And already September is over

Sunday 30th September

I used to feel that the weeks flew past – before I knew where I was it would be bin-day again, or worse, that Monday morning feeling.  But just lately it is the months spinning by in a whirl.  September has come and gone so quickly and I have no doubts that October will fly past too.  Why is this?  Because everyone you talk to seems to feel the same way. A few days ago it was my oldest grandchild’s seventeenth birthday, when only a few years ago she was a little girl.  I can still remember as if it were yesterday that unique thrill of seeing her for the first time as a baby.  And now she is all grown up, and all too fast.  The three baby grandchildren that were born only a year ago, are now all walking and trying to talk, and before I know it they too will be at school and then no doubt leaving school too.  It isn’t that I feel old – in many ways I am the same silly teenager rushing headlong into life that I used to be.  But I am becoming more and more aware of my own mortality.  Not that I am morbid, but there is a growing realization that my days are numbered.  Although the reality is that I could die tomorrow or live another thirty  years, but it will likely be twenty or so.

And I find that I really have to struggle to even remember what I did this September.  Went to France one weekend and to Walton, and here to Wales, so quite a good month really.  More and more though I find that nothing really matters; I seem to have no ambition, nor real desires, no burning need to achieve.  Work is more and more meaningless and tedious.  I read books but often cannot remember much about them when I have finished them.  I watch the news but again it all goes in one ear and out the other.  I used to be passionate about politics, and even four years ago I was desperate for Obama to win.  I still want him to, but only because he is the lesser of two evils.  And I am reminded that it was four whole years ago I was glued to the news every night as first the battle between Obama and Hilary and then the Bush Obama showdown totally enthralled me,

Oh well, October tomorrow – let’s see what it brings, and whether come November we will remember it at all.

Hacking Back the Ferns

Saturday 29th September

We are back in Wales, after nearly four months and the Day of the Triffids has come and long since gone. The ferns have taken over and are now towering menacingly six feet high and bashing their fronds against the windows of the house.  So I went out and hacked them back for about four hours. Intermingled with the ferns and far more deadly were hordes of silent stinging nettles, which despite a thick pair of leather gloves managed to sting me repeatedly.  But though exhausted, I feel strangely elated.  I work all day indoors hunched over a little screen thinking about numbers, which at the end of the day, and even before breakfast mean absolutely diddly-squat in the great scheme of life.  so, to be out in the open air, doing physical labour is quite refreshing.

And though the day started dull with squally rain, the sun came out and it was a glorious if slightly chilly late September day.  I really do have to ask myself just why I am wasting my life away working on wretched numbers. But numbers, of course, make the world go round.  And unlike the dogs, asleep on the sofa, safe in the knowledge that food will appear twice a day for them come rain or shine, we cannot seem to exist without our numbers.

Tomorrow I go beyond the fence to face again the eternal enemy in a vain attempt to drive them back even further.  And next September they will have returned stronger than ever I am sure.

D is for Dylan – Folkie to RockPoet

Friday 28th September

I was 11 when Dylan cut his first record, so I was unaware of him until the singles ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ came along. He was though, for me, just one of so many on the exploding mid-sixties scene.  He must have made some lasting impression though, as one of the first LP’s I ever bought was ‘Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits’ in 1970.  I played the thing to death, and then slowly worked my way back through ‘Blonde on Blonde’ to ‘The Freewheelin’ and his debut album.  So in a strange way I retraced his journey from Rock-Poet back to Folkie.  I don’t actually buy all that betrayal stuff, how he let down the protest movement.  Dylan’s albums have always had a mix of political or external issues and personal love songs.  And there was no sudden move into rock’n’roll, it was far more gradual, and he like everyone else was being influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds and the whole shift into more electric sounds throughout the sixties.

But over and above the voice, that whining, sometimes sneering, sometimes beautifully wooing voice were the songs themselves.  At first, like almost everyone else I was dazzled by the poetry, the fantastic lines, the mix of hip street language and strange psychedelic images ‘Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule’ or ‘like a raven with a broken wing’ or ‘in that jingle-jangle morning I’ll come following you’.  Or the great anthems ‘With God on Our Side’ ‘The Times They Are A Changin’. Or ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.’  But more and more over time I have come to realise what a great musician he was, what fabulous melodies he conjured up.

This first flowering of bewildering talent and the torrent of albums, seven in just four years (and one of those a double) was like a crazy motorcycle ride into the dark.  The crash came in late 1966 when Dylan, after what may or may not have been a serious tumble from his motorbike, decided to climb off the star-maker machine and take some time out.  He would never again achieve quite this momentum or prodigious output.  Maybe he didn’t want to.  But what was to follow was still brilliant.  To be continued…..

The rain just makes everything seem worse

Thursday 27th September

Where has that Olympic feel-good factor gone?  Has all that excitement we felt, that pride in ourselves; that sense of achievement as a country completely dissipated.  And where, oh where has the sun gone.

