An American Import We Do Not Want

Saturday 20th June

As a boy I used to have toy guns.  Cap guns, where you bought a roll of caps that went into a cylinder and fed through to the hammer and went bang, bang, bang.  I also had a rifle with which I used to shoot the Injun chief on my rug.  This was a kit rug which Mum and Dad had hand woven themselves, it was a picture of Davy Crockett and an Injun in full head-dress.  All through my childhood I loved playing cowboys and injuns and our favourite telly was Bonanza and The Lone Ranger.  At a certain point I started to read about the terrible massacres of the red Indians by the white settlers and my views changed.  On the news were Civil Rights marches, though I don’t remember specifically Selma, where peaceful and poor blacks marched while white cops stood and watched with guns in their belts. Our bobbies still relied on a wooden truncheon and I was truly shocked when on holiday in Crete and saw Greek Polis with machine guns cocked as we descended the plane.

So my childhood love of bang-bang shooters has developed into a hatred of guns to the point that on an outward bound management course in my forties we tried clay-pigeon shooting and my hand was visibly trembling as for the first and only time in my life I held a real gun.  But in America guns are everywhere and the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.  And nothing seems able to stop this madness.  We keep getting gun massacres where, usually white, boys go on the rampage and kill a whole lot of innocent kids – we even had our own Dunblane here.  But that prompted a tightening of already strict gun laws.  I really felt sorry for Obama as he stood helpless and once again addressed a nation in mourning – his attempt at minimal gun control stymied by Republicans.  Heaven help us if this American import ever comes over here.

Never A Dull Moment

Friday 19th June

As well as being the title of one of the best of Rod Stewart’s early albums it just about sums up life here in sleepy Eymet.  Today (Jeudi) was market day (again – amazing, it seems to come round every week) and I was opening the Café at seven.  I had made my scones last night (clever, eh) so as to save time.

I set out the tables leaving space for Francine and her fig stall (she was away the last two weeks and we had a bit more space) and got the kitchen ready, served a few market traders and prepared for the rush.  Well, to be honest it is more of a steady trickle, though there is usually at least one point where two or three parties come in at the same time and you cannot be in the kitchen preparing coffees and cakes and taking orders.  Thursdays usually both my wife and I are working but she is en Londres this week so we asked a friend Dennis to help.   He took the orders and I prepared them.  A good team as it happened and we had a few laughs.

I closed the Café at one and came home and had a nap.  Then I decided to do some laundry and took a load to the Laverie.  I came back to the café to have a cup of coffee while the machine washed the clothes (50 minutes, if you are interested – I did call this piece never a dull moment).  No sooner had I opened the café doors than two friends popped in and we all sat eating cake and drinking  tea.  I transferred the clothes into the dryer and sat in the sun in the square while they dried.  Just as I was leaving the square I noticed two Gendarmes walking about and looking up.  They had come to remove, or ask to be removed, some security cameras which another English friend had installed (C’est In-ter-dit, you know) to keep an eye on their property (a flat overlooking the square).  I hung about for a while, but though nothing much was happening the excitement was just too much and I scurried home to write yet another exciting blog….

2066 – and this is how Janek escaped

Thursday 18th June

Diary Entry – 20660227 (continued)

 “So, there I am, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, looking around nervously and probably sweating a bit too.  I hate sweating, but lately I keep finding myself perspiring, and this is a cold clammy sweat that plasters my shirt to my back and I hate it.  The more I become aware I am sweating the more my sweat glands seem to produce the stuff.  I was sure other people must have noticed.  I was becoming paranoid, looking over my shoulder at what I imagined were people following me, listening for the almost silent swivel of the surv-cams, but paranoid or not I was sure I was about to be found out.  I had also made what at the time I thought might be a really crazy mistake; I had the laptop with me.  I had it in the side pocket of my handbag, wrapped in a jumper and well zipped up.  I thought it safer to have it with me at all times rather than leave it at home to be discovered in my absence.  But what if I had been searched at work?   Though I had never heard of such a thing, what possible explanation could I give if it were discovered?  There was no explanation.  I would be ‘banged to rights, guilty as charged m’lud’, as the oldie films say.  And as I sat there looking guilty as fuck I am sure, I suddenly felt someone was staring at me.  I looked up from the book I was reading (Jane Eyre, never understood a word, another world completely) on my personal screen and that was when I saw him.

