D is for Dylan – Cruising into Old Age

Saturday 28th February

Dylan seems to have regained his Mojo of late, or at least to be enjoying himself, both on the road and in the studio.  He has stopped trying to please the record company or indeed his audience and just makes the music he wants to.  Many of his albums since the nineties have been almost timeless, sounding more like something from the forties or fifties than the two thousands.  His latest (bar one) Tempest in fact was brilliant – full of rage, poetry and great songs.  He even recorded a Christmas Album which was (you guessed) pretty schmaltzy, but there is an honesty about Bob Dylan these days, no longer is he trying to say something – he is simply having a good time.

We have also been delighted by the series of ‘Official Bootleg’ albums released by his record company.  Many unreleased songs or completely different versions, or superb live concerts have been released, one every couple of years.  And we suspect there is plenty more in the can.  These, interspersed with his own new recordings, have resulted in a constant source of new Dylan albums from one of the most prolific of all artists.

And winging its way to me as I write is his latest album “Shadows in the night”.   Dylan has taken songs made famous by Frank Sinatra (Frank wrote no songs of his own) and has re-interpreted them.  I have no idea what to expect, but hopefully it will be interesting if nothing else.  Having written so extensively on Bob Dylan I suppose I must confess that he is my very favourite Artist; I am the proud possessor of 84 actual CDs of his (only missed a couple).  He, along with the Beatles did most to create the musical landscape so many artists and bands inhabit.  Though Bob I suspect would dispute that….

Corruption in Low Places

Friday 27th February

While there was some amusement to be had in watching the downfall of two pompous old M.P.s caught displaying their greed in such a ludicrous manner there is a far more serious issue at stake.  Their defence, that they did nothing wrong, broke no rules, is almost as lamentable as the original offence.  Because offensive it certainly was.  £5000 a day !!!!  When those on benefits are sanctioned for missing an appointment by five minutes and will receive NO money at all for two weeks!!!!  You have to be incredibly thick-skinned (or a Tory) not to be offended.  There have been numerous scandals involving our legislators, and the various compromises (voted on by those same legislators) have done little to re-establish trust in the minds of ordinary people.

Personally I would make being an M.P. a far more responsible job.  It used to be the case, and Anthony Trollope writes most eloquently about Victorian times, that M.P.s were gentlemen, undoubtedly of private means and private interests who attended Parliament at their leisure and treated it as a Gentlemen’s club.  Some Tories still see it as such.  M.P.s must be paid a decent salary with NO allowances at all.  Their pay would be related to their attendance (like the rest of us – you turn up for work and you get paid) and the cost of travel from their home could be factored into this attendance allowance.  NO other paid work should be entertained; if they want to write a column for a newspaper – fine, but any pay should go to charity.  NO directorships allowed at all.  If they already owned businesses they must be administered by others during their time in Parliament, and they would be automatically disqualified from voting on any matters which might be affected by their ownership.  When they leave Parliament they should also be paid a decent salary for at least five years and again be forbidden from any involvement in lobbying, or any Directorships, or indeed any contact with Ambassadors or public officials they might have known anywhere.

Draconian – yes.  But unless we deal with this cancer of corruption we will never encourage people to trust our politicians or become one themselves.  They must be seen to be doing their honest best for the public good or they must go.  There seems to be no shortage of candidates whenever a seat becomes vacant.   Maybe, just maybe Ed Milliband will have the courage to at least start this ball rolling.  Maybe, but I doubt it.

Neglected Poems No. 6 – The Things That I Want

Thursday 26th February

One of the reasons I am calling these particular entries “Neglected Poems”, is because many of them are quite old.  I only keep the ones I really like, those that I think might be any good.  Consequently there will never be enough to fill a whole poetry book, so neglected poems they will remain, hahaha.   This one has a certain bravado, almost a gusto to it.  I still like some of the couplets, though the ending is a bit weak I must admit.  It is the same old story of unrequited love I am afraid.  Hope you like it…

