I have known my friend Anthony since we met in Leningrad in 1983. It was his invite to Melbourne which started me travelling downunder and opened up a whole new world.
Apart from my visits down there he has also made a number of trips northwards on the back of conferences he has been obliged (he assures me) to attend on behalf of his work.
However the conferences dried up a bit and my pension only just lets me go to my own coast let alone his. Thus when he announced that he was coming back this way we reckoned that it was some twelve years since last we saw each other.
Some things never change. I knew he was in Ireland for his conference then he was going to Budapest and then perhaps on to Germany to visit friends before coming to me. He had also given me a three day window of arrival.
Now if you were about to undertake a nine hour train journey you would think that a call beforehand to say - I am on my way - would be in order.
I checked out the timings of possible trains and stayed off-line so that calls could get through.
Late on the Saturday evening he rang from the Mercure Hotel; he had arrived much as I had expected him to. On time and without giving me the heads up. Of course if he had an I-Phone that worked and my French telephone numbers he would have been in a better position to work things out.
The Sunday morning I walked into the foyer and there he was. He has hardly changed at all, same mannerisms, much the same build - just Anthony, if a little greyer. Sadly we are no longer in our twenties, but both of us are in good health and reasonable shape.
Before going on too far we did a quick once around Arras and he was stunned to find that the town was as interesting as it is. He had been expecting a French version of Morwell.
I know that he is not that interested in my battlefields stuff but we did a motor about the area on the way home to give him an insight as to the places that I visit and would inevitably talk about.
For the rest of the week we pottered about the area sat up very late reminiscing and catching up and drinking more alcohol than I would normally do in a month.
After days of good weather Anthony had managed to arrive in a greyish spell but as the week progressed it got better and better, until by the time he was leaving it was up in the high twenties which is more than warm enough for touring.
We did a couple of local trips around the area including St Riquier where we not only visited the Abbey but also the small Museum of Rural Life which is attached.
Lots of apple crushers to remind us that Picardie used to make its own cider.
There was one item that I thought was excellent. A walking aid for kiddies. In essence a pole with a sort of toilet seat attached. You dropped the youngster through and he can walk around in circles.
St Wolfram's in Abbeville was a place that I had never visited. Once again on one of my visits it had yet to open in the afternoon but this time we had the time to walk along the canal a bit and up to the monument. By then the Abbey was open and we were able to look around inside.
I had always thought that Abbeville had been destroyed by the RAF but in fact it was flattened in the one night by the Luftwaffe. 19th May 1940.
Normandie is what, a 35 minute drive from the house, I can see its coastline from my beach at Quend - yet I have never been to any of the local towns there. So that was on the cards for a day's adventuring.
We arrived at the gloriously named town of Eu at about 1130 hours thus allowing us just 15 minutes to have a wander about the Abbatiale to Lawrence O'Toole (I thought I had misread the panel but no it is well that). Probably Peter's cousin.
This being France everything was now shut for lunch.
We wandered about the town which is full of history and connected to Duke William the bastard who married his wife Matilda in the town 16 years before setting sail for England (From St Valery).
There is a large château and park as well as a number of smaller churches and lots of twisty lanes.
Henry V passed this way in 1415 on his way to his encounter with Charles VI at Azincourt.
Having paced out lunchtime we continued down the road to Le Treport and parked up near the sea front for our picnic lunch. I was surprised. It would appear to be all pebbles on the far side of the Somme.
The sea front is a bit crap with some garish buildings that do not suit the area at all and Anthony was all for litigation against the constructors but the buildings are dominated in anycase by the cliffs that tower over them.
There is a funiculair but I made Anthony walk up the 365 steps to reach the cliff tops. There is an emplacement there where a large hotel used to be. It was eventually destroyed during the WW2 by the Germans who felt that it was too easy to spot and thus a good landmark along the coast.
We wandered along the cliff tops a wee bit and then took the FREE funiculair back down to ground level where Anthony paid for a beer. The day was getting warm and I still wanted to move on to Dieppe if we could.
