Tuesday 28th February

I have always loved Satire.  ‘That was the week that was’ is the first I can remember.  Millicent Martin singing and David Frost’s caustic barbs at the establishment.  And then there was Beyond the Fringe with Jonathan Miller and co. Pete and Dud were mildly satirical too.  The Frost Report of course was a great favourite.  A lot of comedy was satirical, poking fun at the Establishment; ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ of course, and Rory Bremner, and the infamous Spitting Image.

But of late Satire has almost died on the telly.  Shows like ‘Have I Got News For You’ and ‘Mock The Week’ aren’t quite the same, though still quite amusing.

But wonder of wonders, Satire has returned.  And with a bang too.  And it is now every time we switch the TV on.  Donald Trump is the greatest satirist around, he does by the far the best impersonation of Donald Trump.  His portrayal of a multi- billionaire trashy loud-mouthed repugnant man who has somehow got himself elected as President is brilliant.  It is so funny, and he even writes his own scripts; or actually, just makes it all up as he goes along.  Now, if someone had told us a year ago that a TV Celebrity, a bully on screen, a pushy, brash misogynist, a racist to boot – would appear on our screens with his own comedy show – no-one would have believed it.  Mind you we probably wouldn’t have believed Brexit, or Saint Theresa, or Jeremy driving Labour to electoral oblivion, or Paul the nut Nuttall leading an even more right-wing UKIP either.

I must say it has been a great coup, all the TV stations joining together to entertain us with this wonderful overload of Satire.  Once, when the Donald started ranting I found it all a bit scary, but now that I realise it is only Satire I love it.  Every day, I can’t wait to turn on the news and see what or who he is attacking today.  Saddam was funny in his way, the Ayatollah was mildly amusing, Kim Il Jong is always hilarious and Putin makes me smile too – but for really clever and almost believable satire you cannot beat the Donald.

Soiree Vegetarienne

Monday 27th February

Saturday night we had a vegetarian evening on the Café.  Run by Carl and Reynaud who have a Chambre D’Haute in town and also run a vegetarian food stall on the market, it was a great success.  Vegetarians are poorly catered for in France, “I suppose I can do an omelette” is a typical reply when you go to a new restaurant and as usual there is no veggie option at all on the menu.  We were a bit unsure, we knew maybe half a dozen vegetarians but were worried we wouldn’t fill the place.  As usual we shouldn’t have worried, we were full and could have sold a few more places.  The food was excellent, including the centerpiece, a huge baked cauliflower on each table which looked like a rising soufflé.  And very little was left on their plates.

I served the drinks and a great time was had by all.  It now looks like we will be having both an Indian/Thai and a Veggie evening once a month until the summer.  Another addition to Eymet life…

S – is for John Stewart – Voice of America

Sunday 26th February

Forget Springsteen or Dylan or even Sinatra or Elvis, John Stewart is the true voice of America.  He was a bit older than most of the singer-songwriters of the late Sixties and early Seventies.  He had been in the Kingston Trio, a folk group popular in the late Fifties and early Sixties; he wrote many of their songs and played guitar and sang. Inspired by the success of Dylan and others he went solo in 1968 and released a string of wonderful records, ‘California Bloodlines’, ‘The Lonesome Picker Rides Again’ and ‘Cannons in the Rain’ among others.  Prolific is too weak an adjective; John released over 40 studio albums in his solo career – and I am still chasing some down. He sounds a bit country and a bit folk, and occasionally he really rocks too.  But he is a superlative songwriter, often singing about the American West; Montana, Kansas, Omaha, Missouri – and in one song he literally namechecks a whole host of American states.  But he is no redneck cowboy, his songs are full of hope and the hardships of life, and growing up in America.

