R is for feeling ROTTEN

Monday 30th September

It is the last day of September, and yesterday, Sunday, I felt too poorly even to write my blog.  It had started a few days ago.  I knew I had a dental check-up due, and almost as a signpost, some sort of laughing clown in the corner I started to get a niggly toothache.  Not constant, just an occasional twinge, which of course I ignored.   As the date for the appointment loomed, so too did the toothache; assuming larger and larger proportions, especially when in bed laying there trying to sleep, where even the smallest ailments appear amplified and keep you awake.

I told the dentist as soon as I went in to her surgery.  She examined me then gave me the bad news.  A tooth, right near the back on the bottom, which I had had crowned was the problem.  The nerve had flared up, and although she couldn’t see any sign of decay, it was obviously infected.  The problem was that it was a crowned tooth.   Inorder to save the tooth she would have to drill through the crown, and the remains of the tooth beneath to get to the nerve.  Root canal treatment is awful enough anyway, without the complication of the crown.  The crown could shatter anyway during the drilling, or the tooth too, so no guarantee of saving it.  Cost £495!!!!  And no guarantee.  Or she could extract it.

She prescribed me a course of strong antibiotics which she said might actually cure the problem.  There was no way of knowing.  She told me to take paracetomol for the pain, which I was already doing, until the antibiotics kicked in.

For two days I still had, by now raging, toothache, and was popping pills like Mary Poppins.  Keeping the pain at bay was my primary concern.  I was feeling more and more grotty and groggy.  By yesterday I was really ill; a migraine-like headache all day, feeling nauseas, almost fainting at times, feverish, and weak.  I could hardly walk.  I spent most of the day in bed, tossing and turning and eventually falling asleep.  I have stopped taking the paracetomol and thankfully the toothache has settled into a mild hum.  The headache is still there but now too just a shadow of its former self.

So, a lesson.  Toothache or not, watch the consumption of painkillers.  They really aren’t very good for you, yet sold over the counter like sweeties.

R is for the Rolling Stones

Sunday 29th September

Well. What can one say about the Stones that hasn’t been said already.  I saw them on Ready Steady Go and Top of the Pops.  They were okay, but never a favourite of mine; I was a Beatles fan.  And as the Sixties progressed that almost defined you, Beatles or Stones, as if you couldn’t like them both.  Gradually I began to like them with songs such as Ruby Tuesday, Mother’s Little Helper and of course Satisfaction.  Then came the album Sticky Fingers which was the first of theirs I actually bought, then as they moved into the early seventies ‘Exile on Main Street’ emerged as their masterpiece.  I carried on for a few years buying their albums but with diminishing returns.  Some great songs but a lot of fillers.

They have survived – the mysterious death of their first singer, numerous drugs busts, newspaper campaigns against them, addictions, personnel changes and growing old.  And they are still there, at least three of the original band, and Ronnie Wood, nicked from the Faces but now a fully fledged Stone.  I do feel a bit sorry for many who played on albums and tours but are just hired session men, while the Stones get richer and richer, but that’s show business.  I saw them once, at Twickenham, early Naughties and possibly the worst concert I have ever seen.  Terrible sound and couldn’t see a thing, but hey – it was the Stones.

Someone once said they don’t need to do it well, the fact that they do it at all is amazing.  And for longevity and making money you have to hand it to them.  Oh, and the music is still there, and a lot of it was wonderful.

Mind The Gap

Saturday 28th September

There has always been a gap between the highest paid and the lowest, but that gap is widening.  Inexorably?   I am not sure that it has to be.  The Tories will argue that it is all down to the free market, and while you can hardly argue that if Real Madrid are happy to pay Gareth Bale a half a million euro’s a week for his undoubted talents who can stop them.   But for the vast majority of us, is it right that those on very high salaries already should be paying themselves huge pay rises?

And free market or not the figures do not lie.  One of the great achievements of the last Labour administration was the introduction of the National Minimum Wage.  Before that many companies were paying ridiculously low wages.  In my industry indeed many waiting staff were told that their basic pay would be very small, and would be made up from tips.  So, a great move forward, and linked with the working families tax credit, did much to alleviate that middle ranking poverty, where decent people who were working still had difficulty making ends meet.

