Driving Miss Dolly

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I have just found the original of this piece written in 2003 – I couldn’t resist reposting it.
I have just driven over 1500 km in two days. Hearing you say that your Land Rover or Audi could do that standing on its head is fine, except I have completed such a distance in my wife’s sixteen year old, 506 cc, Citroen 2cv known to all as “Dolly”.

Living in the Southern Europe I have found a compelling urge to share this glorious place with as many people, or things, as possible. Moving here a year ago from Wandsworth, leaving family and friends to battle the Congestion Charges, the M25 and the May Day riots, the only thing that wasn’t put on the back of the removers truck – and God knows we stuffed it – was our cherished 2cv.

There came a time when seeing our re-built classic rotting in my Mother’s Surrey garage became all too much.

[2019 Addition: Aestheticons readers will know of my adoration of these characterful and timeless little cars – and their big sister the Citroen DS]
Having lain dormant for 12 months, the points having been flooded by previously abortive attempts to start her, I asked Mark Waghorn at MWR in Battersea – a 2cv expert – to give her a full service. I wasn’t about to undertake a trip across two international borders in a car that hadn’t run for a year.

Booking on line the Dover/Calais leg I decided to play safe and also book a French Motorail trip from Calais to Toulouse. I tried to book the next leg on the Spanish equivalent from Barcelona to Malaga but that gets booked up seconds after going on sale, three months ago. So I had to face up to driving home from Toulouse – around 1500 km.

To make sure I got to Dover, I decided to drive there mid evening to find a B&B and wake refreshed for my 10.00 am crossing. At least I could push the car onto the Seacat, if necessary.

B&B’s in Dover now don’t really exist in any meaningful way. They have been seized by the Immigration Service to house the influx of asylum seekers. The locals now call the Old Folkestone Road, “Asylum Alley”.

I had visited the site of David Blaine’s most recent inexplicable stunt. He is encasement in Plexiglas overlooking new look London. His main views are the Mayor’s rotund office and the new Gherkin.

He had been boxed for 4 days and 21 hours by the time of my visit and was condemned to watch the British public hurling insults and golf balls at him as he slumbered scribbling in his journal. I would come to appreciate David’s predicament a whole lot more after my ensuing days of intimacy with Dolly’s minimal grey velour seats.

The mileometer at Dover read 66228.

The Seacat was a breeze – except for the loudest and most strident lady passenger who didn’t draw breath the whole of the one hour crossing. Her main pre-occupation was a solution to the asylum seeker problem. Perhaps she should be retained by the British and French Governments who thus far have struggled to solve this thorny issue.

I arrive at the Calais/Motorail terminus about six hours ahead of boarding. So if you have six hours to kill a visit to Calais centre ville is a must.

The Town Hall, is the home of the Rodin statue known as “the Burghers of Calais”. It features a number of wizened individuals bearing keys and such like. The depiction is of the proposed sacrifice of a few senior citizens of the town in return for Edward III lifting the blockade on food supplies. The old folk were saved by the swift actions of Queen Phillipa of Hainault – top aren’t they – those Essex girls.

Loading of the cars is a haphazard arrangement. The SNCF employee has never had the joy of driving a 2cv and stalls a couple of times before lurching Dolly’s into her resting place behind a Mercedes whose hazards are already flashing. The late evening calm is punctuated by screaming car alarms and the fulfilment of earlier placed orders for “pique nicque”. This is essential as we are told that the train has no catering facilities. The 20.30 pm train this evening is the last of the summer from Calais to Toulouse.

We set off 45 minutes late.

The carriage compartments on Wagonlits are box like – about as deep as I am tall – 6 feet – and close to four feet wide. There is something military about their regiment throughout the carriage there must be at least twenty or so cells. All the fabric seat covers, the ceiling, walls and blinds are all khaki.

The top bunk is open and very neatly turned down. There is a small oval basin with neat “Wagonlits” ancient publicity packed soap. Beneath the basin is a plastic commode which when its retaining door is closed deposits its contents directly onto the rails – via a wide mesh

There is a steward in a smaller cabin at the end of the carriage. He explains the operation of the lights and wakes you moments before you destination. For the rest of the time he smokes, drinks from short green cans of Heineken and read l’Express.

We are towing around thirty cars arranged on car transporter like carriages. At least six pairs of tiger’s eyes continue to flash and alarms sound. Their batteries will have nothing left to get their occupants to Beziers or Perpignan.

