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211 – Is This Entertainment?

It was cold, wet and windy with only the occasional ray of sunshine to keep me company. Not a great day for standing around with a hard bristle brush scrubbing wooden decking.

Tedious backbreaking work: the handle of the brush was too short and I’m slightly too tall if that makes sense. Working half bent, half upright for the whole day. Reminding me of the kitchen in Exeter where I once worked in which all the work surfaces were a foot and a half too low. Walking back home doubled up after my 15 hour shift chopping veg aided by a walking frame and half a bottle of vodka to make the pain in my lower back go somewhere else.

Yesterday after three hours of scrubbing, I was bored stiff. Literally. It had started raining again and I was ready to jack it in. Never mind the huile de coude (elbow grease) I had promised my boss, I wanted a cold beer. Kick back. Read my book. Live a bit!

Then I had an idea.

Why not film it? Film my work? Could it work? Could it be entertainment?

Difficult and certainly a challenge. And if nothing else, it might inject a bit of purpose into the next three hours.

So I went inside. Cut a lens sized hole in an old plastic biscuit box, put my camera in it, put the lid on, checked it was watertight, and went to work.

Three hours later, I had two hours of film which I edited down to two minutes five.

So what do you think? Entertainment? Rubbish? Or just a boring job that no amount of jazzing up with film cameras will ever make interesting?

(Music: Mr and Mrs Smith – Dark Country Road. Used under CC licence)

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210 – Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Let Go – A Short Film

Yesterday wasn’t a particularly good day weather wise – cold, windy, rainy. When the sun finally came out, I spent it larking around with my video camera that used to belong to my great friend Stan.

My plan was to film something of interest. Something mind blowing. ‘Who knows what lies on this part of the coast?’ I thought.

I found nothing. Winter in a bland seaside town in Western France. I may as well have been fishing for oysters on the moon.

I decided to look harder. ‘There must be something!’ I thought. ‘A bright red stuffed toy that’s been left by a distraught child after being told by the parents that Water World isn’t open in February. Nothing is open. Nothing!’

As I said in a post a few weeks ago. ‘Incredible what you can see when you want to.’ (Blogley 204.)

So by the end of my quiet and occasionally wet saunter up the coast, I had something to make my short film with.

(Music: Fog Lake – Little Black Balloon)

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209 – Oggers Talks About The Pool – Live!

Since I turned 16 in 1990 I’ve worked as a dustbin man, warehouse picker, call centre operative, musician, charity collector, sound engineer, postman, teacher, chef, waiter, small-ads editor, barman, scientist, van driver, Christmas tree seller, data entry clerk, writer, bookseller, gardener, nacho stall manager, and now pool boy.

If I had made a video of all of them, it would never end. Luckily, I’ve only made one.

(Needs sound. Otherwise it makes no sense – if it does at all)

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208 – Pool Progress III (final update)

It turned out my boss was joking. I wouldn’t have to clean the pool swimming naked underwater armed with only a garden brush and a snorkel as depicted in my last post (Blogley 207). I was to use the long handled pool broom instead.

brush2

Yesterday morning I got to work. Only to be faced with a big problem. The long handled pool broom was useless. It was too soft. Just pushed all the remaining algae to the edges of the pool as though sweeping up hair in a barber’s shop. Leaving the real dirt stuck to the floor like it was doubling up as a paintbrush.

After a two hour coffee break to think it over, à la Français, I found another brush in the shed that would have been perfect. Unfortunately, as it was the brush used for scrubbing the decking round the pool, it wasn’t long enough for the job.

Maybe I should get in and do it sous-marin – as my boss had originally suggested. Dive in and scrub it clean dressed in my Speedos?

I’m not adverse to swimming in cold waters – I used to swim in the sea in Cornwall in midwinter. But that was for leisure. Or when I was paralytic. To do it during the course of a day’s work, wading round a freezing cold swimming pool with a decking brush, wasn’t what I signed up for. It says so in my contract:

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MUST EMPLOYEES SWIM IN THE POOL

So that was out. As was draining the pool.

DO NOT DRAIN THE POOL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – I WILL KILL YOU!

