Sunshine came softly

Tuesday 18th February

Sunshine came softly to my window today. So sang Donovan, our very own mixture of early Dylan and pixie.  A strange hippy-like figure he came up with some lovely melodies and fey whimsical songs in the late sixties.  The line that followed of course was “Could have tripped out easy, but I’ve changed my ways”.

A reminder of the ever-present lure of drugs then too.  I was actually a complete innocent.  Or not.  Actually I knew what the drug references were, or some of them, but had never actually tried any myself.  That conservative bit of my nature fighting with the rebellious side.  But in my thoughts the drugs were all mind-expanding – going on a trip, blowing your mind, expanding your horizons.  I never understood the other side of the drug culture, the dependency, the addiction, the crime and desperation that accompanied it.   You never know too whether the songs that came out of that drug culture would have been better or worse without them.  Songs like Strawberry fields, Day in the Life, Visions of Johanna.  Would they have ever been written without the liberating effects of drugs.

Anyway one thing was for certain, I never needed drugs to appreciate them.  Even the trippiest of Hendrix guitar breaks sound fine without any blurring of my consciousness.  Apart from a couple of mild forays I have steered well clear of them.  And today Sunshine came softly to my window, here in Eymet it was a glorious sunny day.  Gentle early spring sunshine but enough to lift the heart a notch or two; which makes the news from England all the more poignant I suppose.

A Typical Day

Monday 17th February

Market again, this time Issigeac, one of our favourites.  A long narrow street which winds through the town, round the square and along a back street Issigeac is the perfect market.  A mix of fresh produce, charcuterie and a few specialities; foie gras, prunes, nuts, honey and wines.   I bought a lovely bottle of home-made Vinaigre du vin for only three euro’s.  We stopped at the Boulangerie where I bought a gorgeous almond croissant and a citron tartlet which we took to the café and ate with grand café au laits.  There we met a mid-seventy year old Irish woman.  We asked how long she had been in France; twenty four years she replied; four with her husband and then when he died twenty on her own.  A remarkable woman, very sprightly and knows everyone in the area.  Several women came up and spoke to her while we were drinking our coffee.

Home and I carried on painting.  I noticed a woman looking at the house, and spoke to her.  Her husband and her are from Paris but have recently bought the large Inn over the river Dropt.  It is being rebuilt and we often wondered who had bought it.  Now we know, and they are really nice people.

A walk round the town looking at all the wonderful Brocante chops full of gorgeous old French furniture, another coffee in the Café de Paris.  Home and a nice meal of champignons in a cider sauce, potatoes, cabbage and petit pois; lovely.  Then we watched TV for a while.  Nothing spectacular about the day, very typical but really relaxing.

Glad to be back

Sunday 16th February

Though the day was quite wet, soft plangent rain not like the heavy persistent rain of England, we were still glad to be here.  The town is just as pretty with a blanket of drizzle as it is in full sunshine.  Villareal for the morning market – only a few stalls but this is a typical French market, not touristique, just for the locals. Grand café au lait in the café, full of bustling families and a group of young men drinking jugs of bier at the bar. There is no English comparison to these cafes which see no distinction between serving coffee and wine and brandy and beer all at the same time from the same long bar. And on market day they are really busy.

Home, and we had a problem with our brand new Calor gas fire.  It wouldn’t fire up and the pilot light kept going out.  We tried everything and in the end took it back to BricoMarche.  The guys there were brilliant – tested it themselves and after they couldn’t get it to work we got another one, though we will have to wait until Monday for the refund.

I did some painting, Egyptian Cotton on two walls.  Looks good, even with just one coat.  Then a curry in Poppy’s and home.  I was shattered and bed by eleven (ten in English time).

Geoff Barker Unplugged

Saturday 15th February

The drive dwon through France was good, a fair bit of rain till Paris but then it started to clear up and by Orleans it was 18C and the sun was shining through the clouds.  We got to the house at 7.00 p.m. which is by far the best run we have ever done.  Partly because we wanted to get to Le Pub Gambetta for the Friday night live music.  We had heard that one of our favourites, Geoff Barker, was singing.  Geoff is the most unlikely looking of rock’n’rollers; podgy short and mid sixties, but he plays guitar and still has a good voice.  Best of all he know nearly everything, from early sixties skiffle through to Oasis and Savage Garden.  His set started with “All you need is love” and it was mostly sing-along from there.

He plays amplified acoustic guitar, but we have seen him with electric and a drummer and bass before.  So this was sort-of unplugged.  Then it really was unplugged.  The power went in the pub.  Completely.

