Denmark, People, Places

286 – Notes From Copenhagen: The Takeaway Attendant

I’ve been in Copenhagen two weeks. The city is flat and low rise.  The streets are wide. There’s more bicycles than cars and people seem happy. I haven’t totally adjusted to life here, partly because I’m still expecting to wake up and look out over hills, lakes and forests. But any city where you can swim in the harbour and where cyclists get priority over cars, is certainly worth a few months of my time.

I even brought my vintage 1980 Peugeot PK 10 with me so I could try and look as cool as everyone else. Although my street cred took a hammering on my first morning when a lace from my chunky green Lidl trainers (cool?) got wrapped round my front pedal, upsetting my balance on a bike that’s already three sizes too small for me and sent me crashing to the floor like someone who’d just graduated from a tricycle.

I managed to compose myself, pretending it was some mechanical problem caused by shoddy French engineering, rather than my own incompetence. I then carried on to the city centre and witnessed my first ever cycle-jam.

40 or 50 cycles queuing patiently at a red light which made me wonder whether they’ll have to widen the lanes like they do to motorways to take more traffic. The lights went green and we all moved on, all 100 bikes now, for another 200 metres, until the next traffic lights where we all stopped again for another few minutes.  Nothing is perfect I thought. Even Copenhagen.

As for the Danes themselves. They are everything I expected. I went to the jobcentre on my first day here to ask about employment issues (tax, bank, legal status) and it was as though I was visiting an old friend. The man treating me as though I’d lived here all my life and wasn’t some scrounging Englishman looking for an EU passport.

I found him pleasant.  He smiled and got to the point – Danes don’t do small talk I’m told –  telling me to find a job (with a contract) and come back here and we’ll go from there. I left feeling confident that I might find my dream job here in the Kingdom of Denmark.

That was 10 days ago. Tomorrow I start work in an Indian Takeaway. There is a French phrase: faute de grives, on mange des merles, which I learnt when I first rocked up at the cycling club in Caussade on my vintage Pk 10 when everybody else was sporting 3 grand tour bikes.It roughly translates as beggars can’t be choosers or half a loaf is better than none. (*Literally, if you can’t eat thrush, eat blackbird).

In the interview with the takeaway owner he asked me where I lived. ‘Sankt Jakobs Plads,’ I said.

He was impressed. Then questioned me on why on earth I wanted to work in an Indian Takeaway, waving my CV in his hand like a judge pressing a charge. My CV is a schizophrenic mess of short contract teaching and catering jobs spanning most of my life. And he’s probably right, I’m probably over qualified – just.

I thought of telling him that I’ve never worked in an Indian Takeaway before so I’m just filling in the blanks. Getting more experience. Instead I told him the truth. ‘I’m running out of money in one of the most expensive cities in Europe. I need a job.’

I’m not sure he was entirely convinced, dressed as I was in a checked Pringle shirt, blue cotton trousers and brown brogues. And as I live in one of the most expensive parts of the city (a flat courtesy of a friend), I looked more like I was a home counties lawyer on a day out at the races, than a man looking for a job as a takeaway attendant.

‘How do I know you’re not going to run off after a few weeks and get a job at Berlitz?’ he asked me.

I laughed. ‘I doubt it, they pay less than you.’

He liked that one. ‘Really! Less than me,’ he said laughing.

‘Yeh,’ I replied. ‘Teaching English is notoriously badly paid. Don’t you know. It’s why most teachers end up working in bars and restaurants. Or working in shops. Or dead.’

After becoming serious again, he said I had the job and that I could start Monday. ‘But you must learn the menu over the weekend,’ he said pointing to it. ‘Tuesday’s going to be busy. Gun’s and Roses are playing.’

‘I’m sorry?’ I said, genuinely perplexed. ‘Guns ‘n’ Roses, as in the American rock band?’

‘At the stadium. Just there.’ Pointing to the national stadium which is literally over the road.

‘The original lineup?’ I asked.

Now it was his turn to look confused. Perhaps thinking I was referring to his menu rather than which burnt out rock stars were reuniting because they were skint fresh out of rehab. ‘As in Slash, Duff, Izzy?’ I said.

‘Just learn the menu,’ he said curtly. Clearly not a fan of classic rock.

I said I’d see him Monday and spent last night learning Indian Menu codes while drinking generic Carlsberg lager that’s half the price of The Best Lager in the World. I only got as far as Chicken Madras 228, Lamb Spinach 333 and Fish Tikka 447 because I couldn’t help thinking of Guns and Roses.

I’d seen them (the original lineup) in 1993 at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Driving down from Nottingham and parking my ancient metro in some industrial estate on the outskirts of town (if Milton Keynes is a town). Then walking 5 miles to the venue. Getting there at 11 o’clock in the morning and waiting until 10 at night with nothing to eat or drink (just a few cigarettes) before they came on.

That was 24 years ago and as I tried hard to remember vegetable curry codes, I couldn’t help one of those stupid questions people always ask filtering into my head:

‘Hey Oggers, if I said that the next time you hear Guns ‘n’ Roses play live you’ll be taking orders in an Indian Takeaway in Copenhagen, what would you say?’

‘I’d say, don’t be so fucking stupid. How would that ever happen?’

(to be continued)

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Blogley, Film, People, Photos, Sport

285 – Pyrenean Cycling, Vikings, Lego and Copenhagen

It’s that time of year again. End of the winter, end of looking after the chateau. Time to move on.

First stop is Spain to which me and Elizabeth are cycling to in a few weeks time. Me on my ultra modern road bike, Elizabeth on her 1970 Peugeot Randonneur. The bicycle equivalent of the Ford Econoline van used by travellers and musicians in the 1960/70s. Lots of bells, chrome fittings, lights and racks. Perfect for a cycling trip in France and 1000 times more stylish – and comfortable – than my 21st century posing pouch.

We are going to be following part of the Chemin de St. Jacques to sling shot us down to St Jean Pied de Port and then catapult us over the Pyrenees towards Pamplona. It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do since I was there a few summers ago on a camping holiday (Read Blogley post 139 if you can be arsed)

In the Pyrenees 2014

After that it’s back to Auty, then the long drive back to Double Brexit – sorry I mean the UK – to sort out a few bits and pieces. Like assassinate all the politicians and burn down the House of Commons. After I’ve done that it’s onward to Denmark via Essex (Also known as Stansted Airport).

Going to Copenhagen for three months feels almost exotic. Not in a Radox-blue tropical sea sense. Exotic in a Northern sense. Mysterious. Edgy. Cold. Vikings, longboats, herrings and plastic building bricks that get stuck in your foot.

I once saw a film when I was a kid in which a Viking chieftain is cremated on a longboat. The ship gently sailing out into the harbour fully ablaze until it caved in on itself and sank into the bay. A glorious send off. None of this black tie funeral parlour stuff full of straight faced vicars and washing line thin pallbearers receiving weak silent handshakes from relatives they’ve never met.

I remember the Viking funeral being spectacular, full of passion, death, honour and glory. Sending the warrior to a new life sitting at the high table next to Oden, a voyage over the waves, through the clouds and into eternity. Stark contrast to what happens to most of us: burnt in a cheap wooden box and then tossed into a rose bush or kept on the mantelpiece for the next 100 years like a ornament.

I said to my father after I’d watched the film that I wanted to be buried like a Viking. To which he replied while reading yet another dismal writeup of Leeds Utd’s latest demolition, ‘You’ll get buried like anyone else. In the ground. Here in Leeds. You’re not a Viking, Philip.’

‘Oh. Aren’t I?’ I replied and wandered off to research other burial practices from around the world. Parsi was my favourite: the corpse left on a high tower to be baked in the hot sun and then ripped to pieces by vultures.

(**Memo to my father: If I die in Copenhagen, I have the right to have a full Viking funeral. Longboat, flames, honour and glory – The Works.)

One Christmas I remember a quiz question from one of my sister’s board games. It asked, ‘Name three Danish brands?’

Most people would probably say what I said, ‘Lego and Carlsberg.’

I tried Danish pastries but that didn’t work. I could have said Bang & Olufsen (TVs), Netto (supermarket), Prince (fags), or Arla (cheese). Good to know now though.

I only other thing I know about Denmark is that it’s flat, which might be a welcome break after the ascent of the Pyrenees in a few weeks time. It’s also – or so I’m told – stylish. Which is where I may or may not fit in.

Style for me is drinking good coffee, not pretending it’s good just because it’s been squirted out of a ludicrously expensive Nespresso machine like a dribble of warm tar. Feeling good on the inside as opposed to obsessing about what I look like on the outside. It’s why I’ve been in the middle of rural France on and off for the past four years. I can dress in a hemp sack and there’s no one here to say, ‘What are you wearing a hemp sack for? You hippie!’

In Copenhagen I’ll probably have to say something like, ‘It’s not hemp, it’s brushed Japanese cotton. Seriously, you think I’d be wearing hemp. That was so last season!’

In a few weeks we’ll leave Chateau Dumas for good. It’s been a very pleasant year (2 x winters) and I’ve done lots of things. What, I’m not sure, but now it’s time to move on to Danish ‘Arla’ pastures new.

I’ll leave you with the last ever short video made here, featuring me trying to head a red football into the cold outdoor swimming pool accompanied by Beethoven. Au revoir and Bye!

More silly stories about my time in France can be found in A Man in France: Available in Books

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People, Seasons

280 – Frozen Swimming Pools, Spoon Making and Cornish Pasties

I received a text last week from the guy who manages the pool here at the chateau telling me he’d come over that morning to work on it, but I wasn’t in. I found this strange because I’m always in.

Anyway, not thinking too much of it, I wandered down to the pool to have a look at what he’d done. Which was nothing. Everything was exactly the same. Except the leaves…millions of them at the bottom of the pool.

When I arrived here in November there was a highly efficient pool robot that scooted around the bottom sucking them up. And then one morning it was gone. Mysteriously vanished as though it had packed up and left for Spain. ‘Too cold here mate,’ a message inscribed on the floor in dried leaves. ‘See you in Torremolinos!’

