New Story, Old Story

Tuesday 21st July

I have just about finished “The Philanthropist”, my latest book.  I have had two re-writes and a final read-through and I am more or less happy with it.  Well to tell the truth you are never really happy with any creation, be it painting, poem or book.  You always feel that a bit more work may have produced something better, but I am no Harper Lee, and my Mockingbird is Killed (literary joke there).  So, I have to now think of a new story.

I once went to the South Bank for a talk by Kazuo Ishiguru, who I consider a truly great writer.  One of the questions asked was if he ever suffered from writer’s block and how to deal with it.  He said that yes, indeed he did have times when no inspiration would come.  He also said that many things he had written didn’t quite work and he filed them away.  Sometimes he would take them out, read them again and realize that some of it worked; maybe it needed to be in a slightly different format, a different time, a changed narrator perhaps – and you never knew.  In essence he was saying that nothing was wasted, whether published, finished or a work in progress.

After Catherine I attended a writing class for maybe two years.  It wasn’t that brilliant, but I was writing a new book for the class, and the discipline of needing to present something each week drove me on.  I am a bit stubborn, I am sure you would be the first to agree, and even though I knew the story wasn’t really working I carried on with it, and rather than taking the criticism as helpful I was sure I was right.  Well, I was wrong and the book was poor, though it did have some good passages in it.  So I have decided to try to re-write it.  One of the mistakes I made was that the original story was told by four characters, and you had to guess by the style who was talking.  So I have decided this time to write it in the third person.  We will see.  So a new story which is really an old one.  As Kazuo said nothing is wasted.

Sigoules Wine Festival

Monday 20th July

We went to the Sigoules wine festival on Saturday.  We had been in two minds about it, having partied on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, but thank goodness we did.  It may well now go down in the calendar as a ‘Must-Not-Miss’ fixture.  We had been to the Friday night Night Markets in Sigoules for the last two years, and I had noticed that these were not starting until next Friday, quite a bit later than most Night Markets, and now we know the reason why.

The Wine Festival is a massive undertaking, there were over forty stalls selling their wine alone, many grades of wine, some expensive and some for just 5 euro a bottle.  There were bars all around selling pression bier and limonade on tap.  And there was food, my goodness there was a lot of food.  The night market is held in a large rectangular area which is probably some sort of sports court in normal times, and tonight  there was a huge stage at one end and tables and chairs set out with food stalls and bars all the way round.  But the wine festival was much larger, it wound right round a couple of streets and to a park where again there were hundreds of tables and chairs set out.  This area was sheltered somewhat by rows of pollarded trees so we settled down here.  I went off to buy the food.

I had to first of all queue up to select my choices and pay for them, receiving a few slips or tickets.  This took about ten minutes, then I had to queue up again for the food.  It was quite hilarious really.  I wanted two melon baskets and the lady in charge of this was also serving salad crudités.  Both of these items were pre-prepared and in a fridge on different shelves behind her.  Simple, no?  Oh no.  I watched in amazement her confusion and when it came to my turn I gave her my two tickets with ‘Melon’ written on each.  I said “Deux melons, plais Madame.”  She looked at me, looked at the tickets, back at me, back at the tickets. “Melon?” she said.  “Oui” I replied “Deux”.  “Deux?” she asked me. And in English I couldn’t help saying, half under my breath.  “Yes, that is what I have paid for, that is what it says on the tickets”.  She looked flustered, grabbed a pen and ferociously scribbled out the words ‘Melon’ and screwed up my tickets and looked to the next person in the queue.  “Mes Melon Madame?” I interrupted.  She looked really annoyed, harrumphed and turned to her fridge and looking at both the melons and the salads turned to me again and said “Melon?” “Oui Madame, deux si vous plait”.  She grabbed hold of two salads and then put them back and eventually (almost five minutes into the transaction) I got my melons.  She was just as speedy with everyone.  Luckily when I went for paella the guy serving this had a brain and served me straight-away, recognizing the word ‘paella’ on my ticket straight away.  Anyway the food was delicious as was the wine.