He was no Republican either, he joined Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in ’68 and was there when he was killed.  He wrote “Daydream Believer” which the Monkees picked up on and made into a hit, and wrote hits for many other artists. He carried on writing and touring until he died in 2008 while on yet another tour.  He often sang duets with his wife Buffy Ford.  I first heard him on Noel Edmund’s Sunday Radio Show, just before he went to the Breakfast slot.  Whether it was Noel or his producer who chose the ‘album of the week’ and ‘artist of the week’ I do not know.  But through him I was introduced to Dory Previn and Jackson Browne and Judee Sill, as well as more famous names like Neil Young and Joni.  And of course John Stewart.  He flirted with fame on a couple of late Seventies albums about Hollywood; strangely these are now impossible to find in almost any format but they were big hits at the time.

I am slowly working my way through my thirty-odd records of his.  And I love every one.

California bloodlines/Willard minus 2

The Last Time I Saw Richard

Saturday 25th February

“The last time I saw Richard, I mean the deceased – Mr. Harker, I was most distressed.  I had seen him barely three weeks before, but I was shocked by the change in his appearance.  He seemed thinner, gaunt, pale, sickly; and strangely disturbed.  He was almost rambling, and appeared distracted, nervous and jumpy, constantly glancing at the window and though it was pitch black outside it was as though he were seeing something in that darkness, or trying I would say, to discern some thing or some person outside.”

“And how long ago, or rather, how near to his death, would this be?”

“About a week.  Yes it was the Tuesday and he died I believe, or at least his body was found, a week Wednesday after that.”

“And you say you were a great friend of his? How many years had you known him?”

“Oh at least twenty; we were at College together and have kept in touch ever since.”

“Have you anything else you wish to tell the Coroner?”

“Yes.  As I was leaving he pressed into my hand a small leather bound book.  He said he had been keeping some sort of a journal over the last few weeks and he gave it me – for safekeeping.”

“Safekeeping?  Did he indicate that he was in some sort of danger?”

“No, but he insisted that I keep it.  He implored me not to read it unless I heard some bad news concerning himself.”

“And did you indeed succumb to temptation and read this ‘journal’?”

“Not until I read in the papers that he had been discovered dead and naked on that island in the middle of the Thames.”

“Was this ‘journal’, for want of a better term, of any relevance do you think?  Or would you be wasting the court’s time in enlightening us as to its contents?”

“I am not sure sir.  I have it with me if you wish to read it.  It all seems highly improbable to me, almost the ravings of a madman.  Not like the Richard Harker I knew – a most level-headed man I can assure you.”

“I think we would be abusing everyone’s time if you read the whole journal out loud, could you possibly precis the contents, or at least give us some idea of what he had written.”

“Yes.  I have read it a few times and I still find it quite inconsistent with the man I knew so well.”

“Very well then, in your own words please give us a flavour of these ‘ravings’ as you have described them.”

“He talks about having met a stranger in a tavern not far from his home, of accompanying this man to his nearby abode.  He says he was drawn to this man.  He described feeling almost hypnotised by him.  I must beg the courts pardon but he talks of feelings of attraction and strange desires I would rather not describe.  I must insist that I knew Richard Harker very well, and I would not wish his memory to be sullied by any rumours of immoral or undesirable behaviour.  He was married, and although he and his wife have chosen to live apart I can assure the Court that he was normal in every sense of the word.  But in addition to feeling attracted to this man he was somewhat scared of him, fearful of the power he exerted.  He talks of his life being in some sort of peril if he continued seeing him. The last entries, though his handwriting was erratic by now, refer to a boat and deep dark waters.  The more I think about it these thoughts must have been a symptom of the mental fatigue he was obviously labouring under.  I think that, if anything can be gleaned from this ‘journal’, it is that his mind was indeed deranged shortly before his death.”

“Thankyou.  May we hear from the Doctor?

*  * *

“You attended Mr. Harker shortly before his death I believe?”

“Yes, I was asked to see him by the previous witness and examined him four days before he died.”

“And what was your opinion of his health, especially his mental well-being, at that time?”

“Physically, I would say he was exhausted and possibly suffering from anaemia. His heart was weak and so was his pulse.  I recommended complete bed-rest for at least a week and prescribed Laudanum.  Mentally he was certainly confused and slightly delirious, but anything more serious it would be hard to say.”

