On the Run in the Edgelands

The Edgelands – that parallel peripheral sub world that marks the transition from civilization to nowhere, from riches to poverty from being to existing.

Everything starts in nowhere places. Those places you thought you’d never be. On your own in those places that you would never choose to go. Those cheap hotels on the edge of the edgelends – lost and forlorn in the shadow of the high rise wasteland and the deserted shopping mall – long neon lit corridors of shuttered up shops and gangs of kids wandering aimlessly in errant boredom. In the shopping mall there is the restaurant – all ersatz, mid-west, plastic rustic burger in a basket, dirty round the edges with unkempt staff wearing geasy uniforms and nochalantly chewing gum in «don’t give a fuck» faces. They slap the food on your plate like they are slapping you round the face and we eat here because it is affordable and feels almost like a real meal. I got tough stringy steak, luke warm overcooked chips and a slice of anemic apple pie for my limp apologetic desert. «Try our delicious steak platter – a thick juicy steak, cooked just the way you like it, served with home made chipped potatoes» and for desert « a traditional home made apple pie served with whipped cream.» The waitress plonks down my anemic apple pie with leaden indifference. I ask her for the cream. She takes an aerosol from a pocket in her geasy apron and splurts «cream» everywhere. «Home made» or made in a place that someone calls home. Away from home you notice just how many people either, don’t have a home, or don’t have a home worth going to. In this ersatz parallel world you also notice just how many people are on the road, working away from home to pay for that home they never see. I call it the «survival circuit», the road trip from hell – plumbers, builders, labourers, criss crossing the land in their white vans, driving at break neck speeds, from job-to-job, from town-to-town,, mobile phones pressed permanently to their ears, that they might just need surgery to get them removed. Miss a call, miss a contract, miss a job, miss a mortgage payment and miss any semblance of a normal family life as you sacrifice any normal life to pay for a dream. And the wandering working classes are here in this grubby, formica farmhouse kitchen – this seedy shopping centre eatery where lost souls seek affordable nourisment – this down-at-heal diner where families from the neighbouring high rise have come for a «family treat» – a meal out in a restaurant. Nothing shocks me now because over the years, I have become used to these places. I am here in a spirit of tastless utilitarian indifference. This is one of those weeks when I am forced to work away from home and home has to be a cheap functional hotel in the insipid mediocrity of the edgelands – that forgotten, hidden, parallel world on the periphery of reality, but maybe this is reality and I spend my life living in a bubble. I was thinking how difficult it must be to run away home, because you end up in places like this that make you want to run away even more. When I stay here, I begin to feel how hard it must be to be «on the run.»

Following photos taken in France – Bourges, Toulouse and Orleans.

Hotel

Cigarette Break

Drive in skyline

KFC Dawn

Giraffe

The Middle of Nowhere

Saturday shopping

Sunset shopping

Bag man

Pushing cross the car park

Way in Way out

Trolleys

Welcome

Of Satellite TV, Advertising, Barbecues, German supermarkets French Wine, Napoleon, British Bangers and the Metric System

I love my satellite TV – over 300 channels and I can still say (hand on heart) that there is nothing to watch of en evening. Take out the news channels, the plethora of religious channels, the shopping channels and TV reality channels – there isn’t much choice left, BUT, I do get British TV. I have a direct window on British news, views and contemporary culture . I can enjoy some excellent drama and also follow my favourite soap operas. Best of all, (and the best indicator of social and economic trends) I get all the ads –

British ads are so different from the French TV commercials. They are funnier, quirkier and far more professional than their French equivalents – There is nothing better tan the humble TV commercial to highlight the cultural divide between France and Britain.

On this, the hottest weekend of the year so far, when common sense would dictate that we all crawl under a stone rather than stand outside in the blazing sun, the good folks don my street are all firing up their barbecues. Midday was the sound of popping corks, as neighbours « unplugged » their rosé wine, and come early afternoon – following a long aperitif, the air was thick with the irresistible odour of sizzling meat.

I daresay this scene is being repeated across the Channel – everywhere in the UK is enjoying unseasonably warm weather – And on both sides of the water, there will be people crawling in to work tomorrow morning with hangovers and red raw flesh burned by the sun – Yes folks, never get too drunk on a hot day like today, and never snooze off in the sun for a drunken post BBQ nap.

