Today is a busy travel day so there is little time to write. Yesterday I decided to top up my memory store with images of my beloved Charentes. Newly ploughed soil stretched away across fields edged with the gold and auburn of Autumn trees. The river laden with silt eddied and dimpled as it pushed on to the sea. These images will keep me sustained through the traffic and anonymous rush of life. But above all, yesterday was a day for cows. I do not think I have ever shared with you my love of cattle. Of course, it’s all sentimental twaddle since I’m quite content to eat ris de veaux and entrecote.
The white beast at the top is a young bull whom I met in a field between Coulonge and Taillebourg. If I wrote Rumance (that’s romantic fiction for cows), this guy would be Fernando Terrifico. Just outside St Savinien I came across a small herd of beautiful cattle with calves. Take a look at their lovely faces.
I just love the one with wonky horns. The one on the left looks kinda aware of her beauty. She just turned and posed for me in a film star way. I could just see her getting it together with Fernando.
And of course, the picture to the right is what it’s all about: the meat, the cheese and the milk. Without that nipple tipple where would we be?
Emma thinx: Wretched beasts who know so little. More wretched still those who do know.
By the time you get to my age you feel that maybe you’ve seen a fair bit. Well – you may have done but the fact is that so much changes so quickly. I arrived at the internet keyboard as a pure virgin only a couple of years ago and it is only recently that I had the courage to venture onto a forum. I felt like an apprentice wildebeest attempting to cross a crocodile infested river. I had always imagined cyclists to be gentle grass eating creatures. I had clicked on a link to the magazine of the Cyclists Touring Club. I figured there might be some advice for the guys on positioning your winter flask in your shorts to avoid embarrassment or a few patterns to knit your own Lycra. I spotted a thread about bus drivers and their interaction with pedallers. As a member of both communities I read on. Suddenly I realised that I had unearthed a 2 wheeled Al Qaeda cell. All bus drivers were reviled as Morons. I decided to put the contrary case, pointing out that cyclists needed to understand the operation of big vehicles and of visibility/mirror issues. Dear Oh dear! Back came echoes of bile and hatred. MORON, MORON! chanted an accuser. I felt the tearing of flesh as the crocs tore into me and pulled me under. And that was a forum for righteous lentil gobblers.
So- looking at yesterday’s item about honey bees, I read some of the comments that readers had added on the Newspaper website. The professors were “feathering their own nests”. A counter opinionater declared that another correspondent was a “Mong” who should get back under his shell. The fact is that this sort of behaviour is horrid. Everyone in the writing game has come up against Trolls who abuse other people’s work in an unacceptable way. In my opinion some “forums” are Troll fronts where many correspondents are mentally ill. A few days ago a man appeared in Court in the UK for trolling on memorial websites to dead kids. If you do not know of this case check it out here.
The fact is that anonymity permits the very worst of us to emerge, uninhibited by fear of actual violence or reprisal. I know a lad whose life was turned into a Hell by cyber threats on Facebook. I feel myself lucky to have grown up before any such thing was possible. I have just a suspicion that I might have been cowardly enough to express my true vile self.
Emma thinx: You can snipe at rabbits but beware of the cross hares.
It’s all toppling you know. Everything we believed in and trusted lies trampled in the dirt of experience. Bloody good thing too if you ask me! Today the British nation learned that Big Ben is leaning. It’s only a small lean – but in 4,000 years it could topple. Apparently the lean of 1.5 inches is perceptible to the naked eye from Parliament Square. Well, I can tell you that my ex husband would not have been able to spot it. He used to think that a spirit level was the whisky department of the supermarket. We had shelves that looked like the doors of a gull wing Mercedes. But they did have a certain charm. Many a dinner guest asked if there had been an earthquake. The completely vertical tower of Pisa just does not have any cachet does it? My suspicion is that all of this stuff is a part of a tourist promo – “see it before it’s too late” stunt.
Then there is far more serious leaning from vertical in the actual Houses of Parliament. Now, I want you all to note that this is the first and probably the last time that I speak well of a Tory. (That is a Conservative politician). Poor old Dr Fox (Minister for Defence) is being hounded by the righteous because his mate has been bragging about “My friend the minister” and hanging about in the corridors of power. Look – the whole Power and influence thing is based on friendships, insider deals and assortative matings. The minister appears to have a loud mouthed friend who loved bigging himself up and fancies himself as a bit of a fixer. Now the righteous are all huffing and puffing. The main hound-master admitted that his own Party had taken money from this same guy to assist with “Policy Development”. OK readers – I’m gonna give you £10,000 pounds to fund a nice policy making trip. No strings attached – but let’s all be friends eh. Hypocrisy and tub thumping methinks.
