Make mine a Doner

Just finished painting the bathroom, and I now finally have time for a “photographic” post. The theme is fast food. A report this week in the UK press that fast food outlets are gradually taking over main shopping streets in the UK. In some parts of the north of England, almost 45% of businesses  on some shopping streets are fast food restaurants. According to the report, fast food is also fat food – UK obesity rates are soaring – so, the report has inspired me to post a few fast food clichés – restaurants in France and the UK. I hope you enjoy them.

Kebabs with everything

Kebabs with everything – this is the Kebab House somewhere in north east London

Run Chicken! Run!

If it isn’t kebabs, the it’s chicken with everything or everything and chicken. Here welcome to the Chicken Run, somewhere behind Wentworth Street in East London. And here is more chicken by night.

Chicken by nite

Chicken Cottage

 

And if you an’t get fast food, try the all nite supermarket

All Nite Cost cutting

 

Tradition British fast food – Fish and Chips – used to be the Friday night working class treat – a bit of cod or haddock fried in batter and a huge portion of chips, soaked in salt and vinegar – Take away and eat at home – traditionally it was all wrapped in newspaper. Ok, fish is expensive nowadays and the humble Friday night staple is now a rare treat – for connaisseurs  and fish and chip nostalgics – a plate of Fish and chips and a couple of Fish and Chip shops or “chip pies” as we used to call them. These Chippies are on the Fulham road in London.

Great British food???????

Closed down

Light House near the Fulham Road

 

Fish and Chips (with a kebab on the side)

 

Another traditional form of historic UK fast food – the ice cream van. This one is taken near St Paul’s cathedral in London.

Ice Cream Van

The first McDonald’s restaurant opened in London in 1975. I remember my fist bite of a Big Mac, it was – a revelation – far better than the traditional British high street Hamburger chain “Wimpy” – Here are  few McDonald’s clichés from the outlet on the Strand in central London.

Traditional American food on the Strand

Here are a few punters

Love is sharing a burger

If you don’t fancy burgers, kebabs or fish and  chips; try the other great British staple – breakfast – a trend of theses recent years, cafés and even bus, serving an “all day breakfast.” Here is the Big Breakfast in Beckenham in south east London, where in December last year I had an excellent breakfast and a lovely cup of tea (a cuppa) all for under ten quid – I’d recommend this place to everybody.

Big Breakfast in Beckenham

And the original fast food outlet – this one is near Aldgate in London

Original fast food outlet

Okay, the Brits love their curry, and when in London, do like the locals and head off down Brick Lane for a good old Ruby Murray (Cockney rhyming slang for curry)

The Sheba

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend curry for breakfast, but this place down the back of Petticoat Lane market used to do a tandoori breakfast.

Tandoori breakfast???? No thanks.

And you though only the Brits had fast food. Here is kebab outlet in the small village of Mourmelon in eastern France – the only kebab in the village, it does a good trade from the massive army base nearby.

Kebab (à la française)

Yep, we’ve got Kebabs in France – Ten years ago you couldn’t get a Kebab in my corner of small town France – and now ???? I’ve got five kebab restaurants all within a ten minute walk from my house

Kebab in Bourges

Kebab at the end of my street

Kebab restaurants are like Irish pubs – there isn’t a single town or city in the world without its ersatz Irish pub – well there ain’t a town or village in France that doesn’t now have a kebab outlet.

And that was my fast food photo trip. I’ll leave with one final photo – Leyton High Street, where I once bought a very tasty kebab whilst waiting for a bus.

High Street Leyton

The Ghosts of Deepest France

A night at the movies in La Courtine

In my pursuit of chartering those unchartered parts of France. Those towns and villages where the dead seem to outnumber the living – there are more people in the cemetery than   in town.

A few days away from civilisation in a place so deep in deepest France, that it can only be described as an abyss. Welcome to the heavily wooded but sparsely populated region of La Creuse, and more precisely the small town of La Courtine – one of these « forgotten » places that is also best forgot. A dead town of old souls reminiscent with overtones of « Deliverance » and « The Shining ».

Dead station in La Cortine

Deserted station at La Courtine

Almost a ghost town, La Courtine was one of these « outposts » that for generations, served as an important part of French military infrastructure – a huge military camp where national servicemen would be mobilised to do their patriotic duty, and fulfil their military debt to France. La Courtine camp was where national servicemen would do their basic training and after a hard day on the assault course, they would head into town for a hard night in one of the town’s numerous watering holes.

