The Loneliness of the Flight Home

Wednesday 20th August

No matter how many times you tell yourself it is only a few days until you return (in this case only five) there is no hiding the loneliness of the flight home.  Last time at least I had my parents for company so the time went quite quickly but yesterday I came back on my own.  And no matter how great a time you have just had there is always that feeling that maybe you wasted just a bit of the holiday, you could have (should have) done a bit more.  Ah why are we humans never really happy, most people would give an arm and a leg to have a house in France and here I am bewailing the fact that I can’t be there more often, even though I have squeezed almost three weeks in August and will only lose two working days.

I got to the airport two hours early, well you never know.  Surviving the torture of security I sat bored re-reading Mojo articles about Crosby Stills Nash and Young and reading reviews of records I will never buy.  I have now reached the age when I buy very little new stuff, simply filling in the holes in my catalogue, replacing with CDs albums I once had on vinyl and then taped onto cassette and sold the records to buy even more records….hahaha.  Of all the pointless human enterprises this re-buying of the records of one’s youth must rate as one of the most pointless.  Or then again maybe not.  Some second-hand shop will one day appreciate my collection.  I listened to sad songs all the flight, Janis Ian – Between the Lines, Dory Previn – Mythical Kings, and Dylan – Blood on the Tracks, skipping over anything that even hinted at being upbeat.  Even I couldn’t quite face Leonard on this trip.

On the train home I spewed out all this nonsense.  Back to work tomorrow for three days at least then off for a week.  And the flight out will be a different thing altogether I hope.   

The Lake at Lougratte

19th August

Our holiday is never complete unless we have swum at Lougratte.  The town itself is tiny, just a few buildings with a church on the top of a hill, but follow the sign for camping and you come to the lake.  It appears to be manmade, but is I suspect fairly deep in the middle.  It is surrounded by grass and you can easily walk around it.  On one side is a campsite with mostly static caravans and chalets.  There are picnic tables and lots of trees giving shade, there is a children’s play area and a beach leading to the lake itself.  Most of the time a lifeguard keeps an eye on the water.   There is a rope with bouys at intervals where the water is only about a metre and a half deep, but there is nothing to stop you swimming out of the safety zone and indeed right across the entire lake.  There is a moored diving platform in the middle and pedalos and canoes for hire, and a bright blue whirly slide into the water too.  In fact everything needed for a fun family day at the beach, only this is not the seaside it is a lake in the middle of France.

The sense of freedom swimming in a body of open water is incredible.  There is none of that claustrophobic intensity you find in indoor pools, none of the noise or the heavy smell of chlorine and none of the splashing of excited children.  Here there is space and peace and calm and a feeling of being at one with nature.  And better even than the seaside there is no current, no tides, no waves and no salty water stinging you, just placid soft and remarkably warm and clear water.  You come out feeling relaxed and invigorated and good to be alive, especially when the sun is shining.  Here in England we have gotten rid of most of the lidos and there are very few safe lakes to swim in either.  Here whole families come to spend the day bringing picnic baskets and drink and young and old enjoy the wonderful lake at Lougratte.  

Dimanche en Eymet

Monday 18th August

Sunday in Eymet and all is quiet.  A couple of people drinking coffee outside the Boulangerie and welcoming the start of another sunny day, a few dog walkers down by the river watching the ducks catching early morning insects, the church bells ringing for matins.  And later the Café de Paris, busy as ever with Sunday morning imbibers and the sound of a lonely jazz trumpet from a first floor window.  A few sightsee-ers wandering around looking up at all the half-timbered houses, and amazing at the house prices in the immobilier windows.  A visit to the Chataue in Lauzun, where the Duc de Lauzun had marble fireplaces carved with his coat of arms, and the friendly guide babbles on in French and we struggle to catch the old word here or there, treizieme ou quinzieme ciecle or descriptions of armoires and chaises and camdelabra in every room.  Lunch of tomme de savoie cheese on toast and a salad of avocado, red and yellow tamates, concombre et olives noir.

Sitting in the sun until we are too tired and have an afternoon nap.  In the evening an Indian meal in the square and a walk around the quiet streets.  So different from our London existence.  And all day long the sun has poured down its warmth and good wishes on us all.  

