Within Pissing Distance of the Motorway

Back on the road for work next week …


A long way from home. A lost, single soul in a world of lost, errant souls – lost from those they love, but all the road with purpose in their white vans or company cars, builders, salesfolk – the wandering workers of the world in their twilight world. Working far from home, livinh in « cheap » and « modular » hôtels. Plastic rooms all neat and scaled into little cubes and slid into concrete skeletons. Fitted boxes with all mod cons – but basic.

The modern hotel on the edge of the « edgelands », cast out of the downtown and thrown up on the wrong side of the tracks, within pissing distance of the motorway, between the shopping mall and the industrial estate. Thses places of no soul for errant souls and lost souls, lost in the week for the ones they love.

Hotels in lost lands.

Random Political Street Art or ALL RIPPED UP

Yes, we are having an election in France today. Elections “breed” their own form of unintentional and chaotic art – I am referring to election posters. Night after night, the party activists and workers head out and “slap” up their propaganda –  party-by-party, layer- upo- layer – it all builds up, and when the posters get ripped down you get a unique, fleeting and random image on each billboard. No collage artist could intentionally produce such “works of art” – Election posters as “pop up, random political street art” – here is a quick “exhibition” of a few favorites, all  photographed over the last few weeks on my wanderings around town. Taking theses photos has to be as random as the images themselves. Here we go. (have to add that there are a couple of personal collages in this batch. I daresay you’ll find them) Happy viewing.



Looking for Luçay le Libre


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.


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.


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


At this harvest time, hay bales are juxtaposed with wind turbines -modern France.



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?


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.




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.



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.

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.

Drifting Again


In Mid-July, I posted a piece, entitled “Drifting”. The post included some random photos and made the point that actually taking random photos is actually quite difficult because we must break out of those constraints that condition our photography. A random photwill probably be the kind of photo that no one else will take or ever consider taking -no nice family holiday snaps here – BUT, what do you take? Yes, that  is the whole problem.

I was drifting round town this morning – Sunday bike ride – I always carry a camera, a neat little Panasonic/Lumix with a 16x zoom and a Leica lens. This little beauty sits nicely in my pocket, and it is just so full of effects … This camera is actually taking the place of my huge hefty Nikon. It give great quality photos and for random snapping it is just the ticket.

You have to be quick doing a random snap. You are obviously photographing something that no one else in their right mind would take: therefore you attract the attention of passers-by, whom always ask the same questions

“What are you taking photos of?”

“Why are you taking photos here?”

When people see a “random photographer” in the street taking photos of those subjects that are deemed of no holographic interest, well… frankly it  makes them ill at ease. A few months back (January I think), I was taking photos of one of the main roads out of town, I mean not just snatched snaps – I was handing in the middle of the road taking nice wide angle shots – and there was the whole point; it was a grey January Sunday morning, it had been raining but between the grey clouds, there was a kind of sunny tinge. It made for a wet deserted road and kind of marble skies. As I snapped away, a rather short, rotund  and clearly irritated gent of advancing years, approached me, waving his arms and almost shouting at me “What right do you have to take photos here?”

“Every right.” I replied. There were no signs up telling me I was in a restricted area where photography was forbidden, I was not snapping away at private property and I was not taking photos of individuals without their consent. The man though was clearly “angry” that I was taking photos. I explained that I was working on a photo project for our local Art College – well then it became okay. I had a reason and obviously because this was an art project, I was an artist and therefore some kind of nutter; looney but not dangerous.

I have multiple photographic excuses – my favorite – when photographing derelict, decrepit crumbling buildings, or shuttered up shops or dead cafés in far flung villages – I always say that I am photographing possible business premises for potential British investors – it works as an excuse.

Here are the crop of this morning’s random photos

Wrong Side of the Tracks?


Down by the station on the wrong side of the tracks. I suppose every town that is some way cut in two by a railway line has, a good side and a bad side of the tracks and the good/bad or right/wrong classification is purely subjective. So, I like to think that I live on the right side – the residential side near the downtown, on the other side of the tracks it’s all high rise social housing developments and the prison, but were I to live on the wrong side, I daresay that I would consider it the right side – no matter. As trains crawl into my local station, the name of the town is stenciled on to walls at regular intervals, just to let travellers know that they are where they are and not somewhere else. Why take this photo? Well I like the accompanying tags – not too sure what is written, but I like the idea, no matter  how  mediocre the tag work may be, someone has taken the time and trouble to brave the security and the danger of live rails and passing trains, to come down after day and tag the walls. I also quite like the tired and  fading blue letters of “Bourges”, they kind of empitomise the lassitude of a small town on a hot summer’s day.

