Everything Put Together Sooner Or Later Falls Apart

Sunday 10th November

Those are the words of Paul Simon, and it reminds me of the important things in life, or actually of those that aren’t so important at all, but which take up so much of our time.  And yes, everything put together sooner or later falls apart.  Every object made by man is crumbling.  Inexorably, and before our very eyes.  Did the Pharaohs who built their magnificent pyramids ever expect them to be crumbling and flaking and the backdrop to millions of tourist Instagrams?  Even precious metals and diamonds are slowly losing atoms and dissolving into thin air.  I can remember watching with amazement back in the early eighties ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and the first sight of a CD.  Indestructible, they told us, unscratchable, they will last forever….or almost, was the promise.  I have Vinyl and Cassettes in far better shape than the cruddy little plastic astifacts, which even so, still amaze me.  And none of them will last too much longer either.  How about digital?  Surely that will last.  Well, if you don’t accidentally delete it first, and as long as you still have the technology to unravel its binary code in theory digital should last forever.  But these are only things, and none of them really matter.  Sooner or later everything put together falls apart.

Paul was singing about relationships, not things.  And in many ways these are the most fragile and breakable of all.  How many people have you loved with such an intensity that life without them, the very thought was unimaginable.  And now they are off with someone else, as are you of course, and who knows, maybe these new connections will also fall apart.  Or maybe you will be lucky and only death will part you.  And maybe that is the hardest falling apart we may all face.   Your children, once cuddled and cherished so dearly are now off and running around the world on their own, with nary a backward glance.  The little thrill when you see them those few times a year soon dissolves into routine.  And at parting you both say how lovely it was to see each other, and mean it.  But then they are gone again, and another close relationship is drifting ever further from shore.

But don’t be depressed.  This is life.  The slow entropy of the Universe affects us all.  Maybe that is partly why I write.  So that something remains, for how long doesn’t really matter, but these words are now out there forever, or for as long as there are devices to read them before they too fall apart.   Keep smiling.

A Simpler Life – you bet

Saturday 9th November

I was ten years old and it was tea-time on a Friday night, beans on toast – or maybe pilchards.  My dad came in and as usual handed his pay packet over to my mum.  She counted the notes (all of fourteen pounds) and passed back to him a ten-bob note.  That is 50p in today’s devalued money.  This was his beer money; Dad would go out with his mates on Friday evening and Sunday lunchtime and this was his pocket money.

Mum would then tuck away the rent money and enough to cover the electricity meter, the rest was her housekeeping.  Remarkably she was always saving, for school clothes, for Christmas and for holidays.  And that was it, nothing else to worry about – moneywise anyway.

Life was simpler then.  No bank accounts, no phone, no rates, no water rates, no insurance, no car.   No bills whatsoever.  Now the list is endless, and even if it doesn’t feel like it money is leaching out of us every minute of every day.  How many things do you have to remember?  Mortgage, Rates, Water Rates, Gas, Electricity, Property Insurance, Phone Bill, Mobile Phone Bill, Car Tax, Car Insurance, HP payments on the car, Credit Card Bill, Sky TV Bill, Store card Bills….the list goes on and on.  It is impossible to exist nowadays without a Bank Account, a Mobile Phone, A Computer; and all these things have to be controlled, money made available to pay for these and new bills that crop up all the time.

In some ways our lives are better, but far more complicated too.  My Dad cycled to work and was home at 5.15 and a hot meal was served at 5.20.  By six we had washed up and the evening was ours.  Most days now I don’t even get in until half-six or seven, then a meal has to be prepared (no wonder we all eat convenience shit) it is nearer nine before (e-mails checked) we can begin to relax.  Which was a better life?  You tell me.

S is for another Simon, Carly this time

Friday 8th November

There was a short space in time when Carly was almost as famous as Joni and Joan Baez and James Taylor.  For some reason she never had the longevity that they had.  In fact she only really made two brilliant albums – ‘Anticipation’ and ‘No Secrets’.  She made a few more records and has had a couple of attempted comebacks, but somehow she never wrote many decent songs after that first flurry.

