Vital Vinyl

It is that time of year when the good folks in France clear out their attics, cupboards or spare bedrooms and get out into the street and sell their unwanted junk to free up storage space and, hopefully make a few Euros into the bargain.

Garage sales, yard sales, car boot sales … In France we call them “Brocantes” – Every town, village or neighbourhood has its own annual “Brocante” – for a few Euros, anyone can hire a few metres of space, set up a table and just sell (or not)

So, the same principle the world over, just a different name, depending on time and place. When I was a kid growing up in south east London, we had “Jumble Sales” or “Bring and Buy” – however at these particular occasions there was (as I remember) no personal profit. All sales were held for good causes – you’d donate your crap and then the organisers would sell it with all proceeds going to their good cause, organization or charity; the local church, the local Scout troop, the local school.

A couple of weeks back, I rented a space at a local “brocante” and set up stall with my better half and a few friends, selling our old crap – of course this was of course for personal profit, so you try to sell those half-decent, unwanted possessions that you hope someone else might want, whilst giving all your other real rubbish to the local charity shop, so they can sell it or (as is often the case) – feed it to a dumpster or a recycling bin).

No matter the name, or the cause – potential clients remind you quite vociferously that what you are selling is second hand and as such you should be almost giving it away – and so it is the case with clothes, crockery and such like. There are however two classes of “goods” in the second hand market, where people are quite willing to pay the price you are charging – kids’ toys and vinyl records (both 33 and 45 rpm)

I sold off around a quarter of my album collection and made some good money, considering that I had originally bought most of the albums second hand when I was a teenager. I warned all buyers of this fact and … well I learned that you never actually own a vinyl record, you are merely the custodian of a slice of musical history. I was not actually selling my record collection, I was symbolically passing on a small part of musical heritage to another custodian (though obviously not free of charge) though, the exchange of money (as one customer told me) was a necessary part of this exchange. “I am not buying this record from you, I am paying you by way of thanks for taking such good care of it.” In this frame of mind, I knew that my pampered records were going to a good home.

Pampered!!! Yes. New, or second hand – most of my vinyl LPs were put on cassette immediately after purchase, so I could listen to them on that nifty little, new-fangled invention of the time – The Walkman – the first real music on the go – the precursor of all our modern pods and players. I have of course kept a great part of my vital vinyl, which I listen to regularly on a record player that I purchased a couple of years ago – not a cranky old 70s or 80s record deck from a second hand store, but a brand new one that will (if I download the correct software) transform my discs into MP3 format.

Sure I was surprised at the comeback of vinyl and was absolutely stupefied when I saw that the humble record deck had once again become a desirable consumer durable. Just a few weeks back, I saw teenagers down our local record store (yes we still have one of those where I live) actually buying LPs – good old slices of vital vinyl in their wonderful gatefold sleeves.

Purists will of course tell you that today’s vinyl is not as good as it used to be, way back when vinyl records were platters almost as thick as Frisbees and all recordings were analog.

“I’m glad vinyl is back” said one of my customers/custodians of musical heritage, however he did t rather disparagingly remark that modern music on modern vinyl was not the same. “It’s all digital” he remarked. “You can’t have digital vinyl. Vinyl’s for analog.”

My speakers are not of that quality that I can tell the difference between an analog and a digital recording reproduced on vinyl – neither do I have an expensive set of “cans” (as us oldies used to call headphones) of the Bose variety that allow me to distinguish analog from digital on my vinyl, but the analog Vs digital debate doesn’t actually apply in my case; since the last time I bought an album, we were pretty much at the dawn of the digital age.

Digital of course means CD, which by all accounts is in it death throes. Who buys CDs nowadays? Who buys albums nowadays? Consummers will download the “hit” and perhaps a couple of tunes from the album, but not ten or eleven songs by the same artist. It was the CD download that killed the CD single, however the good old 45”single” is making a comeback. And what about the good old EP??? Same size as a 45rpm single but with three or four songs. At my “Brocante” I sold quite a few singles. I sold all my LPs, but I sold hardly any CDs.

I am wondering, in 20 year’s time if those teenagers of today’s download generation will be buying CDs in some kind of nostalgia-driven CD revival?

Just as it pays to pamper your vinyls, so must you be kind to your CDs. Who knows, in a few years, they might just be worth a fortune at a car boot sale.


For all the folks at number 34

Autumn , that time when I get a little nostalgic (morose)

Can I say that «you are living in my house» ?

It is no longer my house, though, it was the place that felt most like home.