It could have been stolen. But by whom? Things don’t get nicked round here because most houses have dogs and most of the occupants have guns. So I phoned the pool guy and left a message asking him if he knew where the robot was. I never heard from him. That was in November.

This morning the swimming pool was frozen. Solid as a rock. Deep enough to skate on. Somebody had turned the filtration pumps off that keep the circulation going. Baffled I phoned the pool guy to ask why he’d turned the pumps off last week when he visited when it’s minus 8 outside. Plus where the fuck is the pool robot? And when is he going to collect all the leaves from the bottom of the pool. But unsurprisingly, he wasn’t in. I left a message. The saga continues…

frozen-pool3

Other news. My friend from my Falmouth days, Richard ‘Rich’ Barker, recently visited for 10 days. We drank beer and ate lots of meat and spuds and he taught me how to make spoons from the mass of wood we have at the chateau.

It’s funny, isn’t it? (or perhaps not) but I’ve been burning all this wood simply to keep warm. Never once occurring to me that all this walnut, oak, ash, cedar, apple, pear could be used to make something. Like a palace for example there’s so much of it. Talk about not being able to see the wood for the trees.

Now I use it to fashion implements to stir my porridge with in the morning, ladle my soup with at lunch, and eat my curry with in the evening.

So far I’ve made four spoons, three spatulas and a set of chopsticks. I’m a cautious man so the implements are chunky and crude. Richard on the other hand told me he doesn’t possess any spoons because he’s a perfectionist. He whittles them down to the limit. Then they break and he starts again.

It’s a good test to examine two people’s character. Give them some spoons to whittle down and see who has a full set by the end of the day. Those who don’t and who have a pile of broken moon shaped pieces of wood on the floor are the ones who seek perfection. Those who do, simply don’t have enough cutlery.

By the time I leave here in May, I’ll have so many spoons, slices, forks, bowls, and spatulas, I could probably set up a shop. A museum’s worth of curiosities that look like they date back to the stone age.

Talking of food. The other major thing this month is the discovery of the Cornish Pasty in the barren desolate wastelands of rural France in winter. One morning a few weeks ago, me and Rich were making spoons when we were called into the house by Elizabeth.

‘Lunch is ready,’ she cried, a large smile on her face.

‘Whoopee,’ we both cried out like children, wood chippings clinging to our hipster beards like shavings of parmesan. Our faces red and raw from the freezing fog like slabs of meat.

Hungry, we rushed in to witness this marvel before our eyes.

french-pasties

Our eyes nearly popping out of our heads as we stared at this gorgeous platter cooked up by Elizabeth from the steak and potatoes left over from the night before. Both me and Rich have lived in Cornwall and yet never have we tasted such Cornish heaven. With baked beans as well. And a can of Coke each! Life doesn’t get any better.

Afterwards, we trudged back out into the freezer to resume our spoon making, warmed inside by hot meaty pasties. A moment later, I saw a van pull up and for a minute thought it might be the pool guy making a shock appearance with the pool robot. But no such luck. Just a ghost. The wait goes on.

Seen this robot - contact Blogley below.

Seen this robot? – Contact Blogley below

For more anecdotes read A Man in France available @ https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01D1H7D62

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Food and Drink, People, Places, Sport, The French

276 – Back in Auty

Auty, Tarn-et-Garonne, France

GPS coordinates: Middle of Nowhere
Altitude: 219 metres
Population: 80
Amenities: Café (open Wednesdays 15.30 – 18.30), Church (Sundays)

 

I’m back. Looking after a 17th century chateau over the winter plus a Tonkinese cat called Pookie. His real name is Ventura, but we call him Pookie. Although in truth you could call him Shitface and he wouldn’t kick up much of a fuss.

Like wall hangings, Pookie is just there. Like a sponge. Soaking up the bird noises and the odd car horn from the village, or me speaking to myself. Then reprocessing it into whatever nightmarish dreams cats have. Waking up to the discovery there’s no food in his bowl. Or that his balls have been cut off. (Sorry old chap, had to be done. Village isn’t big enough for more than two cats.)

Whatever he dreams of they generally last between 12 and 15 hours depending on how hungry he is. Or how wet it is outside. At the moment the entire village is shrouded in a thick fog accompanied by light drizzle, so he’s fast asleep in the spare room on a swirl of old duvet covers he uses for a bed.

It’s good to be back in the peace and quiet of Auty though, even if it hasn’t stopped raining since last Friday. And to think I left England to escape the weather. On Sunday I went cycling with the crazy guys from the Caussade Cyclo Club who I wrote about in Blogley 253 and 255 – The Caussade CycloClub and The Caussade Cycloclub’s Road to Hell.

I’m now officially a member the French Cycle Federation. I even got a card that gives me medical assistance and/or funeral arrangements (true) if I tumble off on one of their harebrained descents down into the Aveyron gorge. Being a member though doesn’t guarantee decent weather.

Last Sunday’s cycle was the worst weather I’ve ever cycled in. Slashing rain, hail, thunder, lightning, fog, zero visibility – weather fit for zombies and members of the Caussade Cycloclub. So awful that we cut the ride short by 50 kms. Managing only 55 out of the planned 105.

I was so wet and cold when I got back home that I thought about diving into the outdoor swimming pool just to warm up.  Instead I lit a fire using the wood from the violent storms that felled half the trees on the estate last year. A woodpile the size of a house, all neatly cut and polished by the tree surgeons who worked all summer to clear the debris.

I’m hoping for a very cold winter. A strange thing to wish for, but one that might save me, Elizabeth and Pookie from being roasted alive like slices of pork belly while trying to burn up all the wood by springtime.

Talking of pork belly. That’s what I ate last night (oh and the night before, and the night…). It’s one of the things I’ve been looking forward to. Fresh from the local butcher, slow cooked and served with braised red cabbage, Swiss chard soaked in pig fat, all washed down with a few litres of the bowel-clenching Ganape I wrote about in my last post. The perfect tonic to a dreary French night.

Talking of long nights. While I’m here I’m going to be working on another selection of short stories.

*Cue. Massive sigh*

My current one (The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd – TSOMT. *Currently available for 99p in November from Blogley Books*) has sold so well that I’m working on another one called The Seven Lives of Jed Geller.

*Cue. “The Seven What? Really????”*

This one will feature more in-depth detailed stories rather than the long-short, stop-start nature of TSOMT, which left the reader (or so I’m told) with the feeling that they’d wandered into a funfair where all the carriages on the rides felt like they were about to fly off into space at any moment. The reader never quite sure where the story was going or how it would end. Which I think is quite positive.

My new book will be more ordered. The stories longer and more boring. I’m writing one now about an anti-salesman. A man who rejects all known marketing theory by promoting his products like they were mere turds on the side of the road. Negative-Spin he calls it.

The new book will be very arduous and very difficult to read. Full of side issues, tangents and dense analyses of post-Brexit Britain and the collapse of civilisation. A real pageturner. An under-the-coffee-table borathon that a man in solitary confinement would pass over in favour of The Bible.

I’m joking. The Bible’s a real good read. But the The Seven Lives of Jed Geller (or TSLJG) will be better. A real rollercoaster. A fairground freak show featuring the whole gamut of morons, assholes, losers, drunks, failed musicians and writers I’ve ever met. If I’ve met you, you’re in it.

Watch this space.

bloglery-in-france-final

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Food and Drink, People, Places

271 – Blogley in Italy

pexels-photoWaking up at Kokopelli Camping this morning was like waking up in a dream I’d forgotten existed. A dream where there’s no falling off cliffs or into holes, or being mown down by out-of-control lorries. A dream that starts slowly, gently gathers pace, meanders a bit through soft clouds and chocolate eclairs, then without any sudden death or injury, quietly finishes. No horror, blood, or pain. A seamless shift between sleep and reality where the reality is better than the dream. What most people call a holiday.

I arrived last night after an evening spent with the locals in the town hall of Serramonacesca eating pasta and quaffing wine at an event organised in aid of the recent earthquake. I hadn’t expected it in the slightest, I’d expected to spend a quiet evening with my friends nibbling on water biscuits and pecorino cheese.

Instead I was thrust into the madness of mountain village life, sitting on long benches chatting with local farmers trying to remember the Italian I’d learnt from my phrasebook. On the stage a local diva sang some opera, then some karaoke, then someone else told a story in a dialect that sounded like a cross between Russian and Chinese. Soon after a DJ started banging out Italian techno as I struggled on with my Italian, while men I’d never seen or met before brought me more wine.

It was a great baptism into Italian rural life, but it was also nice to go to bed and even better to wake up to mountain views, olive groves, fresh coffee, an outdoor kitchen, plus a couple of very small kittens clawing at my foot.

I’m here with Elizabeth to look after a campsite for six weeks for some friends while they holiday in Sardinia. Tucked below the mountainous Majella National Park and a couple of kilometres from the village of Serramonacesca, Kokopelli offers carefree camping with magnificent views of the raw countryside where bears and wolves still roam. It sounds like I’m writing their holiday brochure. I’m not, I’m just writing what I see. As I mentioned in my last post – write what you know.

What I know is that apart from a day in Venice years ago, this is my first time in Italy. And after hauling bags filled with lead weights round the Dordogne all summer, it’s a very welcome change. No more driving round the Perigord with a van full of indestructible coffin-shaped Samsonite suitcases big enough for the owners to be buried in. No more violent arguments with irate hoteliers. No more pretending to be polite when really I’m fuming beneath a painted-on smile. As the photographer Justin P Brown said to me after he’d moved to Barcelona after twelve smog-filled years in London, ‘This is paradise.’

After being shown the ropes of how the campsite works by my friends and waving them off to Sardinia in their Landrover, I was left to my own devices.

‘Now what do I do?’ I thought. As normal a million things rushed into my head, not wanting to waste a single minute of my time here. I wanted to do everything all at once: cycle up the mountains, swim in the river, hike up to the hermitage, cook spaghetti, write a novel, eat wild boar, learn Italian.

