Saturday, 13 October 2018

Permaculture and making soil

As an antidote all the crushingly depressing news surrounding us on all media, I opted for re-exploring the subject of Permaculture; something I find fascinating and hope-inspiring.
A few Youtube videos later I felt encouraged to attack our summer parched garden. I'd already made heaps of cuttings from various attempts at an autumn cut-back and had been considering where to have a large bonfire without setting fire to any trees.

Supposing I didn't do a bonfire, let alone several? Or drive a car load of green stuff to the tip.

After watching one truly amazing gardener dumping all his green vegetation along with cardboard, paper, kitchen waste, pine needles, etc etc, I emulated this - not very correctly - but with what I had.
The idea is to not disturb the soil by much digging and turning but to add moisture and rotted down plant material so that you actually leave new soil to develop as the debris gradually breaks down.

The more serious Permaculturists - if that is a word - do a lot more preparation than I did; one guy driving to his local forest, felling semi-rotten trees, hauling them back and burying them in trenches and then covering it all with grass cuttings, leaves, compost, etc, etc.

In a piece he had prepared earlier (hello, Blue Peter) he planted young lettuce plants within the foliage mulch and you could practically see them starting to grow enthusiastically. His garden was a truly beautiful tapestry of plants, vegetables and fruit trees. Ours is a windswept, ragged thing with some nice bits I've managed to keep watered enough over the very long, hot dry summer. It'll be an interesting experiment to see if my mulching attempts bear fruit, or at least potatoes bigger than marbles.

Another film I saw was called Greening the Desert. Geoff Lawton 's extraordinary project has taken some of the driest desert spots in the world and has turned them into living, green spaces. The before and afters are incredible: literally sandblasted areas of rock made into functioning food-producing gardens. So, if it can be done on an inland desert I should be able to improve our Southern France patch of land.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Air surfing

I often wonder whether birds really register happiness when flying - like we do when say being propelled along by waves, sliding down a snowy hillside on a sledge or parachuting - not something I've tried...
Today, during a very windy dog walk in hillsides above our town I was sure of it.
The large colony of crows that inhabit the forest on one of the higher hills were all out from the trees this early dusk: diving, swirling, rolling on and in the thermals and gusts of wind. I've often seen them flying sedately from one perch to another, cawing to each other. This was so different. Unless I was reading it inaccurately - and who are we to really know - it just looked like a totally fun bit of time with no great reason other than the pure pleasure of flying.


Friday, 5 October 2018

Brilliant Brexit information

The hothouse blog doesn't usually enter the world of politics much - it's not that I don't care, it's just I like rambling on about other things.

However, having immersed myself at some fathoms lately in the Youtube ocean, Brexit has become a total fascination - and horror. I use to watch the odd video - a Ted Talk, a documentary about plants, space, permaculture, animals - all sorts, however, over the last few weeks my viewing, or rather listening while I do household stuff has become about 80% Brexit issues-orientated.

We're always within history being made, if that makes sense, but this feels so bald, so utterly real, so incredibly . . . stupid.

Being a speculative fiction writer a lot of my brain is occupied with future possible worlds; probably half of me exists in 2072's London after some massive internet breakdown has occurred. Which, I do feel is highly likely at some point - goodbye blog. There are reasons I feel compelled to get this into a book form . . .

We have so many greater issues to worry about than wether Britain can scoop back some warped idea of its great past, the main one being, how we might as a race, continue to survive if we keep abusing this planet at such a rate. We are so much more likely to find answers and make a difference if we work together, not fractioning ourselves off and possibly encouraging other countries to do the same. Why was the European Union set up anyway? Largely to prevent further wars breaking out.

We are totally interwoven into Europe - maybe it's not perfect in all ways but only a peek into some real information reveals how protected the small grey rock actually is, and what the Hell will happen if we try to undo all this complex knitting of rules and structure that has been put together over many decades.

Above, one of many excellent videos made by Graham Hughes - Three Blokes in a Pub, featuring himself; the amazingly informed, Jason Hunter, and various guest speakers, all of whom have been fascinating to listen to and are experts in their own fields - if you like this, find the video featuring the medical scientist. Such knowledge!

