Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Feb 14th

Nah . . . we never do anything about Valentine's Day, but this year, inspired by our 70s house, I decided to create a suitably kitch menu for my 'other half' returning from work, starting with the pub favourite of the era: Prawn Cocktail, followed by salmon with peas and potatoes, and a fabulous ending of the most industrial-looking frozen pud - sadly the Arctic Roll doesn't seem to exist, or maybe not in France anyway gateau roulé glacé, perhaps . . . all to be sloshed down with a bottle of Blue Nun - couldn't find the that either so a local white will have to suffice. Possibly a good thing . . .


Monday, 12 February 2018


It's that time of year again when our small town becomes a drift of confetti every Saturday and Sunday. From January for three months the Carnaval is king - the longest carnaval in the world but nothing like Rio . . . forget the sequinned/ flesh-revealing women and thudding rhythm, this is somewhat different: satin costumes, an actually rather elegant dance (when performed correctly) and live music, featuring brass of all sorts - trumpets, sousaphones, trombones, etc and bass drum/snare.

As 'étrangers (foreigners) we did both managed to infiltrate a group and stayed with them for eight years, practising, painting scenery, working out the theme for the morning 'slot' and eating/drinking way too much on the weekend of our 'Sorti' - performance.

After we left a few years back due to other time commitments, I rather forgot the goings on in the town square, occasionally nipping down to see what new costume might have been decided on, or quaffing a quick blanquette and having confetti stuffed down my neck - as is the tradition.
Yesterday, although it was raining and viley cold, we went down to see what the 'Las Femnas' (women's group) had come up with costume-wise - not overly exciting, a sort of tulle, grey/pink affair and a lot tamer than their usual cash-splurge outfits but it was a great atmosphere. We got confettied, were invited to squeeze plastic breasts (a lot of these, and always the men who wear them) and whapped with fish and leeks. Ah, just like old times.


                                          Le pont Neuf with neon carnaval mask

Thursday, 8 February 2018

How things could be

In the midst of so much frightening news of global warming and land-pulverising by us humans, it's a joyful revelation to know there are people working on a much larger scale than perhaps we might realise to enrich the land, re-introduce threatened flora and fauna, and work with indigenous peoples.

If you have twenty minutes spare, listen and watch this extraordinary talk by Thomas Waltz.

Monday, 29 January 2018

London wanderings (shortish)

Curtailed by time constraints and clothes-soaking-in-seconds rain.

First wanderings: quick stopover in my base - the St Athan's hotel, Bloomsbury; sadly no evening meanderings as I'd arrived at two in the morning, not seven in the previous evening (see last post), so just a mornings walk. Anyway, as ever, London even within a square mile or so, was visually and audibly fascinating, and perhaps it's not always a bad thing to have time and distance perimeters.

Left the hotel and walked around the Bloomsbury squares partly thinking about a wonderful little 1960s documentary narrated by Kenneth Williams of his childhood in the area (will see if I can post it), re-found Woburn Place with its charming little parade of non-knackered shop fronts, then got on a random bus and ended up in the madness of Trafalgar Square; up Charing Cross road (stopping in all second hand bookshops) turned left and into Soho, where, opposite Ronnie Scotts, I found the ancient Italian café of my most ernest desires (oo, ek). Thought all these had well and truly been sat on by Starbucks, Costa's, Nero's et al but there it was in all its Formica and neon splendour. I asked if I should order at the counter and the slick-haired man smiled: "You like men or women?"
"Err, Men?"
"Okay, I take your order then."
I drank excellent hot chocolate (sadly no can do coffee, but did appreciate the scent of it), ate a weird little maggot-like cake that tasted of brandy butter, and listened in to the conversation all around - which was impossible as it was mostly flamboyant-sounding Italian.



Back out into Soho square and beguiled by a shop-display pile of old TVs all broadcasting the same flickering 70s? film, went in to see what the shop actually sold - hand-made designer and vintage glasses. The two elaborately dressed assistants or owners were helping two traffic wardens with a possible choice of frames, a conversation I think had been going on for some time. After the dark-suited two had left purchase-less the woman turned to me with a unruffled expression: "I think they just come in to keep out of the cold."


