Heading Home (Looking for lunch)

Heading home after a walk in the woods, entering Bourges from the north east through the Edgelands – those places on the periphery of town – the final frontier of fast food restaurants, DIY stores and shopping malls, marking the limit of urban sprawl, that seems to sprawl ever further, every year, eating up the countryside. The Edgelands – vast warehouse shops with unlimited parking space. The downtown is dying as consummers opt for accessible, automobile friendly stores where there is more choice – that is actually no more than more of the same.

Bourges Skyline from the edge – The cathedral between the pylons.

Awaiting development.

Looking for lunch. Hey we’ve got traditional American cuisine out here in small town France.

Chez Ronald.

Buffalo Grill - a nation chain of French steakhouses and a firm lunchtime favourite for families because kids eat cheap.

Southfork Ranch? We’ve got an invite to munch from the Ewings

Bouncy Pink Giraffe for the kids.

These perihperal places are all so depressing. How about a delicious Pizza in town?

Buy ten and get one free.

Count to three for Pizza

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Autumn Drive

When it feels like my small town is getting smaller, there is only one solution – ESCAPE – an escape to the country – a glorious autumn drive through mighty forests, golden vineyards, sleepy villages, smelling of sweet woodsmoke – and finally down to the banks of the Loire. Thought I’d share a few photos. though not all the world his yet in its full glorious autumn hue.

Sancerre rising from the Vines

Out on the highway, destination, the world famous wine town of Sancerre – half an hour’s drive from home, the highway starts in the flat plains round Bourges and rises, twisting like some kind of nonchalant corkscrew  to the vineyards.

In the woods

Textures

Through the woods from La Borne and Henchrichemont to Sancerre. Sleepy villages, nonchalant outposts bathed in glorious autumn sun and the air filled with sweet woodsmoke

Woodpile

General store

The store, open when the owner feels like it, and those hidden back years and gardens where we like to peek

Hidden places

Meeting the Messiah at a crossroads. The countryside is peppered with crucifixes

Meeting Jesus

Boat on the banks

Moored on the Loire

Running Down A Dream

So this is a kind of rambling post about my clichéd American dream in the light of recent events

Running down a dream, that never would come to me …

I had this crazy, clichéd American dream – I was crossing the great wide open, in a huge, beat up old RV – I was cruising long roads into nowhere stopping off in battered old gas stations and sad motels – I was driving east to west looking for Bagdhad café, Kerouac, a Fistful of Dollars, Aliens and Vegas – I wanted to start at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island and drift through road movies – I’d be heading out across the plains with Born to Run blasting out the speakers in the RV.

I guess that has always been my American dream – I could hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach and travel on down to sit on the Dock of the Bay.

Running down a dream that never would come to be

It’s Monday morning – had a sleepless night, running work through my head – that’s always Sunday through Monday – half awake with this giant checklist churning in my brain like one of those old dot matrix printers spewing out endless reams of paper – must do, must do , must do … and what if it never gets done ?

Monday morning road trip, the rain thudding down on the windscreen, stuck in a long line of early morning traffic – crawling at dead slow stop snail’s pace, past the bakery, the supermarket, the café, the gas station – turn right at the lights and crawl on. Monday morning, half awake, half asleep – running down a dream ? I’m Running on empty.

Switch on the radio « Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door » – Guns and Roses version – Oh how I hate this song now – it’s been a staple of every band I’ve ever played in – « And now folks here’s a song about a dying sheriff … » – that’s how I announce it now – switch channels and there is news coming in about a mass shooting in Las Vegas – rain outside in the blurred half light of Monday morning and mass murder – feels like that big black cloud really is coming down. In France we are stiil reeling from the latest terrorist « attrocity » – two girls stabbed to death at the St Charles train station in the southern city of Marseilles – two students – both cousins aged 20 and 21 killed by a knife weilding madman who proferred God’s greatness and then hacked up two girls because they were girls – and now a 64 year old mad man who slaughters fans at a country music festival because … because they lke country music ? Because they wear Stetsons and cowboy boots ? Because he is mad ???

