Tuesday 30th April
How do you explain one’s moods; the brief ecstacy; the feeling that everything is quite fine really; no, I mean really. The boredom, the slight anticipation, the descent into depression as you realise that nothing has changed, and worse still maybe, nothing will.
And at the back of one’s mind, what started off as a hint, a mere possibility, shadows into some sort of dead certainty – that it might all be chemistry, after all. The brain’s moods are almost certainly determined by an imbalance in the complex chemistry rather than what we might consider events in the real world.
I am in the middle of a full-blown cold, streaming nose, ratcheting sore throat and a continual headache that craves Neurofen, but which my brain tells me ‘two a day is enough’ . And so, everything looks bad. The conversation with my son on the phone bothers me more than it should, the usual morning routine of jobs gets me down, the journey to work becomes unbearable, strap-hanging at my age and none of these youngsters will dream of giving up their seat for me. Even, and dare I mention it, the writing of this blog becomes a chore (not really, dear reader, but the very fact that it has to be done is a pain), and work itself, like some Damoclean sword twisting and turning in the sunlight is constantly suspended above my poor sore head. “Have the day off, if you feel so rotten.” Do I hear you call out. Well, if only. But as I have said many times before ‘If I don’t do my work, I have to do it,’ – and I may well feel worse tomorrow.
So plod on I do, and despite the cold I will do my best. And the worst of it is that I know, that despite my feelings it probably all is just bloody chemistry Why on earth isn’t Prozac freely available at special ‘Happy’ booths on every high street.
Monday 29th April
As usual the brief holiday (long weekend) has gone in a blur. Almost before I got settled it was time to leave. Nor helped by two solid days of painting of course, so I hardly had time to see the town. And so tired, almost all the time, even waking up tired. Is this a sign of ageing? I could easily paint for hours a few years ago, but now I am shattered after a few hours.
The weather there was splendid when I arrived, but was overcast and chilly and rainy on Friday and Saturday. Just as well I had painting to do, and had not planned on sunbathing. And I return to this country and it too is cold and overcast and rainy. But somehow it feels colder here.
So that is that for a few more weeks I am afraid. Back to Blighty and work again. And irony of ironies I have come down with a rotten cold. As I stepped off the plane I felt that vicious snatch in the back of my throat, and my nose started running and my eyes watering and my head pounding. Maybe I caught it on the way out; they say you catch germs very easily on planes, all that recycled air. Anyway, feeling grotty I leave you for now….
Sunday 28th April
The wonderful Kris Kristofferson emerged like so many others in the early seventies. He had had a variety of jobs including being a janitor in a Nashville recording studios where he met, among others, Bob Dylan. He was a struggling songwriter and his manager had the idea that if he recorded an album of his own songs maybe someone would pick them up and Kris could earn some royalties at last. And someone did, none other than Janis Joplin who recorded ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ and interest in the album was sparked. Well, it turns out that it contained some cracking songs including maybe his greatest ‘Help me make it through the night.’ Also people started buying it because of Kris’s voice, which was a deep almost gruff baritone. So he went back into the studio and recorded more songs and put a band together and the rest as they say is History.
He released a string of splendid albums, especially with Rita Coolidge, with whom he had a love affair they practically celebrated in song, at times almost kissing over the microphone. Then he and Rita parted and the crap eighties years took over. Almost without exception hardly any major artist from the sixties and seventies made great albums in the eighties, as synths and drum machines and disco and ‘production’ overtook great acoustics, simple melodies and simple songs.
Kris has had a bit of a renaissance of late but like so many others his first few albums were so wonderful that they are really all the Kris Kristofferson you will ever need..
Saturday 27th April
I have come here ostensibly to get on with some decorating, painting the Garden Room. And it is quite a large room with a long sloping roof, so a big job. I suspect it will take two coats (at least) but still tackle it I must. I have spent the greater part of the day painting white emulsion onto walls and ceilings, the paint being absorbed like ink on blotting paper, so I have used almost 10 litres of the stuff and still some to do.
And with Kris Kristofferson on repeat as my accompaniment what could be more pleasant. The repetitive action with the occasional break for making tea, or moving a few bits of furniture around becomes almost hypnotic. I enter some sort of trance-like state when painting. And though I would love it to be oils, and one day it will, there isn’t that much difference in a way. It is the getting lost in the thing that I love, that drifting away into another state, that semi-automatic but still using a fair bit of concentration that frees the mind to wander, sometimes singing along to Kris, sometimes lost in a whirl of thoughts even I cannot begin to retrace. A degree of evaluation of one’s life, and okay – this ‘aint the Sistine Chapel, but in its way just as valuable, if any human activity can be judged as having any value in the grand scheme of things.