Scientists at the local university are suddenly in the spotlight for asking if bees are affected by diesel fumes. The theory is that small particulates of combusted fuel disturb the function of their brains and they cannot find their way home. Almost certainly this is true. Many bus drivers who have lived their whole lives in diesel fumes cannot find their way anywhere. I still know where my home is in France and I long to be there.
And finally on the subject of leaning towers I was once in Venice and asked a guide why the Campanile had fallen down in 1902. “I don’ta know – ma – no worry – we make again esattemente the same – no deefference.” Might be one to watch. If leaning structures are your thing check out Fred Dibnah.
Emma thinx: Power accepts no friendship. No friendship accepts Power.
From the genteel parks and terraces of Leamington to the cab of my bus this morning. “Ee’s doin’ is teef.” Came the voice from the 23rd floor. Regular readers will know that this is the standard response when I call to pick up a particularly time challenged student. “Could ee do is teef before the bus comes?” I reply.
“Wah? We dunno when you’re gonna be ‘ere?”
“Get ‘im ta do is teef when ee gets up.” I reply in dialect
“Ee does – ee gets straight aht a bed and does ‘is teef.”
I wonder if I’ll ever meet the voice from floor 23. I suspect she has a hard life up there. At least the dental hygiene should be OK.
I’m never really sure how to feel about animals. I always keep in mind how much I enjoy eating quite a few of them. I know that as a Romantic novelist I should be a cat and dog lover with at least a frilly poodle called fartio. I can never quite get over the knowledge that cats torture little birds. Dogs on the other hand roll in dung and lick their own and other dogs’ bottoms before moving on to your face. Both species can be infected with parasitic worms that cause severe illness and blindness in children who are apt to pick up cat and dog faeces. If this kinda stuff worries you check out Toxocariasis here. I only mention this because a friend’s daughter lost her vision on account of this problem. I suppose that my attitude to animals is unsentimental, practical and culinary.
All the same, I can see the charm of dogs. In the yard where the buses sleep there is a rag-bag of sheds, grease pits, vehicle repairers and various oily humans who appear to have been absorbed in an osmotic process by their overalls. All sorts of welding, car cutting, foreign tongues, hammering, revving engines, paint spraying and diesel smoke merge to form a synthesis of something I call Fumanity. I adore the place. In amongst this mechanical stew lives Alf – the workshop dog. He is a terrier and looks like he is a kinda mobile wiping rag. So many lubricated hands pat him that he has taken on the colour of sump oil. He kinda growls out with lop-sided white teeth through an axle grease beard. Most of the time he runs about with an old football begging for anyone to kick it for him to chase. Then he dives under or into trucks, bins, piles of scrap, greasing pits or buses to retrieve it. He also attacks any kind of water hose – the water just beads off the grease. If anyone wants me to investigate the full story of Alf please let me know. I believe he has lived there for many years.
Just as an aside I must admit that since I have been back on the buses, grinding out a working life, all that romance fiction seems wonderful, yet for me un-writeable. I just can’t imagine swooning in the arms of a billionaire hunk. I dream of traffic and hooting road- ragers. If a spillionaire (saturated with uncountable wealth) hunk cut me up in his Ferrari I’d probably smack his smug orthodontically perfect gob.
Emma thinx: Do it doggy fashion. Collar him and take the lead.
Near to my temporary home here in the valley of the River Test there are three oak trees. Two of them contain colonies of rooks while the other is a kind of neutral uninhabited territory between the two tribes. Living here I am able to indulge my love of crows. I am certain that they are at least as bright as I am. As far as I can tell the two trees contain two separate tribes. When I put food out on the lawn one tribe or the other make the first raucous swoop. When the other lot appear they peck at one another rather than the food. At the first hint of risk they all fly off – all except one hero whom I have named “Hook-Beak”. At first Gilles thought I was talking about him because he does have a rather Gallic snoz. Hook-Beak kinda wanders round all the various shamozzles with his hands behind his back. As others flap and squabble, he eats. He looks like a retired old crow who never made it to the government but never got defeated either. If I can get an interview with him I’ll post it on here. It’ll be Frost and Nixon with feathers. First question will be if he has any ideas for peace in the Middle East
Today the guys are feeding on acorns. They edge out carefully like old time sailors in the rigging. Then they harvest the acorn neatly and fly off with their prize. On this beautiful autumn morning I am alive and able to sit at my window and share in their endeavour. I lead a very privileged life. I’ve been trying to get a photo of Hook-Beak but I can’t get close enough.
