Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Abandoned places





This is the staircase of our local ex-railway station; a magnificent building with carved staircase, and high ornamented windows. As ever while nosing around sad and neglected places it makes me reflect on who was the last person to use that broom, the last person to water the flower boxes now filled with brown crunchy plants. The station must have been of some importance at the time judging by the care taken over the building's construction and its collection of fanciful waiting rooms and WCs. 

I did go the marie recently and ask if there was ay chance that the station might be reinstated - easy enough, not that I know much about the complications of such an idea; all that would be required would be a ticket machine, or they could do the place up, give someone a job, refill the plant boxes, make a tea-room . . . as if. The woman eyed me kindly - mainly as I had already congratulated them on their fine development of park/playground area - and said the mayor was keen to do this but it depended on SNCF (French railway) and 'the region'. 

You'd think that the latter and former would be keen to take several hundred vehicles and associated pollution away from the roads per day as nearly everyone must commute by car to the nearby big town. If it is even an idea I have a feeling it will exist in various in-trays for several years to come. Unless . . . Hm, there could always be a petition . . .








Sunday, 27 November 2022

Portraiture

Bali (greyhound) and lad get snapped a lot when the latter comes back home for a visit but I particularly loved this picture with the drying tea towel/pyjamas backdrop.



 


Thursday, 24 November 2022

You learn something every day. Note number 2,000 or so

Maybe not quite that many, but I have many-a-time blogged about the sudden acquisition of a basic and somehow overlooked piece of fundamental logic.

I was reading about trees recently - deciduous varieties - and it seems that at the point that the tree decides, through chill or lack of light or combination of both that it is time to let its summer coat go, a chemical reaction takes place and each leaf detaches from the mother ship, deprived of its usual water and nutrient supply.

Every species of tree is different of course - early budding and early shutting down such as the horse chestnut, or more cautious, like our very late-leafing apple tree which still seems to have ninety percent of all its foliage. At the moment our lawn is perpetually covered with papery yellow and brown leaves of our towering lime tree. 

Usually, we rake, perhaps dump the leaves on a tarp and drag them to various mulch piles, the tarps gradually ripping and thinning in the process, or just pick them up by hand. But this year, Dr Lockett seized with sudden wisdom, cut two pieces of old hardboard from the woodpile and started to use them like large mole hands. It's transformed the job, the leaves crushed and pinned between the wood - actually very satisfying to do too. Why did we not invent this before?

Duh.





Tuesday, 22 November 2022

A very favourite place

Win Green hill in Wiltshire. Somewhere that Mum and I used to go to walk, listen to the larks twittering as they rose into never-ending summer skies and sit within the cool green shade of the hill's crowning trees.


I haven't been able to get back to Mum's grave since the day we said goodbye to her, the flowers and earth fresh, the plot waiting for its new little silver birch tree. Covid prevented the visit and only now have I been able to get away from home and make the trip back to Dorset.

So, I stood and talked to her for a while and reflected on some of the places we might have visited, back in time, seated in her elderly burgundy Nissan Micra. The sea, a walk at a favourite avenue of lofty oaks followed by tea and cake in the nearby café, an ancient hill fort with views across the undulating green countryside. Or, Win Green, a long curve of a hill topped with a wedge of stubborn beech trees, shaped over the years by the scudding Northern winds, a place that has featured many times in my books.


I chose the latter, and it being fairly . . . no, impossible, to access by public transport my lovely friend and fellow tree/hill/wilderness enthusiast drove us there. It was probably the first time I had experienced the hill without its gentle breezes, larks and nodding wild flowers. This day had been wind-wild, smatterings of horizontal rain, the beeches almost leafless and the usual views curtained by misty cloud, but it was just as atmospheric and memorable. We sketched, changed a few shouted words of appreciation against the blasts of wind then squelched back to her car to recover and plan where we could raise a cup of tea to Mum's memory.













Sunday, 16 October 2022

Paperback writer

I am one!

Londonia has been made into a paperback following its earlier appearance as a hardback.




When I started writing the book about seven years ago, my invented London's dystopian future seemed a long way away; something dark, a climatically and societally complex time.

These last few years have clearly shown that our taken-for-granted human-made political, monetary and life support structures exist on a knife edge; that the planet and its climate can no longer take the constant battering we have been giving it for decades, and that we have to figure out, and very rapidly, new systems, and accept that never-ending growth is not the future, rather, a humble acceptation of de-growth while there is still time...

Oof... Anyway, Londonia is certainly not all dark, a genre I would term Dyst-hopeia, dystopia with warmth heart, humour and hope. 

The new paperback is available on Amazon, Blackwells or from Tartarus Press directly, as is the hardback and ebook format.

The follow-up book is at completion point and I am seeking new representation to carry forward the Londonia series.

