Normal Service Resumed – almost

Wednesday 31stJuly

Well I am back in harness, back at work, back in London – and normal service has been resumed.  Almost.  Because despite the drizzly weather, there is the hope of sunshine this summer; it feels as if this warm summer rain is just a temporary hiatus until the sun comes back out.   Still it s a strange sight, people in obviously summer clothes; girls in the shortest of short shorts, tight tops, guys in just shirt and slacks or jeans and T-shirt, looking up and covering their heads with a copy of Metro, or maybe a small fold-able umbrella from the bottom of their handbags.

The tube was as crowded as ever.  One wonders if when Cross-rail ever opens (it has been years in the talking about, planning, and now tunneling) it will bring some relief, or act like a sponge and simply drag more people into London.  Just as I am planning to leave.

If anything this little trip, more than any other has convinced me that I must start my retirement planning in earnest.  This, by the way, is my first week of three day week working.  It was quite strange booting up the lap-top on Monday night, and seeing the flood of Monday morning e-mails, most for Murano, which I have dropped now, but quite a few for my remaining clients.

So, for two weeks normal service is resumed.  But not quite – the house is quiet, deathly quiet really; at least I can watch what I want on the telly.  Strange how soon in a relationship control of the remote is settled in one partners hands.  But actually even though I am working it will be only three days, then a long weekend of hopefully some decent writing, and then three days work and out to France again.

It isn’t such a bad life really.


Airport Departure Lounges

Tuesday 30thJuly

Well.just a short visit this time. Four days in all, but very good.  The weather was hot and sunny, and even yesterday; overcast with occasional showers was still bright warm and sunny in between.  Lots done, put up the IKEA chest of drawers in the garden room, painted most of front window and outside the front door, erected the swimming pool.  Yes, we now have a swimming pool.  Well, it is 8 foot in diameter and 21 inches deep, but still very relaxing and cooling.  Hopefully it will be as easy to empty and dismantle in five weeks time.  I will be back out twice more this summer; in nine days with my parents, and then at the end of August for eight days.

But sitting in the airport departure lounge is always a tad depressing.  Not only leaving the sunshine behind, but the dogs and the house too.  And France of course; the most irritating and yet wonderful country.  The only relative I can be certain of was Great Grandma Allard, and the Allards are supposed to have come from France, so I like to think I am returning to my roots, though in reality we are all so mixed-up that very few people, especially in Europe, can be sure where they came from originally.

But aren’t airport departure lounges depressing places.  Stanstead with its duty-free shops, food outlets and endless opportunities for boredom relief, which in their turn become even more boring; Bergerac, which is little more than a tin shed has a couple of vending machines and nothing else; I am not sure which is more depressing.  So lock yourself into your MP3 player, write your blog and wait.  That’s all you can do.

The State of the Art – by Iain M. Banks

Monday 29thJuly

Iain Banks died earlier this year from cancer.  A great loss to writing, and I have decided to read the very few books I had missed earlier.  Ever since ‘The Wasp Factory’, and his first science fiction book ‘Consider Phlebas’ I have read most of his almost annual offerings.  One I missed was ‘The State of the Art’, which is one longish novella and a collection of shorter stories.

Well, I can see straight away why this was never a great Culture novel.  It is a pretty thin story, although a great idea.  The Culture discover Earth in the late Twentieth Century and have to decide what to do – intervene, silently observe or ignore.  A bit too much philosophical argument makes the book a bit boring.  Also nothing much happens, surprisingly for Banks.  And the whole tone of the story is one of rue-full reflection.  Enjoyable in places, but on the whole a bit of a failure.   Only one other of his stories have I not really liked; 2009’s ‘Transition’.   Which consdidering he has published almost thirty books is pretty good going.

And even here, although not his best Culture story, by far, I am glad I read it.

The State of the Art

Things that go BANG in the night

Sunday 28thJuly

It is hot in Eymet.  And if you think it is hot in London, think again – it is really hot in Eymet.  Especially at night.  I arrived on Friday, landing about six in the evening and it was really warm. It must have been over 30C and stayed that way till late in the evening.  We went to Gambetta for dinner and live music; a rather eccentric jazzy lady singer who played double bass and cello, not quite at the same time, but recording her rhythm section live then playing it back and playing over with cello.  Very clever and I really liked her.  Home about eleven and I was tired so I had a shower and lay on top of the bed-clothes and dried off ‘au naturel’.

Maybe it was a bit too much alcohol, maybe the heat, but I slept fitfully.  I was woken at three in the morning by voices, seeming to come from just outside my window, male voices speaking in loud French.  A lot of shouting, happy sounding.  Then footsteps running past.  A car starting and driving away.  Another car – key turning the engine, whirring whirring electric motor spinning but no ignition.  Stops. Starts again, whirring whirring but no ignition.  Then a bang, then an almighty BANG.

