Writes of Passage

A calm Sunday with tea and hot baguette served in bed while church bells marked out a time beyond my own boundaries. How lucky I am. How wretched the lives of so many others. I have so much because so many have so little. Well, today I have been writing. Fellow writers will know that there are always 50 reasons not to write. The trouble with computers is that once you switch them on the world reaches a hand out of the screen and grabs your throat. Since I have been Kindlicated I have been on Twitter – or rather I should say that Gilles has been putting me on there because I keep pushing all the wrong keys. Today I saw that a guy called Bert Carson was following me. I clicked his link and got to his books. Now, this guy served in Vietnam, has been a priest and a car salesman. Now, the the last 2 jobs are probably fairly similar – but this guy writes like he was born with a pen in his hand and jumped out of helicopters into leech infested mud. Now, just think about that. My only contact with rice is when I cook a curry. So, e-publishing has finally swept away the gatekeepers of the “who is allowed to be a writer club”. He’s too old for any tree book publisher but finally we are allowed to read his stuff. 

This kinda thing gives me real hope. However, be sure that the old elites still have wealth and control of other media. I listened to a book show on the BBC yesterday and a couple of old tree book writers, (You know- the kinda people who are introduced as Yvonne Yourleatherboots – the famous novelist and literary critic), talked about “my bookshop presence”.(Look – the only literary critics that matter now are YOU lot). These guys are in denial but soon enough the old gatekeepers will try and stage a counter-offensive. Outfits like Amazon will not control who uploads their stuff but they can control who gets seen, talked about and read not least by pricing policies. I’m reading Bert Carson’s “Fourth and Forever”. My review will go on Amazon. If you check out this guy just remember that this is a revolution. It will have to be defended and re-won probably several times. The French Revolution led to the dictatorship of Napoleon. But they got there in the end.

God – I’m getting to be an old battle-axe. Just checked in the mirror. No whiskers yet. And that brings me on to the subject of hairdressing. In central St Savinien there are 3 bakers, 2 butchers, 1 pharmacy, 1 bar and at least 6 hairdressers. This gives me a huge choice and I must make an enormous confession. I have never used any of them! For the past 15 years I have been loyal to the same hairdresser in the UK. Luckily business allows me to return to England every few months and I try frantically to get an appointment- even if it means a kitchen table special out of hours. Now, men have witnessed  my child-births but not one has been allowed to see me in mid foil bleach spiked head red faced mode. In this transcendental phase the same hairdresser has learned of my loves, pregnancies, careers and romantic heroes. If a woman is not loyal to her coiffeuse then there is no hope. There is also the small matter of what she knows about me, even though I’m almost certain she’d never say a word….. The fact that there are so many hairdressers in a small town must mean something. I think that important government statistics should produce ratios of population to hairdressers. It’s the kinda media guff that gets that final news slot.

Big treat tonight. An English roast for my man. Chicken is so dear here but I bought one. An evening chicken for a morning hot baguette is a fair reward.

Emma thinx: That loser – what’s his story?

Belly flop

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.

Fry up – Fries down.

Then I saw it! The evidence of another world – of other beings beyond our experience. There on the road between Saintes and St Savinien the signs were unmistakeable. A brown paper bag, several wrappers for fries and a couple of Big Mac boxes. At last the French have caught up. Hot hatch boy racers with boom box sound systems had already arrived as a kind of robot advance guard. Graffiti scribbling foot soldiers had already tagged the whole of the Paris metro with coded maps and tags. Now, they feel strong enough to attack the hinterland and throw their trash from cars to show us their might. Possibly the evidence was planted by holidaying foreigners – yes – that must be the answer! In any event my general impression of my part of France is that it is immaculate by most international standards. To me, the sight of such poor conduct was quite shocking and unexpected. In my old stamping grounds of South London, whole tribes and generations of rats and pigeons are sustained by discarded fast food and its containers. Charente Maritime, even in urban concentrations is not littered in any way. I think it all comes down to my old theory of social etiquette. If others don’t do it – YOU don’t do it. There is still a sense of continuity between what the oldies did and what YOU do.  At my curry soirée I encountered a most interesting Anglophile who had spent time in England. She acknowledged the contributions of the Brits to the world and to the notion of democracy. Then she said “But – the democracy and freedom you have created has destroyed you – you are choking in a liberty of everything – and in the end an infinite everything is a nothing because it has no shape. ” Now, I know it’s rare – but I wish I’d said that. The view from a distance is often the best.