If information like this had been available at the time of that choice, I feel the government might have been actually using the wasted time to address things that really need addressing and several billions could have been saved for schools, the health service, renewable energy technology, countering pollution . . . If anyone out there still has doubts about what might be beyond the potential cliff edge, binge-watch these well-researched and generously-offered films.

A link here to help them continue their work.

Monday, 1 October 2018

a nice cup of tea

Funny how drinks can taste so different according to where you are and what you are drinking them out of.
The cup of tea below was partaken of in a small roadside bar about half an hour from home after an incredibly long journey on many small back roads.
It was only Yellow Label - the tea you dig out when all other tea possibilities have been exhausted, BUT, after a six hour drive, and drunk out of a wonderfully chunky hotel-ware cup, with lorries zipping past it was pure heaven.
I would have done the boring motorway route from Bordeaux after re-installing the lad (see last post) back into his art school life and flat, but as part of the back bumper seemed to be flapping off the car, and, being a story-inventing type person, I could see the thing finally detaching itself to crunch into someone's windscreen - not good. So, after a brief look at a massive scale map, and as usual, not gauging distances, I set off across country and got lost, and re-realised how long driving on small roads does take, especially as French road speeds how now been dropped to 80 from 90 kms per hour.

Still, I saw many wonderful things such as a newly planted forest, unsung and beautiful village churches, llamas, donkeys, distant vistas of the pyrenees, a man walking a pig on a lead, Toulouse-brick pigeon houses, newly ploughed undulating fields, wind-ruffled lakes, and all the different architecture of each region I passed through, rather than three lanes of traffic and the occasional road bridge.
Also, I avoided all dismal motorway service places and stopped in a small grey stone town called Lectore I had visited on the lad-dropping off trip last year. It seemed the same, and I did pretty much the same thing - had a drink and wrote him a letter - something we forget to do back at home when normal life encroaches.
So, despite a sore-ish back, I'm glad I took the longer, slower route. It gave me time to reflect on the happy summer time we spent with the lad, our respective projects to be started in this new phase of the year, appreciation of the landscape I was passing though, and the realisation of just how good a cup of tea really can taste.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The turning year

Difficult to imagine now but it was exactly a year ago we were slowly packing up our son's home-life to transfer it a few hours Westwards to Bordeaux - guitars, paints, clothes, flat-pack bed, pots, pans, etc.
This year it's a lot easier - a lot less kitchen equipment and a few more guitars.
I'm aware of a slight hovering melancholia but NOTHING like last time when it had felt as if we were winding up our parent lives too. A bit, 'err, what now . . .' Tons of stuff of course, work, writing projects, music, but a palpable sense of 'well, we've done our bit in this human existence-thing' was certainly present as we loaded the car, and hugely present as I had returned with the car, empty.
It's been a long and happy summer with the lad having slotted comfortably back into the family life almost as if he had never gone away. But now it's time for him to reconnect with friends and re-learn the arts of hand-washing socks, stretching food-budgets and living in a tiny space - as it should be.
He'll return however every few weeks or so with a foetid bag of linen and graze solidly stocking up on nourishment, and we shall look forward to that.
I was talking to a newish friend recently about the parent/offspring uni/work separation thing and how traumatic we had found it. She had leaned back against her kitchen dresser and rolled her eyes.
    "Christ, I couldn't wait for them to go! - both of them."
    "Really," I had said, slightly amazed at the fervour in her voice.
    "Y-es! Got my life back!"
I suppose in some ways that might be true - a few less meals to provide, less washing, less nagging about stuff, although these days he's realised that being adult does mean a certain responsibility and sharing of jobs - the emptying of the compost bin, no longer an annoying thing to try and get out of, washing up is just part of life, etc.
What else. Err, stuff does stay cleaner. And . . . Nothing really. He's great to have around. We laugh, walk dogs, cook and discuss life, politics and reenact bits of Tim Vine/Spaced/Black Books.
Yes. I will miss him again but not quite to that same visceral degree.


                                           Happy new term-time, lad of ours.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

A genuinely brilliant bit of acting

So much sex/romance in films is so robotic and un-erotic. I was quite transfixed by this performance - feel the chemistry!