The long and the short of it was I needed a longer handle to attach to the decking brush.

So I set off to Bricomarche 5 kms up the coast to buy a ten foot pole that I could fashion into a handle using my new Opinel knife I had bought from the Tabac last week. (The Tabac here is fascinating: you can buy fags, beer, wine, lotto tickets, crisps, knives, oysters, fishing rods, even logs.)

I’m glad I went for the walk though. As a kid I always wanted to go pole vaulting. But as it was always deemed too dangerous, or too stupid, I never got the chance. Until yesterday. Click on the picture below.

pole3

I got back in one piece, fitted the pole to the brush and started cleaning. By the end of the day, the pool was spotless, its bottom as sparkling as a brand new mirror.

All I need now is some sun to warm it up and I can go swimming…in the middle of the night when no one is looking. Get in!

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207 – Pool Progress II

I didn’t get fired. In fact, I got promoted. Hoisted up by my Speedos to the title of Pool Boy Extraordinaire – King of the Pool Boys.

‘C’est magnifique, Oggers,’ my boss said to me yesterday. ‘You’ll make a good Frenchman one day.’

‘In your dreams,’ I muttered under my breath as we took a weak tasteless coffee together on the veranda to toast my promotion.

It turned out that getting rid of the filthy fetid water from the filtration tank last week and replacing it with fresh tap water was the right thing to do. (See Blogley 206)

‘It’s incredible,’ he said. ‘I’d have never thought of that. You’re a genius.’

‘Well, you know,’ I replied smugly. ‘When you employ an Englishman, provided you feed him with enough bacon and eggs for breakfast, the job gets done.’

He smiled and seemed amused by the idea of feeding a man bacon and eggs to get him to work. Like putting petrol in a car to make it go.

‘The perplexing thing is,’ I continued, ‘that apart from the bacon, France has all the ingredients for a great English breakfast: tasty fresh eggs, meaty sausages, good fatty black pudding, creamy butter for frying the bread in. And yet you still insist on eating brioche and dry biscuits dipped in luke warm milky coffee.

‘Not that I’m complaining,’ I quickly added. ‘I love France.’

He slowly nodded. ‘Then you’ll be interested to find out what your next job is?’ he said smiling. A wide, drawn out smile that made the Cheshire Cat’s grin look like a halfarsed smirk.

I gulped. ‘What is it?’ I asked, feeling like a cigarette for the first time in years.

‘Ever been scuba diving?’

I said I had in the tropical waters of northern Australia. Lovely warm seas followed by a crate of Fosters and a bottle of vodka on the diving boat afterwards.

He looked confused but nodded all the same.

‘How about in the ice cold waters of Arcachon?’ he asked.

My eyes narrowed. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘The Pool,’ he said gesturing towards the freezing mass of water in front of us.

‘You’re shitting me!’ I said jumping out of my wicker chair. ‘I’m not cleaning the bottom of the swimming pool with a garden brush dressed in a wetsuit and snorkel. The water is 4 degrees for God’s sake, I measured it yesterday. I’d die. Especially after the kind of breakfasts I eat.’

The lines on his forehead that had been massaged and relaxed by our polite conversation suddenly creased up into a deep frown that looked like the four-day old croissants I eat on a Sunday when I’ve run out of lard.

‘Monsieur Oggers. King of the Pool Boys. I’m not sure you understand me,’ he said stroking a grey fluffy cat that had suddenly appeared on his lap. ‘Who said anything about a wetsuit,’ he stated and handed me a piece of paper before disappearing through a trap door in the veranda floor like all good Bond villains do.

pool boy3

(Artwork copyright 2015 © My French Boss. Courtesy of Le Louvre, Paris.)

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206 – Pool Progress

In case you haven’t been reading this. Here’s a quick recap.

My name is Philip ‘Oggers’ Ogley and I’m looking after a villa for the winter on the Arcachon basin in France. One of my main tasks, among many, concerns cleaning and maintaining the natural swimming pool.

