Tag Archives: cambridge

The French Take Over Cambridge


Taking bicycles to Cambridge is a bit like taking tea to Yorkshire.  Cambridge is Britain’s number one cycling city with two-thirds of its residents regularly getting about on two wheels.  Surprising then that thousands turned out to welcome the Tour de France cyclists depart for their third leg from the historical town today.  I had come all the way from Spain to watch (long story) and although it was a mere nano-second when the peloton passed me – my fascination was with the French-ness of it all.

I first heard about Le Tour’s Cambridge stage many months ago as we began developing an art project involving recycle bicycle parts – which has come to fruition this week.  One of our first contacts were the Alliance Francaise in Cambridge who insisted that Cambridge wouldn’t know what hit it.  The take over started at the weekend, when the AF and a wealth of French businesses hosted an array of stalls at Le Big Weekend on Parkers.  Cheese, bread, olives and every French dish you can imagine was available. We tried to buy a drink in English and where met with a stubborn display of French. It had begun.

Early this morning a lady in clipped English offered me a free croissant and coffee from a stall set up outside a quaint English church.  No tea and cake in sight.  Croissants continued to be a theme, as did sticking “le” in front of anything.  But most impressive where the Gendarmerie, who I observed shouting instructions the British “tour makers” and French officials on bright red fold up cycles barking into walkie talkies.  I stood next to a menagerie of French media crew and their motorcycles.  Clad in denim and leather the all male group brazenly smoked roll up cigarettes, greeted each other with double kisses.  It was a real culture shock for many onlookers, but I loved it.  There was a real confidence in the air.

First came the “caravan” which I am assured by those that know the tour well is a traditional and perhaps even a little tongue-in-cheek affair.  It was slick and corporate, as a bizarre set of   sponsors paraded their shiny cars along the route. There was less free Haribo and Bic lighters than I expected, and Carrefour merely waved, but plenty of people caught boxes of air borne Yorkshire tea.  A car with a giant bag of McCain oven chips was followed by a Sheffield Hallam University Landrover. An old couple next to me shook their head in disbelief, but the middle-aged man in lycra on the other side was delighted with the spectacle.  The day after-all was his.

The Gendarmerie returned in force and lined their bikes up in a neat row out side the Catholic church and took photos on their smart phones.  French officials took their photos with the Cambridge police and their “funny hats”.

And then the cyclists went past, and it was all over.

France has had its moment in Cambridge – and they certainly proved they can put on a show.  As a nomad, I have to admire their ability to put down and then pick up camp in a matter of hours.  I’m not sure the tour will have inspired yet MORE of Cambridge to cycle, but it has generated a new admiration for the French I am sure – and many can go home and have a nice cup of Yorkshire tea.

Too Old and Unfit for Everest?

I like a challenge.  But not one without meaning.

When DIL asked if I would be part of a small group of trekkers headed for Everest Base Camp in April this year I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  Not because it sounded exhilarating – but because I believe in the work DIL does in Pakistan.  The people of Pakistan have suffered horrendous natural disasters and been caught up in conflict for far too long.  DIL are admirably pouring in support from the diaspora and international communities.

DIL’s website is here: http://www.dil.org/

This short video explains why Books not Bombs are the best weapon in defeating the Taliban: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-W54H0MU2U

The months running up to the trek promise to be as challenging as the expedition itself – those who know me will know I am not the fittest nor youngest of explorers.  Experiences before, during and after will be recorded here.

Today I dropped into Blacks in Cambridge and asked them if they would be able to provide any of my equipment (I have been sent a list which I am yet to glance at).  I have the number of the Head Office, provided by a reasonably enthusiastic manager – so we will see how that turns out.  Meanwhile I really need to find out a bit more about what will be expected from me.  Any comments and advice from previous trekkers very welcome.  Perfectly happy for you to be entertained at my expense over the coming months.  I need to move from fat to fit ’tis true.

If you have other things to offer, like some good boots, media support for DIL or just some Kendal Mint Cake, let me know.  Alternatively if you would like to offer cold hard cash head for my Justgiving page at http://www.justgiving.com/Caroline-Jaine

Those who know me even better will know that I plan to turn this into a creative experience – more of this on http://jaine.info/everest.aspx



Travelling without Moving: Somerset, The Cotswolds, Sheffield, and France

(or “Moving Without Travelling” whichever works for you)

(image with retrospective thanks to blogger isaria’s excellent post on poetry in urban landscapes – photo taken in Sheffield).

Despite my lack of travel-blogging the past couple it doesn’t mean I haven’t been places.  Usually in the passenger seat, dabbing at mascara stained cheeks and sometimes giggling with tiredness and new found closeness to those I love who are still alive.  I’ve been exploring a range of family members in a catalogue of places (see below) but without getting too hippy, it’s the internal journeys that have mattered .

