Monthly Archives: September 2009

The eternal optimist…

There is something to be said for being an optimist, amongst them is the feeling that it’s always going to to end up all right in the end. It is therefore rather un-nerving that I’ve just got this horrible feeling that the bubble is going to burst… and not only am I unsure as to the how or when the bubble is goin gto burst, I’m not even sure as to what bubble it’s going to be!!

I am however going to carry on with my fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen but still the feeling persists… and I just can’t throw it off my shoulders… something, somewhere is about to go wrong…

An amazing life…

It’s not often you read a story about a life so amazing that even Hollywood would struggle to embelish it. I read this article from the BBCi and I thought I would just have to share the story of this amazing woman… the only female member of the French Foreign Legion.

“When I first met Susan Travers in a Paris nursing home in 1999, she was a papery-skinned 90-year-old who spoke with a cut-glass English accent. Unable to walk, she insisted that before we began I wheel her to a local restaurant for lunch.

There can have been few in the suburban restaurant who gave this frail old lady a second glance as she ate her omelette and drank a glass of champagne. Unless, that is, they noticed the small coloured ribbons pinned to the lapel of her tweed suit.

One defined her as a recipient of the Legion d’Honneur, a French military honour established by Napoleon, others were for the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. But the last red and blue ribbon was unique – it identified Travers as the only woman in the French Foreign Legion.

Born in southern England as the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral, but raised as a young tennis-playing socialite in the south of France, Travers was among thousands of women who joined the French Red Cross at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Trained as a nurse, she spurned that as being “far too messy” for the more exciting role of ambulance driver, joining the French expeditionary force to Finland to help in the Winter War against the Russians.

When France fell to the Nazis she made her way to London and signed up with General De Gaulle’s Free French and was attached to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Legion Etrangere, which sailed for Africa. Volunteering as a driver to the brigade’s senior officers, she exhibited such nerves of steel in negotiating minefields and enemy attacks that she earned the affectionate nickname “La Miss” from her thousand male comrades.

After an affair with a White Russian prince who was later killed, she was assigned as the driver to Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig, and the greatest love affair of her life began.

Attached to the 8th Army and despatched to hold the desolate desert fort of Bir Hakeim in Libya in 1942, Koenig’s forces were almost pounded to dust by Rommel’s Afrika Korps in what became one of the greatest sieges in the history of the Western Desert campaign.

With Stuka planes, Panzer tanks and heavy artillery at their disposal, the Germans expected to take the fort in 15 minutes. In what became a symbol of resistance across the world, the Free French held it for 15 days.

Refusing to leave her lover’s side when all female personnel were ordered to escape, Susan stayed on in Bir Hakeim, the only woman among more than 3,500 men. Her fellow soldiers dug her into a coffin-sized hole in the desert floor, where she lay in temperatures of 51C for more than 15 days, listening to the cries of the dying and wounded.

When all water, food and ammunition had run out, Koenig decided to lead a breakout through the minefields and three concentric rings of German tanks. As his driver, Travers was ordered to take the wheel of his Ford and lead the midnight flight across the desert. The convoy of vehicles and men was only discovered when a mine exploded beneath one of their trucks. Under heavy fire, she was told by Koenig: “If we go, the rest will follow.” She floored the accelerator and bumped her vehicle across the barren landscape.

“It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark,” she said later. “My main concern was that the engine would stall.”

Under heavy machine gun fire, she finally burst through enemy lines, creating a path for the rest to follow. Only stopping when she reached Allied lines several hours later, she noted 11 bullet holes and severe shrapnel damage to the vehicle.

Almost 2,500 troops had escaped with her. Koenig was promoted to the rank of general by de Gaulle. Hardly even saying goodbye, he left Travers to return to his wife and a life of high office.

Travers stayed on with the Legion seeing action in Italy, Germany and France driving a self-propelled anti-tank gun. She was wounded after driving over a mine.

After the war, she wanted no other life and applied formally to the Legion to become an official member, omitting her gender on the application form.

The man who rubber-stamped her admission had known her in Bir Hakeim. After creating her own uniform, Travers became the first and only woman ever to serve with the Legion, and was posted to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War.

It was there that she met and married a fellow legionnaire, Nicholas Schlegelmilch, who had also been at Bir Hakeim. They had two sons and lived a quiet life on the outskirts of Paris until their deaths.

