Gilets jaunes

15 December 2018

With thoughts of a nice warming coffee and maybe a cake in the Jardin du Luxembourg cafe evaporating, we peered through the locked gates and wondered what to do next. It was one o’clock and both of us were cold, damp and feeling rather hungry. Our early breakfast seemed like a lifetime ago and we’d been walking more or less the whole time since then. The little cafe we’d stopped at before on Boulevard Saint Michel sprang to mind so we headed towards it.

As we walked we theorised about the locked gates of the park.

”Perhaps something has happened inside?” Commando suggested. “That police van must be there for a reason.”

”I wonder what though?” I said, “There was no one inside the gates that I could see and no police in the van.”

“It could be anything but, after the terrorist attack in Strasbourg last week, I guess they’re taking no chances, France does seem to have more than its fair share of these things.”

This was a sobering thought, News footage of the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack in the Strasbourg Christmas market was fresh in my mind. Five people had died and eleven were injured by a French Algerian terrorist with a gun and a knife. He managed to escape the scene in a taxi but was eventually found on Thursday and died in a shoot out with police. The attack was never going to stop us visiting Paris because these things can happen anywhere, but the locked park gates suddenly took on a sinister significance.


La Croissanterie was a welcome sight. We stepped inside to a world of mouthwatering treats and the wonderful smell of coffee. The young man who served us spoke perfect English and was quite chatty. He seemed surprised to learn the park was closed.

“Perhaps it is because of the Gilets Jaunes,” he suggested.

Of course we’d heard all about the Gilets Jaunes on the news at home. The yellow vests movement was sparked by an online petition in May 2018. The petition, aimed at economic justice and motivated by rising fuel prices, government tax reforms and a spiralling cost of living, had almost a million signatures. By November, the online rumblings had become protest marches, with roads and fuel depots blocked. The protesters all wore yellow high vis jackets, the kind everyone has to carry in their car in France in case of an accident or breakdown.  The French are, at the best of times, a militant nation and President Macron, with his ‘let them eat cake’ attitude and smug smile, seems to be quite unpopular. He would probably do well to read his French history and see where such attitudes have led in the past.

Inevitably, some of the marches turned into riots. Those in Paris on 1 December were particularly nasty with more than one hundred cars burned and the Arc de Triomph vandalised. For this reason we’d decided to avoid the area around Champs Elysees where it seemed most of the problems occurred. 

When we left the cafe the young man warned us to be careful in case the Gilets Jaunes were about. It wasn’t long before we saw signs that they were. Soon after we crossed the Seine and were back on Boulevard de Sébastopol, close to Rue de Rivoli, we saw a long line of blue police vans at the side of the road. Amongst them was a strange tank like vehicle that we assumed was for a water cannon. There were no yellow jackets anywhere in view but we knew they must be nearby. Perhaps this explained the locked parks.

A few moments later a couple of men in yellow vests passed us. Whether they were protestors or just workmen of some kind we couldn’t tell but they seemed fairly harmless. We carried on walking and the rain kept on falling.

Five minutes later, as we were approaching the junction with Rue du Borg L’Abbé, we heard sirens. The gendarmes were obviously on the move. All the blue vans we’d just passed came speeding up the road, including the scary looking tank. WE stopped to watch and I took the video below. Before they reached us they turned off onto Rue aux Ours. We breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever was going on was obviously not ahead.

Gilets Jaunes Paris December 2018

We kept on walking but we didn’t get far. As we approached the zebra crossing we saw a huge crowd of people walking down the road towards us. The Gilets Jaunes had found us! It seemed they had also somehow evaded all the police. Commando came over all protective and tried to stand in front of me as they turned and marched in front of us along Rue de Turbigo. They didn’t look very scary as far as I could see though so I got out my phone and began to film them. It isn’t every day you get caught up in a mass protest march after all. The video I took is below.

Gilets Jaunes Paris December 2018

There were an awful lot of Gilets Jaunes and Commando kept trying to get in front of me so I soon gave up filming and just took photos instead. None of the protesters seemed in the least bit threatening. In fact, they all looked to be having rather a nice time, walking along with their yellow jackets and placards chatting to each other. They seemed to be a mixture of all ages and classes, not at all the militant young hooligans they’d been portrayed by the press.

It was a good ten minutes before the crowd of protesters thinned out enough for us to get across the road and continue our journey. In all that time we hadn’t seen a single gendarme. A few hundred yards further up the now empty road though, a whole group of police in full riot gear came past us. With their flack jackets, visored helmets and, most scarily, machine guns, they looked way more frightening than all of the Gilets Jaunes put together.