An electrician was found but it was a major power supply problem so candles came out and Geoff played completely unplugged “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Pretty Woman” and a few other requests.  Then someone asked for Lonnie Donegan, who I can barely even remember and we had a great rendition of “Putting on the Style” and “My Old Man’s a Dustman”.   Plenty of drink was consumed and a great time had by all.

Valentines Day

Friday 14th February

For years I bought Valentines cards.  Often it was heartfelt, occasionally jokey, once or twice a real mystery and many many times an obligation.  When the relationship is young and love is in the air every opportunity to impress upon your loved one the strength of your feeling is grasped.  Presents are bought, the racks of cards are examined and rejected – only the most expensive hand-made beautiful card will do.  Oh, and a present, mustn’t forget a present.

This is how we wrap around our lust, decorating it, embellishing it with feelings of true love.  And maybe we do love too.  Love is such an elusive feeling.  We all desperately want it, and just as much as to love we desire to be loved.  Unrequited love is a barren road to nowhere that will eventually peter out into a rutted mud-track, and sooner or later you will abandon the task of hauling the heavy cart of hope along it.   As love settles down and that neediness subsides and we realise that actually the loved is yours, then ‘be mine’ assumes even more pointlessness.

At some point most couples mutually decide to stop celebrating Valentines day.  Mind you it is still a great marketing tool, with cards and flowers and chocolates and small gifts and meals out still going strong.   It is the first big mini-spend after Christmas, closely followed by Mothers day and Easter.  The self-imposed Austerity that follows Christmas is lightened and wallets are loosened by Valentines Day.

So, will I be buying a Valentines card today (Thursday)?  Not sure.  Maybe.  Even if we will be starting out very early for half-term in France again.  I will just wait to see how the mood takes me. Hope the weather is better in France.

Wallies in Wellies

Thursday 13th February

There must be nothing more annoying when your house is flooded than the sight of a srum of reporters and cameramen following a Politician down the street.   As you are desperately waiting for some real help; a pump, soldiers, some sand bags – along comes a Wally in Wellies.

But what else can they do, the Politicians I mean.  They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they stay at Westminster they are branded as unsympathetic, uncaring and ignoring the plight of these poor folk.  If they turn up and try to talk to people they just get abused for doing too little, too late.  Even poor Ed Milliband got an earful for not sending in the troops earlier, and he isn’t even in the Government.  All the hapless Politican can do is promise that “lessons will be learnt”, which of course they won’t be.  They never are.  Until the next disaster and then there will be more handwringing and more lessons will be learnt.

The trouble is that if you look at the pattern of flooding over the last few years the floods have been all over the place.  If only the rain would fall in the same place, if only the same rivers would break their banks, if only the sea would attack the same bit of coastline then the job would be much easier.  There have been a few lax developments where houses were built on flood plains, but many of the areas flooding now have rarely if ever flooded before.  And if it really is down to Global Warming and we are in for far more of this stuff then a different long-term solution must be found.  You can only shore up river banks for so long.  I suspect that despite all the talk it will only be when London itself is threatened that a real change will happen.  There will be a few millions more for the Environment Agency until the next round of cuts but until the City and the Banks are deluged I doubt that we will see anything more than platitudes and even more Wallies in Wellies.

Political Affairs

Wednesday 12th February

Are we in the silly season again, I thought that was the dog days of August when politicians went on holiday and ‘Man Bites Dog’ is the headline in all the papers.  I know the floods are awful, but it has been the news, and almost all of the news now for weeks.  I pity the poor reporters, knee-deep in water and huddling under ever larger umbrellas as they try to illustrate just how terrible the flooding is.  And yes, it is quite fascinating to see fields and trees under water, to watch huge waves sweep over the sea-walls, and with all the sympathy in the world we are all just thanking God it ‘aint us.  But now there have been a flood of stories about Politicians affairs.  We had M. Hollande, who quite frankly doesn’t seem capable, first installing one mistress after dumping his party comrade and then carrying on with an even younger one at the same time.  Mon Dieu.  But the French are used to this sort of thing and shrug a collective shoulder.

Then last weekend we had the story of Liz Hurley and Bill Clinton.  Believable only because Bill has form for this sort of thing, but Liz Hurley?  Really?  What on earth would she see in old Bill, when she had Hugh Grant on a string.  And today the French are publishing another story about Beyonce and Barack Obama.  Except that they are both black and popular there seems little to credit the story with any truth at all.

