Good Vibrations

Wednesday 10th June

At one point in the Sixties music was progressing so quickly that each new record literally took your breath away.  I had loved the Beach Boys early songs about cars and girls and (what was this strange new thing?) surfing, and then came California Girls – and yes back in Suffolk we did all wish they all could be California Girls.  Suddenly the Beach Boys were out on ‘The Sloop John B’ – some magical boat on the sea and before we could forget that I heard ‘Good Vibrations’. It allegedly took months to record, the group singing again and again in different studios until Brian Wilson was happy with the sound.  It was certainly one of the most polished records of that time; the Beatles were now studio bound and would take months making Sergeant Pepper too.

I can remember specifically a discussion our class had with our music teacher, who insisted that the Beatles would be forgotten by the end of the Sixties; he saw no musical worth in their efforts.  Someone must have brought in ‘Good Vibrations’ because I recall he called it absolute rubbish, especially the phased section in the middle, which we all loved.  He said it had no merit at all and that we should all listen to Beethoven instead.  Well we were in no mood for that; in fact Roll Over Beethoven expressed our opinion of Classical music completely.  Later I have begun to appreciate Classical Music to a degree, but my first love remains the music created in the Sixties and improved on in the decades following.

I especially love that first ‘I’ in ‘Good Vibrations’ which has no musical accompaniment at all and pierces the void, with its three note sharpness, followed by ‘love the purple clothes she wears and the way the sunlight sparkles in her hair.’  And we all understood immediately what ‘Good Vibrations’ meant.  Paul McCartney on hearing it decided that The Beatles had to up their game and was seriously worried that their crown was slipping.  The song still gives me good vibrations and reminds me of summer like no other record.  I am listening here in Eymet sunshine and for me The Beach Boys are the perfect summertime band.






Millionaire Woman Sues Millionaire Ex For Even More

Tuesday 9th June

One of the headlines on the BBC news today was that a divorced woman, originally given a ten million pounds (yes, that’s right £10,000,000) divorce settlement is challenging this as it now transpires that her ex-husband was actually worth a lot more than that.  Now, I do not know the details or the merits or otherwise of her case and as Errol Flynn once said “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.  It just amazes me that the courts are wasting their time on this nonsense.  There was another case recently where a couple spilt when they both had next to nothing and he later made a fortune and his ex-wife is now sueing him for half his assets even though he earned them all long after they were divorced.  Again I am no lawyer, but I wonder if we have all gone quite mad.  I have been divorced twice and both times we both had next to nothing so there was no real splitting of assets.  Do I now owe either or indeed both of my long ago ex-wives half of the assets which I earned by paying off a rather large mortgage completely out of my own wages?  Or do these rules only apply to the super-rich?

It just amazes me that anyone, had it been the husband I would have been just as amazed, should think that £10 million was insufficient for their needs.  But then I am not, and never want to be, one of the super-rich. When food banks and payday loan sharks are the fastest growing industries in Britain it is a bit rich (no pun intended) that this is even news.  And yet we are all still obsessed by the antics of the rich.  Another headline today “Kate Moss escorted off an EasyJet plane at Luton for disruptive behavior” again shows up both our obsession with Celebrity and the sad state of affairs where once Celebrity and Wealth are draped over their shoulders some people still behave like arseholes. And the far more serious question “Why, with all her money was she flying EasyJet in the first place?  Obviously Ryanair didn’t fly that route.

Sun Worshippers

Monday 8th June

I have never really been a sun-worshipper.  Oh, I like the sun, don’t get me wrong – but I am not one for really sunbathing.  Or if I do sit in the sun it is only for a few minutes at a time.  Truth is I get fidgety, or start to fall asleep, and having been literally burned once when I slept in the sun I know how dangerous that can be.  I cannot just do absolutely nothing face up to receive the healing rays of the sun.  I have been on a few holidays when all there really was to do was to sit on sun-loungers in the sun, either around the crowded hotel pool or on some narrow beach the loungers all in a row.  I get bored after even a few minutes and amble off for a swim; even the book I am reading gets put aside in the sun.