“British author Hardy debuts with a dystopian yet enchanting novel set in the early 2070s…Hardy’s almost hopeful view of the world’s inevitably chaotic future lifts this entertaining and well-told tale.” Publishers Weekly

Londonia's book jacket intro:

Londonia, that’s where we are. A sprawl of a place surrounding The Cincture - all of it once London town. 

Some persons say we’re in the year 2073, others cycle 60 . . . who gives a creepin’ beetle where we are in the history of man. Fukked it up good and proper didn’t we – they, humankind generally. 

All I know is I got my shed, my friends and a little bit of an angle on stuff – visions, see inside persons, y’know. 

Anyway, ain’t about me so much this book, more about Hoxton and her life. 

Within half a clockface I knew she was different . . . not so many damefolk would take over a church after waking on a bench with not so much as a gnat’s knowledge of what happened in their life before that moment. Got it sorted she has: a finder’s life for her – whatever you want: coffee, a shootstickfresh meat, Zeitporn, snash, gnole . . . her ‘an Jarvis, they’ll find it – for a goodly trade, of course.

All sorted until a jaunt into The Cincture caused her to learn something that opened up a chink into the past; something that started the ultimate finding mission. 

Anylane, I’m getting ahead of meself here. Pull up that armchair to the fire, turn this over and start reading. I’ll put the kettle on if the watermec’s been. Jake’s the name – Jake the prophet.

 

 



Monday, 3 October 2022

Oh, but to slip into sleep as a contented hound must do

As Shakespeare wrote in his play, As you would rather like it, back in 1624.


I think we all must suffer the annoyances of insomnia from time to time, or regularly or even almost constantly - if you happen to be like my dear mother. I could always tell from my first glimpse of her on a morning if the day was likely to proceed with her being wracked with grumpiness. She coped ok most of the time and would brighten considerably after a first creosote mug of tea but it was always a problem wish I wish she could have solved.

Currently, Mark and I have periods of insomnia which don't match each others at all. He will start sleeping as his head nears the pillow whereas I usually ruminate on some event of the day for a while or for hours if I don't manage to divert the thoughts with attention to my breathing. This often works but if a persistant niggling thought suddenly developed into something worthy of worry, that's it for a calm and restful night's sleep. Whereas, Mark often wakes at about four thirty - five/five thirty has somehow become alright - reads, makes bread (hurrah!) and does his worrying then.

Going somewhere else always breaks these sleep, or rather, non-sleep patterns, the sea being the best, but not overly practical, unless we move to the coast, but then we'd probably get acclimatised and all the patterns would reform and going away to somewhere else like a forest cabin would become the getaway, and so on.

I've tried natural, herb based remedies, mild-ish sleep, non-prescription pills, and full on sledge hammer tablets, non of which worked and the latter two gave me stomach upsets and heart palpitations. So, what does work - for me? Not eating too late in the evening, no caffeine-y stuff after about four, no looking at emails after late afternoon - in case of something angst inducing - and on a positive note, audible meditation and audio stories. Meditation does certainly work, especially the music-less ones that concentrate on slowing the breath and the nervous system generally, but to get into the right state takes some time and I prefer to use meditation now during the day at some point. The audio book is now my go-to sleep aid which works almost without fail.

I did have a few months of listening to Will Self's Book of Dave as I found his voice lulling, even though parts of the story are certainly nightmare inducing, but then the kind person who put it up on Youtube took it down again - possibly spooked by this one listener prodding the story into life several evenings a week.

So, the current favourite - The Secret Garden, read by Steven Garnet (Red Fox Voice). I hope he wouldn't mind me advertising this as a sleep aid but it totally works - for me. His reading is remarkable, the accents spot on, the pacing and tone, truly excellent. I know the story well from my childhood so enjoy all the characters, visual impressions of the garden, house and windswept moorland. That's the thing. It has to be familiar to assist sleep, the story known well so that the words act as a warm cocoon. A new story would be too engaging to encourage sleep and the subject, obviously, is important. American psycho or  The Road, probably wouldn't work . . .


 

Monday, 26 September 2022

Post for no reason other than colour

I strayed onto the Twitter platform this morning to 'Like' something - and I did genuinely like it, a Tweet from my publisher, Tartarus Press, about their latest book, Fifty Forgotten Books, an interesting tome I will buy for a certain person's Christmas present.

Twitter is a place of intense noise, less tweet, more Tinnitus. I used to add the odd comment but found I was thinking up banalities in order to receive my brain-hit of affirmation and backed away again. I'm sure it has its important uses, politically and informationally but it feels like just another layer of image and sound to be absorbed.

Anyway, as I started to scroll, almost unaware I was doing so, I noticed the image below and was struck by the pure beauty and calmness of the portrayed pile of plant dyed fabrics. After reading a Guardian article yesterday morning about the amount of chemicals, including, clothes dyes found in Raptor livers, noting something as simple as colours made from nettle, acorns and gorse flowers was somehow incredibly reassuring and at the same time overwhelmingly sad. How have we made such a mess of everything in such a short time on this planet?