She will probably be best remembered for the ironic and superb song “You’re So Vain”; a very direct and accusatory and memorable lyric, heightened by the public’s morbid interest in the possible subject of the song.  James Taylor? Kris kristoffersen?  Mick Jagger? Warren Beatty?  No-one was admitting it might be them, and Carly, though she dropped hints, kept shtumm too.   Well really, who cares?  It was probably all of them, and a few others too.   Actually, although the most successful of singles, it is far from the best song on the album.  Both of these records flow from one brilliant song to the next.  And Carly’s voice, strong and vibrant has never sounded better.

And she had it all; a great voice, a beautiful face, and friends in high musical places.  Maybe it was all too easy for her, and she forgot that in the artistic world you have to keep coming up with new stuff, and are always judged against your finest work.

So, while most of the world has moved on and even when the early seventies are fondly recounted, Carly is largely forgotten, I am still full of ‘Anticipation’ as time comes around for Carly, and it is ‘No Secret’ that I am still in love with those records.

HS2 – Can we afford it?

Thurday 7th November

The question, of course, would be altered by supporters by the addition of the word not after the we.  I am by inclination a supporter of railways, and a great advocate for their improvement.  You only have to travel in Europe to see the brilliant high-speed railways, and the trip to Paris by Eurostar is one of the most relaxing ever devised.

However, one does have to ask ‘Can we afford it’; especially with the still massive annual deficit, and even greater ballooning national debt.  And if it means a choice between benefit and NHS cuts or a new High Speed railway I am afraid that HS2 will have to wait.  Or maybe be rethought.  How can it be possible that a new rail-line to Birmingham (hardly a long way away) can cost so much?  Would the money not be better spent, in the short-term at least, on improving the existing pretty extensive rail network.   One thing one notices in France is that the trains are much longer.  Recently I travelled on a cross-country route and there were only two carriages and we were packed in like sardines.  Apparently Network Rail charges the Train Operating Companies by the number of carriages.

Actually the more one thinks about it the whole funding and running of the railways needs to be re-thought.  Bidding process or not, once a franchise has been awarded it becomes a monopoly at least for a few years.  And of course you couldn’t have rival companies running trains on the same lines, but why do they have to be private companies at all.  And despite appearances the Railways are still massively subsidized anyway; the money just goes to private companies.  So, an awful lot for any new Government to consider, and then there is the Airport expansion question.  Huge sums of money will be required, and who knows how much will be needed to help the ailing NHS or schools by then too.

But then of course, if we don’t do it, future generations may have to, and it will undoubtedly cost a hell of a lot more by then.

Unchartered Territory

Wednesday 6th November

We have an almost unprecedented situation where all three major parties are unpopular.  Labour because it is perceived, possibly unfairly, for having created the recession; the Tories for still being the nasty party, despite Cameron’s attempt to reform his party the effects of the benefit changes are slowly being felt; and the Libdems because they went into Coalition with the Tories, the very party many voted against.

The opinion polls don’t really help us either, as they are frankly all over the place, sometimes only a 3% Labour lead and sometimes back to 10%.  The only sure thing is that the LibDems are losing support, although their reckoning is that they will still retain strength in their sitting MPs seats, and enough will survive to vie for Coalition again.  A strange message – vote for us, and we will not win but may be kingmakers again.  Recent history says that a party in Government does not increase its share of the vote at the subsequent election, but that is not a law by any means.  Recent history also says that a party cannot recover from such a defeat as Labour suffered in one election.  And then there is UKIP, which may be a bubble which bursts, or then again it could actually become a credible fourth party, which if it doesn’t actually win any seats may take enough votes from both parties, but mainly the Tories to affect the result in some seats.

