“Ee’s just doin ‘is teef but the lift’s broke,” came the voice of intercom mom from floor 23 of the concrete sky. We all waited on the bus as the lad made his way down the steps. At last he arrived dressed in the same clothes that he always wears. It’s fashion sport wear and it’s always clean. I think it’s all he possesses. Mom must strip him off as soon as he gets in and poke it in the washing machine. Poverty is relative of course. Seemingly there are now 7 billion of us and the world can no longer feed us. When I see these poor kids and how they cling to the lifeboat of fashion even at the expense of food, I realise that the soul/status/ego/self image of each person is both our joy and our agony. It is a perversity to see the anorexic vision of catwalk model beauty amidst the plenty and the Fast food/Big Biz/glamour glitz worshipped by the poor.
Yesterday afternoon I watched snatches of the first ever Indian Formula One Grand prix. How lucky they are that the Gods of Guzzle have handed them the golden gladiators of radiators. Oh yes – the land of Shiva is now the land of GP diva. I’m a bit wary of making liberal arty farty capital out of the whole car racing circus. Probably it makes no difference but to me India has always seemed a land of advanced spirituality – beyond the brand and logo of plastered bill board overalls. And yet the taste of madness is sweet you know. Those childhood orgies of fallen conkers, hoarded simply because they were there, run on into adulthood and are delicious. The scream of wasteful engines and the kingfisher flash of wealth are seductive. Seventeen thousand revs of orgasmic horsepower speak louder than a quiet voice of thought groping out for some gentle insight. Rip the rubber and ram it home to the chequered flag. Think simple and get the goods. That’s the true grand prize. Who am I to say different? At one stage of the race a car stopped at the edge of the circuit. Suddenly a mob hurtled towards the high grilled fence and pressed their faces against the metal in an agony to touch that far far world of the man with sponsored boots and million dollar gloves. These two worlds will never collide – provided that the fences hold.
A very disturbing film is out on DVD about the life of the racing driver Ayrton Senna. I’m not sure if it was meant to worry me but I kept posing a Wagnerian question “Where is there for defeated gods?” Many folk saw him as a GOD. That would be very difficult for a guy who simply drove cars in the name of a cigarette brand would it not?
Oh no – trouble in the temple. The Dean of St Paul’s cathedral has resigned over the strife around the anti-money changer demo on the steps. I love St Paul’s cathedral and have so often lit candles to the lovely building echoing choirboy fake-up-kid-yourself-spirituality God. Seemingly the elders of the temple can’t agree over whether or not to support the protests. I can see that this is a tough one. You get some kind of hippy guy show up with a few rough looking supporters and they go on about wealth and greed. Yup, even old Pontious Pilate was perplexed. He kinda fixed things up in the end though.
Emma thinx: Bossmosis – How the higher sucks out the lower.
We awoke at 5am. At least there was Breakfast at Brittany’s to look forward to. I try to avoid anything too healthy. I always go for the salmon, the boiled eggs and the ham. I knew that an ordeal lay ahead. The broken down car was sitting sullenly on the car deck. They had put us with the lorries, expecting to tow us off the ship. Gilles had other ideas. He suspected that once the gearbox fluid had cooled it would produce enough friction to get us moving at tick-over revs. If we could sneak out with the trucks and clear immigration we could break down in comfort. And so it was that we found ourselves without transmission about 500 metres (that’s 546 British yards) on the safe side of the border. A security guy starts shouting and waving. We shrug in a kinda Gallo-Anglo manner. The guard approaches.
“Thirty years Sir – thirty years I’ve been in Security Madame – I’ve seen so much bad parking Sir- Dear me- so much anger….I didn’t mean to shout Madame….but you have to…..so much anger Sir ….I just see so much of it. Just yesterday Madame, I was on routine patrol in the terminal building. Anger Sir- yes, a man assailed me. Frustration – that’s what it is Madame. Frustration leading to anger Sir.” The guy was an absolute gent and something of an English eccentric. We offered confusing hands to shake. Well – we are foreign.
We awaited the tow truck. The AA arrived. The car went to the Mercedes dealer. We unloaded all the gear and at about lunchtime arrived at my new home in a breakdown truck. I saw an old guy peer round the gate and then scurry away before he had to kiss and shake hands. Um – no, they don’t do that do they. He probably went off to tell the neighbours that a load of pikeys (semi nomadic scrap metal dealers and asphalt contractors) were moving in and they drive around in a lorry.
