Thursday, February 5, 2009

Castles Made of Sand ... and Tilting at Windmills ….. it’s the folie d’été in the Charente !!

Previous Blog Entry - dateline 06 August 2008

Summer Madness is apparently not just a British Thing. The Seasonal Heat does seem to bring out the ridiculous in all Nationalities, and the French are no exception.

Over the last few weeks the sun here has been shinning almost non-stop and we have had temperatures well into the mid-thirties. Good news for the ardent sun worshippers among you and time to benefit from lazy days lying on the Beach for those within easy striking distance of the coast.

Here in the Charente we are equally fortunate to have our lovely River, and its various life-guard patrolled "bathing beaches" which at this time of year are a bustle of children and bronzed teenagers, playing without a care in the world. Water quality has been good this year with most of them receiving ratings of the highest level. The French Government has its own website ( in English) where you can check out the current pollution ratings of over 350 locations in mainland France ( both seaside and inland ) before you "take the plunge" .....(visit the site here) .. so you can happily sit back and relax whilst the youngsters build their sandcastles and throw sand and water at each other.

Environmental Quality is big news here in France at the moment, and Green Issues are at the top of most politicians' public agendas.

In a somewhat bizarre attempt to boost their green credentials, and under the banner of improving the quality of the environment for visitors to its Hotel de Ville , the newly installed socialist team at Angouleme City HQ have decided to create their vary own "beach" within the walls of the inner courtyard

And it might have worked !! .... you do have to wonder, however, if the lack of attention to detail (the obviously borrowed staff conference room moulded plastic chairs, and the palm trees still left in their white weave carrying sacks ... ready for return back to the Nursery at the end of the exercise) are the result of a lack of appreciation for good visual aesthetics or just a "penny-pinching" bureaucratic mind-set that thinks it really doesn't matter what it looks like ... just be pleased that we gave it to you !! . But I suppose at least they tried to follow the principle of creating a better environment.

Because when it comes to tackling the potential problems of global pollution by the adoption of renewable energy, the French have in general been very good.

They pioneered tidal barrages across the Estuaries in Western France, and have large scale hydro-electric generation facilities in the Alps. In our region recently there has been an explosion of small scale "wind farms" ... or "parc eolien" as the French call them

I took the picture on the left at the parc near Salles de Villefragnan. The site welcomes visitors ( with free public access all around ) and contains 11 slowly turning, almost majestic looking moving sculptures.

There is a smaller one just being finished near us at Xambes and the local Mayor has gone on record welcoming the turbines ( and the revenues they are bringing to the local commune !) in the English Edition of the Charente Libre newspaper. ( read the article here)

They appeared, almost overnight on our Eastern Skyline ... and as you can see from the photo I took today, do contrast dramatically with the sunflowers in a quite surreal way.

But I'm no "n.i.m.b.y" .... and from my recent trip to those at Jaladeaux, I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet, and in a funny way mentally calming and reassuring they were. I contrast this to visits I have made in the past to Power Generation Plants. ... Sellafield was dark, overpowering and really quite menacing ... barbed wire and sentry posts ... Drax B was like Dantes Inferno, vast plumes of billowing smoke and huge dirty stained cooling towers .. so, for me, a wind farm is a veritable joy !!

It's funny how we all tend to get deflected from the really important issues once we launch ourselves into a campaign in the public domain. Take the Dutch for instance. Lovely people, forward thinking, very laid-back, socially concerned .... and they just love windmills. ..... Apparently not !!

Take a look at another article that appeared in the Charente Libre the other week . ( read the article here) . Madame Mareille Schwartz, who left Holland to settle in France four years ago, has taken a very "undutch" dislike for the windmills that are being planned for her locality in The Vienne.

Whilst I am not dismissing her concerns for "due process" and proper public consultation, I can not agree with her fears on the noise issue. From my own recent observations I sat within 50 meters of a tower, and with the car windows closed could not really hear ANY discernable noise. In fact, we then walked and positioned ourselves mid-point between the road and the turbine, and the noise from the passing cars was considerably more intrusive and of far greater decibel levels. But then, unlike Madame Schwartz, I am not pursuing any public campaign ... just making my own mind up.

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