But this is the modern term – sun-worshippers.  I am more interested in societies which worshipped the sun, mostly in Ancient times or more recently the sadly conquered Aztecs and Incas and Mayans.  Of all the religious ideas which have infected mankind at least sun worship does make some sense.  Without the sun life on Earth would be impossible, in fact there wouldn’t be an Earth at all.  We would just be another ball of rock and ice travelling from nowhere to some other nowhere in the vast expanses of the Universe.  The sun gives us warmth and our orbit around it gives us the seasons and stops us hurtling into oblivion.  It makes every sense in the world to worship the fact that it is still there every morning.  And that it will ripen our crops and feed us too.  Then later we discovered coal and oil which had stored the suns energy for us to release millions of years later.  Everything we have has come from the sun, and of course it is our own stupid actions in recklessly burning that coal and oil which are threatening to destroy the thin blanket of atmosphere which protects us from too much of the heat of the sun.

And even with all one’s knowledge (gleaned largely from watching many episodes of Horizon) it still amazes me the heat which you can feel standing in the sun.  They say it will be many millions of years before the sun burns itself out, which seems illogical as it is composed completely of gas which is burning and one would have thought it might burn out a lot sooner.  Maybe we should all pray that it won’t.

A Strange Feeling of Ennui

Sunday 7th June

And now that we are into June and a mini-heatwave, both here and to a lesser extent in Britain, a strange mood of ennui seems to have descended.  Not that I am unhappy, if anything I am blissfully contented, walking around town with a big smile on my face.  It is more that I feel almost as if it is a dream, that one day I will wake and have had a Bobby-in-the-shower (or Dirty Den in the canal more like) moment, and none of this will have happened.  No house in France, no marriage, no house in Walton even and certainly no retirement.  But sure enough every morning I wake up and it is still all here, the white and grey stone walls, the river still sluggishly flowing past the mill and my new life here in France as much a reality as slogging every day on the tube and sitting for hours at a desk and dealing with mountains of paperwork and hundreds of e-mails.

I still do get e-mails, but they are dealt with once a day.  I still have some work to do, but it seems so much easier now I am physically removed from the actual workplace.  And there is the café too of course where I am actually sitting today.  Very few customers today, but maybe that is down to the extraordinary hot weather, very few people around at all.  Everyone tells us it will be far busier in July and August – we’ll see,  My former interests, or obsessions really, with the news and politics seem to have receded too.  After all the fuss and bother, the millions of words written and calculations and projections again here a strange sense of ennui seems to have settled over the body politic.  The LibDems are shattered, who of the remaining eight will bear the poisoned chalice of being their new leader; Labour are likewise seeking a new leader, and hardly anyone seems particularly excited about the potential candidates.  2020 seems an awful long way in the future.  Even the Tories seem a bit dazed and are girding their loins for the internal fights to come about Europe.  And more and more I feel, who cares?

And meanwhile the sun is shining and it is hot and all you can do is smile.

2066 – and Janek’s Paranoia is turning into real fear

Saturday 6th June

Diary Entry – 20660115

“I know they are watching me.   I am certain this time.  Because of the nature of my work, and the super-sensory state I have to induce in myself all my senses are actually heightened.  I could hear the almost silent swivel as the tiny surv-cams began tracking me down the corridors.  I was careful not to glance up at them, people had long gotten used to their silent ‘protective’ presence, and instinctively you learn not to observe them observing you.  To look directly at them would be taken as a sure sign of guilt.

So, it has come to this; and so soon after I have started writing this ‘diary’.  Even I, super-sceptic that I am, am amazed that they have found me out so soon.  But what to do now?  Do I try and brazen it out, act as if I don’t know I am being observed?  Or do I stop this behaviour.  Do I comply with the rest of our be-knighted society and delete these entries, wipe the hard disk, find a way of dismantling and disposing of it and live the next seventy years of my life in comfort and boredom, or do I actually care enough to make a stand.

But how do you actually make a stand in this day and age.  Where would one establish a platform and anyway who would be there to listen?  I would be clagged and branded a lunatic, or ‘emotionally unstable’ to put it nicely, in no time at all.  And all my ‘friends’, my acquaintances really, because I do not have any friends anymore, would know it would be in their best interests to forget all about me too, to move on, to comply as we all do.  And mostly to forget they ever knew me too; because we are all subtly persuaded to live in the ever-present present, and to forget the slightly troublesome past; who wants to think about the past, about people we no longer see.  Avoid thinking about anything unpleasant.  Why remember anything bad when we are all so well looked after now.  We don’t own our own past anymore; we have forgotten to look back, to reminisce – to reflect on our past.  Better not to think about it, just keep looking forward.  There is no need for personal memories because everything you might want to recall is instantly accessible on any screen, and it is far more reliable than our own skittish minds, skewed as they might be with emotions.