Couldn't find a good clip in English but, hey! equally arresting . . .

Friday, 7 September 2018

Small London wanderings

Very much restricted wanderings this time as I only had part of a day to explore my home town.

I arrived at my Air B&B at midnight - five hours after I said I would, due to a four-hour delayed flight and another hour standing around at Stansted airport with about two hundred other people all also wondering where their baggage had got to.
Luckily, the very lovely host was totally understanding, made me tea, asked what I was doing in London and showed me - after making me a hot-water bottle - to my lodgings - a beautiful garden shed. Actually, not a shed - more a recycled wood cabin with found 30s windows and tea-chest interior cladding.


I don't think I have slept better for months.
I lay there thinking how odd it was to be in a small wooden house in a Clapton garden within this vast throbbing city, and how really quiet it was and then I was out for eight hours - unheard of!

After my agent meeting the following day, I returned to the shed, had a rest, read one of Mark Haddon's short stories (excellent) and then walked a very, very long way and got lost (no GPS, thank you!) but it was an interesting getting lost, mainly around the Hackney Marshes area and ending up at a pub called The Approach near Victoria Park where a lot of my novel, Hoxton, is set.
I met up with friend, Sophie, and we discussed life generally before yawning into our drinks and deciding that our respective sleeping places were calling.


The interior of a wonderful café called 'The Tram Stop' somewhere between Clapton and Hackney

The Hackney Empire. Somehow, I've never seen this/these buildings before! One of a few architectural symbiosis of old and new that, to my mind, works.


The Mighty St Leonard's Church, (from a bus) home of my Character, Hoxton.


                               Beauty salon on Kingsland Road.


One of a billion or so overlooked door and window lintel decorations in London

I'm not sure why I photographed these two edifices but I just liked their air of silent resignation to the next bit of decay and graffiti; respectively sitting under about 150/60 years of drizzle watching human-progress - or not.

Global-warming evidence near the Hackney Marshes. A very happy olive tree.


Top of bus-shelter debris. I saw quite a few surprising things on the bus from Hackney to Covent Garden - a credit card, shoes, a sandwich, books, glasses . . . Thrown up there from the street, or from the bus, passing biplane . . .
This bungee-rope must have been there for a decade or so judging by the moss that surrounded it. I once started a short-story about a man who lived on a bus-shelter roof. I might continue it.


                                           A tiny building which must be mostly a fireplace


                                    A wistful bulldog


Interesting bit of modern architecture encompassing London yellow brick, steel and glass.

A magnificent drinking fountain in Victoria Park - I loved the way the trickle has been designed to enter the little oval pool with a groove so the water returns to the base. And the pebbles! Wow.

A slice of rails, woodwork, ironwork, cables, brick and tenacious buddleias growing from wall-cracks

And back to the airport. I'm sure the duty free bit has expanded again to feature further meters of people thrusting bits of perfume-saturated white card at you; and even more chocolate/tea/booze and useless plastic crap than you can shake an advertising exec at.

There's always a spotlight area for a certain product halfway through the D-Free bit - last time I think it was Toblerone, and before that M and Ms? The current Giorgio Armani installation was rendered somewhat ludicrous by the 'no climbing' sign on the pretend boat-gangway.

I bought a small tin of Earl Grey as a congrats present for my son passing his driving test, avoided everything else, ate a very nice black-bean thing in Leon and settled down with a pot of tea to write my meeting notes out - just another member of the huge human colony perched on seats and taking Instagram pictures of their meals. We are a strange lot.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Finally . . .

About five years ago I got out of a swimming pool with a new writing idea sparking in my head:

Woman in the future, living in a London church with a horse called Kafka.

Many, many, many drafts, edits and readings by wonderful readers later, HOXTON has been taken on by an agent. Still work to do but after her last comments I can see the shape of the book so much more fully now.

One of my early readers was a young man called Charlie and he just texted me this reaction to my news.

The wellest of well dones!! Hoxton is unlike any novel I've ever read - optimistic, anarchistic, post-capitalist, Francophile, sci-fi - yes please!! A publisher would be mad not to bite her hand off.

I can now say: Kate A Hardy is represented by Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq Scripts, Holborn, London.