I can say that «this is the house that I used to live in,» though I have lived in many places since, therefore THIS house or THE house, becomes no more than A house where I used to live. Use of the indefinite article making time and place of dwelling more impersonal, more remote, less important. After all, it is only a house, nevertheless, it is the house where many important things happened.


This place where you now have your sofa / TV / coffee table / dining table / fitness machine …This is the place where I was conceived, one January night back in the mid sixties – two parents in a single bed because they couldn’t afford a double.

This is the place were I was made This is the place where I played This is the place where my father lay dying, and here on the stairs, this bottom step, where I sat and waited for dad to come home.

This house was a home, bought in a less speculative time, when people bought houses to have homes, to raise families, to have a place that they could call home and not just a house.

This house is your house, but it is my old home, that place where the ghost of my childhood still walks. I don’t supose we ever truly live in a house, we simply dwell. We are merely generational custodians of bricks and mortar. My home is your home filled with all the ghosts of past, present and future. It is still the home of everyone who has lived and will live there. However, home is where the heart is, and part of my heart still feels that your home is my home – or I could say that part of me still feels at home in your house.


It happened on Sunday 9th September – my faithful old Macbook pro just decided to give up. Monday morning, off it went to a savvy local Mac technician for a spot of major surgery and now after a heart and brain transplant, the Mac is back – all this to explain why this post is over two weeks late and perhaps has little or no relevance, but I enjoyed writing it, so here is 11/9 (European date configuration)

Sunday September 11th 2016

Thank God for normality. The boring grind of a slow Sunday. The weekly trip to the supermarket, filling up the trolley in the same old systematic, Stepford wives way – I spare little thought for what we’re going to eat, I just sling the stuff I always buy in the trolley because I know exactly where it is in the aisles, and if I try anything new or different, I will be forced to leave my well worn supermarket circuit and embark on a voyage of discovery. This is Sunday! I don’t want an adventure because Sunday is not an adventure kind of day. (and what if I get lost?)

Please, nothing too adventurous or physical on this, a day of rest. I don’t want t have to have to reach up or bend down to find new products, that are probably exactly like the ones I take already, which are nicely set in the middle of the shelf, so I can just reach out and grab them with a minimum of effort. No, I sure don’t want to make any efort, it will take time I haven’t got and besides, by taking those packets, tins and boxes arranged at mid-height, I spare the poor underpaid supermarket shelf filler. If I take too low down or high up, then the wheezy old arthritic lady (well past retirement age) who stacks the shelves, will be obliged to reach up or bend down – My unimaginative shopping ritual is saving her aching joints. String at the contents of my trolley as I pass through the check out, I’m not sure if there’s actuallu anything in my shopping that might make a decent «square» meal.

So, back home to corrections and lesson preparation – the fate that befalls all teachers, Sunday is already Monday.

Thank God …. not quite the right turn of phrase when I consider those terrorist acts perpetrated in France over the summer,in the name of a God or a religion. Let us say thank goodness (if there is any of that still left), thank goodness for normality as the first rays of sun penetrate through the shutters and I lazily turn over and let fly an enormous Sunday morning fart, then shake the duvet to air the bed and allow the onion gas from the night before to escape. Never have onions for dinner, bad breath, stomach acid and flatulence, that is all they are good for.

Oh what a rude awakening, but I have been awake for some time, raised from my slumber by the gentle sound of gunfire – shotguns popping off in the local woods. No, this is not some Daesh offshoot shooting off – this is the first day of the hunting season and all game is fair game (though there are strict quotas). Our local woods are bristling with bristly boar. As hunger pangs begin to gnaw, I begin to hanker after a slice of roast boar. The good old hunting season, I hope the morning news will be full of hunting stories, those good old perennials. Every year, prominent members of the pro-hunting lobby pop up on prime time news to slog it out with those who defend animal rights – hunting is cruel. Oh please let us have a good old hunting debate rather than the summer long, tawdry, fastidious, burqa-burkini row or the wall-to-wall coverage of the war on terrorism. Let us have a day off. No chance though, Sure this is Sunday September 11th, but the world is gearing up for a week of rememberance, this is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. What were you doing on 9/11? asks the sombre-voiced journalist on the morning news – «ring in and tell us where you were on September 11th 2001» – I guess we all remember where we were, but I can’t imagine that anyone would have thought that we would be where we are now.

After breakfast, a trip down to the mail box; no postal delivery on a Sunday, but it is stuffed to overflowing with junk ads from local supermarkets, car dealerships and clothing retailers. It is that time in the retail season when not much is going on. The kids are back at school and have all been kitted out already, so those who want to sell us stuff that we don’t want, have to come up with new exciting shopping «events».