Thank you to who ever posted the picture - sorry I failed to note the name. I might wander into the realm of plant dyes and incorporate them into my artworks that I will be starting . . . soon. After the building project is finished, see previous post.  


 

Saturday, 24 September 2022

90% there

I think. Maybe 85%, possible 92% depending on how much I peer in depth at our construction site next door. A quick glance in through the doorway - which now has very beautiful attached oak door - thank you Micheal - gives me the impression of, nah, not really too much to do now, where as a more thorough check though and list made . . . and yes there's still a fair bit to do; mostly finishing details, a bit of searching for old light fittings/remaining second hand furniture, filling a lot of holes with lime mortar (chaux) and a couple of things that neither Mark or I can do properly.


In France, or at least in our area, it seems really difficult to find someone who is a general (and reliable) all rounder DIY-ist, or Bricoleur in French. Every step of the renovating procedure has involved specialists in their own fields: stone mason, electrician, plumber, roofer, etc, and virtually no one who is capable of doing all of it to a certain level. I suppose it avoids mess-ups, and over confidence - 'yep, can do that for you, and the roof? yeah, no probs. I know this great shortcut using cardboard and old tyres.' 

But it would be great to find someone just to help with the last few bits - bit of a kick up our collective backsides to get the project finished.


But it will be finished, and when I look back at what we started with, well, we've come quite a long way in a year.






Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Perfect packaging

Yesterday, after visiting our favourite second hand emporium in a search for a chest of drawers and suitable containers for nesting chickens - found the perfect huge oval roasting tin, slightly macabre but I don't suppose they'll notice - we ended up in the fearful planet of Hyper-Leclerc for one item.

A few months back Mark invested in a new razor - one of the few things it's tricky to purchase as a pre-loved item. After dazedly looking at the shelves of testosterone-fulled, heavily marketed, black, aqua and red packaged razors he noticed a quiet and discreet model named Bulldog. No shouting about performance, new twenty blades, the best a man can get, etc; just a straight forward . . . razor with spare blades and a bamboo wood handle.

So, the one item in the supermarket we needed was new blades as our more local planet of stuff doesn't do that one no-fuss brand, yet. Below, the photo of the packaging. Card and ink, that's about it. Imagine if all products could be so simple, and how shopping time could be reduced. No staring blankly at fifty different options encased in layers of shiny, rigid plastic; but then people wouldn't have choice, something we've sadly grown totally accustomed to, at least in countries rich enough to have ad agencies, stuff development teams, supermarkets and willing customers. 



This little recycled card box gives me hope. 

Perhaps one day, the hand cream product I used to buy as it was in a tin rather than a thick plastic pot might reappear, and people might forget there was once a choice of kitten soft, three layer quilted, spring scented, matching bathroom-coloured loo paper and be content that a paper-wrapped, slightly off-white version exists in their small local shop.




Monday, 19 September 2022

Local exploration on a Saturday in early autumn

Our son has recently moved into a small house in a previously unknown to us town in an area not renowned for stuff to do. At first glance the town appeared drab, the surrounding area without great interest but during this past weekend we embarked on lengthy wanderings which proved otherwise - nothing that guide books would rave about, except one magnificent small-scale chateau we came across during the small road trip on Sunday. 

Saturday was a long meander from the door step, though the town, along a road that follows the railway line, then part of the voie vert a newly constructed bike and walkers path made from a disused line, back along the road, and into the hilly section of the town where we could look across the valley to the house where we started out from. 

As ever on these observational walks there was much to note: monumental factory buildings, architectural details, water towers, faded shop signs, characterful passing dogs and front gardens of all categories - gnome-filled, obsessively clean with coloured gravel and little else, overgrown insect paradises . . .

Hmm, new book: front gardens 

Could be a project . . . s'pose it's been done, possibly many times.



Typical haphazard nest building of the coloured dove


The cutest police headquarters, ever




Ex flower shop and imaginative roundabout



The voie verte



my desire


a pretty wild 1950s café floor


a fine 1970s (?) water tower






Saturday, 10 September 2022

Goodbye Queenie.

My mother used to refer to her as Queenie and the same name tag always stuck in my mind, just as she was always there, in the background of our lives as we weren't royalists. I'm still not, and pay small attention to the comings and goings of the UK's most high ranking family. I think I was painting the side of someone's house during the wedding of Charles and Diana, and I recall looking at early hifi equipment in John Lewis with Mum when some other huge royal event during the 70s was taking place.

But as so many others must feel, it is so odd to realise someone who has always been there as much as a parent always is has finally left us. All those angular handbags and matching outfits as bright and striking as Gerbera daisies, all those times I wondered if the Queen craved beans on toast or wished to disguise herself and wander around a car boot sale on a Sunday, all those times I asked myself what it would feel like to hear the announcement that she had passed on.

Farewell Queenie.