                       St Leonard's Church in Sureditch (Shoreditch) where the book is mainly set.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Two ferrets and a Soda Stream

Nope - not a new Curtis film, the result of going early to a Vide Grenier (car-boot/yard-sale) this morning - not that perhaps anyone else would have bought ancient taxidermy specimens. (Except Andy, if you read this). Five euros a piece - s'got be a bargain! The soda stream has yet to be tried but I can't see there's much to go wrong there.


So, what else has this season's scavenging unearthed? It's been a good few Sundays - last week procuring several shirts for Mark at a euro each. Actually, this is odd - how we always seem to find him shirts as he's not exactly a standard Southern France man shape, more Nordic, Viking, even.
Last weekend also resulted in clothes for me, a huge salad platter, an exceptionally nice etching for 5 euros, teapots to replace broken ones, a 1970s wall-hanging to funk-up Mark's music room and various other (mostly) useful items. Why anyone bothers to shop for new stuff is a mystery to me - OK I draw the line at certain things like . . . underwear, and . . . that's about it. Maybe not a second-hand pressure cooker - bit scary.
 A bit scary, is also how much stuff we, the human race - or at least the members of it who have manufactured all these non-vital things - have managed to accumulate over a relatively short period of time. This was just one small amassing of a few folk's spare room rubbish, in one small French village. Imagine all the millions of boot sales and variants of, all over the world. Eek. We are indeed heading towards a possibly not too distant new Earth-Epoch - Plasticusgallusossum era, perhaps. A plastic and chicken bone sedimentary layer. The end of the consumers.
Oo, dear, this is getting a tad dark.
Time for a cup of tea in one of our new 1970s brown teapots.

                 Suitably apocalyptic and lovely etching from a couple of Sundays back.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Housewife guilt relieved by the April Freshness of Lenor

Part of last post rant.

Plastic rant . . .

I have to have these from time to time, and THIS really warrants one.

We all (or most of us) now realise that endlessly producing billions of plastic containers every day is totally unsustainable and polluting - to say the very least.

We all use plastic  - this keyboard I'm typing on, the car bumper I tied back on with wire this morning (rather proud of that), train seats, plane seats, televisions, audio-equipment, fridges, washing machines, guttering, drains, food containers, the everywhere water bottles and just about everything else. Should we not be cutting back on unnecessary products rather than producing more and more CHOICES, to thus use plastic for essentials like medical equipment?
Yes, there is an argument re jobs in such sectors as body-care products but maybe there just isn't a choice any longer. Hair = a shampoo product, and it's now possible to buy solid shampoo in a cellophane wrapper. We have some and it's great. Clothes = a need to wash them. Get a refill at your local eco store. It's less expensive and does the job.
And we move on to the subject of this particular rant. Fabric conditioner - with a big CON. This must be one of the cleaning companies most heralded products. An extra substance to dunk clothes in for really no reason. Meadow Sweet, Island Oasis, Snuggle, Final Touch - quite an appropriate name, perhaps - Downy, Fluffy, Fleecy, Comfort, Lix (ugh), Purex, and of course the massive Lenor range.
One or two products might suffice? Nope. A whole new range in even more shiny thick plastic bottles has appeared in our local supermarket.
I only went in to get a cube of yeast and some dog chews but stopped transfixed by the in-your-face and will-be-in-your-bag display featuring (bizarrely) a wolf and an erotic version of Little Red Riding Hood - I think.
Imagine the meetings, the trays of Danish pastries, the gallons of coffee consumed while ad-execs agonised over the names and colours of these useless and planet-knackering products.

The perfume of secrets - whaaat? Covering up some old poo stain on a toddler's trousers? Séduisant - seducing fabric softener? I Suppose they are trying to move away from cosy, soft and comforting?


              This really should being in Ann Summers shop and be called Sweat Liqueur


                                                             Charm and mystery.
Come on . . . you could have been a little more imaginative, surely? Alien-craft sex-chamber; the lost jewels of the Queen of the great oceans?


                                                And you should, Proctor and Gamble.

Governments should ban this water-polluting, land-fill garbage. Iron clothes if you want them soft, and if they smell a bit unlike a spring meadow, a woman dressed in a red cloak or a wolf (?) so what.