There are only two possibilities.  I can euthenase myself or make a breakout.  I mentioned before that I have a stash of euthentabs secreted and it is true.  Even Cathy has no idea I have them.  My father contracted cancer a few years ago.  He had me late in life and was from that generation before Universal Health Screening was introduced for all under-forties in twenty-six, and so was considered uneconomic to treat effectively.  Almost all cancers were curable by the thirties, but he had other health issues too and besides he was an alcoholic and you know the attitude of all health-officials to self-harmers.   He was offered euthentabs and it was all decided, and then there was some mix-up and he was transferred to a different clinic and somehow he got prescribed them again.  He was a wise old bugger, and even though we had never been that close, he slipped some to me just before he took his and whispered in that sad and ironic way of his, “You might need these yourself one day son.  I wish I’d had them years ago, I wouldn’t have gone through that pain for anything.  Keep them safe and use them wisely.”  Then he reached for his beaker of water and pressed the red button hovering on his bedside screen.  The nurse and doctor came in and asked me if I wanted to stay right to the end.  I declined and left the room quickly; scurrying out as he popped the tabs in his mouth and sipped the cool water, his eyes closing before his head even hit the pillow.   My hands squeezing tight the plastic tube in my pocket; as my Dad made his undignified exit, I made my mind up there and then that I would choose my own way out when the time came.

That was quite a few years ago and it still makes me cry when I recall the look in his eyes as he slipped the slim transparent tube into my palm.  My dear old Dad.  Well, he wasn’t much of a dad really – too interested in his next drink to care about my Mum or me.  He might have been a piss-head, but he’s much better out of it.  Some people were critical of euthen when it was finally legalised; it had been going on quietly for years, (doctors accidentally over-prescribing) but still there was some resistance.  But it is now universally accepted as the best way.  We wouldn’t make an animal suffer, so why should we make ourselves die in agony.  No, whichever way you look at it my Dad was better off out of it, and maybe I will be too.

I am not sure I will have the guts to take them though; it is a lot easier to say than to do.  And you never self-administer, there is always a doctor there to hand you the beaker of water.  Maybe I should just revert to plan B and stop all of this nonsense right now.  What the hell do I think I have achieved by it anyway?   Maybe best to give up these stupid ideas and just carry on; it isn’t as if my life is that awful really.  It just isn’t actually living.  I keep feeling there is something, no, everything missing from my existence.  That is why I started writing this in the first place; to feel alive.  I can remember that feeling as a child that you could be anything you wanted to be, even a bird flying in the sky, if you wanted to.  That feeling of being alive and free; that’s what I crave – because no matter which way you cut it, and despite all the tech and healthcare and being ‘looked after’ in our Twenty-First Century Nightmare we definitely are not free.

Maybe it’s just part of growing up, though I’m not even middle-aged yet, I am only fifty-five, for pities’ sake.  Can I put up with another forty-three years of working?  And it is sure to be longer than that, every few years they seem to be extending both life-expectancy and your working life.  Maybe I will never be old enough to retire, though what is retirement?  I don’t know anyone who has actually retired.  All the people we know are still working and the same strata as us, or just above – Cathy thinks if we mix with higher strata it won’t be long before we too are elevated.  So really we have no idea what retirees lives are like, You do see pretty dramas with a few oldies lazing on sunbeds, but they all look ancient, wrinkled and bald, literally on their last set of legs.  Work is all there is, it sustains us.  Without work we are no longer consumers, and that I am afraid is our main purpose in this life.  It’s even worse for anyone born after twenty-thirty as they have their entire cell-history mapped out and can have new bits of themselves grown easily, so they will go on till at least a hundred and fifty – poor buggers.  At least for my generation, the last of our kind, they just have to repair us as best they can before euthen-heaven calls us in.   Come in Janek Smith, your time is up.

Well, maybe my time really is up after all.

Making a break?   How would I do that?  Especially as I am being watched all the time; maybe I should start thinking about that, who knows – maybe there really are little communities existing on those Scottish islands, outside of the system somewhere.  Maybe I should start thinking of how I can actually escape the system altogether.”


