OF RESOLUTIONS AND REVOLUTIONS

Possibly my last post about New Year (promise)

A GOOD RESOLUTION, A LIFE-CHANGING REVOLUTION, RESOLVING TO DO GOOD DEEDS AND WHEN TO TAKE DOWN YOUR CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS

newyearsresolutions

It is that time of year, the turning of the year when we resolve to make ourselves better, fitter, happier healthier people. We decide, to give up bad habits, to divest ourselves of those physical or mental burdens that make us unhappy. We resolve to change our ways. We are full of good intentions.

Ah yes, the good old New Year’s resolution, but never a revolution. Where there is a will there is a way and it will take us all our frail human determination to accomplish those goals which we have set ourselves, therefore, we are not going to undertake anything too difficult that might just revolutionise our lives. Radical change? Heaven forbid. Just the act of going back to work after the festive blip is going to require a heroic effort.

The return to normal life. I know on the first day back at work, everyone will be wearing glazed expressions of emptiness. It will be like a train station or an airport during a computer glitch or a system failure – transport staff put up large signs “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible”. We will all be wearing such signs until late January, when finally the last vestiges of Christmas decoration have been taken down and it feels like we are all “back to normal”.

Hold on though, why are we all heading back to work when it is still officially Christmas? Why are we all slaving away? The Wise men haven’t arrived yet. Jesus is still in his manger and Mary and Joseph are still sitting in the stable. Christmas does not officially finish until February 2nd – Candlemass or Midwinter’s Day. Why are you ripping down the Decorations on Twelfth Night? You can leave them up until Candlemass. Yes, but isn’t it just a tad depressing, heading off to work on those cold January mornings with your tree and tinsel still up? Yep, what is worse than crawling to work in mid-January and passing shops and houses still festooned in their festive garb.

Candlemass

Candlemass commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple. In a more “sinisiter” vein, it also marks the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son.

Up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the “purification” of young mothers was a common ceremony in some churches – it was called “Churching” – There was something inherently sinful in the act of procreation and something “unhealthy” about the act of childbirth, therefore young mothers underwent a purification ceremony before they were allowed back in church again, or allowed to take Holy Communion.

This ritual purification dates back to biblical times. When Women weren’t allowed to worship at the Temple or Synagogue after childbirth. The length of time that women were excluded from worship depended on the sex of their baby. In the case of a boy, young mums got a 40 day ban that increased to 60 days if they had given birth to a girl. So, if Jesus had been Jessica, we might well be keeping our Christmas decoration up until late February.

Jesus or Jessica ?

Of course Jesus wasn’t Jessica, but I am just wondering, if, next Christmas I could ask my employer for forty days off work for the festivities?

Oh Lord! Can you imagine celebrating Christmas for 40 consecutive days.?

40 days or 60 days. If Jesus had been Jessica, that would certainly have thrown the Christian calendar out of synch. Imagine Jessica spending 60 days in the wilderness – a 60 day long Lent. Of course this means that Easter would come 60 days after Ash Wednesday, meaning that Easter would fall firmly in Spring and we might actually get some decent weather for Easter.

Candlemass, like all good Christian ceremonies is of course based on a Pagan Ceremony – Midwinter’s day and the Festival of Light. Time to light a few candles and bonfires to mark the halfway stage of winter and a slow return to longer days right up until June 21st – Midsummer’s Day, the point at which days start to get shorter. Seems a bit weird that those long summer days are actually getting shorter in the run up to winter.

A Good Deed a day

 So, back to resolutions. I have decided to have daily resolutions or rather good intentions – that good old boy scout thing of « a good deed a day ». Some small act that will make someone else’s existence a little easier such as holding a door open for the person behind me, rather than letting it fly and shut firmly in their face.

Yes, there are plenty of day-to-day things you can do. When you driving along a main road with a huge line of cars behind you, why not stop and let through the poor bastard who has been waiting all day to come out of a side road. Do the same at roundabouts, give way to a couple of cars. If every motorist just let one car through on a roundabout it would do wonders for traffic flow. In the same way, stop at crossings and let that little old lady across.

Pity The Old Lady and her tin of cat food

Good deeds in shops. There you are at the checkout, a trolley laden with shopping and behind you, a fellow customer with just one or two items. Let the, frail little old lady with her tin of cat food go in front of you. Statistically you have longer to live than her. So you have the time as she pays for her cat food in one cent coins.