The Things That I Want

I want to kiss you on the mouth

I want to taste you North and South

I want to face you East and West

I want to suckle – you at my breast

I want to nuzzle – to graze on your flesh

I want you slept in and I want you fresh

I want to fall – to die in your arms

I want to expose and corrupt all your charms

I want to be held and I want to be bound

I want to be lost – never to be found

I want to be healed if I should fall ill

I want to be taken against my will

I want to be certain I can see my way

I want to be deluged and drenched and swept away

I want to keep my heart safe in a deposit box

I want you to break in and smash all the locks

I want to dance you through all of these nights

I want to show you unearthly delights

I want to keep you away from the world

I want to wave you – my flag unfurled

I want to break your resistance down

I want you subservient – a dog on the ground

I want to teach you to fly on your own

I want to sit beside all the men you’ve known

I want to observe as you prepare for your day

I want to watch as you falter and sway

I want to remark as you write me that letter

“I want you to know I could have written it better”

I want to desert you – to leave you alone

I want your heart to leap as you wait by the phone

I want you to know I might always be here

I want to calm, alarm and conquer your fear

I want you to wear all of my rings

I want you to be, oh so many things

I want to understand every inch of you

I want to – but really I haven’t a clue

I want to deserve by the sweat of my brow

I want to have learned all my lessons by now

I want you to know I’m ready for your touch

I want to grow up and stop wanting so much

And our first Exhibition is here

Wednesday 25th February

One of the ideas for the café, and indeed why we called it the Café des Arts was that we might have exhibitions by local artists there.  And indeed one of our London friends is anticipating holding her own exhibition in April.  We opened yesterday (Monday) and one of our first customers was Marie, a French lady who lives a few doors away in our road.  She mentioned that she had a friend who was an artist, and wondered if we might put her paintings up in our Café.  Of course, we said; but people say these kinds of things a lot and we weren’t sure anything would actually come of it.  Later on that day she asked of she could bring the artist, a lady who lived not far away, to meet us tomorrow (Tuesday).  And today she arrived, a tall lady in a very small old Renault, and we could see on the back seat a whole pile of large canvases.

So, we have on day two our very first exhibition by Anika Chambley. Eight large and very vivid canvases, mostly of seascapes but also a sunset and an orange landscape, now adorn the walls where only two days before we had hummed and hah’ed and practically denuded our house in order to brighten up the walls with pictures.  In my hurry I forgot to take any pictures for you all to see; you’ll just have to pop in for a look and a coffee yourselves.  We have put up a poster in the Tourist Office and outside the café, and we will see who comes to look at them.  They are rather expensive at 450 euros each, but what do we know about the international Art market here in Eymet !!!  They will be there for a month, so we will see, and anyway they do look rather spectacular.

Sadly I am back in England for eight days, but then returning for three.  Work is waiting me today…..not long to go now.

The Café des Artes is open

Tuesday 24th February

After three days of solid painting, buying tables and chairs and putting up pictures the Café des Artes is open.  Just six days since signing the contract and getting the keys we have changed an Antiques shop into the classiest little tea rooms in Eymet.  There are two rooms and just four marble topped tables seating fourteen at a pinch, but the view is to die for.  Wherever you sit you look out on the famous square with its thirteenth century arches, and when the sun shines as it did briefly today the whole place lights up.

The day started off inauspiciously.  It was a Monday for a start and everything except one Boulangerie and the Tabac was closed, so there weren’t going to be many shoppers around.  It was raining, and cold and blustery – but we opened anyway.  And it was worth it.  A few friends came by to support us and even a French couple who spoke no English and two English women we didn’t know at all.  But more than that I was amazed at the kindness shown by all our friends; Maxine made some scones for us; Martin and Jennie had helped us to get the place ready and were our first customers too; Jeff and Liz bought us a bottle of champagne;  Dennis and Carol gave us some fresh eggs from their chickens and Gill, our most regular customer is baking a cake for the Café too.

In London we live in a city of eight million and yet we have found far more friends here in tiny Eymet (we do miss our few back home though).  But there is a camaraderie, a warmth and an openness of spirit and some very genuinely nice people here.  The Café is not a commercial venture, we want it to be a meeting place, a social gathering point, and most importantly of all a place to exchange gossip.  Vive le Café des Artes, and well done to my dear wife for making it happen.