Central Garage

The next photos – “Central Garage” – two different treatments and slightly different views of the same subject. Both taken with different settings on my small camera. I like to play around with the various effects on the camera. Back in the days when I developed everything in a darkroom, both these photos would have taken hours to treat and develop, playing around with different color filters, exposure times and such like. I took this photo because … well, the red lettering on the Central Garage sign and the emptiness – the summer Sunday emptiness.




Next photo –

Dead Disco.


Here’s the story. This place is (was) called “Le Saphpyr” – a small and slightly seedy discothèque jus a few minutes walk from my home. Traditionally this place was the weekend haunt for men in the mid to late fifties looking to pick up a younger girl, and the place was always full of young ladies because it was full of oder guys on the prowl, who would always stand them drinks for the evening in the hope that … It has to be said as well, that the quality of the young ladies was such that younger men might not be interested – as for the 50+ recently-divorced male in search of a little company for his Sunday morning breakfast table – they weren’t too fussy. So, a few years back, the discothèque was revamped, rewired and repainted, to bring it dragging and screaming into the 21st century. Away the tired old provincial pick up joint and welcome to the new age of Rave – and the day the work had finished and the night before the grand opening, after six months of work – the whole discothèque was mysteriously gutted by fire- and so it has rem aimed in this state for five years – A dead Disco and in this aspect on the summer’s day, kind of symbolic of dead summer in a small town. (Just to say, provincial discos in France are pretty awful places, I’ll have to do a post about them.)

Chicken Shack

P1040244We are opposite our local Army base. The whole building used to be a very down-at-heel hotel cum halfway house – clients could rent rooms by the hour. So, with the growth of good cheap out-of-town hotels, the place went out of business and after a few years, the downstairs was developed into a Kebab restaurant – A kebab restaurant opposite and army base – could have been a sound business idea, except that on the same street with 200 yards there are also 2 other kebab restaurants.

Before the Chicken Shack, we had the Hotel. (photo circa 2013)


IMG_5601 P1010319

Last photo of the bunch. Something refreshing on a summer’s day. The morning after the night before, empty beer bottle floating in the local canal

Refreshing Dip









Drifting into a book like drifting into summer.

It wasn’t a conscious choice; there I was, drifting around town in the heat wave one afternoon after work. Dripping with sweat, clothing sticking to me like an unpleasant second skin. In search of air conditioning, I am drifting round the shops, even those shops I never go – the tired provincial clothing emporiums that offer up a choice of sad clothing for middle aged men. Suits, shirts, shorts – all in varying degrees of beige. You get to an age where colour is no longer an option and as you fade to grey you do it in beige. Not yet grey, I am at that moment in life where beige is seemingly the only colour available.

In a bookshop, standing next to an electric fan which is placed in the « P » section; philosophy, photography … there’s this thin « reader friendly » kind of book by French photographer: Raymond Depardon – entitled « Errance » it is filled with pointless photos of « nowhere places » – The first few paragraphs just seem to fit my current drifting state of mind.

« Une impression de malaise me gagne, un manque d’enthousiasme, des projets flous, des désirs frustrés, enfin, rien de très inquiétant, ce sont des pensées un peu sombres. (…) Que faire ? … je suis libre. Il me manque de désir, c’est-à-dire, le plus important. »

In rough translation – I guess I’m getting a bad case of the summertime blues. Lack of enthusiasm, vague ideas, failed projects and dark thoughts. What am I going to do to snap out of this? What’s missing is the will to snap out of this. I seem to have lost my creative appetite.

It sounds better in French.

Numériser 8

I normally welcome, broach and embrace summer with open arms. I often wish my arms were wider so I could simply wrap them round the sun in a huge loving embrace and hug it to my heart   and let the warmth and lethargy ooze slowly down into my soul. I dream of long summer Sundays driving aimlessly round the countryside, stopping off in inviting wayside bars for a long cool drink. Those ivy-covered fading roadside bars in far-flung villages that are only ever place names on a local map. Those bars with their metal chairs, wonky tables and worn sunshades that bare the names of our national drinks – Dubonnet, Pastis, Suze – this is my “douce France”. I dream of heading south on the long frustrating bumper-to-bumper road to the sea. Chugging down to the shores of the Mediterranean to do something utterly pointless – sit in the sun.

