Friday 31 July 2020

old dog, new tricks

A very apt phrase concerning our older greyhound. She must be about twelve now and although agile still spends most of her time (as greyhounds do) looking beautiful on the sofa.
However... within the last few months Gala has discovered the joy of WATER.
At first it was tentative paw in a stream, quick drink and out again; now it's increased to a joyful springy run towards any stretch of water, preferably with a good patch of mud or sand to play about in too.
I think she must be reliving or rather living her puppyhood of which she was cheated being a beaten rescue dog from Spain.
Adopt a 'Galgo/Galga''. The most loving, funny, affectionate, wonderful to look at and sadly maltreated dogs . . .


                    default greyhound position - nodding off on sofa after 'walkies'


                                                                 Joy of mud


                                                                Joy of water

Saturday 25 July 2020

The unbearable heaviness of moving

Moving as in, house.
We've been in the same abode for about fourteen years and have accumulated a billion things, some of which are worthwhile, wonderful, spirit-lifting, practical, inspiring, heart-warming, educational, etc, and then all the other stuff; a slit-like layer of boot sale, spur-of-the-moment minor acquisitions; things that were relevant at whatever particular moment in time the item represents and now not remotely relevant but oh so hard to shed...
We've all reached the same slightly blank state of mind which envelopes one after too much sorting and packing up; a state which involves just staring helplessly at the mountain of books, CDs, socks, bed linen, photograph albums, paintings, pans, et al and wondering what it all means. What it will all mean in the next house? What will it all mean to our son? mind, quite a bit of it is his anyway.
But we have had many good purges along the way, and more will follow. What great satisfaction there is to be had in dropping off a boot load of stuff to our local, marvellous recycling emporium - (probably 50% of it all came from there . . .)

Here is a random collection of stuff under consideration - found in a drawer this morning.
Tiny glass animals Ezra purchased on some holiday trip somewhere. Nostalgia kicks in - have to keep them.  The various body casts of 'Reggie Kray' a pet crayfish which grew to an enormous size and ate most of Ezra's fish in one of his aquarium phases. Think these will have to go - a tad gruesome and I feel the ghost of him still lurks.
A minute statue of Mary from a junk market in Toulouse, various fossils from an early collection mine or Ezra, or both. We'll keep all of these. I think.

Monday 20 July 2020

Making do

Now more than ever this seems relevant.
I've always been a jumble sale/boot sale/charity shop addict - coached well by my mother and she by her mother. Nothing was ever wasted, things that our society would now hurl bin-wards would be picked undone, glued back together and re-purposed.
My book, LONDONIA, is largely concerned with such practices, the populace left to fend for themselves outside the copper walls of the inner sanctum, getting by and making do.
I've just rounded up all black leather articles in the house and used up the leather dye I bought last year to do Mark's All Saints jacket which was beginning to look more than a bit faded . . .
The messenger bag was bought in Spain about twelve years ago and was expensive but it shows how well-crafted things last; a quick sponge down with the dye and it's ready to go again, possible Bag-for life? The shoes are Churches brogues which he bought about thirty-five years ago and were a rather unpleasant tan colour; the dyeing from two years ago is still good but I topped it up a little.
The jacket is looking better again and a bag I bought years ago, used countless times but again a good brand has been dye-rescued.
A friend recounted an interesting statistic yesterday . . . there is enough clothing on the planet to last for six generations. As mentioned by Patrick Grant on 'The Great British Sewing Bee.'
Makes one think...



Thursday 16 July 2020


Rather a delay in reviewing due to Covid confusion but worth waiting for.

British author Hardy debuts with a dystopian yet enchanting novel set in the early 2070s, a period some three decades after the Final Curtain, a cataclysmic occurrence whose exact nature is never revealed.

The elite live in the Cincture, an area that corresponds to central London, which is now contained within walls of 'shining coppery metal'. The citizens of the sprawling area outside the walls called Londonia muddle along by sharing what little they possess and bartering.

Hoxton, a beautiful woman in her 30s, wakes up one morning in Londonia with no memory of what went before. She is soon befriended by Jarvis a wily old soul, who immediately reckons that she would make an excellent Finder: someone who barters for goods and seeks out items that clients want, such as spectacles or an 'Ikea cabinet, circa 2025.'

During a visit to the Cincture on business, Hoxton discovers she has a son, and her search to find him and understand her past begins. The author does a fine job portraying her Dickensian characters. Hardy's almost hopeful view of the world's inevitably chaotic future lifts this entertaining and well-told tale.