I've just found an old Lenor ad I recall from way back featuring a housewife wracked with guilt over her daughters' prickly nightdresses. Will post for a comparison . . .

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Road Trip

Not exactly heading across America in an open-top fin-tailed limo; rather a couple of hundred kilometres across the Tarn and Averyron departments in a beaten-up old Renault Kangoo, but it was Road-Trip enough to us. Us, being Moi et 'The Boy' - now twenty, and avid explorer on a smallish scale.
After checking unwieldy and creased paper maps (no GPS, thank you!) we booked an Air B and B and set out on a voyage to Cordes-sur Ciel as the name was so strangely beautiful - Cordes on the sky. First stop was Lautrec, a small stone village, (Hello Sophie, if you read this, and thanks for the recommendation) not far from Albi.


As the sun was already crashing down at eleven o'clock we had a small wander, drank thermos tea and bought a skein of garlic from a woman platting the bulbs together in a garage/atelier. Garlic is THE thing here and was promoted outside every shop along with clothes, table-cloths and many other fabric-y things dyed in the soft and beguiling Pastel - a blue dye made from a plant cultivated in the region. I resisted a marvellous blue, embroidered bolero, walked the rest of the vertiginous streets and we moved on to Gaillac.
After parking on the outskirts we walked down to the river and admired the arching main bridge but not the magnitude of dog poo everywhere. (Think it might be a good investment by the Marie or the town to invest in some dog-poo bins). First impressions were of a rather sad cousin of Albi, further along the Tarn, but after a further look - and not a very comprehensive one as it was now about forty degrees - we liked it and its air of faded grandeur, which may be changing - up or down, wealth-wise; it was difficult to tell.


After returning to the mobile-oven/car we drove on to Cordes desperate for a shower and a lie down in a dim room - curtains wafting gently, tea brewing, etc - to then read the Air B and B blurb and discover check-in was after 5.00 pm. Arg.
Approaching Cordes, especially in our hallucinatory, overheated states, it was possible to see where the name heralded from - the town almost suspended on a hilltop like something from a Miyazaki film. The climb up there was not going to happen so we sat in a café for a while, slapped at wasps and decided on a further drive to somewhere called Carmaux where there is a particularly fine abandoned coal mine. Yes. Travelling with The Boy does mean detours to look at crumbling factories and disused quarries but happily, I love all that melancholic wandering about in such places even though they are better viewed under scudding cloud and fine drizzle, not ragingly blue skies.
So, we left Cordes and drove about sixty K in the wrong direction but ended up near Najac where I was able to get in, and convince Him, to swim in the river Aveyron which was the best thing ever - deep, cool water, overhanging trees and little blue dragon-flies zipping over the water's surface.


                    Wild swimming opportunity  

After, we visited Najac on seeing the 'Un de les Plus beaux village de France' sign. And it was. Unbelievably Beau. So much so, I wasn't sure it was actually real and kept imagining Gerard Depardieu might appear in medieval costume and swagger off to le catering van at any moment.



Back to the B and B which was now get-in-able, had showers and lay about for a while before climbing the cobbled streets of ancient Cordes. It was rather wonderful, a bit like a tiny version of Carcassonne without all the plastic swords and other rubbish. After the usual farting about when trying to choose where to eat the one special meal of the trip we opted for the oldest and most established restaurant and sat in a stone courtyard under the interlaced branches of a three-hundred year-old Wisteria.



                    Cordes-sur Ciel

The next day dawned slightly cloudy (Wheee!) We set off to find Carmaux without getting lost, and early enough to be able to explore and not just collapse in cafés.
And it was SO worth it. Carmaux council, or whoever owns this deserted coal-washing plant are keen, understandably, to keep people out so it took a bit of locating. In the end it was surprisingly easy to park and walk half a kilometre to the site - now mostly overgrown with Poplar and Brambles. I don't think I've ever been to such a marvel in our catalogue of disused industrial places. Vast, towering walls of concrete and broken glass, crumbling staircases and a the weird coal-washing 'vats' themselves. I suppose to demolish something like that would be SO expensive and probably dangerous - having seen quite a lot of what looked like asbestos lying about - that the place just sits there rotting a bit more every day. And it's not exactly a Battersea Power station location either - penthouse flat anyone? Nope. Not in a rural, ex-coal-mining area of the Tarn.



we know how to have a good time . . .