Friday is a relatively easy day on the bus. My biggest problem is getting the dear little souls out of their front doors. At the tower block today I pressed the intercom and spoke to a lady. “Ee won’t be long Love – Ee’s doin’ ‘is teef.” She advised me. Now, since he lives on the 23rd floor and has to take a lift (if it works) it means at least a five minute wait. If 14 kids all make me wait 5 minutes I’m gonna run at least an hour late since the schedule assumes that I suck the students onto the bus with a Star Trek tractor beam without stopping. When I hear executives talking about stress I wonder if they know what life is like on the bottom. Saturday tomorrow – joy joy joy – I won’t have to get up at 6.am.
I see the Saudi lady driver is now not to be whipped. I knew that once the king read my views he would change his mind.
Emma thinx: A stitch in time saves some smug bastard from telling you so.
How far away my home in France seemed today. I saw a car wipe the mirror off a parked vehicle and just keep going. On the petrol forecourt at ASDA a road rager tried to punch in the side window of a terrified old guy accused of queue jumping. I think he was just a bit confused. He made off in terror. The raging bull was about 40, nicely dressed, driving a newly registered big BMW. I sent an early death with boils and suffering ray at him. He scowled back. I’m gonna do a voodoo doll of him later just in case I missed with the hate ray. What I’m trying to say is that it all seems so angry here. It’s as if we are overcrowded rats. Of course you can’t compare a rural environment with a crowded urban horror of traffic, concrete and suspicion. Many years ago I wrote a poem when I was living in a run down environment. Check out “Angry Man In The Flats” here.
Suddenly the news is filled with whips. (No black leather or high heels guys). The body in charge of UK horse racing has declared that whipping (of horses) should be allowed but should be reduced. I was once at a horse race where a horse ridden by a well known jockey snapped a leg. The millionaire mega star aimed a tirade of abuse at the animal and stamped off to his helicopter. The horse was destroyed.
Then came the news that a Saudi lady, Rima Al-Mukhtar is to be whipped for the offence of driving a car – a practice banned apparently not by God, but by guys with beards acting on his behalf. Now as a lady bus driver I really do feel that we need to get a grip of this kinda stuff. Why do we stand for it? Why do we allow this barbarianism to go unchallenged? Do I hear the answers OIL and DEFENCE CONTRACTS? In France there is much controversy about females wearing burquas. Several have been fined small amounts. President Sarko believes that it is about the liberty of women, although apparently some women want to look like daleks in bin liners. What I want to know is how you blow your nose when you’ve got a streaming cold, or if you sneeze? Does it just run down inside the fabric. Is there a special kind of cloth called Sneezelamé? What worries me is that there are religious guys who would like to impose this kinda show on all of us. I don’t think so comrades!
The car is back! Looks like it was what Gilles told them. At least he’ll be happy and righteous.
Emma thinx: Female lashes? Looks like the Ayes have it.
Basically I really do live in a rural idyll. Just now and then something shakes our small community to the core. One of my neighbours has an old Renault – so old that spares have to be cloned from cells scraped from an exhaust pipe found in Roman ruins. A few nights ago both of her front indicator lamps were stolen! Now, really this should not be surprising. In my old south London home they would have stolen the car, pinched the lights and set fire to it. However, here the act seems shocking. The reason for this is that when crime and selfish thuggery are “normal” in a society, it becomes a constant background noise – like elevator music or 24 hour rolling news.(Once upon a time there was a land without news). Here, such a crime is like a rock cast into a still lake or a clap of thunder from a blue sky. Last year someone stole a small solar lamp in the shape of a snail from my garden. Gilles says it must have been a robot hedgehog but that’s the kind of thing he says to distract me from deep distress. So, I’ve been thinking about this. Once a street has a discarded cigarette packet on the ground, others will throw down more and more and more. Once crime becomes that background hum more and more crime will add to the sound and we all become immune to it. When I came to St Savinien from London, the hum stopped, and I heard the silence. So, we know the answer. The crime to stop is the first one. You offer ruthless massive punishments for plastic snail and car light rustling. Even if it worked for a day, the citizens would have heard the silence probably for the first time and would demand it as their right. Actually IT IS THEIR RIGHT.