Back at the commercial break, I am watching an ad for that German discount supermarket with an unpronounceable name – Lidl –

The ad is doing the hard sell on BBQ goodies. I am told that at Sainsbury’s supermarket, a good bottle of French Champagne will set me back £30, BUT for the same price at Lidl, I can get a second rate bottle of French fizz, a bottle of French white and French Rosé wine, several slices of Italian ham and a Moroccan cous cous, all for £29,95. Now I am not sure that the advertisers have actually understood what a cous cous really is, and they perhaps mean Taboulé – notwithstanding that’s quite a bit of food and booze for just under thirty quid and it’s all FRENCH – Oh thank you European Single Market. Oh thank you EU trade deals. Oh thank you EU. On this, the day before Britain sends a delegation to Brussels, to being Brexit negotiations. AH, all those European garden party goodies. How much will they cost after Brexit? Food for thought indeed. BUT if you are enjoying beer, burgers and sausages – yes they might be British bangers made at your local butcher’s, but they were made in regulation with EU-inspired food and hygiene norms. As for that beer, are you sure it isn’t a continental lager ? Perhaps from Belgium?

And that was a tenuous link into my next rant which takes you (dear reader) to Belgium) and the small village of Watterlot, known to the Brits as Waterloo.

Before we head to the site of the famous battle though, a quick final word on TV ads – you would never get that Lidl ad on French TV. Under national French TV regulations it is illegal to advertise alcohol on TV.

Off to Waterloo, which was a battle that gave its name to a London mainline train station and the 1974 Eurovision- winning ABBA song.

Napoleon cartoon wih more than a littlle hint of Mr Stallone

So the Brits named a station after a victory against Napoleon, well the French did the same – Austerlitz train station in Paris, named after old Bonaparte’s December 1805 victory over a Russian/Austrian army under the command of Czar Alexander 1st (Austerlitz is situated in the boundaries of the modern Czech republic)

Now we have a phrase in French –«  C’est son Waterloo » – meaning that it is a person’s last heroic but futile stand. Ironically (more Brexit) Britain begins Brexit negotiations tomorrow (Monday 19th June) in the Belgium capital of Brussels, just 30 kilometres from the battlefield of Waterloo. Will this be the British Waterloo – in the French sense ?

Napoleon – love him or hate him – left us a few daily reminders. He was the guy who introduced the metric system to France and eventually to Europe. I noticed this week, after the tragic events at Grenfell House in northwest London, all the journalists, fire fighters and assorted experts were giving their measurements in metres.

Back t the weather – on Sunday June 18th 1815 it was raining and the battlefield was heavy going for the cavalry. On Sunday June 18th, afternoon temperatures in my corner of France hit the 34°c mark. On the Friday night BBC London News bulletin, a very voluptuous lady informed viewers that Saturday temperatures would hit a 32°c high – no more Fahrenheit on the BBC, although wind speeds are still given in miles per hour.

Meanwhile back at the Lidl advert, the bottle sizes are being quoted in centilitres and the weights are in grammes and t is all for French wine. Perhaps Napoleon did win in the long run.

Okay – time to sign off and uncork a bottle of French Rosé. Later on, I’ll be having my Father’s day treat of a juicy Aberdeen Angus steak with good old Mc Cain oven chips made in the Netherlands.

Before I go, this Sunday is polling day in the second round of French parliamentary elections – this isn’t one to bet on, Emmanuel Macron’s « La République en Marche » party is set to wipe the board a forecast puts him at over 400 seats in the 570 seat French parliament. I can’t help thinking of a recently elected British prime minister who would love a similar majority – no snuggling up to the nasty Unionists.

Of course, voter turnout has been low, everyone here is too busy at the BBQ to go and vote.

Ok it is officially wine time.

Cheers

The Big Fight

The main television event last night – the live debate between France’s two presidential hopeful : Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Such events are normally polite, even sedate affairs with each candidate outlining his or her policy, whilst the other thoughtfully looks on before launching a counter attack. When the debate gets “heated”, candidates may interrupt each other and occasionally the whole thing can descend into verbal fisticuffs. Last night though, the gloves were off from the beginning with the venomous and viperous Marine Le Pen in jugular form, interrupting Emmanuel Macron on every statement and all the while “welcoming” his policies with a poisonous and mocking smile.

Brutal, noisy, chaotic even violent – some of the adjectives used in this morning’s press to qualify the proceedings, and as for the TV journalists there to “mediate” the event, they were at best incompetent and at worst helpless, unable to bring calm and restore order as both candidates “ripped” into each other in a confusing cacophony.

And Madame Le Pen – short on policy and detail, her only strategy was to attack and try to discredit Emmanuel Macron. Her TV tactics reminiscent of a street battle – she wouldn’t have been out of place wearing a brown shirt.