The profiler/psychiatrist /specialist professer guy on the radio is asked to speculate about a motive and the « profile » of the assassin. « Is he mad ? » asks the journalist of the expert. « We can’t say the killer is mad, for him, his actions are probably perfectly sane and logical. »

Running down a dream – news comes later in the week about the sad death of Tom Petty

« US Rocker Tom Petty … » announces the BBC – I never thought of him as a « Rocker » but as a poet – I suppose his words were the inspration of my clichéd American dream – I loved his road trip style, far flung, small town, dead town wanderings – listening to Tom Petty, I’d just want to esape to somewhere that was probably nowhere. He had a sideways, poetic, vison of the American dream, that seemed achievable « Even the losers, get lucky sometimes. »

Back in Vegas, the death toll gets bigger as the media rolls out non-stop coverage. I’ve got this kind of 9/11 feeling in the pit of my stomach as news comes in that terrorist group, Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the massacre – 64 year old former accountant/property developper/banker (the killer’s job changes with pretty much every news bulletin) – a white middle class senior with an unhealthy passion for guns, who would seemingly have undergone some fast-track, self-styled, internet radicalisation and then … It doesn’t fit.

I’m still in my American dream. My daughter mocks gently as she sees me consulting pages and pages of cowboy boots on Amazon. « OMG ! » laments the wife « You’re surely not going to …  not at your age. » Dreary, caustic disbelief . And why can’t I have a pair – I’m only just in my early fifties.

I suppose my American dream is still that fuelled by my American idols, from Lou Reed to Ray Bradbury, A Tom Petty, a Joey Ramone, some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kurt Vonnegut with Patti Smith. I’d like New York Punk, a trip to Coney Island, Breakfast at Tiffanys – an RV ride to Aliens in Nevada and to top it all, a ride on the Chattanooga Choo Choo. – My wierd American dream scape littered with silver rocket ships, flying saucers, vast graveyards of planes left to « die » in the desert sun and rolling up to a battered old gas station on route 66 behind the wheel of my Chevvy Impala asking some « old timer » for some « gas » .

So, at the end of this clichéd and confused post, I guess that I am trying to says that I have, for years, been nursing a stilted and very personal vision of my American dream that procludes the Las Vegas Massacre. My dream is inspired by all my favourite muisical and literary clichés. For me the US is still this giant and impossible gritty western. It is Josey Whales peppered with Steppenwolf. I supoose this is like Americans who thin of the UK as all Bowler hats and afternoon tea ( oh dear). But I wanted in foremost and earnest fashion to sat that my heartfelt sympthies go out to all American readers after the Las Vegas massacre. My love to you all.

Road Trip from Cabourg to Quiberon

Last leg of our road trip along the north and north western coast of France. From the English Channel at Cabourg to the shores of he Atlantic on the Quiberon Peninsula – from Normandy to Britanny, via the Mont St Michel.

Month St Michel

On the tourist road to Quiberon, another vital stopover on the tourist trail – the standing stones at Carnac – miles of menhirs dating from 5000BC and no one knows what they are there, other than to attract tourists.

Standing Stones at Carnac

The Road to the Stones

Stone-spotting tourists

And on to Quiberon – a popular family holiday resort at he end of the Quiberon peninsula – who says peninsula also says one road in and the same road out – huge traffic jams and a lengthy wait for the delights of Quiberon

Quiberon

Black and Whire Quiberon

On the beach in Quiberon

And from Quiberon we head home to an empty fridge, empty bank account, utility bills and mountains o lessons to prepare before heading back to school. We’ll be back next year.

Up through the vines

Blue skies, brilliant sunshine, crisp and invigorating cold, a hint of frost on the ground – a perfect day for a drive – Off again on my ramblings round my corner of rural France. Up through the vines to Sancerre, down to the might Loire at at St Satur and then home across field and forest. There is a hint of Christmas in the air. Even in the smallest villages, the lights are up. As day turns to dusk, there is a slight mist and a tinge of woodsmoke in the air – I love this time of year – the vines laid bare by winter, the golden autumn forest is now skeletal – all is minimalist, but not barren. I love driving cross country on such days and coming home really does feel like a homecoming.