The enforcement of law and order in France is slightly more complicated than in the UK. Essentially there are 2 police forces – La Gendarmerie and La Police Nationale. Obviously there are overlaps and shared missions but broadly les Gendarmes look after rural France and La Police Nationale look after the cities and larger towns. Unlike the Brits, the French had a militarily trained police force as far back as 1337 and probably a while before that. As an institution they survived the Revolution since they were perceived as on the side of the people. In my own small contacts with them their officers have been immaculate and correct, if maybe a little stiff. They don’t seem to do the gum chewing, wise cracking, world weary, feet on the desk routine.
Somewhere in the boiler/utility room there is a spider. It sprang from a pile of washing. I slammed the door, wedged newspapers in the gaps and have retreated to my desk. If he wants any clean shirts he’ll have to deal with it properly. All he does is put them outside where they wait a few days, grow to double the size and come back in. If all fails I’m gonna send in a remote controlled hedgehog.
Emma thinx: If a problem is out of control: stand back. You may be the fuel.
Whilst weeding the garden, I noted the normal panic and probably terror of insects and ants as their worlds and empires among the roots crumbled and rearranged themselves. So, we slightly higher life forms should not be surprised by sudden change and the fall of certainties. So it has been in the world of books – a subject which I mentioned yesterday. However, the landscape of magazines and newspapers has always shifted. When I started out trying to get anything published I had read a book called “How to be a writer” which I had found in the local library. According to the author, you simply produced “Formula first person” stories to the correct length and sent them off to editors. The editors just sent them back, lost them or put them on a pile. The formula story was written in the first person (a female) who had arrived at a crossroads. Her mind then “flashed back” to how she had arrived at this point. Occasionally I managed to sell a story. Sadly, those story/love/romance magazines no longer have sufficient readership and most have closed. These days it is the celebrity mag that sells. The fact is that the antics and amours of celebs routinely trump any fiction that my imagination could create. What we now have is the formula love on/love off tale starring people who you actually know and have seen on TV. The reason I had been writing romance is because some of the publishers at the supermarket end of the business still accept manuscripts. I’ll leave it to the posh “sincere and artistic” writers to follow their calling with integrity.
So, that brings me on to Celebrity. In France we do have them but most of them are somewhere inside Gérard Depardieu.(American readers will know him from “Green Card”) Now, I love this guy. He’s a kinda Jolly Green Giant crossed with the honey monster. He’s also a brilliant actor and seems to be in every French film. Recently he came to international fame by urinating in an aeroplane.(I do not believe that he was filming a re-make of “Snakes On A Plane”). Seemingly he had asked to use the toilet and had been refused because the plane was about to take off. So, he did what any Frenchman would do. He stood, got out his manhood and anointed the floor. Some reports suggest that he was very considerately aiming for a bottle. This is an honoured French tradition that you are likely to witness at any moment in France. Polite males turn their backs on the closest spectators and enjoy their relief. Any aircraft taking money from French passengers should install at least a small area of soil or a corrugated iron partition to allow for cultural expression. We have to be ultra sensitive to all manner of special interest groups. A Frenchman with a full bladder is as special as you can get. I’m gonna create a church of the Open Fly in the Sky and sign up paying members. Once you’re a church they can’t touch you. Gérard – I’ll be your priestess.
A French lady has sued her husband for “lack of sex”. A judge has ruled that under section 215 of the legal code, partners have to provide this service. The guy had to pay out £8,500 Euros. Don’t think my man will be in court for a while!!!!
The trial of ex-president and Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac has opened. Seemingly he has memory problems and cannot attend. All looks a bit political and spiteful to me. He was ultra French and I liked him just for that. Emma says – leave the old guy alone. If his opponents win they’ll look like muggers robbing an old gent regardless of the rights and wrongs.