She claims that she can give France the “strong leadership” it needs, but if she heads to the European negotiating table with such a table thumping, baton-wielding approach, no one will listen.

The more I watched Marine Le Pen, the more I got this creeping, flesh-crawling feeling that this woman truly is a danger for democracy and as a President her mandate would be one of incompetence, overspend and violence. It was Emmanuel Macron who pronounced the fatal words “civil war” – “Madame Le Pen, if you are elected there will be a civil war.” It seems therefore that my apocalyptic musings on a Le Pen presidency are not so far from expectations.

Mr Macron’s “civil war” comment came as Madame Le Pen outlined her policy on terrorism and national security, which was no more than a long islamophobic, xenophobic tirade.

Madame Le Pen has done herself no favours with her performance last night. Self confessed, national Front supporters at work of course lauded Madame Le Pen and found her TV antics “outstanding”

I couldn’t really say that there was a “winner” in this debate; Contrary to pre-debate speculation on Emmanuel Macron’s ability to take on Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader did not “wipe the floor” with Monsieur Macron – he was polite and calm but firm in the face of the Le Pen onslaught, we can say he “survived” and perhaps even gained in credibility as Madame Le Pen’s ebbed away with every attack she made.

So, can Macron win it? – and here we come to the weird and wonderful strategies of French ractical voting. Heard on a radio phone in show this lunchtime, one “leftwing” caller says – “I’ll vote Le Pen knowing full well that she’ll lose, but I don’t want to vote Macron because I don’t want him to win with a landslide – a slim margin is enough; the bigger his victory margin and the more empowered he will feel to impliment his brand of economic liberalism.” WHAT????

But it has been a common theme in this last week for the far left to come out and say they’ll vote Le Pen. Madame Le Pen also has support from radical Moslem groups – I suppose the whole idea being that once she is in power, then we have a real enemy and a real reason to rise up (So I have heard) – Extremists just love extremists – woe betide if we get a sensible social democratic president. O tnis note, a staggering 23% of those who voted for Jean-Luc Melenchon and his far left party “Insoumise”, have said that they will be voting Le Pen.

The vote Le Pen for a small Macron margin is frankly a bonkers strategy, as mad as the idea of lodging a protest vote in the first round and then voting for your favourite candidate afterwards.

All election coverage in France ceases on Friday. Saturday is a moment of introspection, soul-searching and decision-making, Sunday we’re off to the polls, and hot on the heals of the presidential elections, the parliamentary elections, only a month away. The French aligned all their elections a few years back to stop the possibility of “cohabitation”. Parliamentary elections were always two years after the Presidentials, which meant if President or Parliament were of different political persuasions, they just spent their time fighting and blocking each other.

I’l lquite happlily follow Barak Obama’s and endorse Macron, the other choice is just far too dangerous to take the risk.

Freedom?

FREEDOM!  screams a huge banner headline from the front page of the Daily Mail.

Freedom ? Freedom from what ?

Has Britain just been liberated from years of foreign occupation ? Have the British people just risen up and toppled a vile dictator ?

« This is E-Day. » proclaims a sub-header

March 29th, E-Day ?

Has the world (or at least the Daily Mail) gone mad ?

Pardon my flinching , semi senile, wine-soaked, ex-pat memory, but unless we have just booted the nazis out of Blighty, I thought that Britan had been a free and democratic country for the past … well at least for the past 72 years since the end of World War Two, and possibly long before that – OK bar a few arguments about when full and fair universal suffrage was finally achieved – Britian has been « democratic » since mid –to-late Victorian times.

I know with this last sweeping assertion I am going to make some history buffs howl with indignation, because Britain (or England) had a « parliamentary » tradition for many centuries before, but not everyone got to vote for who was supposed to represent them.

History aside, I am glad the Britian is free again, and now, casting myself into the Daily mail mindset, I can say that Britain will be GREAT again.

March 29th, E-Day (or Exit Day). We should declare this day a national public holiday, along with St George’s Day and June 23rd which was Brexit day itself. – B-day – June 23rd 2016 ; the longst day though was June 24th – a long slow depresssing and distressing day, where us « remain » supporters were in a state of jawdropping disbelief, occasionally pinching ourselves just to remind us that this was not all a dream, or a nightmare or a parallel universe

I therefore propose three new public holidays – Merci Brexit, and if there too many public holidays , we will et rid of all those « unBritish » days that the European Union inflicted upon us … how many ? The Mayday Bank Holiday – I get the feeling though that many Brits would quite fancy keeping that one, as well as getting the three others –

Three new public holidays – think of all the extra shopping time that’s going to give the Brits – but I think quite a few of you might be working to pay the astronomical costs of goodies, when Brtain also leaves the single market.