I stumped up the 8€ for the Raymond Depardon book and left the cool bookshop to head out into the suffocating heat of the dead street. Dog days and dog daze. We are in the middle of a heat wave, 38°c, but this is early summer. People are still at work. School is not out for another week and we still have structure and purpose. Even if unusual for this time of year, the heat is made bearable by the work-a-day logic.

There is perhaps nothing worse than a small town in the heart of summer, when everyone has escaped to their holiday destination, when most of the shops and businesses are closed, when it is too hot to move and there is nothing to move for because there is nothing to do. I hate my small town in summer. It is hermetic and claustrophobic enough at the best of times, but in a high summer August heat wave … It makes me think of that song by the Lovin’ Spoonful « Summer in the city ». I think of old 50s B&W clichés of New York and Paris, where some benevolent soul has broken open, a fire hydrant and the kids that never made it out their neighbourhood and jumping around the water as it gushes everywhere like some mini urban Niagara.

Flicking through the pages of my new book. Photo upon photo of pointless places – at least the photos are pointless, they are those clichés that no reasonable person would ever bother taking; long dusty lone tree highways that seemingly lead into the middle of nowhere; broken down empty petrol (gas) stations, empty supermarket car parks – dead places, lonely places, shattered places – the kind of clichés that others might look at and say « what did you take that for? That’s a waste of a photo. » And so it might have been back in the days when you were confined to the limits of your 24 or 36 exposures. In this brave new digital age though …

I suppose when photos came on rolls of film, we snapped less, we were careful about what we took – happy family clichés were the nor. Perhaps more accomplished amateur photographers might try a few landscapes. In the pre-digital age, nothing was superfluous to requirements

Back on drifting.

Someone recommended I read that iconic Jack Kerouac novel « On the road. » I did, and found it an immensely annoying book. I promised myself that I would read « Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, » … I’ll probably give this classic a miss though.

I think we are conditioned in the way we drift or at least our definition of drifting. We all lead some form of structured lives, if we chose to truly drift, we would have to accept giving up this structure, because drifting is … well it is exactly that. In his book « Errance », Raymond Depardon makes the same point – as a press photographer he has been conditioned all his life to shoot to order. He claims that press photography is not true photography and that first and foremost he is a photographer. In the opening paragraphs of his book he has very much lost his way, he is drifting rather aimlessly through life. He is suffering from some form of mild depression.

“Depression” announced my therapist, “is like a rudderless boat drifting aimlessly on a vast ocean.”

« I would like to be drifting, » I replied, telling the therapist that I was very much in the Doldrums.

She gave me « a little something” to help me along.  A box of white, yellow and purple pills that I would take in prescribed doses. « Take these over the summer … » smiled the therapist as she signed the prescription with a flourish that sent her pen flying off the page.

I diligently took my multi-coloured magic pills for an entire week and honestly felt worse than before. For sure, I wasn’t drifting anymore, I was in a static senseless limbo, robbed of any feeling and the capacity for feeling itself. The pills went in the dustbin and I applied my tried and tested therapy; if I am depressed, the cause is within me, therefore the cure is in there as well, just find a way to tap into it – photography. I wandered round town with a camera just snapping away at seemingly pointless stuff – that was the criteria. The beginning of my errant and pointless snapping coincided with the start of the digital age. I started off with a small memory card and two million pixels, then I worled up to five million, and now … I always carry a camera (I’ve got three cameras) I am loathed to use a phone to take pictures, it just doesn’t feel like real photography.

I’ve always been a photography nut. I don’t know if I can take a decent photo. Before the digital age, I used to love mucking around in the dark room, experimenting with different settings on the enlarger, trying out different papers, dosing up the chemicals to get different results each time. The subject matter was not as important as the visual result. So, I miss the photo lab, but I like the instant results I get with a digital camera and I enjoy the spontaneity. You are virtually unlimited in how many clichés you can take of the same subject – you are not limited by a pre determined number of clichés. So, I’ve been snapping away at anything and everything for over ten years, much to the chagrin and annoyance of my family, who stand around and wait as I take photos of everything. I can understand at times that they want to disown me. As other tourists are taking photos of monuments, I am photographing dustbins or building sites. Yes I am mad (or am I?)

