Dolmen and Standing Stones

 

 

There was much to be had on our recent holiday in Brittany – food, drink, sunshine and echoes of the second world war. But one of the most unexpectedly delightful discoveries had to be the many megalithic monuments dotted around the countryside.

For those of you interested in these bizarre reminders of our ancient past, Brittany is a litany (sorry) of these sites and it’s very easy to holiday there and do a bit of stone chasing at the same time. It’s a widely held belief in stone circle circles that the same people who built these ancient monuments then came over to Britain and got it going over here. Nobody’s really sure and that’s the lovely thing for me. Either way, they are still here, thousands of years later and they are still a joy for the modern antiquarians amongst us.

The French seem to delight in their megaliths as much as we do with well-signposted sites all of which were well respected and looked after. What I did find particularly hilarious however was that the two sites I visited did not deliver the trippy, tranquil experience I sought but exactly the opposite.

The first stone circle was slap bang in the middle of a village (not unlike Avebury) and the week before the annual ‘Festival of the Megaliths’ had taken place. I absolutely love the fact that these stone still inspire folk to gather and have a good time, whilst we still don’t know exactly what these stones were for, this was surely part of the deal. On the day we visited, the stones were occupied by a band of intrepid free running teenagers which at first appalled me but on reflection what better respect to show these old megaliths, still relevant and inspiring congregation albeit 2012 style.

The second site was a Dolmen which is essentially a tomb monument that would have been originally covered in soil. The millennia has seen it stripped of its outer clothing and the stones still stand. It looks like a tunnel created and the ‘creep’ – where the bodies or whatever they put in there – still creates a sense of awe when one crawls inside it.

This time, there were no free running teenagers in the ancient forest where the dolmen was situated. Instead there were fifty local primary school children using the location as a base for a day trip. Again, the site is still a place where people congregate and their noise was joyful and added to the atmosphere.

Brittany is home also to Carnac in the South which is the largest concentration of standing stones in the world. We didn’t go there as it was a 3 hour drive – but that’s a definite for next time.

 

Umbrella art installation

 

These beautiful floating umbrellas are suspended mid air in a street in Agueda in South of Portugal. This lovely art installation appears to float over pedestrians, giving not just respite from the mid summer Portuguese sun but also a joyful, playful edge to the town centre.

An idea worth borrowing for Leeds perhaps…I could see it working well in somewhere like Lands Lane or even Briggate. Mind you, after our summer I think it would be rain they’d shelter us from rather than sunshine…

Gastronomic adventures in Brittany

On our recent holiday to Brittany we had some fabulous food…

From the astounding Oysters from Cancale on the Northern coast to the ubiquitous Moules et Frites which are always consistently great, there’s much to enjoy if you’re a foodie in Brittany. On the whole, the food is simple and rustic but uses the very best seasonal produce. There’s lots of fish as the coast is never far away in Brittany and the Bretons have a mad love affair with beef with some spectacular cuts available – especially the lip smacking Cote de Boeuf.

It kind of goes without saying that French cheese and wine is nothing short of awesome but I’ll say it anyway – it’s awesome. And on the whole wine is significantly cheaper in France, even the good stuff. And if you like pungent, creamy cheese then you probably should move there.

I’ve pulled together a little foodie photo montage that errs on the side of cheesy (no pun intended)…and if you’d like to read more about our foodie adventures elsewhere, have a look at our food blog Globetroffers.

 

 

 

Fifty Shades of Pantone Grey

Couldn’t resist this little bit of word play tomfoolery with Pantone grey swatches after I saw them today in the studio.

Apologies if you were expecting a no-holds-barred raunchfest review of this quite remarkable literary phenomenon.

And no, I haven’t read the book yet.

And yes, Mrs D has.

 

In the meantime, here’s some more greys – not Pantone this time but with supposedly evocative names, probably from a range of paints. Anyway, should keep you going.

