It’s 4 in the morning – the end of December

Thursday 31st December

Well it isn’t 4 in the morning.  But at this time of year I always think of this song, possibly Leonard’s most mournful and yet most beautiful of songs……..Famous Blue Raincoat

“It’s four in the morning, the end of December

I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better

New York is cold but I like where I’m living

There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening

And I hear that you’re building your little house, deep in the desert

You’re living for nothing now; I hope you’re keeping some kind of record”

What else is there to say.  Leonard always wrote it far better than I ever could.  This time of year is always a mixture of loss and hope; another year gone, another year wasted? Well, anyway irretrievable certainly.  And the hope of the new year and what it might bring.

“Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair, she said that you gave it to her

That night that you planned to go clear.  Did you ever go clear?”

K – is for Kris Kristofferson

Wednesday 30th December

Can’t remember when I first heard Kris Kristofferson, he seems to have been on my playlist for years, but it must have been around 1970.  The early seventies were incredible, whether or not the revival of American music started when Dylan and the Band decamped to Woodstock or not is debatable, but there was such an outpouring of brilliant new Artists and song-writing just post-Beatles that looking back it seems unbelievable.  Neil Young, Joni, Leonard of course, James Taylor, Carole King and many many others, (stupidly we thought it might continue forever) and one of those new singers was Kris Kristofferson.  He came out of Nashville, and if the story is to be believed he was working as a janitor in a recording studio and writing songs in his spare time.  But what songs!!!

His first album was made to sell his songs, and featured “Me and Bobbie McGee” and “Help Me Make It through The Night” but there isn’t a poor song on the record.  His voice is like raw honey, sweet and rough and totally delicious; it was a perfect mix of country and rock and almost defined the ‘Americana’ genre.  Such was this album’s success that he went on the road and sampled the rock’n’roll lifestyle for a few years, releasing a string of hit albums.  He and Rita Coolidge became an item and also released a few records together, but I felt he was going a bit soft at this point.  He had a hit duet with Barbara Streisand and appeared in quite a few films too.  But he never abandoned his music; he joined with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Ricky Nelson to form the Highwaymen – another hit collaboration.

Lately he has returned to a simpler stripped back sound, and still keeps making decent records.  But for me, like so many others, it is those first few early seventies records that are his best.  I have most on CD now, but his third ‘Border Lord’ (and one of his best) was only out on CD for a short while; it now command prices in excess of £300 for a copy (I have it on tape only – but am waiting for its re-release one day).  Also a couple of his Rita collaborations are unavailable at all on CD….boohoo.

And for the record, though there have been many many covers of Kris Kristofferson songs, nobody sings “Sunday Morning Coming Down” or “Loving Her Was Easier” or even “Me and Bobbie McGee” (sorry Janis) as good as Kris does.

See original image

Home (but which one)

Tuesday 29th December

The trip is over, both the 17 days I was away, and the actual journey back.  And you know that old song “It’s oh so nice to go travelling, but so much nicer to come home”, ah, how true that is. But no regrets – it was lovely to see everyone again; and we brought so much stuff back in the car it was well worth it.  The journey itself was a bit tedious, or at least I as a passenger found it so.  We had packed sandwiches and fruit and nuts and figs and apricots and all sort of soft drinks and two thermos flasks and tea bags, but by half-way we were truly sick of it all and resorted to eating sweets and chocolates.  We hit a couple of traffic jams both inside and just out of Paris, and at one point I never thought we would ever get here, but 9.30 in the evening French time and we were rolling into Eymet.  Mind you we had been up at three in the morning and crossed on the tunnel at 6, so a long long day.

The house soon warmed up but this morning we discovered that we had no hot water.  It is on a separate electric immersion heater and it was working before we left.  We suspect an electrical fault, and hopefully it will be easily fixed.  So for a while it will be back to the old house for showers, and boiling water for everything else.  We are having the whole placed re-wired in a couple of weeks time, as it hasn’t been updated since 1968 when the house was built; there are hardly any sockets anywhere, and the circuit board looks positively dangerous.

I spent a couple of hours emptying the car this morning (Monday) and my wife ran the café; quite quiet as we expected, but it was nice to crank up the machine again.  The sun was streaming onto our new balcony and it felt just like spring – hopefully we can skip Winter this year, hahaha.  We neither of us can sit around doing nothing; and this new house will certainly keep me occupied for many months.

