Only in France

Tuesday 31st October

Not only is France run by a massive bureaucracy, but nobody ever admits a mistake.  I applied for my Carte Vitale about a year ago.  This is a credit card with a chip, which not only keeps a record of all your doctor visits and treatments but all you have paid up front (as you do) in France at the Pharmacie (the most popular and powerful places in thewhole country) and eventually much of this is re-imbursed.  Firstly you telephone the DSS in UK ad let them know you are now resident en France.  They send you a form which you take to the CPAM in your nearest large town (Bergerac).  They give you a form to complete which your doctor has to sign and a list of documents you must produce.  Which I did.  They are very thorough and took copies of Birth Certificate, Passport, Bank Account etc.  They told me all was in order.

And then you hear nothing.  But this is usual.  Some time passes  and you get a letter asking for passport photo’s so they can be printed on your Carte Vitale which arrives a couple of months later.

Now, I received nothing.  No letter, no phone call.  But every time I saw a doctor or dentist I got a Feuille de Soin printed listing how much I had paid.  I have kept these.  Eventually fed up I went back to the Bergerac Office.

“But you have a temporary number”

“Yes, but no Carte Vitale”

“You will not get one, becuase you have a temporary number”

“So, how do I get a Carte Vitale?”

Eventually the lady agreed to try to chase it up with Bayonne, where these are apparently handled.  She still did not want my photos.  She says they will send me a letter asking for my photos.  Now I suspect that they did send a letter a few months ago, which I never received.  This would probably have told me to send my photos back, but because I never received the letter I think, they have given me a temporary number.  I should get all the money I am due back at some point.  But the question I wanted to (but didn’t) ask is “If you do not know a letter is going to be sent; and have not received it, how do you know the letter was ever sent.  Why are you responsible for reporting a letter undelivered which you do not know even exists?”

Hopefully (but experience triumphs over hope) I may eventually get a Carte Vitale.

Shovelling Shit

Monday 30th October

I have done quite a few different jobs in my time.  As a boy I had a paper round.  From about the age of 12, I used to get up before 6, and slip out of the house before anyone else was awake.  I would ride my Moulton bike into town and the newsagents.  Taking my empty paper sack I would sort and fold my papers.  I knew by heart my ‘round’, which houses had which papers and put them in order.  I suppose I must have delivered over 50 papers each morning, and a few weekly magazines too.  You learned these off by heart, and I am not sure I could even begin to do it now.  After a few years I started working Saturday mornings and most school howidays at Ray Wasp’s farm.  I think my Mum got me the job.  It was better paid than the paper round too.

I used to collect the eggs from the battery hens and feed the pigs.  The sows in the farrowing sheds were easy, laying on their sides with the little piglets squealing and fighting for a teat, the old sows happy to see me and my bucket of swill.  But the dangerous bit was the big pig sty where the young sows and the two boars used to run about.  I would climb over the rails with my bucket.  Then about twenty pigs would charge at me while I ran from them throwing pig food around the pen, and jump out again before they caught me.

Once or twice I had to clean out this large pen.  The pigs would be moved to a new sluiced down concrete pen.  Fork in hand I would literally shovel shit.  Well, a mixture of shit, piss and straw.  Every few days a hay bale would be spread around the pen to help absorb the shit; this would compact down into about a foot deep layer.  At first the smell was overpowering, but like everything – you get used to it pretty soon. Back-breaking work though, shoveling the straw and shit into a wheel barrow and wheeling it to the big manure mountain ready to be spread on the fields each Autumn and ploughed back into the soil.

I also used to clean out the chicken shit.  The birds were double-decked and there was a steel tray running the length of the shed.  There was a mechanical scraper which would push a river of shit along the tray and into you waiting wheelbarrow. This smelled far worse than the pigs actually and was runny and a mustardy yellow colour.  But as a young teenager this never used to bother me.  I could have happily shoveled shit all day long.


Saturday 28th October

What a world we live in.  Some have millions, a few have billions – while many millions live on almost nothing.  And this has very little to do with how hard people work; which is what the Tories would have us believe.  Their ‘fairy story’ is that if you work hard you can achieve anything.  In fact, this nonsense pervades popular culture; follow your dream and anything is possible.  Well sorry to disappoint you but we cannot all succeed, we cannot all win the X factor or be premier league footballers or top fashion models, or whatever the manufactured ‘dream’ is.  There is of course some truth in the idea that working hard brings rewards, but it is in no way guaranteed, and may be due more to fortune than the amount of effort expended.

