Saturday, 19 August 2017

Last gig for The F.E.W?

or maybe not.
I hope they may get together from time to time, my lad and the others to have a mad intensive rehearsal and then perform where they all first got together in our small French town.
The end of an era . . . Ezra off to Bordeaux, and the other two F.E.W members, William and Freddie in Toulouse. Many happy memories and great to see their progress from a few tentative number's in Carl and Lisa's garage to energetic and captivating performances for various town and village fetes over the last three years.



Wednesday, 16 August 2017


I seem to be suffering from an increasing sense of panic every time I walk into a supermarket. I try not to walk into them too much but for certain things like dog biscuit and bulk-buy tins of tomatoes and 'fosse-septique (cess-pit) cleaners they are useful. We buy most of our stuff in a small co-op organic shop down the road - yes, it's more expensive, but . . . it isn't, as the nature of shopping there compared with the grocery-sheds is utterly different. I go in and buy milk, veg, flour etc, and don't get distracted by anything else NEW, or on special offer, or 'oo, that looks nice, maybe we should try it, and we could use a couple of new mugs, and well, I suppose we could have a bottle of fizz, and maybe a cake, and some ice-cream, and the towels are looking a bit sad; look, they've got green ones in, those would look good in the bathroom . . . STOP! what did we come in for? Dog biscuit and shoe polish.' Yes.
The worst aspect of the sheds/shopping cathedrals is the amount of plastic everywhere, especially in the home-care and toiletries sections. What do we really need for both cleaning ourselves and our dwellings? Not much. Some soap, a basic shampoo and a clothes wash/washing-up substance.
This picture is of a locally made product called VAM, made of vinegar, herbs and water. It's brilliant; I wash surfaces, floors, showers etc, with it, and if you want some heftier cleaning - add bicarb of soda. Job done, and you can take the bottle back and refill it.

We NEED more of these products, and more ways of re-using containers - for everything. It's mind-numbingly terrifying to read about the amount of plastic that ends up each day in our oceans. I've started taking a bottle of TAP water out in preference to buying yet another small individual bottle of water shipped from  hundreds of miles away - like Scottish spring water in our local French airport - uh? Deranged!
We are mostly all blessed with clean drinking water and it's just advertising hype that keeps the pressure on to buy 'pure mountain' water.
Apparently, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away to end up in landfill and incinerators every day . . .

Friday, 11 August 2017


Mark wearing exactly the right shirt to go with the rust and grey paint of this rivet-pocked lieu - part of the disused submarine mending-place (not the right title I expect) in Bordeaux's eerie and photogenic quays.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

furnishing for nowt

or almost.

Luckily, our lad who is about to go off to study fine art in Bordeaux (see a few posts back), is completely laid back about 'old stuff' furniture- and crocks-wise. I heard several other parents, while in various queues in the estate/renting agents, agreeing to all sorts of white melamine construction projects with their offspring. Anything to avoid a trip to the giant blue and yellow shed, hours of frustration with bits of chipboard and allen keys, and possible return journeys to the establishment as something is missing . . .
So . . . for 130 quid so far we got a lovely chest of drawers from 'Le Bon Coin' - a sort of on-line 'free yourself of unwanted things' site, a book shelf from Emmaüs (like Red Cross) a big rag rug, a large, deep set of shelves and a rather nice (library?) ladder from a junk market. The ladder will be clothes/electric guitar cables hanging space as the flat is too small for a wardrobe.
We did buy a bargain oblong oak table but couldn't get into the ridiculously tiny doorway so it will now grace our kitchen and he can inherit the drop-leaf table that has followed me about through about six house moves.

