V. It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t promise some of the Welsh longbowmen a couple of crates of cheap red wine for their trouble.

The mere mention of a booze cruise is enough to get anyone excited.

Anyhow, enough of my silly pontificating. Suffice to say that if you fancy a seasonal stock up, then Calais is as much a duty free Mecca as exists, and there is no better way to reach the French port than by dashing down to Dover in a van of ample proportions, and driving over a rickety ramp into the belly of a P&O ferry.

Even before you reach the soaring supermarkets of Calais you can indulge yourself in a spot of shopping onboard your vessel. The P&O website announces that you can save up to 30% on beers, wines and spirits; that you can find fragrances and skincare products at a fraction of high street prices, and that even the kids are well provided for, with a host of books, games and travel entertainment accessories on offer.

So, what better times exists than now. Prices are cheap, the festive season looms large and there is a credit crunch that needs escaping. Bon voyage!

Up in the air, strapped to a chair


Beautiful sea sunset by Tomt6788

Each and every medium of transport carries its advantages and disadvantages. Here John Hillman urges you to get on a boat, because quite simply it is the most wonderful form of them all.

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As a frequent business traveller I find most journeys tend to leave me feeling rather like an eight year old child in the back of my mother’s car

The “are we there yet?” gene is a strong and robust one, and no matter how many times we treat ourselves to another coffee, cake, beer or sandwich, the fact is that given the choice most of us would prefer to use the Starship Enterprise ‘beam me up Scotty’ mode of transport, and forgo the whole ‘waiting to arrive’ chore altogether.

But as this is not possible, we must look to the available options and decide which one will help us to arrive in the best frame of mind and in the shortest time possible.

Unfortunately ‘shortest time possible’ and ‘best frame of mind’ are a couple that you’re unlikely to meet celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary on a P&O Cruise.

The simple fact is that if you want to get to the continent in a hurry then most people will opt for the cramped, stressful option, and take to the sky; thus ensuring that they arrive at their destination tired, dehydrated and (usually in my case) suffering from a mild case of IBS, but is this really wise?

With British airports in the news so much and BAA being told to break up its monopoly on its South East’s airports, because this was leading to an inadequate passenger experience, there has surely never been a better time to consider the pleasures of reaching the continent aboard a P&O ferry?

Ask most people this question and they immediately react by stating the time factor, but let’s face it: time is the enemy of productivity. Whenever we structure our lives around a clock we soon end up going through the motions like a burnt out functionless droid, bereft of the essential juices that spark our creative energies and produce our best thinking.

The benefits of reaching the continent by ferry are so vast, so magnificent in their numerousness, that the limp and pathetic argument of saving time quickly starts to look like the defensive ramblings of a disconnected madman.

On board a P&O ferry a person can relax, work, exercise and rest, giving them space to think and time to reflect. Whereas on an aeroplane you are, quite literally, strapped into a chair and controlled, watered and fed like a small baby. On board a ship you can wonder the decks at will, sit in the comfort of the lounge and do bit of work on the laptop, or get some inspiration by gazing at the incredible force of nature that is the English Channel.

You do all of this relaxed in the knowledge that your belongings are exactly where you left them, safely locked in the boot of your car below, not waltzing around a carousel in Mumbai. And let’s not underestimate the fact that you arrive equipped with your own transport, no tricky negotiations with continental taxi drivers for you, just the freedom of the open road.

The truth is that that not all of us can chose how we travel, many of us are put on planes by bosses and sent to remote airports on board bargain bucket airlines with as much say in the matter as a turkey has at Christmas.

A road trip to the Alps


Whistler Ski Trip by Globalreset

Confused by the onward march of the credit crunch, Peter Moore wonders whether solace can be found upon the majestic slopes of The Alps.

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I don’t pretend to speak for the whole population, but I’ve been filled with a mixture of conflicting emotions since the world’s financial markets decided to go pretty much the way of the Titanic.

Just as anyone with a pulse would enjoy the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo tripping himself up, it has been quite pleasant to watch various economists in the City of London charging around in the kind of blind panic that Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army used to work up; driven to distraction by the horrifying prospect that they may not be able to keep up the repayments on the Lamborghini.

Conversely, there is always the worry that our jobs will disappear into the autumn mist, and all us media types will be sent back to whichever mining village that we emerged from, where we’ll be expected to go back to chip at the coal face until we are approximately eighty.

Still, there is a bright side to every financial calamity. As I write petrol prices are plummeting, the awfully smug George Osborne is looking a little silly and best of all; the price of travel is dropping almost as quickly as Max Mosley’s chinos.

Despite the rather partisan nature of this blog, I can recommend no finer method of escaping the dour mood that has enveloped bankrupt Blighty, than by following Dr. Crippen’s example and scurrying for the nearest port. And if that nearest port happens to be Dover – then a treat is in store for you when you arrive. P&O Ferries are currently offering an outstanding discount that allows up to nine passengers and their accompanying car to travel across The Channel for as little as £27 each way.

