How I dislike Halloween

Wednesday 31st October

Even though we may be saddened at the impact of Hurricane Sandy and the suffering of the American people at the moment, we need not be over sentimental about some of their less wonderful exports.  Where as a child we celebrated, if celebrated is the correct word, the demise of one Guido Fawkes; a possible Catholic spy, but undoubtedly by the mores of the seventeenth century a traitor, (although today he might be held in the same sort of esteem as one Julian Assange) we now find ourselves subsumed in an American export ‘Halloween’.   In the same way that I regret that our own children now know nothing about the Gunpowder plot, or the Civil War, the Restoration and indeed the whole of our history which has brought us to today, The Americans seem to have forgotten their own brutal history, especially where witches and the church were concerned.  Rather than celebrating witches they were hunted down, denounced and burned.  Now the whole event resembles a Michael Jackson video with people in skeleton costumes and pointy hats and ghoulish make-up pretending to be ‘evil’ for one night only.  The old festival of ‘All Souls’ was to ward off the devil and his handmaidens, not to worship them.

And the idea of rewarding little children with sweets, or suffer a ‘trick’ to be played on one is, the more one thinks of it, quite bizarre.

But there is no stopping the thing, it is so commercial nowadays and the kids all want to be a part of it. Now rather than once I would tell them to go away, ‘We are not American here’  I simply smile and hand out a modest sweet ration, at least to the first few door-knockers.  Happy Halloween, and even happier Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night.

Sunshine and Frost

Tuesday 30th October

It has been very sunny, but cold, here.  In fact last night the temperature, though a quite respectable 15 or 16 in mid afternoon, fell away spectacularly as night fell.  I woke at seven and by eight was out with the dogs. I thought I had spotted a bit of frost on the garage roof, but wasn’t certain.  The air was cold, crisp, very still and clear.  And down by the river the water meadows were covered with white frost and the river was sending up gentle clouds of steamy water vapour that swirled around in the warm sunlight.  It was like a Christmas card sparkling in the gentle morning sunshine.

It was a magical combination, and one seemingly rarer and rarer in England where it never seems to stop raining for long enough for one to witness anything as spectacular as this.

Then as the morning warmed up it turned into another lovely sunny, if not quite warm day.  It was market day in Duras, high on the hill, and we wandered among the early morning stalls selling wine and produce and cakes and flowers.  As it was still cold we both bought warm hats and then had coffee in a traditional little French bar, full of local farmers and Frenchmen in berets and a woman teaching her young daughter to read, and one or two market traders coming in blowing their hands with the cold.  And we felt a real part of the scene, most of the summer tourists long gone, we felt almost French.  We came out as the sun was burning off the last of the frost on the fields spread out like a patchwork quilt below us.  The day, clear as a bell and bright and sunny, beckoned.

Beware – Leaping Deer

Monday 29th October

For years we have always joked whenever we saw the prettiest roadsign, the one with the leaping deer.  And whether in England, Wales or anywhere in France we have driven through mile after mile of forest and woodland with nary a sign of deer, nibbling the shoots of trees, standing still, or even rutting let alone leaping.  Yet today on the way to Marmande, just outside Miramont we saw two leaping deer.  There were a few copses around but it was mostly open and sloping fields.  We were the only car on the road and there was absolutely no sign for leaping deer along this particular stretch of road.  You are never really prepared for these things when they happen, but this time we were both looking ahead and at exactly the same moment we saw them, two deer – muntjack or roe probably, as they weren’t much  taller than a full-grown sheep – running, or actually careening down the sloping field to our left. We slowed the car a bit and stared amazed as they leapt in two or three bounds across the road not twenty feet ahead of us and continued running to our right until they disappeared into a small copse of trees.  What a wonderful sight.

We were on our way to the Bay of Arcachon, a huge expanse of the Atlantic almost completely encircled by land just to the south of Bordeaux.  We drove along the South side, which was full of delightful villa’s and small towns. Marinas and restaurants and mud flats and islands all the way to Arcachon itself which stands at the southern point of the pincers almost closing the bay off from the huge Atlantic Ocean.  We could see Cap Ferrat opposite in the clear cold sunny air, a lovely sight.

Then we drove down the coast then inland to ‘Etang de Cazaux et du Sanguinet’, one of four huge inland lakes that dot the coast of Les Landes.  Spectacularly beautiful.  What a lovely day.

All I’ve done is sleep

Sunday 28th October

Well not quite, of course.  There was a fair bit of unloading the car and putting up pictures and that sort of thing.  Then we did a bit of shopping and came home and I had a sleep.  Walking the dogs in the afternoon and I came back and yet again fell asleep.  Then a nice meal at the Italian in the square and to tell the truth I could hardly keep my eyes open.  Back home and I wasn’t long in crawling to my bed.