Instead I did nothing except cook some eggs, drink coffee, look at some maps, have another coffee, stoke the fire, and gaze blankly out at the scenery remembering that I was actually on holiday. A working holiday true, but the holidays I like best. Work to be done, but at my own pace. Slow down. Breathe. Relax.

Later I thought about dragging the bike out to see what the hills were like, but the urge passed and I made another coffee. ‘I wonder how much coffee I can drink?’ I thought. Probably quite a lot.

Whenever I go to new places, they’re always totally different to what I imagined. I once went to County Kildare in Ireland for a week and had to give myself a real talking to after I returned. I thought Ireland would be like England: dreary suburbia interspersed with the odd pocket of beauty. It was nothing of the sort.

I remember going into a pub for the first time. Where are all the trinkets and bodhrans hanging from the ceiling? The Oscar Wilde quotes, the Guinness adverts, the wooden confession boxes? The thick curtains and low lit lighting? This wasn’t right. This was just a room with brightly painted yellow walls. The tables and chairs were chrome and the only trinkets were a fire poker and coal shovel next to the fireplace which was real and alight.

I wasn’t going to poke my finger through a wafer thin partition wall here to reveal the breeze brick walls of a shopping centre. Its foreignness was real, not contrived or made to feel like somewhere else, like a Red Lion pub on the Costa Del Sol, selling egg and chips and pints of Fosters under the gigantic sunlamp of the Spanish sun.

I ordered a pint of Guinness even though I hated the stuff – ‘tastes of soot’ I once told a friend. But what else was I going to drink on my first visit to Ireland. Budweiser? Probably, because that’s what everybody else was drinking. I was the only one drinking the fabled Black Stuff while the rest of the pub – full blooded Irishmen and women – sat around drinking American lager.

Last night in the town hall in Serramonacesca, I had another ‘Irish moment’, where once again everything I’d thought I knew about a country came crashing down on my thick English head. I didn’t imagine for a second that everybody would be prancing about in Gucci suits and Prada heels drinking campari and sodas, I’m not that stupid. However, I certainly didn’t imagine techno, opera and karaoke on the same night, served up with stodgy ragu on paper plates, all washed down with red wine sloshed out shakily from giant 10 litre flagons like it was floor cleaner.

Never second guess. That’s what I’ve learnt so far from my 42 years on this planet. Never think you know anything about anything until you’ve seen it, done it, got the T-shirt. Countries, cultures, traditions, customs, languages and food all need to be experienced at first hand before you can make any sort of judgement. Otherwise you end up making a tit of yourself. Like drinking a pint of Guinness in a pub in Ireland. Or asking for Spaghetti Bolognese in an Italian restaurant…

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People, Places, Sport

268 – Climb From Le Roc

For a professional cyclist, the climb from Le Roc would be like a fully grown adult clambering over an assault course designed for a toddler. A mere bump in the road that might heighten the heart rate a couple of beats, but nothing more.

On this year’s Tour de France, stage eight went up the Col de Saint Antonin Noble Val near to where I lived last winter. A series of tight hairpins curving their way up the rugged slopes of the Aveyron Gorge, an ascent I cycled up many times with the crazy guys from the Caussade Cyclo Club (see Blogley Posts 253 255).

I was planning to watch this stage in person as the small town of Saint Antonin Noble Val is only 100km away from Souillac where I now live. Unfortunately, that tedious commitment known as work got in the way and I was unable to make it. However, with wall-to-wall coverage on French TV, I was looking forward to seeing how the professionals fared on the St. Antonin climb, hoping they’d find it as gruelling as I did.

What was I thinking! When they finally got to it, the commentator on TV hardly mentioned it as I watched the riders glide up the slope like their wheels had got stuck to pieces of chewing gum some teenager had thrown onto a large conveyor belt that just happened to be going the same way.

By the time I’d got comfy on my holiday rep plastic issue sofa, eating my Official Tour de France ice cream – A Walls Cornetto (true) – the riders had ascended the unmentionable hill and were on their way to Montricoux and the finish line at Montauban.

Mildly disappointed but not too dispirited by this blatant lack of respect from the pros for my cycling efforts, I donned my cycling vest and shorts and headed out for Le Roc to prove I was still the best.

The village of Le Roc, 7 km outside Souillac, is named (I’m guessing) after the 200 foot high slab of limestone that rises out from somewhere behind the church. Whoever first settled here didn’t have to look too far for inspiration in choosing a name.

‘If we don’t think of anything by teatime,’ I imagine the chief saying to his laymen, ‘we’ll just have to call it The Rock. I’m not spending precious time and money hanging around drinking wine while thinking of trendy, pretentious names like that Saint Antonin Noble Val down the road, when there’s more important things to be done like building a road around this massive rock and up the valley so we can get out of here when the valley floods.’

Good advice indeed, as this is the road I cycle up to relieve the anxiety of dealing with wealthy middle class families from Southern England on activity holidays. Even if the word ‘activity’ is used erroneously in my view, especially when I hear complaints that the 1.8 km walk up to the hotel is simply ‘out of order’ or ‘an outrageous thing to be expected to do…’

‘On what,’ I murmur to myself. ‘An outrageous thing to be expected to do on an, ermm, err, ACTIVITY HOLIDAY!’

I say nothing obviously, I’m still too private school, but underneath my soft flabby exterior I’m cooking them alive on a grill the size of a swimming pool with a couple of aubergines stuffed in both ends to keep them quiet.

But anyhow, The Climb from Le Roc, as I’ve coined it, keeps me sane. A sliver of time in the day when I’m not a holiday rep in the Dordogne lugging heavy suitcases around for the Waitrose generation. Instead I’m on a madcap breakaway up Alpe D’huez on my way to claiming my first Maillot Jaune. Jacques Anquetil on the 1967 tour doped up to my eye balls on amphetamine wondering where all my opponents have gone and how high I can go on this vintage Peugeot PK10 racer.

Luckily, my only drug is thick treacly coffee I take beforehand, plus the acidic bile in my stomach caused by 1001 complaints I receive daily from folk moaning about the weather, the walking or the food. But once I get back home to Souillac, I’m feeling myself again and get on with the job in hand of telling people that it is actually possible to walk 1.8km, even up a hill.

‘It’s what legs are for,’ I tell them. ‘Being the bipeds, hunter-gatherers, walkers we are.’

There’s normally some anger or confusion at this point, but they eventually come round to the conclusion that I’m right. ‘I’m the rep,’ I remind them. ‘I’m always right, just do as I say and we’ll get along fine,’ I finish pulling out a bag of giant aubergines just to let them know I’m serious.

(Climb From Le Roc – in detail)

le roc2

PS. The Blog will return in September…

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People, The French

265 – King Boris, Bike Racks and Brexit

Someone asked me today as I was trying to fit a bike rack onto a van with an assortment of ancient French tools made for a tractor, if I’d now be going back to the UK.

I replied quite quickly, ‘I voted remain, so I’m staying here.’

That was the end of the conversation and I went on my way carting bikes around for the retired English middle class. It was probably just a genuine question. But I couldn’t help thinking as I spun my (French made and owned) Renault Trafic round the tight corners of the Perigord, that the question had more to it. Loaded with disdain that I was swanning round France, living and working without a care in the world. As though I should join the masses back home under a governing class who want to force a real life re-enactment of the Hundred Years War. Join Citizen Boris in his crusade to be King of England. Why not? He’s bent over backwards to be Prime Minister, destroyed his chum Dave in the process, and taken his country out of a cushy trade agreement and into an economic abyss.

The Queen looks dead already so Boris must have eyes on the crown. If only because it matches his hair colour. With the Royal Family being the longest comedy act in history, another clown would fit in perfectly. Not that Boris Johnson is stupid in the slightest. His buffoonery, as everybody knows, is merely an act to fool people into thinking he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he knows exactly what he’s doing.

I should know, I do it all the time. Today for example. Scrambling around in 35 degree heat trying to fit a bike rack onto a van while being egged on by four retirees who were taking it in turns to add their own bike rack fitting wisdom into the equation.

‘Don’t do it like that! Do it this way! That’s not the way! I thought you said you were a bike mechanic!’

‘I am a bike mechanic, ‘ I replied laughing, grease and sweat running down my face like a demented clown. ‘Doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.’

We all laughed inanely and just when I thought I’d done enough to get a free lunch – “Hapless bike mechanic earns free lunch from wealthy baby boomers!” Ha Ha Ha – I got hit with the question: ‘So I assume you’ll be going back now?’

Cue my rather curt response, Fuck off!, which ended all hopes of an afternoon munching lobster and sipping sweet Sancerre. We all then went back to being serious in true English fashion, talking about the weather and agreeing pickup times. I drove off and left them to get on with whatever retired baby boomers do on holiday. Which from listening to the majority of them since I’ve been doing this job is being amazed about how welcoming and pleasant the French are.

So there we go. We’re out, I’m in and Boris Johnson is King. Bonne soirée.

 

Boris-johnson3

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Food and Drink, People, Places, Writing and Books

263 – The Curious Case of The Polish Vans

 

polish van

It all started two weeks ago looking out onto the D820 from my bedroom window. A dirty grey Luton van with Polish plates trundling into Souillac. The time was 1020. I know this because I noted it down. I was curious.

Over the following few days I saw more. Same type of van – Renault Master Luton with vinyl canvas body – different colour. Grey, Blue, or Black. Sometimes with a white cab, sometimes with a red cab. The sightings reminded me of Magnus Mills’ novel, The Scheme for Full Employment, which centres on a fleet of identical vans driving around for no apparent reason. I was noting them down for personal interest, maybe I’d write a book as well.

I guessed they weren’t going to Poland. I used to live there and get the coach from London Victoria to Warsaw and remembered how long it took. From the analysis of the times and dates I’d written down in my notebook, which wasn’t comprehensive as I don’t spend all day looking out of the window, it simply wasn’t feasible. Too many vans appearing and reappearing within the same 24 hour time period. Poland is 2000km away, even driving at 200km/h all the way without stopping once for food, water, fag or toilet wouldn’t do it. Nowhere near.

