Monday 27 January 2014

Building No 34

After being beguiled by a pretty sexy-looking poster about a truffle fair in the foothills of the Black Mountains yesterday, we (Ezra and I) decided to go. It would be a fun and educative trip out: aged weather-beaten men with wooden crates full of earth-encrusted knobbly GOLD (might as well be) truffle hounds/pigs, wonderful ancient music involving sheep-stomach bag pipes, and so on.
In fact it was stuffed with small stalls of all the usual stuff you see around here, ear-aching tannoy'd chart music and very few truffles.
We left, and, at Ezra's request, went to wander around the railway station at Bram so he could feel the thrill of a TGV passing at 200 KM while standing on the very narrow platform.
As it was Sunday, we only saw a small, rusting goods train passing at the speed of an ambling cow.
However it was all worth it just to be able to take a photo of the most depressing disco in the world, somewhere on the road between Carcassonne and Toulouse.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Tommy Trinder/Carmen Miranda

Winter nights: log fire, snoozing dogs and the odd box set of film favourites.

Being fans of Ealing Comedies, and Tommy Trinder, we splashed out on a set of his films.

This section from Fiddlers Three must rank as one of the most sunny pieces of film ever made. The face, the moves! Hilarious, and wonderful lyrics/script: quite cheeky in places for 1944.

We are vastly impressed as Nero says at the end of the dance. (Trinder's entrance is at 1.22 if you are pushed for time.)

Wednesday 22 January 2014


This was the number of times I wished I was asleep last night, or thereabouts.
We all have terrible nights, and I know on a scale of human disasters, they are nothing when we have a soft bed to sleep in and four walls surrounding us; but last night must have been in my top five, or even two.

It was so farce-like I have to write it down while it's fresh in my mind; it could be useful, or at least it needs to be documented, for my own personal record of Stupid Nights I Have Known.
We have all been suffering from some flu-like thing over the last week; the residue of which, in my case, has taken up residence in my lungs like a dusty old crow, rasping and fluttering.
The night before last I slept for about an hour between bouts of coughing and kept Mark totally awake too. So last night in order to protect the main bread-winner of the household (and because of the fact I quite like him) I opted to sleep in the spare room.
Snuggling down with a hot water bottle (one of about three things I like about winter) I told myself that this would be a good and restful night filled with that sort of rich, thick, blanketing sort of sleep that we only, as adults, achieve very rarely, due to worry over bills, too much caffeine, snoring loved ones etc.
I had just dropped off, when Mark entered the room: "Ezra's been sick." Flung hot water bottle aside and went to join in the mopping up, soothing of boy etc.
Back to bed, hot water bottle positioned, many layers drawn up against the general fridge-ness of that particular room, and the coughing started. That little twingy tickle that you try to ignore: maybe it will just subside. No – full on donkey noises for five minutes: tried sleeping on back, front, sides and finally sitting up, head lolling as if on a train. Nope.
Eventually, I discovered a sort of nonchalant style that seemed to work. If I put all the pillows in the room in a stack against the headboard and then lay against them as if trying to stop a fence collapsing, I could nod off; almost as if I had to pretend to my own body that I wasn't really trying to sleep. What's that about? Surely elements of me should be taking an interest in keeping me going, not providing sleep deprivation torture.
Anyway it worked for at least fifteen minutes, then the runty dog got out of his bed and announced that he would like to go and bark uselessly at mysterious things in the garden. This is always a mild form of Russian Roulette: does he really want to go out to have a pee/poo? or does he just want to run around the house like a mobile tripod asserting his non A-dogness.
I left my nest and let him out so that he could bark, a LOT. Then on his return, shoved him in his bed, wrapped him up and went back to my bed, refilling tepid H W bottle first.
I was just wandering around a flowery summer market when violent footsteps overhead broke the images. Abandoned bed again, this time considering for a moment whether whatever was going on upstairs might just settle down then I remembered Mark's mad schedule in the morning and went upstairs. He was standing, looking bleary, in his tartan pyjama bottoms and a top that has a skull and the words Protest on it. "Ezra's been sick."
Forcing the Mark-cormorant (will explain another time) back to bed, I cleaned the bed, boy, linen, etc and went back to bed.
The fence-leaning thing no longer worked, so I sat up and did some editing until all the words fused into one: Insomnia, then eventually drifted into a light sleep, to be woken by Runty dog, again. This time I bundled him up and said: 'stay in your dratted bed you small annoying rat', or something more lurid.
So, the bed, yes . . . tried the leaning thing again, but as I was cold now, had to keep making tiny adjustments in the bedding: cover the foot there, oops, neck exposed, where are the tissues . . . just a tiny stretch . . . shit, covers all slump to the floor. Flopped them on again, then . . . what was that small clicking sound? I can't sleep with dripping taps, was it a tap? when I filled the HWB did I leave the tap dripping? SHIT. Right . . . into the bathroom. Nope tap off, clicking still going though. I looked around, wrapped in a towel, really cold now: nothing.
Back to bed. Total exhaustion. Did slip into some weird dream about an old lady coming to stay in the B and B and wanting to know if she could hire a gun. Woke up abruptly (quite good, as the dream was annoying) and the dog was prancing about again.
I looked at the clock: 5.00 am, As we seem to have to get up at 5.30 at the moment anyway, I thought I'd make some tea.
Discovered he had woofed in order to let me know that he had DONE a poo but he wanted to go outside to tell everyone else about it - kicked him out and went into the kitchen to get cleaning stuff; stepped in a lake of dog wee and, nearly, a large offering from Big Dog.
Cleaned everything, told the dogs and the cat to F OFF and went back to bed with a large cup of tea and dozed fitfully while Brian Rix, a vicar and a large-breasted woman chased each other around the room.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Our day out in Castelnaudary 2

