Well, Frack me

Wednesday 21st August

Fracking is in the news, and yet we really know so little about this technology.  What we do know is that all mineral extraction; coal, metal, oil and gas is a very messy business.  In some ways all human achievement has been built on extracting stuff from our planet, stone, iron, coal and now oil and gas.

We take it for granted that when we turn on the tap we get hot water.  Gas comes down the pipeline and into our homes, or it is the power to make electricity, which we also take for granted.  But someone somewhere has to put up with the oil derricks, the drilling, the pipelines going over their land, the ships polluting the sea, the smoke bellowing into the atmosphere.

There was a period when it seemed inevitable that wind or wave or solar power would break through and become the predominant form of energy creation. (or extraction – because as we know energy can neither be created or destroyed)  There was the golden dawn of the nuclear industry, with its promise of abundant clean and cheap power.  It never happened; and the problems of storing the waste have never been solved.  There are objections to building wind farms, as if the pylons and lorries driving oil around the country aren’t ugly; I think the windmills are quite beautiful.  And what about all the plans to build wave barriers, and solar and hydro-electric – what happened to them?

In truth the powers that be – Capitalism in short, do not want cheap energy.  Too many investors are making too much money with the messy polluting oil and gas industries for anything to change quickly.

And now we have fracking.  True it may make us a bit less dependent on Russia and Arabia, and in theory there is loads of it down there.  But there is loads of coal too, and we no longer dig coal.  At the end of the day, in the economically greedy world we live in it will be big business which decides and environmental concerns will be shoved to one side, just as easily as the protestors at Balcombe.

Sunshine in London and a Rainy Memory

Tuesday 20th August

Another beautiful morning here in London; it reminds me of many years ago, when as a child you always woke up expecting sunshine.  Of course it must have rained during my childhood, but all of my out door memories are of sunshine.

All but the earliest.  It was definitely raining that evening, or at least in my memories of it.  I have relived this memory so many times that I am no longer sure if I am remembering an actual event or a memory of remembering it, or even a scene fixed in my head which I believe must be true, but could have been a recurring childhood dream.  I have asked my parents, who are both there with me in the memory, but they cannot recall it at all.  It was raining and dark, and for some reason I was out with them.  We were walking home and as I must only have been three or four maybe I was in a pushchair.  There was a motorcycle crash, the bike skidded and was laying on its side still vibrating and sending hot steam into the night.  The driver, and maybe a passenger too were holding their black helmeted heads in their hands, and the headlights beam splayed across the road and lit up the memorial gates of the recreation ground.  I can see it so clearly, the names of the fallen caught in the headlights beam.

And why, now drinking my coffee in Pret opposite Green Park bathed in glorious sunshine, should my thoughts turn back to that rainy night.

Playing cowboys and injuns in fields full of corn and sunshine.  Picnics with my children on sunlit beaches.  My second wedding, me in a wide-lapelled brown pin-stripe threepiece suit and Joy in a cream dress bathed in sunshine, last week soaking up the sunshine in Eymet; these are the memories I should be remembering.

So why does this rainy painful night come back so often?  Is it a reminder that the sunshine is only a brief interlude before the dark rainy night returns?  Or is it just me and my melancholy mind?

Waking up, which country am I in?

Monday 19th August

I am becoming disorientated.  On waking I cannot quite remember which house I am in, or indeed which country I am in.  Complication sets in, when in the dark middle of the night I rise to pee, I stumble on my way to where the light switch should be, and even the bathroom is in the wrong place.

This weekend I was in Walton, but last week in France until Wednesday and then London for two nights.

I did manage to get some writing done this weekend, but I was so damned tired I slept for an hour or so on Saturday afternoon.  Is it trying to fit work into my holiday schedule, or all the travelling that makes me so tired?

I seem to be on a perpetual journey, plane or tube or train.  Today, Sunday, I am travelling back to London.   A quick unpack, stick the washing on, deal with mail etc.  then out again in an hour, dlr and tube to Kings Cross and train to Stevenage to see my daughter Lydia.  Grandaughter Sophie will be two on Tuesday so I will be delivering birthday presents.  Also she will be staying in the London house for a few days while I am away next week.  Then back to London tonight and three days of work.  In all today I will spend at least 6 hours on trains of one sort or another.

To France again on Thursday for six days, then back for a while.  Six weeks or so, I expect.

At least I might be able to wake up for a few weeks safe in the knowledge of which country I am in.