Brittany

On our recent holiday to France we stayed in a small cottage on the Cote d’Armor in the North West corner of Brittany. Holidays are great in so many ways that I can’t even begin to write about it but the real treat for me is to get my drawing book out.

I have pretty much kept a drawing book going in every year since I left college in 1983, which is a scary thought but one of which I’m quite proud. At art college in those days drawing was a critical part of the curriculum, as I still think it is in some institutions, long before the advent of technology.

I always found drawing therapeutic once I’d got past the sheer terror of having to draw nude women in life class. The act of looking closely at any object for the purpose of drawing allows the artist to truly see what you’re looking at. Those of you that draw will understand this and those that don’t will think I’m being pretentious.

Anyway the drawing above is no more than a sketch on a sunny afternoon and unusually for me it drawn with pencil, a medium I’m quite sniffy about as I like the immediacy of pen and ink. However I did enjoy the process of drawing it and I’m quite pleased with the result.

The best breakfast in Leeds?

 

A while ago I conducted a highly scientific survey to find out which restaurant / cafe / bar served the best breakfast in Leeds. It resulted in me gaining half a stone in weight but the winner was Harvey Nichols, hands down.

But does that still ring true?

We recently took advantage of a Living Social deal for brunch at Anthony’s Piazza which included a bottle of Prosecco and full breakfasts etc for two. The deal was £26 all in – which we thought was great value. I can confirm that the food was a stood as it looks and the only downside was that we were too hung over to take advantage of the full bottle as we could only manage a glass or two (shocking I realise).

The best breakfast crown may have to be handed over. Over to you, HN.

 

 

The Second World War by Anthony Beevor

This weighty tome was one of my recent holiday reads in France. Not the usual airport trash that I would typically consume whilst lying around drinking rose in the sunshine admittedly, but a book of such scale, intellect and ambition that I could have only tackled it on holiday with time on my hands.

I’ve read a couple of Beevor‘s books before on D-Day and Stalingrad and knew what to expect – the grand sweep of war told with masterful poise with the human tragedy of conflict seeping through at every twist and turn.

Growing up in the seventies, the second world war was never that far away from my consciousness and war films, models and a father obsessed by all things military certainly made an indelible impression on me. as such, I find myself more than a little bit interested in all things WWII.

In the past I’ve been interested in different elements of the second world war conflict from D-Day to the Holocaust and Pearl Harbour to Hiroshima, but to be honest never seen the entire picture which this book certainly sets that out.

From the build up to war in Europe, to its devastating aftermath in Nagasaki, the story is told in unflinching detail and Beevor is the kind of historian who brings his facts alive with real stories, anecdotes with relevance to the modern reader.

The recent trend for ultra realism in cinematic representations of conflict aside, the second world war for me has always been about tales of derring do and I guess the ability to show the real face of war was simply unavailable to film-makers in the fourties, fifties and sixties. I suspect there was even a lack of appetite for this type of representation. With notable exceptions like the landmark seventies documentary The World at War, it’s very rare that the story is told in its entirety.

This book does not shy away from describing the most brutal conflict the world has ever seen in graphic detail and it’s in these descriptions that Beevor really does hit hard, depicting a world almost indescribably violent that to modern readers it almost beggars belief. On top of that, it covers the major events and themes of the second world war, how they influenced each other and in turn, how the conflict grew into a war with the largest loss of life ever seen on the planet.

Beevor effortlessly moves from the political to the personal, telling the everyday stories alongside the strategic decisions. His narrative is lucid and engaging particularly with less well-known stories like the rape of Nanking with honesty and sympathy.

Reading this book in Northern France on holiday was an experience in itself, particularly as the book moves inexorably towards D-Day and the defeat of the Axis Powers. The French countryside we drove through providing plenty of evidence of the conflict after seventy years with memorials and military graveyards.

This was a monster-sized book that really did require will power to get through but Beevor was up to the task of keeping the reader enthralled in the unfolding tragedy and global drama of the second world war. He transformed his meticulous research into a series of dynamic narratives and gripping real-life stories.

Highly recommended.