75% Gone

Wednesday 30th September

The year is incredibly three quarters gone. For quite a long time I had looked forward to 2015 because it was a General Election year; the opinion polls were looking quite favourable and there was a chance of dislodging the hated Coalition.  Well, as Joni sang “That was just a dream some of us had.”  The reality hit us on May 6th that the Tories were here to stay and no brake, real or imagined, to be applied by the Lib-Dems.  That was quite a momentous day, we had at one point three party leaders resigning and a somewhat bemused Nicola Sturgeon realizing that despite winning all but two of the seats in Scotland the Tories were looking even more secure than ever.

I must admit now that I was never that convinced by Ed Milliband.  Electorally his brother would have been a better choice but there we were, stuck with a slightly more left-wing but far more awkward man.  Sometimes he said the right things, but for long periods he simply made no impression at all.  In the end the electorate thought it safer to stick with the Devil they knew.  Then there were the leadership contests.  Ukip immediately insisted that Nigel Farage should remain, his whole resignation merely a stunt.  The Liberals were reduced to a rump – well, frankly who cared.  And Labour had three candidates that seemed to lack any charisma or ideas at all.  Almost at the last minute Jeremy Corbyn emerged, as if to add a touch of all-inclusiveness to the boredom.  But slowly he won people round and in the end won by a huge margin, incidentally re-invigorating a pretty moribund party.  And now it is the end of September and we are all beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.  It has been a momentous year, but strangely it feels as if little has really changed.  And life here in France poodles on; it is still sunny though cooler and quieter too.  And the terrible thought occurs to me; less than three months to Christmas !!!!!

Juliana’s Vernissage

Tuesday 29th September

The months continue to turn, and we have a new exhibition just started.  Gill Shaw’s immaculate half-embroidered and half-painted delicate flowers and ducks and jellyfish have gone; it is now the turn of Juliana Uhart.  She is yet another very talented artist, she teaches a few classes and even has private students.  Sometimes she just uses acrylic or water colours but often she uses collage as well.  Friday was spent putting up her pictures, luckily the walls of the café are plaster board and it is pretty easy to bang in the pins and hooks which inevitably have to be adjusted to bring the paintings into line.

Sunday was the Vernissage, where the artist talks about their Art to an invited audience and large quantities of wine are usually consumed too.  This one was particularly well-attended and at one point I feared we might run out of wine-glasses, or, an even more serious prospect, the wine itself.  We just managed both in the end.  The evening was warm and the crowd spilled out into the street where I had placed lots of tables and chairs.  In fact it had become quite hot and crowded in the Café, and after a glass or two most of the guests were happy to ignore the pretty paintings and sit and natter to friends.

This morning (Monday) and I washed and packed away all the glasses, a job I quite enjoy, and moved the tables back and got the Café ready for the day.  So now we have Juliana’s flowers and aerial landscapes before they too are replaced by Ingeborg’s paintings.  So many talented Artists seem to have retired down here, it is quite amazing.  I really thought my wife would struggle to find Artists to exhibit, but we have a waiting list and even last night a couple of people were enquiring how they could have their own painting up and the inevitable Vernissage.  Happy days.


The Mystery Is Solved

Monday 28th September

A few mornings ago, while taking the dogs for their morning walk down by the mill where there is a car-park, I noticed that there were several of those metal barriers which are erected to block off entry roads on Market Days and other Special events in the town.  Why were they there?  And why in such a strange layout.  There were two parallel rows about 12 feet away from each other and another two shorter rows, also parallel and a t an angle off to one side.  Well it sort of dissolved into the background of my consciousness and though the barriers were still there I just accepted that that was the way things were; inconvenient for cars wanting to park there but I stopped wondering why.