Let me return to the matter of recycled waste. Normal household waste is collected regularly from communal bins and the service is fantastic. A community elder assured me that  recyclable waste is collected every 15 days at night. Now, having debated this matter many times with neighbours – some of whom believe that there is no pattern other than the winged shrug of the gods, a few nights ago I left the windows open on Re-cyclemas Eve. I felt like a kid. Perhaps I would see the truth of the sac. I awoke at 2 am. A truck pulled up. A young lady in a baseball cap with pony tail jumped off and scooped the pile. Look – if you’re reading this don’t tell the children. Let them keep their dreams for just a little longer. 

Cooking moules marinières tonight. In Carrefour they have scoured the globe to find the finest wines of the European community and blended them into a most fabulous “Spécial Fruits de Mer” for about a quid (£1 sterling or $1.60 cents). My advice: If you are buying trash wine for a low low price, mixed (blended) plonk is often the best because they bung some sweet in with the sour. Garlic, onion, wine and sea food – I want to live for ever.

Emma thinx: An infinity of everything shapes nothing. 

Internationale cuisine

Curry – that most British of foods and possibly the most non French. A few days ago I decided to have a curry bash and invite a few folks. All morning I have been mixing and matching Balti, Madras and Korma sauces. I’ve drained the dahl, browned the boeuf and chopped the chicken. Nothing can go wrong! As I wait for the event to start I try not to think about those very few occasions when dinners and soirées have – well – needed on the hoof adjustments. I think the worst food was when I had decided to serve whitebait as a starter for the first time. I dumped a big wedge in a hot wok and dug them out as a kind of mashed fish block. I just told the guests it was high fibre pate with eyes. 

But probably one of the worst dinner parties I ever held was when I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Comrades were always ravenous and survived on dry crusts and revolution jam. What they didn’t know was that I had only joined because I just wanted to be a member of SOMETHING. A guy came round selling his revolutionary newspaper and told me I was a down trodden daughter of toil. I was young with kids, debts and a bum job so it rang a bell. When the comrades found out I had a gas stove and a saucepan I kinda became a culinary apparatchik, but with the emphasis on the chick. If these guys had overthrown the government and seized power, a citizens’ committee would have appointed ME as ministress of cuisine (except that would have been both sexist and bourgeois). So, the comrades came for dinner. Talk was intellectual and inflamed with hatred of the Trots, Communists and the league of General Purpose Reds. WE were the only pure Socialists. I was really pleased that I had joined up with the right stuff because I wasn’t sure if I was a communist or not and I could just have easily fallen in with them. As dinner ended, the bearded head comrade stood and indicated that we should all stand and sing a song called “The Internationale”. Well, I guess all you guys out there know the words (check it out here). The comrades clenched fists and sang through what  seemed like an hour of revolutionary fervour, all the while glaring at me and I tried to mime, hum and control nervous giggles. By this time my horny handed husband of toil was on the phone to the Maggie Thatcher to see if they could send in the Army. (That poor man – he just had to take so much of my nonsenses and fads). I think I was the first person they had met who didn’t know the words. Now – If they’d gone for Abba I’d have sung “Fernando”. 

And whilst the echoes of the Internationale still resonate in my memory, I watched a small section of the Tour of Spain cycle race yesterday. In the commercial break they ran ads for Pay Day loans and ambulance chasing lawyers. To me it just kinda painted a picture of what’s going on and how we are.

Curry time approaches. At least I know how to sing “La Marseillaise”.

Emma thinx: Revolution – 360 degrees of Elites.

Om pour femme

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.