A catalogue of places:

  1. The Cotswolds. A stuffy Tory area of England perhaps made worse because I have needed to do business with Estate Agents during my recent time there.  Cotswold stone is pretty and every house is made from the honey coloured stuff.  The countryside (of which there is lots – dotted with pretty, if not claustrophobic villages) is a stunning vista of rolling hills littered with pro-hunting signs.  Cirencester (England’s former capital city), I am told is THE up and coming heart of this region. Despite the population being decidedly elderly I am tempted to believe this news, not least because since my mum’s death it seems quite likely that I might actually end up living there (s’complicated). Anyway “Old” is the new “Young” and at least they’ve got a FatFace in Cirencester.
  2. Somerset.  I can’t believe I used to want to go and live there.  Having lost my mum in a road crash on a bendy country road in Somerset I can quite honestly say I am no longer a fan of bendy country roads in Somerset.  Funny that.  Navigating my grief around this region has meant perpetual gripping of the dashboard and potholed panics.  A normal road in Somerset has a steep bank of hedge either side and there is barely enough room for two cars to pass.   Even Glastonbury feels like a complete sham to me at the moment.  The Tor was visible from my mum’s house and art studio (in fact can be seen for miles around) – and walking around the town last week with its crystals and goblins – it appeared very superficial.  If this place ever was spiritual then it was a very very long time ago and no matter how much Shaman juice we partake in, I am afraid we missed it.  And talk about claustrophobic – Somerset makes the conservation conservative Cotswolds look like a breath of fresh air.  Rant aside – there IS a lovely little pub called The Stoke in Chew Stoke, which I thoroughly recommend – and not just because my best mate owns it.  And not just because I have just slagged off Somerset where my best mate lives.  But because the food there is gert lush (especially them pies).
  3. Sheffield. OK, I’ll stop moaning now.  Despite my clearly cantankerous mood (only slightly improved by pie), I have to admit I quite like Sheffield.  Although I had never set foot there until last year, it conjures up a sense of nostalgia for me.  People there REALLY are friendly (like in the olden days).  The steep streets and Victorian suburbs remind me of my hometown – Bristol (which is slightly in Somerset but NOT to be confused for the distaste for the “Somerset countryside” under reference above). The area surrounding Sheffield is drop dead gorgeous.  I’m pining for city life at the moment, but this REALLY IS “Escape to the Country”.  Hiking routes and picnic spots.  Cotswolds Shmotswolds – this is the real England I’m after.

Not ALL the shopping centres in Sheffield have been finished (or even started really) – a glimmer of hope perhaps that they will develop without the burden of shallow retail sector – and perhaps in the enlightenment to follow, Sheffield will lead Britain in turning would-be-commercial-business-zones into new open green space for thought (not unlike the cloudless vapour trail free skies following the Icelandic Volcano ash chaos).   Seriously, it’s sad to see such evidence of the recession from a city which has had its fair share of knocks – but its strength is in its people – it’s resilience, it’s generosity of spirit.  Good times, and thank you Sheffield – just the tonic I needed right now.

  1. France. Over the past few months I have seen more long distance motorway travel than you could wave a stick at.  The biggest 24hour driving session began and ended in Cambridge with stops in Portsmouth and rural Britanny along the way.  Early morning empty main-roading is great.  I’m clear headed and up for the challenge of grubby Le Harve and her fantastic bridges (REALLY worth a look), but the midnight Portsmouth return, plagued by heavy lorries and average speed limits was less fun (especially after a sick bag filled channel crossing).  The only compensation for the traffic calming was the occasional glimpse of a night-time crew feasting on potholes– like cockroaches caught out by the sudden illumination of a kitchen strip light. At least someone out there had some purpose.

As ever though, we DID manage to get the most out of a mere handful of waking hours in France and like Cirencester spent some of it with an Estate Agent (well, a Notaire).  We rather foolishly fell in love with a huge run down town house in a small run-down village.  She needs electricity, water and (bits of) a new roof.  But as usual we are counting chickens before they are hatched.  In fact, come to think of it, we haven’t really even got any eggs yet.

As for the internal journeys – whilst being sometimes grisly passenger I was also a deep thinker.  The budding trees rushing past, the gaze of the yellow robot like speed camera, and the splash of the ocean on the ships windows – in many ways prove to be empty poetic imagery which did not penetrate my inner thinking.  To say I have been “in deep” is an understatement.  My reading has been of eastern philosophy, of death, and unusually of very little.  Although for many of my journeys I flicked ash from a small crack in the window, I gave up smoking 17 days ago (not that I’m counting).  Perhaps my unusually bitter accounts of Somerset and the Cotswolds reflect this.  Smoking is smelly, expensive and not good for me.  Despite what I have been telling myself since I was13 – it is NOT a good look.  I made the decision to give up smoking the day after my 40th birthday.

The journey continues of course.  I realised somewhere in the past couple of months that I do actually want to live as long as I humanly can (and not a moment longer – Eddie ref).  I think I understand that my body is home to my spirit/soul/whateveryouwannacallit- so it might be a good idea to make it work for me as best I can.

How I spend my time on this planet has been another conundrum.  I like to think I’m on a journey with this (making a difference, earning a living, expressing my creativity, dedication to others, living for my children, going with the flow, pushing for positive change…..lumox) but I think it may take a few more years of therapy and counselling before I even untie the vessel from the quay.  Maybe it starts tomorrow- with a journey I am NOT looking forward to.  Nearly two months after my mum died I have assembled enough faculties to return to my place of employment and “work out” a way forward.

Emerging from my burrow of detached-ness  (that has allowed me to contemplate life, death and anything but my job).   I will be blinking my way into bright normality tomorrow via the morning commuter train.  The passenger seat once more.