Ezra Loves this town. Sometimes, (it has to be a gloomy drizzly sort of day) he says in a wistful way, 'Can we visit Castelnaudary?' and I say 'why'? knowing in fact why he has suggested it. If you are attracted to dismal looking factories and train tracks (as we seem to be) this is the place to go within easy reach of our own town. It has many classic representations of Southern French beauty: the canal, a fine church, towering plane trees, etc, but it's the factories we end up wandering around on a grey day.
So, we set off with camera (me) sketchbooks (him) money for a hot chocolate and warm socks.

Here are some snaps from the day's adventures, after which I went down with some sort of virus . . .

Hibernating hydrangeas.

We didn't see who lived here, but the sandy construction was about the size of a boiled sweet.

A lovely tap

Pierre's house?

 Canal du Midi

Ezra's favourite factory - something to do with grain. I stood for a long time and watched the pigeons flock from one end of the buildings to the other, with seemingly no reason to do so, but then what do I know about pigeons' raison d'être.

I don't usually like peach-coloured paint, but for some reason I found this rather classy 50s? building rather wonderful in its new coat - hypnotically so. I walked around for ages just looking at the way the light changed the tones from peach to warm sandy-yellow, before I realised that I was totally freezing, and we went to sit in Café St Francis (I think it was) where the hot chocolate was delicious.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Bad hair day

When I eventually looked in the mirror this morning, two words appeared in my mind: Max Wall.
Here's a mix of various sketches someone has put on Youtube: a wonderful showcase of his facial expressions, voice and movements, my hair reference being towards the end . . .

Sunday 12 January 2014

GPS assisted shopping and gourmet cat food.

OK. A good Sunday rant, after a stirring bout of housework.
Here, portrayed below, is a selection of Gourmet cat food sachets that Mark bought for our ginger feline. I assume he was captivated by the pure irony of this product, and he did have the beginnings of flu . . .

Some basic points about cats:
They are finicky bastards.
The pet industry know this.
They can make millions of euros/pounds/dollars out of this annoying cat-fact.
Cats do not eat vegetables, let alone a 'julienne' of them.
This however, is useful for the pet food people: put veg in - costs virtually nowt (talking about EU reject veg I imagine) and people somehow feel good that their felines are hoovering up veg particles as it will be good for them.
This particular pack is hyper-irritating as some PERSON in an ad meeting has come up with a fantastic idea: 
    'Excuse me, Mr Vanpooperstook, what about if we add a little phrase on the packet - something like 'Recettes du chef'.
    'Brilliant, Mr Beenhereforever: recipes of the chef - get onto it.' 
    'How about a chef in one of those hats, stirring a copper pan?'
    'Don't be a stupid arse, Miss junior ad-type, do you know what's really in cat food - we just have to GIVE the impression . . . '

