Wednesday 10 April 2024

Pulling wool over the eyes

Drug companies, bottled water companies, food company giants, domestic chemical purveyors . . .

We're in bullshit territory, and have been for so long that most people don't even notice it, but, in part, thanks to the free information out there on the net (not all of it reliable obviously) and in part thanks to a certain general angst that all is not good on our shared sphere perhaps people are beginning to question that what manufacturers and marketing agencies etc state may not in fact be true - at all.

Our bathroom sink has been semi-blocked for several months; we've tried the plungy thing, the coiled metal drain unblocker, taking the mysterious tubage under the sink apart and cleaning it many times hot water, vinegar and bicarb, shouting at it, and I even bought a bottle of blasto-drain or similar title but as it has to not contain anything very caustic because of our lovely reed bed, I was very doubtful that it would work - which it didn't.

None of it worked so I finally called the plumbers who turned up yesterday with a massive black plastic tube and suction handle - thing, and proceeded to grunt away for a good half an hour until finally the stuff deep within our 1980s bathroom system finally gave up and moved on towards said reed bed - lucky it!

After congratulating him on his skill and determination I asked about 'blasto-drain' and he said - beh, NON - faut pas! or, "do not ever use this shit or similar shit as it does nothing at all except cost loads of dosh and is very bad for the nature!" I could have hugged him except he would have been very frightened - it was so amazing to hear a young (very) person in the building trade stating such truths.

I worked - for my sins - in advertising for years (on the side of producing the visual elements for campaigns), so have clear memories of sitting in mind-crushingly boring meetings concerning the best way to dupe the public and the best way to sell as much as possible of whatever the products happened to be - anything from kitchen carpet (weird!) to dog food, paint, biscuites, shoes, office furniture, curtains and sanitary towels. I think it was at this meeting that I finally knew I had to escape . . .  'so, what colour should the fluid be? and which colour ribbon to dress the item with . . . flowers? ideas, Kate? 

In my head, I had whapped the boney, nicotine-drenched art director about the head with a fully saturated (blue fluid) sanitary pad and had ran from the room laughing manically into Oxford Street and all its over-stocked shops of unnecessary goods. In reality, I marked that as a point that I would up the writing and illustration and leave the easier money world of styling.

Back to the wool. It's continually being pulled, over-hyped, or even made to be a one and only option in the case of pharmaceuticals for example. Drugs certainly have their place and wonders such as antibiotics are life savers when used correctly, but maybe we should all be doing our own serious research into other ways of coping with aches and pains of body and mind. I've just listened to an excellent talk featuring psychiatrist Mark Horowitz who himself suffered for years while trying to get off antidepressants and other drugs which were added as his side effects required other treatments. It took him eight years and he now spends his time writing and lecturing to help similar sufferers find their lives again.

About ten years ago I went to see a nerve specialist in our old town as I was having very unpleasant and scary attacks in the face  - see very old posts a long time ago... After slapping me a bit he suggested that the 'beast was asleep' but as it would likely awaken again I had to take drugs every day . . . for the rest of my life. I explained that it was indeed intermittent and I certainly didn't want to take strong drugs (and they are very strong) forever, when there might be other possibilities. If I had mentioned meditation or restricting screen time - both of which I use to help the condition now - he probably would have eyed me quizzically then called for security to remove a clearly deranged person from his office. 

When I got back from the pharmacy with afore-mentioned box of drugs which he had insisted again I take, I read the first item on the side effect list: may cause suicidal thoughts. Great. I can admit that one or two had already sidled into my terrified mind, and I certainly didn't want easy access to any more . . .

Food companies. Writer flexes hands and approachers keyboard. Nope - enough for now. That's a massive rant for another time. Suffice to say the food industry pulls more wool over more eyes than anything else does. Check out Ultra Processed People, by Chris Van Tulleken. think I did a whole blog post about his book a while ago. A real eye-opener...

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Fateful encounters - good ones!