I continued on, crossing over the river of consumerism (Oxford Street) and wandering around the streets leading back to Tottenham Court Road - Goodge Street hardly recognisable from when I lived there back in the late 80s. Took my crap old iPhone 5 into one of the small electrical shops as its charge was disappearing after an hour.
"Hello, do you deal with antique phones?"
Looks at it with distaste. "Maybe - what's the problem?"
Explained, after which he suggested a new battery for 35 quid, to which I said, "Oo, not sure," to which he said, "OK, 20 for cash." Ten minutes later after some technical stuff involving a hairdryer, my crap phone was once again working. Useful info BTW: never let your phone charge for more than 100% and certainly not overnight - "kills the battery dead quick," he said wagging a finger at me.
And so, it started to rain. Back to the hotel, grabbed case and off to the tube/Waterloo.

Thought my spelling was bad . . .


                         Grey day in Trafalgar Square.

Shop windows around Bloomsbury and Soho

The Pitted Olive - good café near Tavistock Place


                 Waterstone's shop window display - 'Why we Sleep' . . .


One of the beautiful shop fronts of Woburn place (Champagne dress-trying event underway in the shop)


Two beautiful people in their vintage clothing shop

Second even shorter London trip from Dorset to see a literary agent.
Set off after meeting to do a planned walk to Archway but the steady drizzle morphed into a monsoon; cafés and buses and tube visits/voyages instead . . . which had their own pluses.


                                                               Wet weather solace

Aliens on the Central Line

Pushchair Spiderman

Take five

Bus condensation art

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Some days are longer than others

Smiths song, wasn't it?  . . . nope.  Some girls are bigger than others - that was it, anyway, yesterday was extremely lengthy, the hours stretching impossibly longly - is that a word? I don't know, I only slept for four hours last night, but I have a large pot of tea and an egg not-Mac-muffin  in front of me; it's a perfect drizzly London day and all will be well.
Yesterday, the hours had been quite normal until Mark dropped me off at the airport - a hundred and twenty minutes too early but that was fine; time to work and do a bit of London wanderings-planning. X-raying-the-stuff time arrived, all ok, and they failed to spot my extremely dangerous lip-salve concealed in jean's pocket.
Usual wait in the 'holding bay' with whirr and clunk of vending machines, hiss-hiss of headphone music and choo-choo of plastic train-ride, occasionally interrupted by the cry of a disgruntled child wanting another turn.

After a remark from my seated neighbour regarding the weather, we got chatting and, weirdly - how I love these accidental meetings - he told me he had bought a house in our town: the house I had looked at some years ago with some B and B guests staying with us. Great little place - well done Andy, if you read this.
The time came and we obediently trotted out into the rain and stood about while staff ran around with walkie-talkies and then told us to go back inside. Being optimistic sheep, we stood about a bit more hoping the vague info about the plane being 'en panne' - broken, was Fake News. Nope - it was broken and we would have to go back in and eat crisps for some indefinite time until someone could stick the wing back on, or whatever the problem was.


Back inside there was excited talk of a refreshment voucher. We queued and were handed a two pieces of paper: one, a lop-sided photo-copy explaining how you could spend a day trying to reclaim money for the late flight, and another, the voucher for . . . five euros! Wow, a small cake and a cup of tea, or possibly just the cake since we were in an airport.

I talked to my new friend, did some more work and waited for information. The pilot appeared, (who seemed to be about eighteen), to buy some nougat for his 'other half' and explained that the problem had been a small sensor announcing there could be a brake issue. They had tried to mend the sensor - probably turning it on and off a bit - that usually works, but it had stubbornly decided to continue saying there was a problem. Not a bad thing, really; the thought of cruising the Stanstead tarmac at several hundred miles an hour with no brakes, well, best not to think about it . . .
We drank tea, and some people drank a lot of wine,  especially a white haired lady next to us . . . actually, no-one had been remotely grumpy, and even when the announcement was made that we would have to wait until ten, there were no heavy sighs or complaining, just a lot of silent texting and buying of more wine.

The Ryanair solution that had been arrived at was 'a plane is being brought up from Barcelona' - I liked this, imagining the giant white metal bird on the back of some Pantechnicon being delivered up the autoroute, or more likely, the flight of an empty plane, with just a (undoubtably, fed up) pilot or two, lights on, seats empty, the ghost of a drinks trolly rattling up the aisle.
By ten o'clock we again shuffled outside, stood for some time in freezing rain and eventually entered the still-cooling plane. Flight of nodding off, slumped, wishing I had one of those neck cushions, until we reached the UK coast. Then it was worth all the hours of sitting about. I have never seen a more magnificent view of London. The air must have been particularly clear after a recent rain episode: every road into the city a glittering coppery-golden necklace, the river a dark lazy snake within a jewelled web of lights. I could have looked at it for hours but the seven minutes or so laid down a permanent visual trace in my mind.