                                                                           Getty images



Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Dyst-hopeia

My genre of writing: dystopian but with hope and humour. 

Highly visual portrayals of imagined futures, often set in London, towards the end of this century.

Elements of Atwood, Dickens, Kim Stanley Robinson, Douglas Adams, Emily St. John Mandel. 

Londonia the first book in the Londonia series was published by Tartarus Press in 2020 just before lockdown - timely for its genre . . .

Smithi, the follow up novel is completed, other companion works finished to good edit standard.


“British author Hardy debuts with a dystopian yet enchanting novel set in the early 2070s…Hardy’s almost hopeful view of the world’s inevitably chaotic future lifts this entertaining and well-told tale.” Publishers Weekly

Londonia's book jacket intro:

Londonia, that’s where we are. A sprawl of a place surrounding The Cincture - all of it once London town. 

Some persons say we’re in the year 2073, others cycle 60 . . . who gives a creepin’ beetle where we are in the history of man. Fukked it up good and proper didn’t we – they, humankind generally. 

All I know is I got my shed, my friends and a little bit of an angle on stuff – visions, see inside persons, y’know. 

Anyway, ain’t about me so much this book, more about Hoxton and her life. 

Within half a clockface I knew she was different . . . not so many damefolk would take over a church after waking on a bench with not so much as a gnat’s knowledge of what happened in their life before that moment. Got it sorted she has: a finder’s life for her – whatever you want: coffee, a shootstickfresh meat, Zeitporn, snash, gnole . . . her ‘an Jarvis, they’ll find it – for a goodly trade, of course.

All sorted until a jaunt into The Cincture caused her to learn something that opened up a chink into the past; something that started the ultimate finding mission. 

Anylane, I’m getting ahead of meself here. Pull up that armchair to the fire, turn this over and start reading. I’ll put the kettle on if the watermec’s been. Jake’s the name – Jake the prophet.

 

 

                                                                                     


 

Friday, 2 September 2022

Top dump

In praise of our local déchèterie or dump. Actually, it's not our nearest but its worth going there for the employees cheeriness, efficiency and organisational skills. Everything is sorted into as many categories as you could think of from past-it duvets, a whole container just for plaster board offcuts, another for those annoying boingy strips of plastic that surround tile packets and suchlike; paint, windows, kitchen sinks, furniture, etc and with an emphasis on 'if you can use it, take it away' unlike our more local dump where the workers scowl at you for asking if you might rescue something from a container.

Today we unloaded a car's worth of old plasterboard and rubbish from our nearly completed (thank the Lord of all DIY) gite project, and rescued a stack of beautiful blue and white plates which had been left along with a trailer load of perfectly good stuff which could have gone to Emmaus. The main guy had nodded at me as I had walked back to the car with the china. 'Bravo. I don't understand why people drive out here to throw away such stuff.' He had glanced back at the trailer where the china had come from where its owners were busily throwing away a serviceable false Christmas tree complete with baubles, bags of kids books, china and fabrics. 'Yeah, I don't get it."

Added to the perfection of this establishment was their red painted stuffed fox placed in the centre above the recycling bins.




Monday, 29 August 2022

Why?

Relevant to so many things at the moment - why are utter idiots in control of so much; why are humans pressing ahead with making new forms of robot hoovers, coffee makers and ever faster internet when there are clearly a few . . . slightly . . . more serious issues to be resolved.

This particular why? is about fly-tipping; why do people do it, why are they not bothered by the thought of turning a piece of unsuspecting landscape into a patch of man-made detritus that everyone else has to look at or move.

Recently along our local lanes someone has been repeatedly dumping car contents even though we have a municipal dump only a few miles away. Mark sent images to the marie and received not so much as Ah, yes, monsieur, eet is indeed, not good, until he sent another photo of a pile of beer bottles and suggested they might start a fire as the temperature was hovering around the late 30s. Everything disappeared the following morning . . .

Yesterday on a dog walk along a particularly lush (yes there is still lush amongst the parched landscape) lane. After a few minutes of admiring what nature can still push forth in late August if left alone to do so, we happened upon a cache of about seven bin and supermarket bags bulging with clothes, shoes and bags. Why? Why not take them to the clothes recycling bank which is about half a mile away rather than potentially wrecking the underside of their car on the tractor-wrecked path? Or drive it all to Emmaus in Saumur when they next have to go there.

We returned later as we did have to go to town and went through it all, Ezra taking the less wearable stuff for his recycled clothes projects, and myself a few useful items. Then we did drive it to said emporium where hopefully they should raise a couple of hundred euros by our calculations. I wonder if the tippers ever muse on what happened to those bags, placed far enough away from a road that almost no-one would come across them. Presumably not. Clothes dumped, car reversed, hands wiped, job done. Weird.


                                One of Ezra's work-in-progress coats, all made from recycled clothing


                  A finished coat. Discarded work trouser cloth, Ikea curtain fabric and napkins from Emmaus.

