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Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ypres, Belgium

I just got home from five days in Ypres (pronounced Eepra) with my friends. We go to Belgium, without our ladies, every year to taste the food beer and take in some local 'culture'.
Ypres has a fascinating history. 100 years ago the First World War began and this little town stood in the way of the German advance into France. Most of its medieval and other buildings were flattened by relentless German bombing but were amazingly reconstructed as close as possible to the original so that now it has the unique feel of a 'new' medieval town.
The Cloth Hall, built from about 1200, pictured just after The Great War (WW1)
The reconstructed Cloth Hall today
The Wipers Times
The British soldiers had difficulty pronouncing the town's name so it became known as 'Wipers'. They produced a satirical newspaper called The Wipers Times from September 1916 until the end of the war, in which soldiers could get away with ridiculing their officers, who tried to close it down but the generals realised that it was good for morale so it was allowed to keep on publishing. You can see a brief clip from an acclaimed BBC TV Film about the Wipers Times here . The general sitting behind the desk is played by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.
The Menin Gate
This marvellous memorial to 5,000 men killed in action but who never had a final resting place is situated at one of the ancient entrances to the walled city. Every single day of the year at 8pm the Last Post is played and a solo Scottish piper plays a lament.  (Amazing Grace on the evening that I was there).

The names of 5,000 soldiers are inscribed onto the inner walls of the memorial. The men were from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, India, the West Indies and all over the British Commonwealth. It is thought that up to 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the Ypres Salient in the Great War including French, Belgian and German as well as the Commonwealth men.
A small number of Belgian soldiers on bicycles with machine-guns held a large German cavalry battalion at bay for a long time but the Belgian Army, unlike the British one, was ill-trained and amateurish but very brave. Although the Germans eventually bombarded Ypres into ruin, they never occupied it during that war but Hitler went there in triumph in World War Two.
These days the Belgians are able to turn their efforts to better things such as excellent food and drink. If you get the chance to go don't miss it!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Painting of the Month (45) May 2014: Camille Pissaro

Autumn, Camille Pissaro, 1875
I enjoy the colour, the composition and the subject matter of this picture. 
Sometimes I think it's possible to over-analyse paintings so I will let this little gem speak for itself and say no more. Enjoy!