Ben Dirs

A humbling site (48)

Amiens - As I scanned row upon row of crosses at one of the many British cemeteries that dot north east France like ice-white scars, it was sobering, and a little humbling, to think that my great granddad fought on these very fields.

It certainly managed to put my little sulk over our dwindling stocks of Foamburst and Shreddies into perspective.

Click here to watch Tom and Ben's first video diary

My cousin has in her possession my great granddad’s mother-of-pearl bible, dented, family legend has it, by a German bullet. A cracking story, although given my record with mobile phones, he probably just sat on it after a few hot toddies.


What the old war hero, who would have associated France with little more than blood and death, would have made of the beady-eyed couples in their motor homes that wind their way past these long-silent battle grounds is anyone’s guess, but I’m starting to think they’re all a little bit odd.

Consider the envious, sideways glances as our Fiat Behemoth rolls into another campsite; the chink-chink of cutlery as another meal is taken in near silence in the rear of a dimly-lit vehicle; the mulletted Yorkshireman waxing lyrical, and loud, about the capacity of his chemical toilet at 7am this morning.

That said, when I peered into the gloom last night and noticed that our van had been out-nuttered by a couple from Scarborough, I felt a sudden urge to spring from my bunk and run a key down the side of it. It was only the thought that it probably had a force-field fitted as standard that kept me tucked up in bed.

I get the feeling it is, in the words of Cypress Hill, time to ‘cock the hammer’, put our technical frustrations behind us and steam into Nantes, where Wales begin their World Cup campaign against Canada on Sunday.

More gremlins, the specifics of which I won’t bore you with, mean I write this from a campsite near Amiens when we should be well past Paris by now.

For Tommy, who is lumbered with all the driving on this trip, that’s got to be a bit of a choker. Yesterday, I even felt a little tug of guilt and gladly posed for photos, blue Marigolds pulled up to my elbows, when he suggested I change the dunny.

I also felt a bit guilty last night when I realised the rustling of pen on pad coming from my bunk could easily have been mistaken for…ah, well, I’ve said too much.

Here’s to great granddad Dirs, to Wales, to the calm before the storm and to a successful Rugby World Cup. By the way, does anyone know of a decent barbers in Nantes? My hair goes from Phil Mitchell to Krusty the Clown in about two weeks and it’s just about to pass the David Hasselhoff stage.

ps. Why does the milk smell funny over here and what's the French for "Bubble perm"?

Ben Dirs is a BBC Sport journalist travelling around France in a camper van with Tom Fordyce. Click here to search for all of Tom and Ben's blog videos.

Comments  Post your comment

You may notice the map of France that has just appeared on this blog entry. It won't appear on every Tom and Ben post, but we'll try to update it as often as possible so that your can see exactly where they have been and get an idea where they are headed. And before you ask... you're right, they haven't got very far yet!

For those who want to see photos, we should have them right here on this blog later today. Fingers (and Marigolds) crossed.

Oh and please bear with us on Tom and Ben's latest updates (on the top right of this and every entry). They send these via a website called Twitter, which has been experiencing some technical difficulties. Confident that it will be working properly soon.

  • 3.
  • At 01:30 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Fiona wrote:

Ben and Tom

All our thoughts go to the men who gave their lives for us during the Wars.

Anyway about that Van. What are you doing with it when you finish the France trip?

I may want to buy it so I can follow the Tour De France next year?

  • 4.
  • At 01:47 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • nickc wrote:

Fiona-not sure if a camper van would have the necessary speed to keep up with the chemically fueled cyclists!

  • 5.
  • At 01:53 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Mark Braveheart wrote:

Interesting to see that the North west of France is in the top right hand corner unlike in the UK where it is in the top left handside. I guess this is another EU law change!

  • 6.
  • At 02:12 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • James K wrote:

Hi Ben,
When/if you do get down to Nantes, can you scope out the campsites and make any recommendations? Next Sat 4 of us will be heading towards Nantes in our own campervan and we will be in Nantes for the England Samoa game. Please leave any tips (and address of breakdown recovery companies on your blog for fellow campervan rugby fans!)