We have had a pretty rotten summer weather-wise.  Far too much rain, far too little sunshine, far too much doom and gloom.  And strangely the little decent weather we did have seemed to coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic festival.  Just as our spirits were being lifted by sporting success and achievement, so too the sun made a brief appearance, lifting the skirts of drizzle just enough for us to bask in its warmth.  The news too was dominated by the remarkable successes and bravery of the Olympians.  All that talk of negative growth and euro-zone crisis didn’t get a look in.  And even politics itself took a backseat, a few smiling pictures of our leaders enjoying the games, and the seeming inexorable rise of Boris only made us smile.

Now, with the conference season upon us, it is back to grim reality, and talk of even more cuts, and more years of, or dare we even whisper it, perpetual austerity.  Nowhere does there seem any glimmer of hope or sunshine.  And undoubtedly the cold and wet, the dragging out of the outer coats, the unfurling of umbrellas, the cold wet pavements and the dark mornings only add to the gloom.

Sorry seems to be the easiest word

Wednesday 26th September

For Nick Clegg at least, and to be fair to him, his acceptance of the YouTube parody of his apology has been quite gracious.

But just what was Nick apologizing for.  If you listen carefully he is not apologizing for the policy he once espoused of no increase in student tuition fees, he is not apologizing for the new policy he has helped implement in the Coalition of trebling those same fees, he is not apologizing for putting the original policy in the LibDem manifesto of 2010, he is not even apologizing for changing his mind or for cynically winning the votes of lots of students who voted LibDem purely on his promise of not increasing the fees.  What he, apparently, is apologizing for is making a pledge that he couldn’t carry out when in Government.

But this is, upon examination, more than a bit generous with the truth.  He must have known before the election, unless he believed his own rhetoric, that barring a miracle he would not actually win the thing.  Therefore he knew that if he had any chance of being in Government at all it would be as part of a coalition.  He also knew that this was far more likely to be with the Tories than with Labour, even though traditionally his party has been to the left of Labour on many issues.  He also knew that he would, when negotiations began, if he was indeed in the lucky position of being part of a coalition at all, be able to state his ‘red lines’ – that is those things which must be sacred and which his party would not compromise on.

Apparently then, either his team were poor negotiators, or they did not decide that the only thing they had made a cast-iron pledge on was important enough to have made a stand on.  Despite the pitiful hand-wringing and ‘heartfelt’ apologies everything in politics is down to choices.  And when it came to it, they chose not to honour their pledge.  The money could have been found from somewhere else, some other cut or tax, had they stood by their word, and simply refused to allow the Tories to increase the fees.

Nick Clegg at the Lib Dem conference

Earth Mother by Leslie Duncan

Tuesday 25th September

Maybe I dismissed the myriad D’s too swiftly.  I almost forgot the remarkable Lesley Duncan, a backing singer who became a singer, songwriter in her own right.  Elton John recorded her song ‘Love Song’ for his ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ album where she duetted with him.  At the time she had her own album out ‘Sing Children Sing’, which barely caused a ripple with the record-buying public but it was with the LP ‘Earth Mother’ that she really found her voice and style.  The title song is a warning about the dangers of environmental destruction, a common theme now, but back in the early seventies this was almost unheard of.  Chris Spedding played guitar and gave her songs a sharp edginess which her voice managed to smooth out beautifully.   There is also a song about how the record business works – ‘Fortieth Floor’, plus a few lovely love songs.  The album has an honesty which is quite typical of early seventies albums, which you don’t tend to hear so much today.   Back then artists weren’t so aware of their careers, most simply loved making music.

Lesley never achieved fame or even much critical acclaim in her lifetome and she died in 2010.  But though a few of her albums were re-released on CD in the early years of this century they have suddenly become much sought after and on Amazon are selling for over a hundred pounds.  So there must be some demand out there.  Maybe she is one of those rare artists that though no-one has heard of them and they never really made it in their lifetime, they have a strange after-life.

I simply know that Earth Mother is one of my very favourite albums of all time, and if I were ever to lose my CD copy I would happily pay the Amazon price for a new copy.

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Time seems to go slower here

Monday 24th September

I am sure that it is some sort of an illusion, a trick the brain plays on itself, but time itself seems to move slower here.  During the working week I am always hurrying, scurrying here and there – there never seems a moment of quiet. I usually go to Walton-on-the-Naze at weekends, and although the hour and a half journey can seem particularly tedious, the time seems to go quite quickly there too.  London, of course, runs on its own time.  It is almost impossible to amble along London streets, and there is a momentum in the crowds on the Underground that forbids tarrying too long.  And you just get swept up with it.  But here, in France, and particularly this long weekend has unwound so slowly.  I keep glancing at my watch and thinking, surely it must have been longer than ten minutes since I last looked at you.  Perhaps it is the close vicinity of the town; it is literally less than five minutes to the square, or the river, or one of the bars that you are back home almost before you set out.  Perhaps it is also to do with the time difference.  Our TV has a UK Sky box with freeview, so you keep getting caught out; switching on to see the football results at 4.45 on Saturday to discover that it is still 3.45 in the UK.  So you are also thinking in two time zones, which can be a bit disconcerting to say the least.