The most direct and penetrating gaze I had ever seen was staring at me.  Right at me. Two bright half squinting eyes were boring straight into my own.  This was a man who must have been eighty or older – his hair was unbelievably un-cool, long and greying, swept back in two ridiculous bangs from his receding forehead.   His clothes were more than a bit too old-fashioned too.  No-one really chooses to wear trainers and sweat-pants out of the gym these days, except oldies still clinging to the fashion of their youth – as if somehow it could stop them from growing old. It just made them look ridiculous I thought, but ridiculous or not he was real and there, right in my face.   This man, this ludicrous character, was really staring at me – a penetrating hard stare.  I felt he was looking right through me, inside me even, and it made me so uncomfortable, because the last thing you do in public is to stare, or even look at, people you don’t know.  It is a silent world; as the trains silently glide into the stops you hardly notice anything.  All is quiet, isolated and insulated.   Everyone is enveloped in their own little screen world, head-phoned and apart.  Your screen reminds you of your interchange, so you hardly ever look up anyway.  No-one talks to, or looks at their fellow passengers; we all seem to prefer it that way.

But here was this guy staring at me, and no matter which way I looked my eyes were drawn back to his and that complicit self-satisfied smile lurking on his old face.  I tried to concentrate on my book, but I was already tired of petulant Jane and her fantasies about the mad woman in the attic.  I kept getting drawn back to his face, and it was there, looking at me, looking through me.  He stood up and casual as if he had known me for years leaning in close over me he whispered into my ear “If you are what I suspect you to be then follow me, if not forget I ever spoke to you.  I apologise if this has been a case of mistaken identity.”  Almost imperceptibly I must have given the faintest of nods.  And then he turned abruptly and made for the sliding doors as they glided upwards at red-interchange Holborn stop.

I had no time to think, no time for reflection, no time to consider, no looking back, this was it.  ‘Now or never, Janek’, I thought and I instinctively got up and followed three or four people behind him.   I was changing here anyway, so even if the surv-cams clocked me I still hadn’t left my usual path.  I was still safe.  He never looked back once; just plodded on in those ridiculous grey jogging pants, head down as he rode the escalator ahead of me.   I thought for a moment it was some scam and I might be robbed, that he would have an accomplice who would suddenly whack me on the back of the head and steal my com-unit, or my micro-glasses or the laptop even.  Nothing else was worth anything, my cred was non-transferrable and even my glasses and com-unit would stop working if they couldn’t read my face.  Instinctively I held my handbag with my secret laptop a bit tighter.  I would be devastated if some scag stole my laptop.  In a way it was the only thing that was in any way important to me.

I kept him just in sight, a few people ahead, and then while turning a corner he slowed just enough for me to catch up with him and as he came alongside me, but looking straight ahead and pretending to cough he said quietly.  “Here, just a few paces ahead we cannot be seen by any cam, watch closely and follow me.” He spoke so casually, as if we had known each other for years.   I nodded compliance, then he suddenly turned at right angles and with an old-fashioned metal key in his hand he opened a steel door set in the wall marked ‘Private – Staff Only’.   And before I knew it I was pulled through and the door slammed shut behind us and we were in total darkness.

Scared?  You bet, but something stronger than fear was pulsing through my veins.  It was an excitement, a thrill, a buzz that no drugs had ever given me.  The realisation that I was on the cusp of existence, this was one of those roll of the dice moments when a choice had to be made, and whether I would regret it forever, some part of me knew I would regret it even more if I didn’t take this chance.