Well, the house has green grass and an oak tree filled with gorgeous black crows. It’s all quite posh really. I keep staring at the red clay bricks – I had forgotten bricks! The house is on a rental contract and Gilles will be taking the train to London. He indulged me by coming to the Test Valley so that I can see Rosina. The area looks like the sort of place where they have the Women’s Institute and the Rotary club. To be honest I feel very out of place. I’m gonna make friends with the crows. At first sight there are 2 colonies in 2 separate trees. I have missed garden birds in Charentes.
Emma thinx: Who imagined that tree you’re looking at?
So we cruised up towards the coast.The names of towns had lived their growing signposts of fame, then slipped away behind like rejected talent show hopefuls: Poitiers, Tours, Le Mans. It’s really quite alarming to realise that there actually is a weather line at the River Loire. The temperature steadily reduced by about 8 degrees Centigrade as we neared the coast. About a mile from the port there is a Mcdonalds and I could tell that Gilles was getting a bit excited. You see I have the zeal of the convert and see myself as une Francaise , une maitresse de moules, une femme de fromage. All in all too posh to nosh. Not so my Gallic gourmet -“Zay ave zee Big Tasty.” He told me. The place was crowded. (The French are lovin’it – but don’t tell anyone). We queued behind 4 chavs – baseball hats backwards, bits of bling, a few tattoos. Somewhere in their lives would be a hot hatch with an exaggerated exhaust pipe. I wanted coffee with my Big Tasty meal. “Impossible!” Snapped the serveuse.
“It is not part of the Big Tasty menu.” Mumbled the rude child in an exasperated tone. She was the kind of person who would be rejected by Somali pirates. I ordered 2 Big tasty meals and a separate coffee. I could tell she despised my tactical manoeuvre. We munched – or rather licked and absorbed our soggy baps. I felt like an amoeba slithering my body around the outside of some unspeakable nutrient mass. Gilles pretended to be enjoying himself but I know that deep down he is a flame grilled whopper guy.
We pulled away. In the distance were the lights of the port. Now -have you ever seen a horse galloping in the lead towards the last fence of the Grand National. Suddenly the animal looks at the fence and says “Nah!- I’ve had enough.” Yes- the car saw those lights and stopped – more or less dead. She did not want to leave France. She could read my pain. The thought of driving on the left had stopped her heart. Gilles started to make unrepeatable remarks about having given le garagiste 1,600 Euros. All that cholesterol and anger at his age could be dangerous. We needed some exercise. The push was only about a mile. We huffed and puffed up to the check in and just about let it roll up to the cabin. I was worried that they might not let us in pushing the car. No one noticed. We were directed to follow a Monsieur red vest. We shrugged and looked helpless. We had our boarding cards. We could ask for Asylum.
There were many shrugs, smiles and “C’est la vie”sentiments. A large lorry appeared driven by a cheerful docker. We explained the story of the newly repaired car. The guy shrugged. “In Charentes they only think of beaches and the sun…this is no surprise.”
He towed us on board. He shook our hands. As France slipped away behind us we made for the bar. The beer was French, the tricolore trailed out stiffly behind the ship. I was still a little bit at home.
Emma thinx: Disappointed? But deep down you were right weren’t you.
Yesterday the car came back. In the end no oily rag was brandished. Instead 1,600Euros worth of electronic modules were changed. This morning we have been loading up. Most importantly the tandem is coming back with us. Luckily we have a house sitter to look after the old place. I have been tempted to do a kinda wistful poetic wander around the town to fill my memory tanks. At the end of the day you can torment yourself with sentimental wishes and could have beens. You have to cut all that crap and get on with it. I have weeded my flower bed and tucked in the last tendrils of the vines. I often think about all the folk who get sent off to wars or lose their homes in disasters. Most of the stuff we whine about is pathetic isn’t it.