So, a day painting, and now quite tired I am in a funny way elated. Escaped the rush and nonsense of London, the absolute meaninglessness of my work, the close and sometimes stifling personal relationships. Alone for a day or two I can begin to get my sanity back. And tomorrow more painting; white satinwood gloss this time which in a way is even more satisfying as it simply glides off your brush and on to the wood.
Tonight live music at Gambetta – hope it is good.
Friday 26th April
I am back in Eymet, and have slipped into the place like a pair of espadrilles. The weather is quite hot, and after a few sunny days in England – I mean hot. Almost sunbathing weather. The journey is dead easy, and I feel like an old pro, timing it to perfection. The security still annoys the fuck out of me, even having to remove my shoes nowadays, and for some bizarre reason I seem to set the x-ray arch off every time and have to be patted down. The flight itself is dead easy, you just have to completely ignore the cabin crew who try to sell you something at every possible moment.
Jackie, our neighbour picked me up and in no time I was back in the house. I walked up to the supermarche and bought a few staples, and the new greengrocers for salads and the boulangerie for pain. So, sorted.
I know I say this every time, but I could really get used to living out here, and may well do when I retire, at least for half the year, as most of the English do. Though they do stretch it from early March to November. And with the internet and cheap flights why not.
So, I am here for a couple of days of painting in the Garden Room, but tonight I am relaxing.
Au revoir pour ce moment.
Thursday 25th April
I am writing this on Wednesday, but you will be reading it the day the OBR publishes the latest quarterly GDP figures. So, I really do not know yet the extent of the damage, though I suspect that George Osborne does, and will be preparing his defence. We had a 0.3 percent contraction in the three months to Christmas, and to be honest the signs are quite mixed as to whether things are improving or not. Technically if the economy contracts again we will have a triple dip recession, for the first time in our be-knighted history.
Not that it actually matters either way; even the most positive of pundits are predicting only 0.1 or 0.2 % growth. To be quite honest these figures are only provisional and are like a snapshot of a rapidly moving picture, and will be revised up or down a couple more times before settling down and become regarded as some sort of accurate.
My gut feeling is that George will be lucky and will escape a Triple Dip. He was incredibly lucky with the deficit figures, again coming in just a sliver lower than last year. The importance is far more political than economic. But the really important factors are those looking ahead. The euro-zone is still in crisis, and looking to at least another year of flat or negative growth. America is slowing down too, as is China, although we would all die for figures above 5% growth.
Or would we? It is surely a sign of a very unbalanced World that there are such variances in our fortunes. Some economists are now looking at decades of stagnation in the West, which puts all of our political parties in trouble, as they all insist the way out of our troubles is to get back to growth. What if growth is simply not achievable anymore, and the best we can hope for is bumping along the bottom? Does there come a point when debts become too high and major countries cannot afford to repay the interest anymore? Or maybe a completely new way of looking at things will emerge.
The other far more worrying statistic is that in one year the number of people resorting to free food banks had trebled. And the changes in benefits will only exacerbate this. It is all very well for politicians to pull long faces and shake their heads at the failures of the party opposite. Does anyone have the solution to how to distribute fairly what limited wealth we still have?
Wednesday 24th April
I was hot yesterday. And not only on the overcrowded tube but all day. The office on Monday is often freezing, North facing and rarely touched by the sun, the one radiator in the office barely getting mildly warm. But yesterday it was a gloriously sunny day and I was hot. As usual without really thinking I had put on a jumper, one of two I bought in the Next sale on Boxing day actually. I pulled it over my head, and tucked my cuff-linked shirt into the sleeves, not the most elegant of sartorial arrangements, but needs must – and besides at a certain age comfort overtakes fashion and as long as you are warm and comfy who cares quite what you look like.
So for the first time in months I took my jumper off at work. And today I decided the jumper had to stay at home, not even secreted in the bottom of my bag for an emergency. I wore shirtsleeves and my gilet I bought in France, and so far I have been fine. No, really. Not even a tad cold. Looking around me I can see many are unsure, a few, maybe out of habit are still wearing thick coats or anoraks, some still wearing a woolly something or other, but a few like me are in shirtsleeves. Though I haven’t yet seen a gilet; black jackets seem de rigeur today I am afraid.
Mind you I haven’t consigned the jumper to the bottom of the wardrobe just yet, it is still sitting there watching and waiting, because it, like all of us knows only too well how our weather can deceive us into thinking it might actually be Spring.