Another excerpt from 2066 – a personal memoir

Monday 23rd February

Another excerpt I am afraid.  Read and discover just what our poor journal writer was thinking and writing back in 2066.  If he only knew what was in store for him…


“Some people even think that the whole concept of rebs is invented, made up to keep us all shit-scared.   But of course, no-one ever says that out loud.  Even on the political fora, it’s only spoken of in a jokey way. “I wouldn’t be surprised if…” sort of comment.  You are sort of safe if you make it jokey, as if you don’t even believe it yourself.  But apparently they’ve done it throughout history.   Kept us scared I mean.   There were ‘commie’ threats a hundred years ago, and then all that ‘Al-Quaeda’ stuff in the noughties.  It’s a good way to control everyone; to have a constant external threat stops you thinking about the internal one (which might just be them of course).  Mind you, it is simply impossible to believe that they have invented those sab-explosions they show all the time on Disnews, with the bodies being ripped apart and the blood and the screaming and all of that.  That must be real, they couldn’t fake all of that; it can’t all be made up to keep us quiet.  Can it?   And if that is real then the whole reb movement and the subnet must exist too.   Otherwise why would the con-gloms throw so much cred at it?   And the whole superspy network they use, the fact that we are all watched, what is it all for, if there isn’t a real threat, if the rebs don’t exist at all?  If it didn’t matter, if it weren’t real, then why would anyone bother?

Anyway this is just me, my plea for help, for a bit of understanding in this shitty world we are stuck in.  I am not looking to change anything, I could never be that optimistic.  I just need a way of putting down my thoughts in a private, an unguarded way so that I can try to understand just how we got here; so that maybe I can euthenase one day in some sort of tranquillity, at peace with myself, rather than being scared and angry and confused, all at the same time.   I just want to write it down to prove that I even exist at all.”


-[And that was the first entry Janek Smith ever made.  A bit melodramatic, don’t you think?  More than slightly over the top, wouldn’t you say?  Looking back, he was always a bit of a strange one I suppose.  You know the sort of kid, the one who doesn’t really ever get into any trouble, an average score-card at crammer, reasonable but not remarkable attainment levels, he sits quietly at his terminal and hardly contributes to anything, apparently working hard and his grades are just above average so the teachers don’t really bother to notice him.   He keeps his head down and keeps himself to himself, the sort of kid who teachers tend to forget because they never really noticed them in the first place.  There must be hundreds like him in every crammer, but maybe just one in ten thousand is a potential reb.  And of those, very few ever actually become one.

All in all he has led a pretty ordinary life, nothing to arouse any suspicion anyway.  He indulged in the usual youthful peccadilloes; caught smoking cigarettes at fifteen, even though they were practically illegal by that point, and certainly pretty hard to come by.  He visited a few ‘prozzies’ in his mid-teens, all legal of course by then, so no danger of disease – a pretty safe option really.  And after crammer he was one of the luckier ones and was selected for Uni – a minor one, CovCentral.  He didn’t excel, he was never top of his class, or bottom either.  He just did okay, reasonable grades, nothing remarkable.  He majored in computer engineering, which should maybe have given the authorities a clue, have flagged him up in some way.  But, surprising as it might seem, statistically those studying the computer sciences are much better at adapting to change than most other groups.  He smoked a little cannabis, mostly at parties and hardly ever on his own but at that time it was still tolerated so long as it wasn’t contaminated with tobacco.  He even tried illicit alcohol one time, but was sick as a dog on unfiltered hooch so never did it again.   Joining the NewLab party in his early twenties was the height of his disaffection, but he never actually went to any meetings or spoke out on anything, just a comment here and there on his constituency website.  His membership lapsing by the time he was twenty-six, he never renewed it or has since shown any real interest in politics or protest movements, clicking one or two on-line petitions in his thirties, but nothing since then at all.  So far, so normal.  Boring?  Yes, but most lives are boring, if you bother to analyse these things.

He married a girl he met at Covcentral; Cathy Whitstable.  They co-habbed for a couple of years then split up.  They both had a few new partners and Cathy certainly had a high percentage of one-time casuals in that time.  They kept in touch however by old-fashioned and almost history-by-then e-mail, and used to compare and chat and laugh about their different sexual encounters, no doubt getting quite a kick out of confiding with the only person they felt that they really knew, or more importantly the only person they thought they might trust with this knowledge.  Maybe talking about sex afterwards with an old partner was more exciting than actually doing it.  Who knows?  People have always been mixed-up about sex.