“I believe you also attended the Autopsy of the deceased?”

“Yes.  Professor Bellamy is an old friend of mine and invited me to attend.”

“Have you anything you wish to add to his report?”

“No, not really – except I was surprised at how little blood was in his system, and no obvious wounds.  I agree that his death was due to drowning.”

“Anything else unusual in your experience?”

“No.  Oh, except one small detail which the good Professor hasn’t recorded. There were two small puncture marks on his neck, I suppose he must have cut himself shaving, but they were raised and had some bruising around them.  I had never seen anything quite like them, though the Professor thought they were of little consequence.”

*  * *

“Thankyou.  Your Honour, I think we can safely conclude that the cause of death was drowning brought about by a deranged mind, possibly the result of some undiagnosed illness.  The deceased was, as we have heard, a respectable gentleman; I am sure we would not wish to record a verdict of suicide in this case – I would suggest death by misadventure.”

“Agreed.  Death by misadventure it is then.

Now, I think we should adjourn for luncheon.  Would you care to join me?  Butler’s chop house is nearby and they do rather an excellent fore-rib; a good hearty steak and a pint of claret will fairly satisfy me.  For some reason this case has rather whetted my appetite.”

Think Too Much

Friday 24th February

Paul Simon wrote a song ‘I think too much’ – not one of his best, I must admit – but I understand the sentiment.  I think too much; far too much.  Maybe all of us humans do, perhaps this is the price for our heightened intelligence – we think too much.  And when we think we often torment ourselves, going over and over things, slights and words spoken in haste, rather than soon forgotten are worried into ridiculous proportions.  We cannot watch the news without feeling depressed; as if our personal feelings, our responses to the lunacy around us can have any possible effect; we react just the same.  And even when we are supposed to be relaxing, in the middle of a book maybe, we cannot stop thoughts popping up like daisies on the clean lawn of our minds.  And so we seek escapism, cinema, television, music, radio – anything to stop us thinking so much.

But, without thought, without consideration, without worry indeed – what are we?  Some anthropologists believe that one of the key factors in certain apes becoming human was when we started to control the food supply; most animals spend an inordinate amount of time in searching for or hunting or simply eating.  This gave us time to think, and of course now with our modern technological lifestyles, where every device is programmed to save us time we have far more time to think and maybe we think too much.  Happiness is like a wispy cloud that glides across our horizon occasionally, try to grab it and it dissolves, moves away and eludes us, think about it too much and it is gone completely.

I sometimes wish I could just stop thinking for a while, maybe a few days, a week or two. But I seem to seek out the news, it is my default channel – must find out how terrible the world is – and think too much about it.  And so we seek distractions, and for me by far the greatest soother of my tired mind is music; if I go a single day without listening to an album or two I feel deprived, I go to extraordinary lengths to carve out a space in every day to bathe in music, sinking beneath the surface, letting the words and melody seep into my brain, reassuring me that no matter what I have to think about this constant is always there.  Anyway, don’t think too much about this blog, I am sure you have lots of other things to think about…

Life Here On Earth

Thursday 23rd February

It seems that life is not only abundant but omnipresent on this, the only planet we really know.  Life is everywhere, in the deepest ocean trenches, in subterranean caves, in the bleakest deserts, in the coldest climates – it is everywhere.  Which leads me to question what exactly is life.  And also, why this planet, amongst the billions there must be in the Universe?  Chemical reactions are basically the exchange of electrons from one atom to combine with electrons from a different atom. Life itself appears to have stemmed from more and more complicated chemical reactions in what is known quaintly as ‘the primordial soup’ of a warm planet with lots of water.  But why do electrons combine so readily with electrons of other atoms?  Is there indeed some force, some unwritten law of the Universe that atoms will exchange electrons and go on to form more and more complex molecules which, maybe under the right circumstances, generate self-fulfilling chemical machines, autonomous and eventually life itself.  This is so remarkable that it is easy to see why the idea of the Creator was established, and maybe this very force, the ‘life’ force may be evidence of some creative force in the Universe itself, though whether it is intelligent or following a design is questionable.