I keep catching all manner of gloom on the radio about double dip recession and stagnant economies. The answer it seems is more cut- backs coupled with more spending. Then if we re-structure our European and American economies to encourage domestic manufacturing we can sell our goods to the globalised dispossessed and poor who will no longer have jobs or money. Ah! but we could give them the money. LET THEM EAT CREDIT. Now, why didn’t I think of that? To be honest comrades I feel a real sense of alarm amongst our leaders. The shadow of mass unemployment and mobs with little to lose have them peeking out from behind their curtains and pinning medals on their guards. The winter sweeps across us now. I believe we could see a very interesting Spring. The credit rating gurus have increased the cost of Italian borrowing and once again the disembowelled shark jack-knifes in reflex to swallow its own guts. So far our leaders think that the answer to shark attack is to send for better sharks. The answer my lords is to drain the sea.
And so these are my thoughts as I set out on my next little life adventure. I am neither politician nor economist – I write soppy fiction in a kinda purple bubble bath in cold water style. My time in France has shown me the sincerity with which Europeans pursue the ideal of unity. The forming of a federalised American state was by no means certain – it could have gone several ways. Their page was less written. Cometh the hour cometh the man is very different to cometh the decades cometh the men. Leaders – the Romantic novelist battalions are watching you. The tired old stuff won’t do.
Emma thinx: Travel broadens the mind: and often your beam.
They are dying out. There used to be uncountable millions of them like sparrows. All those wildlife charities and noble United Nations type institutions should list them as endangered. You know who I mean of course……yes – it’s people who can actually fix practical things. I will not bore you with my “no car” woes but just let me say that the problem has been re-classified from technical to “possibly mechanical”. This diagnosis is on the basis that the plug-in computer analysis doesn’t know the answer. They have sent for a man who actually has a bag of spanners, an oily rag and dirty fingernails. I bet you he’s gonna be in his fifties! Now, this brings me on to my own dear sweet oily rag of a superhero – Gilles. Today he did some world controlling on his laptop and then decided to help out some kids with mending their bikes. He has all those sexy widgets that remove sprockets, line up hubs, remove crank tapers and tension spokes. He knows about ball bearings and head set adjustment nuts. What bothers me is that it’s only the old grey-beards who know this stuff. All these bikes, buses and batteries are stamped out in China and our whole economy is based on waste and consumption. But comrades – this cannot go on. We’re gonna have to make stuff ourselves, make it last and fix it up. We could just flip burgers for the new masters.
In France there is a great unexpressed fear for the changing world. Europe is in decline economically, having more or less committed suicide by following the short term benefits of globalisation. Morally it could be said that we have re-distributed our wealth through the organ of capitalism. That is true, but we have undistributed our own jobs and talents of our young folk. The French are far more conscious of this issue than the Brits. Now, I’m gonna be quite provocative here and talk about racism even though it is not really allowed. The French feel that the rising power of China and the fact that they are literally buying a lot of the world is a major threat to their lives and traditions. The rich don’t want to rock the money boat as yet because they’ve still got some, but the poor are not so bothered. If sovereign States go belly up in this completely artificial world financial system, will they be for sale? YES…..In France folk in the streets think of this and they have worked it out all for themselves. Our leaders have fiddled while Rome, Lisbon, Athens, Dublin and whoever next burns. I am a Romantic novelist, a collector of cliché, a purveyor of soft porn and a laureate of the licentious. And even I can work it out! Today, the credit rating guys have down-graded some major French banks. You know, if you slash the belly of a shark it turns and eats its own guts as they spill out. Keep cutting and slashing guys.. we’ll be OK.There’s a job flipping those burgers. Let’s fight each other for it.
The Autumn now wins the mornings and evenings but cannot hold the day. The buzz and passion of a Summer still smile and show a tempting leg. We are alive. There is always wine, harvest and joy. May it ever be. May we always be free.
Emma thinx: Who will make the coffin for the last carpenter?
Still no car. The problem is apparently “technical”. Now, there was me thinking that it was purely emotional. A very well dressed gentleman has shown me a black lump of plastic with some umbilical wires attached and explained that in the case of “electronic modules”, other experts have to be consulted. Gilles shrugs and thinks the old gal should go. Over my dead module! She’s a friend and a link to right hand drive going back to the first Roman chariot to scramble off the boat in 55 BC. “I came, I saw, I drove on the left”(Veni,vidi,veered) were the first words of Julius Caesar. Every school child in Britain knows that.