It’s that result time of year. I have never tried my hand at many exams and so as normal I am rattling on about something about which I know nothing. All the same, I did learn a couple of foreign languages and over the past few years I have coached various students in the UK in French. This year I have heard from my little brood who have all received A or A* grades. Now, of course I am very pleased but just imagine how much more pleased I would be if they could actually speak French! The fact is that at GCSE(The main UK qualification at 16years) and to a certain extent, A.S. levels, the whole thing is about hoop jumping. Huge chunks of the oral exam are learned by heart and regurgitated. I encounter students who cannot pronounce the simplest common words and could not tell you their mother’s name. Little or no attention is given to “freestyle” skills and it is utterly frustrating to have to cram the poor souls with pre-digested parrot food so that they can pass the exam. In many ways I think it would be best to re-name language exams as “Linguistic cultural studies” and have a whole separate subject called “Getting yourself a burger in Boulogne studies”. All manner of extra grades, stars and medals could be awarded. Government supremos could be given whole departments. It is also widely believed that only girls are capable of learning foreign languages. What is actually true is that boys are much more self conscious about getting things wrong and being mocked by their peers. Teachers (I believe) in all subjects fail to understand males and the whole educational process becomes a series of humiliations. Language teaching in schools is appalling and very very few students end up with any worthwhile language skills. THEY ALSO FAIL TO ENGENDER ANY LOVE FOR OR PLEASURE IN THE SUBJECT SO THAT STUDENTS WANT TO CARRY ON IN REAL LIFE.
So – there are no simple answers. Parents and teachers want systems that measure and award. Quite simply there are no prizes for any kind of freestyle. Jump the hoops, get the grades, get the university, get the top job, get money, get kids,get the kids to jump the hoops…… Who said you were supposed to enjoy it? Language teachers hated me.It was mutual. None of us learned anything.
I have a big big problem with cat excrement. The biggest part of the problem is that I do not like it. I imagine that cat loving folk do like it. Maybe it can be processed into soap or candles for Christmas gifts. About 7 pet cats regard my little garden as a public toilet. I have spent hours obtaining flat stones and placing them on all areas of exposed soil. Now the cats leave their delicate whiskered feline parcels on the shallow stones of my path. A walk down the garden is likely to leave me festooned with shit. The aroma of herbs and roses is lost in the reek of shit. I don’t want to be hated as an anti-feline and I think they’re quite sweet but am I supposed to like this?
Emma thinx: Law -the codified failure of kindness.
Today is the 15th August – a national holiday here in France. It is quiet, so very quiet. The holiday is to denote l’Assomption of the Virgin Mary into heaven and seemingly was not part of the religious system until the sixth century. However, this day and the wider period has many attendant notions and sayings. Most important is the one that says that the cuckoo loses his voice…although I haven’t heard one since June. Other sayings relate to such things as “Lift a stone at this date and you will find the cool beneath.” It is a general belief that Summer is now on the wane and the cold darkness begins to close in. Well – these guys know nothing. Even in southern England it is dark until 9am and dark again at 3.30 pm in winter. If the Charentais had to live there they would have reason to be pessimists. And on this matter I must say that I believe that French people are more pessimistic and more accepting than Brits. A Frenchman thinks things will get worse for everyone and that they will bear it. An Englishman thinks that things will get worse for everyone else and it is their own fault if they cannot bear it.
I planted my grape vines. Gilles dug up areas of his terrasse – not without some muttering. Each of his 2,100 stones were placed by hand and carry his blood and DNA. Since he is French he can scorn le Tribunal de Terrasse because only if you are one of a certain group can you mock them. An ex-viticultrice swung by to denounce my vines and the possible positioning. Luckily she was distracted by some Leylandii conifers in a neighbour’s garden. “Oh yes – there are zee regulations and you will be needing zee courts of law…” Actually I needed a drink. I will sit in the darkness of the Leylandii shadow as my withered vines fester with very complicated diseases unknown to Anglos. I will drink to the Virgin Mary as she ascends into heaven and voiceless cuckoos fall dead with frost at my feet. I believe that the hunting of a bird called La Caille opens today. They’re a bit like grouse or quail. Bon courage les oiseaux.
When does some awful event pass into legend and the opening of the whimsy season? Time is a healer they say – but is it? A few days ago I was rabbiting about Boadecia fighting the Romans with toilet rolls. Now, those were bloody times of unimaginable suffering and yet Boadecia jokes do not appear to arouse passions, denouncements or have social workers kicking down doors to take away the children. In France, the ghastliness of the Revolution does not prevent all manner of guillotine references. A few days ago you may recall a lady of the village told me of the death of her dog. Now, apparently the mother and father of the dead dog have combined again to produce an identical litter. The grieving owners agonise over whether or not to try and replace their dead pet. I asked some English folk if they had any views about re-incanination. The shock waves of horror had them staggering. If ever there was any chance of ascending into heaven I’m afraid I blew it. Lift off will have to be from some place without pets.
Emma thinx: Re-incanination – it’s a dog’s afterlife.