Agent: Sandra Sawicka, Marjacq Scripts (U.K). (July)

Londonia is available from Tartarus Press/Amazon/Bookshops as a magnificent hardback or in Kindle format.

Click link on right to buy book from Tartarus. Pdf of first chapter also available.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Walk cataloguing. Walk No 2

The Ajac walk.

In previous walk-catalogue post, I explained that we are moving North-Westwards, therefore all walks that we hold dear from this region must be recorded, and possibly put into a book called, walks in the Aude or something more interesting but for now, I'll include them on this blog.

So, the Ajac walk.
This is a varying length walk, can be a longish circuit of three or four hours depending on heat, or whether Mark is on the walk - very, very long legs - or it can be just a pleasant amble along a winding stream with all associated insect, flora and bird life. This morning, as it is plum season here (far too early - used to be end of August...) it was a dog amble with bags ready to scrump free fruit.
The tree I thought I had remembered must have been on another walk, or perhaps I dreamt it - an enormous umbrella of a tree covered with almost black plums - but we found clutch of other trees at the edge of a vine field, each branch weighed down with pounds of fruit, and just ripe enough to make perfect jam.
The dogs romped in the stream, chased each other up and down the grassy pathways and generally built up memories for later snoozing on the sofa - the twitching feet and the occasional muffled bark as they dozily reenact the walk.


Walk's start in Ajac village


               The walk down towards the stream


                  happy dog (Gala has recently discovered the joys of stream bathing)

The sort of shed I would build


                           Plum scrumping in RayBans


           Not such a good apricot year, but we found a few

Sunday 5 July 2020

Losing my phone

The world belongs to those who check - a useful phrase I've adopted over the last couple of years, and usually it works, except a few weeks back I didn't check when leaving a gîte. About half way back home I realised I must have left my phone charging. It was annoying but I'd ask our very efficient host to send it back and reimburse her. Which she did immediately but the phone never turned up - 'lost' by Chronopost (never use them unless there is no other option, and then, don't, unless you wish to spend all your waking hours trying to navigate their complaints system - there isn't one).
So, life without a smart phone. I noticed, as when I first gave up coffee, a slight nagging sensation in my mind; something missing, something habitual, my index finger poised to prod that little round, slightly concave disc which would then wake a screen which would allow me to trawl, scroll, and distract myself for as long as desired. I didn't think I was addicted but the absence of the thing wakened me to the fact that I had - albeit a light addiction - been. How had people reacted to that last Instagram post? Should I post something new on Facebook? I'll just check messages/WhatsApp/ the weather/mail/google - what was the name of that Russian dog who was sent into space?  etc.

After searching about in the 'misc' drawer we found two old iPhones - a three and a four. I love the three with it's rounded corners and ultra solid feel but sadly it would be impossible to use now - and this was confirmed when I took it to the Orange shop. The seventeen year old assistant had handled the two ancient gadgets with a sort of wonder; how had people used such oddities? He sorted the sim card on the four and handed it back to me with a look of sympathy - good luck with the antique.
The phone works, in that I can call people, text, occasionally access Safari if 3G is awake enough, but not a lot else. Instagram is unattainable, Facebook, possibly, but my passwords don't seem to work. For a few days this was annoying. I wanted to share pictures of slumbering upside-down dogs, flowers, extracts of my writing, etc but after a while the urge sloped off to now be no urge - at all. I forget where the phone is, forget to charge it, forget it's presence unless I need to call someone. It feels good not to have the nagging sensation. The only thing I've really missed is the map apps as they save huge amounts of time when trying to locate a place - see last post... However I am paper map obsessed generally, and talking to other humans to get directions isn't a bad thing.
This may not last of course; I may feel deprived, left out, feel quietly derided for using such a scarred antiquity with its piddly screen. Or not. Maybe its a wonderful thing to reclaim that part of one's brain so drawn to those regular-as-clockwork tiny dopamine hits and be content to revert to using a phone for what they originally were devised for.


Thursday 2 July 2020

If Kafka had ever visited an industrial estate

he might have been inspired to write a novella on the subject...

                                           Carcassonne before its industrial estates.

