Saturday, 15 June 2019

Past and present

Some folk don't like to look back at the past - done, onward, next thing, but there must be a reason for us to have this incredible ability to store images, thoughts; replay whole tracts of time in slightly 50s Technicolour.
I feel we should consider the past fascinating - good and bad. You learn from things you have done, improve (hopefully) and mature as a person; replay the exhilarating, sometimes difficult, exciting, and just heart-warming times - meeting the significant other, birthdays, pregnancy and birth, Christmases, your child's first bike ride, the success of a project, particular concerts, moving into a new house, observing a garden take shape, and a million other things.
On the subject of new houses and gardens. This is a before and after of the terrace of our new (1975 villa) house back in 2011 - and now on the day I write this post - 15th June, 2019.
What a difference some plants make, as Dinah Washington sang . . .
The first thing we did after roughly moving belongings into place was to find a metal-working person, put up a structure and plant vines. It's all a bit out of control now being somewhat live and let live gardeners but it is a wonderful sight when the roses are out, and the terrace becomes our dining and sitting room during the spring and summer.
Maybe when we have moved to something a little smaller, wherever that will be, I will recall those hot days under the vine leaves; days of salad, chat, accordion, fan whirring and dogs stretched out on the warm concrete.






Wednesday, 12 June 2019

It's old . . .

Well-used words at car boot sales, no doubt all over the world, for justifying an exorbitant price tag.
In this case at our local 'vide-grenier' - (literally emptying one's attic) where Mark homed in - being a buyer and hoarder of just about any type of musical instrument - on a once-possibly noble Zither.
The guy swaggered nonchalantly over (think you can do this) and proceeded to point out the instrument's qualities. 
'It is old' 
Yes, it certainly is but not in a good way.
'It is in excellent condition - works perfectly.
No, it doesn't. The strings are untunable and someone appears to have poured a pot of white paint over it, scrubbed ineffectually and then added a rough line of black around the edge to complete its renovation.
Mark and I exchanged glances, trying to guess what the price might be. I suggested it might be worth purchasing it for a more experimental form of jazz - sort of thing where two people and a dog might be the audience. We agreed it would be worth relieving him of the object for about five euros, so he wouldn't have to repack it in the van. No one else within a radius of about a hundred KM would have bought it other than us. That was for sure.
"Vous voulez combien?" asked Mark.
The reply of thirty euros was somewhat surprising. We walked away after employing another useful car boot phrase - 'we'll have a quick look around and come back'.
What one of us should have said was, 'What? thirty euros for that? are you insane? But we are English, somewhat pathetic and perhaps didn't want to spoil his illusion that he did have indeed a very old and unusually-restored item on his stall. 
Sadly, it will probably end up at the tip at the end of the Vide Grenier season when it could have featured in some weird and inventive art music piece. 


Thursday, 6 June 2019

Green light

Moving ahead!
My novel, Hoxton, now has a book deal with the wonderful, Tartarus Press.
As they specialise in 'literary supernatural/strange/horror fiction' I know my characters will be well at home in their catalogue.
Still some way to go with edits, etc, but looking forward to the time that my work will be out there.

Detail of a London map of 1775 featuring St Leonard's church (center - ish) where a lot of the story takes place - although set in 2072 . . . Mind, with the way everything seems to be going, London could possibly re-resemble this map by that time . . .

Pic - Mapco/David Hale.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

While cleaning out the loft . . .

I found a box of old college stuff that I hadn't looked in for certainly twenty years - think it wasn't opened in the move from our last two places.
Ah, the days before photoshop etc. I recall buying the mackerel and stringing them up with fishing line (appropriate), and the many times Toby had to smoke cigarettes and look faintly surprised as if waking from a dream that was in fact some bizarre reality. Think that was it - no idea. Lost in the heavy fog of time . . .


The picture below features me (in skirt - rare occurrence) and friend Mal, and yes, they were real boots - t'was the 80s . . .
I can't remember the reason for the dots but the picture did win a large format Polaroid camera in the yearly Polaroid competition. Not that I got to keep the camera - think it was amalgamated into the art college equipment store.
Happy days of messing about with set building, paints, cameras, clothes, and fish, with no idea of what I might do later in life . . .


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Day out in Toulouse

It wasn't a day out as such - more a few hours wrapped around a RDV at a clinic but it was a beautiful day and exploration of a city was an interesting idea.
I don't really know Toulouse despite numerous visits - we used to stay in The Grand Balcon right on the Place du Capitol when we were vaguely thinking amount a move to France. The hotel was amazing - about fifteen quid a night with lumpy old beds and ancient plumbing; sadly now revamped into something classy and the rooms more like 150.00 quid a night.
Arriving on the train early in the morning, I wandered the quiet streets ending up at The Capitol where a group of Japanese women tourists were having a sing, lead by one lady with a ukulele.
After a hot choc at a café that should have the award for the most 'bof' manageress in the whole of South-West France I walked on to the Abattoir art gallery which was closed for the day but spent a long time watching the rolling Garonne pass by. It struck me that the water I was observing would at some point later that day be arriving in Bordeaux where my son currently lives. And I texted him as much, him being a muser too . . .