The possession of right hand drive in France leads me on to the vexed subject of Les Péages. These are toll paying motorways. They are fabulously smooth and straight runways of black asphalt. They are also tremendously expensive. The journey from my home to the port of Ouistreham costs about 35 Euros ($48). If you add in 70 Euros ($96) in fuel you can see why I don’t get back to the UK too much. The journey is never without comedy if I’m travelling alone. The French have set up all the toll machines for their own people. Now, how chauvinistic can you get? Usually I pull up and try to climb across the car either to grab the ticket or to make payment. My arms are rather short and even sitting in the passenger seat I struggle to reach the slot. I once heaved half my body out of the window, caught my coat collar on the end of the roof-rack bar and couldn’t get back in. On another occasion I tried to step out of the car, found myself too close to the machine and managed to twist my foot and sandal under the seat. Then I freed my foot, got it out of the car and my flip flop fell off onto the ground. I then couldn’t get the door open wide enough to reach it. I decided to reverse but an angry male had driven right up to my bumper. Quite a queue of impatient left hand drivers had built up by the time I just stretched my arm far enough to reach it. Now I’m getting older I tend to get out of the car and sprint round to the other side. This was after I got cramp in my thigh and had to perform auto massage lying across the front seats.
An excited neighbour has just told me that she is going to St Jean d’Angely this evening to an “Indian” restaurant. She asked me if I had ever been to one. I tried to explain that in the UK, chicken Tikka Masala is the National dish. English food is Indian/Chinese/Italian/American/Turkish et al or fish and chips cooked by any of them. Furthermore young warriors fuelled on beer, have to overcome plates of mouth blistering vindaloo as a late night rite of passage before they can become proper football hooligans. She asked me what I would order in an English pub. “Curry and French fries” I replied. In France they have French restaurants. It’s a whole different culture!
Emma thinx: Tomorrow will take care of itself unless you want the job.
Now, you will remember my great joy at getting my car back! OK – a moment of joy is a moment of joy. Once lived no one can take it away from you. I know this well from my school days when I was selected to swim the back-stroke race in the Gala. This was because I could not swim on my front and you did not have to dive in. When they fired the gun I pushed off from the side flailing my arms in an athletic fervour merely in order to stay afloat and I quite fancied the games teacher. Now, swimming on your back you cannot see and all the other swimmers are creating huge lung drowning bow waves. The municipal chlorine and diluted urine of the pool blinded me. Suddenly I hit the wall of the pool and looked along the line to see where I had finished. There was no-one. I wasn’t a non-athletic, bit freckly, gangly sports failure. I had won! I did a triumphal whoop in the way that sporty triumphant people do their victory whoops. Then I heard laughter. As the blinding chemicals cleared from my eyes I saw that I had turned right more or less at the start and hit the side wall. The back stroking heroes had stayed straight and reached the end of the pool. There were no lane marking thingies – I mean this was a state school in the grubby end of town. BUT – that moment of joy stays in my mind only slightly sullied by what was a very easy mistake to make. So – imagine my annoyance as my car failed with exactly the same fault that had put it in the hands of Le garagiste. Now, so far no names, no flinging of bitchy consumer mud. However, there is a garage near Royan in France that is on my bile radar. I am an optimist.
Gilles, (for new readers, my exclusive French lover) often chides me for blogging about drainage, cars, building work and cycling. He advises that Romantic novelists are supposed to be frilly and fem. Well, of course I am and that is why swimming galas, broken down cars and romantic passion merge into one great wet pulsing thrust in my mind. Recently one of our young ones fell in love. It was lovely except that she was a sly coquettish little vamp, always surrounded by a mountain of fire, dangling a bunch of the sweetest grapes that only the boldest hero would receive. The lad cooed at her like the pigeon on my chimney whilst on the horizon she spotted ever more heroes charging on with swords drawn, slashing at their rivals to claim the prize of her lust moistened bodice. Stupid little cow! I could have smacked her face. Now tell me that I’m not a sensitive romantic. In the end he spotted her defective gearbox module and his mind was returned to him. Not before time – and I didn’t say a word. Honest!
There’s mould on one of my jars of bramble jelly. Kids and neighbours braved prickles, stone walls and a cow with suspiciously big gonads to pick that fruit. Oh Universe – preserve us!
Emma thinx: Girls – whatever the game, his mother’s probably played it.