There are actually three pools here that make up the swimming pool unit. A filtration bed that looks like a giant sandpit filled with gravel. The swimming pool itself, which for some bizarre reason, is in the shape of a coffin. And a regeneration reservoir.

This is how it all works. After the water has trickled down through the filtration bed, it’s pumped into the swimming pool and then left to trickle over its walls into the regeneration reservoir where plants such as sedge and water hyacinth filter it and the microbes feed on the algae.

(Artwork copyright Philip Ogley 2015. Courtesy of the Tate Gallery London)

pool

Getting rid of the algae is why you go to all this trouble. Algae is what makes swimming pools go green. In a perfect environment the whole system should clean itself. The perfect environment being a place with no trees or shrubs – a hill top or a desert for example.

Unless you live in these places, leaves are going to get into your pool whether you like it or not. Leaves are bad. They introduce nutrients into the pool which encourage the growth of algae. And remember algae is bad.

I removed the leaves last week. They’re gone. Dead in the water as it were (or not). This week my task was to remove the two inch thick layer of algal scum covering the filtration bed.

So enter Oggers once again with his pool hoover sucking the scum off the top of the filtration bed and letting it flow back in to clog it all up again. Problem.

So I found a fine mesh to filter it through. This half worked. It took the larger sediment out, but still allowed the fine algae to pollute the system. Like hoovering your carpet and then emptying the dirty bag over the floor.

The only sensible solution was to let the dirty water go free. Flush it over the side. Rid the system of this filth once and for all. So I did. And within a few days the water looked sparkling. That is, what water was left…

Oops. I’d forgotten the principle of the whole system. It’s contained. The water goes round and round. Just like the water cycle you learn about in geography at school. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away. Unless some buffoon empties half of it into the sea.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, I hadn’t changed a thing – the water would one day find its way into the sea. But on the smaller scheme of things, I might lose my job.

It was time for some Oggers quick thinking while my boss was out for lunch. And like cooling down on a hot summer’s day, there’s nothing a hosepipe can’t fix. I quickly hooked it up and turned it on full, hoping the boss was on a long lunch. About 4 hours I was thinking – the time it would take to refill it.

By a stroke of luck he was out for the entire afternoon. Incroyable! By the time he got back the filtration bed was brimming with fresh water.

Now I just have to see what happens over the weekend. Hope the tap water I used from the hose wasn’t full of chlorine. Then I’ll be Oggers The Pool Boy no more.

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205 – Harold Kynaston-Snell May Have Saved My Life

‘At all costs his enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities. His interest must be kept and his ability encouraged.’

The above extract is taken from a 1933 book that belonged to my grandfather entitled First French Course for Seniors by Harold F. Kynaston-Snell.

I picked it up a few nights ago. I had nothing else to read and was intrigued by this blue faded hardback that I had been carrying around with me for years. A tribute to my long dead grandfather, who despite studying French for almost his whole life, could hardly speak a word.

I’ve taught and learned languages myself, so I’m very familiar with the books. And most of them start like this:

‘This English-For-U course book with its motivational and interactive approach will push students to new levels of excellence and brilliance ensuring top marks every time…’

Whereas Kynaston-Snell seems to be saying:

‘Look here old sport! You’re not going to learn this language in a week, or even a month. Take it from me. What I can do is give you this book. It contains everything you need to know. Read it once and then burn it. Good-O.’

While the English-For-U students lumber their way through twenty volumes of glossy text books filled with airbrushed pictures of celebrities asking questions like, Brad Pitt lives here. But where did he used to live?

Answer: Who cares.

I see Kynaston-Snell’s approach more along the lines of being taught how to swim.

‘You won’t be able to swim the channel just yet old sport. But neither will you drown. And at least you’ll be able to order a glass of champagne, buy a packet of cigarettes and talk about the weather.’

Which in 1933 was probably all you needed to know.

Kynaston-Snell produced a great little book with plenty of stylish black and white 1930s illustrations making the book feel more like an art galley prospectus than a language book. No film stars, no pictures of exotic islands and no photos of people sitting in dull meetings in grey offices pretending to look interested.

