Friday 29 May 2015

Songs of life No 5

After art college I returned to live in London, sharing a dank and fungus-filled house in West Norwood, (mentioned in songs of life No 4, I think). Needing to escape the house and West Norwood generally, we would explore musically-more interesting regions and clubs of London - The Fridge in Brixton, a place in Camden I can't now remember the name of but where I saw Alien Sex Fiend play, The Hundred club and Ronnie Scotts amongst others. One night we ended up in a pub in Holborn (now sadly gone) and stumbled across a smokey room crammed with people dancing to what I discovered later to be Salsa.
How had I got to be twenty or so without ever being aware of such nerve-tingling, heart-heating music: Salsa, Mambo, Rumba . . . That was it: I scoured second-hand shops for any record with a cover of someone in a ruffly shirt holding clave sticks, and concocted new tapes to play on photo shoots, in my Morris Traveller and anywhere else really.
How to choose one song? Impossible, but here is the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz singing one of my favourites. And what a great piece of film - the guy on the left, and his ears . . . fantastic!

Thursday 28 May 2015

time and distance

I often stand still when somewhere completely quiet and try to imagine the mayhem of, say, Oxford Street on a day leading up to Christmas. Or inversely stand still on Oxford Street - causing ardent shoppers to push past with a brief look back: mad, obviously - and try to imagine a placid and empty hill in, say, the foothills of the Pyrenees.
It seems almost impossible that these places exist when you're not actually there. Then I start thinking about members of my family and friends - what are they doing at this precise moment when I am standing gawping at a blossom-loaded tree? sorting out the cupboard under the stairs? eating a cheese sandwich? sitting with a cup of coffee and wondering what their family and friends might be doing?
Then I might start thinking about The Big Question, or one of the big questions, - what is Space exactly; what is beyond our solar system and where does it end? But it can't end; what is holding it all in place and is space a series of giant boxes or spheres; a vast set of Russian dolls - probably not best to think about it at all.
Anyway . . . I happened to notice a number of planes passing over our patch of The Earth this morning; more than usual in fact. I stood for quite a long time considering the fact that unlike the Oxford St/Pyrenees thing I could see the plane at such a huge distance, and, people on board, eating peanuts, drinking tea or trying to ignore the child kicking the seat behind them, could look out and see, not me, probably, but certainly our house.
I always spend any flight with nose pressed to the oval window looking out on the passing millions of dwellings wondering if people are looking up and thinking about who might be on board and what they might be reading/eating/ drinking. Air to land psychogeography? or just nosiness on a grand scale. Anyway, again, time to put the kettle on and stop avoiding jobs to be done.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Fish with blue eyes and other delights

A free-ish weekend being in sight, I put aside time for me and son to go exploring another region - outside The Aude.
His choice had been to go to Orange, having dreamt about the place several times, and desirous of seeing the nuclear power station on the Rhone . . . okay, why not? I had said, with eyebrow arched in incredulity.
Since there were no B and B's with an uninterrupted view of said place, and for my own reasons of wanting to be somewhere a little more scenic, I rambled about on The Net for a while, as usual not finding what I wanted - an ancient, characterful hotel with no mod cons but lots of art and interesting breakfast - and then gave up as anything remotely charming in and around Orange was booked.
During an idle moment later in the day I asked Google for 'chambre d'hôte de caractère' or something similar near Uzès/Orange, and up popped Les Sardines aux yeux bleus. Miracle! Everything I would ever want in a Bed & Breakfast: beams, stone walls, brocante furniture, terracotta tiles, stone pool, roses, etc. I booked a night and we set off early on the weekend.
After a detour to buy an ancient oak bed - which then creaked and groaned during the rest of our travels - we arrived at Les Sardines, unpacked, had a swim and then spent a happy day visiting Uzès and Orange, and viewing factories of the Rhone valley, including the aforementioned nuclear plant with its four layers of electric fencing, razor wire, security cameras and 'no photography' signs. As there was no tours or tea available, we left and went back to the B and B hoping to find a small restaurant within walking distance.
And there was: the Auberge d'Aigaliers.
It was one of those memorable pieces of time: a walk on a warm evening with swallows weaving and the mind empty other than what to eat and drink.