The Whole Muslim Question

Wednesday 17th June

At school I was always amazed at the Religious wars of the 16th and 17th Centuries in Europe, both by the fact that they were fighting about Religion in the first place and the violence and inhumanity shown by the combatants.  This was the sixties, a time of Peace and Love (or so we preached), even though there was still a residue of suspicion of Catholics amongst the largely Protestant population the growing attitude was of tolerance.  Except of course in Northern Ireland where the ‘Papist threat’ was being inflamed by Paisley, and the Civil Rights Movement quickly grew into Civil War.  On the surface this was about Nationalism and Politics but as ever in Ireland it was really about Religion.

And now for almost two decades we have been embroiled in another Religious War, though this is not only being fought out in Syria, Iraq and Yemen but also in the media.  The Muslim question is really about whether the growing Muslim population of Britain can ever peacefully assimilate, and just as important whether British tolerance or deep-seated Racial and Religious Prejudice will prevail.  The unwritten code, nudge nudge, of UKIP was that while Eastern European Immigrants were a ‘legitimate’ topic it was really the Asians and Muslims in particular, many of them settled here for generations that were the target.

I have some Muslim friends and guess what, they are just the same as you and me, they just worship a different (or in my case A) God.  So why do we have this Muslim problem in Britain, is it as many proclaim that many do not bother to learn the language, that they still wear traditional clothes including the Hijab, is it that they congregate together and create their own ghettoes, is it the fear of being outnumbered, or is it indeed Religion?  And will the whole issue slowly dissolve as more and more of us, both Muslim and old-fashioned white English are educated.  In London there does seem to be more tolerance, UKIP did far less well here and the place is incredibly cosmopolitan.  And as yet another family is missing in Turkey, presumed ISIS bound, the media are all over the story – as if they are some sort of a threat to our entire existence.  Hopefully in a couple of generations it will all die down and another Religious war will be in the past.

F is for Flo and Eddie – a wasted talent

Tuesday 16th June

I know, you’ve never heard of them – but you should hear them.  They started in The Turtles in the mid 60’s and though composing and singing such great songs as ‘Happy Together’ and ‘Elenore’ which were both huge hits the band had a troubled time.  The same old story, their record company were only interested in hits and marketed the band as clean-cut American kids – which they were decidedly not.  The band broke up and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, the two most prolific songwriters and singers joined the chaos that was Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.  They featured strongly in the film ‘200 motels’ and had extended solos on the live albums ‘Just Another Band From L.A.’ and ‘Fillmore East – June 1971’.  They perfected their musical comedy routine with The Mothers and sank into more and more outrageous profanity, no doubt encouraged by Frank from the sidelines.

Ongoing legal issues with the Turtles record and management companies meant they could not use either ‘The Turtles’ or indeed their own names in ANY musical context, so ‘Flo and Eddie’ they became.  Frank fell off stage in London in 1971 and broke his leg, so the constant touring was halted.  Flo and Eddie released their debut album as ‘The Pholorescent Leech and Eddie’, and what a gem it is.  Only two comedy numbers but beautiful melodies and their voices were just like honey slowly dripping on the turntable; there is not a bad song on the record.  A second gem followed called simply ‘Flo and Eddie’, another excellent album of mostly their own compositions but a wonderful cover of ‘Afterglow’ by the Faces, and my favourite the autobiographical ‘Marmendy Hill’.    A year later they released a largely live album ‘Illegal, Immoral and Fattening’ which is again quite amazingly brilliant.  Great hilarious piss-takes on the current rock-scene where they imitate Joni. Yoko and George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix and many more, but also the best song they ever recorded, ‘Rebecca’, an obscure minor hit from the early sixties given the Flo and Eddie treatment.