I hate these places generally, wastelands of land-fill producing companies, (on the whole), the odd coffee van lurking on a corner if you are lucky, and miles of interconnected roads leading to nowhere that all look the same with often insufficient notice boards decreeing which companies are there, and where exactly.
Yesterday, armed with the name and address of a removal company which supplies cardboard boxes, tape and suchlike, I ventured forth to afore-mentioned warren of roads and spent an hour and a half driving slowly around and stopping, much to the annoyance of courier vans, to try and fathom where 'Gerard' removals was located.
My phone has recently been stolen or 'lost' in the post by Chronopost (another rant to be ranted) and the prehistoric iPhone we found in a drawer won't do much more than call and text, so, no map apps, and very hesitant search engines, AND, I'd forgotten to write down the firm's number. I swore a lot under the shade of a lone tree - that's another thing about these places, or this one, there are no trees anywhere - and phoned Mark to ask if he could look up the info on his phone. He did, but it was another Gerard in the middle of town, and nothing to do with removals, so I drove around a bit more then saw another removal company called 'Cabri' so went in to ask if they know the one called Gerard.
Interesting the psychology of certain French women in a slight power situation. She calmly and briskly informed me that Gerard and Cabri were the same thing. I duly said that I'd been driving around the estate, and not for taking in the beauty of it, and why wasn't there a sign, or a name anywhere to indicate the presence of Gerard (Cabri) removals, and why did it not say on the website that Cabri was the name one should look for. She deflected my comments by demanding what I wanted, and, since it was nearly lunchtime and I would be then thrown out and a whole morning would thus be wasted I forgot the Kafka stuff, told her what I required, paid and was given the pile of flat pack boxes and shown the stairs.
A certain satisfaction crept back; at least I had achieved this minor task, and could now enjoy a quick lunch with Mark in the town square, and more importantly empty my bladder as too much tea before setting out was starting to be an issue, and I wouldn't have dared to ask if I could use Cabri's loo.
I arrived in the square, we chose a cheap bistro, ordered and I said I'd just nip to the loo.
'It was not allowed, madame' stated the waiter. Covid rules. I said it was extremely urgent, and what did they do when they wanted a pee. He said it would be a penal offence if were to use the loo, they didn't have the right cleaning 'materials' and air hand dryers were forbidden. Crossing my legs more, I asked where the nearest public convenience was. He pointed to the corner of the square and I hobbled off. It was out of order. I asked a policeman. He said normally the ones at the other end of the square under the raised stage area would be available but not for some time to come as various events were being put on and the loos blocked off with scaffolding. I asked where else was there one and he looked blankly about before pointing in the direction of Barcelona. Maybe over there . . . somewhere. Meanwhile my plat du jour was going cold. I walked more swiftly about through various streets, begged in a few bars, nope, not possible, even if I bought and downed a shot of brandy, which by that time I was beginning to need.
I peered back into the square. Mark was looking slightly worried, and my lunch was sitting there getting more gelatinous by the second. I walked around further away into some tiny back streets, considered a doorway until I noticed somewhere watching me with interest from an upstairs window. Fountain in the square? Forget lunch and drive to a field?


                                       How happy I would have been to find this beauty

In got back to the square and really began to feel a bit panicky.
Going to the loo in a café when you have ordered something is so utterly unthought about. It's just what you do. I've done it hundreds of times. It's the law for eating establishments: normally. But this is Covid time, and nothing is normal. Perhaps all these eateries shouldn't be open. Maybe all these waiters shouldn't be touching our plates without gloves on, or wearing their masks casually over one ear while discussing football with regulars. Maybe we should have been at home eating, but it was a special event. Mark has just left (desired to leave it) his job, and I had successfully not gone mad on an industrial estate.
In desperation I pushed open a very decrepit door in one of the square's buildings, went into a hallway hoping perhaps there might be a communal loo somewhere and then - crazed from bladder pressure and no food - went down a flight of stairs into a cellar which was full of old fridges and rotten wood. But no loo. I really had fallen into a worrying novel or that film 'After Hours' by Scorsese. Some old woman would appear and strangle me with half finished knitting or I would fall down a hole into a parallel time where all the loos would be open in the square but Mark and my lunch would never be found. So, anyway, I did pee, next to a pile of rotten wood and zipped back up the stairs praying no one would ask me what I was doing.
My lunch was cold but I don't think it was probably ever too wonderful. I ate then went to pay. The waiter did actually apologise and said he would ring the local council about the lack of public loos. I later wondered what all those other eighty or so people sitting drinking beers and cokes had done faced with the same situation. Od course, it is somewhat easier for blokes...