The weather here is sunny but very cold, a harsh wind blowing in from somewhere but I wish it has stayed where it was.  At least we have left the rain and drizzle behind us.  My cold seems to be getting worse too.  Oh well, if I feel bad I can always go back to bed.

As a certain Bishp might once have said “Apologies for the short one today, my dear”

Il Pleut

Saturday 27th October

Well as expected the weather, in Northern France at least, was much the same as in Britain.  A steady persistent drizzle that occasionally broke out into a squally windy shower.  It wasn’t until south of Tours and the Loire that it started to both dry up and get a bit warmer.  The temperature was 8.5 in Calais and ended up at 15 in Eymet, though it would be midnight by the time we arrived.

A long long journey, about seventeen hours door to door, though we did stop twice for a sleep and once for a meal and numerous times for a pee and a coffee.  You learn very quickly to put up with the tiny cups that purport to be Grande Café Au Lait, when in fact they are nothing more than espresso with a hint of milk.  One time though I hit gold, at one service station the automatic coffee machine had a selection of Cappucino’s.  I wasn’t really expecting a Cappucino, but I thought it might be a bit milkier; there were several flavours and all for 1.20 euro’s.  Without really thinking I pressed Noisette, and received a big cup, well it still would have been small in England, of the most delicious creamy caramelly coffee I have ever had in France.  It was delicious.

I was uncubating a cold all the way which has now blossomed into a full scale blocked nose, sore throat jobbie.  I get them every year and I think it is the tube to blame.  I travel every day at least twice on them, they are crowded and pretty unhygienic, and I am sure full of germs.  Anyway I am up quite early this morning despite not getting to bed until nearly one French time, Midnight English, at seven French and six English.

It is raining and my nose is running. Il pleut, but I am glad to be back home.

Last day of work for 9 days

Friday 26th October

Yes, it’s true.  I am having another week off work.  I really hope my boss is not one of the twenty or so souls who deign to occasionally read this stuff, as this is my fifth week of hols with one more at Christmas to come, when I am only officially allowed four.  Not that it costs him a penny when I go away.  Nobody touches my work, there is no paid temp, no-one even shifted over from other duties.  If I do not do my work, I have to do it.  In any case I have asked him to e-mail me some work ‘in case I get bored’, and to satisfy my own      very slightly guilty conscience.

But as usual a strangely febrile and skittish mood infects me when the finishing line is in sight.  No more plodding round the treadmill, my feet literally skip along the pavement as I knock down the days and the tasks until it is time for me to go.

So, tomorrow (today for you lot) we will set out at seven, sandwiches packed, car full to overflowing, dogs excited – because with all the packing they have known for a week we are going somewhere, and head for Folkestone and the Chunnel, and by just after nine we will emerge into – well knowing the Pas de Calais, probably much the same drizzle and gloom we leave behind us.  But whoopee we will be back in France.  And now of course, with mobile phones and e-mails you are never that far away, the physical presence of that body of water lets you feel you are out of reach for a few days at least.  See you soon.

So, what are we waiting for?

Thursday 25th October

Just exactly what are we waiting for?  Will somebody tell me please, because I really don’t know.  We have all surely by now given up on the idea of any sort of miracle, and rebound, any sudden and inexplicable reversal of fortunes.  The future may be Orange, but if it is it is a pretty dull orange at that.

More of the same is about all we can hope for I am afraid.  The West, and especially Europe is bust, or very nearly and a slow decline is the best we can expect.  The last surge of wealth came from the rebuilding after the war, which included German re-unification and all of the formerly Soviet bloc finally emerging into the twentieth century.  Along with the incredible rise of debt; personal, corporate and national over the last thirty years or so, and now what do we have.  Most of our industries have either been exported to the Far East, or they do it better over there anyway, so our few remaining cannot complete anyway. Our banking industry is still recovering from the financial crash of 2008, and what with new Government regulations and Basel III, will probably never be able to make anything like the returns it has since the eighties. And what does that leave – Tourism, I suppose.

The decline in Britain’s fortunes that started just before the First World War, has resumed.  The whole post war boom has finally fizzled out, and we may never see its’ like again.  But we shouldn’t be surprised or upset about this really.  It is called macro-economics, and is inevitable.  Larger countries with more natural resources will do better in the long run.  The real problem is our politicians who promise us that their policies will return us to the glory days.  They raise our expectations.  What they should be doing is creating a sustainable long-term future where we may not get any richer, but no poorer either, where the spoils, more limited than we might have gotten used to, are at least shared more equitably and that we learn to live harmoniously with each other.  Fat chance of that though.

The BBC is soul searching again – who cares?

