Danny Breslin

How it is…

Remember Remember the Fifth of November

A few days ago it was the fifth of November, Bonfire Night, when we traditionally burn effigies to celebrate the torture and death of a fellow human being, Guy Fawkes. I’m not a fan of this and neither is my dog Bones who wrote about it last November.

For me November 5th marked a different anniversary; it was 95 years to the day since my Great Uncle fell in Belgium fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres, what would be remembered by history as Passchendaele. In August I went to see him, to find his grave and pay my respects, I wanted to share this journey with you.

I set off with my Uncle Leo, my Sister Teresa and her husband Neil and took the Eurostar to Lille. It was raining as we entered the channel tunnel but we emerged to a much drier France, although you could tell the brooding clouds sitting low overhead were giving some serious thought to joining in with their cousins over Britain. I’m not sure what changed their mind but by the time we had reached Lille the clouds had given up their menacing stance and sunshine was brightening the streets.

I can’t pretend that Lille is my favourite city but we weren’t staying there that night. Teresa and Neil headed off to find the offices of the car hire place and left me and Leo to fend for ourselves, we sat on a bench outside the station to wait for their return. You know how every city has a place where the local drunks like to hang around, swigging cheap but strong lager or cider and argue with each other incoherently? Well, it seems that in Lille the benches that my Uncle and I occupied were the chosen spot for the native drunks. Before long they had joined us and were seemingly enjoying their journey to alcohol induced brain death.

My French is pretty poor but I doubt I could have followed their conversation in English, so when one of them turned to me and spoke it took me a couple of seconds to work out what it was he was asking me. I looked at his face made ruddy by the crazy paving of broken blood vessels, his eyes red and watery and his mouth containing fewer teeth than he had as a toddler. My blank look told him he had to repeat himself, this time he motioned by taking a drag from an imaginary cigarette. I thought hard about my response: Pardon monsieur, j’ne fume pas. Or something like that? It probably wasn’t anything like that, cigarettes were never discussed in my high school French lessons. In the end I gave up and said, “Sorry mate I don’t smoke.” He seemed to recognise my efforts at answering him in French and touched my arm in a sympathetic gesture, “Ok sorry,” he muttered in my own language, before going back to shouting French obscenities at his friends. They weren’t taught to us in high school either but you pick these things up y’ know?

Eventually we were picked up before we succumbed to the booze fumes and joined the party. We were headed for Arras. Teresa had borrowed my niece Kate’s satnav, now the thing you need to know about my niece is she doesn’t like driving on motorways, that of course is up to her, but it never occurred to her mom to check the settings of the satnav for if she had she would have discovered that we would not be visiting any roads that Kate herself would not like to drive on. Consequently we went through every housing estate and down every farm track that you could imagine to get from Lille to Arras, adding a huge chunk of time to what should have been a straightforward journey.

When we EVENTUALLY got there we found quite an attractive looking town with a stunning water feature in the middle of it. We were staying at the Holiday Inn and found it comfortable. By the time we had sorted ourselves out and were ready to eat it was already dark, the receptionist recommended the restaurant on the corner and off we headed to fill our bellies.

There was a wide choice of food but the menu was all in French; Uncle Leo was never given the option of learning French at his Dublin high school so was a little stumped. He recognised the word bier which he was pleased about but that was the extent of his knowledge of the language. He was sure that I was more comfortable with it than he was and I didn’t want to disappoint him by telling him I was only a few nouns more advanced than him. When he turned to me and asked, “So, what am I having?” I didn’t want to let him down by ordering the braised private parts of a horse or anything of that ilk. I recognised the word omelette, and made that the suggestion. Then changed my mind when I noticed that they had fish and chips too, you can’t go wrong with that. I had the boeuf.

We had eight beers between us but the waiter had only put six on the bill; being honest sorts we pointed out his mistake but he gave a gallic shrug and said it was ok, the other two were on him. We thanked him but I think the gesture was less to do with entente cordiale and more the result of the late hour and he wanted to go home instead of changing the bill. Still, nice of him.

He headed home, we headed back to the hotel and this post is headed towards its conclusion. Next time I’ll describe the following day and our visit to Croisilles Military Cemetery. Until then mes amis, au revoir!

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November 9, 2012 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. I’m looking forward your story about the actual visit. My brother-in-law did a similar pilgrimage. He went to the Somme area to find his grand-uncle’s grave. It was quite an emotional journey for him. I think there’s something deeply poignant about this need to honour someone so many years later.

    Comment by Yaz | November 10, 2012 | Reply

    • I can’t tell you how moving it was for me.

      Comment by Danny Breslin | November 13, 2012 | Reply

  2. How interesting and enjoyable reading this. You can weave a story with the best of them! Keep up the great work…. by the way, knowing my lack of French and my luck I would’ve ended up with the horse parts…. ack.. pooey! LOL

    Comment by colliesofthemeadow | November 10, 2012 | Reply

    • That’s really nice of you to say so, means alot. As for the horse meat, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it my friend. lol.

      Comment by Danny Breslin | November 13, 2012 | Reply

  3. Interesting story so far, looking forward to reading more! 🙂

    Comment by Katie | November 12, 2012 | Reply

    • In that case I’d better get working on the second part. Thanks Katie.

      Comment by Danny Breslin | November 13, 2012 | Reply


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