Happiness is a disused coal-washing plant.

Then, onto the open cast mine itself . . . and found it was no longer an interesting, abandoned place full of rusting machinery. Instead some sort of 'loisir' camping/horse-riding area that the council had very sensibly devised and constructed on the ruins of the old site. We did see a 'bucket wheel excavator' something that Ezra has shown me pictures of from a German coal-field and looks like something from a star-wars film. This was a small one, but nevertheless impressive.

Weariness had descended from the heat so we drove homewards in a very convoluted way as I was obsessed with wild swimming in something - river or lake. Unfortunately all the magnificent 'barrages' we did find were No Swimming ones, and the waterfalls we started to trek towards were signposted as miles away/proper footwear required. So, air-conditioning on, I stopped meandering about and headed back through the shimmering heat haze of the Tarn to the equally boiling Aude.


A nice field in the Tarn

Monday, 23 July 2018

Once more unto the breach . . .

The breach for me, thankfully, not being a battle zone as King Henry was about to enter - more my own tiny inner-brain conquest to get words into some sort of order and eventually become a book.
This time, I thought I'd try and plan it all a bit more but already the characters are running off meeting other people and claiming accents I hadn't imagined them to have.
This idea started after drooling over a particularly beautiful cheesecake - the sort of thing that someone posts on Instagram before they shove a fork in and start chomping - and grew into a bigger idea about the whole look-at-me phase of human history we seem to be in. Maybe it's always been there to a certain extent: the desire to show, to solicit attention, and pump the ego but now the cry to be noticed appears deafeningly loud.
In my last post, I mentioned the effect Social Media has on me if I'm feeling a little low - a quick posting and then too many subsequent checkings. I'm better writing, however 'jumping off a boat into the unknown sea' it feels like. An hour's writing and I feel accomplished, set up for the day and if I can get back to it within a few hours the idea-thread doesn't unravel too far allowing me to press on unto my own personal breach.

A siren Doppler-Effects its way down the street as I shove the covers away and stand up. The phone slips and falls to the floor, skidding on the lino to stop in a slew of dust. Picking it up, I brush off the clinging deposits and glance at the screen. 
A photo has emerged from the library I was mindlessly trawling –  a pot of rudimentary stew balanced on fire-blackened sticks. Before I can click the image away, it, and what happened after on that camping trip is lodged firmly in my morning-empty mind.

A 'bit' from my new novel: Post 473.  Blackcurrant cheesecake with caramel crunch topping.


Photo - Amazon

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Social media stagnation, removing yourself from it and being productive