One unfortunate side effect however is that for many people the minimum wage is also the maximum wage they will ever earn.  And it is too low.  It has failed to keep up with either inflation or average pay.  At the other end of the scale, where at Director level, people are able to decide their own wages, or  have them decided by a panel of their peers; wages have exploded.  In fact the minimum wage now standing at £6.19 would have been £18.90 if it had kept pace with the increases in top peoples pay!!!

Maybe we cannot completely buck the market, but possibly we can mitigate it.  It is up to government to tax those on high wages and to increase and enforce the minimum wage to at least try to close the gap.  Now which party do you think might be interested in doing that?

Incentising People to Work

Friday 27th September

It is almost agreed now amongst the different parties that in order to incentivise people to work they need to earn more by working than they would receive in benefits for not working.  This is such common sense that it hardly needs stating.  But the solution is not so easy.  Rather than actually increase wages, the Tories answer is to reduce benefits to a level that is below that offered by employers, regardless of the financial circumstances of the unemployed person.  In other words, it is for those individuals to so organize their lives as to be able to live on either a ridiculously low income, or even lower benefits.  But many are trapped in private accommodation where landlords can and do charge as much rent as possible, they may have children to be fed and clothed, they may have debts to be repaid, they may have lost their job through no fault of their own.  In short it is necessary to incentivise these already poor people to work by making life as difficult as possible for them, by paying them as little as they can get away with.  Result: the unprecedented increase in food banks, rent arrears and pay-day loans.

At the other end of the scale there was public outrage at the level of banker’s bonuses a few years ago.  They are still being paid, though at a maybe reduced level, and often in shares, or over a longer period.  The EU has agreed, though the UK did not but couldn’t stop them, that bankers bonuses should be capped at one year’s salary (or if boards agreed two years salary).  That’s right – you heard right.  A bonus of one year’s salary!!!!!  My God, only in the last few years have I ever received a bonus and that is £1000 before tax.  Very grateful I am too.   But the thought that I might get my whole salary (or double that even) paid as a bonus is simply ridiculous.  And these bankers are well paid in the first place – they ‘ain’t earning £35k I can assure you.  But it gets better.  Our wonderful government who insist that we are all in it together, as well as incidentally giving these millionaires a 5% tax cut, are taking the EU to court to try to get the ‘cap’ deemed illegal.  You see, in order to incentivise these people, who by the way brought our whole financial system tumbling down a few years ago and caused the recession and all that followed, it is absolutely necessary that NO limit is to be placed on their possibly pay at all.

In order to incentivise poor people you have to cut their pay, in order to incentivise those in the middle, say public sector workers, you have to freeze their pay, but in order to incentivise rich bankers we have to increase their pay.  If you think my response smacks of CLASS WAR, then bring it on.

The Right Wing Press Are Furious

Thursday 26th September

At last, Labour and Ed Milliband have woken up and given us some real policies.  And the Right Wing press are furious, spitting feathers even.  The simple notion that energy companies should be required to hold their prices for 20 months is seen as outrageous.  Visions of bankruptcy, and ludicrously – power cuts, were cited last night in the wake of Ed’s speech.   But in truth it isn’t even that radical at all.  These companies all used to be owned by us, the public, and were run (mostly) for our benefit.  As soon as they fell into private hands the prices started rising inexorably.  Company after company has been reporting massive profits.  Now, the argument is, from the companies view, that prices of gas are volatile, that no-one can predict how high they might go during that 20 month period.  True, all too true.  And in the recent past those prices have also gone up and down, as does the price of raw petrol.  But unlike fuel at the pumps which does rise and fall with supply and demand, the cost of the fuel coming out of your gas pipe, or the electricity coming out of the socket in the wall goes only one way. Up.

These companies have made huge profits by essentially not dropping their prices when the cost of the raw fuel falls.  At our expense.  All of us, households and businesses have been held ransom by what is almost a cartel.  Even the Tories understand this, but were unprepared to really tackle it.  Vague promises that everyone would be on the cheapest tariff (means actually that everyone would be on the same tariff); and since Cameron’s announcement we have seen no action.  Like the decision to renegotiate on Europe, or to decide on a new Airport capacity, they have been kicked into the long grass.