Shoebox, but at least now a clean off-white rather than gruesome pink shoebox

Still to go - bed with storage underneath. And again, no flatpack as if I end up having to assemble one it will be disaster: a hedgehog of bristling nails where I have misinterpreted the instructions - or rather ignored them. Our friend Ed makes a mean bed - solid, easy to screw together and whatever length you like. I'd get an old one but the lad is topping 6 foot and still growing, so to restrict his growth by an old 1920s wooden bed frame might be a tad cruel.
Everything else should be gleanable from our house with a few things to find from junk shops, and the construction of a couple of hand-made shelves in the 'kitchen' which is a small dank cupboard under a sink and a two-ring electric hob. We weren't looking for luxury but a shelf might have been nice . . . still, the landlord did offer to pay half for any improvements - fairly unusual, I would think.
In two months time and he'll be in his student pad sorting out his new 'on-his-own' life while we sort out our new 'without-boy' life. Weird!

Monday, 24 July 2017

We learn something every day

Like, be extremely careful when grinding coffee when tired, hungry and you are using an old machine from the 1970s with no security thing.
So, yes, I know now, after an emergency trip to the doctors this morning, and will certainly be eyeing that small beige and smoked-plastic lidded appliance with fear and a certain respect in future. Mark jumped to its defence after the event and assured me it was fine and that he will always grind the coffee from now on . . . As he is a pianist, I'm not sure how sensible that it. I feel a flea-market trawl coming on for a different model (coffee-grinder, not husband).
Anyway, I was useful down at the surgery as there was some sort of small meeting going on about who should do what, and at the centre of it, a very young bearded man wearing a 'Let's go Surfing' T.Shirt. Yes, he was the student doctor doing a trial period, and I was to be his relatively interesting patient (compared to haemorrhoid checking and poking about in people's ears, etc, I probably was).
One of the senior doctors showed us into a room and explained where everything was: plasters, needles, aesthetic stuff . . . and then left.
He asked what I felt about pain. I said 'Fab, love it, thanks.' He got the irony, snapped on some bright blue plastic gloves, placed a small, paler blue 'table cloth' over me, and a still smaller one with a hole for the finger over my hand. Just like ER, except it was deadly quiet, no trolleys being wheeled frantically about, talk of 'paddles', and screaming relatives. We talked about Brexit, which was more painful than the needle he jabbed repeatedly into my index finger, then he sewed, tongue sticking out slightly, just like I do when attaching a button.
The 'real' doctor returned and inspected the work, said it was excellent and then they both said it should all be fine but to rush to the main hospital if it turns black or hurts a lot more. I bestowed much thanks and we returned home to have the delayed breakfast, after Mark had cleaned out any me-debris from the grinder.
So, I'm writing this with a finger throbbing like the walls of a disco but so far it looks a fairly healthy pink, and I'm excused from doing any washing up, which is more than good.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Being in a play

It felt like it down at the vet's yesterday.
I only went in with 'lampshade dog' to get her wound looked at and there was drama. On a small scale, nothing Hollywood-esque but the whole spectrum of emotions on show.
A man had brought in a very hairy and ancient dog. While the man was talking to the receptionist the hound shook itself releasing a cascade of ticks. Women shrieked; the man left the reception and started squishing the ticks; a vet appeared, shouted a bit and and joined in while I ran about pointing out escaped ones. The floor was quite disgusting with streaks of blood and small grey spots of ex-tick.
After the squishing, the vet asked me where our dog was and I explained I couldn't get her out of the car as she is now so terrified of going into the building. We pushed and pulled her out of the car and into the surgery where he syphoned off a load of yucky stuff from her leg and said all was well.
As I was leaving, a terrible (human) howl emanated from the back of the surgery, followed by a sort of gasping/crying. I left as Bali was attempting to lick the tick blood up, and a completely out of control mega Heinz 57 mutt had been brought in that had maiming and killing written across it's brindled brow.
Bali wouldn't now get back in the car. While I was stuffing her in, a woman came out from the vet's, face red and blotchy, shaking body, eyebrows converged in that sort of abject misery that can only mean something very, very sad.
She stood, unable to even unlock her car as her hands were so tremulous, tears starting afresh. I wondered if I should do something - that weird moment when you feel it could be further upsetting for the person if you enquire, or suggest help.
Shutting the door on the dog, I went over and did enquire.
"Mon Chien est mort!' The dog had died under anaesthetic. The eyebrows converged more, so I hugged her. And she wanted me to. How weird and strangely wonderful that humans can make contact like this with a total stranger in times of immense sadness. I know I would have wanted the same thing.
She then apologised for having bothered me! The French politeness thing had stepped back in. I told her that I could sympathise as our old dog had been put to sleep the year before. We smiled sadly at each other and I drove back wondering at how rich in drama twenty minutes of a day can be . . .

