Big night out for the filth: (Bergerac-St Eutrope) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

April 20, 2012

Big night out for the filth: (Bergerac-St Eutrope)

We're in the run-up to an election. The order in which candidates display their posters is decided by draw. In the interests of free speech, they are then sometimes torn down by rival supporters
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"BIG NIGHT out for the filth" was a headline my colleague Trevor suggested. Sub-editors are people who turn reporters' ears into purses. They also make the stories fit the page and then write headlines. "Big night out..." was his suggestion for a story about the city's policemen having a, well, big night out. Trevor's respect for the constabulary was limited, much of it through personal experience.

Trevor would have hated this morning. I set off from Bergerac on a workmanlike road through rolling, unobjectionable countryside. It must havebeen a good route because every other traveller in south-west France seemed to have chosen it as well. But not only were there the usual cars and trucks, there was the CRS.

We are two days from an election here, the first of two rounds for choosing a president. Reporters are no longer allowed to report opinion polls. The time each candidate gets on radio and television is balanced to the second. Politicians are criss-crossing the country to make speeches, their last hours of appealing to the nation. One of the main candidates, possibly the outgoing president, must be speaking just north of here. Or perhaps someone like the man from the far left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who holds all his rallies outdoors and enthuses big crowds with his explosive speeches.

The CRS are policemen, as distinct from gendarmes, who are soldiers. The CRS role includes beach safety and mountain rescue but what they are most known for is cracking skulls at unruly occasions. They are euphemistically called the republican security corps but to you and me they are riot police. And they look it.

Today was their own big day out, clearly. Bus after busload passed me, some pulling what looked like wrapped electric organs but were doubtless more sinister and probably not unlinked to high-pressure hoses.

Things were much more quiet when I reached Ribérac. It is a town where everyone appears to be Home Counties English. They speak with educated, rounded southern vowels that ring of blue rosettes, hanging and flogging, Margaret Thatcher and life no longer being the same since Princess Diana. I sat with a coffee, a woman with a female bowler hat, a drooping mouth and a white, yapping dog on one side and a tiny, peaceful brown dog so small that it would have only just filled a hamburger.

On my other side was a dumpy woman dressed largely in black, with three tiny terriers not in the least embarrassed by wearing tartan jackets.

"It's bizarre," I said to the jovial man behind the bar. "Everyone here speaks English."

"Everyone except me," he laughed, although with an expression that said "Provided they keep spending money, they can speak any language they like."

I go into cemeteries because there's usually a tap with water. But once there, I'm hooked by the astonishing clutter, the cheap plastic memorials and the mystery of who all these people were
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I indulged my fascination for graveyards in the afternoon. To tell you the truth, I only go in to find a tap to fill my water bottles. But once inside I can't resist looking around. There's a glory to French cemeteries, and deep self-abandon in all those tasteless weeping angels and the mass-produced plastic tributes left by the bereaved.

Tonight I have camped in an old wood. I say "old" because many of the trees are dead. On a windy day like today - I have had the wind against me all day - this isn't an unimportant point. Dead trees snap and their bits can destroy a tent as they fall. If anyone saw me wandering around staring up to the sky for a clear space he probably dismissed me as too crazy to be troubled and left me alone.

I am always moved by these roadside memorials. They can be any shape or size but they always name Resistance workers or simply sometimes passers-by who were shot here by the Germans
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Today's ride: 92 km (57 miles)
Total: 92 km (57 miles)

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