Saturday, 4 July 2020

Losing my phone

The world belongs to those who check - a useful phrase I've adopted over the last couple of years, and usually it works, except a few weeks back I didn't check when leaving a gîte. About half way back home I realised I must have left my phone charging. It was annoying but I'd ask our very efficient host to send it back and reimburse her. Which she did immediately but the phone never turned up - 'lost' by Chronopost (never use them unless there is no other option, and then, don't, unless you wish to spend all your waking hours trying to navigate their complaints system - there isn't one).
So, life without a smart phone. I noticed, as when I first gave up coffee, a slight nagging sensation in my mind; something missing, something habitual, my index finger poised to prod that little round, slightly concave disc which would then wake a screen which would allow me to trawl, scroll, and distract myself for as long as desired. I didn't think I was addicted but the absence of the thing wakened me to the fact that I had - albeit a light addiction - been. How had people reacted to that last Instagram post? Should I post something new on Facebook? I'll just check messages/WhatsApp/ the weather/mail/google - what was the name of that Russian dog who was sent into space?  etc.

After searching about in the 'misc' drawer we found two old iPhones - a three and a four. I love the three with it's rounded corners and ultra solid feel but sadly it would be impossible to use now - and this was confirmed when I took it to the Orange shop. The seventeen year old assistant had handled the two ancient gadgets with a sort of wonder; how had people used such oddities? He sorted the sim card on the four and handed it back to me with a look of sympathy - good luck with the antique.
The phone works, in that I can call people, text, occasionally access Safari if 3G is awake enough, but not a lot else. Instagram is unattainable, Facebook, possibly, but my passwords don't seem to work. For a few days this was annoying. I wanted to share pictures of slumbering upside-down dogs, flowers, extracts of my writing, etc but after a while the urge sloped off to now be no urge - at all. I forget where the phone is, forget to charge it, forget it's presence unless I need to call someone. It feels good not to have the nagging sensation. The only thing I've really missed is the map apps as they save huge amounts of time when trying to locate a place - see last post... However I am paper map obsessed generally, and talking to other humans to get directions isn't a bad thing.
This may not last of course; I may feel deprived, left out, feel quietly derided for using such a scarred antiquity with its piddly screen. Or not. Maybe its a wonderful thing to reclaim that part of one's brain so drawn to those regular-as-clockwork tiny dopamine hits and be content to revert to using a phone for what they originally were devised for.


Thursday, 2 July 2020

If Kafka had ever visited an industrial estate

he might have been inspired to write a novella on the subject...

                                           Carcassonne before its industrial estates.