Monday, 17 July 2017

More London wanderings

with added culture.
Last night, I went to the Proms - something I haven't done for years, and I bought a seat, not being able to face the standing up thing. It was worth every atom of electronic money transfer, not so much for the Beethoven, exquisitely played though it was, but for the John Adams piece: Harmonium.
Such power and inventiveness . . . the number of choir members, the percussion, Oh! Visually stunning too.

Close encounters?

Before that I explored the dazzling streets of South Kensington: not so much as a black spot of time-trodden gum on the pavements, no drifts of London dust just rows of gleaming white and off-white mansion blocks and mews adorned with prim window boxes and manicured olive trees (!) Global warming is well and truly happening in London. I would have taken a sneaky picture of the mother taking an iPhone photo of her three designer outfit-clad offspring sitting in a restored open-top Aston Martin outside their town-house but it felt a little creepy. I would be a rubbish photographer for any of those screaming pink mags called WTF! or similar.



Lone Ginko and bike outside Imperial College

After gawping at houses and people, I ate a curry in 'Little India', beguiled into stepping inside by their sign that read: The Manager Eats Here Too. I'm sure he does; it was delicious, especially the fresh mango at the end.

The owner also eat s here

At the end of the evening, I walked towards Knightsbridge and found a bus going towards King's Cross. It was completely full so I sat on the stairs and then was informed by a recorded and polite lady that I should get off the stairs which I did. the message also said that anyone standing upstairs shouldn't be. We waited while the bus reverberated but didn't move and the message kept playing. Eventually an elderly Indian guy in a beige safari suit went upstairs and told everyone standing to get get their arses downstairs and they did, muttering apologies.

The following day dawned uniformly grey and slightly chilly for mid July - perfect for walking, observing, musing, and asking people if I can take away part of their souls.



   rice and backache

local resident (park near Tavistock Place) and his dog - he said the dog makes a better picture but I think they were both beautiful


one of the photos I will make into a pen and ink drawing for 'The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book


                                 window-keep-opener and mural in The Half-Cup on Judd Street

I ate possibly the best beans on toast in the UK in a small café, drank a vast mug of tea and hunted a bus going towards Hampstead Heath - my chosen place to continue 'Hamish's' tale - and claimed the front upstairs seat.
Arriving at the destination, I consulted the map then completely ignored it, as I do, and got utterly but usefully lost. If we didn't sometimes get lost we wouldn't meet such interesting people, n'est pas, such as the bloke striding purposefully towards an oak tree that had the girth of an elephant. He proceeded to fling his arms around about the tree, or rather stood there looking as he was trying to prevent the tree from moving forwards as the arms were almost straight due to the trunk's expanse. This is something I occasionally do when moved by the sheer wonderment of ancient trees, but only when I know someone else won't be observing me. I had to ask him.
    "Is it a very special tree?"
He turned and grinned as if they were recently married: "Oh, yes. Absolutely."
I then asked him as he obviously spent quite a lot of time on the Heath, where the ladies' pond was. He pointed out a route which I followed for a while before being distracted by a clump of gangly pine trees atop a hill. I sat for a while near the trees and thought about all the paintings and engravings I had seen of this this piece of the Earth, and how, (if I shut my ears to the various calls of 'Maisy, come away from that!' 'Pickle . . . no! and 'I thought you had the poo bags', etc) similar it seemed, apart from the Shard and all the rest of the glassy-grey structures clustered in the distance.