Today (yesterday) all was revealed.  Up quite early again, despite it being a Sunday the Café is still open, and I took the dogs out for their usual walk.  Well the car park was full, almost to overflowing.  But not with cars, but bikes.  And they were all perched, front wheel raised on the barriers.  It was a cycle race or ride called the Raide D’Eymet, this is a sort-of triathlon and involves cycling, canoo-ing and running and is apparently an annual event.  And there they were, a whole crowd of Lycra-clad Men and Women, many of quite advanced years.  France may not win many cycling medals but the sport is very much alive and pedalling furiously here.  We often see a lone and sometimes a veritable bevy of cyclists on the small country roads.  And age does not deter them at all, in fact there is something about old men and Lycra which the wearers may find to be sexy, indeed French women may also find it extremely attractive; I however find it more than somewhat embarrassing.  I have no desire to see, admire, measure or drool over the contents of anyone’s lunchpack.  Younger ladies however are something else.  In fact just by sheer co-incidence I put on a CD in the Café this morning – Queen Greatest Hits, and guess what tracks 5 and 6 were?  Bicycle Races and Fat-Bottomed Girls.  Now that’s what I call Serendipity.

The Volkswagen Scandal

Sunday 27th September

Why are we surprised?  After all we have had the PPI miss-selling scandal, we have had the phone hacking scandal, we have had tax avoidance by many big businesses; we have had the LIBOR rate-setting scandal and many others.  It almost seems commonplace that Private Enterprise (you know, those paragons of virtue the Government praises at every opportunity) is cheating us, the public, their consumers, or us tax-payers by not paying their taxes correctly, at every opportunity.  Yet, let a benefit claimant be late for an appointment and the punishment is severe.

Never has this maxim seemed truer – “Steal a million from one person and you are the vilest criminal ever; steal one pound from a million people and it is a good business idea.”

And make no mistake the Volkswagen Scandal is Grand Theft Auto on a massive scale.  Firstly there are the customers, who either out of environmental concerns or because they wanted cheaper road tax were sold something that was not what it purported to be.  There are the, admittedly immeasurable, extra deaths that the undeclared pollution may have caused.  There is the theft from Governments who, incentivising lower emission cars, have received less tax from buyers of these cars, and subsequently that is theft from all of us.  There is the theft from other car manufacturers whose emissions may have been accurate and who maybe lost customers because of this deception.  And there is the theft from all of us too in a different but no less serious way.  We live in a world governed by numbers, mostly generated by computers and often supposedly regulated by Authorities.  Whenever those numbers turn out to be unreliable or downright falsifications, then our trust in Authority is eroded too.  Some might argue that this may be a good thing, but none of us has the technology or ability to check these numbers, and we make decisions based on the supposed truth of them.  And if trust is constantly eroded then more of us will resort to a sort-of black economy where we do not tell the truth either and taxes are evaded and we cheat and lie whenever possible, because everyone else is doing it too.  Let us hope that Volkswagen and any other manufacturers found cheating are severely punished; although of course it will be ordinary workers who will be sacked if customers desert them.


Saturday 26th September

There used to be a TV show with Chris Evans called TFI Friday, and we all know what the TFI stood for.  I used to sometimes watch it.  It was a bit crazy and was supposed to get you all excited about the weekend to come.  Well, here in Eymet we don’t really notice the weekends as the Café is open 7 days a week.  It isn’t terribly hard work, except for Thursday, Market Day.  Most days there is a steady stream of people and it is quite easy to manage.  I also get a bit of writing done too.  But maybe all retirees feel this way; the excitement of the weekend loses its verve somewhat when everyday is more or less the same routine.