2066 – and Janeks fears are beginning to be realised

Monday 28th December

Diary Entry – 20660607

 “I told him everything, everything I could remember anyway.  I hid nothing from him at all.  I even told him about the laptop, and this stupid journal I was writing.  He said little, just smiled benignly and encouraged me to carry on.

After a couple of hours he led me to a bedroom and for the first time in months I sank into a real bed, but this was different.  There was no duvet, but sheets and blankets and a thick eiderdown, they felt so heavy at first, but I soon fell into a long and deep sleep.

I woke and looked at the bedside clock.    Eight it read, but I had no idea whether it was eight at night or eight in the morning.  I was used to the twenty-four hour digital clocks on every screen; a.m. and p.m. were hardly used these days.   This clock had old-fashioned hands and the little one was pointing to eight.

I stumbled out of bed and into the ill-fitting but warm clothes he had laid out for me.  Cautiously I came downstairs, half scared there would be the Polis sitting there waiting for me, but no, just the old man.  No alcohol in his hand this time though.

I asked him who he was, and what he did.  He said his name was Peter Skinner, a retired judge and that he would be ninety three in a month’s time.  He had retired early due to his wife’s ill-health.  She had died a year ago and he now lived here alone.  He was writing his own unofficial history of the remarkable century we were living in, though of course his words were uploaded and not secret as mine had been.  But he told me it was a ‘warts and all’ version, as he called it, and quite critical in places.  He had no fear of reprisals though, why should there be any reprisals for simply telling the truth.  Besides he was telling it from the inside, as one of the administrators, especially of the emergency measures that had been necessary during the transition from chaos to the ordered strata system we now had.

He couldn’t really understand why I had been so dissatisfied with my life.  I was in a reasonably high strata; I had a valuable and somewhat unique and interesting job, a wife in good health, and above all I was fit and still young.  I had everything to live for, surely.

“Yes, all that is true.  But is it freedom if you cannot decide whether you agree to everything that is being done in your name; if you aren’t even asked.” I parried

“Oh my dear boy, you are being too simplistic.  It has always been thus.  In fact, it could be argued that of all the epochs in human history this was the one where most freedom exists.  You are confusing the concept of personal freedom with the collective freedom we have ensured for almost everyone.  And what did the exercise of that personal freedom ever achieve?  Chaos and uncertainty.”  And again that benign smile, it lurked around his whole face, and yet I detected some steeliness in his unmoving eyes.  “But enough of all this theorising, I am tired of it.  I hope you are recovered somewhat after your long sleep.  Over twelve hours, that is quite some sleep.”

I nodded that I was feeling better – but I was wary now.  He still wasn’t telling me what he intended to do with me; I could hardly remain a house-guest forever.   As if reading my mind he smiled again and said  “Well, I suppose you are wondering what I have in mind for you aren’t you Janek?  I hope you don’t mind me calling you Janek.  Smith is so impersonal – reminds me of Eton, my old crammer, and that is a long time ago I can tell you.  Your future Janek all depends on you.  To be more specific on how compliant you are.  As you are aware I could have you arrested in minutes, and I am not at all worried that you might harm me physically.  Even you, in your muddled thinking are not that stupid.  I assume that like almost everyone you wish to remain alive, as long as possible; though I must admit I was surprised at the success of the Euthenase programme when it was introduced, oh must be thirty years ago now.  Amazing how many people continue to opt for it, still it is their choice.  Just as what I am about to offer you is your own choice.  Of course that choice is not entirely free, as the alternative will, as you have so rightly guessed be your arrest and detention.  So, I suppose you are wondering exactly what I have in mind, aren’t you?”

And again that enigmantic smile hovered over his lips, belying entirely the hushed threat in his words.  I didn’t answer him, partly because I didn’t want to play his little game, and partly because I was quite scared.  This strange little man who though physically quite frail had enormous power over me; I was literally his prisoner.  And I was beginning to dread that what he wanted me for might be worse than the alternative, arrest and even clagging, might be.