I honestly thought it was kids letting off fireworks, I could even smell the smoke.  But wide-awake now it was smoke.  I looked out of the open window and a few yards away in the cow-shed car-park a car was alight.  We were parked at the other end, so we rushed into clothes and moved it.  The fire brigade were dousing the car, but it managed to catch the cars either side.

Commotion, neighbours all out on the street, gendarmes, fire-men.  Then the fire was out and we all went back to our homes and beds.

To a petulant sleep, hopefully undisturbed by things that go BANG in the night.

Flying, safe or not

Saturday 27thJuly

Yesterday I flew in to Bergerac again.  Actually of course I am writing this before flying on Friday so I am hopefully that the flight was safe.  Indeed we all assume nowadays that all mass transit systems are safe.  And rightly so.  Despite the awful train crash in Spain where so many have died, and the occasionally reported plane crash these ways of travelling have never been safer.

As actually all travel is.  Cars are infinitely safer than they ever used to be, and one of the unsung achievements of the Labour government was the safety systems they forced on the Rail companies, which have made train travel so much safer.  And trains not crashing are never news.

But it still does cross your mind.  I have never been scared of travelling by train or plane, but occasionally have had a scare in a car.  And there is a dichotomy here.  More and more people are travelling, on all forms of transport.  And yet we expect there to be less and less accidents.  And we also want to go faster and faster.  High speed trains are just one example of this, and of course the train in Spain was a high-speed train.  It is not known yet whether there was some mechanical or systems failure on that train, or whether for whatever reason the driver was simply driving far too fast.

And maybe this will always be the case.  One wonders if computerization will be the answer.  The DLR, which I travel on every day, is driver-less – and very safe.  So far.  But I wonder what the public reaction would be if a DLR train malfunctioned and lives were lost.  Would we blame the computer system and insist on drivers being able to over-ride the computer?

I don’t think we will ever be able to completely eliminate risk, but we have been remarkably successful at minimizing them.  And in a strange way, every serious accident makes travelling that much safer.  There will no doubt be an inquiry into the Spanish crash and recommendations which if instituted will make future train travel even safer.


N is for Mike Nesmith

Friday 26thJuly

You could say that Mike Nesmith has had a charmed life.  His mother invented and patented Liquid Paper and made her fortune, so one imagines a not too deprived childhood.  Then, when in his early twenties, he answered an ad and auditioned for and became one of the Monkees.   At the time they were corny as hell, a sort of comic version of the Beatles, but somehow, maybe by just very clever casting and natural talent they became quite good.  Originally they never played on their own records, although Mike could play guitar proficiently.  They had to fight to record any of their own material and eventually one or two of Mike’s songs made the grade.

The Monkees split in the late sixties, and the least likely to succeed was Mike.  But he came up with a unique take on country music, and with his quirky songs he became a minor success.  But only a minor one.  He made a few eclectic albums that hardly anyone bought and then came Rio in 1977; a massive worldwide hit with its infectious Latin rhythm and cryptic words.

Well all of this seemed to affect Mike not in the least, he continued issuing the occasional album when he felt like it – and apart from a couple of soundtracks nothing since 1992.

So, a wasted talent, or just happy being his own self.  I am not sure, but there is no denying his talent, and the almost nonchalant way he has pursued his own particular muse.  Financially I doubt he has to make music at all, and has always seemed to do it for the heck of it.  He occasionally joins up with his former Monkees for a concert or two.  He has his own record company and seems to enjoy producing other artists as much as putting out his own stuff.

I have almost all his records, but one or two are very hard to find on CD these days, but I still hope he might release some new stuff.  You never know, the fancy might just take him one of these days.


Thursday 25thJuly

Let’s get one thing straight – I am not complaining about the weather.  Per se.  But I do feel exhausted almost all of the time.  No, I am not complaining about the weather, but about work.  And specifically working in the hot weather.   Humans are not designed to work at the same pace all year round.   The weather and the length of the day should dictate how active we are, not the requirements of business.  And the work that I do is always there, week in, week out.  It actually makes no difference if the Restaurants are busy or quiet.  The numbers may change but there are still the same number of numbers to be numbingly processed every week.

And with the difficulty in sleeping you wake up as tired as you went to bed.  Then the tube is as packed as ever, and it is strap-hanging (or rail gripping) most journeys in overbearing heat.

We are going to France this week, and the annual ritual of loading the car (my partner drives, I fly) is in full flow.  I cannot quite believe how after about ten car trips already under our belt we still need to take quite so much stuff every time.  What possible eventuality have we missed this time.   And it is, of course – you guessed it, my job to load the car, and despite my protestations that the car is full more and more items keep appearing at the top of the stairs for me to find a space for.

And sometimes I feel I just cannot cope anymore.  It is almost a physical ache, this feeling of utter exhaustion.  In some ways I go to work to escape the work at home.  At least I am sitting down there.  Despite all of the above I am actually looking forward to France again, even though the jobs are already lining up for me, making up a flat-pack chest of drawers and painting another set of windows.  No doubt I will return after my short four day trip – exhausted.