Surely this is an offer which is too good miss. With all the bankers crying into their cornflakes, there is going to be acres of additional elbow room available on the majestic slopes of The Alps; and, quite frankly, if ever there is a good time to be herding all of your mates into a van and setting off south on a road trip towards the snow – then it is now.

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To kick off the season of goodwill, here is a list of possible ski destinations for you all to ponder over:

Val d’Isere – Nestled nicely on the border with Italy. One of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most famous destinations. Find out more here.

Les Arcs – A large number of wonderful pistes from another of France’s most famous skiing spots. Find out more here.

La Plagne – One of the world’s oldest and most diverse ski resorts. Find out more here.

Ports Du Soleil – Renowned amongst skiing enthusiasts. Find out more here.

Les Gets – Made popular in the first half of the twentieth century, a good spot for beginners and intermediates. Find out more here.

Morzine – Another favourite in the Haute-Savoie of France; especially popular amongst families. Find out more here.

Avoriaz – A distinctive, and higher ski resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil area. Find out more here.

The ‘Great Escape’


Beat Fuel Prices - Drink Locally, photo by Adam Tinworth

John Hillman discusses the joys of growing old and taking advice from Robert Peston

The two biggest signs of getting old must be noticing that the weathermen look younger than you and thinking that Christmas has suddenly blended into autumn.

No sooner has your creaking body recovered from the hangover sustained at your friends Halloween party before you find yourself wondering around chintzy department stores looking at multi-function toasters.

And what a dodgy Christmas this is looking set to be; credit crunch Britain is in full swing now, and the press are loving it so much that they’ll probably start the holiday season with BBC finance editor Robert Peston running up to cameras and screaming “it’s too late, grab what you can and save yourselves!” whilst pointing a loaded pistol at the side of his head.

Most of us are, by now, quite fed up of being told that the world is about to end; there is only so much paranoid hyperbole the brain can take. So there is only one thing for it: pack up the car and head to Europe for Christmas.

Grab the tree and the kids, don’t worry about the food there’s plenty on the continent, and head to your nearest P&O ferry port. Once on the other side of the channel find yourself a secluded spot and settle in, relaxed in the knowledge that news in a foreign language isn’t really true. Honestly, a bloke from my local told me.

Revisiting Agincourt


Agincourt, photo by Hans

As one former history teacher once told me, if there was a Premier League of battles that the English and French had fought, them Agincourt would be in a comfortable Champions League position. Here John Hillman revisits a familiar tale, and wonders why this battle about all others, became such an important part of English folklore

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The French and the English have been on reasonably good terms (off and on) for almost 200 years now, which is quite remarkable given the tumultuous nature of their relationship for millennia before the Battle of Waterloo.

But amongst all of the wars and conquests; chivalrous escapades and bloodthirsty barbarities; the Battle of Agincourt – fought between the hungry and outnumbered troops of Henry V and the French armies under the command of Constable Charles d’Albret, in 1415 – continues to surprise everyone with its ability to conquer the public imagination on both sides of the Channel.

St. Crispin’s Day, October 25th, was the day that became immortalized by William Shakespeare’s famous lines “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”, as Henry’s Welsh archers killed an estimated 8,000 French troops on little more than a few mouldy baguettes for sustenance and after having marched more than 260 miles in 2 weeks.

But considering the number of bloody conflicts that blighted the lives of French and English citizens for a further 400 years, it seems strange that we choose to concentrate so much historical and political firepower on such a remote date in our collective history, and one which has little relevance to the modern world in which we live when compared to Trafalgar or Waterloo.

Perhaps it is our romantic nature calling us back to a time before our world’s became dominated by larger forces and more sinister global powers, a time of knights in shining armour, heaving bosoms and the chivalric code, all of which is complete “bollocks on stilts” (to quote an old history professor) but nevertheless something inherently appealing to us all.

Recent news stories in the British press have accused French historians of trying to rewrite history after some of their corduroy wearing clan attempted to hijack the battle’s anniversary by accusing Henry’s soldiers of war crimes, something so pointless and laughable it almost makes camembert look like a useful contribution to the adhesive industry.

What have they got lined up for us next? Shaking the foundations of the historical universe by exposing homosexuality in the British Navy perhaps? Or maybe they’ll just floor us all by pointing out that some of Wellington’s men, like you know, were probably guilty of assault.

Everybody knows that in modern terms killing prisoners of war is completely out of the question, no matter how tedious it might be having to chain them up and feed them every fortnight; but this was a time when the aristocracy of Europe could still wonder into villages and help themselves to whoever’s virginity they so happened to take a fancy to, and expect said villagers to be dam well grateful for it.