Pic: - my camera failed to work

The plane landed with a squeak, bump and no fanfare (odd that). The pilot came to say goodbye to us all, standing at the door of the cockpit like a fresh-faced vicar after a Sunday service; I really did get the feeling he meant it too. We exchanged a few words about the view, and he said, eyebrows raised in agreement, that it had been the most spectacular he could remember too.
Found my case, found the train (last one, and full of yawning, dead-eyed folks returning from or starting holidays/jobs/new horizons), and eventually ended up in Liverpool Street station keening for a taxi as I was too pooped to lug my case any further - but there weren't any so I did lug my case up and down many staircases, escalators, and through tunnels, and got lost - got lost somewhere between the central line and Piccadilly line.
Found the platform and even in my weary state, did gawp, as ever, at the astonishing plethora (after Southern France) of different humans - topped by a beautiful bearded black guy dressed in leggings, cowboy boots, woolly bobble hat, Chanel sunglasses/earrings, jewelled and feathered mohair cardigan, shouting at a trio of youths who had 'commented' on his attire, to, and I quote, 'go back home, watch Brigit Jones and pull on their three inch dicks'.

Arrived at Russell Square, resisted the idea of a glass of wine and packet of cheese and onion crisps in a pub that still seemed to be open, and loped, everything aching, to the St Athan's hotel (hurrah!) where I signed in, got lost again and wandered the corridors looking for room 16 which seemed to have never been constructed; at last found it and collapsed on the bed to find the heating was on full and impossible to turn off. Opened window, despite adding wildly to global warming, and tried to sleep, knowing it was now 2.00 am and I would no doubt wake as is my habitude, at 6.30. Which I did.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Resonant documentary on London

By John Rogers.

Not London Bridge, Crown jewels, Buck House, galleries, Oxford Street, or anything else listed on a tourist trail - a study of Nick Papadimitriou's everyday quiet investigations of the overlooked areas of Suburbia and the no-man's land edge of London/start of countryside. Also, added bonus of interviews with will Self, Iain Sinclair and Russell Grant - no women 'deep topographers' however - yet. (I feel another book coming on).

As a urban wanderer I found this touching, fascinating and inspiring.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Small gestures and the usefulness of chickens

With everything that seems to be insurmountably terrifying these days: state of the seas, pollution generally, plastic madness, off the scale-bizarre politicians, etc, etc,  The Future is a worrying place.

While listening to a Will Self lecture recently, I was struck by something he said - am quite often struck, in fact, but this particular remark felt oddly reassuring: all we can do are small acts of kindness, and I think he's probably right.
Absorbing and worrying about everything that's going on is overwhelming and depressing, but fairly constant small gestures for the the planet, our fellow man and for ourselves are manageable, whether it's taking an aged neighbour to the shops, helping at a food bank, putting more effort into recycling of all sorts, helping your local winter bird population, telling a friend they look great, buying a bag of lentils instead of marshmallows - or better, buying lentils rather than meat, planting lettuce, walking/cycling rather than driving where possible, appreciating nature wherever you are, reading books as appose to gawping at another something on Net flicks, buying as much as possible in charity shops, donating to crowd funding for useful inventions and art projects, and, picking up your dog's poo before someone treads in in - which brings me to this wonderful small and incredibly clever invention, above.

Back to the subject of recycling: Chickens. Unless you are a vegan, chickens must be the most useful entities to have about the garden - if you have one. We boil up our veg peelings, they love them and require little else other than a bit of grain and garden-roaming, and we get beautiful eggs. Six chickens = no egg buying for the last two years, enough for breakfast each day, a lot of cake, and   often, enough eggs over to give to friends.
After the initial investment of the chicken housing, and the bird itself (rather less than a reasonably good quality dead one in supermarket) they cost virtually nothing, provide protein-packed food, great fertiliser, and you are saving one more bird from a miserable existence in a battery cage somewhere.

Pan scraps - cooked on top of the wood-burner


                     Flock of 'Gladys' on hearing the arrival of said-scraps