The Café de Paris

Sunday 17th August

Sitting here outside the Café de Paris watching as the sun settles behind the church, a few tourists wandering past, having painted half of the front of the house this afternoon.  Totally chilled out.  A lovely evening.  Very calm after last night festivities.  Amazingly although the disco went on until the early hours, the square was clear and had been cleaned up by the morning.  So, a quiet day here after what can only be described as some sort of madness.  A joyous madness I will admit.  Last night there were hundreds of people eating and drinking together, then dancing like lunatics as the disco started.  And just as quickly as it was all assembled it is now gone for another year.

They sure do things differently here.

The White Wine and Oyster Festival

Saturday 16th August

Here in Eymet they have a festival for every occasion and to day is a celebration of white wine and oysters.  The square had been packed since about 11 with people eating and drinking almost non-stop.  There is, as well as oysters all manner of seafood, grilled prawns, moules et frites, barabecued fish and duck and chicken and paella and fois gras, and of course lots of stalls selling their wine, by the glass, by the bottle and by the case.  Everyone seems to be having fun.  You just cannot imagine anything like this en Angleterre.   A week ago there was the medieval festival and yesterday, as well as the usual Marche there was a gourmande evening in Parc Frestierre.  The entertainment was bizarrely a Country and Western Line Dancing display, full of cowboy hats and yee-ha’s and thumping disco-ised versions of Country and Western songs.

Again lots of food and drink and people were dancing and clapping along to the music.  There will be live music in the square tonight too.   It is all a sort of organized chaotic madness.  For two months in the summer the whole Dordogne seems to go crazy.  You could say it was the tourists but the French outnumber us here, especially in their consumption of food and drink.  As the Beatles once sang  “A splendid time is guaranteed for all”   And one mustn’t forget that apart from the pretty cheap food and wine it is all free.   None of us can even imagine anything like this in England.

This Life is Not a Dress-Rehearsal

Friday 15th August

Been doing some thinking lately, only to realize the bloomin’ obvious – this life is not a dress rehearsal.   I am out in France again and it takes me a day to two to acclimatize, or actually to let go.  I have got myself quite worked up, stressed out, whatever – at work lately.  Stupidly allowing things to get on top of me; thinking that if I don’t do all of this work the world will somehow collapse.  And getting angry, the stupidest thing of all.  Because one thing I should have learnt by now is that your anger only hurts one person – yourself.   And so it is time to begin to let go.  What is the worst that will happen?  If they sack me it can only be a bonus.   And I must now start focusing on retirement, on the new life we will lead, mostly out here in Eymet, but also wherever we spend our time.

I want to get back to writing, the new book “The Philanthropist” is just started and I need a few days of concentrated effort to take it forward.  Impossible while I living this crazy half-life.  And of all my talents (hahaha) I truly believe Art was my best.  I managed to keep drawing and painting well into my thirties and really need to begin again.  I am not a great artist at all, but not bad for all that.  And the big difference with a painting is that you can see straight away if it is any good; a novel is much harder to be self-critical about.

So, life is not a dress rehearsal.  Okay.  And although we will all die, I would like to leave behind me, as well as a book or two, some paintings.  They can achieve a degree of immortality which will outlive one.  For so long I concentrated on trying to gain some sort of financial security, and something to leave my kids.  Would it be such a sin to spend the money and leave them nothing but a few paintings?  Answers on a postcard addressed to dad, please.

B is for Beatles – Life after Death

Thursday 14th August

When the Beatles finally called it a day on 1970, it seems a part of my world had died too.  The new decade did indeed produce great music, and in many ways it was far better than the sixties…but no Beatles.   Each of them continued making records, some brilliant, some poor but no new Beatles records, no hope of a re-union at all.  Then John died and we knew the dream was over.  Later dear George passed away too, and even though Paul still plays old Beatles stuff – it isn’t quite the same.

But slowly there has been a stream of new (old) Beatles records available.  Rarities, Live at BBC, the Anthology series, Let it Be Naked and a complete remix album Love.  I buy it all, anything I can lay my grubby little mitts on.  Even though the “versions” are almost un-discernable from the originals it doesn’t matter.  I just love listening to them.  I am sure there is still stuff out there to come, I only hope I live long enough to hear it.  Of all the music I have loved, The Beatles remain my favourites and always will.