Last orders in La Courtine

 

Fat Sun’s pulled his last pint

Like hunters, diggers and cowboys of old, into to spend their pay and enjoy what few delights were on offer.

In 2000, President Jacques Chirac announced the official end to obligatory military service for all the nation’s able-bodied young men and La Courtine went from garrison town to ghost town.

Main Street La Courtine

Bars and shops shuttered up forever, tattered « for sale » signs » hanging forlornly in the window, both bankrupt former owners and local real estate agents knowing that no one in their right mind would ever want to buy in a place like this.

Alternative shot of the Bazar Universel

Dead bar in a dead own

Former Tabac Presse is just old news

There are ghosts of the past haunting every bar and every street. This town didn’t so much die as get shut in a time capsule.

No more cuts in La Courtine

Deceptively open

Staring in through the dusty windows of the former dance hall – the parquet dance floor still danceable enough for a quick twirl and the garish 50’s stage ready to welcome a local dance band. The long ‘s’ shaped Formica bar propped up by shadowy figures, as supernatural silhouettes trip the light fantastic across the floor and somewhere in the far away, the slight echo of a dance band. How many young soldiers got their first dance, first kiss, and first fight with jealous local lads at this dancehall?

Welcome to l’Esperance

Yes, this is France, this is dead France, this is old France, this is rural France, this is the France where Central government has almost given up on the people, this is neglected France, badly in need of investment. – This is deepest France.

War memorial fallen out of memory

Up the garden path

 

 

 

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.

Rock In Spring and Thoughts on Bands

A Sunday morning stroll down the supermarket. God might give us this day our daily bread, but he doesn’t guarantee home delivery  so I’ve got to pull on some clothing and head out – ah, my clothing, that crumpled beer and cigarette stinking ball cast into a far corner of the bedroom. What do you expect ?  I did a gig last night and came home in that state and at that time where the last thing you do is carfully fold your clothing. So, out on the bread run. There is that unmistakable tang of spring in the air, a zest of life on the breeze, sweet and envigorating, it hits your nostrils like lemon washing-up liquid. Blosom on the trees and the first real rays of sun, defrosting the heart and soul afte motnhs of gray chryogenic torpor. I feel happy, a good gig lastb night and (wow) freshly baked bread at the baker’s . It is almost warm enough for a BBQ, and in the supermarket they are queuing ten deep at the chckout, trolleys laden with steak, burgers, sausages and bottles of rosé wine. So it is spring, it is Sunady, the air thick with the smell of grilling meat and freshly-cut grass. In my town, Spring is marked by a strange ritual – the Printemps de Bourges – France’s longest-running and largest rock festival – the first festival of the never ending summer festival season – so, here is a post that tells it all – a homsepun blog release on the festival followed by a few thoughts on the subject of bands. This is a long mispelt missive, so good luck.

BOURGES WELCOMES THE WORLD

Looking for a spring break? Why not spend a few days in Bourges? This sedate, historic, provincial backwater, nestling at the heart of France has all the prerequisite charms for the perfect spring sojourn: a medieval town centre with half timbered houses, cobbled streets and a thirteenth century cathedral classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site; chic boutiques, excellent hotels and Michelin starred restaurants, Bourges has it all, and, if you are in town from the 12th to 17th of April, you can also enjoy the delights of the spring music festival; Le Printemps de Bourges.

Now in its fortieth year, what started in the late seventies as a small, Franco-French affair, with the likes of Renaud and Higelin has now become a major international festival: Le Printeps de Bourges 2016 is six days of near, non-stop music, featuring 200 groups and artists playing in 80 concerts in venues as diverse as a circus big top, a renaissance palace (le Palais Jacques Cœur) and a medieval Church. This year, as every year, over 100,000 festival-goers are expected.

Unlike other major festivals, held on single site, outdoor locations, often far removed from civilisation, the Printemps de Bourges happens right in the historic heart of town with all concerts taking place in covered, heated and seated venues, so, no rolling around in a sea of mud, hundreds of metres from a stage, watching the concert on a video screen. For this festival, you can leave the wellies and binoculars at home.