The first third of the bottle of Beaujolais Village bought at the station buffet and uncorked by their staff when picking up the excellent “pique nicque” kicked in shortly after departure. Sleep and Toulouse await.

Before dawn we arrive in Brive.

As first light breaks we are greeted by dense forests and quaint villages with their beautiful stone towers and red tiled roofs. We emerge from a long tunnel high over the Dordogne a stunning Norman chateau is perched high behind us.

We are following the Lot peppered with caravan sites through Cahors, with its stunning three squared towered stone bridge. Past low built houses fused onto higher and ancient pigeon lofts. Field after field of fruit trees and sunflowers discolouring in the late summer morning light.

We follow the back of several towns along the Canal into Toulouse. On every available space there is graffiti. One particularly good artist has “signed” more than fifty walls in a twenty kilometre strip with his distinctive “tag” the word, “Arse” – it cannot mean the same.

In Toulouse it takes an hour or so for the cars to be off loaded. Unfortunately, the road to Montpellier and Barcelona is shut “pour travaux” and a “diversion” takes us around the city to be released back onto the E80 an exit or two further out.

Finally, I am on the E80 “hurtling” at a maximum of 65 mph through Carcassonne, then Perpignan and over the Spanish border – where for some curios reason one of the Guard regards the car as of Italian origin and waves his arms shouting “avanti!”.

I am in Spain – well that was reasonably easy. I am about 250 kms into the journey and its late morning.

The peage through France may be costly but the Catalan tolls are even more expensive. At each toll booth driving a right hand drive car can be perilous. I have to stop, run around to collect the ticket or pay the fee and get back into the car before the barrier falls.

The E15 (the same road that runs through Malaga) is easy driving and Barcelona with its pistachio and baby pink tower blocks and canary and black taxis looms mid afternoon.

Barcelona has its own new Gherkin under construction complete with exterior crazy paved walls and incrementally small terraces for the top five or so penthouses.

On crossing the Plaza Cataluna, I spot a car park showing a “libre” sign so seek to enter. Shouting and waving ensues as the gate keeper explains that he does not allow right hand drive vehicles to enter as they tend to scratch the other cars – great logic.

La Rambla district has a “scalextric” shop with a huge window display and an artist in white robes and make up sitting on an un-plumbed loo. There is a wacky tiled Bullring and the famous multi-spired cathedral.

It’s worth a longer visit but come by train.

The exit road signs seem to refuse to use the same numbers as the official road numberings. They are replaced with a “C” preface. There are no signs for Tarragona – yet alone Valencia or Alicante. As a result, I get back onto the North bound E15 taking me probably 40 kms out of my way before I can change direction.

South of Barcelona become thick with grapes in the Penedes region – grapes then rock and then open plains as I head towards the hilariously named Tossa del Mar and onto Peniscola!

Arriving in the Comunitat de Valencia every available square meter is planted with orange and lemon trees.

I have seen 11 magpies by this time. After “10’s a bird you must not miss” does it start at “One for sorrow” again?

Having exceeded the boundary of my boredom threshold and with fading light I decide to stay at a road side hostel near Castellon.

I am back on the E15 by 7.30 am and by 8.00 the sky is blood orange.

I have already seen two magpies – “joy” – that’s good.

I wait until 9.00 am – it is Sunday after all – before the first of many calls to the family. At one point they were every half an hour as boredom really set in.

I scoot past the huge Valencian tile and porcelain factories and hill top fortresses.

Rainbow coloured pipes extend over the road to greet your arrival in Valencia. Your departure is marked by a road side flock of monochrome metal sheep.

The Manhattan skyline of Benidorm is incongruous but rising as it does majestically above an arid plain I guess it’s the closest thing Spain has to Las Vegas.

The heat of the roasting road is seeping into the car and I am drinking probably a litre of water an hour.

Two more magpies.

Clearing the toll booth at Alicante – a hiccup.

For a while I have been trying to ignore that Dolly is over revving. The only way to stop it is to lift the accelerator pedal with your foot. As I leave the toll booth she’s screaming, so I pull over and lift the bonnet.

She cools quickly and I notice that a spring has rusted away and is lying against the engine casing. A quick clip and twist with my Swiss army knife’s pliers and a new spring is formed. It works perfectly allowing the accelerator cable to return. Now could you do that in your Land Rover or Audi? I don’t think so.