Carry on up your organ

Very few words are worked as hard as “organ”. As I was saying yesterday I was at Saintes. Shortly before my car self terminated (French reflexive verbs are so expressive – we need more in English), I heard the organ playing in the cathedral and had to pop in. I know very little about music and so to me it is a form of magic. The organist was having a right old bash and was creating some arabesque sounds that I had never heard before. I lit my candle to Saint Universe of Beautiful Buildings and carried on feeling in a bit of a spiritual belly dancing mood. It lasted until I came to a halt in a road by the river. Before phoning the dépannage I asked a senior gent what the road was called “It is the road by the river – everyone knows this. But anyway – it will be your battery – oh yes it is always that – I have had awful problems avec myself.” I thanked him and waited for the tow truck in the road by the river. Luckily the driver was a member of the “everyone” tribe who knew where I was. The everyone tribe is pretty big in France and they know most things. 

A little later the word organ resurfaced. I told an acquaintance that I had taken to going to a farm shop for my veg’. “You have to be sure that no chemicals are used – otherwise it is no different and it won’t be organic.” She assured me. Well, it tastes delicious and is much cheaper than the supermarkets. The term organic has always been too difficult to me – but generally I find a fair bit of grit inside the lettuce. At least you know it’s been grown in dirt and there must be some carbon in there somewhere. 

And of course, there are the organs that concern Romantic novelists. Really I think that there should be a special Organ Thesaurus for we scribblers. We all cast about for some new and perfect way to describe the ACT. I’ve read and written enough cores and manhoods to create a novel set in a monastery apple orchard. The very word organ arouses the British sense of “Carry On” film double entendre like little else. For this reason no one has ever written a Romance where one of the stars has an organ in their front room or even a chest of drawers. Carry on!

I picked up some good words today. The French call computers “Ordinateurs”. They now shorten this to “Ordi”. Well, that’s what I’m gonna call this little machine from now on. They also have an expression for a particular kinda guy. The term is “un chaud lapin”- that is to say a hot rabbit. I see that the charges against DSK were dropped in New York. Ah well, back to the burrow. 

Emma thinx: Stuff means trouble.More stuff means more trouble.

Old Boilers Feel The Cold

Both I and my Chappée oil fired heating system qualify as old boilers. Regular readers will recall my feature “Old boilers like it hot” where I went to find Monsieur Gordeau at the house with the blue shutters in the place with no name. Yesterday, the boiler stopped working. This morning I called Madame Gordeau who took a deep intake of breath and explained they were very busy this week but she would phone me back  at a very specific time – that is to say “A la fin de la matinée”. No one really knows where the morning ends but she called me back at about 1 o’clock to say that her husband would call tomorrow at around “La fin de la matinée”. I was very thankful and genuinely appreciative. About an hour later he arrived. He had a few minutes to spare. With him was an apprentice. Monsieur G. removed covers and interrogated the trainee – What issues could he think through? What were the factors in analysing any problem? Now this was a life I understand! This was old fashioned on the job hard learning your trade. The problem was soon fixed. The fee? …..Nothing. He had serviced it last year and so it was free. Now – eat your heart out corporate gold star super cover mind at ease maintenance in the UK. OK – you phone a kid in Bombay who says something unintelligible about needing to pay extra to get the platinum cover that has replaced the gold because of commodity price rises. This is FRANCE. Small conscientious deeply honest businesses function here and you are a valued client. They have apprentices to learn the trade and their wives answer the phone and care. This is FRANCE. A while ago I read a book by E.F. Schumacher called “Small is Beautiful”. I think the strap line was “Economics as if people mattered”. Read this book. If you have a boiler issue in Charente Maritime call M. Regis Gordeau on 05 46 97 78 85. Thoroughly recommended.