Wednesday 24th October

Really, what is the matter with the Beeb.  Every so often it starts a process of soul-searching, scratching over the scabs and letting the blood run free, and even questioning its own existence.  Even more than the press itself, which needed to examine itself after the Phone-Hacking saga, the Beeb seems to feel the need for public expiation and are not happy until heads and then higher up heads and even higher up heads roll.  Who knew what and where did the buck stop and why was nothing done will continue until the organisation itself is almost ripped apart, new guidelines will be instigated until the ‘public’ are somehow supposed to be reassured that the soul of the BBC is pure again.

It happened over the dodgy dossier, which was not only dodgy but complete drivel, and it is happening again over Jimmy Saville.  He must be laughing in his grave to think he is still being talked about and remembered, if for all the wrong reasons of course.  And so what.  I mean what is it all for?  So, someone, and honestly I couldn’t care less who, had a word with someone else who nodded to someone else who winked at someone else and in the mysterious non-attributable way these things are done the original investigation by Newsnight was pulled.  I am sure there have been worse crimes – Jimmy Saville’s for starters.  It must happen all the time, and we shouldn’t be surprised by it.  And at the end of the day the truth, or what will become the accepted version of the truth will emerge, and we will all tut-tut and shake our heads and then forget all about it, until Jimmy’s name crops up every so often and we can congratulate ourselves on remembering what a pervert he was.  And in the meantime, amidst the rending of torn sackcloth and the chastising with cat-o-nine tails, good men will lose their jobs because of one stupid mistake.  And what none of the staff at the BBC realises is that nobody cares. So stop it now, and get on with entertaining, educating and occasionally enlightening us; you’re really quite good at it you know.      

The weather’s grim – the mood is grimmer

Wednesday 23rd October

It may or may not have stopped raining, one can never be sure and leaving the house without an umbrella is a futile exercise at best.  The ground is soaking, super-saturated and barely able to absorb another inevitable downpour.  There is a dense grey mist hanging over everything, you are wading through muddy curtains of mist.  You certainly cannot see the Himalayas, or even the rolling meadows let alone the foothills themselves.  It is still dark at seven and dark again at five, and the wet and dank just add to the gloom.  Your shoes have only just dried out from yesterday as you resolutely tie the laces and prepare for today’s sodden challenge.

But worse than this is the nation’s mood itself.   Images of smiling Olympian and Paralympian athletes holding up medals and beaming sunshine back at us have been replaced by missing children and drivers on the rampage using their cars as lethal weapons, mowing down innocent pedestrians in their rage.  The football is panning out as inevitably as ever with the usual suspects winning and winning, proving that money talks and buying a new squad each year is the surest way to success.  And even here in escapist football we are witness to the worst sort of mindless thuggery from the seventies and eighties.  A so-called fan runs onto the pitch and attacks the perplexed goalie of the opposition.  If you cannot win on the pitch then at least try to take out one of their players.  For me the worst aspect was the congratulatory hugs and backslaps he received on returning triumphant to the stands.

As true a picture of the nation’s mood as the weather I am afraid.

Why he had to go?

Monday 22nd October

Why did Andrew Mitchell have to go?  Was it because of the persistent drip-drip of pressure from Labour and the police, who just wouldn’t let the matter drop?  Was it because he had lost the respect of his fellow MPs, especially as he was the Chief Whip – the very person who had by force of his personality to discipline, corrall and persuade renegade MPs to constantly vote against things they believe in?  Was it because he finally lost the support of the prime minister?  Because despite the nonsense of the publication of the resignation letter and the PM’s reply it is always the Prime Minister who decides when a minister has to resign, and the way it is to be done, and most probably the actual wording.

This was the story that refused to go away, and really it was a story about nothing.  It was the constant denial of Andrew Mitchell and his refusal to say exactly what words he had actually said that kept the story alive.  Also the timing; he was appointed at the dog end of the parliamentary session and had had no chance to actually act as Chief Whip, to show his mettle which after the unfortunate incident itself might have at least given him some credibility.  This followed by the whisper machines that Party Conferences have become, where the lack of any real policies, the party faithful are gathered and have nothing to talk about except the latest scandal, and no scandals come any juicer than one’s own.  The story kept resurfacing, or rather refused to sink.

Then at last week’s prime minister’s questions Milliband raised it again, and forced Cameron to once again defend the indefensible.  The icing on the cake may have been Labour’s decision to devote their upcoming debate day to ‘The Police’, meaning an inevitable further week of ‘Plebgate’.

But maybe even this was not the deciding factor.  Was it actually the fact that Osborne, the serial old Etonian fare-dodger was in danger of yet again being portrayed as a toff, that tipped the scales, and Mitchell was forced to write that fateful letter?  We may never know, but it was certainly fun while it lasted.

Andrew Mitchell