This whole debate has kicked off at exactly the same time that Bernard Cornwell releases his latest novel, which, surprise surprise, is called Azincourt and promises to delve into this timelessly controversial battle in myopic detail.

I do of course have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that would allow me to suggest that Mr Cornwell’s PR company have anything to do with this recent flurry of historical nonsense but I very much doubt whether it’ll do his book sales any harm.

You can visit Azincourt’s recently extended museum and make you own mind up, it’s just a short drive down the A26 motorway from Calais. But please, make sure that you take a trusty British shield to protect yourself from the angry French historians who’ll probably be standing outside throwing text books at you.

1066 and all that


Once more into the breech, photo by Snake3yes

How many men have chain mail pullovers hanging in their wardrobes? John Hillman cast some light on those amongst us who still lust after blood and glory.

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Sticking with the medieval battle theme, tribute must be paid to the hundreds of P&O customers who cross the English Channel each year to take part in the mind-bogglingly popular sport of battle re-enactments.

Unbelievable though this may sound, there are almost as many people in the UK who spend their weekends dressed in chain mail vests and leather tunics as there are who play golf.

Tens of thousands of people across the world belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)an organisation that has divided most of the world into 15 separate kingdoms and then spends long hours in random fields across America and Europe smashing each other to pieces for the rights to conquer new territories.

One can only imagine the numbers of brave soldiers and cunning mercenaries that have followed in the footsteps of genuine armies, crossing the channel each spring to fight on the continent.

Indeed, when you were last on board a P&O ferry, quietly sipping a cappuccino in the sky lounge, perhaps you were in-fact sat next to a band of ruthless cutthroats – hired by some imaginary nobleman in northern France to wage a war of aggression against his unsuspecting neighbour.

The popularity of this sport/hobby/lifestyle is truly awesome, with a universal appeal beyond comprehension. It deeply puzzles me, almost as much as this endlessly perturbing question: considering our long-standing maritime history, and our ancient Christian heritage, how come you never meet an Englishman called Noah?

The English countryside


There'll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover... by Keven Law

Spending our lives sat on wheely chairs in front of a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse, Peter Moore wonders whether there is more to life than this?

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For years writers, poets and artists have tried to capture the alluring beauty of England. The rolling hills, the winding roads and bridal paths, the village green and the mill pond.

One who had a particular stab at this was a German called Carl Moritz, who arrived in the country during the summer months of 1782. Charmed by the picturesque rural landscapes of England, Moritz wrote, as he passed the village of Richmond:

‘Under my feet sprang the springy turf that only grows on English ground on one side a wood such as Nature could not create more beautiful; on the other the Thames with its shelving bank that rises like an amphitheatre, and a glimpse of high white houses seen through the dark green of trees that lie shimmering in the valley.’

Moritz was obviously a little more expressive than the stereotypical German of today, but at the end of the eighteenth century, he was far from alone. Wordsworth and his friend Coleridge passed their days writing about the joys of the Lake District, whilst Constable transferred the glorious tranquillity of the Suffolk countryside to canvas.

But their odes to rural England transpired to be something of an elegy. As they were busy working, the majority of the rural population was streaming towards the filthy industrial cities looking for work and prosperity. As the population of Britain boomed, in the rural villages the numbers stagnated. By the early nineteenth century the death rattle of rural England could hardly be heard over the noise of the sprawling towns.

In the two centuries since, we have become town-dwellers. Today we don’t pass our days working in the fields or surrounded by animals or forests, but staring a 16” monitors and rolling our right hands from side to side around a 15cm square mat.

Ours is a society that is governed by flashing boxes and an array of beeps. A society in which blackberries and apples have ceased to be edible fruits and have become little boxes of technology.

As the world markets tumbled down last month, one successful owner of a US hedge fund quit the industry having taken millions by betting against sub-prime mortgages. Andrew Lahde wrote an open letter, declaring that most of the banking industry was populated by ‘idiots’.

‘I will let others try to amass nine, 10 or 11 figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck,” he wrote, citing a life of back-to-back business appointments relieved only by a two-week annual holiday in which financiers are still “glued to their Blackberries’. His final words of advice were, ‘Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.’

And Lahde, however smug he may seem, does have a point. Outside the cities, the earth is still orbiting the sun, crops are still growing in the fields, jackdaws are still roosting on the tree tops and the English countryside, albeit with the addition of the odd Tesco Local, still exists as Wordsworth and his chums depicted it.

We don’t have any towering mountains, fearsome waterfalls, sizzling beaches or deep canyons, but the English countryside is filled to the brim with magical landscapes and panoramas. From Stonehenge to the Malvern Hills, the Peak District, the Downs, the Fens and the Lakes from Coniston to Windermere, England is waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation. And what better entrance to this kingdom exists, than a gusty voyage across the Channel towards the fabled White Cliffs of Dover?

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