They followed this up with the slightly less wonderful ‘Moving Targets’ and that was just about it from Flo and Eddie I am afraid.  They really should have been more successful, but could never decide whether they wanted to do comedy or seriously good rock music.  They ended up touring again as ‘The Turtles’ and released a Reggae record and another live Turtles CD.  They also sang as session-men on many records over the next three decades but it seems sad that their own great songwriting seems to have stopped in their prime.  Their ‘Greatest Hits’ though is well worth a listen.



Living The Life

Monday 15th June

For so many years I seem to have been working really hard, for quite a few years I was doing six days a week, and getting up before five to do two mornings a week at the Pasta Factory (doing the Accounts I hasten to add, not making tagliatelle – though I do know how it is made).  On one level I was looking for Financial Security, having known periods of poverty I wanted to build up a cushion, at first 6 months then a year in case I should find myself unemployed again.  But maybe there was more than a suggestion of work filling up the empty spaces in my life.

And now that I am retired I am working again, though I must say that the Café is hardly onerous, and I have plenty of time to read and am also re-writing (second re-write) my latest book – The Philanthropist.  But out here in an obscure part of South West France I am also living the life.  There is so much happening here.  Almost every night and certainly every weekend there are at least two or three events, and you cannot do it all – there will always be next year.  Friday night is music night at the Gambetta, on Wednesday I attended ‘The Big Breakfast’ at Monteton and last night (Saturday) it was an Elvis evening at St. Colombe de Lausun.  For the massive entry price of fifteen euros you got a three course meal in the splendid Salle, mind you wine was six euro a litre so you had to be careful….hahaha.  Geoff Barker kicked the evening off with a few sing-along sixties favourites and later Elvis in full white-fringed cat suit and dark glasses sung very well to a backing tape.  We had Kenny and Maggie on our table to keep us amused, Graham and Maxine had driven me there and we met three new people on our large round table.  It wasn’t long before dancing broke out, led of course by Graham and Maxine really showing us how to jive.

A great time was had by all.  We left around midnight although the party was still in full swing with Geoff and Elvis playing and singing old numbers again.  Mind you the whole evening had set me back 24 euros.  That’s right, less than twenty quid in old British money.  That’s what I call Living the life.

Re-reading Catherine

Sunday 14th June

The Café, as well as showing Art which can be bought also has soap my wife has made and jewellery made by a friend and a book, a sort of early travelogue, written by another local Eymet friend.  My book, ‘Catherine’s Story’ is also for sale, and incredibly I have sold a few copies.

I hadn’t read it for a couple of years and have just decided to re-read it.  It really is a strange experience re-reading something you wrote a few years ago.  Almost every word is so familiar, practically leaping off the page at you, or you anticipate a phrase or a metaphor a few lines before it appears like an old familiar friend.

So, what do I think of it now a couple of years down the line?  Surprisingly I think it is quite good, certainly as good as anything I have written since and much better than some books I have read.  I cannot help seeing the flaws, the slightly stilted conversation, the poor punctuation and the repetitions.  But despite that the story itself it a good one, and I think quite cleverly told.  I am most proud of managing to create Catherine herself, a quite remarkable heroine, who is the antithesis of most modern heroines.  She is reticent and quiet and uncertain and hesitant and vulnerable despite her obvious intelligence.  At times, when writing as her, I quite believed I was this young woman Catherine myself.  My own few chapters now seem the worst parts of the book, as if I had let a different reality into the book.  I did this on purpose of course, and made myself a bit nastier to contrast the more with the wonderful Catherine I had created.

And here is a confession for you.  There are certain passages in the book which still make me cry.  Even though I wrote the blessed thing they make me cry.  I am crying for my poor Catherine, who I have rather mistreated in the book – but also even when she eventually finds happiness in one of my best written episodes I was blubbing like a baby for her.  I wonder if Jane Austen cried when re-reading her books too, or if this is indeed a common phenomenon.  A book, like a painting you may have completed, especially if you consider it as anything like good, is a precious part of yourself.  In some ways sharing it with the world is like standing naked for inspection.  And maybe I was crying because I know I will possibly never write anything quite so moving again.  We will see.