Here in boring Blighty we have had no Political Affairs for ages, the closest was Chris Huhne who dumped his wife for his PA.  And look at the trouble that caused.  Even Arsenal were interested in Vicki Pryce; they have long sought a proven penalty taker.  Hahaha.

But seriously Syria is still going on, The cuts are biting, The NHS is in a rolling financial crisis, councils up and down the country are running out of money.  Is there anyone reporting the real news out there?

And Now The Flooding Is Getting Serious

Tuesday 11th February

The mighty river Thames which winds more than halfway across England has a huge catchment area.  Hundreds of small streams and brooks and minor rivers feed into it.  Here in London it is massive, and to be honest looks just the same, but to the West of London it is breaking its banks and causing flooding.  It takes a few weeks for the water to soak into the ground and find its way into the river but it always does.  Apart from evaporating there is nowhere else for it to go.   The Thames Barrier has been raised more times this year than during the last few added together, and this is working in that the tidal surges have been kept at bay, but it can do nothing for water coming the other way.  In fact it would make matters worse of course.

And what is the solution.  Short-term; absolutely nothing.  Long-term it may be possible to put in more restrictions to stop building on flood plains and within towns to create natural drains at pinch points.  However a lot of the villages finding themselves under water have rarely if ever flooded.  The houses are old and there is little that can be done for them.

Maybe, just maybe it may re-ignite the debate about Climate Change, and this mad dash for cheap fossil fuels will be slowed down.  Some real investment is needed in renewable energy that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere; that maybe slows down our share of the heating up of the planet.

But seriously I doubt it.  This Government is hell-bent on fracking, which is an untried method of extracting trapped gas deep in the earth.  And the oil companies are so powerful that even if Labour wins the next election it is unlikely to be stopped.

We were all concerned twenty years ago about rising sea levels if the ice-caps melted.  But it seems that the heating up of ocean currents in the Pacific may have caused this particular stream of wet and stormy weather hitting us.  Let us hope it ends soon, but also that we actually learn some lessons this time.

Someone has to Pay

Monday 10th February

We live in both a blame society and one that dumbs everything down to the most simplistic of explanations.  Whenever something goes wrong, we don’t look at the whole problem, we look for someone to blame.  So when a Rogue Trader gets caught we don’t look at the lack of regulation, the greed that pervades the whole system and how that greed is encouraged by huge bonuses, we demand the head of the bank in question, as if making one man (and it is always a man isn’t it) fall on his sword will sort the problem out.

And there have been terrible floods, awful wet weather for almost six weeks, unprecedented rainfalll which may or may not  be linked to climate change, and recriminations are leveled at the Environment agency which despite having to make huge cuts has valiantly tried to sort out the mess.  The answer, apparently, is for Lord Smith, the Chairman to be sacked.  It may be a nonsense to have a chairman in the first place, they may have a very limited role, and be paid far too much but does anyone imagine that this one man was in charge of day to day operations or decisions to dredge or not to dredge certain rivers.  Of course not.  But let’s not be pernickety here.  It will take far too long and we may never get to the bottom of things anyway.  The answer may be full of contradictions and small decisions and risks assessed which resulted in an inadequate response.  But let’s take the easy answer.  Someone must be to blame.  Someone must pay.  And believe me whether Lord Smith resigns or stays on post will make no difference at all to the flood victims in Somerset.

The First Crocus of Spring

Sunday 9th February

A week ago I saw some daffodils, but these were in a private park off Sloane Street and I suspect that they were grown in a nursery and had been planted there.  But yesterday on the green space in front of some council flats near Island Gardens station I saw the first real crocuses of Spring.  Just poking their heads up beneath a tree, there they were.  A few daffs had risen miraculously from the sodden earth too, but they weren’t in flower yet.

And how these simple harbingers of the Spring raise your spirits, they just make you feel good.  It hasn’t been the worst of winters, really quite mild so far, but far too wet and windy.  And by the end of January after a damp November and December you are just a ready for some sunshine.  And here the clouds parted just a little to give us a little warmth, and the sun, which is always there of course just hidden so often, shone down.   A pale watery sun giving just a hint of warmth.  But sometimes that’s all you need.

And so as the days start to lengthen and my morning walk with the dogs is now in almost daylight rather than the pitch black wildness of winter we can start to look forward to another Spring.  As the years go by I long for the Spring and Summer more and more.  There is nothing pleasant about the winter, despite the Winter Olympics with their mountains of snow and ice.  In Sochi it is almost all artificial.  Mind you the Russians have done a good job, the place looks fabulous.  Not too many crocuses there I expect.