Safe driving

Ahem - at the risk of becoming a regular apologetic voice here, I would like to apologise to the people of north eastern France for labelling them as north western. It seems Mr Dirs could do with a refresher course in geography as well as French...

I have duly amended.

  • 8.
  • At 02:23 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Robert Donnellan wrote:

Hi Ben,

Big fan of your commentary and my friends are very proud that you have posted several of my comments on TMS.

If you get a chance you should check out the German cemetaries from WW1 - in my opinion their dead hve been treated appalingly, often blakc slates on the ground over mass graves just proclaiming "21 unknown German Soilders". They aren't even allowed to fly the German flag, 89 years later.

Maybe I might catch you boys in Paris for Ireland vs France!

  • 9.
  • At 02:44 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • andrew james wrote:

Site, or sight?

  • 10.
  • At 02:46 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Dartfordians Maca wrote:

Glad to see you're doing this little (or not so little) trip. I'm heading over for the England USA game on Saturday. 1st time driving on the continent. How have you found it? Really looking forward to the match but will have to forego the booze. Cue the sobs and violin music. But later heading for Nantes for the England Samoa game later in the month and will not be driving at all for a whole four day jolly. How is the weather over their (how typically British of me)? Have you come up with any useful travel games yet? Wilkinson out again. I wonder if I'll ever get to see him play.

Bon Chance Guys

  • 11.
  • At 03:25 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Seb in Nantes wrote:

Hi Ben,

The place to go for a decent haircut in Nantes is "Pop'n'Cut" at 22, rue des Carmes.

Seb in Nantes

  • 12.
  • At 03:31 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Fiona wrote:


Is it me or does that Camper Van, on the map, seem to be steaming towards Nantes like Alesana Tuilagi towards the try line?

On second thoughts, I think my eyes are playing screen tricks on me.

It looks like the Camper Van is steaming towards Nantes like Timothy from Sorry (80's BBC series starring Ronnie Corbett)is steaming towards his mother when he finally realises he has had enough and is going to give her a piece of his mind!!!

  • 13.
  • At 03:36 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Deano wrote:

Are there any official camp sites for the fans near Lens?
If not it's Friday night in Ostend and Saturday night in the car!

  • 14.
  • At 03:44 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Patdartagnan wrote:

Be careful with the trafficjam near Paris, try to avoid rush-hours, otherwise A1 A3 south perif A6 A10 and good luck Ha! Ha! Ha!

Well gents sounds like your having a wail of a time over there thus far, im heading to Nantes tomorrow for drinks, sun and banter, oh yeh and the wales game. An 11 hour drive from cardiff, stuck in a small car with 4 West Walian farmers with a terrible taste in music, lets just say im hoping the four bottles of strongbow im planning on taking give me the necessary strength to get there in a fit mental state to enjoy myself!

Look for you boys in a Nantes pub, ill be the one with a pirate themed hook hand, our homage to the future player of the tournament james hook!

  • 16.
  • At 04:02 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Patdartagnan wrote:

Hi Dartfordians Maca, it's not "Bon Chance", but Bonne Chance, "bonne" is the feminine for "bon". Moreover, in French nobody says "bonne chance" because this jinx instead we say "merde", no need to traducte it

  • 17.
  • At 04:09 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • sally wrote:

Sounds super so far. Very jealous that you are there already but heading over ourselves on saturday so can't complain.

Been prompted to reply to previous message from James K re campsites in Nantes. We tried to book the site closest to the stadium (Du Petit Port)for the Samoa match a couple of weeks ago and it is fully booked. We managed to book a spot at the Belle Riviere campsite which is a little further out but looks to be within reasonable stumbling distance. At the risk of sounding old and sensible it may be wise to look at booking sooner rather than later.

Have fun chaps

  • 18.
  • At 04:29 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Dickie Bird wrote:

Smelly French Milk ?
It's probably because you've bought UHT - horrible stuff - IMHO.
Fresh milk will be in the chiller cabinet, next to the butter

  • 19.
  • At 04:48 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Ghonda wrote:

Hahaha - very good video, keep up the good work fellas.