I am not pre occupied with waste tips. However, Gilles and I passed through La Déchtterie today with some bags of mixed sand and soil. In the skip were several plates and soup bowls. Some had been smashed by having old tiles and stones thrown on top of them. A few remained and I grabbed one. An official approached. Gilles asked if he could take the remaining plates that were unbroken. “Non! Ce n’est pas autorisé” Said the fluorescent jacket guy. Gilles pulled a Gallic face. Other punters were coming in to smash them with building rubble. You have to shrug. Sometimes eco-warriors have to retreat to higher ground. It will gnaw at his soul. He was born poor. Should we go the barricades to prevent stupid waste? Come on you young folk – the MAN has got you trapped and just looking over your shoulder in fear for your job and credit rating. Aux Armes!(See photo of rescued plate with fig. Would you have let it be stoned to death?)

I picked a big bowl of succulent sweet figs today from my tree. I just want you to know that.

Emma thinx: Rubbish the waste. Trash the tip. 

Big Chief I Spy.

I think they still do “I Spy” books. In the days before the internet, such things were important sources of information. One of my favourites was “I Spy at the Airport”. I was not interested in tail fins and fire engines, but I thought one day I could be a hostess and jet around the world. One of the things not featured in the book was the automatic car park payment machine. Today I drove to La Rochelle to collect a guest from the airport. I paid the fee and returned to the car to see a British tourist break my car mirror by trying to lift a suitcase through a gap. I approached as the offender tried to twist it to some better shape. She did not realise it was my car. “Don’t know what happened there.” She quipped. I looked at her with curiosity. She did not look as if she suffered from any sensory issues. “You broke it with your suitcase.” I said. She was with a few quite well to do Anglos who hurumphed and looked at me with that superior “how dare you” expression. They quickly bundled themselves into their brand new Mercedes E class and shot off when they realised it was my car. Sometimes I really don’t like people. However, I got the mirror casing and managed to refit it – albeit a bit wonkily. Gilles will fix it I’m sure. The outcome of all this shamozzle was that I lost the ticket to exit the car park. I then put the car keys on the roof of the car, forgot where I put them and thought I had lost them. I went to the airport security and told them I had lost my keys. They took my phone number. I returned to the car and saw the keys on the roof. Much relieved I went back to the car park machine and pushed the enquiry button. SILENCE. I decided to see if there was a talk your way out of jail button on the exit barrier or if I could tailgate another vehicle before the barrier came down. There was a button. I explained my life story to a perforated grill which had slightly more personality than the folks who had broken my mirror. “Come to the Security Office”. Said the machine. I duly went. “You are the woman who has no car keys.” Said the guard. I think he was related to the machine because he sounded similar. “I’m sorry – I found them.” Several guards shrugged but looked friendly.”What is your name?” He asked. I told him…..and waited…..NOT A SINGLE GLIMMER OF RECOGNITION. Perhaps French security officials do not read Romantic stories for ladies written in English. “Go to your car and go…” He said. I drove to the barrier. I spoke to the perforated grill. It shrugged and the barrier rose. I rejoined the World. I must re-read some Kafka.

A neighbour sometimes looks after a baby – well a toddler. The child smiles – deeply and joyfully. It is a profound talent. Please World – let her exercise and keep her gift.

It’s 34 degrees and I’ve got the oven on to cook an English Sunday Roast. Mad dogs and Englishwomen roast in the midday sun. My guest brought me some English Bisto gravy granules. Back to the moules tomorrow.

Emma thinx: Break my car mirror – 7 years voodoo.

Reverse Parking

Sitting here in the late afternoon with the temperature at 28 degrees, it seems almost inconceivable that the Municipal Gardens in Bournemouth UK were nearly washed away yesterday. I know I’m supposed to be writing about Charente Maritime, France and writing novels but if there is one thing that can raise any UK nostalgia from me it is Bournemouth. To me, it is a magical place of sepia sadness and lollipop longing – a childhood of sandcastles lost, trodden and overwhelmed – of proud flags on sticks defiant as the holiday ended and the dark satanic life of subservience called you back in to be counted and controlled. (Ooh- I was a terrible pupil. Those guys were stealing my free life and replacing it with punishment.)  I used to live quite near Bournemouth and all my life I’ve gone back there, both with family and alone – several times to write poems in the course of loves and desires gone wrong, gone good or not going at all.  I turned on the late BBC South News on my planet Murdoch satellite and saw a fabulously Municipal spokesman telling folk that the show would go on. Of course it will! I know I put up a poem yesterday but here is another one about Bournemouth Park. Check it out here.