But let us come down to Earth for a minute.  This earth has lots of water, lots of oxygen, lots of carbon, an atmosphere and all the other things which scientists insist are not only essential for life, but just about perfect on our planet and absent on the vast majority of others.  But not all; astronomers are discovering similar planets to ours out there in the vast Cosmos.  But more fundamentally maybe this ‘life’ force, this tendency for atoms to exchange electrons and produce complicated molecules is not confined to Earth.  Indeed it would be incredible if it were.  And maybe complex chemical reactions are happening on quite different planets all over the Universe creating quite different ‘life’ than anything we have discovered on our planet.  When one looks at the incredible diversity here on Earth it seems quite likely to me that life does exist all over the Universe, but maybe in completely different forms than we would begin to recognize.  Also the distances are so vast that we may never find out, or just as likely, they may never find us.


Wednesday 22nd February

And there on the leather back seat of the Bentley, half asleep, Jane first heard them.  The Beatles, of course – ‘Love Me Do’, and instantly she too knew this was different, this was something else, this wasn’t just music; this was Music.  What a fabulous co-incidence that Jane was eleven when she first heard them.  She was eleven and Harriet was thirteen, the perfect ages to first hear real Music, music that mattered, that spoke to them, straight out of the cloth covered speakers and into their consciousness.

Harriet had mentioned them, ‘The Beatles’, but Jane hadn’t taken it in properly, she hadn’t realised how important it was.  They sat in stunned silence for all of the two minutes of the song and then when it had finished they just looked at each other in amazement.  She was right.  Well of course Harriet was always right, but this time she was Right; absolutely Right, this was different.  This was like electricity straight into the brain cells and it jolted them both awake.  They grew up in the two minutes of that song, and they never looked back again.  They were dumb-struck; it was a tiny moment Jane would always remember.  They had heard the future and were desperate to hear it again, but they had to wait a whole week until they did.

*  * *

One time the lovers almost got caught; luckily, they had already done it.  They had their little routine, hurriedly stripping off and almost before her bottom hit the bed Ted would be inside her, and be plunging in and out and bringing June to a quick sharp little come, sometimes two, before he came inside her.  Then they would lounge around and kiss and stroke until they built up for their second and real time.  This time they would take it slow and last for ages, and Ted would turn her over and take her from behind, his calloused hands squeezing her bum, or groping for her breasts dangling beneath her.  Or they would lay side by side like two spoons in a drawer, barely moving, just rocking gently and she could feel him deep inside her, or he would hover almost inside her, gently nudging her lips with his sex, every slight move bringing another wave of pleasure.  And they would plant kisses all over each other’s bodies, on his back and on her breasts and even on her bottom.

This was the time she liked the best even though she often didn’t climax. But they were always conscious of the clock; she would have loved to drift off to sleep in Teds arms but they often only had just an hour or two before the girls would be coming back from school, or Ted had to be back on the farm.

And one time they were lucky not to be caught, they were dressed and saying their slow and reluctant goodbyes when they suddenly heard the click of the back door.  Quick as a flash Ted grabbed his jacket and was into the front parlour and squatting down behind a sofa.  It was Phil, he had forgotten some papers, and had nipped back home, it never crossed his mind to question whether June would be in.  He was in and out in a couple of minutes, he didn’t even ask her how she was, he barely noticed her.  He just darted into his study and was out, waving the papers in his hand.

‘Found them, I knew I must have left them at home.  See you later.  I may be late, don’t keep dinner waiting for me.’ He half spoke, half muttered in his mad dash.

He may not have even noticed Ted if he hadn’t made his heroic exit so deftly, though what excuse they would have come up with, heaven knows.  June went and found Ted as soon as Phil left.  They burst out laughing but heaved a big sigh of relief too, and learned their lesson to at least lock the back door next time, as Phil never carried his keys with him, so he would have had to knock giving them time to at least get dressed.