Tuesday 23rd April
Am I the only one to be surprised by people’s reactions to disaster. In the last week we have had three quite extraordinary events; the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt, shootouts and arrest; the Texas Fertiliser Plant explosion, and the Chinese earthquake. The number of dead in each case was approximately 2, 15 and a couple of hundred. And yet the newsworthiness of the three was in diminishing proportion to the number of dead.
The Chinese earthquake was I suppose understandable; earthquakes happen quite regularly, and it is in China, a long way off. Compared to many earthquakes 200 dead is a lot, but one a few years ago, again in China killed about 10,000. And yet we hardly blink an eye at the news.
The Boston marathon was a particularly nasty incident, and the perpetrators showed no mercy for their victims. Luckily although a lot were injured there were only two dead in the explosions. As usual both the main suspects were gunned down by the police,though only one fatally, although one policeman did die also in the gun battles. Is this another awful consequence of America’s attitude to guns. It seems that both the criminals and the police resort to blasting each other at the earliest opportunity. Mind you it saves a lengthy court case if the guilty are killed by the police I suppose. Maybe it was the fact that the original explosions were at such a ‘happy’ event as a marathon that caused it to be so newsworthy.
Then there is the fertilizer plant fire and explosion where brave firefighters and innocent people died. There was a day of coverage when they had lots of pictures of the fire and the explosion, but the story has gone strangely quiet since, despite the large number of dead and the devastation. It is quite possible that crimes were committed here too; maybe more of negligence than commission, but at the moment no-one seems to be that bothered.
I just find it strange that the number of dead in each story has little relevance to the importance placed on it, not only by the media, but Facebook too, which was groaning with good wished for the Bostonians, but absolutely nothing for those from Texas or China.
Monday 22nd April
As we drive backwards and forwards most weekends we cannot help but notice the state of the trees which tend to line the motorway. They are almost all green now, but not with leaves. They are a sweet limey green and are covered in moss or lichen from all the rain, but hardly any of their buds are open as yet. Last Easter everything was green with new spring leaf, but it is as if we are a month late now. The gorse bushes are just opening out into yellow flowers, and like Wordsworth we are surprised every now and then by a host of yellow daffodils, all turned with their faces towards the sun.
We have a chestnut tree outside our sitting room window and it is just the right height to observe the buds, they are bulging and a whitey green colour and in a day or two if this warm weather continues they will burst into life as leaves. Then we will really know the spring has arrived. I can remember as a five year old in infant’s school, and we had a bit of twig in a jam jar of water on the window ledge. The bud was dark brown and sticky and every day we were asked to look at it to see if the bud was getting bigger. I cannot really remember the leaves emerging, bud the sticky touch and brown colour has stayed with me. We also had pussy willow, and lots of wild flowers in our classrooms, and would regularly go on nature rambles down country lanes, observing the buttercups, and meadow orchids and cow parsley and bull rushes, and the buds on the trees.
I expect that there is no time for that sort of thing nowadays, and besides it probably isn’t in the National Curriculum, or maybe Ofsted would mark you down for indulging these children. But despite all that kids are crammed with nowadays I am amazed at how little of the world they know. On Junior Apprentice recently both teams had to obtain some objects, one of which was a votary and another was a candelabra. Neither team of five very bright and precocious kids had ever heard of either. And I wonder how many of them will even notice the buds on the tress, and wonder when they will actually open.
Sunday 21st April
Two sunny weekends doesn’t make a Summer, or even a spring because the temperature is still un-seasonally cold, but it does make everyone a whole lot happier.
We are again at Walton, and it is even sunnier and slightly warmer than last weekend. The town is packed with not only the local residents, but the caravan owners are pouring down to air and clean their vans for the summer. All along the front you can see beach huts being opened, awnings being spread, wind-breaks unraveled, deckchairs unfolded. And then there are the day-trippers, who on a whim have descended on the town, to walk along the front, breathe in that fresh sea air, maybe a stroll on the beach then into town for fish and chips or pie and mash. And everyone has a smile on their faces, including the resolute shop and café owners who had a thin time of it last year, and some are hanging on by the skin of their teeth just trying to survive. But all those worries are cast aside, people are out spending at last. And whether we are in a triple-dip or just flat-lining really doesn’t matter to most people. They are somehow coping, and now that the sun is here they just want to relax, tilt their faces to the warmth, and send a few pounds on a nice lunch.
Amazing – two sunny weekends in a row – is that some sort of record?