Sunday 29 June 2014

Day trip

I promised a trip out last Friday. 'You choose, Ezra . . . within reason' - added as he had been looking at parts of Bulgaria earlier on Google Earth.
'Bize-Minervois' he had said enthusiastically, 'there's a disused railway there!'
'Okay,' I had said, 'that sounds . . . great.'
Actually, I do share his obsession with rusting corrugated buildings/decaying factories, etc, so we set off without GPS into the wilds of The Minervois.
Bize itself was a slight disappointment; all rust and train parts had obviously long ago been cleared away. Spotting two people standing in a weed-covered area of the ex-sidings, holding a plan of some sort, we hurried over thinking they might be discussing a new station and impossibly, the re-construction of a train line! They greeted us with smiles and asked if we too were about to select where our new Villa might be, pointing to a rectangle on the rolled out paper which marked their own Off-Plan purchase from the proposed new housing estate.
Deflated, and wondering how certain idiots in the 70s and 80s had been allowed to close useful train stations and lines, we consulted the map and drove on to Roquebrun.
I visited the town, or large village? about six years ago and was charmed then by its winding streets. As we saw the wide gravel-beach banked river I suddenly realised I had forgotten to pack swimming things: how lovely it would have been, (now about 35 degrees ) to swim and laze for a while . . .
The restaurant I had lunched in before was closed, so we wandered a short while before noticing a small pizza place on a back street: a happy find; cheerful lady Patron, fresh, inexpensive food and rambling plants to identify.

Sheltered by towering Dolomite mountains, Roquebrune has a mild climate; mild enough for certain types of citrus trees to flourish. Ezra part-peeled an orange from one of the trees next to the Marie and bit into it before realising that it was a marmalade variety - interesting new facial expression . . .

A 1920s villa with its orange tree and frieze depicting the fruits.

Set into the hillside is a Mediterranean garden, run by a bunch of enthusiasts, and well worth a visit (small entrance fee for running the association).

The gravity-defying tower above the garden


After climbing into the oven-car we casted an eye over the map and decided Olargues would be a good next stop. Ezra had been there when he was about two. All I could remember from that previous trip was feeling dizzy from a very long drive and singing squeaky boy (home-made song sung at extremely high pitch) which was seemingly the only thing that would prevent ardent crying ( him) from setting in.

A lovely suspension bridge on the road to Olargues

Wonderful 1950s hotel next to the bridge, sadly closed.

It's a tranquil place (Olargues): deep in the wooded hills of The Black Mountains, with ancient non-messed-about-with shops and MY sort of hotel: polished old tiles, original metal terrasse furniture and 1950s bar.
We had a pot of tea and sat for ages under the shady plane trees contemplating another shut-down station and how the town might have had a bit more going on if people could train-commute to say, Beziers or Mazamet.

After the tea, I snooped about with my camera on the pretence of going to the loo, until the hotel owner asked very stiffly if I needed some help.

Wine shop window display featuring giant boar (not the type holding a brandy glass and guffawing about Totty)

A good wander around the cobbled backstreets followed, sadly not including a look in the church as it was locked; more tea was resisted, and the route back discussed. We decided on the main road to Mazamet, then down to Carcassonne, and home.
As with all good days out, the six hours or so seemed to have extended into at least a few days.
'So, what's been happening here,' I asked Mark, expectantly, on our return.
'Err . . . nothing really. I got the washing back in - think it might rain later.'

Thursday 26 June 2014

Post for a friend

You left this morning, and it was odd seeing your small car still here. Well, you couldn't take it with you, and I'm sure it will be loved.
We were lucky to know you, and the animals of the hothouse to have been cared by you - thank you for all the times you gave us to be free to go back to the UK/elsewhere without worry.
We will get over to New York one day, and I will be happy to get to know it a little through your pictures, thoughts and discoveries/re-discoveries of that incredible place - I know Mark for one is quite envious.
It was a perfect goodbye too: cake, fruit and no tears, just a 'well, be seeing you,' sort of thing . . . and we will.

Wednesday 25 June 2014


Interesting how one word in a certain shape can conjure up a hundred images in your mind.
HAVEN: snapped in Poole, Dorset - those castellated white letters on a postcard-blue background, happily preserved from some time in the late 60s?

