THE LONG SLOW HAUL or I NEED TO FIND A ROCK AND ROLL BAND

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.

or

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)

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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 …

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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.

Polaroid Collages

John King 2_2John King

What o do on hot days when you are living out the heat in shuttered darkness – get a pile of old magazines, a pot of glue and pretend to be an artist. Seriously, I’ve tried my hand at collage before. This latest effort … well I was kind of amazed at the rebirth of Polaroid snaps, they’ve become quite fashionable – those small, white bordered photos with their garish color. I get quite a few of my photos now developed in a Polaroid format. So here is some Polaroid collage – I found those huge white borders around photos in fashion magazines interesting – what if I could make my own border and then just fill it with anything to hand – once again, my randomness – guess this is a sign of drifting at fifty – looking for a decent art project, looking for an aim in life whatever. Anyway I took fashion magazines, flyers, junk ads thrust through my letterbox and spent and afternoon mucking about with textures and colors. The July 14 collage was made before the Bastille day attack in Nice. All collages scanned at 200dpi then put through an I photo software.

John King 2_2

Mucking about with shades of blue -mostly background sky from swimwear adverts.

John King 1

Black and white hand torn strips for texture, quite pleased with the result of the anxious looking girl in the image – kind of con jours up the tension and anxiety of this early summer in France.

John King

Trying to mix a few colours

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John King 3_2

Main graphic source for this last collage – the vast wads of junk advertising I regular get in my mail box

Looking for Luçay le Libre

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After the events on Bastille Day in Nice, I decided to head off into the French countryside and find if the real France was still out there somewhere,  In times of crisis, we tend to unfurl the flag and fall back on our Republican bedrock, but we also like to hark back to out traditional “douce France” – within every Frenchman there is a dormant peasant. Deep down All Frenchmen and women have rural roots and perhaps still a few traces of mud on their boots. So it was on a hot and lazy summer Sunday that I went drifting.

Drifting, true drifting, is difficult. We are conditioned by a time ethic and structured by our life routines. It is difficult to just cast off and go where the current takes us – like a message in a bottle cast into the ocean – where will it go, if it actually goes anywhere?

I can’t drift, I need a destination, however random that may be. I unfold a local map and try to be as random as possible – close our eyes and point … ah, I’ve already been there. Drifting is one thing, but this is also a “voyage of discovery” – the whole point of undertaking such an enterprise is (as they say in Star Trek) “To boldly go where no man has been before,” or in my case, to go somewhere this man has never been before. In my quest for rural France, I find an obscure village on the map “Luçay le Libre” – an intriguing name and what is more, it lies beyond the local county boundary – not only shall I be discovering a new place, but I shall be crossing frontiers. So, camera in hand, it is time to hit the road.

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A good day for photos – clear blue skies, and in this corner of my little world, vast, flat landscapes – fields of wheat or sunflowers stretching into the interminable distance to eventually meet the sky on a far but clear horizon. Straight roads and clean cut clear horizons – the dividing line is definite, the contrasts are clear and everything stands out – very much a contradiction to those troubled times we are living in.

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You might have this common misconception that the French countryside is all small, enclosed fields, separated by charming hedgerows and each field full of Charolais grazing nonchalantly on sweet verdant pasture – and this is certainly true of the Normandy region for example – fields, hedgerows, orchards and herds of dairy cows contentedly chewing the cud – Normandy all cider and cheese – I however live in the “grain basket” of  France – vast “intensively-farmed fields” and not a hedgerow in sight.

This place used to be all hedgerows, but in 1949, the French government undertook huge agricultural reforms – France needed feeding and so the government embarked on a paternalist “collectivization” of French agriculture – small family farms were encourage to merge, hedgerows got ripped out to make larger and more productive fields and farmers got cheap loans to invest in modern machinery – some still say that theses reforms ripped the heart out of rural France, but the country needed feeding and agriculture was still a case of many farmers working to near subsistence-level, selling off what surplus that had at the weekly village market. Besides the late forties and early fifties marked a massive migration from the countryside to the cities – there was no money to be made on the farm, so youngsters headed off to work in factories.