All I can say is that the level of vituperation exhibited by the Tory press shows they are really worried.

Ed Miliband - Ed Miliband Delivers Keynote Speech


The Book is Writing Itself

Wednesday 25th September

I wrote the first draft of Catherines Story many years ago.  When it was finished I tucked it away, unedited and neglected, resurrecting and largely re-writing it only a few years later.  I was temporarily unemployed at the time; it was summer and I can remember sitting in the garden with a pot of tea, and a large A4 hard-backed notebook, where in my almost illegible writing I wrote the story.  The strange thing is that the book largely wrote itself.  At times I was simply hanging on to the pen as it raced across the page.  The words were spilling out of me; I had no idea where the story would take me.  As it happens it took me up a dead-end, a weak ending that left me up a creek without a paddle.  It was only years later that I saw my way out of problem and first wrote the correct ending, and then went back and mostly re-wrote the book itself.

I started writing my second book a couple of years ago, and had a few false starts.  I couldn’t find the format, there was some good stuff in there; I liked the idea of the story, but couldn’t see a way to make it work as a real book.  I kept putting it away, then getting it out again and tinkering with it, even ludicrously interspersing it with poems and other drivel from myself as narrator.  Then suddenly it hit me how to write the book.  But it was hard work, from the beginning.  It never quite flowed as Catherine had.   I am still quite unsure of it.  I have parked it for the moment, in fact I have paid for it to be professionally reviewed; the results of that review are coming soon.  I am not sure what I should be prepared for.  Can I face yet another re-write?

Instead I took a short exercise of writing I had done for writing class (now abandoned) and expanded it.  In no time at all, this new story took on a life of its own.  It too is writing itself.  Of course I have to think through the plot, but I have that quite well pinned down now.  It will need a re-write, as many of the ideas I wrote about in the earlier sections have now to be amended after writing near the end –zone. Over this last trip to France I couldn’t put it down; it just seemed to overtake me.

When you are in the middle of writing something, especially a novel, you really have no idea how other people will read it, appreciate it, get your ideas.  But this is book number three now, I feel I am starting to get into my stride, and it certainly helps when the book is writing itself.

Shopping Malls – The New Front Line

Tuesday 24th September

In school we learned about the set battles of old, huge armies facing each other, but gradually the nature of War has changed, and is constantly changing.  We had a few years of Guerilla warfare but now more and more we have War as a PR exercise, on television, on twitter, and a new phase in Terror.

Well, we call it terrorism, because we are on the side of the saints, and those who do not agree with our world view are Jihadists, fanatics and terrorists.  From another viewpoint we could be calling them freedom–fighters, but that is an argument for another day.

And after 9/11 and the hijacking of aeroplanes we now have the new front-line; Shopping Malls.  These shiny new temples to consumerism, and how apt is that.  One of the very things these fundamentalists despise about the West is now a target.  And who cannot be horrified at the sight of relaxing happy shoppers enjoying a nice day out, suddenly running terrified from the sound of gunfire.  Here in these sanitized marbled halls, this never-land of shop after shop, everything you could ever want, a world away from the dirt and disease of Syria or Somalia, these very sanctuaries of safety are now a target for the terrorists.  And only a week ago I was in Westfield at Stratford, it could so easily happen here.

And the more that these attacks are on TV, on twitter, all over the media, the more exposure these fighters gain for their cause.  The Somalians have, in their view, been invaded by foreign troops.  But it is also part of a growing war in Africa, between the Muslim North and the mostly Christian South of the continent.  Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Uganda, Nigeria – in fact most of the countries in that central belt are in the front-line.  But this is a different War entirely; it is a battle of ideas, a never-ending struggle and nowhere is safe at all.

Another Sunny Day. Another Cold

Monday 23rd September

Gorgeous sunshine here in Eymet.  Spent the morning painting the terrace doors; white on the inside and ‘Glade green’ facing the terrace.  It seemed to go on forever, so many surfaces, intricate fiddly bits, and the window edges, gliding the brush as close to the glass as you can, but eventually it was finished.

