Sick Again

Seasonal tradition – the pre-festive flu


Body aching like I’ve been thrown several times against a wall. Head hurting like it’s been clamped firmly in a vice, and someone is still turning the screw and I’m coughing like an old tramp nurtured on full tar cigarettes and left out for several days in the rain.

« Can’t give you any antibiotics » says the doctor,

« Just stay home in the warm. Take plenty paracetemol and above all, do nothing. »

And with a flourish of his drug company-sponsored pen, the doc signs off « Here you are » he announces and with a big beaming smile he pushes a form a across the desk

« What’s this? »

« A médical certificate for a week’s sick leave. Doctor’s orders, stay home for a week and do nothing. »

« Nothing ! »

Yes, those are the doctor’s orders – nothing.

Now, there are some people I know who would simply ignore médical advice, and, even with a médical certificate, would crawl into work and work, just to prove to everyone else, that what they do is so important, that no one can do without them, and it is thanks to such « heroics » that a everyone else gets sick.

I am going to firmly follow doctor’s orders

YES you’re ill. You’ve got flu or something nastier and though you are not going to die, you certainly feel in a state close to mortal demise.

Get it into your head that you won’t be fit for work

Doctor’s orders – DO NOTHING.

And that is exactly what I do for a week. I do nothing.

I head home, a shivering wreck. I pop a fistful of paracetemol, pull on a grotty old tracksuit, fill a hot water bottle and then wrap myself in a huge duvet and settle down in front of the TV for a week of nothing.

Yep folks – I’ve spent all week watching TV

The news channels, the soap channels, the shopping channels, the kids’ channels, the vintage re-run channels, the religious channels, the crafting channels.

I’ve watched watched North Korean Missiles tests with non stop beaming faced images of « Rocket man ». I’ve seen Laura Ingells comes to blows with Nelly Olsen, I’ve cruised on the Love Boat, I’ve solved murders with Angela Landsbury, I’ve been to Southfork and back via Falcon’s Crest. I’ve learned how to make « lovely » Christmas décorations and « scrapbooking-style » Christmas cards. I’ve learned how to cook the perfect turkey. I’ve drooled over everything from hot rocks and cool diamonds on the jewelery channel to power vacuums, slow cookers, fitness machines and stairlifts on the shopping channels. I’ve watched Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs all ranting their rants – I’ve had calls to prayer, calls ro reason and advice to bring me closer to God.

And in-between the programs – commercial and more commercials with slippers, surgical stockings, death insurance, more bloody chairlifts, exercise aids for the elderly, Christmas chocolates and incontinence pants and checks for colon cancer and urinary probems for older men

AAAAAGH – If I were old. I’m only 52 and in every bloody ad or programme or propoganda slot for the « elderly » it is echoed and re-echoed «NOW YOU ARE OVER 50 … »

Yes I must accept that at 50 you turn into a gibbering, slobbering, incontinet, piss stinking, disabled, semi senile , pyjama-wearing, slipper shuffling wreck. AAAAAAAGH.

Oh Thank God, I’ve found Boomerang TV on the satellite – re-runs of the original Hanna Barbera cartoons – Scooby Doo, Flintstones, The Jetsons …

Hey, If advertisers think I should be senile at 50, might as well watch some kids TV.

What I have loved about this week in the Twilight TV sickness world – all the mid morning ménopause unf*** your f****d-up life TV –

Forgotten second rate stars back from the grave with a book to sell and a career to relaunch.

The youngish, late fortysomething replastified bimbo looks caringly and meaningfully into the UV gaze of the late sixtysomething soap survivor –

« Tell me how did …


breast cancer

the loss of your pet dog


Drug addiction


Sexual breakdown


affect your life ? »

« And what is the subject of your new book ? »


And in this week of TV watching, I have loved all these heart-tugging broken family shows – like Jeremy Kyle

Get a mid morning TV slot, when all the world’s misfits are just rolling out of bed, and wheel some obese, loud-mouthed, no-brain, white trash dysfuntional families into the studio, get them screaming at each other, and you’ve got one shit hot TV show.

The Usual stuff :

Mother sleeps with daughter’s boyfriend a few weeks away from the wedding.

Husband-to-be is sleeping with his fiancé’s sister.

Father-in-law having a fling with his future daughter-in-law.

And after a venomous slanging match it all ends in tears and a big hug.

When I hear people at work reeling off about their perfect lives and their perfect kids, I always feel that I have kind of failed somewhere in my life, but it takes a week of watching Daytime TV to show me otherwise – aspiring and subscribing to the dreams, hopes and fears of the stay-at-homes – for whatever reason people have to stay home.

It takes all sorts to make up a world, and we all need some kind of place in this crazy world.

Back to work tomorrow – fighting fit and one thing is for sure – the first thing someoneis going to say « Did you enjoy your holiday ? »






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




Pea Soup and Sacrifice (and shopping)


« F*** me, it’s a real pea souper this morning. Can’t even hardly see to the end of the garden. Far too dangerous to drive to work, might as well say at home. »

In translation

There is a thick fog this morning and visibility is very poor, down to only a few metres, thus making driving conditions far too danegrous. It would be far safer to say at home rather than risk the journey to work.