I can just see my Nan, tartan blanket tucked under one arm and a shopping bag containing a thermos, Penguin biscuites and a packet of fags hanging from the other. She would probably have a floral headscarf pulled tight over her Blue Rinsed hair, or maybe a plastic rain hat if the sky looked ugly.
If the thermos had been forgotten, or the beach too wild with sandy winds we might have gone into the Haven cafĂ© and had a teacake, slippery with butter (or margarine) and a pot of creosote for two. The air would have been grey/blue with cigarette smoke, and Nan would have lit up too, smiling at me through her own personal cloud: "D'you want to come to Bingo with me and your Aunty Lil in the evening?"   


Saturday 21 June 2014


We watched the Odd Couple last night - what a totally brilliant film, in all ways: the acting, the glimpse into 60's American apartment life (oh, the furniture) the timing, Walter Matthua's face . . .
Oddly, this scene has very recently been re-enacted in our very own home. I've just cleaned the house (not quite with the grace and elegance of Jack Lemmon) and the boy has already managed to fill the sitting room with debris, cushions disturbed and shoes everywhere . . .

Wednesday 18 June 2014

bored games

We have a game inventor in the family. Son, Ezra has always been fascinated by board games, his first ones created at the age of seven or so.
He would appear clutching a box full of small assorted cardboard shapes and proceed to tell me the rules at length. A minute into the monologue I would have switched off . . . nothing much has changed . . . however, this applies to 'proper' board games too. He loves them; Mark also, to a certain extent, although he'd probably say chess is by far the best game. I think he's probably right, but what would I know? I can only think of one move ahead before my thoughts start to wander - did I remember to check the car's oil  / feed so and so's cat / ring the dentist / I wonder what Peter thing from secondary school is doing now / should we make more cherry jam?/what's that chewing noise coming from the wall?/how are clouds actually formed . . .
"What? Oh, sorry . . . my go."
Mark: "Checkmate."

Ezra, as a board game geek, claims that Monopoly is rubbish. It's true that it does go on, and on, and on, but it's probably the only game that I feel affection for: all those Christmas days or dark winter evenings when the red box came out and I would nab the little metal dog. It's just nostalgia, I know that; and it has to be the London version - The Old Kent road, Vine Street, Park Lane, etc.
Oddly, I always went for the Vine street set; I don't know if it was an early fascination with all things mediterranean, or just the friendly 70s orange colour . . .
He (Ezra) doesn't like it because it's a game mainly based on chance - you roll the dice, you move and you take the cards . . . It's good for me because I don't have to think too much ahead; I can wonder about how tapioca is made, invent story plots, move my piece and still be part of the game. Ezra likes games that involve strategy and planning like 'Small World' and a new one that appeared from uncle Amazon the other day: Alien Frontiers.
Panic filled my person as he set up the (very beautifully designed, it must be said) board, cards, space ships, counters, Alien-cards, et al. No off-stage musing with this one, it needs full-on concentration and lots of forward planning. We played and I dutifully tried with Ezra helping me; I suppose I could learn to block out the other stuff roaming about, but I think my brain is just like that.
We share many similarities, but his brain is wired differently to mine when it comes to gaming: Pictionary - yes, love it! Charades, wonderful; anything that's inventive, spontaneous and requires no forward thought. Suppose I'd rather just sit about and chat really . . .
A few days ago, he appeared with a Ezra-made game. This hasn't happened for a couple of years and I was slightly dreading the rule list, his probable frustration as something in the game didn't work out as he had imagined, the huff, and eventual sound of clay pieces hitting the floor.
It was a revelation.
He had worked out a highly sophisticated game about mining, complete with strategies involving market forces, different metals, monetary systems. I enjoyed playing it! Possibly as he had made it, but I think more because it was well thought out.
He's going to send it out into that huge world of rejections, but he may just have a chance, and if not with this one, certainly another in the future . . .  

Friday 13 June 2014

building No 41

Mmm: not really a building, but then again, I have seen people sleeping/peeing in them, and of course, phoning, before the age of small black oblongs of plastic. So, yes a small building of sorts.
There was always something comforting about standing in a phone box, (not in those boring aluminium replacement things that BT installed in the 80s?) a certain satisfying weight to the door, and a smell - pee, but other things: dust, metal, a whiff of each person who had stepped inside the box that day. Odd, but I can somehow recall it, even now.
Depending on where the box was, there was always something to read while you were listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons and trying not to shout at the insurance/gas/electricity company; perhaps one of those phone books in a sort of 'pull up and out' mechanism, an abandoned shopping list, or if it was around King's Cross, many lurid cards advertising services of flagellation/bondage/massage, etc.
They were also places of lost things: wallets (mine) keys, sandwiches etc . . . and places of expectation, desperation, disappointment and excitement; a personal space borrowed for a few minutes while someone huffed outside in the rain, eyebrows knitted, waiting their turn with a British, resigned, tight frown.