In their late twenties they started meeting up and going out for drinks together, ‘just for old-time’s sake’.   Inevitably they slept together, but now it was so much better.  This time they weren’t simple ingénues, sexual beginners, tentative lovers; now they knew, really knew what turned each other on.  They had learnt from the Porn-Ed channels and even without artificial stimulants managed to achieve mind-blowing orgasms every time.   And it was so wonderful that they decided to start living together again, and that inevitably led to marriage and the standard two children.  Both grown up and fledged by now, they see each other only two or three times a year, but Cathy keeps in regular touch with both of them on VisU.

But that was thirty years ago; thirty seemingly unremarkable years; steady progress up the strata; a nice apartment; a real garden in the air (small, but a garden after all); good crammers and Uni for the kids and no major health problems – everyone’s perfect dream; surely.   So what started ticking in Janek’s brain to turn him from decent law-abiding citizen into a potential (or a possible at least) reb?  And let no-one be under any illusion what he has described in his opening diary entry is not only dangerous, but highly subversive.   If we, the authorities, ever discovered it Janek would find himself in a whole lot more trouble than he has imagined.  There is a war going on and Janek is in danger of giving encouragement to the enemy.  If he hasn’t actually started to become the enemy anyway of course.

Four Seasons in One Day

Sunday 22nd February

Possibly my third ever favourite band had a big hit with a song called “Four Seasons In One Day”.  Crowded House, from their third album “Woodface” – to be precise.  And when we have a day like yesterday (today) it always springs to mind.

The day started off damp, it had rained all night and it was much milder.  It had been clear blue skies and frost on the ground when I usually took the dogs out, but today it was warmer but very damp.  And in the way that damp, almost Autumnal weather does it really seemed to seep into your bones.  There was even a mist hovering over the river and the sky was grey and almost forbidding.

As the morning progressed the sun came out and it was warm and bright and felt like spring.  But a spring that was interspersed with sudden squalls of wind and almost torrential rain that lasted a few minutes and then passed.  Out came the sun and soon the roads were dry again and it was as if there had been no storm at all.  I was painting two more walls in the soon to be opened tea-shop and with its big picture windows you couldn’t miss the weather at all.   At times it felt almost summery.  And there were a few people out, simply walking around or shopping at the Tabac or the Boulangerie.

At one point I had to take the dogs home.  I fed them and quickly washed my brushes and collected some more paraphernalia for the shop.   As I stepped out of the door and locked the house up it grew quite dark and it looked as if it would rain again.  Literally a few steps down the road and it began.  But not light summer rain or even a wintry shower this time but an absolute ice-shower.  This was more than hail stones, it was literally small chunks of snowy ice, some as big as a twenty centime piece, and they were pelting down almost like a sheet of icy whiteness.  Luckily I had my hat and outdoor coat on, and though the shop is literally two hundred yards from the house the road was completely covered with ice before I got there and it was like a wintry scene, except that there was a torrent of icy water and slush running down both sides of the road.  I got to the shop and was covered in quickly melting ice.  Five minutes later it was brilliant sunshine again and the road was soon drying and all that ice melted and gone.  We really did have four seasons in one day.

24 hours in A & E (Aquitaine and Eymet)

Saturday 21st February

I flew in on Thursday.  The plane flew out of grey English skies and into the sunshine of Aquitaine.  I touched down at a quarter to three, French time.  We drove straight to the shop.  My wife has taken a six month let on a shop in the centre of Eymet.  It looks out on the square.  In her madness she wants to run a little café.  There used to be a perfect café in Eymet, Kismet, but it was sold to new French proprietors’ about six months ago.  They turned a splendid little café, a great place to just stop and let the world go by, into a fish restaurant, which actually seems empty most nights.  There are tables and chairs out during the day, but they are mostly occupied by the French staff who sit there smoking (not the best advert, but there you go).  So, on the surface a cafe seems a good idea, but having extensive experience in a very dodgy business I have told her to expect to lose her rent every month for very little revenue, and anything else will be a bonus.  Anyway, hopefully I am wrong.  Moi, une skeptique vous demande?

First job was assembling four marble topped tables she had bought.  Quite tedious, and the marble tops were very heavy.  I finished in about two hours.   Later we went for a walk in the evening, hoping to catch the Dordogne Chippy – a mobile fish and chip van (they park outside the Café de Paris and you eat your fish and chips inside, drinking their beer or wine).  But it was just closing up, (we missed it by less than cinq minutes), so we came back home and I cooked a meal.  Very tired it was early to bed and early to rise.