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Wednesday 13th August

Do you remember the game Lemmings?  I don’t play any computer games any more, but when they first came out I used to.  Pacman, JetSet Willie, Breakout, Solitaire and Minesweeper and of course Lemmings.  Happy days wasted on such trivia; as if we aren’t wasting our whole lives on trivia anyway.  It could be argued that anyone not actively saving lives or working for the improvement of mankind is wasting their lives on trivia.  So, Lemmings.  It was based on the popular conception that Lemmings threw themselves off cliffs.  What most of us failed to appreciate was that they were simply obeying  Malthusian principles, if in a somewhat strange fashion.  Malthus was the first to understand that any species’ (but he was mostly concerned with humans) population was controlled by the food source and space available.  In other words famine, disease and wars would regulate the World’s population to fit the food available.  An interesting theory.

I was one of the millions who not only enjoyed Live Aid, but were moved enough to donate.  One argument was that simply feeding starving people would despite solving the immediate problem (and who could fail to feed a starving child) only create a more long-term problem as those surviving children would have children who at some point in the future might also be starving.  Unless we change the politics and economics of poor countries we are simply exacerbating Malthusian principles.  And slowly there are signs that Africa is improving; there are still a few corrupt governments who steal aid and development money, there is still rampant Capitalism which makes our homegrown Employers look like charity workers but still despite this Africa is slowly improving.

The surprising news is that there is no need for lemming-like activity, voluntary or otherwise.  There is plenty of food grown on the planet to feed everyone.  The problem is ownership of that food and those making millions out of buying it cheaply and selling it dear.  Capitalism is the problem.  Without it none of us need be lemmings.

In game image of Lemmings on the Atari Lynx.


Escaping the Madness

Tuesday 12th August

I am living a crazy life at the moment, dashing out to France as many times as possible this August, to be with my wife but also to escape the madness.  In between I am trying to cram in both work, which shows no sign of slowing – in fact the opposite, and seeing my scattered children.  Add to this 4 major birthdays in the month and life seems a roller-coaster I just cannot get off.  I am being dragged up to the dizzy heights only to hurtle down again.  I have managed to write nothing, barely scraping out this blog each day.  Taking work home to complete and then when it is over collapsing into a chair and fighting to keep awake.

I will be flying out again tomorrow, early in the morning.  And whatever awaits me there it must be better than this madness.  Every company now sends out invoices and statements by e-mail, which obviously saves them money.  But for the recipient it is a constant stream of stuff to download and print off and then wade through.  Most office workers now spend a third of their day dealing with e-mail and it is getting worse.  I can remember a time, before computers, when you were given the time and resources to do your job thoroughly.  It was understood that it took time to produce results and you were given that time.  Now, as so much is available at the touch of a button, or often several complicated touches of many buttons, there is no such thing as patience.  We want it now, and if you don’t send it back by return e-mail we will send you another reminder, and clog up your in-box even faster.

I fear for my children and even more so for my grandchildren in this new instant world.  Work is becoming harder and harder.  And yet, just think back a few years.  Companies tended to make big profits back then without all this computer analysis.  We all led less stressful lives.  We all managed to meet up without mobile phones, we had time to think about life.  The world may be spinning much faster but I don’t think the results are any better for it.  So, for a few days at least I will escape the madness.  Wish me well.

Humanitarian Assistance

Monday 11th August

It is with mixed feelings that we have received the news that America is again involved in Iraq.  If it were only dropping food and tents and water to the beleaguered Christians being massacred by IS it might be welcome news, but they are also bombing people.  Okay, those people are killing religious minorities wholesale, but bombing inevitably means death.  To be honest I cannot see any easy resolution to the mess that we have left Iraq in, and it is important to acknowledge that the present state of Iraq is mostly our fault.  Tony Blair argues that it is down to bad religion and bad politics.  How true Tony.  Your bad religion (praying with George Bush) and your bad politics (Dodgy Dossier and all).  Almost the whole country, probably most of the MPs, and maybe most of the Cabinet in their heart of hearts didn’t want to go to War.  But Tony had promised his good Christian buddy George and so we had to go in with them.

But that was another conflict.  So, should we agree with Obama when he says that America could not stand by while over a hundred thousand people were being attacked brutally by a savage religious sect.   Or should we ask why the same philosophy does not apply to Gaza, where 1.8 million people are being attacked by another brutal army backed by a religious philosophy of intolerance.  Hypocrisy or what?