  • 20.
  • At 04:49 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Alex Glover wrote:

Ben and Tom,

We are travelling to France and Marseille for the quarter finals with a motor home that from your video seems to be quite similar!

the one we have hired (which will finacially ruin us if we clip it!!) is a monster Carioca 656 4/6 Berth thing?

Anyway, seeing as we will be travelling down the same way to marseille, can i suggest a race?

Meet in Lyon 4th October, under the clock tower (if it exists) at 9am and its a winner takes all race to the port of Marseille! The Winner must be the first in the barmy army tent and down a pint of guiness.


  • 21.
  • At 05:05 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Dan wrote:

So ahh, any chance of some rugby talk on these blogs???

  • 22.
  • At 05:19 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • ben hathaway wrote:

I'm also involved in said motor home madness Lyon to Marseille avec Mr Glover. Am keen on a wacky races style event versus yourselves. Potentially with some additional clauses ? ?
Meantime - keep up the blogs - helping us through the working day.

  • 23.
  • At 05:50 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Chris the drummer wrote:

Sod the rugby - more comedic video diaries!!!

Producers of Radio 5's Fighting Talk - I spy some new panellists.....

Flickr has arrived on the blog! (see the right-hand side)

Tom and Ben will regularly upload photos to BBC Sport and 5 live's Flickr group. So check in to see how the camembert cheese is festering in their mobile home.

But we also want to see how you are soaking up the big event, be it in France or elsewhere.

Upload your RWC photos to our Flickr group

  • 25.
  • At 06:36 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Matt B wrote:

Having seen the photos, those cartoons are pretty poor! Did you choose the best ones from some CDs or is someone at the BBC about to get fired?

  • 26.
  • At 08:51 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Phil Thomas wrote:

So, what's the route you lads are following (sat nav or printed directions from Multimap or just a map.) Me and my dad are heading over on Saturday for the Wales match and staying over at Garde De Sud Hotel; Apparently its just 15-20 mins by train to the stadium from there.

I still don't think he can believe he's going. Now if we can only smuggle Henson in the trunk and bosh Jenkins over the head so he doesn't realise we actually have a 12 playing 12 on sunday instead of trying to convert umpteen thirteens into the position we'll be sorted.

  • 27.
  • At 08:57 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Cassidy wrote:

Hang on. If you're heading for Nantes and then on to Bordeaux, you'll be passing through La Rochelle, which is handy for 3 reasons: it's the only real rugby town of the three, it's often described as France's most unspoilt seaside town and it's also where I happen to live. You could do worse than Corrigan's Irish pub near the market ( Small, cosy, big on conversation/music. 90% French clientele too so you can have a bit of banter with the rugby-loving locals.

  • 28.
  • At 09:13 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Tez wrote:


If you call in at Pop'n'Cut in Nantes, ask for "la coupe mullet", perhaps a tad more appropriate than the Bubble thing for this trip ? Also from the video, maybe not an impossibility !?

On the rugby front (nearly there!), just watched the Setanta Sports preview programme and one of the presenters (who should be ashamed) called Bernard Laporte, the French coach, a clown ("un clown", surprisingly). Woa... bring on the Argy Bargy!

  • 29.
  • At 11:16 PM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Ben Dirs wrote:

Fiona - alas, the van is being hired from a bloke called Paul from Romford. If you've got 40 grand handy, I'm sure he'd be happy to let you have it.

James K - myself and Tom are booked into a place called Camping Municipal du Moulin just outside Nantes. Apparently we're booked in, although Iforgot to give them my name. Also, I think we might need somewhere a bit closer to the centre. We'll see...

Robert Donnellan - Hello mate. I haven't seen any German cemeteries over this way but I've seen plenty over in Verdun. The ones I saw seemed pretty well kept, although they're not as spanking as the French or Allied graves. I suppose that's what happens when you lose a war...

