Barclay James Harvest – Once Again

Friday 20th April

If I am not careful you will think that all my musical influences came from Adrian.  That’s not true, of course, but it is true that I had managed (before meeting him) to quite successfully isolate myself from most of the musical explosion that occurred in the sixties and seventies.  Adrian used to play this record all the time, and it was one of the few I really loved.  It is a beautiful and haunting record which cleverly marries the sounds of a ‘rock’ band with a full orchestra, to the point that some of the songs are almost mini-symphonies with subtle variations of sound and texture.   The album starts off with ‘She Said’ a strange melody and haunting words of almost regret. “She said, ‘why don’t you come and stay with me.’” The song features a really quiet middle section before a great whooshing of sound as the orchestra is dragged back in; I always find myself full of excitement as I anticipate this surge of sound.  This must be one of the best opening songs of any album as it sets you up perfectly for the rest of the record.  The best known song is ‘Mocking Bird’ – a classic in every way, but my very favourites are the two almost acoustic songs ‘Vanessa Simmonds’ and ‘Galadriel’.   No matter how sad I am feeling those opening lines “She comes up with the morning sun, to tell me life has just begun, Oh what it is to be young”  never fails to lift my mood and make me feel good, which is all that you want from music; the ultimate drug.

Of course, they were never really fashionable, even in the seventies, and one gets reactions varying from laughter to derision if one mentions them these days.  But these fools do not know what a gem they are consigning to the dustbin of popular music.  Go listen.

The incredible selfishness of most people

Thursday19th April

I am constantly amazed at the selfishness of people.  It seems that we have entered into an era where the self-gratification of the individual is all that has any value.  And especially in the younger generations; and at my age most people fall into that category, where the pursuit of their own desires seems the over-riding imperative.  You see them everywhere, these young confident strident greedy egoists, who are well paid, well dressed, immaculately groomed and in hot pursuit of the latest styles and gadgets.  There are whole magazines devoted to satisfying their never diminishing hunger for material goods; I have glanced at them in dentist’s waiting rooms but they hold no appeal for me at all.

Of course these people are products of the rapacious capitalism that is engulfing us all, with fresh waves at present lapping our shores from the far east, which may soon turn into a veritable tsunami of selfishness, threatening to entirely overwhelm our traditional values of selflessness and altruism.  And where does it come from, this rolling of several of the deadly sins into one self-obsessed ball of greed.  One wonders which came first, the greed or capitalism, because the one feeds on and stokes the other.  It is quite hard to find anyone nowadays who genuinely believes in doing things for others rather than themselves.

But here and there we see signs of some people who are at least are tiring of the constant treadmill of work and acquisition.  As if any of it really mattered, when real friends and loved ones, especially children, are all that have ever mattered.  So, pause a moment in your rush of self-indulgence and think for a moment about what is really important in life.  But not for too long or someone might get ahead of you.

All Politicians are not the same

Wednesday18th April

One hears the refrain all the time, “All politicians are the same” and it simply isn’t true.  This opinion is usually held, if the term opinion can even be ascribed to ones who think so little, by those who invariably do not vote at all.  They have abnegated all responsibility by not participating in their own future and so are free to criticize at will all that others are trying to do.  And I actually do believe that the vast majority of politicians do sincerely want to improve the world we live in.  One may argue with the methods they use, or the fact that they are careful with their language so as not to become a hostage to fortune, or to scare the children (take your pick), but in the main they are decent people who genuinely believe that the philosophy they are following is in the country’s best interest.  At least they start out that way, even if the intervening years may produce a degree of skepticism and even self-serving arrogance.  The problem is not with the individual politicians but the party system, though no-one has yet devised a system where parties or like-minded groups or caucuses do not emerge.  One may dislike certain politicians intensely, I had no time for Mrs Thatcher, with her thinly disguised snobbery and determined hatred of trade unions, and Mr. Blair, with his unctuous manner and cod-religious justifications for constantly going to war often rubbed me up the wrong way, but say what you like, they were as different as chalk and cheese.  Mrs Thatcher was not even a politician, in the normal sense of the word; she was not prepared to seek out any sort of consensus at all, those who were not with her were against her, and she carried all before her by sheer willpower.  Mr. Blair was the epitome of persuasion, using his skills to great effect with Northern Ireland, but to our awful cost in hoodwinking most of his party and a large part of the country to agree to invading Iraq.   And now we have Mr. Cameron and Mr. Milliband, who may sound similar, but actually are representing completely different sections of society.  And they are quite different from each other, and from poor Mr. Clegg, who may not only have backed the wrong horse but has led his party from the possibility of wielding some real influence from the backbenches into an unholy alliance where they will get none of the praise and all the blame.  So, before making sweeping generalizations just think; would you say that all nurses or all bus drivers are the all the same – I think not.  QED.