The World Gets Better, The World Gets Worse

Sunday 18th August

Sometimes it seems we are taking one step forward and two steps back.  At long last the two sides in the Middle East are edging cautiously towards some sort of talks about possible talks to try to resolve the Palestinian problem.  As in the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement it begins with concessions on the part of the possessors (rightly or wrongly) and a release of prisoners, who are suddenly transformed from Terrorists into Freedom Fighters.  But one wonders if confidence can be built faster than new Jewish settlements, or if it will all collapse again.

In Syria we have a ruthless Government creeping towards some sort of Phyrric victory over its own unhappy people, and the world that purports to love Democracy watches an undemocratic regime snuff out hundreds of thousands of lives.

In Egypt a democratically elected Government is overthrown by a ruthless army, all in the name of democracy, of course.  And America who is the largest sponsor of the Egyptian military wrings its hands and asks for calm.  Calm?  When thousands are butchered in the streets, you call for calm – and yet you had no hesitation in going after Saddam Hussein a few years ago.  At least stop giving them money, impose sanctions even.  Let them know that this is not acceptable.

But of course we do nothing in Syria or Egypt, because if democracy were upheld then the wretched Islamists might get in again, and what we are engaged in, despite all words to the contrary is a holy crusade against the rising tide of Islam.  Just as in Gaza, we wouldn’t even recognize a democratically elected Hamas, because again, they were our enemies.

So, is the world getting any better or not?  Hard to say, but just at the moment it seems to have taken a turn for the worse.





N is for Laura Nyro

Saturday 17th August

Laura Nyro was an American songwriter, singer and pianist, who achieved critical acclaim in the mid to late sixties.  She sang mostly with just her piano, and her songs were a mixture of blues soul and a bit of folk.  She had a beautiful voice which could soar with great passion.  She predated the great singer-songwriter boom of the early seventies, and consequently missed out on fame, though she remained an inspiration for many artists including Joni, Elton, and Todd Rundgren.  She was the great lost white soul-singer of the sixties.  She also had a troubled personal life and suffered from depression and ended up living with a painter Maria Desiderio until she, Laura, died prematurely of cancer in 1996.

She had problems with fame, and refused to become a celebrity, and her recording career stumbled as a result with several attempts at reviving a flagging career.

Truth is she wasn’t that good anymore; she had lost her youthful creative spark.  But her early albums still shine with joy and brilliance.  My favourite song of hers is Stoney End, and her version is even better than the hit which Barbara Streisand had with it.


Too Tired to Sleep

Friday 1th August

Holidays are strange, ostensibly the reason you go away is to give yourself a break, to recharge the batteries, to catch up on lost sleep.  And yet, here I am returned and too tired to sleep.  Of course, doing the night market with my partner didn’t help; that was Tuesday and a long old day.  Not in bed until after 1.00 a.m.  Up early at 7, and out walking the dogs and buying the croissants.

I tried to sleep on the plane, but was too tired.  I simply put the mp3 player onto shuffle and listened to favourite songs, and skipped many.  Restless; my mind was filling up with work issues.

Then the train and dlr home; unpacking, and wages to do for my one private client.  I had internet problems of course, wouldn’t you know it; couldn’t get anything on hotmail.  Then the printer on home computer didn’t seem to be in the mood for actually printing.  Oh, well, by reading the wages from my Blackberry, resorting to pen and paper, and then sending it to myself on googlemail, and resending I got it sorted – sort of.

Half watching the football and the news, I finished about 10.30.  Started to watch news but kept falling asleep, yet when I heaved myself up to bed I was too tired to sleep.

Woke Thursday morning at 5.30, feeling grotty.   Lay there thinking this is far too early to get up.  Eventually made tea and showered etc:  Got my bag ready for work, checked e-mails and here I am, back in the saddle, bridle firmly around my head, bit under my tongue, ready to haul the cart for two more days until the weekend.

Two Parents Safely Delivered

Thursday 15th August

It is true, what they say about growing old; that you become more and more like children.  My parents are eighty and eighty two, and on this trip were like little children; willing to be led by the hand, literally at times, rewarded for good behaviour with food and glasses of wine, and wanting to be tucked up in bed before the adults.  We are home and they are safe.