My wife reminds me that I work within easy walking distance and can therefore go to the daily grind on foot.

« And what if it’s not there when I get there ? »

A bemused look from my better half, so I explain my theory of only being able to work in paleces that I can see

« I mean if the fog is so thick and visibility so bad that I can’t actually see where I work how can I go to work … if I can’t see where I work … »

The theory isn’t working, and my attempt at fog humour fails miserably.

At work, my daily « check in » with the boss. He likes to see me everyday and it is important to be seen. What you do when you’re not visible doesn’t seem to matter, the important is to be seen, charging around with a fistful of papers and a couple of dossiers under your arm, vigorously shaking hands with colleagues adding that you haven’t got time to stand and chat, you have too much to do. It always helps when you tell them that you have taken time out of a busy schedule just to come and bid them good day. (sounds like the basis for a good internal comms strategy)

I try my fog humour on the boss

« Well I nearly actually didn’t come to work because I couldn’t see the building and I reckoned that if the building wasn’t there then there was nowhere to work. »

The boss rolls his eyes and stares at me like he’s missed to joke, unsure if there was one in the first place.

« Oh, English humour » he laughs nervously.


One Brit amonsgst several hundred French, such is my lot. Not an unhappy one, though you do miss ex-pat colleagues to chat with and spark off. I can’t rememer the last time I had a ood laugh at work. Can’t remember the last time I had a good laugh at all. Of course it’s November, a month of rain, fog, grey skies, death, more rain, the start of the annual flu epidemic and the mad run up to Christmas.


November starts with death and death has its own day off – yes it would be too much fun to celebrate Halloween, instead – November 1st – All Saint’s Day – is a public holiday, no one goes to work, we all spend the day tending the graves of our beloved deceased, flowering up their tombs, cleaning a year’s worth of bird shit off the headstone and weeding the borders round the grave – I suppsoe the dead do deserve somewhere nice to rest in peace.

Nowadays though you don’t get so many folks spending the day with the dead – not because there are less dead people than before (though that génération that would systematically gavesit on All saints day is itself dying out) there are simply more shops open. Like the US and the UK, public holidays have now become shopping holidays and this November 1st holiday is the time when all the ation’s major retail chains launch their Christmas Toy fairs. YShop now to avoid disapointment, bcause the toy fairs all finish around mid November at which point toys are thrown ff the shelves to make way for festive food.


If you have shopped and dropped on November 1st, or even if you have totally missed out on shopping because you spent the day with dead people, not to worry, the next public holiday is just around the corner – November 11th – Armistice Day – when we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This most solemn of days has aso become a shopping holiday over the past few years, leading me to wonder how those who laid down their, lives would feel that they had paid the ultimate price, so we could get cut price in the spécial « Armistice Day toy sale. » – Great time to buy your kids a toy gun.


They have joined « the fallen » – those innocents who were slaughtered in last year’s Paris terrorist attacks. Victims of the war on terror or the war thet the terroritsts are waging against us, our values and our way of life. Their names will never be inscribed on any war memorials, but in many towns and villages all over France, those killed on November 13th 2015 were remembered along with the hundreds of thousands of French men who fell in World War One. Poignant wreath laying cérémonies for the dead of the Great War and then seperate wreaths for those who did not go to war, but simply went for a night out with friends in a bar or to see a concert. Those victims who lived wanting every minute of plasure to last , a world away from the slaughter of the trenches where you think every minute might be your last.

Death was already firmly placed in the national November psyche, as sad and sombre as the weather, but it was death from another time and place. There are those who might say that we are still reaping the sad harvest of the « colonial » seeds we sowed générations ago.


So, I want to finish with this thought – The calamity and uncertanty of the Trump presidential victory. I would like Mr Trump to take heed as this weekend in France we have paid homage to those who died in the great war of the great empires and those who have died from the results of modern empire building. We marking the centenary of the Great War, but with the foreign policy that Trump is proposing, we are a mère step away from reinforcing those old empires under different guises – Putin has been emboldened by the Trump victory, for sure Trump will be lenient on Turkey – the door is wide open for new Czars and Sultans and the door is wide open for new wars and new massacres . Just a personal opinion.



Of Death, Bankers, Black Sabbath and Oversize Anoraks.

I doubt if Black Sabbath singer, Ozzy Osbourne will ever go down in history as a great philosopher, yet the lyrics of the Black Sabbath classic « After Forever » from their 1971 « Master of Reality » album, ponder the subject of our ultimate demise.

“When you think about death

Do you lose your breath?

Or do you keep your cool …

Well I have seen the truth

Yes I have seen the light

And I’ve mended my ways

And I’ll be prepared

When you’re lonely and scared

At the end of your days”

Of course as all true Sabbath fans know, it was actually the group’s bassist, Geezer Butler who penned these ponderous lines, though Ozzy did have the tendency to « change » certain lyrics during the band’s live shows.