                                   Auberge d'Aigaliers

Situated seemingly within an old church tower with a vine covered terrace this is my idea of a perfect restaurant: convivial and serving unfussy food in a memorable surroundings.
Eating continued the next morning with a fabulous array of breakfast possibilities at Les Sardines including a fluffy strawberry mousse-cake - something I haven't experienced at a b and b before - but would be happy to encounter again!

        Dining room at Les sardines

                 The breakfast cake!

                                            Detail from our room (Rose room)

The return journey home was equally as interesting as the day before with stops at Anduze, Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort, the touristic/knick-knack-shopped nightmare of St Guillem-le-Désert (beautiful, but perhaps best viewed on a foggy day in January, when you could park) and Olargues, another of the 'plus beaux villages de France' but with no tourists and knick-knack shops at all.
I will look back on that small road trip with fondness, the highlight being our stay at The Sardines - I hope to return, and to stay in others like it.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

They don't make 'em like this no more

Last Thursday's Vide Grenier yielded fine things: two white china hotel-ware casseroles, 1920's teapot, shoes, jeans, Café de la paix ash-tray and this excellent example of early twentieth century 'aspiration'- an all metal and bakelite hoover.

I had casually picked up a more recent model (1960s) to examine it when the lady 'vendeur' said:
    "Madame (you are obviously the sort of mad person who might consider what I am about to suggest) we have an earlier type of aspirateur here in this valise. "Would you care to - "
"Yes," I replied far too quickly, snapping open the case's locks, and gazing with adoration on chrome and early fake crocodile skin.
    "It is old, Madame,"
    I waited for the usual follow up words that would proclaim old = very expensive, but no! Five euros . . .
    "Does it work?" I asked, nonchalantly.
    "Bien sur, Madame - come, we will find a plug."
    Grasping the hoover she barged into a house on the square and demanded we try the apparatus. The two elderly people engaged in making their lunch stood back and covered their ears, perhaps wary of a possible house-wrecking explosion while their neighbour searched for a suitable socket.
The machine started up as if it had never been in storage and efficiently sucked up crumbs and dog hair much to the amazement of the small crowd that had gathered on the step.
I paid my five euros; we agreed that the deal benefited everyone and I walked back to the car realising the hoover's motor alone probably weighed more than thirty Dyson's.
    When we got it home, I cleaned it and tested out the various shaped tools on our sofa and floor while making a mental comparison to our sulking, yellow, plastic Miele model. It is heavy, yes, but very powerful with two cloth bags you can change over and wash out. The tools are beautifully ergonomic especially the main metal one with a swivelling action that reaches every crumb of dried- out cat food in every corner of the kitchen. It is more of a 'performance' to use this vacuum; a conscious effort: "Let's DO the hoovering," unpacking the ceremonial case, twisting the chrome poles into place - click-click . . .

To read the instruction manual is a trip back into time as well - the first page reading:
'Madame, we wish that your 'Lux' will give you all the satisfaction that you have the right to wait for in your abode: comfort, hygiene and rest, that will allow you to have more leisure time; in one word, a faithful servant, sure and devoted . . . '
   Must go and find the Miele book, if we still have it. I can't imagine the prose being quite so poetic - or sexist!

Monday 11 May 2015

Building 49

One of the places on this planet I feel most at home in is on the coast generally; whether it be a windswept corner of cliffs and thundering waves, a stretch of perfect sand and calm blueness or a quiet unsung non-tourist destination such as this. This, being a spit of land bordering one of the 'etangs' or sea lakes of the Southern French coast housing a collection of small, often hand-built-over- time low rise dwellings used for fishing, relaxing and probably escaping from the nine-to-five. Named generally "Les Cabanes de . . . . " - whatever the closest town or city is, this particular group are situated somewhere on the coast near Montpellier.
I took a turning off the autoroute having spied the muddle of tin and tile roofs, and parked up at the end of a gravel track glad to be away from the thrum of traffic then walked down the small road between the houses and their opposite patches of garden.
This dwelling was particularly memorable with its vibrant turquoise paintwork worthy of a Tim Burton movie. I sat for a moment on a flaking red metal chair hoping Johnny Depp might be about to appear dressed in a pink dressing gown with a tray of tea and cakes.