Late we watched the show.  A disco extravaganza.  Very loud backing tracks as eight dancers, four boys and four girls danced and sang mostly in English.  Great fun, and they really worked hard, and kept slipping off for at least five costume changes.  It was almost 11.00 p.m. at half time and we left, even though the dancers were returning soon for another burst of Disco Inferno.  A great night, another great night here in France.  Admit it, if this took place in England there would be a £5 parking fee, a £20 entry fee, the wine would be £5 a glass rather than a bottle, and a meal at least £25, where all our food for two was only 18 euros, no parking and no entry fee and the wine 5 euro a bottle….no contest.

An Unholy Alliance

Sunday 19th July

The Sun has done it again.  After Hillsborough, after Phone Hacking and all the furore that caused, and the closure of the News Of The World and trials of ex-editors they are sinking to even lower depths.  They have somehow got hold of some eighty-year old home movie of the Queen, aged six or seven giving a Nazi salute along with her sister, mother and uncle (all now dead).  We all know that Edward the Eighth was a Nazi sympathizer and that was probably really why he had to abdicate in 1936.  And believe me I am no Royalist.  In a perfect world Britain should be a republic.  But I do feel that as Head of State the Queen has behaved immaculately for over sixty years, avoiding personal scandals which have engulfed members of her family.  She has also championed the Commonwealth, while many of her Prime Ministers have treated it with disdain.

So, what are we to make of this latest stunt?  And what exactly did the Sun hope to achieve, except notoriety and embarrassing an old lady of almost ninety?  We know that Rupert Murdoch is a Republican and an Ultra-Conservative.  And most important of all he thinks he has the power to help choose the Government of the day.  For years he and his papers supported the Tories.  Then when he discovered that Blair would not fundamentally change anything in 1997 he backed New Labour, only to dump them when Gordon Brown became leader.  The truth is that fewer and fewer people are buying or reading Newspapers, in fact fewer and fewer people are even bothering to watch the News.  But they still have a pernicious influence, and maybe the fact that all newspaper’s readership is falling means they have to rely on more and more outrageous behaviour.  After the Leveson inquiry, which incidentally recommended much tighter controls over newspapers, the Tories colluded with the Press and allowed them to police themselves again.  Some hope of that ever being successful.  As long as the press mostly supports the Conservatives we have an unholy alliance.  Ministers will tut-tut, but nothing will be done (we mustn’t upset uncle Rupert).  Maybe when Rebekah next offers Dave a ride on her horse he will have the sense to decline.  But with Labour in disarray expect more of the same as the roller-coaster ride of politics and our right-wing press descends even further.

Getting Busy Again

Saturday 18th July

Well we had a quiet Wednesday, but bored at 9.00 p.m. we wandered out with the dogs and ended up meeting some friends for drinks outside Gambetta.  Thursday was market day but it was so hot here, 38 degrees in afternoon, that it was quiet by Eymet standards.  Thursday evening was the regular Gourmande evening in the Park and I had an excellent grilled duck and risotto for the ridiculously expensive price of 10 euros.  Geoff Barker played for two hours and was joined by Elvis at the end.  We got talking to some French people who just happened to be cousin to Davide, who makes our favourite local wine ‘De Angelis’ right here in Eymet.  About ten there was the torch-lit parade through the streets and the Chateau, bridge and a few streets were decorated with candles.  Rather clever, you take a small white paper bag, put some sand in the bottom to weigh it down, then put in a wide saucer and a lit tea-light; it gives a lovely glowing lamp, the bag makes sure the light doesn’t blow out and the sand that it doesn’t blow away or catch light.  The town looked quite spectacular all lit up.

Friday night we are off to Allemans sur Dropt for a meal in the Hotel and to see Kenny sing in the local pub.  Our friends are also trying to arrange things for the rest if the weekend.  We will see.   We still have the Medieaval Banquet, and the Wine and Oyster Festival to go, and as my parents will soon be with us it will be a few more Night markets to visit.  And who said Retirement meant a quiet life?