Headlining this year’s festival is, Anglo-Lebanese popster, Mika, performing on Tuesday 12th April. Mika is familiar to millions as one of the judges on the French version of the TV talent show « The Voice»,

Other star attractions in town include the dubiously named pop duo, Lilly Wood and the Prick; electro folk rockers Louise Attaque; the enigmatic Emily Loizeau and the eccentric Dionysos. The festival closes on Sunday 17 April with a performance by French rap star, Maitre Gims. Festival organisers have also promised a 40th anniversary concert with a special guest appearance from Bernard Lavilliers. If all this is not quite your tasse de thé, Bourges is still worth a Printemps visit, if only for the unique festival atmosphere and the many free musical and cultural happenings around town

The Printemps de Bourges is France’s largest and longest-running rock festival. It kicks off the seemingly endless summer festival season. The groups and singers you see here will be performing across France throughout the summer, so, instead of rolling around in a muddy field, come and see them all first in the comfort of a covered venue in France’s historic heartland.

Festival info

Programme and ticket sales

http://www.printemps-bourges.com/

Accommodation (Office de Tourisme) from 4 star hotels to cosy chambres d’hôtes

http://www.bourges-tourisme.com

Getting here

By car – a two and a half hour motorway drive from Paris A10 to Orleans then A71 to Bourges. The A85 from Tours via Vierzon or the A20 from Toulouse via Chatearoux.

By train – direct daily services from Paris Austerlitz. 70€ return fare. Also direct rail links to Lyons, Tours and Toulouse.

THOUGHTS ON BANDS

So, it is that time of year, that my corner of small town France welcomes the world for six days of almost non-stop music. There will be plenty of bands in town, hence, I would like to take this opportunity to address the subject of BANDS.

The Essential element for a successful band

There are BANDS and there are “bands” and there those people who make music with their mates once a week in garages or cellars or any place with a reliable electricity supply, and space large enough to set up a drum kit and accessible to musicians lugging round large amps. I suppose whatever the band, longevity and success all depend on one simple and crucial factor – having somewhere half decent to rehearse on a regular basis.

No matter what your band, at some point you all have to get together and knock out a few songs – a band ain’t a band if it ain’t got songs.

Banding and Bonding

Real BANDS, rehearse all the time. “Bands” try and rehearse as much as possible, as for friends making music, well that is what they do. A few hours here and there, idly jamming away with no particular purpose, other than being together, having a chat, sharing a few beers and “bonding” because “banding” is a form of “bonding.” Tell the wife that you’re off down the local bar for a few beers with your mates and she’ll raise her eyebrows and stare at you long and hard with that piercing, “Don’t come home drunk” look. However if you tell your nearest and dearest that it is “band night” – she knows full well that you are going to have a few beers, but you won’t be getting totally off your face because in-between beers, you are actually trying to make music.

I’ve been singing in various bands for the last twenty five years. I’ve sung in real BANDS, small “bands” and I’ve done the banding/bonding thing

No Beer!!!!!

 In my neck of the woods; real BANDS are those groups made up of professional musicians, (mostly local music teachers) and motivated amateurs. Real BANDS have somewhere decent to rehearse and everyone turns up to reahearsal on time, and in rehearsal, rehearse is all you do – there is no beer, no chat, just music, and it can get very technical. (Ouch). Real BANDS don’t do banding/bonding, they just play because playing is all they do and those pros who play in the band will also be playing with at least three or four other bands. They will remain “loyal” as long as there is work. Real BANDS are not out to get famous, they work – Clubs, Dance halls, discos, private parties – you don’t get many of these bands in pubs because pubs don’t pay enough. For amateurs (such as myself) playing in a real BAND is technically speaking, good experience, but the motivated amateur (if invited to do so) should never join such an outfit on the strength that he is going to make new friends. These guys aren’t your friends, they are musicians rehearsing for the next gig. Gigs are work, gigs are money, playing a gig is simply going to work. Rehearsals though are not paid, so it’s in and out and don’t hang about.

Saturday Night Rockers

“Bands” are those groups of motivated amateurs (would-be rock stars) who want to achieve something. From the first day they ever took up music as kids (or fully grown adults in some cases), the dream has always been to play in a band (providing of course as a band you can find somewhere to play). Rather than use the term “bands” I prefer “Saturday night rockers” – the teachers, plumbers, policemen, insurance clerks, truck drivers, dentists, social workers … who will never give up the day job and will never give up the dream.