Why am I constantly stopped in the Street

Tuesday17th April

Why, oh why, am I constantly being stopped in the street and asked for directions.  Is it because I am a certain age, is it because I am generally well-dressed, or is it because I look so polite the questioner, the stopper, knows I won’t shout, I won’t ignore them and most of all I won’t tell them to F%$k Off.  Really it happens almost every week; are there really that many ignorant people around or is this some well organized practical joke?  And there really is no excuse; have these people never heard of a SatNav, or those Apps you can buy for your phone to ensure you never get lost, or Googling the map before you set off, or even that old stop-gap of yesteryear an A to Z of London.  But no, rather than think about where they are going before they set out, they just assume that someone else will show them the way.

And would you believe it, I can hardly ever help them out.  I am either in a slightly unfamiliar part of London myself, or the streets they ask for are ones I have never heard of, and strongly suspect either do not actually exist, or are in a totally different part of the city from where the stopper has stopped me, the stoppee, for interrogation.  And they don’t take no for an answer, they persist in repeating Sycamore Avenue or Bledgate Street, with a pleading look on their face as if I had magical powers and could transport them to the street of their dreams with a wave of my magic wand.

And am I the only one with good eyesight in the world.  I do like to listen to my i-pod in the street, and like the girl in the nursery rhyme, have music wherever I go.  So how come the stopper never notices that I have my earphones in, and so when they, the stopper stop me, I have to not only stop walking, but scrabble for my player and put it on pause and remove my headphones before I can invariably disappoint this stupid stopper with my lack of knowledge of the more obscure by-ways of the capital.

The Nature of Regret

Monday 16th April

It is strange but you only regret those things you did not do.  Things you did, which obviously turn out to be mistakes or serious errors of judgment are brushed aside as not important, or something to learn from or all part of life’s trials and tribulations.  You never really regret things you have done, no matter how awful.  Maybe murderers regret killing their victims, but this may actually be remorse, which is different from regret, or regretting that having killed their victim they got caught, regretting that they did not dispose of the body more carefully perhaps, or that they had chosen a messy method, or more likely that they hadn’t done it sooner.

It is the things we do not do, the things we neglected to do; the choices we did not make that we regret not the ones we chose.  I can honestly say that I do not regret anything.  Possibly I could have tried harder to reconcile Grandma to my leaving home, or that I had taken my mother more seriously than I did all those years ago, but actually I think it would have made little difference.  No the things I regret are mostly abstract, like learning to play the piano, the love of which I only discovered in my mid-teens and it all seemed to late by then, or persevering with my painting which I hated at school, daubing away with bright unsubtle colours at still-life bowls of fruit, when with some real application I feel I might have achieved something; I always knew what I wanted the picture to look like, I just never had the materials to achieve it.  Like that line by Fairground Attraction, “like threading a needle with boxing gloves”.  I do regret not writing earlier in life too, but again that is a bit abstract.

I was once offered a course on computer programming by that Hotel I met Adrian in, they were looking for bright young people to set up the computers in their head office in Edinburgh.  But this was in 1972 and computers filled a whole room in those days and were in their infancy and no-one could imagine their ubiquity now.  But in all honesty I do not regret it.

Normal Service will soon be resumed

Sunday 15th April

J’ais retourne, and cannot wait to get back to writing again.  I have my class at 4 today, for which luckily I prepared and printed out a piece before we left.  I did take the laptop with me, in the hopes that in those quiet moments I would do some real writing.  But quiet moments there came none really; I did think about writing once or twice, but as you know writing is above all else a solitary pursuit.  The mere fact of someone else bumbling around or even gently snoozing in the gite somewhere seemed to put a stop to any artistic endeavours.  Just as well, really as I find I need quite a long period of peaceful thoughtful reflection before I can begin.  Well, I am of course determined to catch up for lost time, and will try to make Monday, tomorrow, my writing day.  Perhaps I need a slightly different approach, and need to dedicate a whole day to almost nothing but writing, rather than try to do something every day.

I have really enjoyed my little holiday, though do not feel exactly relaxed after it.  I sometimes think that I don’t really know how to relax in any case, the brain is nearly always racing with thoughts, and the more someone tells me to relax the more fidgety I get.  I would always rather be doing something than nothing I suppose and have never quite understood those who can lay in bed till ten then saunter down and slummock on the sofa and reach for the remote.

Anyway I hope you have enjoyed my sporadic little postings from France, only slightly interrupted by lack of internet, and can assure you that normal service will soon be resumed.