I suppose that there is no better indicator of French historical, social and economic change than the countryside – and now these rural wastelands are a sign of technological change. Out in the fields there is more growing that just wheat – wind turbines are sprouting everywhere

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At this harvest time, hay bales are juxtaposed with wind turbines -modern France.

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And so to those far flung villages – once thriving communities – autonomous communities who bothered little about the goings-on in the big cities. There was the café and the market and what more did you need?

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I’ve ended up in a village called Vatan, until you actually reach the main square, the place looks like a ghost town – houses shuttered up against the searing afternoon heat and shops and businesses closed for the duration -in the main square, a handful of cafés open for business – mostly passing tourists, a few motorcyclists on an afternoon run and errant souls like myself. Villages like this were once the hub of thriving agricultural communities, but now everyday seems a slow death, the place has lost a great part of its raison d’être.

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And then there is the Tour de France – the world’s greatest cycle race and perhaps one of the few things that still truly unites all Frenchmen – Cycling apart, watching the lengthy TV afternoon coverage of each stage of the Tour de France, all those people who rarely head into deepest France actually have the opportunity to see what the place really looks like – watching the Tour is truly worthy it, if only to see real France. Looking at the signs in Vatan, I don’t think the Tour has been here for years.

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And when I finally get to Luçay Le Libre …. four or five houses, a church and ….. the twilight zone that is the French countryside.

Finally on my return, I did google my final destination and … nothing, not even an explanation of the name.

Talking to the Boy Who Knew Too Much

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Meeting Mika or Talking to “The Boy who knew too much”*

Mika erupted onto the world’s musical stage in 2007 with his multi million selling album « Life in Cartoon Motion. » since his phenomenal debut, Mika’s musical career has gone from strength to strength. Classically-trained musician, prodigious songwriter; TV talent show judge, fashion designer, expert linguist and ex-choir boy, who is Mika? I caught up with Mika at the Printemps de Bourges music festival to find out. (This interview appeared in the July edition of the Connexion newspaper)

So, who is Mika?

That’s a question I ask myself everyday, and there is no single answer. I come from nowhere and everywhere. There has never been one single place that I’ve grown up that I can really call home. I guess in many ways I’m an immigrant, and I’m proud of that. Born in Beirut, I feel just as much at home in England as I do in France or Italy. English, French, Lebanese? I’m not sure of my true identity, so that’s why I make music, to get some sense of identity.

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What about your musical style? You seem to have been given many different musical labels, including pop, rock, jazz and even glam rock,

I suppose my musical style reflects my different experiences. I am first and foremost a songwriter telling stories through my music, and each story needs a different theme tune.

You recently did a couple of shows entitled « The Art of Song » on BBC Radio 2. Tell us about that.

Yeah, I did the first show on New years Day and then another in late March of this year. It was basically a programme about songwriters; I got to play tracks from my favourite songwriters and then look at the stories behind the songs. You know, when you look at songwriters, we’re all the same, coming from everywhere and nowhere, we are not in life, but on the outside looking in, telling stories from our peripheral perspective.

From choirboy to judge on the French and Italian equivalents of The Voice. What’s the best way to make it in music, join a choir or go on a TV talent show?

Both are important. I was head choirboy at my school in London. I can still sing the mass in Latin and on my first casting for a TV talent show; I didn’t even make it past the first audition. There isn’t one single road to success; there is only individual ambition, the will to succeed and the willingness to take risks.

You’re playing a lot of festivals in France over the summer, what can you tell us about the show?

Stripped down minimalist staging with all the emphasis on the music.

Finally a few words of advice for wannabe Mikas

I would say, never be ashamed of what you do or who you are, and be proud of your music.

*Title of Mika’s second album.

EXTRAS

Mika Summer Festival Dates

13/07     La Rochelle                   Les Francofollies.

16/07     Nimes                           Festival de Nimes

19/07     Carcassonne                 Festival de Carcassonne

20/07     Sollies Pont                  Festival du Chateau

Mika official website.

http://www.mikasounds.com