It was one day on a Channel ferry. I had just eaten breakfast and I was taking a photo of the leftovers – it was a good photo, a kind of culinary carnage – the texture of the scrambled egg, the half-eaten sausage …  My wife stared at me. The waiter stared at me. The other passengers stared at me . No, I’m not mad. This is art.


Then along came Al Wei Wei. I took my family to see his exhibition at the Jeu de Paumes gallery in Paris – endless photos of … half-eaten food, building sites, rubbish – all the stuff that I had been taking for years. There was a point to my pointless photographic driftings.

Next came Raymond Depardon. In 2013, he set out across France to photograph the “real France” and the results were astounding – those photos that the instamatic holiday snap generation would have considered as “a waste of a photo.”

In “Errance”, written in 2000, as a “cure” for his depression, Depardon set out to simply “drift” and just take photos. Of course having been worked for years as a press photographer, Depardon first had to divest himself of his professional conditioning. Just go anywhere and take photos of anything instead of taking photos to order. Where do you go? What do you take? When you have been places all your life with a specific purpose, it is difficult to just set out and snap away.

Just drift. But how do you just drift? Where do you drift to? An errant photographer with no purpose other than taking photos of anything and everything. It is not easy.

The first rule is not to take people. Not intentionally anyway. There might be humans in the photo, but they are not the subject matter. You are never working in close up, you are always distant and at some point, someone complete stranger will stop you and just ask “why?”

I think photography in this mode is all about taking those photos you’d never thought of taking, in those places you never thought you’d be and now you’re there, you wonder what was the reason for coming. It is at times like this that you might take the best photos and you will take the photo that no one else will ever take.

Using this criteria, I’ve decided to post a few of my pointless favourites. Some are from places where I never thought I would be, and others are just the result of drifting.


This first photo – a long dusty road from … to … I am bumming along in the front seat of an army land rover. It is 2012 and (as every year) I am on manuvers with my students (French army cadet officers). We are on the military truing ground at Mourmelon in the east of France. We have lost the students and we have lost our way. We are just following this road hoping that it might lead to somewhere.


Once again in Mourmelon. The town used to be home to a huge French army training area, bristling with soldiers all year round. After a hard day’s training nothing better than a trip to the local cinema to relax – of course times have changed, soldiers are a breed on the verge of extinction, pretty much like Mourmelon, almost a ghost town. A ghost cinema. I had to take this, the place just looked so sad. I reckoned by taking this photo, I might give this dead place some kind of sense.


A row of garages behind my house on a hot August day. I talked about the claustrophobic boredom of a small town in the middle of a hot summer, I think these garages just about say it all.



Two local landscapes on a summer’s afternoon. It’s hot, I only have air con in the car, so I go for a drive and this is where I end up. I wasn’t drifting though, I set a precise objective – to drive for 30 minutes in a straight line from my house into the local countryside and take a photo of what I saw. Actually very pointless.


Paris, one of my favorite places. I get off the train, hop on the Métro – any métro and get on and off at will and wander. I have no tourist agenda in Paris, I just drift. No better place than a big city for drifting, the place is full of anonymous and errant souls. I think we are near the Canal St Martin in early December – not the sort of season for going to the beach and certainly not this beach.



Filling in time. The futility of waiting for …  the first photo is taken at the Pompidou center in Paris one Christmas Eve. Two souls – the wife and daughter as we simply wait around before heading off to celebrate Christmas with friends. It is 4pm though and the festivities  don’t start until  midnight, so we wait in the museum, which is about the only place in Paris still open. I like that pre-Christmas end of the world feeling. We are on the brink of a planetary shut down, the shops are closed and if you haven’t done what you had to do, it is now just too late, so you just have to wait until December 26th. Second photo “This is not here”, so where is it and where would you rather be?


Drifting around my coal countryside – a pointless winter’s afternoon drive. I can go home, but for the people behind that wall, this is the final destination. Makes me feel what is the point to life if you end up in a place like this?


Driving around Corsica on a hot afternoon. Seems like the whole world is having a siesta and I am the only human on the road. I don’t like afternoon naps, I want to be active, but why not just stay home and have a nap rather than driving pointlessly round the countryside? Well, this photo of an abandoned stain gave my journey a purpose – I like the boat pointing out its prow just on the left.

Thanks for taking time to drift with me.