I felt like this yesterday, and the day before - slightly perplexed, slightly anxious, and cross with myself.
The reason was part mega-procrastination due to not being sure about which direction to go in writing-wise and part waiting to hear something positive - or un-positive - about one of my manuscripts. The procrastination element was largely in the form of Social Media. It has its uses, and if you are feeling buoyant and in control, it's great to dip in and out of. If you are feeling rather more unsure, confused and ego-squished it's an insidious, clinging thing that sets up camp in your mind and crushes the creative urge.
I like Instagram - on the whole - mainly using it as a species of diary/journal/instant portfolio of everything I do, but when the doubt starts seeping, I'm on it far more than is healthy - checking likes, comparing numbers of likes other people have, posting something new just to get that little phone-lighting up fix.
FaceBook . . . personally I find it depressing. I've read and listened to enough Ted Talks, etc, to know it's not just me. Posting the odd weird picture, or beautiful landscape, or sharing an unforgettable image works - again like a sort of life-diary but only in homeopathic amounts. After even ten minutes of scrolling I feel empty and dull, even if I was feeling positive before going on the site. It has its uses - announcing a gig that Mark's doing, acknowledging a friend's new baby/business/wedding, etc, but if things are not steaming ahead on your own personal horizon seeing everyone else being shiny and great makes everything so much greyer - if they are indeed having such a great time. Maybe everyone is staring back at their rectangles of blueish light feeling terribly inadequate even while posting pictures of five-star cookery and new patios.
Twitter . . . no idea. Could be useful one day when I get published, (being positive here) so I have my place on the platform and post the odd surreal picture; like a few friend's comments on the state of the world and don't do more scrolling than a couple of minutes.
I think it was Will Self who was talking about reading a book as oppose to S. media screen stuff - the fact that books and articles have natural stopping points allowing you to go and do something else whereas the continual scroll is difficult to stop - just a few more posts . . . Mind you, I've just read Umbrella which has no chapters or breaks . . . but I needed to stop very frequently just to digest the wordage and complexity of the book.
This morning, faced with three possible semi-written, follow-up novels, and the procrastination-demon lurking, I started writing a completely new book, the idea of which had been gestating away in a deep recess of my brain for a while. Rather than try and plan anything very much, as is my won't, I plunged into the thing - which is about Social Media - and two hours later the haze of what the F am I doing sloped off. I didn't check my phone all morning. I haven't looked at FB or Twitter. I've written, cleared out the bathroom cupboard (ugh), prepared our B and B room for guests, cleared up my computer files and cut back some of the rampant garden: all stuff I've been meaning to do but had put off while pootling about on Google and my crap old iPhone had seemed easier.
And lo . . . this pro-activeness has somehow produced positive things.
This afternoon, I've had a useful email regarding the manuscript and have been contacted by someone else who wants to talk about my work. Can it be, as I've often wondered, that kicking yourself up the backside mentally and forcing a new direction that other things start to un-stagnate?
Whatever creative things you like doing - painting, singing, gardening, running, cooking . . . do it and maybe don't post it.

image: techcrunch

Friday, 6 July 2018

What you think you know about somewhere

I've been to Perpignan about six times and only ever visited the historic middle section or some depressing retail-shed bit on the outskirts. I've always though - yep, it's Ok. Not that bothered either way. Also people often say - 'oh, Perpignan, not much going on there', etc.
The people I talked to during this visit, including our lovely B and B host, seemed to think very firmly otherwise. And I think from what I heard and observed they are probably right.

the theatre complex and lovely postered wall

I don't usually like 80s buildings - which I think this is, but reckon this is a rather good example.

Sometimes I find Air B and B a bit overwhelming, other times a great and inexpensive way of seeing other parts of a town or city you might never bother to look at otherwise - and meeting people who really know their patch.
This booking turned out to be a great choice in all senses. Christine was a wonderful host, her charming 1930s house stuffed with brocante finds. Also, she had lived in the city for years and was kind enough to impart as much historical and cultural knowledge as we could absorbe in our short stop-over.
The house was situated in a residential area which had obviously seen huge architectural activity around the 1920s and 30s - a completely different feel to the narrow streets of the inner city. I walked for ages, partly in search of a bar that might be open (oddly not) and partly as I became transfixed by the multitude of different building styles and materials that had been used. Several streets had houses that had obviously been architect - or builder - designed to be different from their neighbours, and, unusually, just about all the original doors, windows, gates, etc had been preserved.



I felt a familiar but long-covered up feeling start to seep out - hey, what about living here . . . Well, maybe. Maybe if Mark's work shifts to here, maybe I could start the weird brocante/café/music venue I've always harboured a desire to do - in a large 1930s, crumbling edifice with a lot of work to be done . . .
Nice to have new ideas floating about amongst all the day to day stuff.


Last light stroll 

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Family bonding

In our family, as with most others - I'd imagine, there are certain film, TV and dear old Youtube extracts that are recited ad infinitum in a comforting way. Everyone knows them and everyone, presumably, shares the same visual and audio recall.

It might not be the phrase or bit of tune itself that sets off the recounting; it could be something else with the same intonation. This morning for example, Ezra said: 'Hey, I've found this amazing landfill place on the outskirts of Pau, I'd like to look at.' (as you do . . .) The conversation proceeded thus:

Him: 'You know, that one near Perpignan?'

Me: 'Yes?'

Him: 'The one with the weird silver roof?'

Me: 'Yes?'