“What’s the matter?  Cat got your tongue?” he said rather bitterly, almost spitting out the words.  “Don’t worry, it’s not that awful.  Don’t look so scared.  The truth is that one gets rather bored living here in this rather comfortable but splendid isolation.  I do have a few friends, like minded individuals, and they too get a bit bored also, so we like to amuse ourselves occasionally.  And we find our amusement in using people.  Some would call it abuse, but actually no real harm is done.  Well not usually.  And again that depends on you Janek.  Submit to a few old men’s fantasies and you will be able to continue here for a while, or at least until we tire of you.  Of course if you would rather I let the authorities know about you straight away, I can always arrange that.”

“How the hell do I know you won’t just have me arrested whatever I end up doing for you?  And what happens when you tire of ‘using me’, as you call it.”  I was beginning to get really scared now.  This was no longer a game, this was becoming very dangerous.

“You will just have to trust me, won’t you.  As for what happens when you leave here, that too depends on you doesn’t it.  The Polis won’t believe a word you might say if you were ever so stupid as to think that telling tales might be a possibility.   I am a man of my word, and if I say I will let you go at some point in the future then that will surely be the case.  Besides I really couldn’t be bothered with having to lie to you.  Come on Janek, you know you are in no position to negotiate.  Besides, who knows – you might even enjoy it; you wouldn’t be the first.”

And so there I was, a virtual prisoner, with no real possibility of escape, about to be sexually abused I supposed by a group of rich old men supposed to be running the damned show.  What the hell did they have in mind?  I would soon find out.  And I was right about him drugging my food, as a few minutes after I finished the cup of tea he offered ‘to help me make up my mind’ I slipped into unconsciousness.”

Driving Home for (after) Christmas

Sunday 27th December

I have always loved the Chris Rea song ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, it seems to perfectly express that desire to be home in time for Christmas, to see one’s family, especially the children.  Well, we have done that.  We have been back for over two weeks now, we have done Walton, we have done Wales, I have delivered presents for and seen four sets of grandchildren, we have tidied the garden, we have done our Christmas shopping, we have gone to my sister’s for Christmas Day and had a lovely time as usual, we have spent Boxing Day with friends and now at last we are driving home to France.

Never knew how much I missed it, we were like fish out of water for a while back there. We probably planned it all wrong, and gave ourselves too much time back in England.  We knew we needed to buy some paint and some new bedding (both notoriously expensive in France) and we retrieved a few boxes of china from my wife’s house in Wales; the car is loaded to the gunwales (as usual) and we are starting off in the early hours for a dawn crossing, then down to Paris (hopefully quiet on a Sunday) and the long run to Limoges, turn left at Brives La Gaillarde and then swing on down to Bergerac and our beloved Eymet.  Just in time for New Years Eve and another party.

2066 – Our Unseen Observer’s view of Janek’s Latest Adventure

Saturday 26th December

-[I suppose that some of you may be wondering how this state of affairs could exist, but as this document is strictly for limited viewing I may as well enlighten those of you who are still ignorant of the rules governing certain strata levels.  In order to minimise resistance and for the sake of speedy implementation of the new republic, it was decided that the top level of society should be allowed far more freedoms than the rest of society.  These people, essential for future stability, were allowed for a limited time at least to continue with some activities which might appear on the surface to be hypocritical.   The very people who were implementing laws prohibiting alcohol and certain sexual practices were allowed to continue enjoying them.  I have been teetotal for many decades now, and am sexually neutered also.  But this should not be allowed to confuse my thinking.  Just because I have voluntarily given up certain pleasures gives me no moral authority to judge those who have not so decided.

Human development has always been a tortuous one, as certain understanding and tolerance increases so in another direction barbarism and cruelty sometimes come back to the fore.  In order to assist in mankind’s evolution a new way of thinking had to emerge, and things could no longer be left to chance.  Decisions had to be taken for the good of the majority, and individual sensibilities had to be overridden.  We knew that a perfect system could not emerge in such a small time-frame; in fact it may take centuries before we achieve our objective.  Someone once said that Rome was not built in a day; to which I would reply – ‘No, but bits of it were.’