It was raining even harder by now and it was quite a relief to know the protesters were all behind us now. At least we thought they were. Then, as we were approaching the junction of Rue Réaumur, we saw blue flashing lights ahead. Another mass of police vehicles, white ones this time, were careering across the junction. Either there were more Gilets Jaunes about or the police were spectacularly bad at finding them.

On we walked, rather hoping the police didn’t manage to catch up with the protesters. From what I could see the yellow vests looked to be far more harmless than the police and I didn’t like the idea of them being tear gassed, water cannoned, or shot at. When we came to Boulevard Saint Denis a whole host of police vans were parked up and a small crowd had gathered at the crossroads to see what was happening.


After a few minutes of standing watching nothing much happen Commando decided to walk up Boulevard Saint Denis and see what, if anything, was going on. Against my better judgement, I followed. When we reached the Porte Saint Martin we found a scene of chaos. Half the road was blocked by police and protestors and the traffic was backed up trying to find a way around them.

On a different day I might have admired the beautiful monumental archway, commissioned by Louis XIV in 1674. The Porte Saint Martin was built by architect Pierre Bullet, a student of François Blondel who built the nearby Porte Saint Denis,  to honor the capture of FrancheComté. It replaced the original medieval gateway in the wall built by Charles V in around 1356 to protect the Right Bank of the city. Today all I could think about was tear gas and freezing water.

Luckily the protesters began to march off along Rue Saint Martin and we escaped the teargas and water cannon, if not the traffic jam. When we set out on our quiet afternoon stroll our main worry had been the rain. In the end our walk turned out to be far more eventful than either of us could ever have imagined.

It was beginning to get dark by the time we got back to the hotel and, after a quick freshen up, we went back to our favourite cafe for a warming hot chocolate followed by a bite to eat in Au Baroudeur. The day hadn’t been at all how we’d umagined but it certainly wasn’t lacking in interest.

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Changes afoot

27 September 2018

When everyone around you is going down with colds and flu it feels like it’s only a matter of time before your turn comes. When I got up this morning there was a definite feeling of lurgie going on but I told myself I was probably imagining it. Besides, I had a package to deliver to a friend who lives close to the Millennium Flats so, ignoring a slight soreness of throat and muzzy head, my feet retraced footsteps from many previous walks. The route may have been all too familiar but the scenery has changed somewhat since I last came this way.

When I reached Northam Bridge I stopped for a while, leaned on the railings and looked at the calm clear water and the proliferation of boats in various stages of decomposition. In part this was because I quite like looking at the boats but also because my legs were feeling a little wobbly and my head more than a touch on the fuzzy side.   

Eventually I got moving again, albeit rather slowly. On the far side of the bridge it was clear a lot of building work has gone on while I’ve been walking elsewhere. There are new, rather swanky looking, flats on the old TV studio site and the ground is being cleared for even more. 

The flats look quite nice, especially the ones with balconies looking out over the water, although I can’t help wondering if the views will be obstructed by the next phase of the building work. Something else I wonder about is the blue painted fence along the river path. It seems a terrible shame to offer river views but not provide any access to the path. Hopefully, when the work is finished the fence will be removed.

Work is going on to build a play area and a small garden area. Trees are in the process of being planted and it looks as if it will be a nice place for the flat owners to sit. Hopefully the desolate park will also get a bit of a makeover once all the building work is complete. It could certainly do with it.

Summers Street has changed beyond all recognition. Once it was a street with just one house and now there are rows of new front doors and parking spaces. As I walked past the new buildings it was hard to remember the chain fence I used to pass each day with its overgrown shrubs laden with flowers or berries depending on the season and the little gooseberry bush that had always seemed so incongruous.

Around the corner the rubble and poppies have been replaced by yet more front doors and something that looks like shops to let. Hopefully they won’t end up being painted shops like the ones across the road.

Once I’d turned the next corner things began to look much more familiar. The industrial estate hasn’t changed a bit and the swans were still by the big rocks, just where they always used to be. They gave me an accusing look as I passed by. Whether this was because I didn’t have any food for them or because they wondered where I’d been I couldn’t tell. There were just two swans today and no cygnets at all. This has been a year sadly lacking in both swans and cygnets.