At this point we both remember that favourite mini-film some clever person in the USA made - the one with the dubbed Alsatian and owner - 'You know that bacon - the maple kind? Dog: 'Uh, the maple kind'?

Well, if you have seen it, you'll know what I mean. It's irresistible to go over in your mind once the brain's dug it out and started playing it. And if a like-minded family member or friend is there and can join in . . . double the pleasure.

Amongst our other regular favourites: Bernard's pickle fetish (below); Give me 'arf and 'arf n' arf' from Champagne Charlie; 'Hi, I'm Barry Scott', from The vile Cillit Bang adverts; Armstrong and Miller's RAF pilots - 'he's got a note and everything' and many other's from that series; Dumb and Dumber's Mocking Bird song, Basil from Fawlty Towers - "Right!" you only have to say that in a certain way and the whole, Basil whacking a poor Mini with a branch all comes back . . .

Thursday, 21 June 2018


I've found it! The one that works . . . it's incredible. No calorie-counting, no eating only peas for three weeks, no fasting/binging, no tapeworm pills . . . Yes, people really did swallow capsules containing tape worm eggs - popular around the 1900s until doctors realised it caused a few problems, such as seizures, cysts on the brain, etc. Nice.

So what is this miracle weight-loss program?

Eat less, or preferably, no, sugar. That's it.

After researching sugar for a medical reason, I decided to cut it out and see how my body and mind might react. They like it. I like it. The manic-ness before meals has stopped as my blood sugar has plateaued, in fact I feel generally a lot calmer (most of the time) and I'm losing weight without trying too hard. It's not a dramatic loss, more a steady shedding - for life. Usually I lose weight after a massive attempt in the spring/summer, arrive at my goal weight by about August then quickly put it all back on again as winter encroaches.

This feels different. It's not just about the weight, it's also thinking about what we are supposed to eat and doing the best I can to support my body as it functions in its incredible way. We're SO complex; why stand in the way of all these extraordinary internal systems?

So. The boring side of it . . . There isn't one really. I'm not manic about it. I do drink a glass of wine sometimes and I do eat small amounts of fruit as it seems a shame not to enjoy the wonderful seasonal stuff - like apricots here at the moment. But jam, cake, chocolate - nah. Mostly gone, and if I do eat some, I feel the mental effects and don't like it. Toast, butter and Marmite seem to fill the gap, for me anyway.

According to researchers like Robert Lustig - great video on the sugar industry/ diabetes, etc - we are just basically not supposed to eat sugar - maybe just a bit of gorging at harvest time, or honey for special occasions, etc. Our bodies - liver mainly - don't know what to do with the quantities we are consuming now and the result is only too obvious.

Here's Dr Lustig to tell you all about it. (Worth watching his longer lectures too - like Sugar, the bitter truth)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A thing of beauty

I think William Morris would have liked these.

Yes, its a tiny thing in the face of all the MASSIVE plastic issues our planet and we are facing, but if we all bought wooden dish-brushes rather than the plastic versions . . .
Monoprix make, or at least sell these for just over two euros and they are a small work of art in every way.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Hidden places

While trying to find an abandoned mine up on a hillside recently - as you do - me and the boy took a wrong turning and ended up on a gravelly overgrown track, the sides of which were lined with dismantled bicycles. It had to be worth further investigation, even with the risk of slavering dogs, or a slavering owner.
At the end of the track we came across a semi-derelict windmill and a huge rotting lorry, its inside full of everything from crockery, pans, hoses, sinks, to records, books, bedding, toys, furniture, dead plants, and more bike parts.

How had they got such a massive vehicle up there? And what had happened to the owners of the place? It was possible to see inside the windmill (I assume it was an ex-windmill) and there was a slight Mary Celeste scenario - plates and cups on the table, a stove with pans on it . . .
Feeling uneasy about trespassing, despite the place looking long-forgotten, I took a few photos, the weirdest being a picture of a decrepit Harry Secombe record in a wire basket along with many other long-forgotten English vinyls.

I often think about that place now as I drive along the main road and look up into the hills, wondering if all the stuff is still gradually decaying away up there, or perhaps someone has returned for the summer and is re-fitting the windmill with a shiny new Ikea kitchen - probably not.