Those fortunate enough to have inherited wealth have a head-start.  I have worked for a few terrible bosses who just happened to inherit money and would never have got to be in charge on their merits.  Even Gordon Ramsay was ‘helped’ incredibly by his banker father-in-law – though they have fallen out dramatically since.  Most people my age have benefited incredibly by the rise in house prices, enabling them to buy second homes out here in France where prices are much lower.  No great financial skill involved I can assure you, as one who benefited in exactly that way. Ye, I worked hard, though I suspect no harder than many others who were not so fortunate.

The problem we have, and maybe have always had since humans first started to farm and put by surplus food for lean years has been one of re-distribution.  We all know the saying that if you gave ten people a thousand pounds in a year’s time one or two would have doubled their money while most will have spent it.  And it is true.  Some people just are not so clever financially, and never will be, but does that make them any less valid as people?  Well, in Tory eyes, probably yes.

And so, I believe the problem is in re-distribution – or a lack of it.  I prefer to live in a society where everyone is valued, and those who are clever, or lucky, or better at making money should contribute through taxation in re-distributing some of that wealth.  We all benefit if Society is more equable, rather than the dog-eat-dog competitive market place.  What the rich always fail to explain that where there are winners there are also always losers.

The Fall

Friday 27th October


  • In the beginning

I never really see the Fall coming

Too swept up in sweet Summer’s sway

To notice the slow dwindling of day

Or the bees – no longer humming


I always fail to spot that slow turning of leaves

Burning viridian, flame and umber

Closing down for long Winter’s slumber

Always too busy, I believe

Too absorbed in my own world

My frantic search for deeper meanings

Too lost in wonder, dreams and keenings

To witness Autumns flag’s unfurled


Too eager to reveal the inner reason…

To notice the passing of another season

Watching closely the mirror’s reflection

For tiny signs of imperfection

I fail to capture the image at all

And miss, entirely – the Fall


I never see the Fall coming until it’s far too late

And Winter’s icy grip has bound me tight

Autumn fading in a fog-drenched light

And me, lost in a mist, and left to my fate


  • It happened like this


I always get this irresistible urge to please people

By telling them exactly what they want to hear

Which is neither what I want to say

Nor what they need to know.

It’s the pleasure, that spark,

That gleam of excitement in their eyes

As they realize

Or mistakenly assume

They’ve won

That is so addictive for me.


But I really should have listened to her this time

I should have looked beyond the words she was saying

To discover what she meant

What she was trying so hard to let me know


The trouble is

I hear the words they say

But never decant the true spirit

The clear essence

Out of the sediment of emotions

Murking my muddied mind.


I am too involved in being the artist

The dilatory creator

With his magic box of oils

Mixing and daubing

Blending the tints

Melding them

Caressing the paint

Onto the canvas

Of our entwined bodies


Because – I am never really in the picture at all

I am outside the frame

Admiring my own handiwork

And, like all bad artists

Never knowing when to stop

I keep on tinkering

Teasing out the crease of a line here

Darkening a hue there

Redefining the sadness in her eyes

Until all that sparkling glimmer is lost

In a flood

A welter of tears


I had been a diligent listener in early Spring

When listening was part of the key

To gently turn

The tumblers of her heart

But I hadn’t heard what she was really trying to tell me


I had been too busy amassing

An arsenal of clues

With which to reconstruct

The perfect picture of her

Triggers to fire the hand-worked clay

Salt to crack the wounded glaze



She would be gone.


Remembering those golden Summer moments of love

When the only thing you hear is the quick pound

Of hearts-a-flutter

And those waves of contentment come cascading in


Her flushed face

And hot damp breath on my chest

While my fingers stroke and comb her tousled hair

Her skin, which was alabaster cool, is now hot

Aroused and tender

So tender that the merest touch traces

A blotchy line of red

To these dilettante fingertips.


And then the morning

With her hot little body

Curled up against my back.