The ladies' pond  

I did eventually find the pond, and although the changing rooms had developed a little since I was about thirteen (last time I visited) the water, ducks and over-hanging trees still looked the same.
Pond-swimming. How glorious, especially in pale, drifting mizzle. Several other ladies were in the muddy, olive/brown water, swimming slow, quite majestic breaststroke, a certain calm expression on their faces, quite like (mostly) grey-haired otters, peacefully cutting through the water between ducks and life-saving rings. I'm reading 'Sapiens' at the moment and I suddenly saw us as the animals that we are - interesting book which does have the effect of making you look at all human behaviour in a different way.
After a chat with the life-saver and leaving my pink towel on a hook (hello anyone who might find and use it) as I wanted less baggage, I continued walking the Heath, drank a hot choc in 'the Brew House' briefly visited the grand 'Kenwood House', enthused over various greyhounds and reached Parliament Hill (Kite Hill). The view over London Town would have been dramatic at this highpoint but alas the mizzle had turned to drizzle, almost everything obscured except the Shard's sharp triangle and the lumpy sword of the Post Office Tower plunged into Fitzrovia.

useful view-map of central London, including heights of buildings

Time portal?

Back at base (the wonderful and super cheap, St Athan's Hotel, Bloomsbury) I collapsed for a while and then ventured out into the madness of Trafalgar Sq, Covent Garden etc to people-watch, wander, and avoid all the antique map shops of Cecile Court (wallet-empying danger).


New residences on Charing Cross Road                sushi break 

LOTS of hen parties                                                       The Texter


This elegantly-dressed young man had just graduated from theatre school


                            sigh . . .

a quiet symphony of inner city colour         and the more garish tones of just one evenings rubbish . . .

The next morning, I walked from the hotel to Golders Green (with a short bus journey in the middle and a wander around Camden).
I wanted to visit all the highest points of London, The Flagstaff being the highest - apparently. I arrived, admired the flagpole, and the Whitestone pond (which used to be used for rehydrating the London horses after their trek up Hampstead Hill) talked to a grey-hound owner and went in search of The Pergola - another viewpoint. Here, you can almost forget you are in London: beautifully maintained gardens full of roses, jasmine and herbs and a magnificent brick and stone pergola/walkway. No one was there. It was impossible to imagine the seething crowds of Oxford street only a few miles away.

Map of an unknown continent (or a stone paving slab) near Camden


The brilliant tip bowl of a café housed in the old 'Palmer's pet store', where I used to nag Mum about buying a crocodile, Camden


The Whitestone Pond and Flagstaff, and my tired feet 

the magnificent Pergola and gardens

After exploring the area, I walked back to the Flagstaff and down into Hampstead where I ate beans on toast (again) in a friendly café called 'Polly's and talked to a man wearing a fabulous outfit who didn't object to me recording it, and him, for the blog. (Hello, if you see this . . .)

Then waited for a bus and availed myself of a chair that the newsagent had left outside. He came to have a chat and said that he had put it out there for people who'd got fed up of waiting for the No 46 - 'the worst bus in the world'. The bus arrived and seemed quite good really - wheels, engine, seats, etc.


                        I loved this: soap maker, AND philanthropist

                                                                                                   The Chair

A textual slice of London building materials

After a sleep and foot-bathe, I strode (sort of) out generally Southwards on a 'Derive' which ended up being quite a long one from Charing Cross to beyond Tower Bridge, fuelled by some excellent and super value healthy grub from 'Gaby's on Charing Cross Road. I had often eaten there as an impoverished on-dole-Londoner back in the 80s and I was relieved to see the establishment still going strong.


I hadn't been to the South Bank for some years and was overwhelmed by the amount of pubs, eateries, boutiques, and new buildings, some of which were just absurd. I mean look at this.