A number of tents had sprung up along the main boulevard near the art gallery. I gave some money to a small boy who was sitting with a broken bowl in hand, then asked him where the family were from. Albania, he said.
Rather disturbingly, just on the other side of the fence from the tents the already manicured municipal gardens were being re-planted. Slightly wrong priorities?


I found a street I hadn't noticed before which was full of shops selling wildly unnecessary items but I did love this glass jelly fish lamp. . . 


Then it was time for my RDV with a neck specialist. I've had this thing for nearly thirty years now, and have been huffed at, almost jeered at and generally been ignored as it's a small but niggly pain that seems to stem from virtually nothing, and has just got worse over time. THIS doctor was a revelation. He spent about half an hour carefully listening then did lots of thorough examinations and pinpointed where the pain is coming from. Sadly, nothing much can be done but at least I know what it is; it's not life-threatening and I can go back and see him after another IRM scan which I, oddly, rather like - see some post, way back about being in one of these machines.
After this, I found a tiny little lost-in-the-70s Indian restaurant and enjoyed onion pakora, fish curry and 'delice' de mango for about nine euros. Needing a sit down rather than walking, I went back to the river and water gazing - amazing quantities of river weed covered in tiny white flowers or shells? difficult to tell at a distance. On the other bank, huge works were happening, including re-pointing the kilometres of Toulouse pink brick walls - massive scaffolding with about six people working.  


the Monika Indian restaurant

a bit of repointing

very tenacious ash tree

On the way back to the station I noticed this fabulous bit of late? Art Deco and this recently repainted 'Guggenheim' 50s car park. Not just the city of the 'rose' brick. I shall return and explore further.


Tuesday, 7 May 2019

garage visits, cheese counter-stress, banners, stoicism

I think I've always been a latent Stoic - perhaps just never actually put a name to a mostly-omnipresent character trait.
During a particularly stressfull time a few months back, a friend mentioned having a look at the stoic philosophy which I did but then promptly forgot all about it as other stresses joined the first one - my mother dying being a particularly huge stress.
About two weeks ago, I was preparing to do supper and idly prodded youtube into action to see what the algorithms might have decided would keep me entertained/distracted, or whatever.
Amongst: Permaculture studies, Have I got News for You, A Different Bias (excellent YouTube channel for discovering what is going on in the Brexit nightmare), Professor Bogdanor, etc, up popped a talk on Stoicism. I was instantly fascinated and started thinking about some of the key elements that had first been 'invented' by greek philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius (plus being an emperor . . .).



             (photo wikipedia)

It all made so much sense. In a totally boiled down summary: don't worry about what you have no control over, and do your best to aid yourself in things you do have control over; be grateful and consider how wonderful it is just to be. 
Easier said than done? I tried it out with some everyday stresses - unfathomably complex letters from scary bureaucratic bodies; our huge garden that is gradually turning into a desert, and the fact that our concrete water capture thing is cracked; worry about things I have absolutely no impact on - like rainfall.
The letters . . . less worrying. The garden . . . well, the guy may come and look at the concrete thing- I've tried enough times to get him to come. If not, I'll try someone else, mulch more and use town water if I have to. Worrying about it is totally unproductive and won't change anything other than add to my forehead wrinkles.
Rainfall. Hm. Really nothing I can do other than continue buying virtually no plastic in the hope that everyone else will too, and eventually governments will realise that climate change and wiping out bio-diversity is THE problem and that WE as humans have to do something about it.
Talking of which, on a minor tangent. I did take my home-made sheet-banner to the houses of parliament and managed to tie it to a police barricade. No one removed it and quite a lot of people took pictures, so I hope in some microscopic way, I might have made a difference.
Very interesting man in the picture - he's been standing with his STOP plastics banner for several months now. And when he's not doing this he's cleaning up his own garden and locality, and noting the incredible difference it makes - how the insects start coming back, the birds, the general cycle of nature.