When I met her in the last years of her life, she was finally ready to tell her story only because “everyone was gone and I was left alone with my medals”. What she wanted, she said, was for her grandchildren to know how “wicked” she had been.

The book was named Tomorrow to be Brave, after a line from a poem Koenig once read to her which went: “Distrust yourself, and sleep before you fight. ‘Tis not too late tomorrow to be brave.” She died three years later.

She had witnessed several more wars and watched women routinely join the armed forces and go off to the front lines, surprised that it still raised eyebrows in some quarters.

Her greatest regret, she said, was not to have been born a boy, although she admitted that as such she would never have done half the things she’d done or enjoyed the life she led subsequently.

Susan only ever showed emotion once, when she spoke of her proudest moment. It was in 1956, 11 years after the war. The Legion invited her to Paris to receive the Medaille Militaire for her role at Bir Hakeim.

On a bitterly cold day at Les Invalides, with her husband and two young sons watching, Susan took her place in the middle of the square along with dozens of other Legionnaires, as hundreds looked on.

Standing to attention, she felt her heart lurch as she saw a lone general in full military uniform walking towards her. It was Pierre Koenig, the lover she hadn’t seen since the days immediately after Bir Hakeim.

Her hands clenched into fists, she watched as he pinned her medal to the lapel of her coat. Their eyes locked, each one struggling with their emotions, he told her: “I hope this will remind you of many things. Well done, La Miss.”

Stepping back, he gave her a brisk salute before marching away. It was the last time she ever saw him. Koenig died in 1970 and Travers waited almost 30 years until her own husband died, to tell their story of love and heroism.

“Wherever you will go, I will go too,” she had once told Koenig at Bir Hakeim. It was a promise she kept.”

– Wendy Holden

The words in my mouth…

The English Language

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!

Even more stealing what has already been stolen…

Music to watch girls by…

Today I spent the morning on the pavement at Tottenham Court Station which meant that I got to spend a few hours doing that great pastime of ‘watching people go by‘. This is a great thing to do, especially in a city the size of London and at the junction of Oxford, New Oxford, Charing Cross Streets and Tottenham Court Road, as you can watch people all all creeds and colours.

In fact, all creeds and colours just doesn’t cover what you can see… all shapes and sizes, all ages, and from all backgrounds. You can see people who religiously study fashion magazines and those to whom the word ‘fashion’ is mearly a handy seven letter word for Scrabble. Even those that still think it’s acceptable to wear jogging bottoms and sweats in the centre of town.

The hardest thing about watching people walk by is that it can be quite difficult to decide which direction to look in… up the street or down!!

Grown accustomed to her face…

Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!
I’ve grown accustomed to her face.
She almost makes the day begin.
I’ve grown accustomed to the tune that
She whistles night and noon.
Her smiles, her frowns,
Her ups, her downs
Are second nature to me now;
Like breathing out and breathing in.
I was serenely independent and content before we met;
Surely I could always be that way again-
And yet
I’ve grown accustomed to her look;
Accustomed to her voice;
Accustomed to her face.

Wiped out…

This weekend I had an interview up in London town and I think it went pretty well.

The interview wasn’t for a job or anything as mundane as that… oh no, for I can think of much more fun things to get interviewed for… such as the BBC gameshow ‘Total Wipeout‘. To be honest, I was slightly surprised to get an interview, they had something like seven thousand applications for series three, of which about seven hundred got to the interview. Of these only one hundred and sixty (eighty guys and eighty gals) will eventually get to go to Argentina and get to compete for a first prize of £10,000.

The really nice thing about this show is that though it’s a help to be really fit if you wish to win, Endemol realise that it’s much more fun to see a whole range of abilities give the course a try. This was really quite handy.

You see, in my interview group I was the second shortest and by far the unfitest of the guys there. I kid you not, they were all lean, mean, gym-going machines. I am certain that the world is a safer place that I decided not to wear any of the fluorescent spandex that a lot of the guys turned up in. Or the twins who turned up in dresses, the guy dressed as Indiana Jones (but with a riding crop instead of a bull whip) or the guy in a cow suit.