It's the sort of thing I might have drawn in a notebook if my (then) under-ten son had said 'Hey, Mum, let's draw mad buildings that would fall over. And this one . . . pregnant penguin inspiration - has to be.


But then someone designed and got away with that weird bowed over, telephone thing . . . not actually in this skyline picture


And then there's The Shard. Impressive, a little violent-looking and difficult to clean, I'd imagine. I went in an old pub, (about the only old thing still standing around the base of the pointy triangle), ordered a gin and tonic and then got cornered by a youngish beer-smelling man who said he was from Fife and that he's like to talk to me about what I was drawing (a very, very bad rendition of The Shard). We had a surreal chat in which he asked me if I thought that there would be a lot of wobbly-wobbly, dark wooded lanes within the top of the building. Who's to say, I said. I haven't been up there - yet.



Monday, 10 July 2017

Life stages

And this is a big one . . .
The boy, off on his own into a big city and us knowing the readjustment is looming a couple of months away. Eek.
I just spent two days in Bordeaux with him, traipsing the well-maintained and decrepit pavements (the latter where he will be living) visiting estate agents, along with herds of other weary parents and uni-ready offspring.
Manically checking the various flat-suggesting internet portals had revealed almost zilch for the taking, and anything that was available had a queue of rendezvous attached to it.
The son's expectations (fuelled by us staying in an 'arty and cosy' Air B and B - which it was) had started with an idea of a modest (22 sq meters) but elegant apartment with high ceilings and perhaps a small balcony on which to tend a small garden and sip the odd Margarita, rapidly dwindled to - 'well, perhaps, 15, with a window, preferably'. Yes there are places offered without windows, and even biscuit tin-sized flats of EIGHT sq meters; the size of . . . a generous toilet cabinet?
The bigger estate agents (company not employees) we visited were also weary, the smiles tired and wry, the same words projected, brows furrowing at my mention of our maximum budget - slow shake of head, suggestion of something possible . . . 'ah non, pris, ce matin' - taken this morning; too late, then the inevitable comment that Bordeaux has more and more students and less and less accommodation.
Alors. What to do . . .
A couple of hours and two bowls of Tai soup later, we did find an agent down a back street who was less weary and did have two things to show us.
We followed him keenly to the first - a once elegant stone building - and entered a dismal, lino-infested 'space' with wonky cupboards and the inevitable coating of semi-opace white on everything that certain landlords favour. Poor lad, I watched his face pale to the wall-colour as he took in the sight of his possible future logement, the worst feature of which was the very small window that looked out onto an impressive view of pigeon-shit and a blank wall.
The second place was cheaper, in a hideous 80s block but did have a tiny 'balcony'. In my optimistic 'stylist' mind I could see it working - lots of plants, a better view, but finally the interior and the miles of depressing corridors, which the agent did refer to being 'prison-like' and like Hell if there were ever to be a fire (great salesperson . . .) was too awful and we turned to tea, cake and a long think.

Peculiar, aquarium-like flat and boy trying not to howl

Just as the second 'oriental pastry' was being consumed back at base, we found a newish ad on 'Le Bon Coin' - a 13 sq meter flat - ridiculously small but did have a mezzanine bed area. We rang . . . and it had gone. Shit. But the guy did have another - bigger, a tad more expensive but within our budget. He said to visit now, so we did - just a nip around the corner and there it was: the future logement: tiny, weird pink colour (but we can change it) with a window! OK view of similar ancient stone buildings and a few mins walk from the art college.



We said yes, did a bit of paperwork, went to eat and drink a little more extravagantly than I might have wished (but WTHell, we'd done it) and then I lay awake most of the night worrying about various aspects of the accommodation: no storage space whatsoever, would he be able to play his collection of instruments there without getting evicted, why had the building next door disappeared, and would his flat be very cold because of that, where on Earth would the water-heater have been in that space - was there one? etc, etc . . . But this morning in the rational light of day I recall my own student dumps, what you made do with and got around, and that's fine and he'll be fine in this new life-stage.