The dank taste of her slept-in body

The sharp and loamy smell of her

Crumbs of sleep still blinkering her eyes

The folds of her ears like translucent filigree shells

And those wayward tendrils of hair at the nape of her neck


The rust of desire

And the verdigris of hope.


And I never heard what she was trying to tell me

Only the words she used

I never took the time to discover the person swimming

Deep beneath the surface.

I never discerned her frantic Autumn struggle

To escape the net

I had spread so tentatively for her


Like a water boatman

Skimming the pond for reactions

I was lurking

Waiting and listening

Recording the minute changes in surface tension

Unaware that she had swallowed too much water already

And was far beneath me now

Swept deep down and swirling away

With the swift-flowing current

And out of my grasp forever.


  • It always ends the same


And I never see the approaching Fall

I never notice the trip

The moment I lose it all

The stumble and the drop


They say it doesn’t hurt at all

When you fall

Only when you land


But like a fistful of silver-sand

That slips, mercury-smooth through my fingers

My mind still lingers

I am so dazzled by the glittering strand

Watching the endless stream,

That gleams like the fire of my dreams

Sparkling – just like this hard Winter’s frost

Only later do I open my empty hand

And discover just what it is I have lost.

America – The Greatest Country On Earth

Thursday 26th October

We are inundated with news about America; in many ways we have become the 51st state already. There are whole channels on Sky featuring American TV series.  Every nonsensical tweet or childish spat from Trump is reported on while many of our own Politicians go unreported.  We are being bombarded by American Culture from Hollywood to i-phones.  And that may actually be the reason that we, the British, have never really embraced Europe.  We always had one longing eye on America the Great.

And America is great.  They have far more guns than any other country, both in the military and in the greedy little mitts of its terrified citizens, who need guns to protect themselves from other crazy Americans with guns.  America possesses more Nuclear weapons than every other country too and will do whatever it takes to stop countries like Iran or North Korea from developing their own; though – and here is the funny bit, America only has these weapons of mass destruction to protect themselves from other countries that might want to fire nukes at them, which incidentally, is exactly why Iran and North Korea want them too.

And America is great.  There is far more wealth there than any other country; why the country has Billionaires by the bucketload.  But just around the block are the trailer parks where the poor people live, many without jobs or even basic healthcare.  If you want to see real poverty go to America.

And America is great.  Many states still retain the death penalty.  An eye for an eye.  A crime has been committed and someone has to pay.  Often with their life too.  America is the only civilised country in the West to sanction the state taking of their own citizens life.

And America is great.  There is no legal minimum age at which girls can be married.  It is up to each state, and in some it as low as 13, and in over half under 16.  Two hundred thousand in the last few years.  Elsewhere, these girls are regarded as children and yet here they can be married off at such a tender age.

And America is great.  They have by far the largest debt mountain in the World, rapidly approaching 20 trillion dollars ( and the lowest taxes for the rich).  They have the smartest bankers in the World who managed to sell houses to unemployed people bringing the whole banking system into crisis.  And none of them went to jail.  Mind you that may be because American jails are so crowded, mostly with blacks and Native North Americans of course, some serving hundred-year-plus sentences – and they’d better be good when they come out or they will soon be back inside where they belong….

Mind you – American music ‘ain’t so bad…


Wednesday 25th October

Well, some of us prefer the term Realism, though others might call it Cynicism.  It isn’t that the glass is either half full or half empty, we just don’t see it being topped up any time soon.  I suppose it is the realisation that human stupidity and greed show no sign of letting up.  At least in the near or medium-term future (which is all some of us have left).

I was born in 1951.  Rationing was still on though I was too young to remember it.  But that post-war enthusiasm was still in the air.  Never again would young men be sent to their death in foreign countries, though they had said the same thing only forty years before that.  Maybe it was the scale of the thing, Russia, Japan, Burma, North Africa  – and of course the whole of Europe.  And the end, not only the complete rout of Germany but the dropping of the Atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  I think that this horror pervaded the post-war Statesmen and all were agreed on building a new world.  Socialism was alive and well, even with Stalin in Russia – most countries in Europe had left of centre Governments – or what would be described as that by today’s standards.