I’ve always looked on the Saturday Night Rockers as the Poor Bloody Infantry – go anywhere and play at any price all in the name of rock and roll, that vague but federating causewe all serve. Of course we also go anywhere at any price because it is a gig, a chance to play and a chance to play at being a Rock and Roll star. We all dream of being a héro, weilding a guitar, weilding a gun – rocker stars or war héros. I think the next passage sums it up

The P.B.I (Expressed in a UK English venacular)

“The poor bloody infantry, that’s us . The heavy- smoking, hard-drinking, under-paid, under-rated and over- abused Saturday night rockers and rollers . Lugging our gear from pub to club through the wind and rain, freezing our bollocks off, up the street and down again .

Go anywhere, play anything . All those Saturday nights when you could be home all curled up round your missus and a warm beer in front of the telly and instead, your out gigging. Sliding around in beer and broken glass on the grey linoleum floor of some draughty pub that feels like it’s a million miles from home . There you are, sandwiched in-between the fruit machine and the gents, the stink of persperation, piss, fag smoke and the sickening smell of those dodgey lavender blocks they throw into the bottom of the bogs ‘cos some stupid cunt couldn’t hold his beer.

There you are, the all-singing, all-dancing, musical side show, used by the landlord, abused by the punters, playing all night for a pittance to a bar full of wall-to-wall drunks, and loud-mouthed know-it-alls who wouldn’t know what a guitar was even if you hit them across the face with one, and believe me, you could often quite happily bludgeon someone with your Fender, and feel really good about it .

We’re just the poor bloody infantry . We’re not superstars, and never will be . We’re the guys in the corner you never listen to . The name on the posters that you’ve never heard of . We’re the ones you tell to “fuck off” when the music gets too loud, too fast, too slow, too much . We’re the ones who you want to play when the music stops, and to stop as soon as we start playing . We’re the guys that all the punters refer to in sneering tones as “the band” , as if they were talking about the scum of the earth . I’m the shit on your shoe, or your bad day at work, or the bloke who cut you up at the lights , but I’m not going to go away, ‘cos this is my pleasure, my fifteen minutes of fame . This is what I do to stop myself going crazy . You might annoy me, but I get twice as much pleasure knowing that I’m annoying you .

Hate us you might . But, I get the sneaking suspicion that all those of you out there, who spend the night propping up the bar and slagging us off . . . I get the feeling that you’d like to be up here where I am . In the spotlight, behind the micropohne, showing off to your mates . I think that deep down, you respect us, but you’ll never admit it, so your respect turns to jealousy and your jealousy to hostility and then, just like the big tough man that you’d like to be, you go outside and piss on our cars, or puncture our tyres or pour your beer on our amps, and that makes you “big” with your mates, it makes your girlfriend laugh, it means you might get a bit when she dishes out the rations after closing time, but will you still be able to get it up ?

Amateurs we may be, plying our tired tunes around every bar in town . Churning out mediocre cover versions of Sixties and Seventies “classics”, but, every so often, you get one of those gigs that makes all the hassle worth it . The gig where you don’t get slagged off, where the landlord slips you a bit extra for a job well done . The gig where you’ve given your all and you still want to give more, the gig where you’ve played guitar like tugging at someone’s heart strings and managed to make even the hardest bastard cry into his beer . The gig where you’ve had the punters up, flailing around like double jointed drunken dervishes .

Don’t ask too much of us though, you might be disappointed . Just ask us to do the impossible, because we’re the poor bloody infantry . Over-worked, under-paid and always under-rated . Humping our gear around in all weathers . We’ll go anywhere and do anything at any price . The foot soldiers of the music business . Tommy Atkins did it for King and Country , We’re doing it for kicks .

 

 

 

Four German Maidens, Burnt Toast and Burt Reynolds

Avant Propos

Yes, I have been away for a while, real life catching up with me, a touch of flu and a bout of writer’s block – and when a man (woman) is bored of writing, he (she) is bored with life. So, here I am, trying out some new writing ideas – just start writing and see where it goes. This post started with a visceral reaction to the annoying voice of a velvetine  DJ…Enjoy (I hope)

Rod Stewart, Burnt Toast and a Voice

Featuring

  • Atlantic Crossings
  • An annoying voice
  • Two slices of burnt toast
  • Burt Reynolds
  • David Hasselhoff

Time and place 

  • St Valentine’s Sunday morning in my kitchen.