*  * *

Phil nearly got caught once; he had stupidly left one of his more important client’s papers in his study at home.  It wasn’t really a study, just a room he escaped to, and where he kept any correspondence for stuff on the side in an old wooden desk he’d rescued from a house clearance one time.   He dashed back to the house for the papers and by mistake picked up a couple of letters about some deal he was doing with one of his cronies, who was definitely not one of the firm’s clients.  He hadn’t notice at the time, but when he handed Janet the client’s papers for filing the letters were there muddled up with the firm’s papers.

Janet knocked on my door about ten to five and just placed the letters on his desk and said in a somewhat knowing voice, ‘I don’t think you meant to give me these. Mr. Wilkinson, they seem to be personal.’  She placed them face up on his desk, and said as if nothing were amiss, ‘I’ll be off in a few minutes Mr. Wilkinson, unless you need anything else.’

Phil was never sure if she had noticed him blushing bright red.  He felt sick to the pit of his stomach.  Janet knew damned well that they weren’t any of their clients’ letters, and she knew they weren’t personal either.  he just hoped she wasn’t clever enough to put two and two together and make five.  Maybe she had but just decided that keeping quiet was her best option.  She never referred to it again, but for weeks Phil was nervous whenever Jones wanted to talk to him in case Janet had spoken to him.  But somehow he seemed to have got away with it, either that or Janet just took it in her stride, and knew it would cause more trouble for her if she said something.  It made him realise just how dangerous his situation was, how easy it would be to be found out, and even if Jones decided to overlook it, things would never be the same again.  Once that element of trust is gone things can never be the same again.  Phil knew he had had a narrow escape and would have to be far more careful in future.

*  * *

Harriet was always on the look-out for this new music; Jane might be content to just hear it by accident, but she had to find out all about it, she wanted to be in on it from the start.  She would go into Ipswich to the big library and ask for music magazines like ‘Fabulous’ and ‘Record SongBook’ that none of the Stowmarket shops had ever heard of, and she begun to read up about the whole Mersey scene.  Harriet simply devoured everything about them; they seemed to be the epitome of what was happening.  Okay it wasn’t exactly happening here in Suffolk, but it would be soon and before it did she wanted to be the one who knew all the names of the groups, the songs and the next hits, before they came on the radio.  It was their time, the time of the young, she grasped that straightaway.  Her parents might tap their feet along to Gerry and the Pacemaker but they never understood that this was the beginning of a new movement that would sweep the old generation aside.  And music was just part of it, part of the revolution in ideas and Art and fashion and everything that was breaking as surely as a wave breaks upon the shore, and more than anything she knew that she, Harriet, was going to be a part of it.

The Torch

Tuesday 21st February

The World is a dangerous place, it has always been a dangerous place.  Regimental Centurions marching in  and building their Cities, marauding hordes of Saxons, Danes and Vikings, the wretched Normans imposing their iron rule on us.  And so it has continued; War and pillage and young men drafted to man ships of war or as cannon fodder while Lords and politicians carved out Alliances on the Continent of Europe.

And as technology has improved so have the dangers, each new war being fought with newer and more dangerous weapons; horses replaced with tanks, bombers with drones, howitzers with missiles.  And yet our leaders still threaten War at every opportunity, mind you they have chosen their enemies carefully, minor despots in oil-rich Middle Eastern states mostly.  Some sabre-rattling against the big boys like Russia and China but backing away from actual conflict, preferring sanctions or cyber-hacking to real fighting.

And we seem to be once again on the cusp of major changes.  The institutions that have preserved a fragile peace for seventy years are in danger of collapsing.  Maybe whatever emerges will be better, we can only hope so.  Perhaps it has always been this way; a fragile nervous Peace – War, like some slumbering volcano waiting to blow.