However, we were split into two groups, the first was to do the physical exercises first, followed by the minute-to-camera interview, while the rest of us headed upstairs to fill in medical and CRB forms. Then what happened was that one guy failed to get through the physical checks without getting injured and require ambulance attention. (This added a slight delay to the rest of the procedures which meant that the last of us didn’t finish until two hours after we were supposed to)

The physical wasn’t too bad, mainly running around and jumping to show that we could… there was then a pull up competition which I would have won if getting the least number of pull ups was the aim. There was then a small obstacle course involving a balance beam, a small leap down, a short run and a low bar. I managed to fall off the beam, slip over on my run and failed to clear the beam… but it was a lot of fun!!

Then came the interviews. They did provide a small list of things that you could talk about, such as name, age, where you’re from, occupation, hobbies, etc, etc. As I, if I have to, can ramble on about all sorts of things I was quite looking forward to this part… especially as I had decided, even though I was the penultimate interviewee, to have some fun, therefore my interview went something along these lines…

“Hi, I’m Bimble, I’m twenty-nine and I am from the Aldershot area. If you like walks along the beach and
candlelit cuddles then I think….” turns away from camera and looks at interviewer, “Hold on, this isn’t that type of video is it…??”
This got the girl doing the interview laughing, and having the interviewer on your side is always a good thing,
turning back to camera, “Oh well, if there is anyone watching this who does like those things well just ask me.” points to name badge, “You’ve got my details on the application form.”

With a start like that there was no going wrong with the interview and it went really well, to the point that when we had finished the interviewer who’d had a broard smile across her face for the whole interview thanked me for brightening up her morning… that is the sign of a good interview.

Now I realise that there might be some people who have never seen the show Total Wipeout here’s a short clip of ‘The Eliminator’ which is the first course that is used to cut down the numbers of competitors.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00yTIg1bTMk[/youtube]

Reasons…

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of – Blaise Pascal,

One of those topics that oft comes up in late night conversations is that most confusing of topics on the ways of the human heart. If there is anything else that can cause as much happiness and sadness (oft at the same time) to a person I can not think what it may be and yet it is something which we are all doomed to suffer from at least once during our lifetimes.

It has been the subject matter of songs, poetry, books and art for centuries. Indeed, if it is not the most covered subject I would be most surprised,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long live this, and this gives life to thee.

These are the closing words from Sonnet No.18 written by the esteemed playwrite, the Mr William Shakespeare. This is telling us that as long as there are people able to read these words, as long as these words are able to be read then feelings and emotions in the sonnet will always be known. For now and all time. If you are wondering, Sonnet No.18 is of course;
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate,’

As it says, “ With love, the bruises are on the inside.

Annoyed…

I was told something this morning that has just annoyed me. I will admit that it has no right nor reason to annoy me, it neither involves or has any affect on me but at the same time it has just generally annoyed me.

It’s one of those stories where knowing the general background you know what the right resolution is supposed to be and then you hear what has happened and you end up thinking, and I appologise for this instance of “net speak” but, WTF?? Something, somewhere has gone wrong and it’s just annoying how life seems more than happy just to screw about…

Or just how stupid some people seem to be…

Back to school….

I’ve got the strangest feeling that the summer holidays are now over and that all the little kiddies have been dragged off to school…. I get this feeling by the sudden appearance of traffic jams on roads that have been clear during the summer, caused by the parents who no doubt think that the oher parents clogging up the roads should be walking their children to school….

I remember, and it’s not that long ago I’ll have you know, that I used to walk to and home from school…. and this was primary school as well as middle and secondary school!! I was proud to say that I was a latch-key kid (a phrase you don’t hear so much these days), walking home on my tod.

But in these days of fear and dread I guess I should be thankful that there are at least some kids who still walk to school, making the roads just ever so slightly less jam-packed…

In the words of ol’ frankie boy…

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

These lines I’ve always loved, because like in the song (you know the one) I too have only a few regrets and while most of these could have quite easily have led my life in a totally different direction I would say, on the whole, that I have made pretty much the right choices, which at the end of the day is all that you can ask for.

However, every now and again, I do look back at these choices and wonder what could have been… what might have happened if I had turned left instead of turning right, said yes instead of saying no… what if I hadn’t been cautious and had taken the bull by the horn and gone for it…???

I just have this feeling that at some point in the near future that another one of these choices is on it’s way and when it comes I’m trying to decide whether I’ll take the safe path or to take the path who’s end is out of sight…?? My natural instinct is to take the safer path, it’s one I know and trust, but…. but… I do sometimes wonder what I’m missing…. what is around that corner….??