I struck a deal with myself this morning. This was it:

Whenever I feel weak. Whenever I feel like giving up. In any part of my life, not just learning French. This is what I will say:

‘My enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities.’

Thank you Harold Kynaston-Snell. You may have saved my life.

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204 – Incredible What You Can See When You Want To

Occasionally I like to have a break from writing to take some snaps. I like photography because it’s the nearest thing I get to painting. I like painting. I just can’t do it.

I did a portrait of someone once and the person in question asked me to destroy it after and never spoke to me again. So I packed away my paintbrushes and took up writing. That way I couldn’t offend anybody quite as much.

Photography is a nice relaxing departure from writing (or painting). It’s like walking round with a gun. When you see something you shoot it and hope everything turns out alright. Mostly it doesn’t. Sometimes it does.

The snaps below are the ones that did and are all from a 0.5km radius of where I live. Incredible what you can see when you want to.

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203 – The Pool

Cleaning the swimming pool here at the villa has become more than a mere menial chore. It’s become an obsession. Or more to the point, a war.

A war against the rotting Beech leaves that lie at the bottom like dead soldiers floating silently among the filamentous algae and strands of spirogyra.

It’s a natural pool that’s cleaned by a series of separate filtration beds containing lily, sedge, water hyacinth and lotus that purify the water. Like this.

pool-filtration-diagram

I remember going on package holidays as a kid to Benidorm and such places, lying in bed in the evenings furiously scratching my eyes out after a day swimming in the hotel pool that had been disinfected with biological weapon grade chlorine. Looking in the mirror in the morning to see a pair of eyes so bloodshot it looked like I’d been out all night snorting cocaine cut with asbestos.

This industrial level chlorination was probably necessary to stop the pool turning yellow from all the dumb English kids like me peeing into it after drinking four gallons of Coca-cola every lunchtime and dinner. And then later on in the evening when all the adults came back from the bars smashed out of their heads. Diving in for a midnight dip and while they were there pushing out a barrel or two of San Miguel into the lovely chemical broth that was their hotel pool.

There’s no problem of itchy eyes with this pool. Although if you pee in it, it goes yellow as there’s no chlorine or other chemicals to mask it. But that doesn’t happen here. This is Arcachon innit, not facking Benidorm!

swimming pool

The only drawback of this natural pool system is that it needs to be maintained properly. It shouldn’t need any maintenance at all in theory, being natural. But rarely does trying to replicate nature truly work. So like a garden, there’s always work to be done. Namely in the form of me, Philip ‘Oggers’ Ogley, removing leaves and algae.

This is what I use in my war:

 

None have been particularly effective. The Pool Robot has a mind of its own and simply stays underwater in the far corner sulking. The Underwater Hoover, while incredibly powerful (it’s German) tends to churn up the algae from the bottom the minute you turn it on, making it almost impossible to see what you’re doing. The Pool Net, while at first glance appears the most sensible option, is actually the most tedious. Especially when the tiny sodden leaves appear to swim away the minute I bring the net near them.

Yesterday however, after a long day, I thought I’d nailed it. Cleaned it of leaves. Rid it of algae once and for all. But alas, when I looked into it this morning, the bottom of the pool looked the same as the day I arrived. Filthy. Like a mattress in a brothel after a busy night.

I charged into the shed, woke up the Underwater Hoover, the Pool Robot and the Pool Net from their slumber and gave them a bollocking like they had never heard. So much so that the depressed Pool Robot even peed its pool nappy (as I call it) – it’s an underwater hoover bag that’s meant to collect all the leaves and algae off the bottom. But doesn’t.

I accepted their apologies and we got back to work. We have until the end of March to make it look as clear and as inviting as a freshly poured glass of vodka. The battle continues.

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202 – The Gallo-Roman Villa at Andernos And Other Attractions

It was Sunday and with nothing better to do other than look out of the window wondering whether it was going to rain, I decided to risk it and go for a walk.

I had planned to do it during the week, but with so many unpredictable downpours, as though the entire climatic system of the area had been plumbed into a faulty shower, I kept postponing it.

Until today. When it looked fine (ish). Continue reading

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