Dartfordians Maca - Maca, Tom says: "With Dirsy on map-reading duties and Donny Hathaway on the stereo, I feel like I could drive to the moon and back." As for the weather, it's whacking it down outside at the moment as we sit in our van in Rambouillet, just north of Chartes, but it's noticably warmer down here. Oh, and definitely stay off the booze, really clamping down on it during the World Cup apparently.

Seb - Legend. Pop n Cut? They're not really going to give me a bubble perm aare they?

Jameso - We'll be looking for you and your mates. I was just saying to Tom, they should have picked Jones at fly-half...

Dickie Bird - Good man, we had to chuck the other stuff out today and it still had two weeks left on the best before. And there was me blaming the Camambert.

Alex Glover/Ben Hathaway - See you there big man. Your arse is grass...sorry...Ben, extra clauses: if you beat us, you have to have a running, swimming and cycling against Fordyce, double or quits.

Phil Thomas - I'm using a trusty old map made of paper. TomTom, load of old rubbish.

Mike Cassidy - Thanks for the La Rochelle boozer tip, make well take you up on it.

Tez - mullet? That's fighting talk where I come from!

  • 30.
  • At 03:18 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Stefan wrote:

Hi from NZ! Enjoying blog and general banter a lot, although it makes me wish like hell I was in Europe at the moment!
Will be some weird game-watching times down here, but a healthy ex-pat community to do it with (a local Auckland rugby club even held an end-of-season 4-nations tournament).
Local press here is quietly confident of the All Blacks but, perhaps suprisingly, not all-out gung-ho: wording is cautious in parts while avoiding the word 'choking' at all times..
Happy touring all!

  • 31.
  • At 04:47 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • the Essex welshman wrote:

Just heading off to Nantes to cheer on the boyos. Can anyone recommend a good bar?

Is it me or is the word 'humble' always used in the world of Rugby.

Brings back memories of 2003 when every England player said is all the time!

That's my humble opinion anyway..

  • 33.
  • At 08:06 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Singe wrote:

Off to Nantes in a couple of weeks for the Samoa game - assuming I survive the overnight St Malo ferry with the 3 clowns I'm going with. Let us know where the best bars are...

Hi Guys

I look forward to being royally entertained as you wend your way through La Belle France.

When you get down towards Bordeaux, drop in and we'll ply you with Pineau. If you've got any English sausages with you - please keep 'em, we'll pay you a fortune for them.

  • 35.
  • At 09:24 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Stuart wrote:

Re: German Cemeteries, there is no organisation like the CWGC in Germany, however every summer German schoolchildren ans students volunteer to travel to France and spend 2 weeks tidying up the graves, doing routine maintenance and planting flowers, this keeps the memory of sacrifice alive with the current generation, maybe we should do the same.

  • 36.
  • At 09:33 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • nickc wrote:

If you find yourselves in Montpellier there is a great Irish bar (name now forgotten but probably something predictable like Kelly's)on a side street. A couple of years ago I found myself sans petrol and wallet at midnight(long story)trying to drive to Toulouse after work flew me into the wrong airport. Not only did the girl running the place (called Sonia and rather attractive)buy me a beer but she also lent me the money for a hotel until I could get to the bank in the morning!

  • 37.
  • At 09:35 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Matt Docherty wrote:

The international transportation of meat, and pork in particular, involves very complex and ever-changing regulation. Doing it in France further complicates the issue due to the mutiple layers of meatocracy involved(Licence de Vendre etc). Whatever he offers you for your sausage I'll double the price and throw in some pains aux chocolats for good measure.

With regards to Matt's rather opportunistic comment. I'll see your pains aux chocolats and raise you a bottle of Pineau, but only if the bacon and baked beans are included.

  • 39.
  • At 10:13 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Mike P Oxford wrote:

What is all this talk about campsites. You can park a camper van in any car park in France - unlike Britain - and some have facilities for water disposal and fill up.
Not convinced that La Rochelle is on the road to Bordeaux from Nantes unless you want a diversion to the coast.