And now we are on our way back home

Saturday 14th April

We have been driving back all day yesterday and again today.  I quite like travelling and looking over the fields as we speed past, but France is such a vast country that even when one has been travelling at 85 miles per hour for a couple of hours and it is only a few inches on the map.

When one is travelling towards a destination, especially a new one, one is full of hope and ideas and above all else a pervading sense of excitement which naturally rises as one approaches closer.  The return journey, while still a part of the holiday, brings on strange feelings almost of regret at not achieving quite that which one set out to accomplish, mixed with emotions of parting, especially if one had a good time, and slight feelings of sadness at returning to one’s normal life again, with the daily grind, the pile of washing and the even more tiresome pile of letters to address.

Sometimes when one considers it in the cold light of day, a holiday is an enormous waste of time, but the opposite, having no holidays, leaves one feeling denied and almost a second-class citizen.  In any case I have had a good time.  I always feel comfortable in France, like a warm jumper one slips into every now and then, it may be a bit old and frumpy but it is so warm and cosy that one wonders why on earth one doesn’t wear it more often.

The weather is so mixed

Friday 13th April

For this time of year the weather is so mixed.  It has really been unseasonably cold here in France.  I was here last year at Easter, (admittedly it fell a couple of weeks later) and it was beautiful.  And it is here too, when the sun comes out.  Unfortunately that has been sporadic to say the least.  We have had rain and overcast thick broiling dark clouds for most of the holiday with occasional outbursts of sunshine.  And when the sun comes out it is charming and pretty, but still not exactly warm.  The local residents we have spoken to say that the Winter was the worst in living memory, and Spring was a month late, so I suppose that that must be the reason, but it certainly feels more like early March than April.   And when it rains it really rains here, great deluges of driving hard little pellets which cut right through your clothing and chill you to the core.

Apparently it has been even worse for you in England, which gives some small comfort I am sorry to say.  If one goes away on holiday especially to somewhere which traditionally has better weather, one does hope to be served up slightly better rations than one gets at home.  The irony is that annoyingly whenever one mentions the inclement and cold weather to any of the locals they shake their heads and say, “Mais oui, c’est incroyable” and go on to explain that why, only two weeks ago it was twenty-five degrees and beautiful sunshine.

The beautiful Bastide towns of the Dordogne

Thursday 12th April

We have spent a couple of days driving around the various Bastide towns of the Dordogne and they are beautiful.  Built in the thirteenth century by the English under Elaeanor of Aquitaine when we still controlled half of France, or in all reality by marriage and conquest by the Normans the royal families of the English kings of the time ruled half of France; for the poor peasants it probably made little difference who their local barons nominally paid allegiance to, they just had to survive and grow enough food to eat.   The towns were built around large squares with big arched porticoes and stone built houses with half timbered upper floors, reminiscent of our own Tudor  houses but much dustier and the timbers a light brown against a creamy yellow plaster rather than our familiar black and white.  The adjoining streets have mostly been preserved and are much sought after, but they are actually very small and pokey with no gardens and tiny windows so I am not sure I would want one.  The house or gite we are staying in is quite old and made of stone too, and the windows have been renewed but it is dark inside, and you have to have the lights on all day.

And in a funny way though when you first see them, the towns are delightful, as you see more and more by the fourth or fifth you are quite blasé about them.  A bit like paintings in an Art gallery, at first they take your breath away, but there comes a point when you are painting-ed out and just have to leave.  Maybe the human brain can only take in so much beauty, or maybe we are just fickle.  But there is no denying that the towns are really beautiful, but one a day would have been quite enough I think.

The French don’t seem to get up so early

Wednesday 11th April

We stopped in Limoges on the way down, a really nice town.  In the morning I opened the windows, it was just getting light and was an hour earlier than England, I looked at my watch and it was seven-thirty.  Because we were further south the sun rises a bit later and a bit quicker, but I was amazed at the lack of people on the street.  Our hotel was on the main square where there were shops and banks and one would have thought people, but people there were hardly any; a couple of buses slowly pootling along, hardly any cars and almost no pedestrians.  I watched for an hour and even at eight-thirty there was hardly a soul out on this admittedly rainy morning.  It seems the French are not such early risers as we are in England.  Even on wintry mornings I am rarely on my own at seven and never if I go out at eight; here the pavements are bustling with early morning workers or dog walkers, all busily scurrying along.  In France it seems very little happens before nine, and then it takes until ten before most shops open     and the daily routine really gets going.   Given that most shops are notoriously closed too between twelve and two it makes you wonder how anything gets done.  But maybe they have the right idea, that work should be completed in a s short a time as possible before getting on with actual living.  In England I suspect that we have lost the idea of living, lots of us existing simply in order to work.