The trouble with people is their greed.  If this basic instinct can be eradicated, and of course all our policies are pursued with that as a primary objective, then we believe that a new type of human being will evolve.   By creating a perfectly sustainable economic system, and completely flexible cred, and with better and faster computing power there is no reason why scarcity of any human need should exist.  Without scarcity there is no benefit accruing to the individual in having an excess of any commodity.   Therefore Marx’s dictum of ‘to all according to their need, from all according to their ability’ will become the norm.  Without violent revolution, death and the despotism that have accompanied previous half-hearted attempts, I might also add.

So, we must not confuse today’s slightly contradictory system with the inevitable end-product we are all striving for.  This is simply a phase of development, and imperfect as it is, it is working for the vast majority of people.  The slightly awkward fact of their being in effect one rule for some and a different judgement for others is not important in the long-term.  Suffice it to say that the peccadilloes of those upon whose shoulders most responsibility lay were tolerated as long as they remained behind closed doors.   Besides as far as alcohol was concerned, we had a practical problem, which those who advocated its prohibition had not considered.  It was nigh on impossible to simply destroy it, one could hardly pour it all down the drains (too much environmental damage).  So rather than store it forever it made more sense for it to be consumed by a small but important minority who besides anything else had the capacity to appreciate and not abuse it.

As for the sexual irregularities this select group are allowed, I have always had reservations regarding this.  I have no desires in that direction myself, and as part of the ‘select’ programme I underwent chemical changes which removed all sexual desire from my emotional make-up, but on the whole, as long as the participants are willing I have no ‘hang-ups’ regarding this area of human activity.   However as I am sure some of you may be aware even this proviso has been relaxed in their case.  This is of course not my area of responsibility so I cannot make any judgement.  But some of you may be slightly disturbed by the next few entries in Janek’s little journal.  If so please fast-forward to Part four.  I have no wish to sensationalise this episode, or indeed the whole Janek Smith saga, I am merely recording the facts as they unfolded, as I am sure the more sensible of you will realise.]-

It’s Been A Funny Old Year

Friday 25th December

As Arkwright may have mused – “It’s been a funny old year.”  I knew it would be a year of change; I had already taken the decision to stop working at the end of March and even though I had written much earlier to my bosses explaining my decision, they really didn’t believe it until I sent them a formal notice letter at the beginning of January.  I had progressively reduced my working week to four and then three days over the last few years.  But what tends to happen is that even though you are only working three or four days you are somehow expected to do the same amount of work as if you had been there every day.  And with the advent of e-mail even the weekends are not sacrosanct.  Besides my one Client had suffered the loss of an excellent secretary cum office assistant who really used to help me, and managed the suppliers brilliantly.  She also had the bank mandate and used to pay the bulk of the suppliers.  Well, she left in March 2014 and her replacement was not prepared to take on any Accounts duties, so it then became my task.  And as the company was losing money each month cash flow was critical.  I ended up spending half my time fending off irate suppliers and trying to juggle enough money to actually pay the staff.

Anyway, they eventually hired someone to replace me, but stupidly allowed him to take three weeks holiday to visit Pakistan just when he was supposed to take over my job.  I realized the chaos that would ensue; I have never even taken two weeks off as the backlog becomes unmanageable, so I volunteered to stay another month.  Bad decision.  I delayed my full-time living in France by four weeks.

And what a lovely Summer we had.  Although I had visited for three years I had never had a full summer here with the Night Markets and festivals and the sunshine and the open-air eating and relaxing.  And the summer seemed to stretch right into Autumn too, only really slowing down in November.

Then there was the added excitement of the new house.  Totally unplanned of course, but we fell in love with it straightaway, even though there is a mountain of work to modernize it.

When I had thought of retiring I had imagined that we would spend a few weeks in France, and then return to London or Walton for a few weeks and so on.  But as it turned out, what with the Café and our wonderful friends out there we come back just for a few days each month for work or to see Mum and Dad and the Grandchildren.  So, no regrets – but it has been a funny old year.

There Is Nowhere Like Nando’s

Thursday 24th December

Every so often we get the urge to go to Nando’s; usually when we are driving around the various shops at Beckton and can just see it out of the corner of our eyes, or know that it is just a couple of roundabouts away.  And we are never disappointed.