Beside the boardwalk the hippie ship was almost submerged. The shore around it seemed far more littered than I remember it. Someone had even dumped an old shopping trolley. It reminded me of the tin can sculpture I used to see every day when I worked on the industrial estate. The sculpture, a life sized woman made from hundreds of tin cans pushing a shopping trolley, was in the water close to the bridge. It was obviously not an official piece of artwork and, even though it was made of junk, it always made me smile. Sadly, in those days, I never had a mobile phone or a camera so I never managed to take a photo of her. This shopping trolley was definitely not a sculpture and I rather wished it wasn’t there at all.

Feeling sad that the poor swans have to live beside so much discarded human rubbish, I started off along the boardwalk. This, at least, was relatively litter free. Surprisingly, it was also empty of people. Usually there are cyclists and walkers going back and forth taking advantage of the short cut and the serene views across the river. It was quite nice to have the place all to myself for once.

About half way along my pleasure was interrupted by another sorry sight. A section of the boardwalk railing has been broken. This was obviously the work of vandals, as it must have taken quite some effort to break the railings and the missing poles were nowhere in sight. Why someone would do such a thing is beyond me but it made me sad to see it.

A little further on I found something to return the smile to my face. A large grasshopper was sitting on the railing looking for all the world as if he was sunbathing. He was even kind enough to let me take a few photos.

By now I was approaching the end of the boardwalk. Ahead the Millenium Flats were perfectly reflected in the still water and a small boat was heading downstream towards me. Idly, I wondered where it was going. Then I spotted a flash of bright orange in the trees beside the railway line. It was too big to be a plastic carrier bag caught in the branches. Curious, I walked on.

When I got close enough to see clearly I was none the wiser. The orange object looked like a sleeping bag made of plastic. It had a zip at the front and was hanging by two strings that looked as if they were toggles for a hood. As the breeze caught it, it danced. Whether this was just more litter, blown in from somewhere and caught in the trees or had been purposely placed there I couldn’t tell. Perhaps someone is sleeping rough nearby and using the tree as a wardrobe, or maybe it’s acting as a scarecrow or a warning of some kind? Puzzled I walked on.

At the end of the boardwalk I was pleased to see the sculptures and bench undamaged and litter free. I was also pleased to reach a patch of shade. So far almost all my walk had been in hot sunshine and my head, which had started out feeling filled with cotton wool, was now aching. In fact it was becoming clear my lurgie was certainly not paranoia. The bench provided a convenient resting place but I hadn’t brought any water or snacks with me and, despite the rest, my head didn’t feel any better for the shade.

If anything I felt worse for stopping and it’s took a great deal of effort to peel myself off the bench and carry on up the slope to Horseshoe Bridge. The climb took all the strength my legs had left and I was glad to reach the top. By now I’d walked two miles, more or less, not far on an ordinary day, but my legs felt more like they’d walked twenty two. How I was going to walk the two miles home was beyond me.

One foot slowly in front of the other took me off the bridge towards the Millenium Flats, past the scrubby area that was unaccountably cleared a few years back. At the time I thought the shrubs and trees would soon grow back but they haven’t. Today I noticed a small white gate I’m sure was never there before. Where it came from and why is a mystery as there is no path here, at least not one that leads anywhere. It all seemed very strange but, by now, my brain was feeling too addled to really think about it.

So I took my usual route thinking to go through the blue gate and walk down the steps past the moorings as I had so many times before. When I got to the gate though, there was a large and rather emphatic yellow sign. ‘Due to the antisocial behaviour in the past few months this private walkway is no longer open for public access.’ Sure enough, there was a lock on the gate and no way through. This was more than a little disappointing. The path runs at the bottom of a steep, grassy slope with an impenetrable fence at the top. It provides no access to the flats but does make a lovely walkway along the riverbank. At least it did. The owners of the flats, secure behind their high fences and locked gates, have made sure no one else can enjoy it any more.

Feeling rather cross and more than a little uncharitable towards the people living in the flats, I walked the long way round to the slipway. The extra steps didn’t make me feel any better but at least I’d almost reached my goal. My friend lives in one of the sweet little houses on the riverbank. She has enviable views and even a little jetty to sit on to watch the sun setting. She is a nurse with a generous spirit and more than deserves her riverside views.

