Junk

More junk on the blog, following on from yesterday’s post, entitled “Remnants” in which I speculated as to the origins of rubbish left around my town. After a few apt Facebook reactions, here are some photos of the junk that people leave lying around the streets of my small town when they are either too lazy or simply unable to chuck the stuff in a dumpster.

Remnants of life

car seat

Give way on the sofa

Seat in the sun

Crash test

Tyred of life

street wash

The Leaf, the Witch and the Hedgehog (A “neighborly” autumn tale)

The old lady across the road stares at me with autumn acrimony, holding me in her leafy gaze as I turn into my driveway. Like an old witch she shakes her broom at me and utters a seasonal curse. She used to scare me, now I know she is just totally mad – the madness of having time on your hands and very little to worry about. Some people call it retirement.

It’s all about leaves, my leaves, or those that fall from the maple tree in my front garden – the branches overhang the street and … in summer the old lady parks her car, on my side of the street, under my tree, under the vast leafy canopy that offers shady respite from the warm sun.

In autumn she leaves notes in my letterbox asking me to perform a « neighbourly gesture » and sweep up the leaves.

« All your leaves end up on my side of the street and they blow into my garden, and I’m too old to sweep them up. »

She is happy enough about her summer parking space, but when leaves fall in the fall.

Occasionally she sweeps the leaves from her side of the street back over to my side of the street, but they all blow back to her side, so she started sweeping the leaves into my front garden and then – in an escalation of « leaf wars », she would bag up the leaves from my tree that had fallen into her garden and come to dump them in my garden.

So, I raked and swept and shredded and filled my composter until it choked, then I picked up, bagged up and loaded up the car with bags of leaves to take to the local garden dumpster, and I returned home to find more leaves and I returned home to find the old witch sweeping up leaves, cursing as the wind whirled up and blew away the piles of leaves she had so carefully heaped up, ready for despatch into my garden. She cursed the wind again, angrily shaking her broom at the sky. I thought about saying hello, but she just flew off.

I did my neighbourly duty and swept and raked and shredded again and decided to call it a day when the day called it night and the sun slowly yawned, swallowing the light and the kind of dusty autumn dusk hazed in.

Bags and more bags and nowhere to store them and an evil idea comes to mind – to creep out in the middle of the night and hump my bags across the street and empty them over the witch’s fence. That is cruel, and with Halloween upon us, this is no time to upset anyone endowed with dark magical powers

So, as every year, leaves and more leaves, composted, shredded, bagged up and disposed of, save those last leaves – piled up at the end of my garden. A place of winter « residence » for our visiting hedgehogs. They nestle down deep in the leafy mountain and have done so every winter for the last ten years

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

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.

Pulsating Year For Lentil Lovers

Some more misspelt ramblings from deepest France

Here is some rip roaring news – the UN has declared 2016 as the « International Year of Pulses. »

Also known as « grain légumes », pulses are a group of 12 crops that includes dry peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans – yes !, this year will be full of beans. Certainly a rip roaring year.

Pulses are good for you, packed full of proteins, though they can have indesirable side effects, but the effects of flatulence are far outweighed by the nutritional and environmental benefits of the humble pulse. So, your main source of protein is meat – nothing like a big thick juicy slab of Charolais beef to get those tastebuds tingling. There is of course the whole contentious issue if raising cattle. How many hectares of rain forest were destroeyd for pasture land, so that, when alive, the steak on your plate had room to roam and graze ? How much water did it take ? Then there is the whole issue of slaughtering the beasts. No slaughter can be humane. Imagine we if were a society of cannibals. Would we be raising an slaughtering humans for human consumption ?

Compared to cattle, Pulse crops make good enviromental sensé. They are one of the most sustainable crops a farmer can grow. It takes just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses. They also contribute to soil quality by fixing nitrogen in the soil.

Pulses are hassle to cook though. Lentils for dinner ? This is not a snap décision. Proper « gritty » lentils have to be washed and then soaked for hours before cooking.

Buy tinned lentils ! (I can hear pulse purists screaming as I write.)

Thank heavens for the easy-to-cook, ready sorted, non gritty lentils sold in easy-to-open packets. Measure out a dose of lentils, shove them in a pot in 3 to 4 times their volume of water, pop in a stock cube (or some real meat or veg stock if you have any tp hand) and then cook gently for 25 to 30 minutes. No, this is not some traditional, ancestral French way of cooking lentils, I am just following the cooking instructions on the side of the packet.

I am a lentil lover. Lentils are wholesome, nourishing « comfort food ». What can be better on a cold dark night in deepest winter than a piping hot bowl of lentil broth ? With every spoonful comes that warm inner glow of goodness.

My first lentil soup memory is French – In France, the lentil has been a gastronomic staple for years – I suppose in the UK it is still considered as a food for bespectacled, goofy tooth vegetarian types – hippy food. – It is 1996, I am in Paris with friends looking for somewhere cheap, but « authentic » for our evening meal. We end up in the 6eme arrondissment, near the Odeon métro station in a restaurant called « le Polydor. » It is certainly authentic, the walls are that unmistakable mustard nicotene yellow colour – years of béret coiffed workers and impecunnious students puffing away on Gitanes and Gauloises until their lungs were only fit for coal ; the furniture is traditional « inter-war » bistrot. Nowadays, this place, minus the nicotene paint job, would be highly fashionable Boho

On the menu (what we can afford on the menu) – Lentil Soup – I’ve never had lentils, but my friends convince me –« If you like potatos you’ll like lentils » – Out saunters the overweight « patronne », half-smoked, unlit ,Gauloise cigarette end miraculously adheering to her lower lip, she is clutching a huge métal saucepan of steaming lentil soup. The saucepan is all dark, dried food stains on the outside and age-old burn marks on the bottom (the « patronne » is a bit the same ) – this is one of those place where the pots never have the time to get washed, they are on the boil the whole time, no rest for the pots, the food must be good – you know what they say about the best food from the dirtiest kitchens. La Patronne grunts the briefest on « Bonjours » in a traditional Parisian twang, then she slops out vast ladles full of lentil soup into our bowls. « Slosh and slop, slosh and slop » – lentil soup spattering everywhere, and then we taste – WOOOOOOOOOW !! – and that was how I became a lentil lover.

Sachet_de_le_lentilles_vertes_du_Berry

And now, I live in that historic rural region of deepest France, Le Berry, and I am a happy man, because apart from the wine and the Charolais, in the Berry, we’ve got lentils – green lentils – and we produce thousands of tons of the things every year and our lentils are a part of national gastronomic heritage. Like fine wines and cheese, the green lentil of the Berry has an AOC – Appelation d’Origine Contrôlé – my local lentils are as much a part of French cultural héritage as the Châteaux of the Loire. The AOC means that lentils are subject to strict production norms and stringent quaility controls.

There are many « fin-gourmets », who are fond of the green lentil, however there is one « band of brothers » who are obsessive.

Meet the « Confrérie des Fins Mangeux d’Lentilles Vertes du Berry » littéral translation The Brotherhood of Berry Green Lentil Eaters or perhaps a more fitting English version might be « The Brotherhood of the Green Lentil. » More than excues for getting together to eat and drink, this band and brothers (and sisters) are very serious about their lentils, they even have an annual lentil festival every second weekend in September. One of their main objectibes is make the Green Lentils of the Berry, world famous. I think I might just try and get in contact with them for for lentil adventures.

For your personal lentil delight, here is a spot of local green lentil info

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lentille_verte_du_Berry

http://www.lentilleduberry.com/FR/esprit-terroir.html

And I am off for my dinner. Not lentils but steak and french fries.