                  Ezra's instagram page: e.locktt


Thursday, 25 August 2022

The small room

Somewhere on this blog I started a loo diary - not about my doings as Lord Peter Wimsey would say - but about the decor of these strange little rooms where one is alone, cut off temporarily from the chatter and clatter of a restaurant, bus station, supermarket . . . Maybe I am alone in this contemplation, or not? Does anyone else sit there looking around them at the choice of tiles, hastily painted pipes and type of paper dispenser? Occasionally the loo will be a masterpiece, oneself honoured to spend a few minutes within a space of individual expression, its walls decorated with pictures, posters, mosaics, quirky murals, etc; more often they are are functional, in-and-out four tiled walls of varying cleanliness, the statutory brush in holder, small bin, roll of paper - if one is lucky.

Featured below is a bathroom worthy of a Lynch film I visited a few times while staying in an old farm house recently, the room taking up a long thin wedge of the house, loo at one end and basin at the other with a gap of about five meters between them. When sitting on the loo, the sink appeared to move slowly backwards in the gloom as in one of those dreams of never-ending corridors. A dim bulb lit up the turquoise and purple geometric 70s wallpaper, a small three-legged stool offered the roll of paper, and a snaking system of verdigris copper piping allowed musing on how the water system had ever been conceived.



Wednesday, 24 August 2022

That time again

The lad flies the nest in a few days and I recall that odd empty feeling encroaching. It's fine. This year was only a staging post between studies and we all knew that but even so it will be an emotional wrench again; an acceptance that the house will no longer contain the sounds of drumming or violin, the table will be laid for two and that dog walking will be more often a solitary exercise.

This year has been one of many developments. Ezra came back having learned a considerable amount about big scale carpentry but with a knowledge that he definitely didn't want to continue with it. I had suggested a year of working on our outbuilding as he was probably going to head towards a smaller version of carpentry but as the walks and talks continued and he experimented with sewing in the evenings it seemed clear that wood might be replaced by cloth or in fact, leather.

Fast forward to now and he has a place at a company about an hour away that makes leather goods for high end fashion houses, his idea to learn as much as possible and then . . . who knows. It could be a career in Gucci bags; I and he somewhat doubt that, maybe saddle making as horses may become once again a more familiar form of transport; or perhaps he'll head towards being more autonomous - off grid, discovering permaculture . . . a voir, as the French say. To be seen, but in the meantime, we'll look forward to his visits back and watch with interest how this latest stage progresses in our inventive and wonderful lad's life.

Missing you already. 











Thursday, 18 August 2022

Mind library

I was going through some recent images on the computer and came across a photograph of a certain type of fishing hut used largely on the French Atlantic coast - and probably elsewhere. It reminded me immediately of Bert-the Swagger's stilt house. I then thought back to the original ink drawing I had made a few years back of said house and wondered where the inspiration had come from. I must have previously walked that stretch of coast and been intrigued by the house and its net arrangements and stocked the images in my mind for some future use.

Here is the photo, and I will try and find the ink drawing...


Bert-the Swagger? A greasy, wily and Dickensian character in my Londonia series of books who lives on the edge of the Thames in afore-mentioned black-planked house, retrieving previously hidden items from the river's mud; often items we would today regard as common place, but in 2073, valuable rarities.

Here is a section of Londonia in which our heroine, Hoxton, a gifted 'finder' is (reluctantly) visiting Bert-the-Swagger to see if he has a stock of early 21st century mobile phones that certain wealthy clients of hers are seeking.

                                                                         ***

The strident sound of barge horns cause Kafka’s ears to crank up; we are nearly at Black Lake and our destination. A few paces on and Bert’s territory comes into view. Despite his stature, he manages to command eerie respect over would-be raiders of his patch. The legs of his black-planked stilt hut are no longer immersed in mud as the tide heights have gradually decreased again over the cycles. The building now stands like an angular crane fly some distance from the water’s edge, the rest of Bert’s domain behind it in the shape of a large metal hangar guarded by two bored heavies by day and roaming hounds during darking time.

At my approach one of the mecs stands up and squints at me. Then he recognises my top hat and Kafka’s grey hide.

‘Miss ’Oxton . . .’ Striding over, he wrestles the gate lock with meaty hands. ‘Ze Guv ees in ze small ’ouse—’e said to go up.’

This is not a good sign—Bert in the small house . . . anylane, I slip down from Kafka and hand over the reins. The mec leads Kafka over to Bert’s horse-parking and I lift my long coat ends from the mud, step around the puddles and take the thin ladder up to Bert’s abode.

I rap on the glass of the door and his oddly aristocratic voice answers. ‘If it’s you, Hoxton, come in. Anyone else can vertically saunter off again.’

Opening the door, I am greeted by the sight of the house- owner clad in a paisley silk dressing gown, tied worryingly loosely about his ample waist.