As my wife will tell you, my mechanical skills are minimal, so I am feeling a sense of achievement as Mark Waghorn confirms over the phone that I have cured the problem.

There follows a lengthy stretch passed Murcia towards Almeria where an arid moonscape has been created by the constant excavation of the hills to provide a raw material for the Curtidos factories.

A fifth magpie.

The mileometer hits 66666 so I speed up to 66 mph to give some shape to this numerical wonder.

I am very, very bored by the drive now but hearing my family’s voices – for the 10th time today – stirs me on. I have by now lost count of the number of times I have filled Dolly’s tiny fuel tank or paid toll charges.

The whole of the Eastern Costa del Sol is under plastic tarpaulins. This region is known by the locals as “the Plastic Sea”. For such a shrouded area there’s little surprise that a local town is named “Vicar”

The first signs for Malaga –219 kms. At last!!!

About 120 kms from Malaga the Autovia del Sol – the main trunk road from Barcelona to Algeciras becomes cobbled – well not quite. It is stopped by traffic lights outside the tented suburbs of Motril.

The E15 becomes a charming twisty road through some very picturesque – and some not so – white villages. It reminds me of the old Corniche along the Côte d’Azur.

Eventually we are forced to hill climb. Only a couple of times approaching hills around Alicante was I required to change down a gear, I now have to take most of the next ten miles in second. The far sides of such ridges are a roller coaster for a 2cv. Dolly may be unhappy on steep gradients but the trip down is hairaising. The turning circle and cornering are dire. I am convinced a couple of corners are taken on two wheels.

Finally, I am onto the all too familiar stretch passing Malaga airport.

The mileometer reads 67299. I can hardly believe I’ve done it – in two days with about twelve hours a day behind the wheel – or should that be behind a juggernaught.

Post script – in 2006 following many years of truely faithful service and after a number of months of “tricky” engineering issues Miss Dolly is returned the UK for a complete rebuild!

© Mark FR Wilkins 2003 (Iberia)

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Iconic Beach Cars

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As many return from overseas holidays, stay-cations and City breaks I wanted to send a “wish you were here” digital postcard – also my 300th Aestheticons post – from a wonderful visit to France’s Cote d’Azur, more particularly, the iconic French beach-side town of St Tropez with it’s simply beautiful pastel shaded port.

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Fame was assured for this picturesque coastal town when the 1950’s French actress, Brigitte Bardot, born in 1934 and still a local resident at Baie des Canebiers, featured in the 1956 Roger Vadim directed and ground breaking “And God Created Woman” (“Et Dieu Crea la Femme”). Mdme. Bardot’s impact on the region has been honored by local baker “Senequier” who in 1956 launched the delicious “La Tarte Tropezienne”, a delicate almond cream filled brioche topped with powdered icing sugar and chopped pistachio.

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Shot on location in and around St Tropez the film also provided a springboard for the world renowned beach club/restaurant “Club 55” that was founded from a dilapidated beach shack by the parents of current owner, Patrice de Colmont, who provided food for the cast and crew of filmmakers. Rumored to have recently been offered €30m for his iconic beach club M Colmont is understood to have politely turned down the offer as he preferred not to become one of his clients eating the signature dish of “Panier des Crudites” with anchoiade mayonnaise!

The town’s along this stretch of the Cote D’Azur are each rather distinct and have their own style. The beach is never far from people’s minds as they negotiate, sometimes to the frustration of the locals, the summertime traffic of fellow tourists.

Naturally in this style capital it is vital to get your beach or port transport right. For those not seeking to impress in the vast array of American muscle cars that are to be spotted in many locations, my preference is to celebrate the more quirky and classic vehicles.

Aestheticons readers will already know of my passion for the GRP bodied Citroen Mehari – see our previous post here – Citroën Méhari – A reliable French classic that is patriotically supported and really enjoyed in St Tropez and its surrounding villages.

The Mini Moke, which has the look of a vehicle that was designed for the breeze of the Cote D’Azur, is a very popular ride either to the beach or to park up alongside a visiting boat transporting provisions for a day at sea. For the the right clients it is possible to rent one of these wonderful and iconic cars for your stay. See our previous posts here – Mini Moke Goes Electric .