From out of a blue sky this morning at about 8 o’ clock a tremendous smack and shatter of thunder stunned the whole town. There followed monsoon style rain which lasted for about 2 minutes. My eco water butts filled and all day I’ve had a kinda full water not got dem empty butt blues feeling. Think I’d like to write a song one day. 

One of the things to get used to here in France is the difference  between cuts of meat. This evening I’m serving coeur de basse cote de boeuf. Now to be honest, I had no idea what this meant in English. It looks like rump steak and the price per kilo would be  that kinda  bracket in the UK. I’m gonna cook up some onions and grill it for a couple of minutes. I had a quick peak on the internet and I could not see a kinda multilingual cut of meat chart. If anyone knows different please let me know.(Might be a big enough pull to get some google gold). 

Gilles and I had a spin on the tandem. Dear Lord – we found a new hill near Les Nouillers. Dear Lord I’m getting old. I could hear his breathing was more or less normal. Sometimes the line between love and hate is very faint. Who said faint?

Emma thinx: Dribbling rivalry – oldies still wanna win.

Gravity – Figure it out.

A fig fell on my head. Now – wouldn’t that be the most wonderful opening to a world changing novel. The thing is that in the garden at lunch time a fig fell off the fruit tree and bounced off my head. I ate it and it was delicious (first I took a photo). You have no idea how exotic it seems to me to have figs, grapes and lizards all around me. I feel like I should apply to be Snow White, but I’m afraid the dog ate my CV. It must seem that I am a trappy old trollop caught in a fecundity fire storm. If you were born with a concrete, tarmac and red bus shovel in your gob, all this rural paradise stuff is like – well – paradise. On the way to Intermarché, I detoured along a track that runs alongside La Charente. Bushes were heavy with blackberries and I must have eaten half a kilo. Swallows swooped and turned as they harvested their vital crop of insects to sustain their migration back south. The church tower chatters, clicks and whistles with mobs of starlings as they begin to cluster in that kind of sinister black cloak of Hitchcock un-realised fear. (Starlings are big on my poetry radar – check out my poem “Winter Starling” here.) The year has ratcheted its way up the roller coaster of time and now its pauses just long enough for your sense of joy and sorrow to mix into that stuff we call the human soul.

Along the river banks this afternoon were many guys with long rods. They sat resignedly watching the flow of water, I guess hoping for a fish – or maybe not. The fishing here seems to need merely long poles with none of those reel things that you can wind in and out and generally fiddle with. I was taken with the number of “fish wives” who had been taken out to the bank. There were knitters, readers and merely gazers. If they’d been English and if they had had Kindles in France, I would have stopped and told them how to get their pan sizzling just in case the old man didn’t catch anything.(Knockout! – by me).

Going back to the falling fig – it is said that maybe no apple actually fell on Isaac Newton’s head. Just imagine if a would be beautician from Tulse Hill Comprehensive had discovered gravity. Would the scientific world have taken any notice? Good job it was a clever old guy who knew some maths eh? Otherwise we might be floating about trying to write novels with the pen stuck to the ceiling. Might have helped the old boob droop I suppose. It’s daft I know but I’m feeling frivolous. At least if I’d have discovered it I would have hired lawyers to snatch the patent.

At Intermarché I bought a pain parisien (brief tremble of pleasure as the word PARIS brushes across my follicles). A lot of visiteurs to France think that the only bread to get is the baguette. Actually, le pain is bigger and often better. It’s a kinda supersize  Mc loaf. It was hot, crusty on the outside, soft and yeasty on the inside. I rode home on my bike nibbling at it. I often see even really old French folk sampling their bread on the way home with a simple child like joy. I love this place and my little time here on this Earth. I am so lucky.

Emma thinx: Love is free – provided you’re prepared to pay any price.