For all those small good deeds you do, the one day that you need a good deed just to make life a little easier, well generally it happens just when you need it.

And finally a good deed that costs nothing. A warm morning greeting with a smile for friends, neighbours and colleagues. You know, when you are down in the mouth with a bad case of the Monday morning blues, it just takes a smile and a heartfelt greeting from a colleague to make your day.

Sun-Drenched Beach

Oh dear, this all sounds so trivial, but then you don’t need a spanner in the works to make the machine breakdown, sometimes just a grain of sand will do. I’m hoping my grains of sand will pile up and form into one long sun drenched beach, for this is also that time of year that we traditionally think about booking our summer vacation, and every year, the stress levels in our house go through the roof as I annoy my family with holiday plans. This year I’ll go with the flow and pick up something at the last minute. And so, to my final resolution – cease stressing those around me with my plans, fears, worries and good intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Morning After.

Not a peice for those of a delicate post party disposition

29156771-a-cartoon-drunk-person-leans-their-face-against-the-bar

Oh to be young again, when the physical scars of a hard night’s partying seemed to heal miraculously in a few short hours.

Flatulence, belching, chronic indigestion, heartburn, gastric reflux, headache and vomiting; those probable unpleasant, pungent, painful and noisy side effects on the afternoon of the morning after the night before … or has it just been one long day that started somewhere in the hazy and undigested recall of the recent past?

Oh, the high price we pay for our brief epicurean episode. Oh, this strange idea of celebration and revelries; gorging ourselves to choking point or drowning in drink until once sensible beings become senseless incoherent idiots talking gibberish and seeing double.

The human body can only take so much, and, at some points, the warning lights will start flashing, the sirens start screaming and the “eject” system will switch into “auto” mode, unless of course you use manual mode and end up on your knees with two fingers down your confessing to the great white porcelain God.

It could have been so easy not to get that far. Everything in moderation. Just a little of what you fancy, but, this is a time for celebration and we go too far.

What is it all for? Welcoming the New Year or marking the demise of the old?

So, it has been a wonderful year and it is only fitting to mark its timely and pre destined demise with due epicurean reverence and revelries or, it has been a truly terrible year and therefore this is the time to exorcise our demons in a ritual ceremony of self destruction in the hope that the on the twelfth stroke of midnight, months of misadventures will mechanically melt away and everything will be better.

And it is in the grey dawn of a dazed and confused drink fuelled stupor that we awake. The post licentious limbo that is New Year’s Day – the fuzzy mourning that marks the first day.

As the day unwinds, so you rewind and then slowly replay the film of the night before. One long bad drunken B movie.

As the day unwinds you remember those you might have invited over for lunch, drinks, tea, dinner, at this time when you are having trouble keeping down your breakfast which was actually the last course of your all night dinner.

Time for booze free, green tea extreme vegan detox and this becomes your new best last resolution that you will keep for precisely two days.

What the hell! We all had a good time at the New Year’s party and we’ll all feel exactly the same at the same time next year.

Happy New Year Folks

Pea Soup and Sacrifice (and shopping)

PEA SOUP

« 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.

IF I CAN’T SEE, I CAN’T GO

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.

I WANNA LAUGH

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.

IT STARTS WITH DEATH

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.

ULTIMATE CUT PRICE SACRIFICE

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.

ONE YEAR ON

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.

THE CALAMITY OF UNCERTAINTY

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.

 

 

Forgetting those Summer Daze.

Those sure signs that summer is finally here – those iconic, traditional events, local and national, marking the start of the “Grandes Vacances” – two months of long, lazy summer daze, when most of France seems to shut down and we all head off for our well-deserved place in the sun.

Down here in my corner of la Douce France, summer starts with the funfair. For as long as anyone can remember, the fair hits town in mid June for a month of dodgems, hot dogs, candy floss, the House of Fun, the Ghost train and all those heart-stopping rides that you should never do after a large burger and fries. The same rides every year for years, the funfair is a never changing constant where mums and dads measure time by the reaction of their kids – at first, frozen with fear on the ghost train as a toddler; now my daughter just finds it all a bit cheesy. “The ghost train isn’t scary” she remarks with a sneering teenage indifference, but I know she’d still like a go. A fistful of Euros later, we are sitting in a car as it slowly drives round the “fright of your life” – same as last year, same as ten years ago – we know where the skeletons dangle, we know exactly where someone dressed in black robes and a “scream” mask will jump out and scare us. Cheesy but reassuring, we never want it to change.

