France, England & Kenya
We’ve just been visited for the second time since returning from France, by a dear French friend who has known us since the days I could rush up mountains without thought to visit her husband as he worked to conserve as much of the natural fauna as possible. She was delighted to walk from our house with Camilla and admire the grounds of an old estate hugging the edge of this quaint and practical little Georgian town she instantly fell in love with.
“Those gigantic trees!” One of our other European friends had once exclaimed.
We knew our French friend would also be impressed. London’s Richmond Park alone has more ancient trees than the entirety of France, indeed, England has more ancient trees than the sweep of land and countries encompassing the arc from Italy, Germany, France to Spain.
“It’s the Celts who worshipped them and so when Christians arrived, they had to respect this tradition,” I’d once explained.
As we chatted away, slipping between our rusty French and her perfect English, we noted how many words we have in common. “English is French badly pronounced,” I joked, though the truth is that English is a mix of many languages - Celtic, Saxon, Latin, Norse, even Swahili and Hindi. We explained that French still lingered, aristocratic families have spoken it since the Norman invasion, my own mother’s family spoke French, Gaelic and English at home.
England is still under the influence of the Normans. The old park, its handsome Elizabethan hall and its vast farmlands are owned by the same family who took it all from the Saxon lord and his subjects almost a thousand years ago, indeed, one of our friends’ old baronial pile has been in her family since that invasion, their French surname proves it.
I explained that our democratic Anglo-Saxon roots had us revolting against the hearty French way of ruling in 1215 and setting out the Magna Carta. I reminded her of les Fors d’Oloron, a similar contestation at roughly the same time against aristocratic rule by the people who inhabited that lovely Pyrenean valley which introduced me to her family 24 years ago. There they had a parliament representing each of the valley’s eleven villages, and each family elected their wisest to represent them in their village government, be she or he fifteen years old or fifty.
Once, when we lived in smaller units, we generally had a democratic system of governance. The Kenyan tribe I often talk about, were ruled by elected representatives who were more sensitive than we invading Brits gave them credit. Since long ago, women, for example, could divorce their husbands and the leaders would arrange for huts to be built for them and their children; compared to my own mother, divorcing my cruel father, had to flee white society without any monetary aid, hence our growing up alongside the Nandi.
Our feisty, vitally intelligent friend, who was over attending a pan-European environmentally driven cycling-routes conference, reminded us that we must all work as best we can to reduce Global Warming. If only we could regain that local political sensitivity, I’m sure things would improve, for locals are aware of the problems they face and know the best solutions. As they did in Saxon England, Gaul-ish France and tribal Kenya.