2066 – Janek continues his subterranean musing

Friday 17th July

I read about all that Nazi stuff that happened over a century ago now, and I was always amazed that there was no real resistance.  The holocaust was going on right under their noses; millions of people being cooked and no-one smelt a bloody thing.  Worse, no-one asked the basic question, “Where have my neighbours disappeared to?  Where have all the Jews gone?  Where has all our freedom gone?”  But no, they just kept their heads down and like automatons shouted Heil Hitler on command.  But what I found even more disturbing about human behaviour was the inmates, the poor wretched bastards in the camps, who daily saw death, and their neighbours, their friends and family being marched into the gas chambers – they didn’t scream and rebel, they didn’t just walk into the wire fences, they didn’t try to rush the guards, even though that would have meant instant death.  No they meekly accepted their fate; they even had some sort of hierarchy and society there in the death camps; they played chess, they had concerts, they painted and they even fucked for fuck’s sake.  What was wrong with them?  Were they so brainwashed that they clung on to some stupid hope despite what was happening in front of their very eyes.

God I find that so hard to accept.  Are humans so adaptable that they will accept any conditions as long as they can somehow convince themselves they are living.  And that my friends is my problem.  Despite the luxury I used to live in, despite the semblance of an interesting job, despite a loving wife (hahaha – at least she didn’t want me to fuck her anymore, she enjoyed syn far too much) despite the ever-dangling carrot of a new strata level I could never quite convince myself that I was alive.

And yet, even that flat existence, with all the precariousness of previous centuries nicely ironed out, with nothing to really worry about, with the constant invention of new toys to play with (which frankly bored me), with holo-tv at last becoming a reality after years of promises, with syn-sex giving you far better and sustained orgasms, with all the designer drugs to regulate your moods; all of this, boring and predictable as I found it was better than living here like rats underground, listening to the sounds from the world above ground that filtered down.   All they were doing was barely existing here in this semi-darkness, and quietly slurping their tasteless manna porridge three times a day.  But the worst thing about the Aldwych band was that they were so pathetic in their aspirations.  It was as if every day they remained undiscovered was a triumph, as if just existing was a reason to carry on.  There was no end-game, simply boring existence.

Much like life above ground too (irony for those of you still half asleep).

And then there was the drinking.  Along with the manna-food production they have what used to be called an illegal still down here.  It is a weird looking contraption, all spiralling copper wires and plastic tubes and the stuff they manage to produce is disgusting.   I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since the thirties; I had never been that enamoured with it.  I hate being out of control really, that’s the truth of it, whereas I think that’s the main reason people get drunk in the first place.  To escape, to get out of it, but I never wanted to let go – that was my problem.  It finally became illegal in 2045 of course, or to be more precise, unavailable.   At first the screens would simply say ‘not available at present – please try later’, then when you made any reference to booze of any description health warnings would appear and then downright refusals to process your request.  People soon learned not to ask anymore.

Apparently like all self-abusers, drinkers were costing both the private and emergency nhs far too much, and treatments were routinely denied them until only a painless euthenase at the end was available.  Like my dad.  That was all he had to look forward to, though of course that never stopped him.  He knew it was killing him, that he would just get sicker and sicker ‘til only euthen-heaven beckoned.  But he kept on chucking the shit down his throat right to the end, stupid old bastard.  And this lot were much the same.  Maybe they drank to numb the pain, to forget.  Maybe they drank to escape the reality and paucity of their own existence.  Or were they just euthenasing in their own pathetic, and I must say a lot slower, way.

All booze production was centrally controlled by then, so it was pretty easy to wean the public off alcohol.  The synth-wines and beer taste pretty good, without getting you inebriated, just an artificially induced light-headedness, that no matter how much you drink never actually gets you roaring drunk.  And it does you no harm at all, that really is progress, and most people prefer that anyway, a safe and controlled way of getting ever-so-mildly pissed.  Besides, if you wanted to get wasted there were far safer drugs available for that, though they have never appealed to me either.  There are drugs for every mood now, uppers and downers, highs and lows, and they really do you no harm at all.  Or so we are told.