And in those years where the years seemed to plod slowly along we waited for the fair, like Christmas, like a birthday – and now, the years are just fleeting past. “Oh the fair’s in town again” I say one morning at breakfast. “Surely not!” exclaims the wife. “Is it that time already, It only seems like it was here a few weeks ago.” So, this year, I hardly even noticed the fair setting up, the huge semi-trailers laden with gear rolling into town, the rides slowly taking form, long days of nuts and bolts as the fair workers jump around their vast metal structure like steel monkeys, getting their erections just right for our orgasmic moment.

It’s the first year, I didn’t notice the fair, the first year that I seemed truly unconcerned, even indifferent, the first year that I haven’t been – I have to go before it’s all over – a trip to the fair is a seasonal rite of passage –

And those other ritual transitions into summer? They too have passed my by. Cherry-picking, hauling the heavy ladder up against my cherry trees and then spending days on end harvesting the delicate sumptuous fruit. This year though, there are no cherries – when the trees were heavy with blossom, we had an unseasonal freeze and then weeks of rain, so that early evening ritual, when I return from work, pull on my gardening gear and climb into a cherry tree – well I’ve really missed it, climbing from branch to branch, “risking” life and limb, just to go that bit higher and stretch that bit further for one elusive juicy ripe red cherry. I like it up in my cherry trees, staring out across the gardens and exchanging greetings and cherry talk with my neighbours who are up in their trees. I also miss that inexact science of jam making – slaving away in the kitchen to concoct jams that will tickle our taste buds through the winter and bring us just a little hint of summer with every spoonful. Cherry jam with ginger, with whisky, with cognac with whatever is too hand and might go well with cherries. I’m missing all this.

Those events that mark time and summer time are just escaping me this year.

I switched on the TV the other day and watched the Tour de France, that most iconic of cycle races, where a couple of hundred men on flimsy bikes pedal their way up and down in France in pursuit of a series of coloured jersies. The departure of the Tour de France used to be an excuse to drop everything and spend the afternoon sheltering from the sun, slumped in an armchair with a cold beer, watching someone else do all the work. How could I have missed the Tour de France, that’s like waking up on December 25th and saying “I forgot it was Christmas.”

Reasons for “forgetting”

What I might call “the weather differential” – those weeks of incessant biblical deluge from spring into summer – there was no distinct weather change to say that summer was on its way .

The “age factor” – drifting along aimlessly at fifty.

The changing role of dad – I used to take my daughter to the fair and now she’s not that age where dad takes you to the fair ..

And finally, perhaps, none of these things are very important anymore.

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.”

The Worst Sunday of the Year

‘Tis the worst Sunday of the year – that last drab, depressing and doom laden dominical limbo before the long hard crawl back to reality. Tomorrow we head all back to those places we so cheerfully left a couple of weeks ago – schools, offices, factories – no matter where you are headed on « the first Monday » back, it is perhaps the most difficult return to reality of the entire year. And once back at work with all our other long-faced colleagues, we lethargically and indifferently wish each other a Happy New Year.

Oh, how the hell can you be happy? Off to work in the dark and heading home in the dark. Off to work through torrential rain, snow storms, fog … it is no wonder that animals hibernate. Why don’t we do the same? From 21st December through 21st March, we should just stay at home, nestling under the covers with a hotwater bottle and a good book, or sitting swathed in thick sweaters, curled up in front of a roaring fire with a good whisky and non-stop feel-good films on the TV.

This is the period for the Winter Blues, or what medical experts now call Seasonal Affective Disorder – you get depressed in Winter, so sit at home under a sun lamp for three months or head south for the duration. Our bosses, masters, employers, enslavers … they must have realised by now that they will gain little profit from making us work in these dark times.

No exaggeration – In France, we will all be back in the class room or in the office come 8am on Monday morning – What in heaven’s name is the point of starting the Learning process at 8am? No one ever learned anything much before 10am. In the evening it is the same, kids finishing lessons around 6pm. Even in summer no one is especially receptive after 4pm.

Then of course there is all the light and heating. Save an hour’s energy by starting the winter’s day at 9am (or even 10am).

I plead for this every January, and I am totally serious – work less and save energy and by working shorter hours in winter, people may just be more receptive.