I was kept up part of the night with a sore throat, and today the cold proper came out and I haven’t stopped sneezing, which is some small handicap when painting.  I wonder if it is the flying, breathing in all that re-cycled air, or just a stray virus caught maybe on the tube before I left.  Colds are just an inconvenience to be got through, though the worst by far is that tickly cough at night when you just cannot stop those pathetic involuntary little coughs, until in the early hours I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Have been sitting in the sun, just lapping it up, this maybe last gasp of summer.  From early on this morning it was bright clear blue skies and gorgeous sunshine.  There is nothing quite like sipping a glass of cool beer outside the Café de Paris, watching the people come and go; mostly Brits, either living out here or on holiday.  The French tend to stay indoors on Sunday, except a few older residents going to church.

So, apart form the sniffly cold a good little visit.   Bathroom done, including laying a piece of lino, which as anyone who has tried knows is one of the hardest tasks known to mankind, especially in such a tight space, cutting round the toilet pan and the wash-basin pedestal.  Also the skirting boards filled and painted, and now the large terrace doors.

And now that the work is done, time for a bit of writing, the other reason for coming

R is for Terry Reid

Sunday 22nd September

‘Joybells’ introduced me to Terry Reid.  On the day I got Wings’ ‘Red Rose Speedway’ she bought ‘River’ by Terry Reid.  I thought I was pretty well up on the scene but I had never heard of him.  This must have been about 1972, and I was still in love with all things Beatles, but was more and more looking to California, to Neil Young, Joni, James Taylor and that nascent American singer songwriter sound.  Terry Reid had also gone to California; he had sung with Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and had released a couple of unsuccessful solo albums in Britain before decamping.  All night long ‘Joybells and I were alternately playing Wings and ‘River’.

I wasn’t immediately impressed.  Terry had a great voice I had to admit, but he had also left pop music a long way behind him in England.  This was far more jazzy, looser arrangements, free-form singing, and the songs had less in discernible melody, but more in feel and texture.  Far closer to Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ which was recorded around the same time.   It left me a bit frustrated, I wanted him to sing something more recognizable, more tuneful, a bit more meaty perhaps.  We bought his next album ‘Seeds of Memory’, and here he had done it, some great songs, instantly memorable, but still that jazzy loose feel, as if he was half making it up on the spot.  But brilliant songs, including Brave New Awakening which sounds like no other song I have ever heard.

Then nothing for a few years.  Contractual difficulties, failing record companies, failing sales, no band – who knows but he never made it.  In fact he actually passed up the chance of becoming the lead singer with a new band of English musicians which ended up being Led Zeppelin.  The lead singer Robert Plant was actually suggested by Terry.   He has released an album or two, but nothing which makes the spine tingle like the earlier two.  He still plays music, and tours, and seems quite contented with his life, despite very few records, and even less fame.  I just wonder what the guy who could write and sing such amazing stuff has been doing with his brilliant talent all these years.  Still we do at least have the records, and judging from prices on e-bay they are still highly sought after.

Seed Of Memory

Back in France, Back to Decorating

Saturday 21st September

I flew in on Thursday, and yesterday (today) I have been busy filling and painting.  I do still enjoy it, but the older I get the more painful it becomes.  It is the getting up off the floor I find so hard, where once I never thought about it.  Now I have to shuffle along and then roll over onto my hands and knees and steady myself as I become vertical.

The worst bit was the smallest room in the house, traditionally the hardest to actually paint.  Our bathroom here is very small, and contains a shower cubicle, toilet and sink.  This means that there is very little space either side of the toilet itself.  So trying to apply filler and then paint to the skirting board behind and at the sides of the pan is almost impossible.  Arms outstretched and leaning over the pan I can just about reach it, but then I cannot quite see what I am doing.  If I lean to one side enough to see then my hands do not quite reach.   And of course this is the bit that nobody ever sees, unless adopting a very unorthodox position for using the loo.  But some sort of stubborn pride makes me attempt as perfect a job as I can manage without removing the toilet altogether.

Even if no-one else knows I hadn’t painted that bit, I would know.  And would probably point it out to visitors too.  Hahaha.  Anyway, quite tired now.  The sun is shining and I will now go and sit in the garden for a bit.  Speak later.