The treacle-voiced, Sunday morning DJ oozing out my radio. A meliflous, soothing, safe and almost soporiphic, sweet Sabbath, FM breakfast lilt, with a transaltlantic twist. Easy listening and Atlantic Crossings as Rod Stewart’s classic track, « sailing » wofts its way out the radio and across my kitchen, lapping up like gentle waves on burned toast and yesterday’s coffee, reheated in the microwave.

The song soars like seagulls, surfing, gliding and riding the océan breeze. Rod’s grainy voice gives the effortless tune a hard but soulful edge. I feel like I’m alone, walking barefoot on a shingle beach, the small fragments of stones and shells gently rubbing and piercing the soles of my feet in a near gratifying sensation of gentle unpleasentness. All the while, I’m staring out to sea, yearning to be with the one I love.

Rod fades away like an écho on the breeze and the DJ is back with his dulcet dominical tones, reminding us in his deep throat velvetine voice, that it is Valentine’s day, and we, the listeners can ring the radio station and request a romantic song for the « one you love. »

AAAGH ! This putrid purring sliming across my kitchen like someone has poured a bucket of vomit on the worktops. I just want to plunge my hands into radio and wring this guy’s neck. His voice gnaws away at me like mild mild toothache and est me on edge like the high pitch whine of a dentist’s drill.

Chucking the burned toast in the dustbin, I’m trying to imagine what this guy looks like – some kind of seventies Burt Reynolds/David Hasslehoff crossover with a perm and a hairy chest – all polyester trouser suits, and suede jackets.

Why I have never been much of a Simon and Garfunkel Fan

Featuring

  • French peasants
  • Guitar-toting Hippies
  • Too many cigarettes
  • An Omelette

Time and Place 

  • Summers Drifting through France/Evening in a French café

As I flex my fingers and crack my knuckles ready to rip open the radio, the stream of spew fades into the opening chords of Homeward Bound – how I have always loathed Simon and Garfunkel, but that is down to my late teens and early twenties, drifting across France in the company of too many errant, guitar toting Dutch and German hippies. Evenings in village cafés, I’m at the bar, setting the world to with the locals in my fractured French with lashings of Pastis and thick clouds of Gitane in smoke. My hippy travelling companions are in the corner, looking fairly misérable because, apart from an omelette, their is no vegetarian option on the cafés very limited food menu. As the evening drags on, my bedraggled companions get out their guitars and massacre a few Simon and Garfunkel songs in the limited, linear tuetonic English.

German Maidens and Riviera Dreams

Featuring

  • A Spanish Travelling companion
  • Four German maidens ; Gudrun, Beata, Freide, Elise.
  • The Almighty
  • Cheap red wine
  • An Orange VW Combi
  • A Laughing Cow
  • Still too many cigarettes
  • No Sex
  • Simon and Garfunkel (again)
  • Looking for a public toilet in Scarborough

Time and Place 

  • Somewhere near the Pont du Gard in the summer of 1984
  • Scarborough (fair or not)

A Simon and Garfunkel story from the summer of 1984. In France, hitching from Lyons to the sea with a Spanish gent – a travelling companion of circumstance.

All shorts and flip-flpos, we had spent ou day padding along quiet country roads, our heads awash with Riviera dreams, but no car in sight. As day drew to a close our dreams ebbed away in a flow of despair ; low on supplies (one warm bottle of beer aand only one cigarette between us) and the slow réalisation that we actually had nowhere to spend the night because we were in the middle of nowhere. Not prone to prayers, we thought about saying a few, when in an answer to our unprayed implorings to the Almighty, an orange VW Combi van homed into view. (Advice : never take to the road with an emotional lapsed Spanish Catholic.)

We raise our arms in a gesture of distress and the combi miraculously stops right in front of us. The side door slides open with a massive and reassuring Germanic clunk to reveal four very reassuringly blonde, athletic Germanic maidens.

« You want to come with us ? Ja ??? » ventures a maiden in stereotypic Germanic English.

« Oh yes, come all the way and go all the way » I reply, having briefly studied the contents of the heaven-sent van.

In we climbed and off we sped.

We spun then girls our tales of hitch hiking woe.

« Oh yes, it is not easy to get picked up on this road, » says Beata.