Two beautiful phone boxes gracing Pool Park in Dorset.

Monday 9 June 2014

Sticky situation

Early summer means JAM: lots of it.
Added to the hoards of cherries this year, we have discovered a new (to us) fruit: the Locquat.
I have been passing these dark-leafed trees up our road for years now, and wondering if the small oval yellow-orange fruit they bear at this time of year are edible, and why, if they are, does no one pick them.

Trawling the net, I discovered what they are, and that they are indeed edible. A favourite fruit crop in Japan, they can be eaten raw in fruit salad, jammed, chutnied, and probably made into lethal liquors too.

This was our first batch yesterday, following closely on from cherry jams including the traditional red, the piebald yellow-red 'pigeon breast' variety, and the small 'bird cherries' or possibly Acerola, which seem to be totally ignored here, and make wonderful sweet and sour jam.

Saturday 7 June 2014

The attic of the mind

The brain, as many people have observed, many times, is an incredible thing.
Amongst all the usual day to day remembering of stuff: where did I put my glasses, don't put unleaded in the car, must buy more milk, etc ,etc, there are all the stored away, useful memories that surface every now and then, such as recalling how wide/tall a transit van is when you hire one (although, this can fail) how to play badminton after twenty years, and how to say 'can I have the bill' in Greek/Bulgarian/Russian-whatever.
Another whole category of recollections, distant and recent are also stored: peoples faces and names; types of plants, the best route into the centre of Birmingham, how to unblock a sink, remove a tic from a dog, get strawberry jam to set; useless info about who won the Eurovision song contest in 1983, how many haircuts David Beckham has had, exactly what Bill Clinton did with cigars, and so on, for many decades.
Then there all the surprise memories; ones that suddenly surface and you had no idea they were there, occupying some filing cabinet in the back of your head.
On a walk at Badbury Rings in Dorset recently, one of those very memories appeared in my mind as clear as the day I had been standing on that grassy hill fort forty or so years ago.
It had been a day similar to the one in my photo, but the field full of movement as horses pounded up the incline, then to spring over one of the brush jumps in a continual curving motion, clods flying and the air thick with thudding sounds and warm horse skin smells.
Odd . . . for all those years that memory had never surfaced. There it was, as clean and brightly  polished as it had been stored away at that particular point in time.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Reality check

After a fairly tiring day a couple of nights back, I hastened to the sofa in my dressing gown to collapse in front of the T.V. I had surely earned that time of pleasant semi-vegative state having worked solidly since six o'clock in the morning . . .
'Where the hell is the remote' I cursed, throwing cushions and dogs to the side in my frantic search for the black plastic thing. Mark joined in: nothing. We stood about uselessly after a while wondering whether to resort to a BOOK. In desperation I had one more look and found it hidden down the back of the sofa.
I slumped, channel hopping, until I came across a program about dangerous routes of the world.
Good. Armchair travel.
We need, (we of places in the world where being able to slump on a sofa and have time off is taken for granted) the odd kick up the arse from time to time; to think about someone's else's life where a lost T.V remote wouldn't even figure in the smallest, microscopic bit.
The documentary featured a truck driver in Papua New Guinea, who's daily life consisted of driving, on average, ten hours across terrifying, mountainous terrain to deliver goods to small villages.
He was pictured before his day's mission closely inspecting his tyres for any possible damage; as to stop would most certainly end in attack from road bandits. He then said goodbye to his wife and two small children, and set off.
About eight hours solid driving along deeply pot-holed roads later, he stopped to refuel at a village - not the truck, himself - with Betel Nuts, a stimulant that all the drivers take in order to keep awake through the impossibly long hours.
He arrived, eyes red-rimmed, and started to unload. Job finished, he then prepared to drive back, after no sleep.
About two hours later the truck, along with other vehicles, was stopped by a road block. A tree had fallen. Local villagers were clearing it away and charging the drivers. Our lorry hero smiled sleepily and said it had probably been felled on purpose and that he would have to pay, perhaps five euros, may be two if he was lucky. From the gravity of his words I imagine five euros would form a lot, or all, of the money from his hours of work.
Three hours later he was driving away facing the rest of his eight hours having managed to barter a fine of two euros. He smiled again, teeth stained red from the Betel Nuts, and said 'I can return now. My wife and children will look after me.'