So where are they going? And what are they carrying? Some have refrigeration units on the cab, so perhaps vegetables or meat. But as some of the vans don’t have these, coupled with the fact that thick vinyl canvas doesn’t lend itself very well to temperature control when it’s 30 degrees outside, I’m thinking furniture.

A removal service? But they aren’t big enough. A one man van service, yes. But a whole fleet of small vans when you can just have one big one, no. How about wine? Pots and pans? Clothes? Electronics? Polish food supplies? Books?

In truth, the only thing I’ve come up with is fungus, for no other reason than Poles have a rich tradition in mushroom cultivation. Growing or collecting mushrooms – possibly truffles – somewhere south of here and then driving them up to sell in Paris.

I could be way off the mark, but without stopping and asking them, I’ve no way of knowing. There’s no logo or website on the side of the vans, or any inscription anywhere, not even a name. I’ve discounted the possibly of criminal involvement. For the simple reason that no criminal gang would risk driving a Polish registered van through rural France where even Mr and Mrs Essex Motorhome can get pulled over for having a faulty brake light.

Whatever they’re doing, it’s made life here quite interesting. Sometimes I hear Elizabeth cry from the kitchen ‘Polish Van!’

‘Write it down,’ I cry out from the bathroom stuck in the half French bath since Wednesday. ‘What’s the colour?’

It’s become a bit of a game, like train spotting, although more fun because I never know when or where they’re going to come from. Constructing a timetable from erratic, hit-and-miss sightings. Very similar to deciphering a SNCF rail timetable during a strike. “Your train should arrive today at 1030, but it won’t, it’ll arrive twelve hours later if you’re lucky. Or never. Thank you.”

There’s one now! (a Polish van not a train – that would be pushing it). Direction: Souillac, 1155, red cab, white awning. ‘Write it down! And can you help me out of the bath?’

They’re impossible to predict. I’ve never seen the same van in the same one hour time slot in the two weeks I’ve been watching them. My guess is that they move when the mushrooms are ready. ‘Go Go Go to Paris as quick as possible. Day or night.’ Like Tom Hanks in Castaway before he crashed and got marooned on a desert island for five years.

There is a definite way to solve this mystery though. Wait at the traffic lights in Souillac town centre one evening when they’re on red, climb in the back and hope I’ve got my maths right and don’t end up in Katowice 40 hours later stinking of rotting truffles. Or dead pigs.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. More likely served up in a high class Parisian restaurant as part of an orchid leaf salad.

‘I asked for Perigord diamond truffles, not ass of Englishman. Take him away at once, mince him and feed him to the dogs!’

I could ask them. Flag them down and ask in my best Polish what on earth they are doing because it’s driving me nuts.

‘Mind your own business, Englishman. We’ll do our jobs, you keep practising your canoeing skills, we’ve seen you capsize, very funny. You think you’re the ones watching us? Think again, idyot! Ha ha ha!’

…to be continued.

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People, Places

258 – Au Revoir Chateau Dumas

I told the gardener yesterday that I was leaving. ‘This is my last week,’ I said as we spoke by the dead oak tree that’d been struck by lightning over the winter.

He looked at me blankly. ‘Oh,’ he replied. ‘How long have you been here?’

‘Six months,’ I said. I’m le gardien – the caretaker.

He shrugged. ‘I didn’t realise,’ he replied. ‘I thought you were on holiday.’

I laughed, but he didn’t seem to see the funny side. Probably because he’s been strimming and mowing the grounds every Monday morning for the past six months, while I’ve been watching him from my warm room drinking coffee and eating hot toast – Monday mornings having been particularly wet this year.

I explained why I was here and what I’d been doing these past six months, but he didn’t seem bothered and said he needed to get back to work.

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘What with all the rain and heat this week, the grass needs a really big cut!’

It came out wrong, of course. I knew as soon as I’d said it. ‘I mean I’d do it myself if I could,’ I quickly countered. ‘I love strimming, in fact I used to cut the grass for a local business when I was a kid, you know, for a bit of pocket money.’

He looked at me intensely. ‘Why do you like France?’ he finally said.

I hadn’t expected the question. I thought he was going to growl at me and slice my leg to pieces with his strimmer.  ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘Perhaps, it’s the weather,’ I said looking up at the gathering rain clouds.

‘Or the wine,’ he gestured over to the stack of empty bottles outside my door.

‘That too, but the wine’s a bonus – like free soap when you stay in a hotel.’ I saw the hint of a smile on his face. ‘I like France because of the peace and quiet. It’s a very quiet country you know. Spain’s too noisy – I once lived there. England as well. Too overcrowded, too many people. Here, I can sit for days, weeks even, and hear nothing. Absolutely nothing.’

He was nodding in agreement. And then his face broke out into a full Gallic smile.

‘Except on Mondays,’ he said gripping the starter cord on the strimmer and revving it up to full power.’

‘Except on Mondays,’ I repeated as he walked off to cut the long grass.

I’ll miss the place, I admit. Being able to write and think in the peace and quiet. Cycling with the crazy Caussade Cycle Club on Sunday mornings. Shopping for garlic and pork in the hectic throng of the Caussade Monday morning market. Reading books from the old library shelves that I’d never even heard of. Walking round the sweeping grounds of the estate on a moonlit night. Freedom to roam.

Au revoir Chateau Dumas.

dumas photo

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Food and Drink, People, Sport, The French

256 – Amazing Coincidences and Incredible Lookalikes At The Caussade Monday Market

I was once told by a friend that beetroot makes your pee go pink. ‘Of course, it doesn’t,’ I replied. ‘I’ve been eating beetroots all my life and never once had pink pee. You must be ill.’

Turns out he wasn’t ill, just low acid stomach levels. But that’s totally unrelated to what I want to say. What I want to say is that the man at the Caussade Monday Market who sells me beetroots, is also one of the guys I cycle with every Sunday morning. And I didn’t even know it.

It was only this Sunday, as we passed through the village of Monclar-de-Quercy, that I realised who he was.

‘Oh fuck, it’s you,’ I cried out, nearly cycling into one of the four-foot deep drainage ditches at the side of the road. ‘The beetroot guy!’

‘Ah, oui,’ he exclaimed. ‘L’Anglais, the one who’s always fiddling around with his loose change while a thousand customers wait behind him.’

I laughed. ‘Yes, that’s me. Well, you know what they say, pennies make pounds.’

He hadn’t heard that one before. Probably because he was riding a 5000 euro Pinarello road bike, a bike that would take me a thousand years to buy with the one centime coins I find outside the bar in the village where I live.

I’ve got a pretty good memory for faces and situations – HD quality in fact – but on this occasion I could be forgiven for making a mistake.

At the Monday market everybody wears checked shirts, jeans, boots, hunting caps. On the Sunday morning bike ride everybody wears lycra, streamlined fibreglass helmets, shades, plus lots of snot running down the sides of their faces. It’s the same people, just in costume.

Jean-Paul is no longer the beetroot guy dressed in thick trousers, a wooly jumper and a sturdy coat. He’s Jean-Paul the time trial specialist dressed in luminous skintight lycra and an insect shaped helmet. 

He told me he thought the same. How was I to know that this gibbering imbecile of an englishman who picks coins out of his purse like they’re dead flies was the same guy riding beside me on a thirty year old gold bicycle dressed in a lycra jumpsuit?

‘Appearances can be deceptive,’ I told him. He agreed and we carried on.

The other curious thing about the Caussade Monday Market is that the other guy who sells beetroots looks exactly like my old guitar teacher from Nottingham, Gary Fraser Lewis. So much so that when I first saw him, I was tempted to ask him about that E minor 6th chord I’d always struggled with.

I kept my mouth shut and asked him what the small lightbulb shaped vegetable he had on sale next to the beetroots was.

‘Ah, rutabaga. Very good.’

I’d never heard of them.

‘Sauté au beurre. C’est délicieux,’ he recommended.

‘I’ll take some,’ I said putting five in my basket. ‘And these?’  I asked holding up a black vegetable that looked like a piece of burnt wood.

‘Ah, radis noir. Fantastique, avec du beurre,’ he said, throwing me a big smile into the bargain.

‘Incroyable,’ I said. Incredible. But not the radish. The resemblance to my old teacher in Nottingham was quite astonishing. He started telling me that rutabaga was eaten in WW1 as it’s nutritious and filling,  and it got me thinking that perhaps there was a war connection between the two men. Same grandfathers? Great uncles? Not impossible, surely?

Anyway, that night I took his advice and sauteed the rutabaga and served them with local pork belly and homemade applesauce. As well as red cabbage from Jean Paul the vegman/Tour de France time trial specialist.

‘Wow!’ me and Elizabeth said simultaneously after we’d finished licking our plates for the third time. ‘That was pretty incredible.’ Incroyable, in fact.

And it was. Possibly one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. A meal full of coincidence and uncanny lookalikes. A meal I’ll never forget. Just like I never forget a face (most of the time).

caussade market

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People, Writing and Books

252 – The Final Supermarket Trip of Jesus of Nazareth

hussein's mini mart2

‘In the name of Jesus Christ. Stop!’ Judas heard a voice cry out behind him as he entered Hussein’s Mini Mart for his daily shop.

‘Oh hi, Jee,’ replied Judas turning to greet his old friend and picking up a basket. ‘What’s up?’

Jesus popped a fig into his mouth from the free-to-taste section, swallowed it and spoke. ‘There’s word on the grapevine that you’ve been saying the wrong things to the wrong people.’

Judas looked troubled. His eyes scanning the shelves trying to decide whether to buy pasta or rice. He was having a few friends over later and couldn’t decide on risotto or tagliatelle.

‘It wasn’t the Pharisees was it?’ continued Jesus.

Judas was astounded at the range of products on offer these days in the town’s supermarkets and in truth wasn’t paying attention to his irate friend. ‘It was the Romans actually,’ Judas finally answered, dropping a packet of Mr. Pharaoh Arborio rice into his basket. He had decided on risotto.

‘The Romans!’ cried Jesus. ‘Do you know what they’ll do if they catch us?’