I hate these places generally, wastelands of land-fill producing companies, (on the whole), the odd coffee van lurking on a corner if you are lucky, and miles of interconnected roads leading to nowhere that all look the same with often insufficient notice boards decreeing which companies are there, and where exactly.
Yesterday, armed with the name and address of a removal company which supplies cardboard boxes, tape and suchlike, I ventured forth to afore-mentioned warren of roads and spent an hour and a half driving slowly around and stopping, much to the annoyance of courier vans, to try and fathom where 'Gerard' removals was located.
My phone has recently been stolen or 'lost' in the post by Chronopost (another rant to be ranted) and the prehistoric iPhone we found in a drawer won't do much more than call and text, so, no map apps, and very hesitant search engines, AND, I'd forgotten to write down the firm's number. I swore a lot under the shade of a lone tree - that's another thing about these places, or this one, there are no trees anywhere - and phoned Mark to ask if he could look up the info on his phone. He did, but it was another Gerard in the middle of town, and nothing to do with removals, so I drove around a bit more then saw another removal company called 'Cabri' so went in to ask if they know the one called Gerard.
Interesting the psychology of certain French women in a slight power situation. She calmly and briskly informed me that Gerard and Cabri were the same thing. I duly said that I'd been driving around the estate, and not for taking in the beauty of it, and why wasn't there a sign, or a name anywhere to indicate the presence of Gerard (Cabri) removals, and why did it not say on the website that Cabri was the name one should look for. She deflected my comments by demanding what I wanted, and, since it was nearly lunchtime and I would be then thrown out and a whole morning would thus be wasted I forgot the Kafka stuff, told her what I required, paid and was given the pile of flat pack boxes and shown the stairs.
A certain satisfaction crept back; at least I had achieved this minor task, and could now enjoy a quick lunch with Mark in the town square, and more importantly empty my bladder as too much tea before setting out was starting to be an issue, and I wouldn't have dared to ask if I could use Cabri's loo.
I arrived in the square, we chose a cheap bistro, ordered and I said I'd just nip to the loo.
'It was not allowed, madame' stated the waiter. Covid rules. I said it was extremely urgent, and what did they do when they wanted a pee. He said it would be a penal offence if were to use the loo, they didn't have the right cleaning 'materials' and air hand dryers were forbidden. Crossing my legs more, I asked where the nearest public convenience was. He pointed to the corner of the square and I hobbled off. It was out of order. I asked a policeman. He said normally the ones at the other end of the square under the raised stage area would be available but not for some time to come as various events were being put on and the loos blocked off with scaffolding. I asked where else was there one and he looked blankly about before pointing in the direction of Barcelona. Maybe over there . . . somewhere. Meanwhile my plat du jour was going cold. I walked more swiftly about through various streets, begged in a few bars, nope, not possible, even if I bought and downed a shot of brandy, which by that time I was beginning to need.
I peered back into the square. Mark was looking slightly worried, and my lunch was sitting there getting more gelatinous by the second. I walked around further away into some tiny back streets, considered a doorway until I noticed somewhere watching me with interest from an upstairs window. Fountain in the square? Forget lunch and drive to a field?


                                       How happy I would have been to find this beauty

In got back to the square and really began to feel a bit panicky.
Going to the loo in a café when you have ordered something is so utterly unthought about. It's just what you do. I've done it hundreds of times. It's the law for eating establishments: normally. But this is Covid time, and nothing is normal. Perhaps all these eateries shouldn't be open. Maybe all these waiters shouldn't be touching our plates without gloves on, or wearing their masks casually over one ear while discussing football with regulars. Maybe we should have been at home eating, but it was a special event. Mark has just left (desired to leave it) his job, and I had successfully not gone mad on an industrial estate.
In desperation I pushed open a very decrepit door in one of the square's buildings, went into a hallway hoping perhaps there might be a communal loo somewhere and then - crazed from bladder pressure and no food - went down a flight of stairs into a cellar which was full of old fridges and rotten wood. But no loo. I really had fallen into a worrying novel or that film 'After Hours' by Scorsese. Some old woman would appear and strangle me with half finished knitting or I would fall down a hole into a parallel time where all the loos would be open in the square but Mark and my lunch would never be found. So, anyway, I did pee, next to a pile of rotten wood and zipped back up the stairs praying no one would ask me what I was doing.
My lunch was cold but I don't think it was probably ever too wonderful. I ate then went to pay. The waiter did actually apologise and said he would ring the local council about the lack of public loos. I later wondered what all those other eighty or so people sitting drinking beers and cokes had done faced with the same situation. Od course, it is somewhat easier for blokes...

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Walk cataloguing

So . . . yes, we are in the process of moving - in that we have found a house Northwards in France, or rather North-Westwards. It was going to be purely Northwards but plans have changed . . .
It's about fourteen years since we last moved house and that was only a mile up the road. This move will be huge in distance and stuff. I've been steadily boxing up unwanted stuff for the last couple of weeks now and taking it to the equivalent of Oxfam, but the amount doesn't seem to be decreasing much. If Mark had been a flute player and just that, not a pianist/multi-instrumentalist/ethnomusicologist we might not have quite the amount of associated items, but we do, and that's fine. We also have all the antique and boot sale finds that we have accumulated over the years, partly for the pleasure of doing so but also with the idea of running a 'brocante' /tea shop somewhere. This new house may well lend itself to such an enterprise so all that has to be kept too.
Anyway, part of moving to another region is the excitement of new discoveries but also the sadness of leaving loved people and places behind. The people will hopefully visit but the places will only remain in memories and photos, therefore I feel compelled to catalogue all the favourite places, mainly those that feature in regular dog walks.

