They had stopped at a picnic area on the motorway, just south of Valence, then when they resumed their journey, they did so without their three year old daughter. The family didn’ t realise they had done so until they heard the news on a motorway radio channel, by which time they were 150 km further south, past Aix en Provence. The whole story seems rather incredible, but fortunately it had a happy ending when the family turned back to be reunited with their child.
A two year old child had an equally lucky ‘escape’ in Provence the other day. A family from Paris were holidaying in a villa in the village of Le Rouret in Provence when the little girl got into difficulties in the swimming pool. She was discovered lifeless by her three year old brother, but fortunately, her parents were trained in giving cardiac massage and mouth- to-mouth resuscitation and revived her, before she was taken to hospital in Nice. She was quickly discharged, fully recovered.
It was a wonderful story, but it brought to mind the story that we were told once during a trip to the Chausey islands off the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. The islands are amazing, between Contentin and the island of Jersey. The tides here are some of the most ferocious in the world and the difference between high and low tides is about 15 metres. It’s said that at low tide, there are 365 islets, while at high tide, that number shrinks to 52.
We had taken the boat to the Grande Ile from Granville, a 40 minute trip. The island itself is fascinating. We settled into lunch with a group of other visitors at the farmhouse on the island, where the farmer’ s wife had laid on a scrumptious lunch, complete with copious supplies of wine. So a merry time was being had by all.
we got chatting to the farmer’ s wife, and she described the mainland as being almost like another continent, she visited so rarely. Then came the heart- rending tale. She told how one day, about two years previously, they had found her young grandson lying face down in a pool of water on the farm. Nothing could be done to revive him. She was unbearably sad about the whole episode and it was heart breaking to hear all the details from her.
Just last week, an 84 year old woman was drowned whilst swimming off the sea at Beaulieu- sur- Mer in Provence; she was the 13th person to have drowned in Provence this year, while off the entire French coastline this year, close on 70 people have drowned.
There have been the usual spate of car accidents. Last Friday evening, when a train was travelling from Le Mans to Paris, it hit a car that had stalled on a level crossing at Condé- sur-Huisne in Lower Normandy. Three people in the car were killed. Then at the airport end of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice the other day, a car went out of control and crashed. Three fatalities resulted, although one person escaped with minor injuries.
Then there was the strange case of the robbery at the holiday villa near Nice of jewellery belonging to the racing driver Jensen Button and his wife, Jessica Michibata, a model. Among the items stolen was her engagement ring, worth €250, 000; the total tally of what was stolen amounted to several hundred thousand euros. Just after the robbery was revealed, a story went round that the thieves had pumped gas into the villa’ s air conditioning system to knock out the couple as the robbery took place. The experts soon poured scorn on that tale, but sadly, this type of audacious robbery has become all too commonplace on the Cote d’ Azur.
At the other end of the country the other day, in Le Havre, the police picked up a juvenile gang, eight strong. The oldest member of the gang was 16 and the youngest just nine, but they had honed their burglary skills to a fine pitch before being picked up.
A slightly more unusual mishap took place the other day on the A11 motorway in western France. A lorry loaded with 20 tonnes of mayonnaise caught fire and so much damage was done to the surface of the motorway that the tarmac had to be relaid. And back down south again, at the brand new Pasteur 2 hospital in Nice, a power outage the other evening caused chaos, despite all the hospital’ s emergency generators.
Another problem that’s manifested itself in Provence is light pollution. This month sees the Nuits des Étoiles programme, when people are being encouraged to star gaze all over France. They’ll find it increasingly difficult in Provence. ANPCEN, the national association for the protection of the sky and the night- time environment, has just published its latest map of light pollution in France. It says that the situation in Provence has gone from bad to worse; so much development has been happening along the coast and so many more people are living there that many more artificial lights have been installed. Those lights tend to be left on for longer than in other parts of France, so the net effect is that seeing the stars in the night sky has become increasingly difficult. Air pollution, too, is deteriorating steadily in Provence, because of the big increases in traffic levels there.
But of all the horror stories of mishaps in France over the past few days, surely the most heart- rending concerns the fate of a 13 year old boy with Downs Syndrome, who was in the main hospital in Amiens in north- east France to get a scan done on his pancreas. During the scanning, he was knocked out by anaesthetic so he wasn’ t aware of what was happening. A monitor had been attached to one of his thumbs; medical staff should have been keeping an eye on the monitor, but they didn’ t, so the boy ended up with all the skin and tissue burned off his thumb, right down to the bone. He will now need a thumb transplant,. Such shocking medical incompetence is becoming all too usual in the French healthcare system, once one of the most vaunted in the world.
This week sees another world war two anniversary, this time on Saturday, the 15th., which marks the anniversary of the allies’ southern liberation of France in 1944. They swept ashore at St Tropez and other nearby spots and advanced so quickly that within a month, most of France had been liberated from the Nazis. Paris itself was liberated on August 25 that year and even today, wandering around Paris, you can often see memorials set into walls marking the spots where members of the resistance had been killed in the final battle for Paris.