Today (Friday) I have been painting two walls with left-over paint while my better half was putting up pictures and make the place look pretty.  (I long to spend my  retirement painting – but not walls!!!) It really is beginning to look nice.  We should be on time to open on Monday, but then I have to fly back on Tuesday.  (I am sure she can cope better without me) I am still working but it is only just over two months to go until I can do the job I have always longed to do, washing up and making coffee….hahaha

D is for Dylan – Lost in the Eighties

Friday 20th February

The Eighties weren’t kind to Dylan, or to many of the giants of the Sixties – McCartney, The Stones and The Who all struggled for an identity – as too did many Seventies Icons such as Rod and Elton.  Maybe it was the advent of synthesizers, or the technical advances in production, with artists often taking a year or longer to record an album, which used to be done in a couple of days two decades ago.  Also Dylan was getting older, in his forties now and he was constantly touring with various different musicians, including Tom Petty and Paul Simon and even The Grateful Dead.  His sorties into the studio tended to be hurried and he seemed to just want to get the record done and get back on the road – contractual obligation rather than artistic achievement.  But even among the pretty poor records there were gems such as Brownsville Girl and Dark Eyes, but often only a single good song on a whole record.  Also Dylan Live was pretty dire too; he constantly re-arranged the chords and even the melodies of his greatest hits so that attending a concert became a slog, sitting there and trying to guess what song Dylan was mauling this time.  The surprising thing was that no matter how bad the records or the live concerts his popularity kept growing, as new generations discovered and revered him.  The nineties were almost as bad and he released two albums of obscure old folk songs with no self-penned songs at all.  The only decent record he made was “Oh Mercy”, where his latest producer Daniel Lanois went to ridiculous lengths to make Dylan comfortable, and toiled away for weeks until he almost dragged a great record out of our hero.  Dylan’s response was to straight away record another crap album, and it would be ten years until he chose Lanois again.  Were the eighties just another attempt by Dylan to lose his audience, or was he truly lost himself?  Who knows?  Being Bob Dylan was now a lifetimes job, weaving the mystique, never letting anyone too close, and his voice too seemed to get worse as he got older.  Then around halfway through the nineties he suddenly seemed to rediscover his muse….

If You Have A Hammer In Your Hand, You See Everything As A Nail

Thursday 19th February

I saw this quote a couple of days ago, and it keeps going round in my head.  So, what exactly does it mean?  In the context it was used; America’s knee-jerk reaction to everything, but in particular to Ukraine, is the military solution, in this case their threat to arm the Ukraine Government.  The logic being that if you have a strong military and lots of weapons, you will see every world conflict as a possible target for your planes and weapons.  We saw this in Afghanistan and in Iraq and now again in Syria.  It is debatable whether the military interventions in those countries left the people of those countries (or will, in the case of Syria) any better off.  All you can say with any certainty is that many hundreds of thousands have died as a result, many buildings were destroyed, much of the infrastructure of those countries is in ruins, and Democracy is in tatters (and a new generation of nails is growing up).  If you have a hammer in your hand, you see everything as a nail, indeed.  And we here are just as bad.  We had planes stationed in Cyprus (why, were the Cypriots our enemies?) and so, of course, we joined in the fun of bombing ISIS, even if the unreported consequence of that hammer reaction is people being killed on the ground.

In a typical Blair-Lite gung-ho stance our brave PM, from the safety of Downing Street, encouraged the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya, and gave weapons to the rebels.  A small hammer maybe, but Gadhafi was certainly seen as a nail, with a particularly obstinate and obtuse head.  So bang him we did, almost rejoicing at his brutal end.  Now Mr. Cameron looks on at the pitiful state Libya has descended into and declares that only a ‘Political Settlement” will sort the chaos out.  Where we wonder was that political solution three years ago when we were arming one side (the good guys, of course) against the Tyrant.? Well, it was the Arab spring and of course we were helping Democracy.  The very same Democracy which has been snuffed out in Egypt (with weapons we sold them) when the people had the audacity to elect the wrong man.  Quick, fetch that hammer guys, another nail needs bashing.

And we have Israel too, the ultimate nail-bashers, who have found that amazingly no matter how many times they swing the hammer, those wretched Gazan nails keep rising up out of the wood and just keep asking for another bashing.  Anyone would think they enjoyed it.

And when you find a naughty child hitting their siblings with a toy hammer, the only solution is to take away the hammer.  Try giving the child a flower instead….