Anyway, congrats to the Little Englanders everywhere, you can dust down your Union Jacks and toast the Brave new Britain in a good pint of British beer – though enjoy it while you can, in a few years Britain might be no more than a distant memory – Imagine that the Kingdom of England shares a land border with the Republic of Scotland, and what if Northern Ireland decide that after 400 years or so of accrimonious relations with England, to will be far better for all to unite with the South and just have one country called « Ireland » Now that sounds very sensible to me

Freedom ! No ! This is a bad day for freedom, unless of course your idea of freedom is simply being told what you can and cannot do – Yes the nasty old EU setting norms for just how much meat content you should have in a sausage or setting environmental norms for just how much sewage you can pump into the sea.

I genuinely think that joining the EU brought Britain out of the dark ages. Back when we joined in 1973, the UK was beset by strikes, and power cuts, the country was working a three day week, Brits used to stare jealously acrss the Channel at the quality of life in Continental Europe. YES, true we won the War and YES in 1973, Britain was still living firmly in World War Two – well now, Britain can once agin enjoy the War mentality – a ture Churchillian mindset of standing alone aginst this bureaucratic, Brussels driven monolith that is the European Union – now we are free to determine our destiny.

So, a few concrete ideas

Imagine when Brexit is a reality , that you have to get a visa for your two week fling in Benidorm.

Imagine that there is no more cheap unlimited booze and we go back to the old rules whereby you can only bring back three bottles of wine from your European holiday as opposed o the 40 or so bottles you can bring back at présent.

Imagine all our youngsters who might want to work in Europe – that’s going to be an issue.

And if there is economic lockdown ?

We will buy products that are made in Britain – well if you want a cheap TV or car or washing machine, all the parts come in via the EU. So here I am venturing on to unresearched ground BUT, unless the UK strike some serious trade deals with the EU before WTO trade rules kick in ???? Can the UK still independantly produce enough canoës and paddles to navigate itself up Shit Creek ? Not so sure.

My ramblings are fliipant and unresearched, but they come from a Britsh ex-pat who is taking out French nationality so he can still work in France after Brexit because his future was determined by those Brits who voted for Brexit – in a referendum where I did not have the right to vote.

Ok thoughts over for now, but dwell on this. Donald Trump was voted into the Whitehouse despite the fact that Hilary Clinton had 2 million more votes in the final result. As an ex-pat, I was not given the right to vote in the UK referendum because only ex-pats who had been out of the UK 15 years or less were allowed to vote. Democracy does not seem to apply in either case

If Republic of Scotland there is, I shall be validating my 3 generational Scottish ancestry for a Hibernian passport.

To all ye Little Englanders – well done on regaining your freedom. I hope you enjoy it, though put away the Union Jack and unfurl the St George Flag ; and I forecast (thought do not wish you) fractious times head.

End of rant

PS, for all Daily Mail readers you read the  paper founded in 1911 by Lord Northcliffe to halt the progress of Lloyd George’s parliamentary reform bill. and this was the paper that supported the British Union of Fascists in 1936; with that unforgettable headline “Hooray for the Blackshirts.” – Not that I’m calling all Daily Mail readers “fascists”, but there is a nasty whiff of BNP style nationalism about you all.

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

 

 

 

La Cuvée du Patron or How much will you pay for your wine?

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1000 Euros for a bottle of wine! You must be mad. I could get 50 bottle of really posh plonk for that kind of money or 100 bottles of something half decent or, if I weren’t too fussed about the quality, I could drive home from the supermarket with 250 bottles of table wine. 1000 Euros or a bottle of wine – well you certainly aren’t going to drink it – this is an investment – this is going to sit in your cellar slowly gathering dust until you can sell it on for at least double the price.

closdebeze

The bottle in question – a 2010 Chambertin-clos-de-bèze, fetched the astronomical price at last year’s wine sale at the Hospices de Beaune. Today marks the 2016 wine sale at Beaune and investors will be there to spend silly money on the best that Burgundy has to offer.

The Hospices de Beaune are (as the name suggests) is the town of Beaune in the Burgundy region. The Hospices are (or were) a medieval hospital offering care and alms for the poor, the sick and the needy. Beaune is in the heart of wine country – : Mersault, Pommard, Nuits St Georges, Chatteau Latour, Chablis – legendary wines that fetch astronomical prices at the yearly Beaune wine auction, where all proceeds go to funding the charitable works of the hospice.