In July and August there are Night Markets and Festival days galore, in effect it is one big party – but things have quietened down somewhat in September, except for Friday night at the Gambetta.  Tonight (Yesterday for you) we have that evergreen favourite “Terry, Gerry and Suzie”.  They sing soft versions of all our favourite sixties and seventies songs, and a few French favourites too.  We all, well me louder than everyone else, sing along and of course singing tends to make you thirsty, so a rather large amount of wine may be consumed by all and sundry.  Of course I will be on my best behaviour and be as sober as a Judge (Judge Tiddle I presume).  So, here is to Rupert who provides us with our weekly live music and once again T F I Friday…

2066 – and things take a turn for the worse

Friday 25th September

Diary Entry – 20660518

“I am on the run.  Again.  I have broken into what appears to be an old uninhabited small industrial unit on the outskirts of G. L.  At least there is micro-power and (cold) water here, so I can clean myself up a bit.  I should have known that the almost ‘idyllic life’ I had discovered in Hastings couldn’t last long.  Why is it that whenever you feel that things are going well, or at least not so bad, then something just has to come along to fuck it up.  At least it wasn’t me this time.

The hotel was raided a couple of nights ago.  I was just drifting off into sleep when I heard an almighty crash.  Doors splintering, glass shattering and yells and screams: Charlene, naked beside me, jumped up screaming “The Polis, the Polis, quick get up.”

What the fuck? I thought.  But she was tugging at me, to get up.  I only just managed to get some clothes on and grabbing my laptop, stuffed it into the bag I’d got from Dan and Emily, before the ballroom doors burst open and the Polis charged in.  Dogs slavering on their leashes, the Polis shouting, women screaming, the glare of super-beam torches blinding you; I ran for the kitchen door, and was half-way through when I was whacked hard from behind by a metal stick.  It hit me across the shoulders and sent a burning pain through my brain.  I wasn’t used to pain; I’d gotten into the habit of taking tabs for pain relief at the slightest sign of discomfort.  But this was different, this wasn’t an odd muscle ache, this was searing burning pain.  I was dragged screaming back into the ballroom, and kicked and beaten by more metal rods.  Each blow felt like burning hell, raining down on me time and again.  Super-beams shining in my eyes, I scrunched up into a little ball and blows rained down on me, each one making me scrunch up tighter, hands trying to protect my head at all costs.  Eventually the beating and the kicking stopped.  All the time the dogs were straining on their leads, barking wildly and only inches from my face.  I could see the spittle and felt their disgusting dog-breath in my face.  I realised that this was it.  It was all over for me now.   This might even be the end; this might be my death.

We were being rounded up, cleared out of the ballroom, dragged, pushed and kicked down the grand staircase, and sprawled in a heap of half-clothed and bleeding bodies on the black and white marble-tiled lobby floor.  The Polis were round us in a ring, shining their beams in our frightened faces and shouting and laughing at us.  Calling us all sorts of names and laughing and letting the dogs come rushing in at us, and then pulling them back just before they bit one of us.  We huddled together for some sort of protection.  Then suddenly I felt hot liquid on my face.  What could it be?  Then I smelt that unmistakable stink of piss in the air.  They were pissing on us.  Yes, actually pissing, waving their fat cop cocks around and spraying us with piss.

“You dirty fucking scum.  Fucking cunts, that’s all you are.” They screamed at us, as the streams of piss slowly dried up, and they put their cocks away.  Then they reached in and grabbing an arm here, a leg there, pulling and dragging us out into the freezing night air.  Rounded up and herded into a rag, taggle bunch in the middle of the road we watched as they went to work.  They had huge planks of wood and a nail machine, and boarded up the front of the old hotel we had called home.  All the time the dogs were barking and trying to get at us, coming within inches of us, so that we had to huddle together in an ever tighter group.  Some of us were naked, some were sobbing, some were still drunk, one or two were even defiant; shouting back at ‘the bastards’ even as the rods beat down on them again. I had never been so scared in my life.  Surely this was it, I thought.  They are bound to face-rec me now, and drag me back; my pathetic attempt at escape over.  Sure to be down strata-ed, maybe even clagged now.  What a pathetic way for it to all end.  I was just waiting to be shoved in the back of some Polis van, shivering, cold and pathetic, defeated and dragged back to face my worst fears.

Then within minutes they were gone.  Just as soon as they had arrived they were gone, back into the awful cold black night.  They bundled their dogs into the back of a big blue van, and got into their autos and drove off, leaving us cold and crying in the middle of the street.  It was pitch dark now their beams were off, and the tail-lights slid away into the black night air, red bars that slowly faded as the damp mist closed around us again.  I looked up at the stars glimmering in the night sky, and though I was cold, bruised and hurting and a confirmed rationalist too, I still mouthed a silent thank-you into the dark.

Charlene came over and cried on my shoulder, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” She cried.  “They do this every couple of months, just when we think they might have forgotten about us, they come back.  They always come back.  Why don’t they leave us alone?  What harm are we doing to anyone?  We just want to be left on our own.”

I tried to comfort her and stroked her matted hair, “There there, it’s over now.  They’ve gone.  It’s okay now, they have gone.”   Almost wanting to believe it myself.

“But they’ll be back, soon as they get bored again,” She cried, “don’t you realise that.  It’s all a bit of fun for them. They know that unless they actually kill us, they can’t get rid of us.  This is just amusement for them.  We are just fucking shit to them, less than shit.  They hate us, and they will be back.  Maybe in a couple of months, maybe later.  But they will be back.”

“Hey come on” Ben shouted in the darkness. “There’s a door at the back they haven’t boarded up, I know the way.  Come on, we’ll catch our death out here.”

And we followed him round to the back of the hotel and crawled back to our lair, like the defeated, broken rabble we were.  But I knew this was it, this was the breaking point for me.  I had to be on my way – and without Charlene too.  I felt sorry for her, but I knew she would just drag me down.  I had to do this on my own.  I would miss her though, her physical warmth, her kindness, and the blowjobs too.  Strange that I had enjoyed that so much when it came to it.  Syn-sex was better physically, far more accomplished, but the excitement of having a real live person licking you was incredible, even with the bad teeth, the smell of her and that she was already a crinkly, somehow none of that had mattered.  It was the touch of another human that I enjoyed.  But I would have to leave all of that behind me now.  I couldn’t let emotion cloud my judgment, and anyway what chance would the two of us have had.  Charlene was un-crammed, she knew no other life, and I knew that no matter what comfort she could give me I would have to leave her sooner or later.

She slumped on our mattress, crept under the filthy duvet and was asleep and snoring in minutes.  I silently sat up and groped my way back into my clothes, picked up by bag and crept like a thief out of the ballroom, through the kitchens, and out the back door.  I was heading for G. L. again.  Whatever the future held I couldn’t risk being constantly beaten up like that.  And the next time they might drag us in and face-rec me and it would all be over anyway.  I was bleeding and sore all over, I just wanted to find a place on my own for a while, away from everyone and so I headed across the fields in the direction I guessed was London.”

Oh, How The Mighty Are Fallen

Thursday 24th September

Only a few months ago they were still in power. Or, to paraphrase another old Politician, they were in Government but not in Power at all.  The Liberal-Democrats are now most certainly neither in Government nor ever likely to be again.  Or not in the for-seeable future of course.  Though, to be honest, who would have quite predicted the result of the last General Election; with the SNP triumphant all over Scotland and Labour doing so badly.  Just about the only thing that was certain was the demise of the Lib-Dems, though again hardly anyone thought they would be reduced to just eight M.P.s.  Almost from the moment they first turned all common-sense on its head and joined the Tories rather than vote them down with Labour, their fate was sealed.  The tuition fees about face was just the icing on the cake.  And there they stood, shoulder to shoulder with Cameron and Osborne, smiling for the cameras; Deputy Prime Ministers and Chief Secretaries to the Treasury, and all the other tinpot little baubles dangling in front of their Ministerial cars.  At times they sounded more Tory than the Tories, and yet they now protest that they always fought them and stopped them being even nastier than they were.  So what?  Now they can be as nasty as they like and where are the LibDems to stop them.