« Oh you poor boys » laments Friede offering us a bottle of cheap red wine and a packet of Marlboro.

And as my Spanish companion and I drink and smoke, Beata and Elise stroke our hair and massage our tired muscles, (but not the muscle that you are dreaming of.)

With strong red wine and tuetonic titillation, all Riviera dreams have been banished as my mate and I size up the Combi for the very real prospect of an Anglo Hispanic Germanic gang bang.

We camped for the night, somewhere near the Pont du Gard on the banks of the river Gardon. We lit a small fire, then all sat round eating Vache Qui Rit cheese on a rock hard baguette and drinking vast quantities of more cheap red wine. As the flames of the fire started to flicker weakly down to embers , my travelling companion and I tried our hands at some serious European bonding – this had been, after all the year of the European Parliamentary Elections. However, rather than forging seme serious physical links, our four maidens opted for the policy, of European harmony, when Gudrun appeared from the van clutching a guitar.

« Let us all sing together around the fire … is good ? Ja ? » ventured Gudrun with quizical enthusiasm.

Oh, dashed hopes and dark thoughts. «Jawohl mein leibling. Eine kleine nachtmusik » I whispered to myself. (in mispelt German.)

Gudrun sat herslf down, cross legged in front of the fire, she brushed back ger cascading blonde locks and launched into a monotone renditon of …

Bloody Simon and bloody Garfunkel and bloody Scarborough bloody fair. Had Simon and Garfunkel ever been to Scarborough ?

Scarborough, that austere Yorksire seaside resort , lashed by driving rain and battered by chill North Sea winds – and that is in the heart of summer. As a kid I once went a daytrip to Scarborough during a brief summer family holiday in Yokshire. We spent most of the day sitting in the car staring at the sea and only dared to venture out and brave the éléments, when my incontinent grandmother need a toilet. Off we went round Scarborough in the driving rain, looking for a public loo for Gran.

Homeward Bound

Featuring

  • My love who lies waiting silently for me
  • Burnt toast
  • Breakfast in bed

Time and place

Back in my kitchen on St Valentine’s Day

After Scarborough Fair (which it isn’t), Gudrun started strumming Homeward Bound – one of the few S&G songs which I actually like. Back in my kitchen 30 or more years later, the real Homeward Bound is still playing and I’m even singing along, feeling less now like ripping open my radio to throttle the DJ. I shall now try and do, what I wanted to do before digressing : make a Valentine’s Day breakfast and take it to my love who lies silently waiting/sleeping, in the bedroom. Of course, I will firdst have to makje some decent unburnt toast, a task that seems beyond our présent toaster. I would try and fix the toaster, but I know from expérience that this would be a very bad idea. All I would say, is, never buy a cheap toaster on the grounds that it is cheap and, anyway we only use it a few minutes a day for making toast.

Coming Soon

  • The Death of a toaster
  • Toasters and marital relations
  • Toasters as part of anger management therapy

Days

The festive frolics over: the magic of Christmas melted away faster than a snowball in a microwave oven. Then, the seemingly long but oh so short days between Christmas and New Year. The exquisite nonchalance of the late twenties. A time to read unread books, or take in a few films or the latest art exhibition. These are days when you might feel moved to write or draw or immerse yourself in some other artistic pursuit. These are days when you just drift in a delicious chocolate-flavoured, tinsel torpor

And now it’s all over, we are back to the daze of days – the long succession of non-days, same days, that melt endlessly one into another with our daily routine. Is this Tuesday or Thursday, Just another day. The buses are running, kids are dragging slowly to school, the café down the road is open all hours, workmen propping up the bar for their early morning caffeine fix and smokers, outside, huddled round the door, puffing away, lost in their noxious fug. It’s a dayless day with news and weather and wondering what we are going to eat tonight and is there anything decent on TV. Days of drifting. Normal daily dayless days that will run their course until … What can possibly happen?

And there you are in the numb nondescript of yet another drab day in your café, supermarket, office … when in walks a heavily armed suicide bomber, he sprays the place with machine gun fire and then blows himself up. That’s nonsense. This isn’t a low budget action B Movie, this is my small town where small town people live their hermetic but reassuring small town lives. No, that could never happen here in this everyday place where everyday is this day but never THAT day.

A year on from the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

“Was that only last year!” remarks a colleague. “It all seems so long ago.”