For a while I used to do the books for Fine Burger Company, a fledgling start-up in the crowded fast food market.  It wasn’t a bad concept; a decent burger in a Restaurant setting – but in the end people didn’t like paying premium prices for a burger, no matter how delicious it was.  But we were always looking over our shoulders at the competition, and the one that was streets ahead of the others was Nando’s.  I first discovered them back in the eighties when they only had a handful of branches, and it was basically just chicken and chips; but they have now perfected the product, and I must say it is pretty unbeatable.  They rapidly spread and are still growing – it seems there may well be room for a Nando’s on every high street.

One innovation that as Restauranteurs we particularly liked was that you queued up and paid for your meal in advance.  This meant a far faster turnover, no lingering waiting for the bill, and no need for expensive waiting staff, just someone to bring the food to your table (also, incidentally, far less complaints and quibbling about the bill when it arrived).  But of course the best thing about Nando’s is the spicy sauce they both grill the chicken in, and have as a condiment available in all degrees of hotness.  And for around fifteen pounds a head you get a decent meal and a drink, served pretty quickly in nice surroundings.  You leave with your mouth still tingling from the hot sauce and despite a full stomach the feeling that you could happily eat the while darned thing again.  Superb.

Materialistic and Disposable – A Strange Combination

Wednesday 23rd December

We are living in a time of unparalleled materialism; as a child I would never have believed just how much stuff we would all possess.  And yet at the same time everything is disposable.  I can remember as a child we used to have a green plastic jug in the corner of the bath, for rinsing shampoo out of our hair.  As a young man visiting my parents they still had that green jug, and for all I know it may still be lurking in their attic.  But now we change almost everything all the time with little thought.  People buying a new house often buy a new three-piece suite at the same time, oh and new bedroom furniture too while we are in IKEA.  It has a lot to do with the growth of credit and more disposable income generally – and yet how we squeal when anyone suggests raising taxes.  But it also has to do with our values.  It seems that the more we have the less we value anything; it is all ultimately disposable and therefore has little real value.

In France I went the other day to the Vestiare.  This is a mammoth charity clothes recycling project run by volunteers.  There are rooms and rooms full of clothes, all neatly hung on coat-hangers or folded.  They have all been donated, washed and ironed and are on sale.  I bought two perfectly good and almost brand new jumpers and a denim jacket; price 3 euros the lot.  And I have more clothes than I have ever owned or really want at all.  But when asked for suggestions for Christmas or Birthday I automatically ask for a shirt, and get them.  I can remember having just a few shirts and only a couple of pairs of jeans; in fact I used to constantly patch and re-patch my jeans, often scouring jumble sales for old denim.  I wish I still had those jeans, and my Afghan coat which I wore until it literally split at the sleeves and was almost in tatters; I loved them.  Now I have jackets galore and at least three suits I will never wear again.  When our washing machine or telly breaks it easier to buy a new one than try and get them fixed, and part of that is that we really want to upgrade anyway; HD, 3D and curved screen, and plasma screens – when all we watch is rubbish anyway.

And this in a world where people are starving and without even the basics of life and the Daily Mail lambasts the Government for Overseas Spending and everyone moans about how hard up they are. It seems that the more we have the less we value what we have, yet it doesn’t stop us wanting more.

K – is for Mark Knopfler

Tuesday 22nd December

Mark was Dire Straits, simple as that; the singer, the lead guitarist and most importantly the songwriter.  And for a few years Dire Straits were untouchable, through Sultans of Swing, Romeo and Juliet, right through to Money For Nothing, everything they did was brilliant.  And then, for whatever reasons, Mark went solo.

He has released a string of immaculate albums, every few years a new one.  He has collaborated with Chet Atkins and with EmmyLou Harris, he released an album as The Notting Hillbillies of mostly folk-rock, he has produced other artists and he has written film music such as Local Hero.  He seems to have settled into the best of all worlds.  He releases what he likes when he likes and is presumably quite well off from the Royalties of still well-selling Dire Straits, so if his records are hits or not matters little.  They actually sell quite steadily to an army of loyal fans.  I have a few of them and am never disappointed.  But rarely thrilled either; there are no Sultans of Swing anymore or Money for Nothing either; instead his music is low-key and laid back, and full of gentle melodies, exquisite guitar playing and melodies that drift by and sound as if you always knew them.   His best so far is ‘The Ragpicker’s Dream’ – well it is my favourite anyway, but I will continue to buy his other records when I see them cheap on Amazon.  He is definitely an all-time favourite.