Where Did All This Stuff Come From?

Saturday 13th June

Sometimes I think I should have been an AstroPhycisist, not because I have any great skills, mathematical or chemical or otherwise.  And actually at school I always hated those three double periods of science every week.  They were always in the afternoon, one would be Biology (interesting in a way), Chemistry (I barely understood the Periodic Table of Elements let alone the difference between metals acids and salts) and Physics.  Now physics did at least interest me, it is really about the way the World works, how energy is converted into heat or sound or light but never disappears, how light is refracted, how sound travels through objects.  But at age sixteen I chose Art over Science and don’t really regret that but I do wish I had paid a little more attention in Science lessons.

Over the years I have avidly watched Horizon and am fascinated by the Universe, how it is constantly expanding (to where?) and the Big Bang itself, which I understand theoretically but find it hard to actually believe.  But like much of the Laws of Physics it (the Big Bang) makes sense because everything else fits into that theory.  Every now and then though some clever Physicist has a different idea and at first is argued down but eventually they persevere and their ‘wild’ theory becomes established as the truth.  And my big question is, if everything came from the Big Bang, where the entire Universe was compressed into a tiny speck and suddenly exploded sending everything we know hurtling into the nothingness of space, where was all this stuff before the Big Bang?  I suspect that the Universe may have been contracting long before the Big Bang, but that theory isn’t very popular.

And what a lot of stuff it really is.  The Earth is one tiny planet amongst billions in billions of Galaxies and believe me there is a hell of a lot of stuff just right here on Earth.  Hard to imagine it being compacted (along with all the other stars and planets) in a tiny speck at all.  Maybe Yoko One got it right – she called it an Approximately Infinite Universe, meaning I assume that we have created the concept of infinity to describe something so big we cannot imagine it having a beginning or an end, but this concept is itself only an approximation of the reality.  Maybe in a few hundred years time Mankind will have the answers, but again I suspect they may not be the finite answers, even if anyone is actually asking the right questions.

You ‘Aint Seen Rain Like It

Friday 12th June

It has been hot for a few days, even for South West France in early June this was unseasonably hot.  Wednesday morning it rained, but not terribly and had cleared up by lunchtime and a fine but cooler evening followed.  Thursday was market day and it started off a bit cloudy with rain forecast for later.  We had to go into Bergerac for some supplies for the café around five and as we were leaving at six it started raining heavily, big splodges of rain on the windscreen and bouncing off the roads.  It stopped after a bit and in the distance we could see dark grey clouds extending in grey sheets to the distant horizon.  “Rain over Eymet” I said.  “No, it must be as far away as Miramont” my wife replied.  As we got closer though we could see that I was right and Eymet was at the centre of the storm.  Lightning and thunder now ruled the angry black sky and the rain came down in buckets.  Then it came down even harder and it was like a sheet of water in front of us.  We sat for a few minutes opposite our house but neither of us wanted to cross the road.  We drove round and parked the car under the tin-roofed cow shed car park.  Then the skies really opened.  It was so noisy as the rain hit the roof you couldn’t hear yourself speak and came off the roof in a solid sheet of water.  The French tend to be slapdash in their building and most drainpipes empty straight onto the pavements and then run into the streets.  But suddenly these were gushing like firemen’s hoses and the street were literally streams and torrents at the crossroads.  All the streets in Eymet slope gently down to the River Dropt and the torrents soon became a river at the bottoms of these streets.  I have never seen rain like it.  When we got home we had a bit of water that had come in over the lintel as our pavement had been overrun by the river our street had become.  A few towels and we mopped it all up.  Then the rain stopped and I went to check the damage (none as it happened) in the café.  Amazingly the streets were almost dry again.  Not for long as the thunder and lightning returned, but not thankfully with such a vengeance and it rained most of the night.  I have seen rain before but nothing like this.