Today, as I’d expected, she was at work so there was no chance to rest or sit and chat. The parcel, a little hat I’d made for her, fit easily through her letterbox. My mission was completed but I still had a couple of miles to walk to get home. They were not easy miles. My head and my legs protested all the way. Twice I had to stop and sit down. Once on a bench and once on some steps. The lurgie I’d been trying to ignore was getting worse with every step and, by the time I reached the main road again I was barely able to stay on my feet. With the world swimming in front of my eyes I managed to cross the road and walk the last steps to my own front door. It seems, no matter how hard you try, you can’t out run the germs or the changes.

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Below Bar deckchairs

31 July 2018

CJ and I had spent the morning walking in large circles up and down town from the precinct to Bedford Place looking for giant deckchairs. So far, with quite a lot of doubling back and grumbling from CJ, we’d found all the chairs at the top end of town. Now we had a proper map, rather than a badly cropped photo on my phone, the Below Bar chairs should be a little easier to find. In fact, I’d already seen the next three on the list on a shopping trip with Commando at the weekend.  Continue reading Below Bar deckchairs

Show me the way to go home

12 October 2017

We’d left to Road that thought it was a trail and were back on a real road again, with houses and even a sign for a railway station off to our left. One of the houses had an interesting gateway, a little like a lych gate. For a second I thought it might be the church where I was planning to stop and have a break. It wasn’t but the gate wasn’t so interesting I was about to take a photo when my phone rang. It was Commando, calling on his lunch break for a chat. If we’d walked a little quicker we could have made a detour and gone to see him. Once he’d gone I took my photograph of the gate. It was worth the wait, especially the sign that said Beware of the Gnomes. That really made me smile.  Continue reading Show me the way to go home

The sea and the sky

20 September 2017

When I woke up to blue sky I knew exactly where I wanted to go today. Blue sky and sea go together like chocolate and orange. Ok, so it was only a tiny little bit of blue sky amongst quite a lot of cloud but still, beggars can’t be choosers in late September.  Continue reading The sea and the sky

Postcards from Winchester Cathedral

3 September 2017

It was time to leave the little secret garden and head back towards the car park. As it was still a little early for Commando to be back from his Half Marathon run I figured I had time to get a coffee in Costa on the way and maybe dry out my damp old bones. As I hadn’t had breakfast before we left home and the milky hot chocolate I’d had at six thirty seemed a long way off, I might even treat myself to a croissant too. Thinking about it made my tummy rumble. Continue reading Postcards from Winchester Cathedral

Hahne Farm Trail

11 May 2017

“How about a little walk on the trail up the road?” Commando said. “The one with the big stone inukshuk.”
“The Hahne Farm Trail,”  obviously I didn’t need asking twice.
We’d been sitting on our balcony watching the Canada geese and goslings on the lake below, drinking coffee and resting from our morning adventure in Huntsville.  I was pretty sure Commando had only asked because he knew I was secretly disappointed by the lack of trail walking we’d done so far rather than any real desire to go walking on his part. Still, it was a short trail, around the same distance as a parkrun, and less than a mile from our chalet. If it proved too much for Commando’s leg we could easily turn back. Continue reading Hahne Farm Trail

The Vancouver Marathon and five seconds of fame

7 May 2017

Last night Commando went out for a run, his first in a month. He came back within ten minutes. The marathon was off. The pain in his Achilles tendon kicked in almost at once. There was no way he could run a parkrun, never mind a marathon. After all the miles and miles of training and lots of ups and downs when the pain came and went for no apparent reason, the last glimmer of hope died. It was a sad evening.  Continue reading The Vancouver Marathon and five seconds of fame

The mystery of Bassett Woods

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12 October 2016

We’d walked four miles or so and now, right in front of us, was exactly what we’d been hoping. Or was it? With our hearts in our mouths we walked slowly forwards, hardly daring to hope. It all seemed a little bit too easy though. If this really was a boundary stone, right there in full view, why had no one found it before? Continue reading The mystery of Bassett Woods

What goes up must come down, then go up again – first published 4 March 2014

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Early 2014 seemed to be mostly about interviews. So many I look back now and can hardly remember them all. There was one I really liked the sound of in a research unit at the hospital as PA to several professors working on cancer research. At least it was only a short interview. No tests, tricks or hoops to jump through. After that there was a tour of the office so I got to meet the people I would be working with. They seemed a cheery bunch which was nice. The only real fly in the ointment, if I did get the job, was the travelling. The hospital is surprisingly difficult to get to. I was even thinking about buying a bike if I got it. They said they’d let me know the next day so, while I waited I went for a little walk. Continue reading What goes up must come down, then go up again – first published 4 March 2014