Monday 23 November – sunshine filtered through a heavy mist onto the frost-touched grass. A fine day! Breakfasted packed and on the road before 09.00, pedalling into cold misty countryside, but at least it was dry! Crossed the River Orne and headed more or less east, weaving around various country roads to make sure we did not get on to any of the busy main roads.As we were on the Plain of Caen, the hills were not quite as steep and the valleys were more gentle, which made for very pleasant cycling. Even by midday we were still spending some of our time in freezing mist, then emerging into sunny patches. One of the nicest stretches was after a 1-2km ride up a hill then through a beautifully managed woodland of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and other deciduous trees where a huge buzzard lazily flapped its way ahead of me, then perched on a branch to get a better look at me; deciding I was inedible, it then drifted off into the woods! Arrived into the town of Lisieaux at 15.30, checked into our AirBnB which was in a fourth storey 1960s apartment – luxury of luxuries, we each had our own bedroom with a double bed (which explained why it was the most expensive of the B+Bs). Set out to explore the town, including visiting the relatively new (20thC?) Basilica with an impressive dome and attractive modern frescoes adorning the walls. Lit a candle for peace. Shopped for provender then returned to our billet for home-made supper of bread, cheese, pastries and wine. Continue reading Sunshine Supermen!
After all the rain, hail, wind, frozen fingers and feet, our last day`s ride into Paris was wonderful! Our amazing AirB+B hosts, Francois and Laurence, after feeding us royally the night before, and furnishing us with a hot coffee and splendid chunk of real chocolate to fortify body and spirit, launched us on the final leg of the journey. As a free-lance tv camera person, Francois filmed short clip of our departure which should appear in some media site somewhere; and then off we went! It was a beautiful bright morning with a rime of frost on the grass as we pedalled through gently undulating countryside for the final 35 miles to Paris. The only negative experience was some wally driving a badly-tuned diesel car that emitted clouds of black smoke in our faces as he cut us up. Wove our way through the outskirts and then, suddenly, as we arrived in St Cloud, we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower – magnifique!
Cycled across the Pont St Cloud, stopping for quick lunch of mushroom soup, bread and a coffee before heading through the city, mostly on designated cycle lanes, sometimes shared with buses(!) and finally arrived at our AirB+B in the 18th arrondisement, handily located next to the Riquet Metro station. The B+B consisted of what was originally a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor which now contained one triple-bunk, two double-bunk beds and two sofasd that could be made up into beds. Very snug! Oh, and one toilet, one bathroom and a compact kitchen. Basic, but enoough for our needs and the other inmates, whoops, sorry, residents seemed very good-natured and kind.
After settling in and showering, we headed off to meet Molly Scot-Cato, MEP, who treated us to supper before we all moved on to the evening`s ClimÀrt event, put on by the Federation of European Greens. The talks and poetry were all in French so I got the gist but not the detail; however, the music, provided by African father and son playing gourds strung with many strings, was amazingly beautiful. The captain of the Tara expedition (an aluminium-hulled sailing vessel which has spent the last two years sailing the oceans and monitoring the impacts of climate chage; and had sailed across the North Pole!) also gave a brief talk. A lovely welcome to Paris.
As everyone knows, after the dreadful events of two weeks ago, all mass demonstrations had been banned in Paris, which was a bit of a setback as that meant that there were Climate Rallies taking place in major cities all around the world – except Paris, where the Climate talks are about to start!
Well, fortunately, that was not totally true, as there has been the virtual rally in the Place de la Republique, where thousands of shoes (including donations from Pope Francis and Ban Ki Moon) were placed to represent the people who would have been there had the authorities allowed. And there was the human chain which had been agreed by the authorities along the Boulevard Voltaire here at noon today (Sunday 29 November).
So Ricky and I (the two surviving Climate Vision cyclists) travelled the Metro to Charonne Station and on emerging to street level found several hundred already getting in line. As midday approached, more and more emerged and joined in until there must have been 5-10 thousand people strung out along the boulevard. Ricky and I found ourselves alongside Jenny Jones (Green Party representative in the House of Lords), Christine Milne (former leader of the Australian Green Party) and a number of Green MEP staff. It was all incredibly positive, and peaceful. It was just good to be with so many people of determination and goodwill. And there was not a single policeman or soldier in sight. After an hour and a half, the human chain gently melted away.
Apparently, some people went on to the Place de la Republique to gather where, unfortunately a small number of people bent on provocation also went. And so followed a confrontation with the police who were a little too diligent in trying to stop the action – all too predictably, people were attacked, tear gas fired and around 200 people arrested. All we knew about it was when we were travelling back from the human chain, our Metro train did not stop at Republique Station and, as we passed through, I could see a couple of dozen armed police on the platform and people being held back from the platform. Unfortunately the media, ever-attentive for a dramatic story to tell, will doubtless focus on the violent few and ignore the peaceful many. Nevertheless, they can never take away the abiding memory of all those wonderfully motivated people.
One other extraordinary experience was when Ricky and I, reaching the end of the human chain along Boulevard Voltaire, found ourselves in front of the Cafe Voltaire, where one of the attacks took place two weeks ago. Along with the other people who were paying their respects, I found a white poppy in my pocket and was able to place that with the flowers and candles. And to offer a prayer for peace.
Having failed to get past the security on Monday morning at Le Bourget COP21 site (hardly surprising with Barack Obama, David Cameron, et al. arriving at the same time), Ricky and I headed back into Paris. Meeting the Climate Guardian Angels was a wonderful experience – so inspiring to see young people so committed to achieving change!
Packed my bags and loaded my bike and cycled to Gare St Lazare to catch the 13.45 train to Caen; the train was able to cover what took us three days a little over two hours. That’s modern transport for you!
Had a weird experience at Gare St Lazare; was just walking past an advertisement for The Netherlands (Pays Bas in French), when I noticed in the picture a white campervan which looked like mine. On closer inspection of the registration plate, it was mine! The photograph was of the causeway across the Ysselmeier which closed off what was the Zuider Zee in the 1930s. The picture must have been taken in June this year when Nona and I were en route to Scandinavia and had decided to drive across the causeway in northern Netherlands. How strange was that?!
Anyway, the rest of the trip back home (ferry from Caen to Portsmouth, train from Portsmout to Penmere) was straightforward. Now it is down to Ricky, and everyone else at COP21, to help reach a meaningful binding set of climate change targets! Slight feeling of sadness at not still being in Paris to experience the daily unfolding of events as the world’s politicians grapple with the task of attaining climate justice and equality for all – including future generations, and all species, not just humans!