Judas wasn’t bothered. ‘Look Jee, to be honest, I’ve got rather a lot on today,’ he said heading towards the deli counter with a bedraggled looking Jesus in tow.  ‘Can it wait until tomorrow?’

Jesus stared at Judas in disbelief. ‘Well I hate to be such a crushing bore old chap, but no it can’t wait until tomorrow. This!’ exclaimed Jesus, holding up a three minute boil-in-the bag salmon and chive tortellini, ‘could be my last meal.’

He’s right, thought Judas. Maybe it should be pasta. We had rice last Friday. A creamy mushroom tagliatelle infused with a few lightly roasted peppers plus a few olives on the side might go down better than a heavy risotto, especially in this heat.

‘Jee, old buddy,’ said Judas facing Jesus. ‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t you stop by for supper this evening and we’ll talk about it over a few light ales and the odd bottle or two of red wine. What do you say?’

Jesus stared at the unappetising three minute pasta meal in his hand. The thought of eating plasticky tortellini again for the fifth time that week made him almost gag.

‘What time?’ asked Jesus unenthusiastically.

‘Oh, say seven to seven thirty,’ replied Judas smiling.

‘Can I bring somebody?’

‘Of course. Bring whoever you want. Bring that bird you know. Or those hippie dudes you hang about with. The more the merrier, eh?’ said Judas slapping Jesus on the shoulder before disappearing off to the booze aisle to look for some good red wine. Leaving the Son of God holding a bag of salmon and chive tortellini, wondering if he should have simply said no to Judas and stayed in and watched the golf.

(Taken from The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd, available from Blogley Books as an ebook or a paperback.)

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Film, People, Writing and Books

251 – A Critic’s Response to The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd

Today I received the following video footage from a well known book critic who I sent my book of short stories to for review. This was his response.

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People, Places

245 – At the Chateau with JP Brown

What the 17th century chateau Elizabeth and I are looking after doesn’t provide is a selection of board games. So it was a shock to my friend – self confessed game addict and Barcelona based photographer Justin P Brown – when I told him that we were totally Cluedoless. We didn’t even have a pack of cards, I explained when he came to stay this week, meaning we were condemned to making our own games up. Enter the world of famous actors, ageing gameshow hosts, fictional characters and dead singers.

The timeworn Rizla game where somebody writes a name on a cigarette paper (or normal paper now we’ve all quit smoking) and sticks it on your forehead. The rules being you have to guess the name by using only YES or NO questions. It was the best we could come up with given the limited resources of our imagination, but it worked well, whiling away those dead hours between the end of dinner and bedtime.

Last night’s game was hilarious though, taking almost a whole night of haplessly threading our way through the whole gamut of sixties, seventies, and eighties TV characters to find our names. Mine was Dracula, but I had to go through Mr. Blobby, Kermit the Frog, Father Christmas, Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, The Snowman, Postman Pat, Astérix, and Rod Hull’s Emu to arrive – two hours later – at the name.

Justin fared little better having to go through Jim Bowen, Hughie Green, Russ Abbott, Les Dawson, Leslie Crowther, Noel Edmonds, Jimmy Saville, Dusty Bin, Russell Harty, Jimmy Tarbuck, and Bruce Forsyth to get to the late 70s game show host Larry Grayson. (For non UK readers, this probably makes no sense, but you might get the picture if you substitute in all the dead, champagne slurping, sexually overactive TV presenters from your country).

Elizabeth to be fair was the best taking a mere fifteen minutes to arrive at James Brown, leaving me and my old band buddy, Justin Brown (from the band Jamshakcle I wrote about in Blogley 20), to obliterate the evening with our wild guesses on British TV’s bygone era.

It was a fun night fuelled by fine cheese and wine and strong Abbey beer. We did actually have a TV in the room with access to all English channels, but it was clearly more fun to reminisce about the old days when TV was intentionally naff rather than turn on today’s expensively produced turgid nonsense.

Justin’s visit did unfortunately coincide with a week of torrential rain and cold winds. A world away from sultry Barcelona and the previous two months here that were nothing but sun and spring like days. But I dragged him to a few desolate deserted French hilltop villages where we stood and wondered what it was like in summer when it wasn’t so cold and miserable.

The town of Cahors was good though. The sun came out for an hour which gave Justin time to shoot the famous Pont Valentré that crosses the Lot to the west of the city. The rest of the time we wandered the streets looking at the chilled faces, bought a few postcards and headed back to the Chateau at Auty.

And that was the visit of Justin P Brown. Opened, set free for a week in rural France, wrapped up again and sent back to Barcelona with memories of Mr Blobby, Postman Pat and Larry Grayson etched on his mind forever. Au revoir mon ami.

Ogs in Cahors2

Blogley somewhere in Cahors. (Justin P Brown Photography)

 

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People, Seasons

242 – Murray Smyth and My Healthy Addiction to Cold Water

At my boarding school in Oswestry we were given cold baths by our housemaster Murray Smyth as punishment for petty misdemeanours such as being late for roll call, talking after lights-out, or pillow fighting. Minor transgressions that should have – at worst – received a detention or lines.

Instead we were made to lie naked fully submerged in a freezing cold bath until we were told we could get out. Or forced to dash outside into the cold December air still soaking wet because he’d set the fire alarm off for a drill.

A nasty piece of work Murray Smyth, a cruel twisted teacher who enjoyed nothing more than stabbing young boys in the chest with the blunt end of a Biro. Knocking them down onto the razor sharp dormitory carpet because they’d done nothing more than say Boo! to his fat red face. A man who enjoyed punishing young boys whose only crime had been the misfortune of getting sent away to school in the first place by their selfish parents. A hardman, a toughman, an arsehole. A man I have nothing good to say about. Except that while I certainly didn’t like his cold baths, it’s never made me forget how incredibly refreshing cold water is. Even in winter.

When I lived in Falmouth, me and my friend Rich Barker used to swim every Sunday in winter at Maenporth Cove. Dive into the breath sapping water, dressed only in our Speedos and swim until our feet, hands, legs and arms were as cold and as stiff as frozen baguettes. We would then drag ourselves out on our stomachs like seals and reach for the mulled wine that the café on the beach used to serve to bring us back to life. It did and we felt brilliant. So good in fact that we often thought of going in again to see how far we could take it. I even wrote a story about it called Survival in Cold Seas.

When I lived in Lyon, me and Elizabeth went on a wild swimming holiday to the Corbières region, which I wrote about in Blogley 103. (Or see a video here of me in the Ardeche). After the holiday I started taking cold showers every morning as the perfect way to wake me up before a tedious eight o’clock class at the language school where I worked.

On the farm in Queaux I continued this tradition (see Blogley 153) by having a cold outdoor shower every morning to aid my writing when I had a block. It worked. At the villa in Taussat on the Arcachon Basin the following year, we had the famous natural pool which I regularly dipped in, even though that too was absolutely freezing.

Now I’ve ended up here on a château in South West France and so it seemed only natural to continue this great tradition of freezing my nads off every morning by erecting another one. Outdoor cold shower deluxe, complete with paving slab floor, towel rack, adjustable spray head, soap holder (a rock) and a privacy screen in the form of a garden bench. So Murray Smyth, this is your legacy, this is the sum total of your educational efforts, a garden hose strung up on a tree. Like a noose. Enjoy the film: (with music)

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Film, People, Places, Writing and Books

237 – Four Years of Blogley

It’s been four years since I wrote my first post. Which started like this:

After a two-year break, I’ve ended up in France. I’m watching the Algerians below my window holding hands and the Senegalese watching football through the windows of a bar. I live in Guillotiere, which is part of Lyon. A heady mixture of Arabs, Africans, Vietnamese, Chinese and me, crammed into a couple of blocks south of the Rhone. It’s good to be back in France. I have fond memories of my time on a farm 20 km east of Avignon when I was nineteen.’

For those who have never read Blogley, it goes on in the same vein for the next four years. It’s all pretty self explanatory. The only thing that baffles me though about the entire blog is the very first line.

After a two-year break, I’ve ended up in France…’

A break from what? A break from travelling? A break from teaching? A break from working? A break from living? It’s curious, because I’ve never done anything continuously for two years, so how could I be taking a break from it. Whatever it was though must have been worth it, because the blog has grown to 150,000 words covering 237 posts.

In truth, I don’t know why I write it, or even what it’s about. I simply enjoy it. It takes time, but it’s time well spent. Sometimes it gets frustrating because I can’t get down exactly what I want. But that’s another reason to do it. After every post I’m a slightly better writer even if some of the posts are intensely boring, I say that myself. I mean who cares about pool cleaning. Remember those ones?

I could question if the time I give over to the blog is worth it. But then I would start questioning a lot of things. Like watching films, or listening to games of football on the radio. The hours spent cooking meals, worrying about work or being angry about politics. Talking to Elizabeth about story ideas for books and films that will never be  made or written. Running from point A to point B for exercise. Drinking red wine in the evening because it tastes so damn good with Stilton cheese.

If I questioned all of the above, I’d have nothing left except to go to sleep every evening. And even though I enjoy sleeping, I’m not going to make it my hobby. Golf is a hobby. I like getting a bath, but it’s not my pastime. I write because I enjoy it and I think about it all the time. It’s not a hobby.

When I was at the farm in Queaux, I wrote a novel and it was the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. Getting up at seven every day to sit in a cold room looking out over desolate French countryside writing about a character called The Mighty Quad in a book entitled The Return of the Mighty Quad. I haven’t done anything with it – it’s still in front of me here – but it was worth a year of my time. And I would do it again. The Return of the Mighty Quad II is a real possibly.

Me and Elizabeth are off back to France at the end of October. Best thing that’s happened to me in four months of being in England. Where exactly is still in the pipeline, but there are a number of options under consideration. If things had worked out differently, this would have been Blogley in Milan. But things went wrong at the last minute and so the next destination for year five of Blogley is undecided. Naturally when I know, I’ll write a blog about it.

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Food and Drink, People, Photos, Places

235 – Blogley in Marrakech

This week I find myself in Marrakech teaching English to engineers at a phosphate mine 10kms north of the city. It’s hot. About 35 degrees, but it doesn’t seem to bother me too much. I’ve camped out in enough shitty English weather to appreciate searing heat, even if I have to work in it.