These days of course, money is everything. The futuristic Italian- built super yacht, the Ocean Pearl, was to be seen moored at Beaulieu- sur- Mer in Provence the other day. It’s an extraordinary boat, that cost the best part of €100 million to build. However, for anyone with the cash to spare, it can be chartered, for €100, 000 a week. While you’ re at it, you could order a few bottles of the world’ s most expensive wine for onboard dinners. A 1985 Richebourg Grand Cru from the Cotes des Nuits range has just been named as the most expensive wine in the world, a mere €14, 254 a bottle.
Talking about wine, it seems that orange wine could be added to the whites, reds and rosés produced in France. Orange wine, made from a grape of Georgian origin, is already popular in a few countries, like Austria and Croatia. It’ s very fresh and low in acidity and now a few growers in France are set to start producing it.
But back to the sea- the Hermione, the replica 18th century ship that took 20 years to build and which replicated the vessel that went to America in the late 18th century to bring French aid to the American revolutionaries, has had a very successful trip this summer to ports along the east coast of the US, including New York. Now, she has crossed the Atlantic again and come back home, to Brest, where she is now on display.
Another shipping story doesn’ t have such a benign ending, that of the two helicopter carriers that France was building for Russia. The contract has now been cancelled and France has to pay compensation to Russia. France is now lumbered with these two military vessels and experts say that it’s going to be very difficult to sell them elsewhere.
But there was no trouble with Manchester United selling the Argentinian super star Angel Di Maria to Paris Saint- Germain for the grand sum of €63 million!
A recent survey found many families in France very pessimistic about their future. Nearly all the people questioned in the survey said that their children were going to be much worse off than they were, there is so little confidence in the economic future of the country.
Another survey just published, showed that in 2013, 3, 744 people each earning more than €100, 000 a year left France to live and work elsewhere. That was a 40 per cent increase on the previous year. Also in 2013, 659 people who each earned more than €300, 000 a year quit France, a 46 per cent rise on 2012. But the overall emigration rate from France was up by a mere six per cent in 2013, so it’s the higher earning, higher skilled folk who are seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
One unusual solution to the cost of living in a capital city came to light the other day when a man who works in the media business in London started putting into practice his way of beating sky high property prices in London. He now lives in Barcelona and commutes by plane every day to London, where he is at his desk at 9. 30 every morning, despite his nearly 800 km commute. He says that the cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Barcelona and commuting daily to London is cheaper than renting a one bedroom flat in London.
But there was some good news about a Frenchwoman held captive in Yemen. Isabelle Prime was working there as a consultant on a World Bank supported project when she was kidnapped last February. She has just been released.
Amid all the news of chaos and catastrophe that seems to dominate the media in France, as everywhere else, there were a couple of items of light relief. Some of the popular French online media have been making much of the photo opportunities presented by the annual Miss Bumbum contest in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where bevies of young beauties show that they are well forward with their posteriors!
And in India they’ve been having a campaign to ban a lot of objectionable porn sites. One of those that got briefly banned, then unbanned, was the Le Dauphiné Liberé, a very respectable regional daily based in Grenoble.
On the international front, I’ve just been reading a book about the tormented relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. They hated each other guts and the Queen often took mischievous delight in mimicking Mrs Thatcher, which she did to a ‘ t’ . But it was so depressing to be reminded of the Thatcher era. True, she was a very determined lady, but so often for the wrong reasons.
Another former British prime minister, Ted Heath, has been much in the news of late. I’m indebted to an online weekly publication in London called Popbitch, which specialises in stories that mainstream media won’t touch.
Last week, Popbitch revealed that Robert Maxwell, the ultimate chancer who once owned the Mirror group of newspapers, kept an old black and white photograph in his office safe as an ‘ insurance policy'. This photograph apparently showed Ted Heath having sex with the matinée idol Omar Sharif, who died recently. Sharif was top dog apparently.
Another international story that goes on with no end in sight is the conflict in Ukraine. The British defence minister was in Kiev the other day and he described the conflict in eastern Ukraine as still red hot. British military personnel are in Ukraine helping the Ukrainian military forces up to speed. In this particular conflict, the Tory government in London seems to be right on the ball with its assessment of the situation in Ukraine and its willingness to help.
Here in Ireland, the usual stories about homelessness were put into perspective the other day when it was revealed that a Romanian family living in Dublin had been evicted from their home- they couldn’t pay a rent increase- and ended up, three small children included, sleeping in a park in central Dublin. There was literally nowhere for them to go because emergency services are so overwhelmed with the problem of homelessness. But in this case, because of all the publicity, the Romanian family did in the end get another roof over their head.
The crisis in homelessness, the soaring cost of rents, the lack of social housing or indeed any kind of new affordable housing, are all interlinked, but the government response has been one of total and utter lethargy. One organisation at the forefront of fighting the homelessness problem revealed that it had written to the taoiseach (prime minister) a month ago and had only just received an acknowledgement of their letter, but of course, no indication that anything was being done to solve the problem.
I was also saddened to learn the other day of the sudden death of Paddy Higgins, the md of Pat the Baker, one of Ireland’ s biggest bakery firms. He was just 61. His firm had just taken over the assets of a rival bakery firm, Irish Pride, which had gone bust, and on the very morning that the deal was announced, Paddy Higgins died from a heart attack.