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Closer to the original Mini, I have seen parked in Grimaldi Village, a beach version with wicker seats and no doors, called the “Austin Mini Beach”. It was very beautiful and, I understand, extremely valuable! See our previous post here celebrating the iconic Mini – Mini – the best selling car in Britain

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The third leaf of this Fleur de Lys of wonderful beach and port transport is the Ghia designed Fiat Jolly based on the equally iconic Fiat 500 – see our previous post here – Fiat 500 – 1957-2017

Seemingly one of the most valuable of these iconic beach cars price points of $100,000 have been mentioned for these basket weave seated, frilled canopied expressions of Italian style.

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Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis is said to have had and loved his Fiat Jolly.

In 2108 this charming little car celebrated its sixtieth anniversary and to coincide the guys at Fiat commissioned Garage Italia to produce a reimagined version of the Jolly, limited to 1958 editions, and called the Fiat Spiaggina.

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Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – Hemmings Car Auctions and Garage Italia/FIAT

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London’s Iconic Bridges – Vol 1

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Having lived away from London for the last few years, I am occassionally asked where I am from. There is no simple answer but really the place I feel most at home is London.

Whether London is sweltering in 30 degree temperatures or chilled by the “Beast from the East” it is the location of many of my most happy memories and I suspect I shall return for good one day.

Architecturally, London has spent years reinventing itself. From the horrors of post War Modernist utilitarian blocks to the gleaming chrome and glass of the City and Canary Wharf, this New London is starting to look really good again. Developments that have been in planning for years are realised and have turned derelict Thamesside into smart, if expensive, but hugely desirable riverside addresses.

The Battersea Power Station development, with its new tube station due to open in 2020, is a fine example – see our previous post about BPS here – Battersea Power Station.

The Thames, that flows West to East through London, its name deriving from Celtic and Latin sources meaning “dark” gives London its name. It is suggested that the roots of  Londinium means the flowing river or the wide flowing unfordable river. Inevitably this has meant that the Northern and Southern banks of this wide river require to be crossed by bridges. The bridges of London have spectacularly contributed to London’s skyline.

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The earliest and perhaps the most historically important bridge is the iconic London Bridge. The present concrete and steel construction was opened in 1973 and its modest form belies a history of several important bridges over nearly 2000 years.

The City of London and its south bank neighbour of Southwalk, assisted by sand, gravel and clay on the adjacent banks, have been connected by some form of timber pontoon or rudimentary bridge since around 55AD. There followed a succession of bridges, including the Old London Bridge which stood for around 600 years, being finally replaced in the early 19th century and then again in 1973.

The rumour that a Oil millionaire, Robert McCulloch, mistakenly paid $2.4m in 1967 thinking that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge has been subsequently denied. London Bridge was moved stone by stone – at a further cost of $7m – to its new home at Lake Havasu City in the US State of Arizona.

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In my modern love story with London, Albert Bridge has played a key role. It is simply the most iconic and beautiful bridge.

Many will know that it’s frail. A sign warns marching soldiers to “break step” whilst crossing and rumour has it that the timbers are being severely affected by dog urine thought to come from those mutts who end up running around Battersea Park on its south side. When lit by 4000 LED lights against a London summer evening’s sky it is magical, so much so that our kids when toddlers always called it the “Cinderella Bridge”.

Albert Bridge stretches over the Tideway of the Thames joining Chelsea to the North with Battersea to the South. In 1860 Prince Albert – the then Queen’s Consort – suggested a Toll Bridge be built to alleviate the congestion experienced on two adjacent Bridges – Victoria and Battersea – the owner’s of the profitable latter being bought off by Act of Parliament and a takeover once Albert Bridge was completed. It opened as a toll bridge 1871 but the concept was not a commercial success.

It was designed as a cable-stayed bridge and built by Rowland Mason Ordish a master architectural engineer with the Royal Albert Hall and St Pancreas Railway Station on his CV. A dozen years after its initial construction Sir Joseph Bazalgette, famed for his work on London’s sewerage and water system, added elements of a suspension bridge to improve its soundness.

In 1973 two concrete piers were added for extra stability. Given its unusual history and its striking majesty the bridge now holds Grade 2 listed status from English Heritage.

A narrow bridge its struggle with motorized transport is ongoing. On both the North and South approaches there are bollards that sit, I am told six feet apart, that account for many dents on the doors of passing “Chelsea Tractors”!