But this lot, these escapees deep in their tunnel were real heavy drinkers.  It was the getting pissed they craved, not the taste of the stuff at all.  Actually it tasted so bad they couldn’t be drinking it for the taste of the stuff.  They wanted to be drunk, simple as that, it was this inebriation they needed.  They didn’t want mood-enhancers or safe options.  They were seeking total oblivion, not escape from the system.  If they had still been allowed to drink on the surface they would never have run away.  It is the addiction to alcohol rather than any political statement these guys are making, which keeps them down here.  And they are almost all guys; I only ever saw three women there, all about a hundred years old, so not exactly oldies yet, but they more than looked it.  And drunk as they are, they fuck with everyone too, (they even gave me that come-on look, which of course quite disgusted me).  Think of the diseases guys!!!  And how are you gonna get treated down here?  But they don’t seem to care; it is almost as if they are just waiting for some illness or other to carry them off.  Maybe they are all just waiting for death anyway, the great euthen-heaven in the sky, getting drunk and whiling away the time until the end.  Pissed then passed away – that’s no life.

So, after a few short weeks I knew this life, this community wasn’t for me and it was time to move on.  I talked to Jonathon, one of the more sober drinkers, about it.

“Aye, well I wasn’t sure you would stay anyway laddie, and as I told you when we first made contact we don’t force anyone to stay.”

“Yes, but how can I get out of here?” I asked

“Well, that depends.  I could of course just return you the way we came in, but I suspect that you will not want to return to your old life.  Besides so many questions will be asked that it is far too dangerous, both for you and, more importantly, for us.” He smiled that crooked half-smile of his.  I wondered if he really thought it was worth losing half his facial expression just to carry on drinking a poor substitute for his favourite whisky.

“So, what do I do?”  I asked.

“We can get you out another way, and under cover of darkness, but once away from here, you must never divulge where you have been.  You must simply say that you exited that day at Holborn and that their cameras must be faulty if they failed to track you.  With any luck you will evade them for some time anyway.  That is really up to you, Janek.  And I am not sure, not absolutely sure, you wish to live outside of the system.  But as I said, we cannot force anyone to join us.  We have to trust that you will not betray us.  So far no-one has, and there have been a few before you that have left us.”

“Look; that goes without saying.  I am pretty sure I don’t want to go back, and besides you have said that you are in contact with other groups.  So, by definition there must be lots of other reb groups around.  Surely you can put me in touch with others.”  I asked.

“Far too dangerous I am afraid.  But as you must know there are the lower strata people out there.  They mostly live south of the river and to the East; if I were you, on leaving here, I would try and cross the river and head East.  Eventually I would recommend getting right out of G. L. altogether.  There aren’t so many surv-cams out in the countryside, the system is still being rolled out and you will stand a better chance of evading them the further from here you can get.”

“I wanted to ask you Jonathon, how do I avoid the surv-cams?  How have you avoided them yourself, when out on the tubelines, like the day you met me.”

“Strangely enough my out-dated clothes and long hair tend to make me invisible, or not worth a second scan.  I am obviously a bit of a nutter, and they aren’t really interested in oldies likes me.  You just have to be careful, keep your head down, always look at the floor, wear a hat, and of course the beard will help.  The cameras aren’t quite as sophisticated as everyone thinks.  They aren’t all connected, but most do record, although the images have to be accessed after the fact.  Except in gov or con-glom buildings they cannot actually recognise you there and then, only later if they suspect something.  Another trick is to act as if you are poorly, stumble around a bit, shuffle as you walk.  There are so many lower-strata or unclassified non-persons, especially at night that you will be mistaken for one of those and ignored.”

“So; not such a perfectly controlled world as I imagined?”  I smiled.

“Oh, don’t underestimate them.  That could be your biggest mistake.  But actually their remit only really runs for about seventy percent or so of the population, and they are mostly here in G. L.  Out in what is left of the countryside, the system is still being extended.  Of course, cred will be your biggest problem.  Or the lack of it.  But again there is a lot of barter going on.  We get quite a few of our supplies by bartering our alcohol for clothes and any equipment we might need.  So, while not easy, life is still possible outside of the system.”

“But I thought that you were driven from your hill-farming in, Orkney wasn’t it, by a lack of cred.”

“Yes, that is true.  Because there was no way of selling the wool, except through the con-glom, and when the old village shop finally became absorbed by Tesda, there was nowhere for me to even buy food.  I had to make a choice, become part of the system, or try to exist out of it.  You know the choice I made.”

“So, you think I might have a chance?  Out of here and out of the system?”