It will probably come down to which party seems most credible at the time of the election, or makes fewer blunders.  You never know how the media will play things either.  One suspects that Murdoch’s Sun will come round and support the Tories as will the Mail, Express, and Telegraph, although the Times may be more balanced.  Labour will undoubtedly recover from 2010, but how much is anyone’s guess.  The LibDems will sink and again no-one knows by how much.  The Tories will probably hang on to the same share of the vote but will be unlikely to increase despite a recovering economy.  There is also no knowing how much the public will have tired of Cameron and Clegg, or if Milliband can somehow make people like him.  The only politician who is actually liked is Farrage.  So we really are in unchartered territory.

S is for Simon and Garfunkel

Tuesday 5th November

They were there in the heyday of sixties pop, along with the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, The Beach Boys, all that Tamla Motown stuff and Dylan himself.  They are still talked about, still remembered fondly and yet they only made five albums, and had a handful of singles.  But what beautiful records, gentle raindrops amidst the thunder and lightning of Pop’s first great explosion.

Wonderful gentle ballads that spoke of poetry and unrequited love, and mentioned Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost; two intellectuals in a world of Rock’n’Roll.  They were quite political too, name-checking Martin Luther King, Lenny Bruce and anti Vietnam rallies.  Taking his template from folk Paul Simon wrote and played guitar, gradually moving into more groovy rhythms and styles.   And Art added his beautiful vocals to each song; it is almost fashionable to dismiss his contribution now, but listening again he made the songs far better than they might have been.  Their first ‘hit’ was a quiet song ‘The Sounds of Silence’ that a DJ added drums to and released as a single.  At the time Paul was living in England and playing in folk clubs, thinking that the partnership with Art Garfunkel was going nowhere.  He hurried back and they quickly recorded a second album.  Then came the success of the film ‘The Graduate’ with Simon and Garfunkel songs as the soundtrack including a new song ‘Mrs Robinson’ written for the film.  Their last album is also their masterpiece ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’, where every song is perfection and follow on from each other as if written that way.  It seemed that at this point they were unstoppable, but behind the scenes they had already parted.  It was probably always an unequal partnership, and Art has made a few beautiful records since, and every now and then they still tour the old songs together.  Paul Simon however has gone on to become one of the true world superstars, but that is for another day.

The Andrew Marr Show

Monday 4th November

There was a time I never missed this Sunday morning treat, and then for a while I kept missing it.  As often happens with presenters they go through a period of gathering fame, and then suddenly they are everywhere; it is if the BBC has to use them at every possible occasion.  Then all of a sudden Andrew had a stroke.  A bad one, and the fear was that he might never recover.  The show however went on with guest presenters.  But it was Andrew we missed, his careful probing interview technique, where by seeming to just let his subjects speak, but coming up with just the right awkward questions and without insulting or berating he really did get the best out of interviewees.

And now he is back, left hand conspicuously inactive, but his mind appears as bright as ever.  This week he had a brilliant mix; an honest and revealing interview with Elton John, David Milliband on the growing crisis in Syria nd the Middle East, and Steve Coogan on his new film Philomena, as well as an insightful and gentle talk about Levenson and press regulation with Maria Miller.  A clever and successful mix.  And with Andrew at the helm we felt we learnt something.  One tires so much of the Jeremy Paxman bullying, Andrew is much better, and one feels better informed.  Let us just hope he doesn’t overdo it again.

Image for 03/11/2013

The Usual Ending…

Sunday 3rd November

Not such a bad drive home as it happens, though it did rain almost all the way.  But we slept and stopped for drinks and walking the dogs every hour or so.  But at Calais there was the usual miserable ending.  It was lashing with rain as we struggled with the dogs over to Canine Control to have them checked.  We had of course visited our regular vet in Eymet who did a full check-up and vaccinated them for worms and signed their passports.  Polly had run out of pages for worm treatments and the Vet wrote a note to say he was signing and stamping the book on the spare pages at the back of the passport.  He assured us that this was okay and as he had signed the book we would have no problem.

No such luck.  The officials at Calais appear to be on a mission.  That mission it seems is to turn away as may pet-owners as they possibly can on any technicality.  They insisted that as the stamp and signature were not on the correct page they were invalid and wrote a rejection stating (incorrectly) that no vet had examined the dog.