And so, here we are, the evening before the morning to come, which, if you have kids means, frantically doing all that homework that the kids were set before the holidays, but haven’t even touched. Why oh why do teachers even bother setting homework for the Christmas holidays? Kids never do it. Even as far back as the first year of primary school, at the tender age of 6, my daughter was set holiday homework: Of course this is France where formal written homework is officially forbidden in primary schools, but all teachers give their pupils something to learn – poems, multiplication tables, words for spelling test or a dictation – and in many households I daresay that the children have been studiously slaving away all through the Christmas break, but in this house … 4pm on the evening before the next day, first we try and find the school bag that has been thrown in a far flung corner of the house, then we try and find the « to do » list and then we ring round every other parent trying to find out what to do.

« Oh s**t, my offspring has left everything at school » – more phone calls to other parents. The exchanging of e-mails.

« Oh yes, that would be so kind if you could just scan the list of vocabulary /poem and send it by mail. »

« Oh f***, there’s no more ink in the printer – okay, you’re just going to have to learn this on screen. »

Then we get the stinky sports bag – yes your kids have got PE, first lesson tomorrow and their kit has spent the past fortnight festering at the bottom of a bag – yes, we do have a spare kit, but that is at the bottom of the laundry basket – just go dirty or give your kid a false sick note.

« Dears Mrs ….

Our lovely daughter cannot take part in your sports lesson due to a …

Sprained ankle

Tummy bug

Ear infection … »

Or

« Dear Mrs …

Can our daughter be excused sport because we didn’t have time to wash her stinky, mould encrusted sports gear, which has been festering at the bottom of her sports bag for two weeks? »

By some miracle though, at some point before midnight, your kids manage to get their homework more or less done, and after a long rummage through the darkest recesses of drawers and cupboards, you manage to muster some semblance of a sports kit.

This is my daughter’s final year at high school, so this is my final mad back to school post festive Sunday, and it is pretty calm. She’s worked through the holidays and her stinky sports kit is in her locker at school and she assures both mum and dad that it isn’t so smelly that she can’t wear it for sport tomorrow.

I suppose this is the end of an era, in my life as a dad. Next year at this time, there will be no more stinky sports bags and unfinished homework. I’m going to miss the ritual, nevertheless, a thought for parents everywhere who , on this pre-school Sunday, are hurtling round the house in near apoplexy getting their brood ready for the fist day back.

Don’t worry, it can only get better.

 

 

Morning After

Not a post for those of a delicate post party disposition

Oh to be young again, when the physical scars of a hard night’s partying seemed to heal miraculously in a few short hours. 

Flatulence, belching, chronic indigestion, heartburn, gastric reflux, headache and vomiting; those probable unpleasant, pungent, painful and noisy side effects on the afternoon of the morning after the night before … or has it just been one long day that started somewhere in the hazy and undigested recall of the recent past?

Oh, the high price we pay for our brief epicurean episode. Oh, this strange idea of celebration and revelries; gorging ourselves to choking point or drowning in drink until once sensible beings become senseless incoherent idiots talking gibberish and seeing double.

The human body can only take so much, and, at some points, the warning lights will start flashing, the sirens start screaming and the “eject” system will switch into “auto” mode, unless of course you use manual mode and end up on your knees with two fingers down your confessing to the great white porcelain God.

It could have been so easy not to get that far. Everything in moderation. Just a little of what you fancy, but, this is a time for celebration and we go too far.

What is it all for? Welcoming the New Year or marking the demise of the old?

So, it has been a wonderful year and it is only fitting to mark its timely and pre destined demise with due epicurean reverence and revelries or, it has been a truly terrible year and therefore this is the time to exorcise our demons in a ritual ceremony of self destruction in the hope that the on the twelfth stroke of midnight, months of misadventures will mechanically melt away and everything will be better.

And it is in the grey dawn of a dazed and confused drink fuelled stupor that we awake. The post licentious limbo that is New Year’s Day – the fuzzy mourning that marks the first day.

As the day unwinds, so you rewind and then slowly replay the film of the night before. One long bad drunken B movie.

As the day unwinds you remember those you might have invited over for lunch, drinks, tea, dinner, at this time when you are having trouble keeping down your breakfast which was actually the last course of your all night dinner.

Time for booze free, green tea extreme vegan detox and this becomes your new best last resolution that you will keep for precisely two days.

What the hell! We all had a good time at the New Year’s party and we’ll all feel exactly the same at the same time next year.

Happy New Year Folks!