There was Optimism in the air, the Sixties practically smelled of it.  New Music, new art, new cinema, new clothes – welcome to the modern world where kids from the council estate could and did succeed.  And everyone believed the future would get better and better.  And for a while it did, despite three-day weeks and rampant inflation, life got better and better.

So, where did it all go wrong?  Was it just Thatcherism or Reaganomics in America?  Or was it that dread term, which Harold Wilson warmed us against – Affluence.  As people rose up the ladder the fear that those below us might overtake or steal our new-found wealth.  So best to stamp on their grubby little fingers, keep them down where they belonged, and better vote Tory too while we are at it.

So now everyone knows the World is a crock of shit and only likely to get worse.  That is Pessimism for you.  And while we can be Optimistic for the long-term future, after all, we have all seen Star Wars where Good always beats Evil, for the time being Pessimism is the only mood in town.

Have a nice day.


Tuesday 24th October

Watching the news, with its daily toll of wars, death and discord – it is sometimes (no, it is almost always) hard to be Optimistic.  And, of course reading my blog doesn’t help either (hahaha).  Optimism certainly seems in short supply when we look at the problems ahead for Brexit, and of course the Mighty Trumpster across the ocean.  Maybe we just have too much information.

But the reality is not actually as bad as it seems.  Slowly, grindingly slowly I must admit, things may be getting better.  So what exactly is Optimism?  Is it simply an unwillingness to see the mess we are in?  Or is it a belief in the basic goodness of mankind, the longer look at History – and the realisation that despite obvious flaws the World is a better place than ever before in the History of Mankind.  There are certainly far more of us than ever before, but most have access to some sort of healthcare, most have food to eat, most can get some education, very few are slaves.  There is a growing understanding that colour, race, religion, sexuality, imperfect bodies – do not make people inferior.  There is a lot more love and a lot less violence than there used to be.  There hasn’t been a World War for over Seventy years and the real weapons of mass destruction have only been used once, despite all the recent sabre-rattling from RocketMan and Small Hands.  And the future can only get better.

Computers are becoming smarter and smarter, smarter than most people already.  Soon they will be making more and more of the decisions affecting us.  And we cannot stop this.  And looking back at the fuck-ups humans have achieved they can’t do things any worse.   We could be looking at future where far more time is allowed for creativity, for developing our minds, for helping others – rather than slogging away trying to make ends meet.

And – we have to be Optimistic.  We owe that to the young, it is their World now.  The last few elected leaders (Trump excepted) have been in their thirties – and good luck to them.  At least they have Optimism on their side – and a few more years too.

Basic Minimum Income

Monday 23rd October

This is one of those daft ideas which may even be the best solution to an increasing problem.  The idea is that everyone – working or unemployed, student or housewife or retired – above a certain age should receive direct from the state a fixed amount without any means testing whatsoever.  Completely crazy isn’t it?  Well, not neccesarily.

We are in the middle, or maybe just the beginning of, the fourth Industrial Revolution.  Computers, Automation, Robots and Artificial intelligence are rapidly replacing humans in many mundane, and not so mundane jobs.  The whole concept of work is changing.  We may be facing a future where maybe half the population is not working.  In fact, of course, the official figures are completely misleading – they only count those unfortunates claiming Jobseekers Allowance, or whatever it is called now.  Many; too sick to work; students, those choosing to be housewives or husbands, and the retired make up a huge proportion of the population already. And, anyway, a form of Universal Minimum Wage already exists.  Pensioners are paid by the state; the actual amount may vary, but there is a fall back for those who maybe only paid a married woman’s stamp or are renting, in that they can claim some benefits too.

The two great advantages of paying everyone a basic minimum wage are; firstly a huge saving in bureaucracy, it is far cheaper to simply pay everyone, rather than try to work out who is “deserving”.  Secondly it gives people back their self-respect – no more waiting for hours at DSS offices, of multiple forms to fill in, of feeling discriminated against, of being treated as second class citizens.

It is being trialled in Finland (and a few other places), for two years.  One feature of the scheme is that the money is not automatically clawed back if an unemployed person finds work, only when their income reaches a certain point will it start to be.  In Finland they are only paying the unemployed, but the idea is that everyone, working or not should receive this money.  Those working would pay higher taxes generally so that the system would pay for itself.