‘Ain’t Half Hot Mum

Friday 5th June

The temperature here has soared, on Wednesday it was just over thirty and today it rocketed to the mid 30s, at one point our car registered 38 degrees as it was parked outside Leclerc.  There was a time when I couldn’t stand the heat, I was almost ill with it on a Greek holiday once, but now I seem to handle it far better.  Walk slowly, wear a hat, cover up your shoulders and drink lots of fluids – well, that’s how I cope.  It is actually at night as the temperature refuses to really cool down and there isn’t so much as a whisper of breeze that I find it hardest.  I lay there sweating with not even a sheet covering me and I seem to be burning up.  Eventually of course I do sleep.

But I also love the evenings, eating outside in our little courtyard garden or sitting outside the Café de Paris until ten at night.  At six today (yesterday) we went for a swim at Lougratte.  It is a longish lake, or actually a man-made reservoir which has been converted into a swimming lake.  There is a sandy beach and a gentle slope into the water, a slide and pedaloes and a floating diving platform.  There is occasionally a lifeguard too but the French seem rather lackadaisical about health and safety; if you are stupid enough to stray out of your depth and haven’t bothered to learn to swim, more fool you.  The water was lovely, quite warm on the surface but cooler deeper down.  It was so wonderful to just float on my back with the sun on my face and just drift.  No waves or salt water or floating debris as in the British seaside and no hordes of screaming splashing kids and the stench of chlorine you get with indoor pools.  This is how swimming should be, no black painted or rope-divided lanes, no bumping into other swimmers and no noise, just absolute peace and quiet and the deep green water with hardly a ripple as you glide through it.  As we were sitting in the sun drying off we met another English couple who had retired out here and we recounted tales of East London and the joys of French food.

A perfect evening and one you wouldn’t dream of enjoying back home.

Rollercoaster Rides

Thursday 4th June

I have only been on a very few roller-coaster rides in my life.  The truth is I am scared of them, they literally terrify me.  There was a very old one at the Kursal at Southend.  I am not even sure if the Kursal is still there, I haven’t visited Southend in years.  I went there with Carol, my first wife for a long weekend, before she was ever pregnant.  Southend was the Londoner’s playground in those days and one evening we went to the Kursal.  The rollercoaster there was wooden and my enduring memory is being slowly hauled to the top and waiting there for what seemed an eternity before the plunge.  At one point you disappeared into the structure itself and huge wooden cross-beams seemed to hurtle towards you and everyone in the cars ducked and the girls all screamed.  I must admit here that I got the fearful reaction of wanting desperately to pee as we were being hauled higher and higher up that first slope.  I still get that when I am up a very tall ladder or when we were in gym at school and had to climb the ropes; the nearer I got to the top the more I wanted to pee, and once or twice as a boy I actually did.

I have studiously avoided them since that time on the Kursal.  I don’t mind the Thriller or the Whip or riding the roundabout horses at all, even the chair rides don’t bother me.  It is just the up and down rides I can’t stand.  As for going upside down – no, please never let me be spun upside down, no matter how I am strapped in.  The ride on the Kursal was scary enough but more and more and bigger and bigger and twistier and gravity defying rides are being built.  There seems a never-ending desire for them among the young.  And even the tragic accident at Alton Towers a couple of days ago appear to do little to diminish the public’s enthusiasm for these rides.  And why do they do it, is it like a rite of passage, a dare they cannot refuse, or is it that they simply like being scared witless?  I suppose it is related to that desire to watch horror films of haunted houses and things that make you jump; again I dislike these intensely and avoid them.  I am not actually that much of a coward though at school being small I learnt to run away from fights.  I find life itself frightening enough without added complications.  And of course it gives me no satisfaction to hear about the people injured on that ride, even though I won’t go on the rides my grandchildren may well do.  Hopefully the accident will make the ride safer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if rather than put people off it will actually increase the popularity of that particular rollercoaster.

Charles Kennedy R.I.P.

Wednesday 3rd June

I cannot let the occasion pass without my personal tribute to a very wonderful man, who just happened to be a brilliant Politician too.  He was a Highlander and became an M.P. for a Highland seat at a young age.  He was then a Social Democrat; this was a breakaway group of the centre left which split from Labour in the early Eighties.  Led by the arrogant David Owen they, like UKIP three decades on, soared in popularity as Labour was seen then (as now by some) to be too left wing.  In the nineties they merged with the old Liberal party and Charlie was a rising star.  He was completely unaffected, he said it as he saw it, and the public seemed to respond to his openness and honesty.  A regular on ‘Have I Got News For You’, where he enjoyed the self-deprecating humour, he still retained a serious side and was ruthless enough to seize the leadership of his party when Paddy Ashdown stood down.