The road seemed a bit long winded out of Le Treport but we managed to arrive in Dieppe about 1630 hours I would guess. We started our tour by heading up to the Seamans' Chapelle overlooking the ferry port. There is a German gun position just alongside it reminding visitors that this was still part of the Atlantic Wall created by the Germans.
Very pretty chapelle with a number of plaques pertaining to both wars; often very similar: struck a mine or sunk by U-Boot.
Trying to find our way back down to ground level was tricky but we eventually managed to park up just alongside St Jacques. We had certainly done our share of ecclesiastical buildings but they had all been very different and interesting.
Dieppe is a very pretty town with a fabulous sea front. The Canadians attempted to land here in 1942 and there are monuments everywhere to them, as a nation or particular regiments.
We were just a wee but too late to visit the Canadian Museum and the hill top chateau was by now out of the question as well - even if we could have found our way up there.
I had already told Anthony that there was no way that he could come all this way and then not visit Fromelles and see the location of the Cemetery which will be all over news media in a month's time.
We set out via St Venant and arrived just as Mme Rousseau was arriving at La Peylouse. She was more than happy to let us wander about the garden and provided us with a pile of literature about the region.
I then wanted to head towards Lestrem and Le Paradis for a page I am writing on the fall of France in 1940. Arriving at Le Paradis we followed the French sign for the British Cemetery. Found the monument but not the CWGC sign for the cemetery. We then noticed it pointing back the way that we had just come. Anthony thought that it would be behind the church but hey, what does he know about these things.
Having driven up and down between these two signs and having found nothing in the middle we asked a local. The cemetery was indeed behind the church.
In one of the most infamous incidents during the Battle of France 99 members of the Royal Norfolks were machine gunned by the SS Totenkopf Division as it was probably easier than carting them away as prisoners.
Two of the prisoners survived the massacre and although re-captured by other units lived out the war and eventually gave evidence at the trial of the massacre's instigator.
From there we continued our way on to Fromelles where we met up with some Belgians at the Cobber memorial. An old feller and two elderly ladies. They were Flemish but all spoke reasonable English and French so between the three languages we managed quite a good conversation.
By the time that Anthony and I had visited VC Corner and the Sousa Bunker we had caught them up at the village. We all wandered down to the original site and then back to the Cemetery which they had not realised was actually behind the panelling.
They were not the only people, because there were two French cyclists trying to look through the sides of the gate rather than through the windows of the viewing location.
We then went up to the Gallodrome where they very kindly paid for our beers. Anthony says that he wasn't surprised because I was being so informative.
The son of one of the ladies is a Hoofinspecteur in the Belgian Police. This it would appear to be a Chief as opposed to a Vet. He has a Gite in the town and she herself works for the Ypra Brewery.
Later in the evening we met up with my mate Florian at the Eurostar in Arras and one of the interesting thing of our conversation was that Anthony insisted that he was leaving Sunday but arriving Monday. I said that this was impossible as he looses a day in flying to Aus. Got home and checked his ticket - he was leaving Saturday not Sunday.
His last day of touring then was spent pottering about the Somme, we did some of the memorials but also spent time overlooking the river and marshes of the valley. It is all very pretty.
Having visited Villers-Bretonneux and its museum and memorial (It was not only open but actually warm up there. A far cry from cold and wintry Aprils), we set out for another meeting with Florian this time at Bullecourt.
Florian had been down in Paris all day organising his visa to see his Russian girlfriend. Anthony did assuage Florian's nerves by assuring him that I also was known to be highly impetuous.
Having accepted the fact that Anthony was going home a day earlier than advertised we decided that the Saturday was going to be a day of doing very little.
We lounged in the sun before leaving for Arras and his train early in the afternoon.
He had taken this notion that he wanted to buy me a present for my birthday/house warming present (7 years already, my life) and we decided upon a bread making machine.
His mother would be proud of all his battlefield trips (he has threatened to send her next time) and he rather surprised me by saying that he wanted to go and visit the Wellington Quarry before leaving.
And so a very good week came to an end. It was really fun catching up with Anthony. I just can't get over how little he has changed. He is still thinner than me but the pair of us seem to be getting old gracefully.
Hope it wont be another 12 years before he is this way again.