Sancerre in the vines

Sancerre rising from the vines

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

Running parallel to the Loire for quite a part of its length is the Loire canal – a fully functioning commercial waterway and part of the vast European canal. Given time and patience, it is possible to navigate from here on the Loire down on to the Canal du Midi, or even head north to Holland, Belgium and Germany. There are a fair number of Dutch boats at local canal ports. Even the occasional British narrow boat.

Canal basin at St Satur

Narrow boat at St Satur

English narrow boat

A fully functioning commercial canal, complete with grain silos.

Grain silos

Home through the fields – a conference of cows

Conference of cows

Skeletal sunset in the woods. Something evil this way comes??? I hope not.

Sunset

 

 

Four German Maidens, Burnt Toast and Burt Reynolds

Avant Propos

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

Rod Stewart, Burnt Toast and a Voice

Featuring

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

Time and place 

  • St Valentine’s Sunday morning in my kitchen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featuring

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

Time and Place 

  • Summers Drifting through France/Evening in a French café

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

German Maidens and Riviera Dreams

Featuring

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

Time and Place 

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

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

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

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

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

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

In we climbed and off we sped.

We spun then girls our tales of hitch hiking woe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeward Bound

Featuring

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

Time and place

Back in my kitchen on St Valentine’s Day

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

Coming Soon

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

Unfinished Doctor’s Office Magazine Thoughts

Might finish this one day, and I might even tell you why I went to the doctor’s; A few common observations on the reading matter on offer down the doctor’s.

In the doctor’s waiting room: the usual age-old, well-thumbed magazines stacked any-old-how high in a ready-to-fall anarchic pile. Magazines always on a how low can you go, plastic coffee-table, in the geographic centre of the room – too close to actually reach with one stride but always too far away to just lean over and pick up a magazine.

Those tired old magazines full of dead news, dead ideas, dead TV listings, dead trends, dead book reviews – Our family doctor is a bit of a motoring nut, so I have elected to read a car magazine – exclusive sneak preview of the stars at the up and coming 2014 Paris Motor Show – how many of those hot wheels are now sitting on the forecourts at second hand car dealers?

Waiting room magazines, repositories of germs and recent history.

The legions of « sickies » who have read these magazines over the years. I am alone in the waiting room, so I take time to burrow down to the precarious foundations of the magazine pile – at the root, a news magazine dating from 2012. On the front page it hails the victory of the newly elected President Sarcoxie. How many « sickies » have pored over the pages of this publication ? What is the incubation and extinction period for germs? I should be reading this magazine wearing surgical gloves and turning the pages with tweezers. Oh dear, I feel contaminated, defiled, where is the user-friendly antiseptic hand wash dispenser? Oh yes, there are yellowing posters adorning the walls telling me to wash my hands, yet, there is no discrete little wall mounted device whereby I can squirt a dollop of antiseptic gel on my hands for a good decontamination.

So, we read the magazines and, there are even those who steal articles. The gardening pages of many magazines have half and quarter pages missing. Gardening is timeless and many a bored patient has carefully ripped a gardening article from a magazine. It is only natural – you are sitting there, just a few knocks away from death’s door, when suddenly you happen upon an article telling you how to grow the perfect tomato. So, you carefully put the magazine to one side and then, when you are the only human in the waiting room, you tear out the article.

I will admit that I have actually stolen magazines from waiting rooms. On time for my appointment, I wait for hours while the wheezy woman in front sits in the doctor’s office retelling her life story. I get « embedded » in some obscure history magazine reading a particularly well researched article on medieval France, and just as the wheezy woman has given in her urine sample and finished telling her life story, it is time for me to pass into the realms of consultation, so, making sure that no one is looking, I roll up the magazine as if it were my own and thrust it deep into my bag. No one will know that I am stealing this magazine, and who will care?

Students of contemporary history, writing a thesis on the happenings in early 21st century France, do not bother with the Internet, do not spend weeks days or hours consulting the nation’s press archives looking for reference material, just spend the afternoon in the waiting room at your local doctor’s surgery.

To be continued (or not).