The Longest Day.
It was D-Day anniversary recently (June 6 1944, to save you from disappearing off to Wikipedia); I was reminded that it was almost ten years ago that I designed and built Southsea’s D-Day 75 Memorial sculpture with my friend Oliver. I have recently designed a memorial for the sinking of HMS Royal Oak, so it’s a bit of a sideline I’ve got going there.
My overriding memory of designing and building the D-Day sculpture is going to a quarry in Normandie to collect five cubes of Caen stone, each representing one of the five landing beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword: saved you again). The stones weighed around 100 kilos each and had the coastline of one of the beaches neatly scribed onto one side.
Originally I wanted to bring sand back from the Norman beaches to cast the stones in concrete over here. When I presented this idea to our French colleagues, it was clear that stealing or borrowing French sand would cause an international incident. So, after considering a Great Escape style bags in my trouser legs and realising I’d need to make 500 crossings, I settled on the more conventional buying of stone from a quarry. Not before a decent-sized bag of Norman beach sand did come back inside one of my bike panniers. Of course, it was just from my hair and between my toes after a shakedown. (‘You can’t’ = red rag to a bull).
When the stone was ready, we crossed the channel to collect it. It could have been shipped, but the trip to get it was part of the ‘art’. Plus, it saved some money and seemed like a good thing to do. So, off Nigel and I set on our D-Day adventure. A night crossing on the ferry and an hour’s drive saw us driving down a steep winding track into the quarry. We got deep into the quarry and were greeted by a somewhat confused-looking chap. ‘Nous sommes ici pour collecter les pierres du D-Day’, I say. Now I can order food, get a place to sleep, get directions, and probably talk a little about football. Still, my French is not really up to a full discussion about why we have turned up to a commercial quarry to collect half a tonne of precisely manufactured Caen stone in a pretty old Volvo estate!
The stone was stacked and wrapped on a pallet. Perfect for lifting onto a truck. Not such a good fit with Volvo! After quite a bit of swearing (French) and head-scratching, we convinced them to help us unwrap the stones and, with their forklift truck taking the strain, slide them into the back of the Volvo. Nigel’s confidence that it was only like putting five rugby players in the back convinced them it would ok. Mon Dieu!
Loaded, we get into the car to join our rugby players. A small crowd of bemused quarry workers has gathered to watch the spectacle. The tail of Volvo is close to the quarry floor, I looked nervously at Nigel, sweating hands clasping the wheel. “All we have to do is get out of the quarry, what happens after that doesn’t matter.” What he meant was: we cannot let this lot know what a couple of tits we are!
First goal achieved: It started. Then handbrake off, and clutch slowly up, and after what felt like a lifetime, we started to creep forwards. After a few creaks and groans, the old Volvo dragged us up those steep gravel tracks to the main road. Next thing I know, we are hurtling through the Calvados countryside. Five hundred kilos of stone over the back axle seemed to improve performance! After a stop at Leroy Merlin and my favourite restaurant in Caen, we head to the ferry port at Ouistreham. I wish I could say the drama was over. No chance. We are late (the food was too good and Leroy Merlin’s extensive range of DIY goods too compelling). ‘We are not missing that ferry,’ says Nigel. At the terminal, he is so intent on making the boat that not even a French Customs Officer standing in the middle of the road is enough to slow us down. ‘I think he wants you to stop,’ I suggest sliding deep into my seat. ‘Who does?’ ‘That lot,’ I say as the next barricade is harder to miss. Anyway, it turns out the brakes worked pretty well, and after a very close inspection, we didn’t have five cocaine containers in the back.
What happened to the Volvo? After we got the bloody stones out the back (not easy), she gave many more years of service around Portsmouth. She’s now in service in Senegal, transporting the local rugby team.
And the stones? Well, if you find them, a fine bottle of Chablis is waiting for you at Wines by the Sea, whichis featured in this week’s weblinks below. Any comments or suggestions you can get me at email@example.com
This Week’s Links: