A Weekend in Eymet

Monday 30th November

Well we were used to lots of events at the weekend in the Summer, in fact not only the weekends but there were Night Markets almost every night of the week in the surrounding towns.  And you might have thought that things would calm down a bit in the Winter; but this last weekend has been quite busy.  There used to be a Restaurant in town, Mama Chow’s, which served brilliant Chinese food.  It was on the boulevard and a bit small so booking was advised.  Then we heard that last December she (Mama Chow) was closing, and later the news emerged that she and her business partner had bought a new property on the Boulevard and were opening something bigger.  Rumours abounded, was it going to be another Restaurant?   A Tapas Bar maybe?  Apparently they had huge financial and planning problems and building work only started in March.  We passed it many times but it was still being renovated.  Each month we were promised an opening.  Well, it finally arrived last Friday; the grand opening of “Garage”.  It is almost a night-club, all dark paint and modern dim lighting and a long bar and a big video screen and a mammoth sound system pumping out house music.  We went along for the opening, and even though free drinks were offered we saw none.  However we had to try it out.  The consensus view among us older coves was that it wasn’t really our sort of thing, okay for the youngsters (anyone under fifty maybe) but it didn’t really fit in with Eymet.  In fact that sort of place was the very reason a lot of us came to Eymet.

Anyway, we all decamped after a couple of drinks to Le Pub where Irish rockabilly band “The Rogues” were filling the usual Friday night slot – great night as usual.  But we were really looking forward far more to Saturday’s Sixties Night in the pub, where perennial favourites Geoff and Rob were belting out great song after song.  But there was also Jazz in the Chateau round the corner for all the cool dudes.  And on the boulevard there was a funfair with dodgems and rides of all sorts, lights blazing into the cool black night.   And today (Sunday) there was the Foire de Ste Catherine, held in the cowshed in our road.   It is a showcase for local farmers and produce and there were a few farm animals on display too, sheep, goats, pigs and a bull.  Also today there was a second-hand book and toy fair in the Salle Polyvente.

So a busy little weekend, especially for a really quite small little town in South West France.

Places I Have Lived – part Seven

Sunday 28th November

Number 19 – Rue du Veau, Eymet, France.  In a strange way I always knew I would end up living in France.  Even though I failed my French ‘O’ level I fell in love with the language, and used to buy Paris Match sometimes and match my poor French to the photo-journalism there.  I have visited France for years, taking all my children at different times to Paris and have always loved the place. The only relatives I can be at all sure of are the Allards, and they are supposed to have come from France, so maybe it has been a spiritual homecoming.  But if it hadn’t been for my wife I may never have made that leap from aspiration to reality.  We had camped for a few years two or three times a year in France and had talked often about living here when we retired, but she did the research on the internet and decided on the Dordogne, and Eymet in particular.  We rented a gite at Fonroque, 6 kilometres out of Eymet, four years ago and started looking at houses.  We both fell in love with this house; unlike so many others it seemed full of light.  It started as a holiday home, and we were down here every school holiday and half-term; me stretching my meagre holiday allocation by doing extra work before and after.  And we loved the place – during the summer I would fly in and out two or three times; Bergerac airport is only just a few miles away and the fares are generally cheap.  In December last year my wife retired and wild horses would not have kept her in England.  I stopped working in April and couldn’t wait to join her.  We have had a brilliant Summer, and even now the Autumn is pretty good too.  But we have found the house just a bit too small now we are here full-time and have decided to buy something larger…

Number 20 – Avenue de la Bastide.  Well, it is almost bought but not yet lived in.  It is much larger and a sous-sol house.  Ground floor is a huge garage leading to two sets of French windows and the garden, a utility room, a cave and two guest bedrooms.  Upstairs has a large sitting room,  a big but very old-fashioned kitchen, and three more bedrooms.  It was built in 1968 and hasn’t really been modernized since then; the electrics are booked to be completely redone, and we will need a shower downstairs and a bath installed at some time.  We are excited, but a bit daunted by the size of the place, and for me the decoration needed.  But I am sure I will keep you informed of our continuing adventures, and as always when buying a house you feel certain that this will indeed be your last purchase – but who knows ?

Turkey – The Sick Man Of Europe

Saturday 28th November

I think it was Palmerston who coined that phrase, but it was certainly true in the 19th Century.  The old Ottoman Empire had spread throughout the middle east and covered most of the Balkans too, but it was slowly crumbling.   Imperial Russia and the Austro-Hungarians were encroaching and biting off bits of the old empire.  The Crimean War, one of the cruelest, was fought by the French and us to try to stop the Russians gaining a foothold in the Mediterranean.  And as Turkey controlled the Eastern entrance to that almost inland sea it was an essential part of British and French Diplomacy to prop up Turkey, the sick man of Europe.

Well, here we are again – attempting to prop up the sick man of Europe.  And not sick in the illness definition, but sick in a different way.  The Turkish army are fighting the Kurds in the East of that country.  The Kurds are actually the only people actively combating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and yet the Turks stood by when the Kurds were fighting Isis on the very Turkish border a few months ago.  The Turks shot down a Russian jet that may or may not have crossed a tiny bit of Turkish territory which juts into Syria, and yet they are both supposed to be fighting ISIS.

And now this is where it gets really murky; and if true really sick.  You cannot believe everything you read on the internet, but there are at least several differing narratives from the established Western Media.  There have long been reports that the Turks, along with America and Israel actually trained and financed ISIS as one of the groups trying to topple Syrian President Assad.  Who knows?  But there may well be some truth in this – it is a very dirty world.  But far more serious are reports that Bilal Ertegan, the Turkish President’s son is orchestrating the wholesale smuggling of oil from the oilfields around Mosul currently under ISIS control, through Turkey and selling it on to Japan and China.  Of course – you will not hear about this in our Media.  But, if this is true – the Turkish President (recently re-elected) is supposed to be fighting ISIS, is a member of NATO, is allowing American and French planes to take off from Turkey to bomb and kill ISIS fighters in Syria, and yet at the same time his son is buying and selling oil from ISIS which is funding that group to buy weapons and fight and send terrorists to our cities to bomb and maim our citizens.

Now, that is truly sick.  And I ask, do we really want to get embroiled in this unholy mess?  The Americans and Russians and French are bombing an already bombed to bits country which may never recover, at least in one piece; which may of course be the real reason for Turkish duplicity.

Places I Have Lived – part six

Friday 27th November

Number 16 – Ground Floor flat, Hoe Street, Walthamstow – I decided to rent for a while, house prices were falling and no-one knew how far they would drop (not much further as it happened).  Anyway, I just felt like downsizing and moved into this little flat.  Two bedrooms, one full of CD singles and books and a few bits of furniture, a sitting room, kitchen and bathroom.  I actually got rid of loads of stuff, including three or four boxes I had put up in the attic nineteen years earlier.  As Michelle Shocked sings ‘Holding on to the past was my only mistake.’  Well, I lived here for eighteen months and had a great time.  I wrote, or re-wrote ‘Catherines Story’ here late into the evening and listened to music all night.

Number 17 – Alfred Terrace, Walton-on-the-Naze.  We used to come here some weekends when I was a kid and I always loved the place.  It has an end-of-the-world sort of charm, a crumbling Victorian splendor combined with the natural beauty of the Naze and the backwaters.  I chose the house with my then girlfriend who is now my wife and we spent most weekends here for at least four years.  I still stay here on visits back to the U.K.   It is full of CDs and books and most of my old furniture and a few new pieces bought in the second-hand shops of Walton.

Number 18 – Caledonian Wharf, Isle of Dogs.  This is my wife’s house, but I lived here for over four years during the week while we worked in London.  It is a lovely house and I enjoyed repainting it from top to bottom.  There is a small lake at the bottom of the garden with ducks and moorhens and a lot of fish.  We are only a few yards from the Thames and I loved walking the dogs here.  Out of one window you can see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf  (you can almost smell the money), out of another the O2 Millenium Dome is visible and just down the road is Greenwich, with the Naval College and the Cutty Sark.  A lovely part of London, and I enjoyed living here.  But France was always calling…..

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Thursday 26th November

I must admit I got this idea from someone else, but I had been thinking along similar lines for ages.

Some of you may be a tad confused by the current fighting in Syria.  This is how we got there.  George Bush (once a good guy but now looking badder as each day passes) decided either before 9/11 or just after, to invade both Afghanistan (good guys but also full of bad guys – the Taliban {who once were helped by Osama Bin Laden, then a good guy but now being very bad, to kick out the Ruskies [really bad]}) and Iraq (ruled by baddest of bad guys Saddam Hussein).  He (Bush, then a good guy) described a triangle of evil – Iraq, Syria (ruled by the Assad’s and until then not considered terribly bad) and North Korea (too funny to even be considered really bad, {I mean, how many Kims are there}).  Our Prime Minister Tony Blair (up till then the goodiest of two shoes good) had a Christian love-in with Bush and decided to join in the invasion of Afghanistan (this was because of Osama Bin Laden – remember him, the baddest guy who ever lived, even though a few years earlier he had helped kick the Russians {perpetual bad guys} out of Afghanistan {so for a while was a good guy} but had now become a really bad guy because he didn’t like the Americans [they are the good guys, remember]) and also to get rid of Saddam (really bad guy) in Iraq.  Confused yet?  You will be.

Iraq was a disaster and descended into Civil War, and the good guys (Bush and Blair) are now seen as quite naughty.  In the meantime the Americans (always good guys – how could you think otherwise) decided that after all Assad was the really bad guy.  They funded and armed lots of rebel groups (good guys) to start a civil war against Assad (baddie).  Saudi Arabia (good guys – because they buy our weapons) helped fund these rebels too, while stifling any form of democracy at home (but let no-one even imagine they are bad guys).  Then while we were all distracted by Russia (bad guys) gobbling up bits of Ukraine (good guys after they kicked out the bad guy who the Russians liked, even though he had been recently elected), ISIS suddenly emerged.  Now these guys are really the baddiest of the bad (even though they are still funded by the Saudis {good guys}, and had morphed out of disparate rebel groups [good guys] funded by America (good guys) fighting the bad guy {Assad}).  So now the West (who could doubt how good we are) decided to bomb ISIS (so bad they keep changing their name, ISIS/ISIL/Daish – all bad {do they really think we are fooled by a name change}).  The Kurds (good guys but a bit bad because they want their own state) are now fighting ISIL too, but the Turks (a bit bad because they are Muslims but now good guys because they are in NATO, the ultimate good guys) are fighting the Kurds (good guys) too.  And the Russians (how bad can they be) are also fighting in Syria, but this time on the side of Assad (bad guy) against both the good rebels and the bad rebels.  And the Turks (honorary good guys but no-one really believes they are not bad) have shot down a plane belonging to the Russians {who are good while they are bombing ISIL, bad while they are fighting the good rebels [still being supplied by the Americans – the really good guys] and really bad still for sneakily fighting in Ukraine [they cannot even be honest about it]}). Just to clarify things then, anyone fighting ISIS is a good guy, even if they are really bad guys but just pretending to be good.

And now we, the Brits (always good guys) are going to join in whacking the really bad guys (Isis) even though the Russians are supporting the other bad guy (Assad) who the even badder guys (ISIL, Daish – oh, you know who we mean) are fighting, but also whacking some good guys and some bad guys as the mood takes them (well, they were always bad really, weren’t they).

The Americans just like bombing anyone…..to be continued.

L’Hiver est Arrivee

Wednesday 25th November

Yes, winter has arrived, and early too.  After a splendid long hot summer, and a remarkably mild October and beginning of November, when we would sit outside Bar Tortoni in the sunshine on a Sunday afternoon and think how lucky we were – winter is here and brrrrr…..is it cold?  It was a bit drizzly on Sunday, but the skies soon cleared up and as night came on the cold descended like a gentle all-absorbing blanket.  Monday morning it began to snow; just a few large blobby flakes which swirled around a bit and settled on the trees and grass but melted when they hit the road.  This only lasted an hour and then the sun came out and the temperature crept up to about five degrees.   A few intrepid walkers were out but the town was really quiet, even for a Monday – when almost every shop is shut.

It got colder as the evening drew on, and we were driving home from Bergerac and saw the most incredible sunset, all blazing oranges and a few clouds lit up bright yellow on their edges and streaming paler and paler flames as the few clouds streaked away into the darkening blue sky.  The skies then cleared and an almost full moon shone down.  We knew it would get colder and this morning (Tuesday) it was very very cold.  The river was shrouded in low-lying fog, it was swirling around and rising in towers of mist.  But no snow today; maybe just too cold for that.  So, winter has arrived.  Or maybe it is just a reminder, and we will have some warmer weather before it returns after Christmas, with ir without a vengeance.  We will see.

Places I Have Lived – part five

Tuesday 24th November

Number 14 – St. Mary’s Road, Leyton – Why Leyton?  Well, Louise had already bought a flat here and liked the area.  She sold the flat and together we bought our first house.  It was a mid-terrace late Victorian three-bedroom house.  An Indian family had lived there before us, and they left it in quite a state; there was a live gas pipe taped up in the kitchen and under the carpets was old lino almost rotting in place.  But we turned it into a really lovely house.  A new kitchen and a lot of decorating later and it really looked good.  We fell in love with Laura Ashley wallpaper and paint, and used it every room.  We lived there for five years and Lydia was born and Justin left home there.  It was okay really, though Leyton left a lot to be desired.  After a few years we decided to buy something a bit grander.

Number 15 – Colchester Road, Leyton.  The road was smarter and the house was Edwardian and quite imposing with a lot of the original features, but either hard-boarded or painted over.  It seemed ludicrously expensive at the time and we really stretched ourselves with the mortgage.  It had four bedrooms and two living rooms and a large if old-fashioned kitchen.  I ended up living here for nineteen years, after two years Louise decided she wanted to be on her own, so I borrowed some more money and bought her out.  I spent a few wilderness years here on my own, for a while my son and his girlfriend came and lived with me, and my friend Robert was a lodger for a while too.  I spent years decorating or renovating the place, sanding down every available bit of original wood in the place, including all the skirting boards and stair treads.  It did look good in the end, but I wonder if all that work was just me trying to fill in the loneliness with something.  Sandra moved in with me but after six years that relationship ended too, and I put the house up for sale.  The day I moved out I never looked back, I was never so happy to leave a house – too many bad memories.

The Aftermath

Monday 23rd November

We were all shocked by the recent events in Paris but it is hard to really know what to make of it all.  Was it, as the Media would have us believe, a well coordinated attack by ISIS, who present a clear and present danger?  Is it, in the words of President Hollande, a declaration of War on France by ISIS?   Is it a step-change in the nature of terrorism, and one which it is almost impossible for us to defend ourselves from?  Or is something else happening?

I can almost dismiss M. Hollande.  After all he promised to defend Parisiens after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Supermarket in January.  It was almost de rigeur for him to behave, well Presidentially, I suppose.  He has declared a state of emergency, where all civil liberties are suspended and the Police can have a free hand to pursue enemies of the State. And there has certainly been a lot of activity; whether well-planned or panic measures we will probably never know.  But of the over 200 raids we have seen few if any actual arrests so far.  And what are we to make of the raid on Thursday morning and the following siege?  It seems to me that 5,000 rounds of ammunition on one apartment would appear slightly excessive.  And we only have French intelligence telling us that the man killed was the mastermind behind the attacks.  Oh, so that’s alright then – he deserved to die (as did Jihadi John just over a week ago too).  And now that they have been eliminated we can sleep a bit easier.  Can’t we?

And honestly I do not know.  There has been such mass news coverage of the last week in Paris that actually the more I know the less I am sure of.  It would appear that the attacks were well organized, but could actually have been worse.  There also appears to have been a major lapse in intelligence by the French and Belgians.  And what do most Muslims, treated in France and Belgium (and here to a degree) as second-class citizens, think of all this.  It makes no difference however much their leaders protest their abhorrence of ISIS there is always an element of brush-tarring, amplified by Marine Le Pen.  And quite possibly many Muslims have somewhat divided loyalties, not that that would ever push them to such acts themselves.  But ISIS have been very successful with their message that the West has been conducting a Crusade against the Middle East and Muslims and Arabs in particular.

It may well be that in the next century Historians will also conclude that that is what was happening.  Unless we, the West, rebuild Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and protect Gaza and sort out the Israeli occupation, we will surely continue to suffer more ‘terrorist’ attacks in the future.  We need to stop bombing and invading and trying to instigate regime change, and really help these people devastated by twelve years now of War and Occupation.  And I don’t think that any of that will happen any time soon sadly.

J – is for the wonderful Martyn Joseph

Sunday 22nd November

I have written about Martyn before but I keep returning to him.  He is simply a wonderful singer-songwriter.  He is Welsh, and not at all ashamed of it.  He is a Christian and again not ashamed of declaring himself, though he does not shove Christianity down your throat.  But most of all he is a Socialist.  He cares for the poor, the downtrodden, and most of all he sympathises with ordinary people.  One of his songs “Let’s talk about it in the morning” brilliantly takes us to that point that many relationships hit when you are both too tired to argue anymore. ‘Too tired to think of sex from one week to the next; to kiss is such a bore, you leave me wanting more.’  Who hasn’t been there?  Or when he sings of the young boy at school who cannot understand why he saw his father sitting crying in his chair, when they closed the pits.  Or when he sings about the Working Mother, putting jam on the kitchen table for her kids.

He has also managed to carve out a career outside of the music industry.  He has his own record label and releases his own records, lots of them, on the internet.  He records albums of original songs and sometimes cover versions of his favourite artists, or live concerts.  I have over twenty of his CDs, and this is not a complete list by any means.  He has an army of fervent fans and manages to cross-over between folk and rock with ease.  I have seen him half a dozen times and he is always fresh and different, he has no set show, but seems to play whatever takes his fancy on the day.  He has a huge following in Canada and tours there for four months every year.  He is a true original; he actually walked away from a lucrative contract with Sony, because they wanted to turn him into a ‘pop-star’.  He is well worth a listen.

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Places I Have Lived – part four


Saturday 21st November

Number 12 – Glenmore House, Amhurst Road, Hackney.  This was the pre-war GLC block described in some detail in “Catherine’s Story”.  It had two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen and bathroom, but it was home.  Justin and I spent about two and a half years here.  It was a terribly rough estate and a grim area, but once you shut your front door it was okay.  It was a long way from Justin’s nursery but I used to cycle there every morning and leave him at eight and collect him at 6 in the evening.  Incidentally I was the only single father; all the other kids had single mothers.  I really quite liked the flat.  I painted it, and papered the walls with “Biba” wallpaper, I bought a large chesterfield sofa and a table and chairs and a handmade Norwegian rug from a craft shop.  I can remember going into Woolies and buying a plate a week until I had a complete crockery set.  Poor, but happy.  I met ‘Joybells’ in the Hotel I was working in and we decided to live together – but somewhere nicer.

Number 13 – Towers Court, Ballards Lane, Finchley.  We answered an advert in the Standard.  It was a large three bed flat with a controlled rent.  Only problem was that the guy who had the rent-book wanted key money, £3000.  I got a bank loan and we moved in.  This was a lovely area, and we had a large shared garden and a garage.  The rent was cheap too and controlled, so could only rise with inflation.  I lived here for more than ten years.  Finchley was a million times better than Hackney and we had lots of middle-class friends.  Laura was born and five years later Joy stupidly had an affair and when I confronted her, she left with him and my daughter.  Disaster…  but I survived.  I had a couple of lodgers and my sister stayed with me for a while too.  We had quite famous parties here too.  Anyway, at one party I met Louise and before long we were an item.  We decided to buy a house together.