  • 40.
  • At 10:45 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Tom Knight wrote:

Good video gentlemen (or should i say lady boy Ben?) though i think that your exposure is a little off from time to time! haha. Hope you're having a good one. T

  • 41.
  • At 11:44 AM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Matt Docherty wrote:

I'm afraid my home-made eau de vie could never match Neil's cognac- based charantais aperitif. Probably for the best as the last trans-channel pork produce cartel i stumbled across ended in disaster. Baked beans are fine but enter a grey area once the tin is opened - best to consume all in one go then discard the tin in an appropriate manner.

I'm sure Matt's eau de vie would knock our pineau into a cocked hat. The last one we tried round here tasted more like Nitromors - got better as the tongue grew numb. We would have considered a pork running cartel, but our local pig farmer might have been a tad upset - he certainly was when I suggested a Cumberland recipe to him - it's amazing how many swear words you can pick up on if you listen hard. Mind you, being shouted at at about 100db helps too.

It's just occurred to me that perhaps we ought to be talking about rugby rather than various English and French foodstuffs - sorry everyone.

  • 43.
  • At 02:56 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

A bit of humble pork pie would do us all the world of good......helps put things into perspective etc.
I'm counting down the clock to tonights game.....despite my tenuous French Connections I am secretly hoping that Argentina will fly out of the blocks and put one over France(obviously this is no longer a secret). Both teams will still qualify anyhow and it would be interesting to see France play a quarter final in Cardiff during their own world cup.

  • 44.
  • At 03:04 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • robfrith wrote:

Looking at the Ossuary at Douamont, I found it rather sobering that the piles of bones were unidentifiable as French or German. Really smacks of the futility of war, nationality really doesn't matter when you're blown to bits by a Howitzer.

However, it does matter when you're kicking seven shades out of each other on a Rugby pitch......

Hey Ben,

I'm about to learn to drive - maybe we could have lessons together.

How come you've never got round to learning?

And what do you do when Tom needs a nap?

Peace out,

The Mooj

  • 46.
  • At 06:33 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Ben Dirs wrote:

The Mooj - Dunno really, just never got round to it. If you're blonde, 5ft 10 and built like Daisy Duke, I'll happily learn to drive with you. If you're a bloke, I think I'll give it a miss thanks. What do I do when Tom needs a nap? I take to my bed with a well-worn copy of Women's Weightlifting.

Neil Proctor - Thanks mate. We'll be in Bordeaux next week. Let us know some more details nearer the time.

  • 47.
  • At 11:53 AM on 08 Sep 2007,
  • Simon Smith wrote:

Whilst waiting for the France/Argentina kick off, we noticed that BBC2 were showing “Bill Oddie’s top ten British birds”. Naturally later that night we set about creating our top British Birds rugby side: Crow, Seagull and Raven in the front row (a formidable and nasty combination), Heron and Swan at Lock (height), Buzzard, Osprey and Golden Eagle in the back row – power, speed and athleticism. Kingfisher at scrum half (decision making and darting speed). Woodpecker at fly half (intelligence and grace), Swift on left wing (obviously), Barn owl at inside centre and captain for his power, intelligence and obvious game reading skills, Grouse at outside centre (sudden burst of speed and a barrel chest), Kestrel on the right wing (every team needs a good sized and quick winger) and Sparrow hawk to clean up at full back and attack the line with real pace. On the bench: Cuckoo and Magpie for the forwards (ball stealing skills) and Starling and Bullfinch for the backs (they try hard but just aren’t big enough). Coached by Tawny Owl!


You're more than welcome. My only concern is that we are quite rural/quiet and at 40 mins by Bloggernaut from Bordeaux we may be to tame and too far away for your tastes.

Having said that, if you fancy chilling out for a bit you can always use the pool and do some carp fishing - the weather looks set fair. We also have Wi-Fi so filing stuff would be straightforward. Incidentally Ben, as my wife used to teach Advanced and Defensive Driving she could take you out for a lesson!

The rules state I can't give you e-mail addresses or phone numbers, but it looks like if you click on my name on the blog entry it'll take you to our website. Failing that, just type "Le Moulin de Malineau" into Google Maps and it'll take you straight to us.


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