I opened one of the said packets this morning; nano-sized pieces of slop fell out (about an egg cup full) the ginger beast fell on it and devoured it in five seconds - well, fifty cents gone then.
So, Bronzino, let's see what was in your delectable sludge, shall we.
(Cat holds up packet).
Colin à la Florentine.
Not Colin of Bracknall done in the sauce of a Florentine resident, I hasten to add: Colin being Hake, and Florentine . . . err, isn't this normally a chocolate coated, nutty fruity biscuit. Oh, I see, à la Florentine, in the way a Florentine would cook Colin/Hake (if they did) and spinach and carrots.
Anyway . . . what is actually in this:
Meat and by-products of meat, fish and by-products of fish (Hake being 4%) Protein of vegetables (of which spinach and carrots 4%) a lot of water presumably and a whole list of other scientific sounding stuff.
To break it down more: 14% protein, humid constituents (translating from French here) wet stuff (not greasy conservative representatives) 79%, 2.5 %fat, 2.2% ash, .05% cellulose. Mmmm. So, mostly grease, water, and 14% protein.
Kicked the cat out in the direction of the shed with a photo of a mouse.

So, supermarket 'GPS' system. (I don't know what it's actually called.)
This has to be the most pathetic invention to date.
I was watching Telematin yesterday and on came the guy who does the occasional feature on the Latest Technology.
SOMEBODY has come up with a sort of half-pair of glasses that you don when entering the supermarket. Somehow, the mini-computer inside them knows (I missed this vital bit) that you are searching for condoms, and then shows you by a series of arrows on the lens where to go. So you walk robotically for the section and then it tells you what to do with them, what size, etc and then you nod your head like a slow motion chicken and it buys them for you.
Fab: next stop, ravioli - compare the makes, the cooking time, recipe suggestions, nod, bought.
Supposing you sneeze while passing the chain saw section, or the most expensive wine aisle - bottle of 1968 Chateauneuf du Pape - bought, only 328 euros.
The woman in the feature duly went around nodding like one of those car back window dogs, and then went out to load up her vehicle, thus negating all that tedious talking to people, using your instincts as to where they have moved the tomato paste and queueing, where you can idly look into other people's trolleys and wonder what they are going to do with twenty-three baguettes and a bottle of carpet cleaner.
The idea is being developed in Holland, where apparently they are spending millions on it. Useful.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Belated Christmas present

For a year now, Ezra has been singing 'Money, Money, Money' by Abba.
He doesn't want to. It was inflicted on him and his class by the worst music teacher that ever taught anybody anything. I think they had to sing it one by one in some sort of ritualistic torture employed by this sadist woman. Anyway, suffice to say, soon enough it had wormed its way into my brain, replacing a rather amazing song by British sea power - Machineries of joy. 
There was no escape; on waking in the night it would be there - those two women, auburn and blonde hair covered with a silver crocheted . . . hat? Money, money, money, must be funny . . . aargggg!!!!!
After many days and nights, I discovered a cure while driving in my hire car in the UK and fiddling around with the radio, not wanting to listen to Money Box on radio 4.
Heart FM were playing (no idea why!) the above featured . . . thing. I hated it in 1972, and I hate it now; but it is the most effective way of removing any circling-song in your head. Just three words and it's there, implanted like a tic, an infestation of schmaltz, swamping and coating any previous lingering note.
Now I've just got to find something to replace it with.

Incidentally: Wikipedia informs me that the origins of the word Schmaltz is rendered goose fat . . .

Go on, press the arrow . . . three words - I'll be your . . .

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Building No 32

No need to say much really, other than I got honked at by furious cabbies as I held the traffic up gawping at this edifice somewhere in East London. Such wonderful folly. I wonder if the inside of the building has been designed the same way . . .

Saturday 4 January 2014

Nassau Street

As mentioned in last post. A small extract of Chapter 8 from my book 'Going out in the Midday Sun' featuring Jasper in his 'new' flat - where I lived in the mid 80's for a couple of years.