New Year is not until January, yet, September in France has beome the unofficial new year, back to work and back to school after the long summer break.

New year, new car – local dealerships are offering unbeatable deals on new models, and this Sunday they are open for viewing and test drives – not so exceptional in other countries, but this is France where national trading laws are such, that everything is closed on a Sunday, and for years an unholy alliance of clergy and labour unions have fought to keep it that way – no one works on a Sunday, save teachers and those who man the tills in the increasing number of supermarkets that are now open on Sunday mornings, because they sell «perishables»

I don’t need a new car, but the glossy little «magazine» from the local supermarket reminds me that their annual wine fair revs up in three days – I even have a voucher for a 5 Euro cash back when I spend over 30 Euros on wine. Better still, next week, (like the hundreds of other people who have had the sale junk thrust through their letter box) I have a personal invitation to the local supermarket’s inaugural wine fair evening. I went to one of these a few years ago – we all squeezed into the wine section of the supermarket for a glass of cheap red plonk and a slice of pâté. We were entertaiend by a local folk group, plying drunken versions of traditional tunes and jigs and suchlike. A memorable evening. Most of the musicians had been on the wince well before. The singer kept slurring his words, the fiddle player could kept missing the fiddle with his bow, and three members of the accompanying dance troop were so drunk that they fell over. A good time was had by all.

The supermarket wine fair – they’ve been around for twenty years or – a commercial initiative to cash in on the grape harvest. From Bordeaux to Beaujolais, the noble fruit of the vine is being harvested by nimble fingered students, eastern European immigrants and retirees trying to augment their meagre pensions. So, this is the time across the land when supermarkets stock up crates of wine from floor to ceiling and the customers pour in for cheap deals on quality vino to stock up their cellars. I am an adept of the wine fair, but nothing ever stays long stocked in my cellar – wine is for drinking now. can’t see the point of keeping bottles for ten or twenty years for someone to drink when I’m dead.

The normality of those everyday French things – hunting, wine, and as I head into the supermarket, I see that the local goatman has set up stall in the entrance – and is selling cheese that is literally fresh out the goat.

Normality – back home to unload the shopping before sitting down to prepare new lessons. Every week I attempt to imagine inspiring and beguiling ways to impart the Queen’s English to my students – and before you know it, it is that time on early Sunday evening when you think about cooking dinner, or doing the ironing or having a bath and contemplate the evening’s TV viewing. Which US police show will I watch tonight? What tired old films are the TV schedulers offering up tonight? I would like a comedy, however old, however unfunny, however many times I have seen it before. I just want something that might raise a feeble smile because at the moment there isn’t much to smile about.


To start, a few words from Rod Stewart

“Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you
It’s late September and I really should be back at school.”

A long time ago in France, the return to school was in late September, nowadays though we go back earlier every year. A few thoughts …

Kids dragging unwillingly to school, workers crawling back to the daily grind – summer was but a blip – just a long coffee break – Nothing will have changed when I return to work; pens, papers, books, and files strewn across my desk, exactly where they landed in July when I joyously flung them across the office and ran away as quickly as possible. Conversations with colleagues will start again where we left them in mid sentence a few weeks ago. The boss will give us his traditional pep talk, and as I plough my way through the moutain of e-mails that have accumulated over the summer, I will have only one thought – just 102 shopping days left until Christmas – Yes, it is that time of year when we begin the long slow haul on the long slow road to the festive season.

«Think of all those people who don’t have a job,» snapped a friend during a summer get-together of burnt offerings and cheap wine – a babrecue – Yes, in these hard times, I have what many millions don’t – a job, a position, gainful employment, but …  I just want to go back to work.

Let’s consider the alternatives:

I could steal my dady’s cue and make a living out of playing pool.


I could find myself a rock and roll band that needs a helping hand

Not exactly reliable jobs with regular salaries. Guess I’ll just stick to teaching. Okay, time to sharpen my pencils an get my bag ready. Oh god – I’ve been going  through the same ritual every year since I started school as a kid 45 years ago. Sod it! Time to hit the road and find a band.

Plaisirs d’été (good and bad at art)

Good or bad at art?

Back in my school days – the dim and distant past, the criteria for good or bad at art was simple.

If you could draw, you’d get not only the full attention of the art teachers, butas one of he star students, you’d get to do photography, sculpture, pottery and such like – all the interesting stuff.