The solution, as far as they are concerned, is for us to visit the only vet in Calais and have him sign a new passport.  It was pointless to argue, and off we trooped.  The Calais vet had a stack of passports and filled one out, copying the details from our invalid passport.  No, he didn’t need to or want to see the dog.  No, he didn’t bother to check her microchip (we could have been asking for a passport for any dog).  No, he couldn’t accept a credit card payment – it had to be cash.  No, he would take euro’s or pounds, he didn’t mind.  Yes, he did know where the cash-point was.

So, a vet who has checked and injected the dog is rejected because even though he had signed and stamped the passport and explained why he had entered it on a different page the fact that it was on the wrong page invalidated it.  But a vet who will only accept cash, who doesn’t inspect or even see the dog, is accepted.  Madness.  Except for the sickening suspicion that the cash is never recorded and some of it finds its way back to the over-enthusiastic officials who send him so many desperate and irate customers in the first place.   

Today We Are Driving Back

Saturday 2nd November

We will be leaving very early in the morning so I won’t be able to share this on Twitter or Facebook.  That’s the way ca va I suppose.

Yesterday we had another lovely day, just choosing a location and driving out to it.  This time it was Limeuil, which is the confluence of the Dordogne and the Vizere, so I reasoned it would be quite a nice sight to see.  Off we went and about half way saw a sign for Abbaye de St. Avit- Senieur.  Sounding intriguing we turned off and there looming ahead of us was a large half-ruined building on top of a hill.  We walked around the closed Abbey grounds which in themselves were quite spectacular.  The 13t Century abbey was huge and dominated the skyline.  We had coffee in a tiny bar-cum-grocery store, then back en route.  Stopped for a market at Le Buisson de Cadouin and across the mighty Dordogne and headed for Limeuil.  It was well worth the drive.  The two bridges almost meet at the confluence and it is spectacular.  The old town is up high on a rock above the bridges, and both the single road up and the one down were only just wide enough to get our car through, especially as the descent was about 30 degrees steep and very twisty.

Driving back we stopped off again for another simple lunch in Cadouin.

Almost every town or village you come to is beautiful beyond words; the yellow stone buildings, the tiny streets, the overhanging eaves and the old stone churches.  It seems as if time has stood still here, and even the more modern buildings seem designed to blend in seamlessly.  So bye bye Dordogne, we will see you again soon.

Sunny Autumn Weather

Friday 1st November

We have had some lovely sunny autumn weather cette petit vacances.  Occasional showers, especially while I was painting the terrace of course, but mostly clear blue skies and sunny.  The mornings are usually misty, with a visible layer of white foggy mist laying like cotton wool over the rolling countryside, but by lunchtime the sun has burnt it all away and we have a few short hours of sunshine, almost enough to sunbathe in, and easily reaching about 24 degrees.  The fields look so different, most of the ranks of tall sunflowers have blackened and been harvested, the vines are looking straggly and the leaves turning brown, the remaining stacks of the corn on the cob are brown and dying off.  Several fields have been ploughed and tilled, the soil a rich vibrant brown colour.  But most of the trees still have their leaves and are all shades of green still.  It has been a really pleasant break, driving along through the countryside, stopping here and there for a coffee or to walk the dogs, wandering around the market with nothing we needed to buy, but unable to resist some gorgeous trompette mushrooms and those fat misshapen ancienne tomates.

It really is a lovely time of year, but now that we have had the house over a year, we love all the seasons.  The winters aren’t too cold, and again you get beautiful clear crisp days.  Spring is warmer than in England with flowers everywhere, Summer is glorious, hot without being too hot, and now the Autumn is gentle too.

We keep meeting English people who have decided to live here all year round.  Today we even met an Australian about our age, who has given up his beach-side life in New South Wales for the rolling hills of Dordogne.  He loves the food, the lifestyle, the culture.  It really is wonderful.