About two months ago I set about trying to find a useful 'Workaway' (for those who don't know - people that have signed up to said site to help out others while being lodged, fed and hopefully enjoying some cultural exchange) to help out in our scarily rampant early spring garden.

It can be a mixed bag - Workaway; we've found some fascinating, warm hearted and hard working folks over the years, and others who have wished to find themselves (or not) while smoking and sitting on the terrace, the work reluctantly done, without care and timed to the millisecond. 

The last woman, who arrived with allergies, barely concealed anger over her unraveled life and an annoying habit of telling me how everything should be done, gleefully announced after a few days she had contracted covid and would therefore be taking up residence in our almost finished gite, while I trotted backwards and forwards with carefully prepared meals. I consider myself to be a mostly very tolerant person, but I almost revelled in telling to remove herself to wherever she had appeared from. We are pretty sure that the covid deal was an excuse to settle in to our lives and welcome a steady stream of pity and food. We didn't contract the malady, despite her hissing into my face - don't put a comment on Workaway and I won't put one on you as she left.

I almost closed my account after that episode but decided she was just one amongst hundreds of good souls, ands therefore started a search for someone who knew a fair bit about gardening, and or DIY. All these types were well and truly booked up, and this time I really wanted someone with actual knowledge so I could show them the outdoor madness and say -off you go, lunch at 12.

After a week of no replies I was contacted by an enthusiastic young Swedish guy who issued me that although he didn't actually have plant knowledge that he was good humoured, hard working and 'self-propelled'. The latter part of the paragraph made me smile, and encouraged me to hit reply with a yes, why not.

I went to collect Gustav from Tours station late one evening, and despite that he had been on a bus for 50 hours, he was alert, super friendly and interesting. We struck up an immediate friendship as if we had known each other for years; the drive back a melange of discussions over politics, literature, nature, cookery - his next project is to take up chef studies.

After a very long lie in - understandably - he emerged blinking into the early spring sunshine, amazed at the early spring colour after a more winter-bound Sweden, and we continued our conversations over lunch. The next day he started on the work and despite a lack of knowledge was incredibly helpful in the garden especially with things I have rather had to give up on - moving rocks, gravel, reinstating collapsed rose structures, etc. 

Over the week he fitted in more and more with all of us, until it seemed as he was really living with us, and could continue to do so pretty much indefinitely. This is the best side of Workaway, finding someone who shares many interests, wishes to exchange things about their life and culture, and is genuinely enthusiastic about helping out and leaving their own positive mark on their hosts' lives.

I'm sure we will see Gustav again. And I wouldn't mind a trip to Stockholm one day to discover the city with a knowledgable guide. 

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Yeast wars

You either love it or hate it - the UK ad campaign re Marmite, or at least that was the last campaign I was aware of. I don't know what the Australian equivalent is for Vegemite but I wonder if they have such a divided opinion on their own dark brown yeasty substance.

I've been having an ongoing 'discussion' with an Australian friend for a couple of years now re the attributes of our respective oil-dark, salty spreads, and neither of us is going to back down and admit taste defeat. Interesting how our taste buds acclimatise to something from childhood days and stay with us - not everything; I did refuse my Mothers several attempts to get me to like Spam fritters, and I think that was probably a good self defence move.

So, I love Marmite, especially with a faint haze of jam spread over the top of said spread, just to add to the umami flavour. My mother loved it, my brother loves it, my at home family are indifferent - thus negating the total efficacy of aforementioned ad campaign; all French people I have offered it to hate it, and our 'Workaway' Swedish guest wrinkled his nose at the merest taste of the stuff. I think it is certainly a British comfort thing - tea and hot buttery toast with accompanying thin layer of Marmite, or thick if you are seriously tough.

Earlier mentioned friend kindly brought us a pot of the other one, and we gave it fair trial. Ezra thinks it tastes of liquid plant fertiliser, and actually . . . I know exactly what he means. Sorry, Will . . .