He led the party to its greatest electoral success and in 2005 they won 62 seats.  But Charlie had his own devils and was smoking and drinking too much and he was persuaded to resign. Pretty soon Nick Clegg took over and in the blink of an eye joined the Tories in the Coalition.  Public perception is all important in Politics and Clegg gave the impression that he was a Tory all along; one wonders what, if Charlie had been able to stop smoking and drinking and had still been leader, would have happened.  I don’t think the lure of being Deputy P.M. would have appealed to him and he would have had a much more arms-length relationship with Cameron.  Who knows?  All I know is that the LibDems are ruined and a great man, maybe broken in spirit by the party’s and his own defeat at the hands of the SNP has left the stage.

I was always a lifelong Labour supporter, but even I was tempted to vote for Charlie on more than one occasion.  I think he may actually have been in the wrong party (just like Clegg), only Charlie would have made a great Labour leader.  As Enoch Powell said “Every Political Career ends in failure.”  Just wish it wasn’t so final.

My Home Town

Tuesday 2nd June

Paul Simon wrote a song about this, it was pretty derogatory and bitter, even if he asked Art Garfunkel to sing beautifully on it.  My home town was Stowmarket, Suffolk, and as a boy it was I suppose everything to me.  But we had visited London a few times and I was seduced by the noise and the crowds and the anonymity.  Everyone seemed to know (and prejudge) me in Stowmarket; I longed to leave my home town behind.  I imagined that London was big enough to lose myself in, and like a snake shed my old life and grow a new one.  Well I did come to London and the dreams of shedding my skin and starting anew soon fell apart (the new one was just the same as the old) but London eventually became my home town.  I loved the sheer size and complexity of the place, even spending Sundays travelling the length of the tube lines until the houses petered out and we were deep in the country.  I explored the parks and the West End and the City and as a young man loved the place.  This was where it was happening, this was where the Beatles were, Abbey Road and Carnaby Street, this was where Parliament was; this was the centre of everything.

But the years have taken their toll, and now that I have finished working and only return for a few days a month it no longer feels like my home town.  I almost feel a stranger here now.  I am far more comfortable walking the few old and well-trodden roads of Eymet or Walton, where nothing ever seems to change; I no longer feel any love for this thrusting high-rise too-brash and too artificial city.  I do not fit in, I feel older here; it is a city for the brave and the young. Is that just old age?  Or have I simply been a small town boy all along, just distracted by the allure of the big city?  I find the words of Harry Chapin particularly appropriate “Oh, barefoot boy – he don’t like your concrete and he seeks the country any way that he can.  Oh barefoot boy, he’s fading down your streets and I know he’ll never come this way again.”  Where I will end up who knows, possibly Eymet or just as possibly Walton.  And either seem small enough to become my home town.  But maybe it is just as Paul Young sung “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.”

Money is Killing Sport

Monday 1st June

Well, Arsenal have won the F.A. cup for the second year running, and good luck to them.  But was it anything to with luck or did money win it?  Just as Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs have won the league for the last few years, they just happen to be the wealthiest clubs too.  It is all a money merry-go round; in order to afford the best players in the world, they need not only to buy them for many millions but pay them hundreds of thousands a week in wages.  The fans coming through the turnstiles can no longer begin to pay for this, it is TV money, and essentially money from European games that makes these clubs so successful.  To get into Europe you need to win, to win you need money, you get money from being in Europe, so the same clubs keep qualifying and winning.

And now we have the unedifying spectacle of FIFA, the world body responsible for among other things, the World Cup, being mired in scandal and corruption.  It is because big business and sponsors make so much money out of hosting the thing that voting delegates are bribed so outrageously.  How long before the Olympics themselves are similarly found to be corrupt.  Cricket and soccer players have been found guilty of fixing matches for money, while in-game betting is rife, with even the first player to be sent off a bet-able challenge.  We all love sport, or most of do, and one essential of that is that it is a fair contest.  But if money is the main reason that sports people are playing for will that not ultimately affect everything, even the result.

We cannot turn the clock back to a more innocent amateur time, but one does wonder where exactly it will all end.  With more and more money being sucked into Sport we are in danger of killing the very thing we think we love.