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