Botched-up Bodies

Wednesday 24thJuly

Sometimes one’s TV selection is simply a case of the least awful viewing.  Or flicking from one channel to another until you settle on something that mildly amuses one.  So it was last night when after a sweep of the channels we settled on ‘Botched Up Bodies’, where we were served up a selection of repair jobs on private cosmetic operations that went wrong.   This programme is designed for us smug buggers who have either never had the vanity or maybe the money to waste on such bodily mutilation.  And it is always private medicine to blame – note to the Tories who want the whole health system to be privatized.

But do these idiots never ask themselves what on earth were they thinking having the wretched tits enlarged or lips plumped up in the first place. And yet here they are again getting their mis-shaped, bruised and lop-sided and leaking tits out for the camera.   Have they no shame?  Do they phone round their neighbours before the thing is shown to tell them to watch it?  What do their kids think?  I would be horrified if my mum got her boobies out on national tv?   So would the rest of the population.

Also, why oh why are Doctors who have trained for seven years to learn how to make people better and to save lives wasting their talents on this shit?

Oh yes, I forgot – the wonderful capitalist system.  It seems that making money overcomes any possible ethical dilemma they may have had.  And no matter how many programmes there are showing the awful results of this butchery, the number of stupid gullible (and sad to say) mostly women who are prepared to be cut up and stuffed full of poison and bags of silicone gel is ever lengthening.   Let me tell you girls, nice tits may attract men in the first place, but once they have been handled, sucked, weighed and counted a few times – the novelty wears off.  Bouncy boobs may get a man’s attention but it is the person behind the tits who will keep him interested in the long term.

The Economy is Recovering

Tuesday 23rdJuly

Well it had to eventually; there is only so much damage any Government can actually do.  But strangely that will not necessarily be bad news for Labour.  If we were still up to our necks in the poo, it might have been the case that the public would still trust the Tories over Labour.  But with confidence and house prices rising and people feeling a bit better off I suspect that the Austerity argument will hold less weight.  Besides the inevitable result of several of their less well-thought through policies will be coming to fruition.   The totally unnecessary re-organisation of the Health Service and the deliberate ditching of targets will mean that the already rickety system starts to fail; hospitals closing, people waiting longer and longer for operations will bring with it dissatisfaction.   And while in theory the cuts to benefits are popular, as more and more people become homeless and are re-housed at extra cost, and more and more, often working, people will be relying on foodbanks the public mood may subtly shift.

Politics is always a pendulum, swinging back and forth; the clever politicians realizing that politics is indeed the art of the possible will be able to read the public mood and know when enough is enough.  The Tories may have pushed the pendulum too hard and too fast.

Besides everything else, despite a pretty dire time for Ed Milliband; trouble with the Unions, a lack of a clear vision, and announcing that the cuts approved for 2016-2017 will not be reversed, Labour has held up remarkably well in the polls.  Or more to the point the Tory vote has not really budged from about 32% for over two years.  This is just about their core support.

Of course anything can happen and the election is nearly two years away, but I suspect that Labour and the Tories may well poll roughly the same, with Labour slightly ahead.  This will make Labour the largest party with the Lib-Dems holding on to most of their seats but with a reduced share of the vote.  Ukip will poll well but I doubt they will win any seats, but they could well stop the Tories form winning several marginals.  Labour may be able to govern on their own, but may need LibDem support.  I suspect that many Liberals will feel more comfortable in bed with Labour than with their previous bedmates.

So, interesting times ahead.

An Old-Fashioned Evening Out

Monday 22ndJuly

When I was a child my Mum and Dad would often parcel my sister and I off to Nana and Grandad’s while they went to a Dinner Dance.  This was usually at ICI where my Dad worked almost all his working life, and they would get all dolled up, suited and booted and what passed for ‘bling’ in those days.  They would collect us on Sunday morning, all bleary-eyed and sleepy.  It was in those days the height of sophistication, and despite disco’s and clubbing now, it still is.

Well we just got invited to a Dinner Dance; this was actually a 70th birthday, but was effectiviley the same thing.  And in a funny way we really enjoyed it.  It was at the Cliffs Pavilion Restaurant in Southend; well, Westcliffe-on-sea to be precise, which is the better bit of Southend, where candy-floss and fruit machines are not to be seen.  The beach is a thin strip of sand which becomes an expanse of mud as the tide goes out on the estuary.  Canvey Island, the shores of Kent and Tilbury are just a few miles away, and the view is industrial rather than scenic.

The meal was very good, melon, roast beef and bread and butter pudding, and those who do not understand the logistics of preparing and serving over a hundred dinners in an hour or so cannot appreciate just how well done it was.

There was nice acoustic live music all through the meal, and the hardest task of all, to perform well while no-one claps or even seems to be listening, although I was, was really nicely done.

Then there was a disco and dancing to lots of old sixties and seventies hits.  The restaurant was quite hot but there was a row of French windows leading out onto a wide balcony overlooking the sea, which offered a lovely contrast and breathing space.  So, all in all a lovely evening – old-fashioned, yes; but none the worse for all that.