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  1. I find this age thing quite disorientating. My elder son will be fifty next year but doesn't seem that old. When I was fifty, his late mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The President of France is still in his thirties and his wife is in her sixties.

    In old age, one sees life retrospectively as if through a lens backwards; time is compressed. My thirty-seven years in the Navy seem to have the same storage space in my brain as six years at Coatbridge HIgh School. Thirty-eight years of married bliss seems like a brilliant one-night-stand - not that I would know anything about that. A twenty-five year old lad now seems like a teenager yet I was charge engineer of a submarine at that age - and the Battle of Britain pilots were younger..

    The good news is that, as President Macron has so ably demonstrated, a sixty-year-old woman seems like a twenty-something but with much greater depth. I have now reached the age when I can fancy a great-grandmother. 

    So, why the hell do people regard their fortieth birthday as a doomsday; it's only half-time. You may go on to extra time and penalties. Sixty is the new forty.

  2. An aged Scottish spinster cousin (who dressed like the Giles' cartoon of grandma) once said to me: 'You know, Eric, there is an old Japanese proverb which says: 'When your garden's complete, it's time to die.' That hit me hard at the time as my late wife, a keen gardener, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

    When I had calmed down, I grasped it's profundity. One should never stop pursuing an aim. When one has no further aims in life, it really is time to die.

    In similar vein, when I was a teenage paperboy delivering the morning papers, I read the headline in the Daily Mirror: SLEEP WITH BRENDA. It was the winning entry in a reader's challenge to identify what one would do if one was given the Four Minute Warning of nuclear armageddon from the newly opened Fylingdales Early Warning System. (In the nineteen-fifties, one really did worry about nuclear incineration). Ever since, I have made a habit of asking myself what I would do if I knew that I had only four minutes left to live but a good fairy would grant me a final wish.

    The point is: if you know what you would wish to do in your last four minutes of life, why not do it now while there's plenty of time?


  3. Whilst at St Denis, now a suburb of Paris but once a town in its own right, I had a private tour of the magnificent Stade de France, built to host the FIFA World Cup in 1998. (France beat Brazil 3-0 in the final). It is a thing of beauty. The separtely supported roof weighs more than the Eiffel tower.

    Things I never knew:-

    1. When the French won the World Cup, the team's communal bath was filled with champagne.

    2. There is a prison within the stadium for holding rowdy fans.

    3. Beyonce required both team dressing rooms for her wardrobe during a concert.

    4. Madonna refused to perform unless all the blue, bleu as the French say, carpets and paintwork were changed to pink. (They were).

    5. President Sarkozy got stuck in the lift beacuse he was too small to reach the emergency button (an apocryphal tale, I suspect).

    The stadium is certainly worth a visit.

    Photos top to bottom: The stadium; players' communal bath; police cell in stadium prison; me taking the field

    Stade de France 

    Jacuzzi Stade de France

    Cells Stade de France

    Players Tunnel 

  4. Whilst visiting the Stade de France, I also visited the magnificent Basilique de St Denis, the patron saint of Paris, on the outskirts of the city. St Denis is now a downmarket suburb but was once a town in its own right with huge historical significance for it is here that all but two of the French kings are entombed. Of the two missing kings, one died in Spain and the other, Philip 1, is buried in the Benedictine abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire.

    Amongst the multiple tombs in the basilica are the humble sarcophogus of 'Queen Berthe Big Foot'; the majestic marble tomb of Henry 4 and Catherine de Medici, the latter being immortalised in what appears to be an erotic pose; and the superlative but sobering marble statues of Louis 16 and Marie-Antoinette who were guillotined by the French revolutionaries.

    Philip 1 chose not to be entombed in St Denis alongside the other kings because he had repudiated his queen, another Berthe, and taken up with another man's wife, for which misdemeanours he was excommunicated by the Pope. Philip therefore considered himself unworthy of being entombed beside his fellow kings and asked to be entombed beside Saint Benedict (Benoit) as he knew that the good saint would forgive him his sins.

    There is a lesson here for HRH Prince Charles who has also divorced his queen-to-be, Princess Diana, and taken up with another man's wife, Camilla. As Charles is not a Catholic, the Pope cannot excommunicate him for this but when his time comes, there may be a question to answer over his entombment. He may have to be sent to Coventry - the Cathedral of course.

    In terms of tourist value, the Basilique de St Denis is virtually off the radar but it should be up there with Notre Dame, Versaille and the Eiffel Tower as a top four must-visit attraction. Apart from the tombs, the stained glass windows are breathtaking - and there are no queues.

    Photos top down: Rose window; tombs of French kings (some of); tomb of Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette; tomb of Philip 1 in the abbey of St Benoit-sur-Loire (on the right)

    Rose window Basilique de St. Denis

    The French Kings

    Louis 16 and Marie Antoinett

    St Benoit sur Loire