“Who am I to say Janek?  Others have managed, and do get by, or so I have heard.  It really depends on what you want?  That has always been the problem, hasn’t it?  What do we, any of us, really want from life?”

“Yeah, I guess you are right Jonathon.  I just couldn’t face another fifty years or so of that existence.  Comfortable as it might have been, it all seemed so pointless.”

“Well, I wish you well son.  Obviously you cannot have your phone or micro-glasses back, they will track you in seconds above ground.  And by the way I hope you do find whatever it is you are looking for.  For me, I am just too old to adapt, and in a funny way I quite like it here.  Even though I know it will be a miracle if we remain undetected forever – for now it will do.”

Reasons Not To Be Cheerful

Thursday 16th July

The Greek deal, or coup as many are calling it.  Although the Greeks may be saved from the chaos of Grexit and will have an immediate (or fairly soon) bailout, their economy may actually be in terminal decline.  So far the limited and partially implemented Austerity measures have signally failed to work; in fact the patient is prostrate on the floor.  The remedy apparently is to force open the mouth, shove in a funnel and force-feed them some more of the medicine whose only result will be to hasten the patient’s complete demise.  Even the IMF, the final arbiter and voice of Conservative policy is now saying that without massive debt write-offs this ‘new’ deal will not work and they are almost refusing to play their part.  Apparently this advice was given to the Euro creditors before they forced through the deal.  We will see how this one ends….

The Benefit Cuts here in the UK.  Well it all seems to make perfect sense doesn’t it?  In order to make work pay they are going to increase minimum wages and reduce benefits.  Except that it is pretty obvious that the last round of benefit cuts may have forced some into very low paid jobs, but not nearly as many as they thought, so as with the Greeks they simply need to increase the medicine.  But it is the young we are really attacking.  The disparity in wealth between those over 65 and those under 30 has never been so wide.  It is harder and harder for young people to get on the housing ladder, women are increasingly having children later in life because they cannot afford them earlier and there is a whole generation of twenty and thirty somethings living with their parents or in expensive rented flats which they will never be able to buy themselves out of or raise a family in.  And now they are even reducing maintenance grants for poorer students and those under 25 will be on lower wages and have no access to housing benefit either.  We know how this one ends….in more poverty.

The Labour Party, caught like a rabbit in the headlights of another election defeat has no idea which way to turn.  Harriet Harman, the temporary leader has said that Labour will not oppose the benefit cuts.  Largely because she knows they will go through anyway, and that if they vote against them the Tories will use this at the next election.  But if you do not stand up and shout that these policies are cruel and that the poorest in society will be paying to reduce the deficit one must ask “What on earth does Labour stand for?”.  And at the next election we may find out where this one ends….

Bastille Day

Wednesday 15th July

Yesterday was Bastille Day, and though the days of the Revolution are long over the French still celebrate the day when the King was overthrown, the Aristocracy put to the guillotine and the Bastille stormed and all the prisoners set free.  In subtle ways the French have never quite been the same since the revolution, they are citizens and not subjects, they elect their head of state, and maybe the authorities are more than a little aware that the French cannot be pushed too far or they might rise up again.

The Bastille day celebrations were held down by the river near the Pont Roman.  Co-incidentally it was also the Tuesday night market so there were two big parties in town on the same night.  The night market was a bit thin though a few people did manage to do both.  We had the Café open but it wasn;t as busy as last week.  At ten I went down to the Pont Roman.  A big stage, a concreted area for dancing and lots of tables, lights strung out, a children’s ride and a huge crowd of I would say mostly French.  The music was traditional and the French were waltzing and dancing, I joined a few friends who had been there all evening.  At eleven there was the obligatory and very expensive firework display.  It was truly spectacular.

We don’t really have an equivalent celebration in Britain, no remembrance at all of the Civil War.  The nearest we have is Bonfire Night, not a bank holiday – and here we remember someone who failed to bring down the Government, we celebrate the burning of the rebel Guy Fawkes, not a successful revolution.