‘Goodly morn, Bert.’
‘And to 
you too, beauty.’
‘You got my pigeon message?’
‘Indeed. Four fine ladies in need of antique communication 
devices . . . well, antique in age but a technology beyond our usage at this present time. Curious that, don’t you think?’

Bert—a philosopher . . . and he’s right. It is odd. Humans taking a step backwards. A technological descent.

‘It is curious,’ I agree. ‘Do you think people in that era imagined technology actually going downhill?’

‘They didn’t,’ he says, relighting the stub of a cigar, ‘onward and forward with the next gadget. Take these phones for example —always bigger and brighter, more detail and definition.’

‘But what were they for—these small screens? Why are my clients so fascinated? They already appear to have telephones to contact each other.’

‘Ah, dear Hoxton. Have you not read up on the subject after I showed you these jewels on your last visit?’

‘No. I don’t have time, or light. Any I do manage currently are about improving soil and water capture.’

‘Tsk. These things of metal, plastic and glass were quite extraordinary. Just with the brushing of one finger across the surface, you could find out, listen to, look at any article you desired to access.’

‘Unlimited access?’

He nods, a manic look in his eyes. ‘Virtually visit the interior of a world-famous site, watch amusing films of peoples’ domes- tic creatures, find out any historical fact, learn how to make bread . . .’

‘But books can tell me that, and I can make bread.’

‘Ah, but there’s so much more.’ A slight film of sweat has appeared under Bert’s sandy comb-over. He leans closer. ‘Imagine an ocean of sexual acts available to you through that little screen—whatever your persuasion.’

I step back and trip over a small embroidered footstool. He grabs my arm and pulls me back, face close to mine, whisky and tobacco breath wheezing through his overworked lungs.

I push him away and present my carpet bag.

‘Well, while technology is rotting away in your barn over there, enjoy some paper substitutes.’ He stops pawing me and looks hopefully at the bag as I pull out and splay three lurid works.

‘Mm, quite titillating . . . but four devices you say, with their necessary cabling?’

‘Four, yes.’
‘And, no doubt, they will require pristine examples.’

I can see only too well which direction this is heading in.

‘Within reason, yes. But you have many—I was given the tour, if you recall.’

‘Yes, I have many but a large percentage of them are beyond any possible reconnection—their interiors leached away by rotting batteries, bodies dented, smashed, only useful for their components. I do, however, have a small collection which are completely mint—with their boxes . . .’

‘I see. One question, Bert.’
‘Seraph?’
‘How do you come to have all these items?’

He smooths the strands of hair that have flopped loose and smiles, revealing an array of gold teeth that would impress a Vaux-haulers gang member.

‘Because, my dear, I had a shop that sold these very things.’ 

‘You did? In the Cincture?’

‘This was long-cycles before the Cincture walls were built, when London was just London, made up of many boroughs. I left, with a lot of my stock, during the chaos of the Final Curtain and the Fashocom party took over, albeit for a short reign. I’d heard they were planning a scoop of all technological equip- ment, so for that, and other reasons I thought the largely ignored outer zones might be a better place to disappear to.’

I wonder if other swaggers might have squirreled away such things from that time. He guesses my thoughts.

‘I wouldn’t bother, Hoxton. They come to me—I have the biggest collection of pre-Curtain communication. And I know the supply limitations in the Cincture. They may be starting up the internet, or inner-web as they are calling it but it’s only for central computer usage—public playing about is a long way off.’

‘How do you know all this?’

‘I come from there, Seraph. Still have family in Mayfair, and the occasional letter communication.’

‘So, if I take these things back they may not be able to use them?’

‘Do you care?’
Do I? ‘I suppose not.’
‘And what do you get in return.’
‘That’s not really your business, is it?’
‘It must be more than just straightforward trading. Perhaps I 
could assist you.’

I feel the day slipping away. ‘It’s fine. Thanks. Perhaps I couldsee the items?’

He gestures to a floral armchair. ‘Certainly. Make yourself comfortable—whisky in the decanter there if you wish—and I will return tout de suite.’

I sit as invited and glance around his curiously feminine and fussy abode full of Victoriana objects, needlework cushions and twee paintings that sit uncomfortably with his taste in more fleshy activities. He reappears attired in a brown and black checked suit, fraying yellow shirt and odd shoes. Staring at them, I recall the brogues.

‘Shame the shoes don’t do the suit justice, Bert. However, I may be able to assist you.’ I open my bag and hand him the cloth-wrapped beauties.

He gawps, checks the sizing, kicks off the odds and tries mine.

‘Well played, mademoiselle.’ 

‘So, we’re on the same page. Shoes and magazines for the four phones.’

He looks up from admiring the leather. ‘Not quite.’

We begin the trade standoff—weighing up the other’s will. I’m close to pushing him over onto his chintzy sofa, yanking the shoes from his feet and scrambling back down the ladder . . . but, to fail this Find? God’s own phone, these dames will be paying.