The real advantage is of course that it will keep the economy going.  We have had quite a few years of really low taxation resulting in both poverty and poor public services.  This was not accidental, but it may not be sustainable either.  If we are entering an era of fewer people needing to work the only solutions would be to either reduce further the working week or to pay everyone an income so that they can buy stuff and keep the wheels of industry turning.

The more you think of it, it isn’t such a daft idea after all….

W – is for Lucinda Williams

Sunday 22nd October

One of the lesser lights, but still she shines brightly.  A veteran really of the Americana music scene.  She was born in 1953 and released her first in ’79, when she was already 26.  Sporadic releases through the eighties and nineties brought her little success, but she seemed to be making a living out of music somehow.  She wrote a song “Passionate Kisses” which was covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and went on to be a massive hit.  This song seemed to open the doors for her, both creatively and commercially.  In 1996 she released what is probably her masterpiece “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”.

She managed to fuse rock and blues and country in a unique way.  Every song is a joy, including one called ‘Joy’.  She has an edgy almost raspy voice, full of East Texas drawl which somehow suits her songs perfectly.  In some ways she is similar to Tom Petty – that hint of sarcasm, or world weariness.  You cannot imagine her smiling as she sings.  I have never seen her live, and only a few photo’s too.  Most of her songs are about broken hearts or love affairs gone wrong.  In fact one album is called ‘World Gone Wrong’.

I only have three albums of hers, and ‘Car Wheels’ is by far the best, though they are all listenable.  Try listening to ‘Lake Charles’ or ‘Concrete and Barbed Wire’ on youtube.

Image result for images of lucinda williams

Auto Da Fe

Saturday 21st October

Auto Da Fe is either Latin or Italian for self-immolation, a deliberate act of self destruction.

It was 1968, the year after the Summer of Love.  The year when all that optimism, that drippy-hippy flower power started to wilt.  The Beatles were a bit lost after Brian Epstein died.  They made the film Magical Mystery Tour, which was a bit of a piss-take on the whole hippy dream.  They did manage to record their superb album, simply titled ‘The Beatles’, which became known as ‘The White Album’.  But they were by now pretty separate figures, writing and often recording alone, the others merely adding overdubs later.  I was 17, in the Lower Sixth and dreading my approaching Mock ‘A’ levels.  I had opted for History, Economic History and English Literature.  And because I just happened to have one more free period than anyone else I had to choose another subject.  So I chose Art, which only had one compulsory lesson a week.  But something strange happened.  I fell in love with Art, and out of all interest in the other subjects.  I had to attend the lessons, but would be scribbling away on a sketch pad, and barely heard the teachers at all.  I was spending every free moment in the Art room, trying out new materials.   Oil paint, which I had never tried before and Biro.  I was covering sheets with monochrome faces and endless self-portraits in black and white oil paint.

The Mocks were approaching, and with them the realisation that I would fail all, except perhaps Art.  I had a good friend Graham Took, who had the same rebellious nature as me.  Or so I thought.  We planned our escape in stolen moments; we would run away together to London.  We even agreed the day – a Monday.  The agreement was that I would phone him the Sunday evening before, from the phone box down our road, which I did.  And he chickened out.  He said it was a daft idea, which it probably was.  But I already had my bag packed.  And so, I left anyway.  My very own Auto da Fe.  I ran away from both school and home and probably University.  And wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me back.

And now in 2017, almost fifty years later, my home country is galloping along the same road.  Leaving the EU is Britain’s very own Auto da Fe.  But like all fanatics it is pointless to try to point out the error of their ways.  In fact, the more that evidence emerges; car factories closing, banks re-locating their head offices to Frankfurt or Paris, inflation rising, employers panicking because fewer immigrants are coming here – the deeper they burrow their heads in the sand.  There is now a growing chorus in the Tory party inciting Mrs. May to walk away from the negotiations, to leave with no deal, with no more payments, with bitterness and chaos.  And they still insist that the Europeans will come back begging for a trade deal.  Our only hope is for Theresa May to hang on and try to rescue something out of the madness.  Because if she goes, incompetent as she may be, she will undoubtedly be replaced by someone (Boris or Gove or Rees-Mogg) even worse.

Oh well…