So, stoicism.
I, possibly like most people, had a vague idea of what it meant - be stoical about this or that . . . but investigating further made me wish to attempt to become a stoic.
I think what clinched it for me was standing in the cheese-counter queue at the supermarket. 
Being a French store, there were about two hundred different types of cheese but the woman in front of me - on hearing that the particular type she desired had been subject to 'rupture of stock' - decided to become very belligerent. This produced nothing other than making the assistant very uncomfortable and giving herself more stress-lines - she had a very fine crop already. I wanted to say, 'For Christ's sake just have a slice of Cantal, or Tome de brebis, or a bit of cheddar - (yes, they sell it), or one of the other two hundred choices. What the F does it matter?' But instead I just wondered about what the caves are like where roquefort is produced, and watched the sparrows that seem to have taken up residence in the supermarket roof space.
Ok, easy enough to feel smug about someone else ranting about nothing, but what about me?
On cue, my new-found stoicism was tested at the Renault garage the following day.
The car was just going to be 'looked at' for a quote after failing its MOT. I had been expecting the mechanic to say 'come back in an hour' and had prepared myself to write in the local café. But he said it wouldn't be ready for at least three hours. Normally, I would probably have huffed internally and thought about how annoying this would be as I would have to waste time walking back home, or try and get a lift back from someone, but this time I just thought, OK, I'll walk back a different way. So I did. And got lost down by the river but noticed the springtime wild flowers, a woodpecker, an old guy tending his magnificent vegetable plot and some wonderfully artistic graffiti. These things were in no way remarkable but they did seem to take on a sort of remarkable-ness because I had chosen to make this a soulfully nourishing time, even if the in-tray didn't get as sorted as it should have been and phone calls would still have to be done, etc.
So, will it last?
I think so - maybe with some careful mental 'topping up' everyday. The 'professional' stoics have a phrase - negative visualisation, where you take a little while every day to imagine how less good our personal life would be if, say . . . if we hadn't found one of our lovely rescue dogs, or I hadn't bothered to plant grape vines that shade our house in the summer, or made friends with someone important to us, or taken that very memorable hike with our son last holiday, and so on. Or much bigger things that have been really life-changing - supposing I hadn't answered the phone about thirty years ago which led me to take on a job which then led me to meet Mark and in turn produce our son . . . The point being that any negative feelings sloping about will be discarded as you consider these positive elements.
Time to do the washing up and consider the rampaging beauty of the yellow banksia rose from the kitchen window while doing so.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Water party

This is what our local hyper-planet of largely un-needed stuff is proposing at the moment.
Fete d'l'eau - water party, Fete de actually being wordage used in French supermarkets to drag you in and spend money on special offers/seasonal goods/bulk buy, etc - not impromptue water fights and people dressed in scanty bathing attire.
Fete de vin in the autumn I can sort of relate to - time of the grape harvest, local wine companies making space for their new influx, a certain celebration of the wealth of different wine types, etc. Even though we might only buy a couple of bottles it's quite interesting to look at the wooden boxes stamped with the producers' names, and gawp at how people could possibly imagine spending three hundred euros on one bottle . . .
The pig (fete du cochon) fete is vile: lines of cooler cabinets filled with everything from brains to trotters, where fleets of customers pick through the mountains of cling-wrapped/poly-trayed pink  items before loading up their trollies, without the slightest thought, I imagine, as to where it has all come from . . .
There are many other fetes de whatever, but a water fete is the first I have seen, following on closely from the Jesus-emerging fete - marked in acres of chocolate rabbits and chocolate anything else remotely Easterish.
A fete celebrating ideas for conserving water might have been nice - water filters, household devices for reusing water, a small talk illustrating where our local water comes from, tap water tasting. . . Nope. This was just an excuse to push as much water in plastic bottles encased in plastic packaging as possible. And the REALLY stupid thing is, we have a major mineral water source just down the road a few km away which used to sell bottled water in the local supermarkets until the corrupt local council managed to close it down. Happily, for us, you can still go there and fill your own bottles which is great.
SO. And I know I've gone on about this before . . . but, what about, the local, or nearest other source - not somewhere in Italy or Scotland, could provide a couple of huge water dispensers in the supermarkets where you could take your bottles back and refill them for say, 10 cents a go?
Possibly not as simple as I imagine, but better than container lorries of plastic water bottles being driven from hundreds and thousands of kms away just so we can have a choice - if we even need one anyway, most people, at least in this planet-sector, being blessed with sanitary drinking water.
Mark read me some extraordinary info from the Guardian this morning re the amount of plastic water bottles used in one year.

Imagine laying out half-litre bottles on the pitch at Wembley Stadium. You could fit 1.7m bottles on the grass, packed into a tight grid. Now imagine building up layers of bottles, covering the same area, to build a tower. To contain all the bottled water we buy each year, you would end up with a 514-metre skyscraper – 200 metres taller than the Shard.

Not something to be celebrated.

Leclerc's own emulation of the afore-mentioned plastic-bottle sky-skyscraper?

A slightly different fete d'l'eau in Cambodia.