When I got back to my apartment at the end of my first day, there was a selection of dried fruit and nuts laid out for me that I wolfed down in seconds. This was despite eating a massive plate of salad, grilled lamb, steamed chicken, poached fish, gratin dauphinois and crepes for lunch.

My apartment has two floors, three bathrooms, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a lounge, a courtyard, and 41 lights switches. Which is insane, and is like having a small hotel to myself. When the security guard showed me in on the first night I asked him who else I was sharing with. Thinking of course that I would be sharing with other students or teachers.

He looked at me. ‘It’s just for you, Sir?

‘But,’ I said pointing at the stone steps. ‘Where do the stairs go?’

‘That’s your lounge, kitchen and veranda.’

‘Oh, yes,’ I replied trying to look unimpressed as though I stayed in luxury Arabic villas every week.

He left smiling and I ventured upstairs stepping out onto the veranda area which was bigger than the flat I had in Lyon. I then wondered if they had got me mixed up with a company executive, the teachers’ quarters being in a ditch in the desert where the camels live. But clearly not. This was all mine.

However, I didn’t have time to admire my bedrooms, or lounge, or the ludicrously thick cotton bathrobe. It was nearly half past two in the morning and breakfast was at 7.30. Teaching started at 9 and I hadn’t prepared a thing. I showered, dived into bed, set the alarm and then dived out again five hours later shaking the clock.

‘Are you serious?’ I said to it. ‘Morning already? I’ve only just gone to bed.’

It was a tiring day, but nothing fifteen espressos couldn’t fix. And a swim afterwards in the pool was a nice reward for arguing with 15 Moroccan engineers for six hours over minuscule (and irrelevant in my view) elements of the English language. Back in my apartment I was looking forward to dinner.

The food at the residential teaching college in Wiltshire where I work is good, but this is a step up. It’s the top of the ladder, the bit where you reach the roof and are knocked to your death by a sudden gust of wind. It’s that good. Fine Moroccan lamb, beef, chicken, fish, salads, cakes, sweets, plus hot soup for breakfast.

Yes, hot soup for breakfast, when the temperature is already 27. Great idea. The same concept as drinking tea in hot weather and not cold drinks. The body starts cooling itself down when the soup hits your stomach, so when you go to work you’re feeling cool. And if you’re wearing beige chinos and light brown slip on shoes like me, very cool. In fact if I got lost in the desert, I would never be seen or found again. Just effortlessly blend into the scenery like a camel. Found four years later, the sun dried remains of an Englishman still holding a folder marked English for Mining Engineers.

The city of Marrakech itself is hard to comment on at this point. I had two hours free one evening and was driven there by one of the company chauffeurs and had exactly one hour to look around. I pelted it round the old Medina ignoring the snake charmers, spice sellers, tour guide pushers, watch makers, jewelry vendors, English Premiership replica kit sellers, and took in as much as I could. Then I waited by the main Mosque for the driver to pull up and drive me back to the compound. I’m leading an odd life at the moment, I admit.

Tomorrow I return to England. To Bath. Where I’m told it’s cloudy and rainy. Great.

blogley in marrakech

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People, Places, The French

231 – Cloud Camping in East Prawle

After finishing teaching on Sunday, me and Elizabeth finally headed down to East Prawle on the South Devon coast for a spot of cloud camping. An oblong fog filled field with an old builder’s portacabin as a toilet block and a hosepipe as a shower. Classy England! This is what I’ve been missing. Muddy fields, piss streaked toilets, rain, blind optimism, drunk teenagers, sausage and beans, high spirits, thick cloud.

The village of East Prawle has a shop and a very good pub called The Pig’s Nose. A pub that hasn’t been ruined by fruit machines, TV screens, oversized dining tables, faux Italian food, magazine racks, muted music and pine floors. It’s how all pubs once were, when the entertainment was provided by people not machines. Wednesday night was no exception when we witnessed some grinding blues and blistering rock ‘n’ roll provided by Frankie Connelly and Ben Gittins. A performance of such intensity and power that it sounded like they had a full backing band behind them. There wasn’t. Just two young guys with two guitars plugged into their music.

The other main draw of the week was being back on the 630 mile South West coast path that winds its way from Poole in Dorset, to Minehead in Somerset. I’ve never done the whole walk, only sections of it over the years, but I’ve always enjoyed being on this thin corridor of wilderness in-between the English Channel and the rolling Devon hills. Tramping along the narrow path that threads its way up and over the headlands that seem to multiply as you walk. Conquering one only to see another fifty appear ahead of you in the distance. It’s hard work walking up and down every day as though surveying the route of a giant roller-coaster. But once the work is done and you sit down and take in the scenery, it’s one of the best places in the UK. Take it from me.

Nearly ten years ago, I walked a section from St. Austell to Falmouth, sleeping in the heathers and ferns as I went. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous or long walk, but it had a big effect on me. It was the first time I’d walked and slept rough, bedding down where I fell as it were. Since then I’ve walked (or cycled) many times in this way.

There were only two other tents on the site this week and with no roads, except a lane down to the lighthouse, no internet and no phone signal, it was incredibly peaceful. Like watching a nature program in bed on a winter’s night with the sound turned down. In fact the only real sound I heard over the four days – apart from the band on Wednesday night – was French radio, which I managed to pick up after failing to find any English channels. It was then I had an idea. An opportunity for the local tourist office.

THE ONLY CAMPSITE IN THE UK WHERE YOU CAN PICK UP FRENCH RADIO BUT NOT RADIO TWO

I’m not sure who it would be aimed at. French people I suppose. Or people who hate Radio Two like me. Or British radio in general. Or Britain?

They used the estuaries at nearby Dartmouth and Kingsbridge for the D-Day landings and it made me wonder where I would end up if sailed directly to France from here (that is if I had a boat). The answer is – as you will have all correctly guessed no doubt – the village of Plougasnou in Brittany, which according to their website is famous for nothing. It doesn’t even have a pub.

I decided to stay put and now find myself back at the residential teaching college in non-reality Wiltshire that I mentioned in my two previous posts. Tonight after dinner, I’m taking my students to the pub in Lacock, which sounds French, but isn’t, where they filmed the Harry Potter films and countless costume dramas. I’ve never been to Lacock, or La Cock as my French student amusingly, albeit predictably, said this morning, so I’m keeping an open mind. I doubt they’ll have a pub as good as The Pig’s Nose. But if they do, never mind a boat, I’ll swim to Brittany. Backstroke.

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People, Places, Seasons, Writing and Books

229 – Treasure Hunt in the House of PG Wodehouse

This week I find myself teaching in a house where PG Wodehouse lived as a child. A sixteenth century country manor seven miles east of Bath deep in the Wiltshire countryside where the dense oaks that cover the surrounding hills create an almost unbreakable green canopy from here to the city. The only noises are the trains picking up speed as they leave Bath before disappearing into the abyss of the Box Hill tunnel and onward to London and the 21st century.

A few months ago I was cleaning swimming pools in Western France, now I’m working in a residential teaching college with four Russians, two Italians, two Germans, an Angolan, and a Japanese woman, in a manor house built before the English Civil War. Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner while talking about the Greek situation, the wines of Lombardy, the traffic of Milan, free diving in Sardinia, Siberian food, and the beers of Düsseldorf. How can I explain this?

I know a lot of people who do the same job year in year out no questions asked. I find this impossible. If I don’t have at least three jobs in a year, I consider myself a failure. It’s a good a situation to be in and one that has taken me a long time to perfect from the qualities I have. Which are: patience, resilience, and not giving a fuck.

On Tuesday I was asked by my boss if I would like to organise a treasure hunt for the students in the evening. As she stood in front of me waiting for my answer, my mind was conjuring up images of impeccably dressed Italians scrambling around in the mud searching for a chest full of gold coins, with me dressed as Long John Silver. It went quite well. My questions weren’t hard, but there were a few which were open to debate. One of them asked how many fish were in the pond. A pond half covered with algae and water lilies meaning that the precise number of fish on view varied depending on when you visited it. The correct answer was five and the group that got it right won the treasure. The treasure being a bottle of Prosecco that was shared around equally. Everybody was happy.

Yesterday we went to Bath on the hottest day of the year. Bath with its stone buildings that turned the city into a gigantic kiln. It wasn’t the heat that bothered us though. It was the people. In European cities when it’s hot, life goes on. Things function. Restaurants and bars serve food and drink without a fuss. People go about their business as if it was any other day of the year. Yesterday, Bath was a wretched place to be. Bad tempered, melodramatic, edgy. I heard some young woman complain in a newsagent that she could hardly walk in this weather. Really? Why not? Are you a polar bear or something? An Arctic mammal covered in a thick layer of fur and fat buying a copy of the The Sun newspaper and a massive packet of extra salty crisps. Are you trying to be ironic? Or are you just stupid.

Even my student from Siberia, where winter temperatures he told me regularly reach minus fifty and in summer there are mosquitoes the size of birds, took it in his stride. Admittedly short strides, but nonetheless, he didn’t seem too hot or bothered by the so called Hottest Day of the Year that every newspaper in this country ran on its front page. Today, surprise, SUR-FUCKING-PRISE, it’s raining, which I hope makes everybody happy.

As for me, I have a few days left here, then I sit and wait again for more work. There’s a lot of waiting in this game. But that’s fine by me as I don’t need much to keep me occupied. Especially when Elizabeth’s mother bought me the first three Knausgaard books to be getting on with. Watch out for a Knausgaard post soon.

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People, Places

224 – A CV of Sorts

A few nights ago I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve ever done. I got so obsessed with it, that I dived out of bed, poured myself a carafe of wine and wrote them all down.

They say that a league table at the end of a football season doesn’t lie. The best team won and all of that. Ditto my CV. It wasn’t lying either. Sitting on my coffee table at three in the morning staring back at me like a piece of code. An ancient scroll in an unknown language waiting for me to decipher.

‘What does it all mean?’ I shouted. ‘Where is it all leading me?’ Glug glug.