2066 – and Janek makes his break for Freedom

Thursday 11th June

Janek’s secret observer tells us of his escape….

-[And then he was gone.  He simply disappeared from our database.  One minute he was there, and then he was gone.  Escaped, simply vanished.  Like it or not, he had evaded us.

Of course we looked for him, he was important – or rather his work, his contribution, was.  He never quite understood the nature of his gift, that prescience, that rare ability to detect irregularities that evaded us all.  He was told, as were his few colleagues that it was financial data he was reviewing, and it was true that it was all numbers flowing past on his screen.  But everything is numbers.  That’s what our society is run on; numbers.  Binary in the first instance but automatically now everything is displayed in decimal numbers, nought to nine and all the possibilities that exist between.  What he was actually doing was detecting deceivers, those few crazy individuals who thought that substituting false data would give them a better strata, a different sort of cred, access to restricted lifestyle choices.

What is it about human behaviour?  This personal greed, this ridiculous notion that somehow they can beat the system, that is so hard to extinguish.  Maybe it just needs more edu, more emphasis at crammer.  And it isn’t as if the threat of punishment is missing; the screens are full of ‘rebs’ and ‘malcontents’ we have caught.  It is one of the few lucrative areas for actors these days.  These criminals must be aware that they will be caught, and yet they continue to cheat, by any means they can find.  We must always be vigilant, that is one of the reasons Janek was so valuable to us.

But we would have looked for him anyway.  No society could possibly function properly if units were simply allowed to wander off.   But that is what appears to have happened.   The last time we have any record of him is travelling on tubeline blue.  The last station he was observed at was Holborn.   He was taking his normal route and was changing for red when he simply disappeared.  One minute he was on one cam; then he wasn’t there on the next anymore.

We later discovered how he did it.   But I will let Janek tell this part of his story, as it is quite revealing.]-

part two – a definite transgression….

Diary Entry – 20660227

“I am writing again.  Seems such a long time.  A few short weeks in reality, but in some ways it has all been like a dream.  A long dream I have slipped away into.  One day I may wake up back in my apartment, Cathy in bed beside me and none of this will have happened.  And even if it was a dream – wow, what a dream.  I haven’t been near a micro-power socket in weeks and so had no external power for my secret com-unit.   Anyway, I thought it best not to even switch it on with its pathetic three hours of battery power in case it could be detected; you never know how powerful their scanners have become.

 I think I should record all that has happened in case I am discovered.  Captured, returned – whatever.  Hopefully if you are reading this, then at least the words will have survived; and there may be some hope that the future (my future) will not be quite as bleak as I am imagining it may be.  I escaped.  I left it all behind; my mundane existence, the sterile flat I called home, my wife, our semi-luxury lifestyle, our strata level, all my cred.  I left it all behind, but as you can see I am still alive.  Only more so.

 It all happened by accident really.  And even now I cannot really believe how lucky I was.  Yes, lucky, because although luck, superstition, fate, kismet, call it what you like has become such an unfashionable idea of late, there is no other logical explanation for it.   It happened like this.

 I was becoming more and more paranoid, watching my own shadow, certain that they were watching me, and so I must have given off some aura, some small signs that must have given me away.   And I was spotted.   It was a normal rush-hour evening journey home.   The tube-line train was not quite full and I had a seat.  I was on blue and I don’t know why, some sixth sense maybe, but I felt someone was watching me.  You know, that strange feeling, some sense we developed ages ago, maybe when we were hunter-gatherers, and stalking prey, when we had to be more than aware that in fact we were not prey ourselves.  At first I thought it must be a camera, but a surv-cam had never made me feel this uneasy, and as far as we know they don’t have cams in the actual carriages, the vibrations apparently cause the pictures to be too blurry to be of any use, it simply confuses the face-rec software so they don’t bother.  Besides there are cams on every platform at every stop so you are tracked anyway, and where can you go to between