My faithful old car is back. For the past week I have had a hire car – an Alfa Romeo. Dear oh dear – it was nippy, jerky and apparently fashionable. It seemed to have several extra gears and I’m not too good at counting. I’ve seen them advertised on the television with sexy actresses in glamorous poses. My dear old wallow hog kinda waltzes me along. Of course my UK plate immediately attracts the tailgaters and the drama swerve overtakers – but I’m sitting on the gutter side and if it gets rough I can just step out. It’s really odd, but I prefer my right hand drive because all my genes are modified with Bisto gravy and also from a passenger’s point of view I am told that my left profile is more attractive. Gilles thinks we ought to go native – but honestly – would you allow a steering wheel to hide the best side of your “look”. Of course not!
I really feel that I should comment on the poor lady in the hire car office in Saintes. When I went last week she had broken her glasses and just had the lenses. She had to type one handed whilst holding them like a lorgnette. She looked like a crime scene detective looking for fingerprints. This week she had taped up the glasses and was literally jumping and hopping on one leg – the other being strapped up. I enquired as to the cause and she stated plainly that a car had rolled over her leg.(Well, what a stupid question anyway). I was going to give her a clover good luck charm but she had to talk on the phone while she was dealing with me and she only had time to point and make abrupt commands. She needs some kinda charm – it’s a desperate case.
Ever since I have lived here I have wanted to see the Roman “Thermes” at Saintes. Well, I found them and they are impressive. As always very little is made of them – they are kinda presented with a shrug. There was a bin for dog mess but no information or guidance. In England there would have been National Trust storm troopers in tweed and brogues or old codgers in togas doing a reconstruction of Julius Caesar bathing his bits. If you come to this region – and please give yourself a treat and do come- take in the Roman heritage of Saintes. It’s an education. All this was done without smart phones, video games or MBA degrees. Or maybe they had that stuff and they took it back to the mother ship. Beam me up Scottius.
Emma thinx: Need a good luck charm? Be charming. Feel the luck!
Now and then you will have suffered me burbling on about being a Buddhist. Well, actually I’m no more a Buddhist than the pope – although he hangs out with monks. The reason I say that I’m not one is that I’m just too jingle jangle desire driven. Anyway – last night on the good old BBC I watched a programme all about Buddhists fronted by a lady called Bettany Hughes. What I loved about her was that she is a real woman – and apparently has a normal proper figure. She has a kinda finger in the chocolate -“ooh it’s so sticky” Nigella Lawson style. If ever they bring out a “Grub of the Gods” TV show I think this lady should be dipping her spoon in the warm honey and asses’ milk crumble. I can just see Gilles edging up closer to the screen. As for the Buddhism, well- I’ve always given it a good go. Many years ago I worked with a guy who I thought was a real transcendental. He told me about the Buddha and one day to help me he gave me one of his home made cakes. The rest of the shift just passed in a buzz of of unwordly pleasure. We were working in a mattress factory and if you bought anything that I made that day I’m just so sorry if your bed collapsed or if all your discs slipped out. I don’t know if I went to Nirvana but I reckon I got to one of the suburbs and would have got there if all the bus drivers hadn’t been stoned.
I have hired a car. It has French number plates. Suddenly, no tail gating, no drama swerve overtaking – I just drive along and everyone thinks I’m one of them. In my poor old Britmobile every Frenchman sees me as a chance to re run the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and the sinking of the French fleet by Winston Churchill. Instead of a GB sticker I have a white flag. Road accident figures are far higher in France than in the UK with a far lower traffic density. They’ve got some balls though – I’ll give ’em that. The lady in the hire car office was fantastic. Even though I speak in normal French every day of my life, she saw my UK licence and reverted to sign language, mime,TALKING VERY LOUDLY and pointing. I took to nodding, turning down the corners of my mouth and shrugging. Who needs language?
How do you know about wines? In Asda in the UK there’s a lady called Philipa who writes stuff on the back of their bottles. Very often she says “good with sausage”. In France some bloody poets have been given the job and you can have softly fruity or mellow with hints of fruity bramble. I stand there for ages trying to choose. One day I’ll pick up a Premier Cru Bordeaux and it will say “Bon avec saucisse”. If it’s under 3 Euros I’ll buy it.
Emma thinx: Language -the rough translation of intuitive understanding.