If like me, you couldn’t draw (i.e produce a drawing that looked like it had been down by a real artist and not a short-sighted, cack-handed geek), then you got shoved to the back of the class to “muck about”.

Art at primary school was worse, for two hours on Friday afternoon, our class teachers would hand us over to a student teacher for “Art” – meaning each kid got a blank piece of A4 paper, a set of cheap, half-dried, scratchy felt pens and the instructions “draw something nice and the best pictures will be hung on the classroom walls) – well I never made it to the wall.

So, in later years, I discovered photography, I enjoyed taking silly snaps and mucking about with different papers and filters in the dark room, and then came true salvation with digital photography, the invention of the scanner and some decent photo softwares.

I still can’t draw, but I like to muck about with images, I like to mess around with collage – whereby people who can’t draw rip up paper and stick it to more paper.

Actually there is more to it than that (or is there?) Collage – a juxtaposition of random images against improbable backgrounds that may (or may not- have a point or tell a story.

The following collage all follow one theme and one basic rule – done in summer with exactly what is to hand. Those newspapers or magazines that you buy to read on the beach and then just tend to pile up in your holiday accommodation before you take them all the the dumpster on the last day. That is the material, an the rule is to confine yourself to one newspaper or magazine per collage. You get pictures, you get a curio juxtaposition of headlines, you might even get a thematic on the go. Well here are some “random” results.

Can’t say if they are good or bad, the whole point in the first place was just to play about with limited resources and see what I cam up with

Let’s start with some early booking. If you want your place in the sun, hurry up.

Book Early

This one’s called “Vacances Parfaites.” Working from stress to holiday paradise. We all need a place in the sun to unwind.


à la mer

Plaisirs d’été – speaks for itself.

Plaisirs d'été

A touch of the Sex Pistols in holiday mode.

Never Mind the Tourists

A collection of headers from holiday adverts in a British newspaper

Don't Let the Sun go Down

Once again, all from the same newspaper, headers from holiday stories.

Noisy, messy antics

Did this the year after my mum died of cancer, the first real holiday I’d had since her demise.

It's Fun To Escape the Terminally Ill

Ready for your vacation?  Titles cut from holiday junk mail ads thrust into my mailbox at home.

Read for Summer?

A vos glaces …

A Vos Glaces

Dose this make any sense? Sex and the older Woman. Headlines taken from a newspaper I bought on my holidays in Port Grimaud.

Sex and the older woman

If you go a group holiday with friends, go with those kind of friends who will still be your friends afterwards.

Love your summer tribe

The Sun Tropez Times

Sun Sun St Tropez

This is Scotland not St Tropez – I enjoyed both that year.

This is Scotland (not St Tropez)

Take your own Doughnuts

Take your own Doughnuts

Venice is full of bloody tourists, all treated like bloody cattle.

Welcome to Venice

Au Départ – I cheated and did this one at home – I scanned a few 1930’s holiday and car ads; printed them, cut them up and then re-scanned.

Au départ

and finally, a couple of photo collages – collage background on three sides, installation in the centre, it’s all about Glamour in Cannes (cans)




The Colonel Comes to Town

Another long and lazy hot summer Sunday. This is the last day of this year’s Tour de France, so millions will be glued to their screens watching, as two hundred or so cyclists pedal their way round Paris.

So after the excitement of the Tour, a stint in the garden or simply a nap, sleeping off the rigors of a heavy Sunday lunch, well, you certainly won’t want to be cooking this evening. Why not send out for a fast food?

When I arrived in my corner of small town France over 25 years ago, the definition of home delivered food was simply a neighbor dropping you off a few groceries or maybe a local boulanger doing his rounds to bring you your daily bread – now – well the choice is awesome, just a phone call or a click away and you can have pizza, curry or sushi delivered to your door – and if you really want to make the effort, there are burgers, kebabs, and cous cows, just a short drive away – the advantage of living in a small town, nothing is ever very far away.

Yes, even in deepest France, we have all the same fast for chains as you do, however, until a few days ago, one major player was missing – well look what opened up in town last week …



Good Old Colonel Sanders finally made it, but until he got here, all KFC fans could only get their favorite chicken treat by driving at least 60 or 70 miles – well now a tasty morsel of Kentucky Fried is only a few minutes away. That’s progress

On a final note, the only thing you can’t get on home delivery or take away is good old French gastronomy – if there are any enterprising locals reading this, I would certainly be a future customer to anyone offering a home delivery Boeuf Bourgignon or a fistful of snails.