But it has also been a worry, in the same way as children on a holiday are a worry; I too was worried about my parents.  My Dad is recovering from leukemia,and has stopped playing golf and now just plays a few games of indoor bowls in the winter; and he was such an active sportsman, excelling at golf, cricket, tennis and swimming.  I did manage to induce him into swimming in the lake at Lougratte, and although the water was really warm, he thought it was cold.

My mother has been the bane of my early life, a fiery temper and a very dominant woman.  Now she is old and infirm, has a constant backache, complains of headaches and every minor ailment is commented upon.  I tried to keep her walking, and she admitted that though tired, she did feel much better for it.  But she walks so slow, it is almost painful keeping by her side.

I am early sixties and suffer from no ailments at all, but wonder how soon I will deteriorate.  I look at them and see myself in twenty years time, and hope I am in better shape.

Also keeping them amused, especially in the hot afternoons was trying.  But we got there, and hopefully this will be the first of many trips they will make.  Hopefully though with my sister, as at least the responsibility will be shared.

A long day at the Night Market

Wednesday 14th August

The night market in Eymet is a real event.  Held every Tuesday in July and August they are real tourist traps; but the French love them too.  The French of course come mainly for the food; mussels, chicken, barbequed duck, pizza, melon, desserts and crepes.  But it is full of stalls selling jewelry, clothes, toys, gifts, pashminas, and my partner selling soap.  Last night I helped her.

Firstly there was loading the car and getting as close to the town square as possible; several roads are closed and market traders van’s are parked two deep.  Then waiting for the emplacier (the woman who runs the tourist office – et une petite tyrante) to give you your pitch.  Setting up the tables, umbrella, lights and soap takes about an hour; hardest task is finding electricity, there are power points around the square, but all the traders are fighting for a socket; we have a very long lead, and no-one in France seems to think of health and safety as there are cables and overloaded sockets everywhere.

Business starts about 6.30, and surprisingly it was about eighty percent French.  Lots of sniffers of soap, and every now and then a buyer – it is steady business until about 11.30, when the whole business of unpacking and trailing stuff back to the car takes place.  We have grabbed food and drinks as the evening wore on, but you don’t really want to eat that much, especially in front of potential customers.

Home about 12.30, although the bars are still busy until much later, it is a real social occasion.  All the night markets are different, this one in Eymet is full of traders, the one in Sigoules is all about the food.

Can you imagine the English ever allowing or encouraging such a thing?  But the English out here love it, but then I do think the English who are living in France are all a bit mad anyway.

Another lovely day

Tuesday 13th August

What else is there to say.  We are on holiday, and we are having a very pleasant time.  Duras market in the morning, lots of local produce, fruit and veg, all sorts of tinned and fresh frois-gras – a delicacy I do not like, stalls full of fresh herbs and spices, all manner of olives, and fresh fish too.  I sometimes wonder how the French supermarkets actually survive.  But then you go into a E Leclerc and you see the same wonderful abundance and variety.

Lunch at home – salad, boiled potatoes, cold meat and cheeses, yellow, black and red tomatoes and beetroot.  You cannot beat it.  A quiet afternoon sitting and talking, a walk to the square, a beer in the shade.  Then at six, out to Lougratte for a quick swim in the lake, and home in time for dinner.

Last night was the Creperie, which does far more than the traditional filled galettes.  Another drink in a different pub and home for a glass of Calvados and bed.

So, unfortunately nothing to write home about.

Vide Grenier – Empty Your Attic

Monday 12th August

It is a tradition in this part of France for almost every town and village – no matter how small – to hold a Vide Grenier.  It means literally ‘Empty Your Attic’, and is a glorified car-boot sale.  But it is held in the streets of the town, and unlike English car-boot sales is almost entirely ordinary people getting rid of rubbish from their homes  There are very few traders, selling cheap crap. But a lot of plates, jugs, ornaments, furniture and all sorts of odds and ends.

We went to one in Lauzun yesterday and as usual bought loads of pots and a biscuit jar and even a toy for one of the grandchildren.  It was pretty hot and we tried to stay in the shade, ending up for coffees in a nice French café.   And people come from miles around.  The French are a far more sociable people than we are, and seem to find any excuse for a get-together.  Last night in two local towns there were banquets, organized by the Mairie, and sold out weeks ahead I suspect.  Whole roads closed off to traffic, tables and chairs communally owned and stored, appeared and even music was laid on.

The English eat as quick as possible, them switch on the telly, and you cannot tempt them out of their homes.  The French seem to understand that the really serious business of life is eating and drinking.