Letters up to 24th July


Dear Ed,

For those readers who were amused by your news item ‘Motorist forgets wife on Millau viaduct’ can I recommend a wonderful Italian movie “Pani i tulipani ” aka “Bread and Tulips”? A wife, having been forgotten by her husband at a service area, strikes out on her own, much to her husband’s fury.

Keep up the good work!

Ian Shutes

* * *

Wow, that’s quite the stretch of your Nice prosecutors in the article ‘Nice attacker googled Orlando, Dallas and others’!

Who hasn’t googled Dallas, etc ? I wonder if he was of Christian / European background whether they would have made the same conclusions. “…beard for religious reasons in the last 10 days?” give me a break.

What the French prosecutors miss, that others are starting to talk about, is how so many of these mass murders are caused by people on anti-depressants, and how a known side affect, albeit slim chance, is rage and irrational behavior. No, instead they’d rather take a racist approach to investigating some crazy man. Since America is the world’s capital for crazy killers, I can say for sure when it is a white dude, they chalk it up to craziness, but when it is someone of Middle Eastern origin they try to pin it to radical Islam. So clear. So wrong.

Lee Jenkins

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Dear Ed,

At times like these we focus on the small things which make life worthwhile – the love of family; the kindness of friends (who bring duck pie & fruit salad on the day we move); the old men competing to pay for our coffee at the local patisserie and worry about us if we are not there; the playing of ‘The Marseillais’ as a solidarity introduction to the 1st concert of the Proms…these and many others.

As affirmed by E. M. Forester we feel we need to concentrate on ‘the aristocracy of the sensitive’. Or, in the midst of the stupidity of Brexit, terrorist atrocities & other world tragedies, we can, like Candide, retire to our ‘cottage’ and ignore the world. Fortunately, unlike poor Cunegonde, we have both buttocks. So some things are small comforts!

Gill & Graham

* * *

Waiting for the helicopter 

Dear Ed,

I went to Saint-Chinian in the Hérault to see Le Tour this year. It’s a village in the rolling countryside north west of Beziers, surrounded by lovingly regimented vineyards. It is, by any standards, the perfect spot.

I got to the centre of the village just as the Caravan was passing through. The Caravan is a seemingly endless convoy of sponsors’ promotional vehicles that charges through France for three weeks, two hours ahead of the race. Loud inane music, claxon blasts and ridiculous corporate slogans filled the space between La Mairie and the superb bike shop nearby. Gyrating youths tossed vast amounts of swag in small plastic bags into the crowd from trundling pies, giant cheeses and the mobile self-satisfaction of energy companies. The Tour Caravan is almost as necessary as the race itself in contemporary French mythology.

I decided to find a spot on the edge of the village and settled on a long stretch of road with a clear view of the peloton speeding by. I had half a litre of water to lend comfort to a hot, breezy afternoon, leaning on the garden wall of a silent bungalow.

I was not alone of course. Other people lined the route, singles and in groups. Strangers with crumpled back packs and local families who brought chairs and tables onto the pavement to make the event more festive, to gossip and laugh and to wave at the official team cars as they whizzed past.

Serious Tour followers know that nothing happens until the TV helicopter turns up. You know the race is approaching when the sound of blades beating against the air gets louder. That’s when the older residents spill onto the street and cheering can be heard from the centre of the village.

Ronnie Smith

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Dear Ed,

I read with interest the article called ‘Half the night trains to see the end of the line’.

I suspect that the source needs a little map, as unless I am mistaken Albi is more than a few kilometres from Spain. If you get off the train in Albi and expect to walk down the road to meet the Guards Civil you are in for a bit of a shock. Even if you were a crow you would not make it in a day.

The only way to go to Spain from Albi is to connect with a TER from Albi to Toulouse, then take another TER up into the mountains to La Tour-en-Carol-Enveitig and there change on to one of RENFE’S TERs from the downhill journey to Barcelona, if you are lucky you might just get there for ‘Una Copa de Jerez’ and a little plate of ‘Tapas’.

I will refrain on the minor reference to Port Bou, as it was and still is an important crossing frontier station and if you go there today you are more likely to be chatted to in français rather than Catalan.

The real reason for SNCF stopping these trains is simple; their carriages, now only couchettes (not to be confused with a real sleep in a wagon-lits) are not fit for purpose. The reason why they do not pay is simple, their condition and the on-board service is just not as it used to be on the ciwl wagons-lits at the time of Hercule Poirot.

The cost of building new ones is astronomic, but guess what! The Austrians and the Russians have bought new and reconditioned ones and already operate them in Europe and into France.

What SNCF has never understood is that you will not get passengers out of their cars if what you are offering is just not good enough. That principle is well understood in other countries in Europe including the UK.

Let’s all hope that Olga from the Volga will soon be offering hot tea from her samovar at the end of the corridor of one of RZD’s magnificent sleeping cars.

”????? ?????????? ? ???? ??????? ???????? ??????? RZD” [You Google it, I had to, Ed]

Noe RZD is the abbreviation of Russian Railways

Chris Elliott

Chris Elliott amongst many other things writes regularly on railway affairs for several magazines and is currently setting up a conference be held next spring in Zaragoza with the aim of restoring over 20 of the iconic blue coloured ciwl carriages, the same as operated on the Orient Express. When in running order they will offer journeys for those who do not have deep pockets and for university visits.

You can contact Chris on christopher.elliott@club-internet.fr , and if you know anyone who wants to help him with this project, please get in touch with him. For example, a university student who is looking for research work, would be a good candidate. No pay, but a great opportunity to work with an expert on an interesting project.