Walk one:

This involves a short car drive to a village on a hill, and a further winding road leading to a tiny hamlet called Lapayre, now just one dwelling in which resides Mr Oui, Oui, Oui, and his wife who I have never seen. If Mr Oui, Oui, Oui (called thus as his cheerful conversation is peppered with the repeated word) is around he will sally forth on his elderly but spritely legs and retail us with information about the hamlet which once held eight families all called Lapayre, the vines, the woods, his regard for all people whatever their skin colour, his happiness at living in such a place, etc.
Today, he appeared, hobbling slightly and explained that he had met with a slight tractor accident. I congratulated him on his magnificent vegetable patch (small field) which made ours look utterly pathetic, and talked about pesticide-free gardening. He led us into the veg area, cut us a lettuce the size of a turkey and handed it to me saying his chickens would only eat the outside leaves of a home-grown lettuce, non of this supermarket rubbish...
We thanked him and set out on the walk which features a gently concave slope of vines slightly resembling a saddle. The dogs, let off after a safe distance from the chickens ran off knowing well the walk's outline, just waiting at the appropriate moment when we decide whether to take the shorter walk where one admires the view of St Polycarpe Abbey and the hills of Arce (snigger not), or the longer loop walk which ends back up at Mr Oui, Oui Oui's tractor barn.
We took the longer walk which leads up into a small wood, down a lush hillside full of wild flowers and insects and then up into a small but challenging (in the heat) upward section back to the car.



I've probably done this walk about fifty times over our seventeen years in this beautiful area of the Aude, and I never tire of its sights, and sounds of the resident crows who live in the forest above the path and the breezes that blow through the pine trees.



Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Leaving things alone

For years I've been attempting to hold our garden back from its natural urges.... It wants to be a half acre of weeds.
Not meaning to sound as if I am a control freak sort of gardener; not in the slightest, but come each May I do usually zip around with a small strimmer to get rid of what we perceive as weeds.
I can recall my mother ranting about ground elder in vicious terms, in fact it's edible apparently; if she had known she might have looked on it rather more fondly.
This year after reading so much horrific stuff about declining biodiversity, lack of bees and our general lack of understanding about the damage the human race has and is continuing, at an alarming rate, to inflict on all other lifeforms, I decided to leave as much as possible alone.
All weeds, or rather, plants that gardeners generally label unattractive or invasive, have been left to do their thing, and I have just cut tracks through the swathes. Of course there are a few plants, such as Japanese Knot Weed, that I might have attempted to keep well at bay if we had it here but so far nothing menacing has encroached.
The birds are noticeably more in numbers, which could partly be due to lockdown meaning verges all around were also left alone. Insects are everywhere, and the trees that usually get attacked by various blights are looking healthier. In a vague (and I want to vastly improve on this) nod to Permaculture I have mulched everything like mad, even using shredded bank statements and the vegetables are looking stronger than when I previously turned the earth and cleared away weeds.
It's all an experiment to be developed but our small patch of the world certainly feels more alive than any other year so far.




Our resident collared doves second nest of the year

Tomatoes and potatoes with bank statement mulch.

Postscript: I've just been down the garden to empty the compost bin and noticed a certain (don't know the name) vine that I usually pull off the laurel bushes is covered, and I mean covered, with honey bees...


Monday, 25 May 2020

Junk shop magic

In the days long ago around mid March, when all shops were open and the sight of someone wearing a mask was an oddity. I was in an Oxfam shop on Goodge Street collecting together a load of old crockery to use for my book launch. After the event my kindly brother returned all items to another charity shop but I kept these two wonderments as a reminder of a particularly amazing evening before everything changed....

Saturday, 23 May 2020

dog indifference to music

I've seen and heard other dogs howling along to various genres of music, but ours seem totally untouched by any type whether it be classical, jazz, Japanese noise terrorism, ska, opera, folk; Mark practising accordion, piano, cello, or Ezra playing guitar.
Here is a small experiment: me trying out a Kink's number on Gala.