The Sun Makes People Smile

Tuesday 14th July

The sun gives us life, the sun grows our food – and the sun makes us smile.  There is no doubt about it, I see the evidence almost every day.  People are simply happier when the sun shines, and that explains a lot.  Northern Europe with its wet and windy climate produces glum people who struggle against the weather and trudge to work in the rain.  Here in SouthWest France the sun is shining and all you get all day long are smiles.  Smiles from the tourists, who cannot quite believe how beautiful it is here.  Smiles from the local shopkeepers, smiles from the people at Kismet who at first avoided us but now that summer is here and we are all busy cannot help but smile.  Smiles from our friends who cannot quite believe how lucky they are to be living here.  And a smile from myself too.  Not smug but genuinely happy, you look up and there it is – that lucky old sun with nothing to do but roll around heaven all day (and make us all smile).

So, if you are in England and it is drizzling, don’t worry – the sun will shine again – and then remember to smile.  Don’t take too long thinking about it because it won’t last long as you well know.  Now see what you have done, allowed an element of smugness to pervade this happy little post.


G – is for Gallagher and Lyle

Monday 13th July

They came from Scotland and I first discovered them as part of McGuinness-Flint, a four-piece band who had two hit singles, both written by Gallagher and Lyle – “Malt and Barley Blues” and “When I’m Dead and Gone.”  The band broke up after two albums and Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle became a duo.  They had a string of albums in the seventies and many hit singles becoming gradually more and more mainstream.  But eventually the treadmill of writing, recording, promoting and touring took its toll and after about ten years they split up and became session players and quite successful songwriters.  They have been inactive for a long while now, which seems a great pity.

They were a very British band, singing a mixture of soft rock and folk.  Beautiful voices and talented musicians, they had it all, but it is the quality of the songs that is most enduring.  From early efforts like ‘Mrs Canatelli’ or ‘Willie’ to chart-toppers like ‘Breakaway’ or ‘Heart on my Sleeve’ they had an enduring and immaculate quality almost unmatched by their contemporaries.  They backed Rod Stewart on ‘Maggie May’ and were often on Top of the Pops, a welcome change from the Glam-Rock and Punk bands of the Seventies.  Their albums are now much sought after, especially on CD and fetch well above £80.00 for some of the early records.  I keep watching Amazon and e-bay but rarely find a bargain, one day I will buy them all again at whatever cost.  Some things are priceless, and Gallagher and Lyle’s brand of gentle English songs are so unique and beautiful that I will eventually own them all.  Their Greatest Hits is well worth a look, but chances are you may want to hear more…


The Best Of Gallagher & Lyle

A Greek Deal?

Sunday 12th July

Well the roller-coaster ride is almost over and the car seems to have just avoided coming off the rails, whether it will glide to a smooth halt or continue for a few more loops is still debatable.  I think we are at the stage where everyone just wants to save face.  No-one wants Greece to exit the Euro because it will not only destabilize the whole Eurozone and no-one knows where that will end, but also the fear of contagion or rather the unraveling of the Eurozone is strong.  It is quite possible that whichever way the Greeks go then sooner or later others may follow.

The Creditors are still insisting that the Greek debts must be repaid, or most of them; because otherwise Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland will want to renegotiate their own large debts.  But on top of all of this the situation is simply getting worse and worse.  The Greek banks (nothing to do with the Greek people and all to do with reckless lending in former years) are in real trouble and by next week will run out of money.  There is a burgeoning humanitarian crisis looming unless the banks are rescued; many Greek people will lose all their savings and the rest of Europe will be forced to help them.  It will probably be cheaper to lend them some more money now.

And it doesn’t end there, almost every country in Europe and of course America has huge debts.  If a country, even a small one like Greece, defaults and in effect devalues their currency and writes off huge chunks of their debt then others may follow.  Or be forced to; there is no shortage of Financial dealers prepared to screw a whole country as long as there is a profit in it.  We could even be facing another global financial crisis, because all we did after the last one was to shore up the banks and borrow more money.  So a Greek deal is in everyone’s interest, it is just that no-one wants to admit defeat and this will probably go to and maybe even beyond the wire.  And what no-one has really thought about is the Greek people, who, if this deal is not done, may well have had enough.  They have nothing left to lose and not only civil unrest but a full-blown revolution could be just down the line.  You can only push people so far.  What foolish commentator said that with the fall of the Soviet Union history was over.