                                                               Vegemite Swedish test person

Saturday 9 March 2024

Londonia audiobook showreel

So, we're past halfway on the Londonia audiobook, and I decided we should make a small sample video mainly to let our Kickstarter backers know how it's going.
Obviously it's an audiobook so either just listen or watch the images that we had fun putting together - as you like.
Mark is creating a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape with all original music and sound effects, and I'm tackling the narration. Londonia is a big book and the audio version is a long project but we're thoroughly enjoying the process.
The audiobook should be completed by the end of April.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Crap neighbours and insurance companies.

So, already blessed with warm, friendly and fascinatingly interesting neighbours (irony...) on one side of our property, we gained another set on the other side last summer. 

Keen to welcome them and show that we wanted to be helpful and friendly, I went over with a bottle of fizz and duly said welcoming stuff. They seemed slightly bemused but accepted the bottle, and we had a brief chat about life, dogs and everything else. Their dogs in question were (another has been added recently) a small, annoying hairy yappy thing and a black morose looking hound. The bloke had nodded to our other neighbours - where in their yard are housed six bored, frustrated and over-vocal dogs - and had assured me that the black hound only barked a small amount at passers by and then would always stop. Cheered by this information and with a warm feeling that we now had some respectful and relatively approachable next-door dwellers I went home and felt slightly less annoyed by the baying on the other side of the hedge.

A few weeks later, I went out to attack a rampant rose area and found one limp grey chicken carcass, feathers scattered and obviously the victim of a dog or fox attack. Most of the other chickens, including our special ornamental ones, were missing. I wondered where the other bodies were; did foxes drag them off? None returned the next day and then I recalled having seen the black dog wandering around outside their house. On seeing the new neighbours I asked nonchalantly if it was at all possible that their dog might have been responsible for the chicken demise. They shrugged, all innocent and, beh, non . . . c'est pas possible, so I assumed it had been a fox or errant wolf/dog and apart from feeling sad, life went on.

A few days later I was in the UK and Mark rang to say the black dog had got into the chicken enclosure and had killed all but two of the flock. He was in a state of shock, not only from the massacre but the fact that the neighbours had come over at his request, acknowledged that the fault had been their dog - Mark had taken a albeit emotionally shaky photo of the beast in full kill mode - but had shrugged again and reluctantly said, desolĂ© - sorry. No, OMG, let us help you clear up; no, here, let me write you a cheque immediately, it's the least we can do, nothing. A big F you nothing, and a gruff mention that they would engage the insurance company to deal with it.

Then ensued much farting about with paperwork, all of which appeared to be down to us: drives backwards and forwards to our insurance company, phone calls, etc etc. That was four months ago. After more prodding, we received a letter stating that our carefully worked out claim of around 500 euros to cover dead chickens, wrecked enclosure, loss in egg production (considerable!) not to mention all the physiological stress which we obviously would receive nothing for was overreaching and that they required proof... this is where the farce element started. A quote from the chicken provider was required, although we had already furnished them with a receipt for the same amount for the original purchase... AND, a statement from said breeder as to how many eggs would be have been laid during the time we had had chicken absence. 

The breeder kindly cooperated and, surprise! the chickens now cost more, and we had very much underestimated how many eggs would have been laid.

Mark, who is surprisingly dog (no pun) matic about these sort of Kafka-novel dossiers set to it and sent them back every grain of info including the large hike in price. 

I fear there will no doubt be some further hoop to clamber through - proof of whether the chickens were not in fact actually terribly miserable and were thus grateful at the prospect of been mauled to death; or an insurance company team inspection of the compound to point out the fallible areas of fencing which enabled the dog to create a way through, or the fact that step ladders were available in the open garage which could be employed by said dog or any other dog in order to climb over if the fence was a slight challenge.

I wonder how much time and paperwork at the insurance bureau has been wasted on this pathetically small dossier . . . and we still have the pleasure of seeing the chicken killer jumping up on our wall and barking at us pretty much constantly when we step into that part of the garden. The saddest thing is the neighbours seem to consider that the dog was at fault, not them for letting it escape, and have now chained it to a wall. It, as with many 'country dogs here' are never taken out and spend their lives bored out of their naturally inquisitive minds.