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The most recently opened of London’s iconic bridges was initially opened in June 2000. Informally named the Millenium Bridge it is a steel suspension bridge built at a total cost of £18.2m from a design by a consortium comprising the Arup Group and the firms of architectural knights Norman Foster and Anthony Caro. It won a RIBA competition for selection. It spans the Thames between Bankside and the City – below St Paul’s Cathedral – giving the bridge the most engaging aspect across the river.

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Within days it had closed and became known as the “Wobbly Bridge” due to its alleged swaying of pedestrians – a recently understood phenomenon. Two years later after extensive modifications with the addition of viscous-fluid dampers to increase its stability, it was re-opened in February 2002.

Image Credits – used with grateful thanks – “London Bridge at Night” by Alison Day/Flickr. “Albert Bridge” – A Travellers View http://www.trover.com Joe Parnis and http://www.MrSmithsworldofphotography.com, Millenium Bridge – Foster & Partners

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The Spirit of Ecstasy

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I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

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The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

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Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

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By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

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Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

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As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

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Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

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Bonne Maman Jam

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Click here to buy from AMAZON – Bonne Maman Blackcurrant Conserve Jam, 370g

As many of you know I am a huge admirer of many French products. My list includes Duralex “Picardie” glasses Duralex Glass – Picardie a favourite mustard, Maille – Maille Dijon mustard , a favourite polo shirt, Lacoste – Lacoste Shirt , three favourite cars from Citroen Citroën 2CV Citroen DS Citroën Méhari , my favourite fragrances are from Chanel including Chanel Egoiste and I really like Baccarat glassware – Baccarat Chrystal Paperweight .

When it comes to my favourite jam then that trophy goes to the black fruit jams including  Blackcurrant and Blackberry coming from the fine kitchen of Bonne Maman. “Bonne Maman” literally translates to “Granny” and the company stresses that its recipes are traditional – perhaps suggesting they may have been handed down by a Grandparent.

The pretty jar and screw topped lid – draped in a bistrot-style gingham-tablecloth pattern – both enjoy certain Intellectual Property protection around the world. The designer of this iconic packaging, including the quill-like script, was Pierre Roche-Bayard.

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The simple presentation is in the style that you may have seen, possibly produced by any older relative and sold at your local equivalent of a Farmer’s Market, at any point over the last fifty years.

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Click here to buy from AMAZON –

Post World War II, Jean Gervoson and his co-founder Pierre Chapoulart established the  Andros agro-business, in the Department of Lot in South West France. They decided to make jams from the fruits – primarily plums – that remained unsold. The business developed during the 1960’s and in 1971 the Bonne Maman brand was launched.

Jean’s sons Frederic and Xavier continue to be in charge of the business and its various divisions. Since 1997 Bonne Maman has diversified launching of a biscuits, desserts and pastry /muffins ranges.

Unsalted, perhaps French…., butter on a lightly crisped tartine – a day-old toasted and halved baguette – which once coated in butter should be loaded with Bonne Maman’s wonderful jam. A perfect breakfast when combined with a good strong coffee.

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Don’t throw your empty jars away – sorry fans of recycling – as you may well be inspired to make your own jams or jellies and use the attractive jars as gifts for your pals.

Images – Courtesy of Bonne Maman

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The Arts & Crafts Movement

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In the latter half of the 19th Century, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, decorative arts were characterized by the ready availability of mass-produced objects that lacked style or craftsmanship. Around 1860, stimulated by the paucity of quality in design and manufacture, a group aesthetes emerged to challenge a perceived lack of public taste.

In 1861, poet, designer and social reformer, William Morris (1834-1896) founded a firm of interior decorators and household manufacturers, later to become known as “Morris and Company.” As a reaction to the machine-made products displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, which were seen as overly ornate and artificial, Morris’ aim was to recapture the essence of quality as demonstrated by medieval craftsmen. He believed that craftsmen should received pleasure from the fruits of their work.

The predominance of simple and manually executed forms combined with folk, Gothic or romantic styles and techniques were core to the Arts and Crafts Movement but of equal importance was a reaction against the squalid condition that factory workers endured.

Morris’ ideas, formed at Oxford University, lay in a fervent committment to social reform and his view that a the designer needed to be instrumental to the manufacturing process. Morris made his furniture and decorative objects commercially available from the early 1860’s both his philosophy and designs were very successful such that by the late 19th century, Arts and Crafts design in houses and domestic interiors was the dominant style in Britain. The Movement stimulate demand for the skills of craftspeople and it’s influence in architecture, sculpture, woodwork, ceramics and home furnishings is particularly evident.