They are having their Party Conference this week and they still sound as pompous and self-important as they ever did.  They are incredibly given the same sort of air-time and exposure as when they had over 60 M.P.s.  Of course the SNP will not be treated with quite such respect, but that is another story.  And much as one doesn’t like to gloat, it serves them right. If they has acted with a bit more humility, if Nick Clegg had simply been a Cabinet Minister, if they hadn’t attacked Labour with such venom, if they had stood back and openly disagreed with and even reserved the right to vote against some measures – then we might have had a bit more respect for them.  And now it could take them twenty years to rebuild their shattered little party, and they don’t even have Charlie Kennedy anymore…

H – is for Steve Hackett

Wednesday 23rd September

Steve was not an original member of Genesis but he joined them fairly early on, and though he left shortly after Peter Gabriel of all the members of Genesis he has consistently kept the spirit of the band’s music alive more than any of the others.  He is a classically trained guitarist and has released a few albums of beautiful classical guitar, but he has also pushed the limits of that most iconic of rock’n’roll instruments further than most other players.  He continues to release albums practically every year and they are consistently excellent, varied and astonishingly beautiful.  And yet he remains fairly obscure; most of the other ex and current Genesis members are far more well-known.  Possibly he likes it that way; he has a devoted fan-base and his live concerts are sprinkled with updated versions of early Genesis songs and his record company must be pleased as his back catalogue continues to sell.  I have been buying “Uncut” magazine for years and have never seen his records reviewed or indeed any mention of him, although they regularly feature Peter Gabriel and Genesis re-issues.

His record sleeves are nearly all paintings by his wife Kim Poor and are stunning in their own right.  I haven’t actually ever seen a Greatest Hits album but a good place to start would be “Please Don’t Touch”, his second album and still probably his best.  You can hear it on you-tube. Anyway I don’t really care if any of you like him, as long as enough people keep buying his records enabling him to keep creating new and exciting music I will be one of them.

Spectral Mornings

Bloody Musicals

Tuesday 22nd September

I hate Musicals.  The West End is full of them; half the posters on the tube as you glide down the escalators are for Musicals; a new one seems to be opening every other week and they all promise to entertain us – the long-suffering public.  Mind you, I have only seen a very few.  My first was Evita.  I already had the album with the brilliant Julie Covington in the lead role.  I sat and watched the show in its first few weeks and was devastated.  Elaine Paige absolutely mullahed the show, belting out song after song, ignoring all the subtlety and sadness of Ms. Covington’s performance.  And seeing the people singing did nothing for me at all, I preferred the album.  Next up was Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.  Boring and over-long and the songs weren’t that good either.  Stupidly I once went and saw “We Will Rock You” – awful versions of Queen’s great songs, and despite Ben Elton, a crap story.

I saw Chicago with my parents and actually liked it, but I had no pre-conceptions and the jazz band were great.  The only other one I have seen was “Mamma Mia”.  Why I went I have no idea as I hate Abba.  Yes, you can sing-along to most of the songs, but do you really want to pay a lot of money to just sing-along to a band you never rated in the first place.

I have no desire to see Kinks songs, or Madness’ music, or Buddy Holly or the Drifters or any other artist’s songs sung badly by other people.  And I actually love live theatre, it just seems a travesty to replace Drama with Karaoke.

Busy Old Day

Monday 21st September

I am again in England for a few days, work and seeing relatives.  Today I was up early and out by nine.  Tube to Kings Cross then train to Stevenage.  It was my grandson Sam’s sixth birthday on Thursday and I wanted to see him and his four year old sister Sophie.  A lovely time; I helped him, or rather he helped me, make a helicopter with the Lego set I got him.  Then we played a couple of games of Opposites, a nice twist on pairs.  Although I am living mostly in France I am actually seeing my grandchildren at least as often as I did when we lived a few miles away in London.

Home by four and our friends came round, a bit of gardening and tidying up the house, then my wife’s stepson and family came over and we went out for a curry.  All good fun, and now the day is nearly over, as tired and weary, I eke out a blog.  Not much of one I must admit but it has been a busy old day.