The first thing I thought was, is there a pattern? Not really. The only thing being that I quit teaching English in 2003 and then took it up again in 2011. Most of the other jobs in between have been a mix of menial indoor and outdoor jobs that I’ve either resigned from, got fired from, or left at the end of contracts. Most I’ve hated. The rest I’ve tolerated.

The only ones I’ve vaguely enjoyed were the ones with free alcohol, or where I’ve been left – totally and utterly – to do the job without some dick breathing down my neck. A rarity.

My job history is chequered that’s for sure. But what does that mean? That I haven’t done the same job for a long period. Or that I’m incapable of holding one down. Or that I’m lazy. A loose cannon. Or perhaps it’s just that I enjoy doing lots of things for short periods in different places because it’s the only life I have?

It doesn’t really matter does it? It’s just a CV. It means nothing. Nobody nails it to your coffin at your funeral with a ‘See Me’ written on it, ‘Could have done better’, just as you’re about to be shunted into the fires of eternity.

I’m not worried about my CV in the slightest. In fact I’m quite proud of it. It’s rich and varied. It illuminates my personality, shows off my character, demonstrates my abilities as a human being, not a machine. Whether a prospective employer would think the same is totally and utterly irrelevant. Because the question I’m asking myself is this:

Would Philip Ogley employ Philip Ogley? And as I’m the boss now. The answer would be a definite and conclusive yes.

The CV of Philip Ogley (now aged 41)

 July – Aug 1990 – John Smedley Ltd – Labourer

July – Aug 1991 – John Smedley Ltd – Warehouseman

July – Aug 1992 – Chesterfield Council – Dustbin man

April – Aug 1993 – MAFF, Mansfield – Field researcher (potatoes)

April – Aug 1994 – INRA, Cavaillon, France – Field researcher (peppers)

April – Aug 1995 – Zeneca, Bracknell – Field researcher (barley)

Sept 1996 – March 1997 – Students Union, Nottingham – Barman

July 1997 – Aug 1998 – Boulevard Sound Systems, Nottingham – Sound engineer

Nov 1998 – Mission beach hostel, Australia – Hostel hand

Nov – Dec 1999 – Hockley Organic Restaurant, Nottingham – Commis chef

Aug 2000 – Nottingham Language Centre – EFL teacher

September 2000 – Papa Language school, Trikala, Greece – EFL teacher

Oct 2000 – June 2001 – Cambridge School of English, Warsaw, Poland – EFL teacher

July 2001 – Nottingham Language Centre, Nottingham – EFL teacher

Sept 2001 – Jan 2002 – Centro de Lenguas y Estudios, Granada, Spain – EFL teacher

Feb – May 2002 – BRNC, Dartmouth, Devon – EFL Teacher

May – July 2002 – Southgate Hotel, Exeter – Barman

Aug 2002 – Aug 2003 – Globe English School, Exeter – EFL Teacher

Feb – April 2004 – Devon County Council, Exeter – Data Entry Clerk

April – Sept 2004 – Pavani’s Italian, Exeter – Sous chef

Sept – Nov 2004 – La Finca , La Vega, Venezuela – Field Researcher (watermelons)

Dec 2004 – May 2005 – Cafe Rouge, Exeter – Waiter

Aug 2005 – Pizza Express, Exeter – Waiter

Aug 2006 – Bristol City Council – Telephone Clerk

Oct – Nov 2006 – Bristol Novelty, Bristol – Warehouse picker

Jan – May 2007 – The Bristol Advertiser, Bristol – Editor

Aug 2007 – Aug 2008 – The Royal Mail, Bristol – Postman

Oct 2008 – Sept 2009 – The Bristol Flyer, Bristol – Barman

Nov 2009 – Feb 2010 – The Mighty Miniature, Bristol – Bookseller

May – Sept 2010 – Gibbs Catering, Bristol – Driver and caterer

Nov – Dec 2010 – Haines Xmas Trees, Bristol – Christmas tree seller

March – July 2011 – Communicaid, Bristol – EFL Teacher

Sept 2011 – June 2012 – Linguarama, Lyon, France – EFL Teacher

July 2012 – August 2012 – IFIS, Bristol – EFL Teacher

Sept 2012 – July 2013 – Linguarama, Lyon – EFL Teacher

Sept 2013 – Oct 2014 – La Jouachere, Queaux, France – House sitter

March 2015 – Cetradel, Bordeaux – EFL Teacher

Jan – May 2015 – Villa Tosca, Taussat, France – Pool boy

June 2015…?

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Food and Drink, People, Places, Sport

218 – Wine Box Bike Racks

I’ve been doing cycling tours on and off for years. Bike, couple of panniers, tent, sleeping bag, set off, see where I end up. They’ve always been great fun, either alone or with a friend. Total freedom, plus a clean and cheap way to see the world. But where do you put your wine?

There’s nothing more invigorating than drinking a bottle of wine while cycling. I normally keep it in the water bottle holder on the frame, so that when I come to a difficult hill, it’s within easy reach. A slug of Pays D’Oc decreases the gradient of any hill. Even a tortuous Alpine pass suddenly looks possible.

I’ve loved touring since I was kid. Me and my school friend Duncan used to cycle round Cornwall in the rain and hail of the British summer. We stayed in youth hostels back then and didn’t drink wine. Just the odd fag now and then to fire our lungs up before an ascent of those ludicrously steep Cornish hills.

My smoking days are done, but the cycling continues. And so does the wine. Even though it’s never been particularly secure, jammed into the flimsy metal wire cradle that was originally designed for a light plastic water bottle and not a heavy Bordeaux.

It of course goes without saying that over the years a bottle of Claret has broken free and shattered all over the road. Total disaster for me and any cyclists bringing up the rear in their skinny wheelers.

Despite the water bottle holder’s shortcomings though, I’ve kept on using it as my wine rack. Until yesterday. When I found an old champagne crate in a dustbin up the road from where I live.

‘Oh Lord,’ I thought as I measured up the dimensions. ‘It’s perfect. Not only for wine, but beer as well. I wouldn’t even have to stop. Just a quick reach around into my portable bar for a chilled beer or a slug of wine.’ I’m already planning my first trip. Probably to a nearby vineyard. Camp out among the vines with my new companion.

It’s certainly made me think that in our world of endless technology and gadgets, where even books are becoming erased by computer screens, it’s so pleasing to know that I can still derive great pleasure from such a simple (and free) thing. So much so that I can’t stop looking at it.

It’s not just that it fits exactly twelve cans of beer and two bottles of wine in it. It’s the utter simplicity of it that I find astonishing. A old box strapped to a bike. And yet it serves its function perfectly. Not just for alcohol. For anything. Books, groceries, vegetables, fruit, wood, dogs, fish.

I’ve seen bikes with boxes on them for years. Even on those Cornwall trips I saw crazy cyclists with gigantic trunk like containers on their bikes as though they were heading off to Africa. And yet I never thought of having one myself. Even as an adult.

‘If only everything was as simple as strapping an old wine box to a bike with an old bungi cord.’ I kept saying to myself yesterday evening.

Now I think about it. Maybe it is.

wine box

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People, Writing and Books

217 – The Mugwump

Yesterday I started reading a post from a blog I subscribe to. It’s called 101 Books and is a journey through all of TIME magazines best 101 books. I wrote about it in Blogley 130.

The blog’s author is currently reading Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, which is a personal favourite of mine because of its powerful descriptions on how far human beings will go to satisfy their craving for depravity and debauchery.

I’ve read it twice and loved every minute of it. Mad, sickening, incoherent, unsettling, and totally crazy. Or as JG Ballard said:

“A comic apocalypse, a roller-coaster ride through hell, a safari to the strangest people on the strangest planet, ourselves.”

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea I admit. But that’s OK, there are lots of books I don’t like. The reason I took offence at yesterday’s post was because the blogger had taken it upon himself to include a page from the book where The Mugwump (a male prostitute) has sex with a client.

YES! The writing is certainly vivid, but it’s also ridiculous. The Mugwump isn’t even real. (From Naked Lunch):

Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addictive fluid though their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism’

It’s a swamp beast. A creature from the depths. The scene takes place in a brothel located in hell. It’s NOT real. It’s so OBVIOUSLY a metaphor. Yet, the reaction to that one page on his blog – AND I STRESS ONE PAGE OUT OF 200 – was maddening. Suddenly I was wondering whether all his readers had converted to reading the Daily Mail.

‘Promotes paedophilia’

‘Should be banned!’

‘Sicko stuff.’

‘Nothing more than pornography.’

‘Truck stop filth.’

Really! I’m thinking. That bad? I mean where do these people live? What do they think lies behind any internet search engine if they type in the right words. Far worse stuff than Burroughs ever wrote.

People are entitled to their opinion. Even if they want to base their opinions on one page of a book. However, the worst aspect of the post for me was the constant going on about how the book, ‘Is in no way art!’

This really confused me. Of course, it isn’t art. It’s a fictionalised account of William Burroughs’s travels and experiences. I don’t want to get onto the subject of whether books are art. Personally, a book is a story. And a story isn’t art. Sure there’s an art in creating the characters, the setting, the plot. The craft of getting the words onto the page. But in my mind, a story is a story. A journey from A to B. And in this particular book, as JG Ballard perfectly put it, a journey through the strangest minds on the planet. Ourselves.

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Food and Drink, People, The French

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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Animals, People, Sport

193 – Dogs and Pushchairs on Rue Malbec

After months of trying, I finally broke through the 20.30 minute mark for 5kms at the Jardin Public in Bordeaux. And that was after being ‘assaulted’ by a dog at 1.34kms.

I know this because my heart rate data shows a sudden dip at the point where I had to slow down to avoid crashing into the stray mutt.

heart rate2 Continue reading

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People, Writing and Books

187 – Le Grand Meaulnes

Le Grand Meaulnes is a novel written by Alain Fournier and published in 1913.

It’s been on the living room table for months now, staring at me like the porcelain geese on the mantelpiece do when I’m trying to write something important.