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The term “Arts and Crafts”, was first used by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, at an inaugural meeting of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887. A close friend of Morris’, and a Barrister turned book-binder, he later ran the Dove Bindery in Hammersmith (West London) taking its name from the nearby pub, “The Dove” –  (Ed. a particular favourite, charming Riverside pub). As can be seen in our featured image, a first exhibition was held a year later at London’s New Gallery – now the site of Burberry’s flagship store at 121 Regent Street London – at which Morris’ products were prominent.

The Society still exist but now known as “the Society of Designer Craftsmen”.

The Movement’s was equally inspired by the ideas of architect and designer, Augustus Pugin (1812–1852) and the writer John Ruskin (1819–1900) –  a social reformer who stressed that products should be crafted and desired by contented craftsman.

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Founded in 1875, Liberty & Co., – based in London’s Regent Street – became prominent retailer of goods in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement has been profound and enduring with the likes of Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, a Yorkshire oak furniture maker who was active in the 1920’s, an era  that saw an Arts and Crafts revival, carving a mouse on almost every piece – seen here on an early cheese board.

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The Arts and Crafts Movement clearly led to the establishment of the Art Nouveau style and commentators have detected elements of the Movements influence in the 1951 Festival Of Britain and in the works of respected designers such as Sir Terence Conran see our previous post Bibendum -The Michelin Man

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Solex 2

Increasingly dependent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible I have noticed a rise in commuters using electrically operated bicycles and small motorized scooters. They seem to offer limited comfort and even less protection for the rider who, for an inexplicable reason, think they have the power of a large Harley, BMW or Honda at their fingertips and get themselves into precarious positions on the road causing much frustration to others.

In a far gentler era the predecessor of these street demons was VéloSoleX or more frequently referred to as a Solex which was moped – or motorised bicycle – originally produced by Solex who were based in Paris (France) and founded by engineering friends, Maurice Goudard and Marcel Mennesson.

Designed by Mennesson during World War II, the Solex was produced between 1946 and 1988 in a variety of versions largely utilising the same technology of a motor with roller resting on and driving the front wheel of the bicycle.

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Being very competitively priced and hugely economical to run, the Soles was a massive success. In total it sold in excess of 7m units. In 1947 even BP created “Solexine”, a pre-mixed  oil and petrol mix for the Solex’s two stroke engine and sold in a 2L can. By the late 1940’s Solex was selling 100 units a day rising to 1500 a day by the mid-1960’s – when it was blessed with a new maximum – though limited – speed of 30 km.

The company now makes a range of electrically powered bicycles. An early version, designed by Pininfarina, was launched in 2005 as the E-Solex.

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By 2014 the Solexity Infinity was launched, again from the pen of Pininfarina – with capacity to travel up to 80 km on one charge – at the costs of around €2,000 – keeping the brand alive!

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As French as the Beret, Brie and Baguette, the Solex, a classic French icon of the mid-20th century, has a very special place in my psyche as I explored the opportunity in the 1980’s of importing them into the UK. It was perhaps my first brush with the ever increasing dominance of the words “Health & Safety” in our national idiom.

I was required to deliver details to the Ministry of Transport who after some consideration and lots of teeth sucking, decided that the fuel tank, which was then made of a reasonable durable plastic was too feeble to withstand any front-end impact and the risks of fire were too great.

Solex also commissioned various evocative advertising posters, which in their own right are increasingly collectable.

Solex Poster a

For our French speaking friend’s – we know who you are – the equivalent of a an Owner’s Manual for a Vélosolex is a must – Le Guide du Vélosolex click the Amazon link below the image to get yours!

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Le guide du Vélosolex

Why not pick up a classic French VeloSolex enamel sign that will look at home in your Gite in La Gironde, on the wall of your Flat in Fulham or your Man-cave in Manchester! Click the AMAZON link below the image

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX LE VRAI BICYCLESD2C56E9B-03F2-4C9E-AF3A-13C55668EEA2

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FRENCH VINTAGE METAL SIGN 40x30cm RETRO AD VELOSOLEX REFERENDUM 2

I love VeloSolex – and all this little motor cycle represents – you can too with this iconic T Shirt! Please click the Amazon link below the image 

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Velosolex Moped T-Shirt. Gents Ladies Kids Sizes. Bike Cycling France Motorcycle:X Large – 48″

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks – Solex SA