If we ever get the money I may invest in a flashing neon sign to be mounted on their wall: Take your F-ing dog out, connards! No, obviously we will buy some more chickens, and maybe a few trees to plant in memory of our funny flock of weird Russian leopard spotted hens and the Peruvian one with earrings.

Saturday 27 January 2024

Human folly

Follies... odd little buildings without particular usage, playful, harmless. Folly, from the French (folie) meaning foolishness. Nothing wrong with a bit of playfulness in architecture, or your own pimped garden shed, but then there's the bigger and more scary version of the word, folly, which seems to be appearing with rapidity in this world of shrinking natural 'resources' and ever-increasing pollution.

After doing a spot of garden reconstruction yesterday, revelling in the very early signs of spring and feeling how important it is that we embrace all the smaller stuff: birdsong, shapes of trees, simple food made with as-local-as-possible ingredients, examining in detail our local environment, etc etc, I came indoors to start work on the audiobook and happened to see the front page of the online guardian. 

My peaceful thoughts transmogrified into utter incredulity as I stared at the picture of the latest and gargantuanly (if that's a word) huge cruise ship - Icon of the Seas. In a time of human shift towards a probable extinction event - yes it could happen; it's happened before many times - it seems unthinkable that people are still wishing and able to create bigger, grosser, plastic-filled, fuel guzzling atrocities such as this. 

But it's ok... it runs on green energy. Oh . . . yes, right. LNG. Natural gas - natural. It just appears magically without consequences of further climate disruption and vast levels of pollution. 

I personally don't understand the draw of cruises anyway. The few crossings I took on the piddly (in comparison) ferries between Britain and France I found only possible either by lying on the floor - preferably in a cabin - or standing on deck even in horizontal freezing rain. The idea of being trapped on a astronomically huge boat with around eight thousand other people - however manically happy they might be - (or not, if you are a member of the two thousand or so staff) is the stuff of technicolour nightmares, not to mention being swept along within a stream of slightly claustrophobic humans keening for on-land distractions when the mega-boat finally docks somewhere. 

The vessel has an infinity pool, so you can sit and look at a chlorine infested stretch of water hovering above the real ocean infinity, along with seven other pools and spas, a highly naff water park (thrill island), a 55 foot indoor waterfall (?!), and all the usual gyms, cinemas etc, etc. As far as food goes apparently there are forty ways to odd statement - on one leg? smothered in foam, being lectured by a rabid maths teacher, surrounded by hyenas, suspended above a giant vat of custard; sitting alone at a small corner table while Gordon Ramsey picks your meal apart - what the fuck is this!, naked in front of a gospel choir? and that's just seven . . .

Give me a small rowing boat and a tranquil river in early June - waving river weed, dragonflies, weeping willows, and a picnic, maybe with a bottle of Cava thrown in. Or just a flask of tea. That'll do.

Saturday 20 January 2024

Getting stuck in

Anyone reading this blog will know that I did a Kickstarter to raise funds for making my optimistic, post-apocalyptic novel, Londonia, into an audiobook.

I must say honestly that I didn't enjoy the process - at all. It's certainly not for me but we did get there after masses of hard work, and I was touched and amazed by the number of family, friends and acquaintances who pledged along the way to make the project a reality. Thank you so much to all of you. I'll keep you posted on the finished audiobook- we're still looking towards the beginning of April.

There have been some changes which have meant that the narration has shifted to me - an alarming prospect at the outset - and Mark doing the soundtrack; not just a bit of incidental music but a full on textural masterpiece, full of his compositions, collected environmental sounds from his vast back catalogue, and us making up things as complex as a gospel choir... I'm thoroughly into the narration thing now, learning as I go on less familiar accents and listening to the characters' voices that have sat in my mind for so long.

So. we're about a third the way there, and I will be producing a 'trailer' splicing together moments of tension, excitement, eeriness and humour to hopefully entice people to take a listen. 

Watch this space, as they say, whoever they are...