In 2015, the wine sale in Beaune netted a record 11.3 million Euros, this year’s sale has only raised 8.4 million, roughly a quarter less.

The reasons are simple, it is not lack of buyers, there are more buyers than ever, it is a shortage of wine and the shirtagr of wine is all down to the effects of climate change. Thanks to weather change, there hasn’t been a decent harvest in the Burgundy vineyrads since 2010. Local wine producers reckon that over the past four to five years they’ve had in total the equivalent of just under two decent harvests. As the wines beome scarcer, intesrest from investors willing to pay serious wine money grows, leaving little place for those «amateurs» who buy the stuff to drink it, rather than keep it in a vault.

Prces of Pommard, Chablis and such have been rising steadily since 2010. In 2012 there was an incredible 50% price hike. 2014 saw a 26% rise and in 2015 prices rocketed by a further 37% rise – all good news for the Hospices (and also the auction house Christies who organise the annual sale). Bad news though for serious wine lovers. This begs he qustion, just how much would anyone be willing to pay for a bottle of wine. Prices are certainly on the rise.

We’ve just «celebrated» the Beaujolais nouveau in France – the «Bojo Noovo» is always released on the third Thrusday of November. Last year it was easy to pick up a bottle of this young wine for around 4 Euros at the local supermarket. This year the average bottle is retailing around 5 or 6 Euros – add on more of you fall the for the supposedly «organic» Beaujolais.

Reasons why people move to France are manifold – the weather, the beautiful countryside, the quality of life, the education system, the excellent health care – however (jokingly or not) most expats will cite the «cheap wine» as one of the reasons. is wine really that cheap?

When I see the silly prices that are paid in the UK, well wine out here in France doesn’t exactly seem cheap, just more reasonably priced in rapport with what you are drinking. My local wine is Sancerre off the shelf or from a local grower, prices are around 10 Euros a bottle – that’s roughly £8 sterling, in the UK though, I’ve seen bottles of my local tipple going for up to £20 UK (that is silly money for a bottle wine though it is certainly less than 1000€.

So, in my what you pay is what you get price guide, I am not sure of the current US$ vs € exchange rate, however for a half decent bottle of Côtes du Rhone – a Beaumesde Venise, a Rasteau, a St Joseph or a Gigondas, you can pay between 7€ and 10€, roughly between £5 and £7 UK pounds. £5 for a bottle of wine in the UK is peanuts, though you are probably buying a French table wine or an Esatern European plonk under the guise of «Bulgarian Country Wine» or «Romanian Bulls Blood» (Yep the marketing guys are scratching their heads to think up quality names for what are ostensibly amalgams of various table wines from different producers all served up in the same bottle with a sprinkling of chemicals.)

For a decent a drinkable «off the shelf» Bordeaux an uninformed drinker will lay out anything from 10€ to 15€ – for sure at this price you are getting something vaguley drinkable to share with guests over Sunday lunch (You may have understood that I am not a great fan of Bordeaux wines – Much ado about nothing)

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And now, my quest

A few years back, when all the British press were waxing lyrical about «Hoooooow Loooooovely it is to live in France,» one Sunday Times journalist said that she found lovely local table wine for just 2€ a bottle – so, with some ex-pat friends, 2 Euros in pocket and no more, we hit the local supermarkets and wine stores to see what we could bring back for 2 Euros – you had to find a proper botte of wine (ie a glass bottle with a cork, no plastic bottles and no screw tops) red white or rosé for 2 Euros or less – the result was «La Cuvée du Patron» retailing at 1.69 Euros – and you know, well as a summer BBQ wine, a sangria wine or a cooking wine, it wasn’t half bad. We later found the same wine on the wine menu of a local restaurant at 10 Euros a bottle – pretty cheap for a restaurant wine, though you might just be better buying a half liter jug of wine for 6 Euros – poured directly out the wine box.

Finally, over the past couple of years in France there has been an explosion of independent wine shops, all dealing with small vineyards and selling proper organic wines for as little as 6 Euros a bottle – little gems and all the better for your guests (and you) because they are kind of exclusive.

In this house tonight, beef stew and to wash it down, a Beaujolais Nouveau retailing at 6 Euros a bottle.

In conclusion, how much wine can you get for 1000 Euros? One bottle of «Chambertin-clos-de-bèze» or about 600 bottles of «Cuvée du Patron;» Not sure what you are drinking tonight, but CHEERS.

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.