‘D’ac. Show me the articles. And not in those shoes.’

He grins, removes them and slips back on the tan mis- matches.

‘To the hangar then.’

After the warmth of Bert’s fuggy stilt-house, it’s vile outside. A greasy wind gyrates around the muddied compound, flicking up ash and bones. We hurry over to the hangar and the two guards leave their bin-fire to slide open the massive, wheeled door. Inside, Bert wrenches gruntily at the cord on an ancient generator and it reluctantly spits into life disgorging sooty fumes. Two suspended metal-shaded lights pop on and I gaze at the lines of shelving, their perspective lines disappearing into darkness at the back of this metal behemoth.

Bert waves a leather-gloved hand at each section.

‘River mud finds—metal, wood and ceramic. Nails, screws, tools . . . there, wheels and vehicle parts. Over here, computers and associated paraphernalia, and what you are after.’ I follow him to a compartmentalised section of metal containers. He draws one out, unlocks it and carefully takes out plastic-encased flattish white cardboard boxes. ‘These were de rigueur in 2025 —the iPhone soft-screen Z and the Samsung Orgo. Note how exquisite they are, how smooth the glass is.’

I take the slippery object, hold it to my ear and nearly drop it.

‘Why is it flat and not shaped like a . . . handle, or something ergonomic.’

He smiles at me as if I am a very, very old person. ‘I think it is impossible for someone of now to understand the design element and usefulness of such a thing.’

‘I think you are probably utterly correct. Spades are useful, horses, wood-burning stoves, paper, ink pens, books and strong boots are useful, with or without a design element.’

He takes the object back from me, wraps it lovingly and places it back in its moulded nest.

‘Four of these with their chargers will trade out at: the shoes, the three magazines, that bottle I saw in your bag—an excellent year—and five minutes of your time.’

‘Doing what exactly,’ I say, having a fairly clear idea.

A short while later, I gallop Kafka along the river edge, concentrating on the sound of his hooves drumming on the mud- flats, shutting out the sounds of Bert the Swagger gasping in a shadowy corner of the warehouse. My hand still bears the imprint of his unpleasant member . . . at least he had been accurate in timing. A few turns of my pocket watch’s hands and he was a happier Swagger and I was out of there with my trade accomplished including a remote for Mrs Caruso’s television. 

Monday, 15 August 2022

Moving seasons

After the ferocious sun of the last few weeks we appear to be in early autumn with misty daylight and cool temperatures - seems more end of September rather than mid August. Despite the dryness, blackberries are sensational this year; Mark has made batch after batch of blackberry, blackberry with elderberry, blackberry and grape, blackberry with whatever else is edible in the hedgerows. It's been difficult to allow time enough to nip out and gather fruit but with dog needing walks it's been combined, much to the eye-rolling of the hound - another stop-start-stop-start meander while humans pick stuff which I feel to be utterly not worth eating.

Dorset childhood autumn days were often marked with blackberry gathering wanderings: a basket, a curved handle walking stick to pull down the higher brambles, Mum and or my uncle Ben. If she'd had more time she would have ventured into bottling the fruit as her mother would have done for the winter months, but jam lasted well into the colder days, sometimes incorporated into cakes or 'fluff pudding' a memorable dessert made of evaporated milk, jelly and jam. 

The moving seasons probably mean that pomegranates are ripe, or almost. In our previous Southern France house we had several very happy pomegranate trees resulting in an abundant late autumn jam episode - one of the things I do miss from our previous region. I have noted a couple of trees hereabouts and will be surveying them, and their owners for generosity/fruit for jam trading possibilities as the days shorten.



Friday, 12 August 2022

Spontaneous portraiture

About a thousand years ago - or it seems like it - I was asked along with my fellow photography students to saunter off into the crowds at Covent garden market and take pictures of people, the point of the exercise being to embolden us with regard to portraiture. No saying you were a student of photography, no excuses or explanations, just, I'd like to take your picture if that's ok, and I really won't steal part of your soul, or all of it.

I was fairly terrified at the time but most people were accepting, sometimes intrigued and even touched. The memory of that day has stayed with me and I do occasionally ask if I see someone unmissable such as this vibrant lady we noted strolling with her two chihuahuas along the promenade at St Nazaire recently. She was delighted, asked no questions, just pleased that she and her little canine princesses were appreciated.



 

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Celebrating weeds

Bee numbers are down, it's evident even in a wildlife garden such as ours but there are a few wild plants in particular which they, mainly bumble bees of various types and hover flies, are drawn too, the main one being a grey leafed specimen with extraordinary spires of yellow flowers, the Mullein. 

Apparently Monet appreciated it and left it to grow amongst the sword like iris leaves and climbing clematis in his garden. It's one of the few plants still blooming in our drought ravaged garden so I'm happy each day to see it somehow putting out new flowers and the bees droning with their orange pollen sacks in the early morning before the sun strikes the rather weary tree tops. 



Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Defining oneself

Sometime I envy folk who always knew what they wanted to do . . . a doctor, a lawyer, a wedding cake maker, something more tangible than being a writer.

For about twelve years now I've been writing for on average an hour first thing in the morning - first thing being around 6:00 am - and when things have been chugging along nicely, coming back to the work of the moment several times a day, other jobs permitting. With this routine I've written nine novels, a volume of short stories, penned many illustrations, and have felt this all to be vital for who I am. I can say I am a writer, thankfully given affirmation from both marvellous and supportive friends and family, and, more importantly if one is counting success as a published book, from agent and publisher.

However . . . to keep kicking away at the publishing door for the next published tome is hard and demoralising work. My agent and I parted ways amicably after Londonia didn't become a Netflix series, and I've been going through the dreary process of hunting down another for a few months now for several months without success. Perhaps there is a message here, myself has been saying to myself. These summer months have been the most full on I can ever remember apart from my London styling days. Writing has been pushed back to a few blog posts and tentative starts at other books, as keeping our surrounding vegetation alive and completing our building project has taken over.

But it's ok. As the summer has dragged on in its fierceness - I can now see why Vivaldi hated the heat and accordingly stuffed the hot part of the Four Seasons with angry violins - helping the garden become a serious life support system for all the birds, butterflies and weeds of the area was at first tedious, then challenging and now a meaningful routine. 

As for the agent hunting. Is it worth it? when they all seem to be hunting the latest money spinning police series or escapist something. Maybe I'll just wait, put out the odd tentative feeler when climate reality smacks a bit harder. Hopeful dystopia must surely have a place on high street bookshelves . . .  or not. Time will tell.

When the garden, hopefully, comes off its us-life-support-system in the autumn, and the building work is rounded up into a fully functioning guest space maybe I'll properly start up the writing again. However, as I feel increasingly that things generally are not heading in a super direction, perhaps I'll go for a more artisan approach: handmade ink drawings, pen to hand-fabricated paper - not fingers on keyboard. Practice what you preach? Twelve years or so going on about speculative and mostly dystopian futures . . . maybe it's time to write in a way that my characters might, small scale, human-made materials; a quieter and satirical peer into the world turmoil.



Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Presenting the Elon Musk hyper-fly swat

Technological breakthrough. Recharges in nano-seconds. Ergonomic, sleek design. Excellent weight distribution resulting in 100% accurate hit. Titanium and moon rock storage carrying case available - price on demand. 

Loyalty card option: for every ten swats purchased, 14 crypto-pence added to your very own Mars time- share condo pod.



Monday, 18 July 2022

Building site playlist



Most builders, plumbers etc we have encountered on our building reconstruction year have appeared with special dust/accident proof radios which blare out a cornucopia of current French chart stuff - in fact, less cornucopia more old croissant and dregs of coffee; just my opinion of course.
Our playlist - thank you Spotify - built for fuelling the moral at the start of whatever physical task is to be undertaken, needs updating and a few over-listened-to songs booted off but many remain as staple, super-energising and sometimes nostalgic works of pop and rock. 
These songs will forever hold images of these dusty and paint-covered moments in time, yesterday for example: What have I done to deserve this by The Pet Shop Boys on a searingly hot day sanding a ceiling in the top room. Or, tiling to the musical mayhem of Mr Bungle (see above).
If you have a few minutes . . . it's not the best live recording but marvel at the sheer energy, timing and eccentricity of this group, and the extraordinary vocal talent of Brian Patton. Shame they disbanded years ago . . .

A selection of other tracks:

Ibiza: Sleaford Mods and The Prodigy
Vicar in a Tutu: The Smiths
Scarecrow People: XTC
Goldfinger: Shirley Bassey and the Propeller Heads.
Take on Me: Aha
Total Football: Parquet Courts
Dare: Gorillaz
Psycho Killer: Talking Heads
Kick in the Eye: Bauhaus
Banana Skin Shoes: Badly Drawn Boy,
Cape Breton Wedding Reel: Boys of the Lough,
I see you Baby: Groove Armada
The Number One Song On Heaven: Sparks
Photoshop Handsome: Everything Everything
Jobseeker: Sleaford Mods
Human Behaviour: Björk
Bout de Bois: Salut C'est Cool
Tequila: The Champs
Americano: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Egg: Mr Bungle
Boys and Girls: Blur
Such a Shame: Talk Talk
Hogwash and Balderdash: Black Midi
Elvis' Flaming Star: Pond
I'm so Excited: The Pointer Sisters
Our House: Madness
Dead Horse: Yard Act
The Wine Song: The Cat Empire
Let's dance to Joy Division: The Wombats
It's a Sin: The Pet Shop Boys

And . . . I'm too Sexy, Right Said Fred. I know, but it works for DIY.