The tragedy for my generation is that the Sixties were such a time of Optimism; we really thought we could and would change the World.  Make Love Not War, was our slogan.  But we have failed (or rather the leaders we chose have failed), the youth of today know that the World is a crock of shit and getting worse by the day, they cling to ideas of Fame and Celebrity and Images of Beauty – as if personal success will isolate them from the ravages to come.

As a boy waiting outside the Headmaster’s office, wondering if it would be six or twelve swishes of the cane today, I would read the bronze plaque “To You We Pass The Burning Torch, Be It Your To Hold On High”.  Our generation has let slip the torch, it is tumbling slowly to the floor, hopefully someone will catch it.

Fake News

Monday 20th February

Lenin is credited with saying that if you tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth, and History is literally his story and is constantly being revised.  Politicians have always become ‘economic avec la verite’ as Alan Clark said and possibly the cleverest untruth of recent years has been the Conservative insistence that it was Labour driving the car which crashed the economy, or that Labour maxed out the credit card (which, if they mean the National Debt – has doubled under the Tories). Were Labour really running the banks which leant foolishly in America, causing a Financial Crisis over the whole world?  But that lie stuck, though they don’t repeat it so much these days.

But now we have entered the realm of ‘1984’ itself with Fake News and Alternative Facts.  And with Donald Trump it is all the lies of the Media.  Now, I am not the greatest fan of the Press and the power they wield but on the whole, though they slant the news with Comment and often lie by omission, they do not invent facts which can be easily proven as lies.  Photographic evidence of the size of the crowds at his inauguration are ‘fake news’; he, the Donald, inflicted the greatest defeat in History on Hilary (even though she got 3 million more votes {all were corrupt}); his electoral college win was the biggest in History (ahem – Obama, Clinton, Bush and Reagan all won far more) but these ‘facts’ are ignored and the lies repeated.  His administration were left a huge mess and they are working together wonderfully, no problems at all; even the Muslim travel ban was a success and has been rolled out smoothly.

And the strange thing is that the more his Alternative Facts are disproved, the more he rails against the Media for false reporting (often merely repeating the words which came out of his own mouth) – the more his supporters love him.  This is truly a Revolution, of the dumb against the educated, of the bigoted and racist against liberal values.  And how do you even begin to roll back this tide of stupidity? Donald is Teflon-coated, nothing sticks to him; he will (if he can survive his first 100 days and does not bring complete economic disaster to America) be re-elected in 2020, because he will simply repeat the same nonsense, build the same non-existent wall and expel the same Muslim terrorists in our midst and bring back even more jobs to America (the employment figures will undoubtedly be false)– and despite the evidence the crowd will prefer to hear the fake news than the truth.

The interesting question is ‘Does Donald Know He Is Lying’?  Well, surely he must – but I am beginning to think he believes his own Fake news.

Another Great Night At Allemans

Sunday 19th February

We have had a few Summer music evenings at Allemans du Dropt; live music outside the Bar Lou Dropt and the famous curry bus in attendance.  But this is February, far too cold to sit outside despite lovely warm afternoons.  But we heard that Kenny Clarke and James Anderson were singing in the Salle des Fetes with the Bombay Curry Bus in the car park, so we went along.  And what a great night it turned out to be.  Kenny is okay on his own, as is James – but the two together put on a brilliant show.  Kenny singing blues and early rock and roll, James adding a bit of swing, a couple from the musicals, a fantastic rendition of Nessum Dorma and then some eighties classics.  Kenny joins him for some Rock’n’Roll and Disco classics.

The Bombay Busserie is as usual overwhelmed with orders; there must have been two hundred people there last night.  We were promised out meal in thirty minutes, after half an hour I was told another five minutes.  In the end the curry was ready about an hour after I had ordered.  Pity those still ordering as I collected mine.  Mind you it was worth the wait, an excellent curry – or, to be more precise the best curry this side of Tower Hamlets.

A few glasses of wine, a great curry and some brilliant music and dancing; who could ask for more.  Total bill for the evening was 38 euros for two – you can’t do better than that.