So, this is not a post about Black Sabbath, one of my favourite bands, and as much as I like Ozzy, I always thought that the late great Ronnie James Dio was a far better singer, though not such a good front man.

November 1st

On this day, November 1st, when we traditionally think of those loved ones who are now more ethereal than earthly; I too am dwelling of the subject of my ultimate demise (or as I prefer to call it – the next stage in the journey of life).

Oversize Anoraks and Dinosaurs

It is all the fault of my banker (or Financial Adviser – to give him his official title.)

My banker is a fairly pleasant chap. – a smiling and bespectacled recent forty something, who actually looks ten years younger. My banker looks like the way he has always looked. He was probably born this way. I can quite easily imagine him back in school. The sensible speccy kid that you never really notice, probably quite good at maths and interested in astrology or dinosaurs. He will never have been good at sport and I daresay, was probably bullied into doing maths homework for the « bigger boys ».

There are a couple of notable features about my banker; despite his very medium size, he has enormous hands and he always wears suits that are far too big for him. His jacket sleeves hang way down almost to his fingers and his trousers hang far too long, meaning that the end of the trouser leg gets « trod under » his shoes when he walks.

Perhaps his wife chose him a suit that was too large, perhaps in the same way that his mum might have bought him an enormous oversize anorak with the words « don’t worry dear, you’ll grow into it. »

The same thing happened to me as a kid. I wanted a denim jacket or a Harrington jacket like all the other kids at school, instead I got a sensible C&A brown anorak, so large that it might have passed up for a tent. « Look! » enthused mum, « It’s got a fur-lined hood. »

Death and the Banker

So, death and the banker (could be a decent name for a play.)

I’m leaning back in the uncomfortable chair in my banker’s office and my bespectacled banker lowers his specs and knowingly stares across at me.

« You are fifty now aren’t you? » (As if I needed reminding.)

« Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about … » says my banker with the benevolent air of a priest attending the dying.

« Have you thought about some provision for those you leave behind? »

Yes I have. Ten Years ago I took out a life insurance policy – this was at the time when everything that you paid into a life insurance policy was tax deductible – alas no longer, however the life insurance policy does guarantee an instant 10,000 Euro payment to my nearest and dearest to cover the cost of dying – mainly funeral expenses.

« Indeed it does! » exclaims my banker, however, under new rules, this payment will only be made until you are seventy, so if you die after…. »

And so my banker begins an upbeat hard sell of the bank’s new « death insurance. »

« It’s not actually an insurance – it’s a savings scheme. If you pay in a basic 27 Euros a month over ten years, with the interest, the bank will guarantee you a capital of 3000 Euros, paid to your family on your death, to cover funeral costs. »


And there is more – a 24/7 helpline for my family with « experts » on hand to help with funeral arrangements.

« We even give you a form where you can write down your last wishes of how and where you want to be disposed of. »

(Did he really say that? Yes he did. My final disposal. Is it just an unfortunate accident in this town that the local crematorium is next to the rubbish dump?)

I haven’t thought about « how » I want things done, but on the new death insurance, my banker assures me that, even if I die before the full ten year term, my family will still get the full amount. By my calculations therefore, I had better snuff it when I am 69, meaning that my family will get the 10,000 Euros funeral pay out from my life insurance policy and the 3000 Euro from my death insurance. If I die after 70, they will only get 3000 Euros. I run this by my banker, who confirms my calculation.

« And If I sign up to the death insurance and get run over by a bus on leaving the bank, will I still get a guaranteed 3000 Euros?

« Ah, sorry, » says my banker apologetically, « you have to be in the scheme a full year before you get a pay out. »

So, sign up now, pay in for a year and then cop it somewhere in my 51st year and everyone’s a winner (except me).

Not the Cemetery

I think I could get some kind of half decent send off for 3000 Euros – I’m not too concerned about the quality of the coffin, and I certainly don’t want a final resting place in one of the cemeteries around here, they are all so far from anywhere adjacent to the railway line, or the local prison and besides, cemeteries are full of dead people, and what happens if I get put next to someone I don’t like? You are dead an awful long time, at least try and get some decent neighbours.

Geezer Butler and a Small family Car

So, in conclusion – 13000 Euros for the family if I cop it when I am 52. That sounds a lot of money, but at today’s prices thirteen grand won’t even buy you a half decent family car.

So, back to Black Sabbath.

« I’ll be prepared when you’re old and scared

At the end of your days. »

When Geezer Butler penned these lines, was he thinking about life (or even death) insurance? Probably not.

Final thoughts on a final resting place

Apart from being fairly depressing places, sandwiched in-between rubbish dumps and railway lines, I wouldn’t want a permanent « monument » in a cemetery. I don’t want to inflict the responsibility of tending the dead on the living. It takes enough time looking after yourself when you are alive, so you don’t need the extra hassle of looking after the dead. They’re dead, why do they need looking after? No folks, on this 1st of November when the French flock to cemeteries to clean up and flower the family tomb, I want to be cremated and then scattered on a beach in Corsica, that way, if the family come to my final resting place …

Now I have depressed you all, go away and do something happy.