I picked it up a few weeks ago. But put it down again when I read on the back cover that the author had been killed in action in 1914 and that this was his only novel. I simply couldn’t bring myself to read it. Continue reading

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People, Places

178 – The Palais Gallien Amphitheatre

The Palais Gallien Amphitheatre half a stride away from the Jardin Public is one of the oldest looking things I’ve ever seen. A two thousand year old crumbling ruin built from what looks like broken biscuits stuck together with chewing gum, it’s no wonder the Bordelais call it le vestige – the relic. Continue reading

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People, Places

177 – Playing Handel in the Gare St. Jean

Writing this blog these past few weeks has allowed me to understand the city in a way I couldn’t have done from sightseeing or reading books alone. The act of writing has made the events of the past month stick in my head so firmly that they’ll not be easily erased.

Like last night for instance. Continue reading

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Food and Drink, People, Places

172 – The Piano Man and Beer Tasting

Each morning I’m awoken by the old man next door playing his piano. It’s my morning wake-up call and I can truly say that there’s nothing as calming as Beethoven, Brahms or Bach first thing.

It doesn’t actually wake me up. More rolls me over in my deep slumber. Gently prods me and says, ‘Oggers, it’s morning. Time to get up.’

This has happened everyday since I’ve been here. Except today. Which is worrying on two counts. One he might be dead. And two I don’t have another alarm clock. I have a mobile phone but the ring tones are so incredibly nauseating and offensive that I’d rather miss the entire day than be woken up by some moronic synthesised version of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Continue reading

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People, Places

168 – Job Centre Interview

For thirteen months I saw the same view every morning from my hideout in Queaux. While incredibly beautiful and pleasing to the eye, the physical contours of the image never changed from day to day. Month to month.

Now in Bordeaux every step throws up new scenes. Every corner awash with right angles and curves. Every street exhibiting a new set of uprights and horizontals for my mind to gorge on. There’s so much information. So much data. I feel like a computer plugged into the internet for the very first time.

And that’s just the architecture. Throw into the equation a quarter of a million people walking, running, fighting, drinking, smoking, thinking, laughing, dying, burping, shouting, crying. And it’s no wonder my mind is having a sensory overload and my blog is running out of paper.

On top of all of that I’ve burdened myself with looking for work. Or rather my bank has burdened me. My balance popping up on the screen last week saying OGGERS OLD FRIEND, YOU’VE RUN OUT OF MONEY – JOB TIME!!!! Continue reading

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Food and Drink, People, Places

167 – Victor Hugo, Ice Creams, and Lyonnais Waiters

The Bordeaux tourist guide quotes Victor Hugo on its front page:

‘Take Versailles, mix it with Anvers. You have Bordeaux.’

I know nothing about either town but from what I’ve seen here there seems enough good cheer and sparkle to go round both of them with some to spare. Furnish Lyon with a bit perhaps? Continue reading

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People, Places

166 – Velos, Homelessness and The Great Escape

What’s the first thing I did in Bordeaux?

Drink a glass of wine? See the sights? Take a coffee in a leafy square? A small beer in a courtyard bar? Eat a Charolais steak?

No. I hunted out places to sleep in the unlikely event of being made homeless. It’s an odd obsession of mine and stems from a childhood dream of escaping from boarding school and becoming a fugitive. Steve McQueen from the Great Escape, only in this version it’s Oggers on a 30 year old Peugeot cycle haring up the Welsh Hills being pursued by Potter the housemaster in his 1970s Citroen waving his walking stick in the air like a demented general. Continue reading

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Food and Drink, People

126 – Chip Shops and Expats

With thousands of English expats living in this part of France, I’ve often thought that it would be a good idea to set up a chippy. So it was both pleasing and galling to see one yesterday as I drove through Confolens. I stopped the car and gazed blankly at it like I was a young boy watching the school bully take all the glory in a conker tournament with my prize-winning conker. That should be me I thought. Continue reading

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Animals, People, The French

123 – The Deer and The Hunt

A cold morning in Queaux. I rise early and listen to the dogs yelping from over the hill at Le Crochet. It’s the big hunt before Christmas and I tell you this. I wouldn’t want to be a member of the pheasant, deer or boar family today. Continue reading

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Animals, People

119 – The Mouse Run

We have mice. No surprises there. But we didn’t think it would lead to this. Driving out every evening to a hamlet a few miles down the road with a bagful of them. Thing is, we have no choice. It’s either kill them, let them loose here and watch them troop back in the minute we turn our backs, or drive them to somebody else’s house. Continue reading

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People

110 – The Three Wise Men of Lyon

During my two years here, three men have stood out from the crowd. The first one I saw at the amphitheatre one September evening in 2011. Strolling through the ancient pillars and mosaics carrying a radio under his arm wrapped up in a plastic bag listening and dancing to U2 – A Beautiful Day. Continue reading

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People

97 – Shacks and Smiles

Walking to Mahle last week I passed fifty or so shacks on a waste ground. At first I thought they were part of an abandoned allotment waiting to be cleared for development. But then I saw a woman washing clothes in a tub. Children playing in the grime. Guys kicking a ball around. Smoke rising from chimneys. Continue reading

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People, Seasons

82 – Le Chauffage

As the snows fell over the city on Tuesday morning there was only one madman trying to cycle to work through the blizzard. Everybody else was safe in their houses sipping hot chocolate from giant bowls and gazing contently at the winter wonderland scene outside. The only blemish on the icing sugar dusted Pont de L’universite was an Englishman cycling over it in a dirty orange jacket. Continue reading

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People

74 – Old Matey

On my way to A and A this morning (it’s a pharmaceutical company), I realised that I’d taken the same route I used to take when I lived in Guillotière last year. While it made me late for the third time this week, it was worth it because it gave me the chance to check out how Old Matey was getting on, my name for the homeless man we met in Lyon 15. Continue reading

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People

71 – Annie Ruzitski

Soap, packets of pasta, flip-flops, pirated DVDs, odd socks, faded French popstar posters, out-of-date ibuprofen, bottles of coloured spirits, mouldy lamp shades, punctured bean bags, packets of dried almonds. All of these litter my flat like artefacts in a museum. Carefully curated to remind me that even though she doesn’t live here anymore, her possessions do. Continue reading

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People

67 – Bond

I’m sitting tense in my seat waiting for the conclusion of the latest Bond film, when a man starts speaking into his phone. For two hours I’ve been sitting on a spongy cinema seat with zero legroom waiting to discover how the film will end.

In this instalment Javier Bardem is throwing grenades into a Scottish mansion. A military helicopter is strafing the walls with shells. There’s a small army of mercenaries. It’s night time. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s raining, and Bond is armed with a pitchfolk. How will you escape this time Mr. Bond? I’m aching to find out. Quite literally, because since the opening credits I’ve been dying for a piss. So it better be worth it. And then… Continue reading

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People

65 – Mini Metros and New Bikes

I met up with Fred again this week after an eight month break (see 28 – Frédéric Moreau).

The reason being that while training at the Velodrome one lunchtime, he had clipped his training partner’s back wheel and woken up in hospital with four cracked ribs, a broken collar-bone, a punctured lung and a broken arm. I remarked that perhaps in the future he might settle for a steak and a beer. He scowled and informed me that his little accident had bought him three months in hospital with septicaemia. Continue reading

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People

44 – Beggar

The entire population of France must have been eating out in Lyon last night. Masses of folk gorging themselves on steaks and salads. Pizzas and pasta. Sausage and onions. All Lyonnais style and all washed down with an ocean of wine. Hundreds of children buzzing around the ancient squares of Vieux Lyon hoping their parents were too drunk to remember their bedtimes. Beggars working the busy sidewalks as serious as any job. Continue reading

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People

28 – Frédéric Moreau

In 1984 Frédéric Moreau was three times French amateur cycling champion, and towards the end of that year signed a professional contract. However, shortly after, he started having problems with his right knee. Instead of recuperating, ready for the start of next year’s professional season, he continued to race in the remaining amateur events of that year. At the end of 1984, and in great pain, he finally went to see a doctor who told him that if he ever wanted to cycle again, he was to stop immediately: his cartilage in his right knee was torn to pieces. Continue reading

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People

20 – Jamshakcle

It’s twelve o’clock and I’m eating chocolate. I finally got the nod from up above and so this morning  I fired up my trusty Peugeot and headed down the A7 towards Marseille to the town of Tain L’Hermitage, famous for its wine and chocolate.

It’s a fairly nondescript drive through dreary desolate countryside: potato field, farm house, field, house, mist, fog, snow. But it made me think that fifteen years ago I would have seen the same view. Fifteen years ago I went to Nice with Jamshakcle, our beloved glam-folk-psychedelic rock band fronted by the magnificent Justin Brown with backing from Lee ‘Satin’ White on bass, James ‘Trickey’ Trickey on drums, Paul ‘The Quad’ Quadros on guitar and fiddle, and me, Phil ‘Oggers’ Ogley on guitar. That was a bizarre episode if ever there was one. Continue reading

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People

15 – Homeless Man

It’s Tuesday, two o’clock and I’ve finished my classes for the day. During my first term here all the new teachers used to hang about until five or six, keen to show we were committed to the cause. Now, three months later, the place is empty by three. Files and textbooks left exactly where they were shut tight at the end of the day; their owners rabidly sprinting down to the pub for beer and pommes frites. Rippling enthusiasm replaced by collective apathy and alcoholism within a few short months. Continue reading

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People, Places

12 – Brotteaux Man

I live in La Guillotiere but I’m really a Brotteaux man. Sleepy, dreamy, pretentious Brotteaux with the famous Parc de la Tete D’Or on your doorstep. Roughly the size of Clifton Downs in Bristol, it acts as a sanctuary for us Lyonnais. Complete with boating lake, running track, cycle paths, restaurants, cafes, an orangey, a boules court, mini-golf, horse riding, and even a miniature train, it’s the place to be. I go there a lot to lose myself in my thoughts and dreams. Wandering aimlessly, but quite happy, among the exotic trees and neatly kept gardens. Or a visit to the zoo. Yes, the zoo. Continue reading

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