Nassau St - a few days leading up to 23 May 1997


Jasper climbed the last flight of stairs in Titian House. It was so dark he had to fumble for the keyhole in the door of flat Number Ten. 
   His flat in Archway had sold very quickly to the first viewer, as Sandra the estate agent had predicted. Holly had fallen for the flat totally and was keen to move in as quickly as possible.
It had been the catalyst he needed. He plunged himself into sorting stuff and purging unwanted belongings. 
The sale took quite a few months to complete, during which time Jasper visited lots of flats: cramped, depressing places. He quickly realised that moving further in to the centre of town was going to mean something awful, if he was going to stick to his budget. 
   Just as he was about to regret the sale, Jasper found the office of Imperial Properties Ltd - a dingy dive in Wells Street with dark brown walls, faded stacks of papers and teetering filing cabinets. Almost everything on Mr Cohen's books was above Jasper's means, except a studio flat in Nassau St: a top floor garret with views above a pub roof and pigeon nests. But it had a bit of character and was at least light.
   Jasper paid the deposit and spent a day cleaning what appeared to be egg off the walls. He painted it all off-white, moved his newly-depleted belongings and settled in.
   The kitchen, no more than a cooker, fridge and worktop, was in the lounge, which was the size of a kitchen. The loo was a tiny box and the shower, a mysterious dribbly affair encased in brown plastic, sat in the bedroom next to a rickety 1950s wardrobe. He was a free bird in its eyrie, ready to fly: no complications. 

    Jasper sat down by the window and looked out over the rooftops; it was so quiet, almost impossible to imagine the traffic coursing up Tottenham Court Road a couple of streets away. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Jasper went to open it and was surprised to find a young man wearing a threadbare dressing gown, standing in the corridor, holding a bottle of tequila.

    "Hi, I'm John. Just thought I'd greet the new neighbour. We're having a party, d'you want to come over?" Jasper glanced down the corridor. He could see jiggling bodies and a lot of bottles through an open door. "Students," explained John, "medical students."
    "Err, okay," said Jasper. He had been hoping to do some reading and plan his day off tomorrow but it seemed churlish to refuse a friendly offer of welcome.
    "I haven't got anything to bring," he said, doubtfully.
    John looked him up and down. "Oh, just yourself will do nicely."
Jasper watched his rather attractive figure swaying down the corridor and drew in his breath: Uh, oh, complications.
    He tried the shower: odd, but wet at least, then slipped into something casual but not quite a dressing gown. As he had nothing else, he took a tin of peaches he had found in the cupboard. The door was opened by a girl in a surgeon's green top and yellow high heels; her face flushed, mascara smudged.
    "Come in, stranger." 
    Jasper did so and handed her the peaches. "Suze, put these in the punch!" she yelled, ushering him in to the throng.

    "This is Jasper - new neighbour," announced John. There followed a chorus of, "Aw, poor him!" and someone staggered over proffering a glass containing a very generous measure of something.
    "Tequila slammers," grinned John. "Here we go, 1...2...3!" Everybody thumped their glasses and drank. Jasper swallowed the fizzing liquid. Three more and he was up and dancing to The Cure, his shirt off and John's hands caressing his bare torso.

Jasper slowly opened an eye; something stabbed him in the pupil: Light. He moved his head and discovered his brain had been replaced with a ball of molten lead. He was lying in something smooth and cold, a coffin? A bath - luckily not full of water. He had his boxer shorts on and a blond wig in one hand. Moving hurt a lot so he lay there for a long time, squinting at the marble tiles. They all had scary faces. Screaming cats, phantoms, Pascal the chef: Putain . . . wat 'appened to you, hein?  He groaned. This was his day off, his planning time, and he'd be unable to walk, let alone sort his flat out.
   Jasper stood unsteadily and managed to place a foot on the floor, which heaved to the right; nausea rushed over him and he was violently sick in the sink. The room was a rollercoaster. He lurched to the door, wiping his mouth on a sock, stepped over bodies and retrieved his trousers. Back in his flat he crumpled onto his bed and stayed immobile for a long time.
   With small movements, he managed to turn on the TV at the end of the bed. The remote buttons were stuck. The only programme was 'The Waltons'. He lay very still, watching cheery folks as the room spun gently. The pigeons cooed and strutted outside, the sun passed over and round and by five o'clock Jasper was just about able to get up.
   A whole day wasted. He tried the shower again, dressed gingerly and left the flat taking the stairs slowly. He walked into Goodge Street and explored his new neighbourhood, pausing outside an interesting pub but the waft of beer fumes was too much. He opted for a comforting bowl of plain pasta in an Italian restaurant, then continued wandering, returning when it was dusk. 
   Titian House was in darkness, the musty smell of old carpet and long ago-varnished wood already familiar. He climbed the three flights of stairs, realising that the climb was going to be a good daily workout in itself.