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.