But none of that begins to explain the languid atmosphere that has overtaken me these few days.  I have just been out for a walk along the river, and I thought I had walked for ages, but it was only a half hour and I was back home.  There was hardly a soul about, just a few ducks gently swimming on the water. And it was really idyllic, the trees not yet affected by Autumn winds were still in full leaf, and hung right over the river in places.  One always forgets how vast France is, they have so much land, and a smaller population than us, so there seems to be much more left to nature.

As I said maybe it is all an illusion, but one I am prepared to enjoy as often as possible.

Sitting outside the Café de Paris

Sunday 23rd September

It isn’t so warm today, but not so cold either – just pleasant, if no real sunshine.  I am sitting outside the Café de Paris simply watching the world go by.  A glass of Hoegarden on the table beside me; I don’t really need a drink, but you can hardly sit here with nothing.  On reflection I should have maybe asked for a ‘jus d’orange’.  Life in Eymet seems so much more relaxed than in England.  Everyone isn’t shopping for a start, in fact apart from market day you hardly see anyone shopping.  Quite often you can wander around a supermarket and be quite on your own.  French familes are out for a casual stroll and middle-aged English couples pass by too, taking in the beautiful old buildings and the square, which apart from allowing cars in, probably hasn’t changed that much in a couple of hundred years.  I can see the church, which though only 19th Century seems to fit in, and the ruins of the old castle which are at least from the 1200’s, as is much of the town too.  Almost all the buildings are that slightly yellow stone colour of southern France, with touches of dark and lighter grey, and occasional outcroppings of stone or pale brickwork.  And the old timbers are unpainted and a pale wood colour, unlike the black painted beams you find in England, as if they have just been spruced up for the tourists ‘And here we see a typical Tudor house.’

No-one seems to care especially about preserving the past here, but are content to live inside it, without changing very much at all.  So it doesn’t have that stilted chocolate box glow about it, but rather a dusty dowdy slightly faded look that just fits on beautifully with the landscape.  Occasionally a car will pass by the church, or more likely a scooter, and the pub’s TV showing French rugby is a constant reminder that we are not in some time warp.

But I know if I come back in a month’s time or next year or even a few years time it will still be much the same.  The church, the ruined castle, the river just down the road and the Café de Paris still open with those small round tables and chairs outside.  I just hope I will still be there too.

Back in France – Still Lovely

Saturday 22nd September

Just popped over for a long weekend, which was so easy.  About four hours door to door, and not too expensive either; which is an issue to be confronted if our politicians ever become serious about the environment and the amount of pollution that air travel causes.  Ironically, George Bush of all people came up with the solution, though for all the wrong reasons.  He simply did not want to confront the issue and said that we didn’t have to worry because ‘Technology will find a solution’.  However without political pressure the technology will not be implemented or perfected.  I have long thought that Tony Blair missed a real opportunity on being elected in 1997, and with such a big majority.  He could simply have insisted that car manufacturers have say, 15 years to significantly reduce petrol consumption or not be able to sell their new models in the U.K.  Airplane makers could have maybe been given 25 years.  Instead they did nothing, insisting that a Europe wide approach was the way forward.  Well, we haven’t come very far forwards at all, as far as I can see.

But it is lovely to be back here in France again, and the weather, though not quite as warm as it was, is still very sunny and much better than in England at the moment. I was painting (windows – not canvases, sadly) this morning and will be doing some writing this afternoon. As usual, the French opening hours are as confusing as ever.  Half the shops are shut and you really have no way of telling if it is the wrong time of day or if they are shut all day.  The ‘Heures d’Ouvert’ on the door bear little resemblance to what is actually happening.

And I have just been for a little walk down by the river Dropt, enjoying the late summer sunshine, and the totally relaxed atmosphere of our second home.  A pity I have to go back on Sunday, but then just a month until we are here for a week.

The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

Friday 21st September

I bought this book by mistake.  Actually just in the wrong order; I mistakenly thought that this was the second book in the Kurt Wallander series, but it is in fact the last to be written.  None of which diminishes from its brilliance.  Kurt is now in his early sixties, and on his own and miserable as ever, and he is constantly re-assessing his life, his career and his relationships with his colleagues and his daughter.  The story is brilliant too, with quite a few twists and turns.  But as usual it is the descriptions of simple things such as the food Kurt eats, his dreams and of course, the Swedish landscape that make it so readable.  I was hooked early on and read it at every opportunity, only to feel bereft and at a loss as the percentage on the kindle finally got to 99%.  By the way, it never gets to 100% even on the last page, which may or may not intrigue you.  It is never quite the same feeling as the physical book in your hand, as you occasionally turn it on it’s side to see how much you have read and how much still to go.

I won’t tell you any more about the story except to say that it involves people very close to Kurt, and the roots of the story go way back into the cold war itself, and throws a different light onto Sweden’s relationship with both Russia and America, as they were supposed to be neutral at the time.  The book really makes you think, about the world, politics, ageing and the personal politics of betrayal and familial love.

A really great read – and I now have to go back and find out which book was actually the second in the series and buy and read that.  Eight out of ten I would say.