Blogley, Writing and Books

284 – Guy de Maupassant and The Trip of Le Horla

I’ve been reading the short stories of Guy De Maupassant, a French writer who died over 120 years ago.

I first came across him in a bookshop in Montauban, a small redbrick town, 50 kms north of Toulouse. I was looking for some Albert Camus as I wanted to start reading novels in French and was counting on the famous Algerian ex-goalkeeper (and novelist) to get me started. There are only so many times you can read The Little Prince.

I asked the proprietor if he had La Peste (after The Outsider, Camus’ most famous book). He said he had: four copies in fact. I took the one with the biggest print and then he asked me if I’d read any Maupassant. ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘Isn’t that a village near Cahors?’ I joked (Montpezat being a village a few miles from here). He smiled weakly (idiot Englishman), ‘No, he’s the master of the short story. Very good for learning French,’ he said in English. ‘Because it’s simple.’

He didn’t have anything in stock so I forgot about him until nearly a year later. Christmas Day 2016, Elizabeth gives me my last present of the day. It’s a book. Paperback.

‘Guess what it is?’ she asks. I roll off a few authors. ‘Camus, Hemingway, Auster, Ballard? ‘Nope,’ she replies. ‘Delillo, Steinbeck, Exupery?’ ‘Nope. Open it.’

I open it and The Short Stories of Guy De Maupassant falls out of the wrapper and onto my lap like a giant block of Emmental. Tears well up and I say a big thank you! And so begins my interest in Guy de Maupassant.

Born in 1857 in Tourville sur Arques near Dieppe in Normandy, he died in Paris in 1893 and was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. His most famous story, Boule de Suif (Butterball), tells the story of a coach trip from Rouen to Le Havre during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. The inhabitants: a prostitute, a wineseller, two nuns, a factory owner, a count, a politician, and their wives, constitute a fascinating cross section of French society in the late 19th century.

This story is the first one I read and is a perfect introduction to his style. The simplicity of which stems from his first hand knowledge of  the farmers, fishermen, tradesmen, prostitutes, soldiers, civil servants, shopkeepers, landowners, writers and vagabonds he encountered in his  life.

After moving to Paris in 1878 to work as a civil servant he wrote in his spare time. However, after Boule de Suif was published in 1880, Madame Tellier in 1882 and Mademoiselle Fifi in 1883, his reputation was so high that he gave up his job to write full time. By the time he died he’d written over 300 stories, six novels, plus countless collections of poems and other writings on travel and nature.

One of the things you notice when you read his stories is the phenomenal amount of food they eat. In Miss Harriet, a story about a puritanical English Protestant woman living in a rundown auberge in a small village called Benouville on the Normandy coast, they typically lunch on: ‘a ragout of mutton, followed by a rabbit and salad, followed by cherries and cheese.’ All enjoyed with cider. In another story aptly named The Beggar, their ‘simple’ lunch consists of a couple of chickens, a partridge, a side of ham, followed by cheese and a tart. Again washed down with cider. I daresay not everybody enjoyed such lunches in 19th century France. However, this abundance of food is so common in his writing that I suspect this was how rural people ate.

His stories are also at times very tragic and sad. The Blind Man, the story of a man who’s abused and tortured by his own family because he can’t work on the farm, is one of the most crushing stories I’ve ever read.

Conversely his stories can be phenomenally uplifting and amusing. Almost farcical. Stories such as The Duel, The Drunkard and The Relic are silly comic book affairs. Whereas stories like The Necklace and A Piece of String (and Boule de Suif) are highly political.

I enjoy his works because they are simple, finely crafted stories distilling a code of values and ideas into short pieces. Normally with staggeringly abrupt endings. So abrupt at times that I’ve wondered whether some pages have been torn out.

There are over 300 stories and yet my favourite is The Trip of Le Horla, a fascinating trip from Paris to Holland in a hot air balloon. It charts an overnight voyage – yes overnight! – from the centre of Paris to Huyet on the Dutch coast. There’s some awe inspiring description of the trip – a trip I assume he made himself – but it’s also a superb meditation. This is one of my favourite sections as they float across France at 2000 metres:

All memory has disappeared from our minds, all trouble from our thoughts; we have no more regrets, plans nor hopes. We look, we feel, we wildly enjoy this fantastic journey; nothing in the sky but the moon and ourselves! We are a wandering, travelling world, like our sisters, the planets; and this little world carries five men who have left the earth and who have almost forgotten it. We can now see as plainly as in daylight; we look at each other, surprised at this brightness, for we have nothing to look at but ourselves and a few silvery clouds floating below us.

His diversity is astonishing. Tales of varying length and assorted subjects ranging from tragedy to satire to comedy to farce. All different and yet all possessing the author’s vivid set of personal experiences.

Visit http://maupassant.free.fr/ where all his material can be found. Or download the complete short story collection for your Kindle, tablet or phone for free here – 800 pages of a late 19th century French writer. What else could you want for the spring?

Or you can read my own selection of  short stories, The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd, here

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Blogley, Food and Drink, The French, Writing and Books

282 – 99 Reasons Not To Buy This Book!

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My hugely popular guide book to France has been called many things since I published it a year ago:

“The most misleading guidebook to France ever written”

“A treasure trove of inaccuracies”

“As informative as a piece of wood”

“As boring as Sartre”

“Blander than French coffee.”

“More self-congratulatory than a Michelin restaurant”

To celebrate these plaudits and the book’s anniversary, here’s another 99 reasons not to buy it. In case you’re tempted.

  1. It’s factually inaccurate.
  2. It’s not really a guidebook at all.
  3. Most places I’ve mentioned, don’t actually exist.
  4. I wrote most of it on the toilet.
  5. It goes off on tangents and never comes back.
  6. It’s not really about France anyway, it’s about me.
  7. It’s years out of date.
  8. Prices are still in Francs.
  9. Half of the characters are animals.
  10. The other half are dead.
  11. There’s no violence in it.
  12. Definitely no sex.
  13. There’s no famous people (except me).
  14. There’s no happy ending.
  15. There are no free apps.
  16. Or video games.
  17. Or maps.
  18. Or photos
  19. Or newsletters.
  20. Or special offers.
  21. Or dedicated fan sites.
  22. Or anything else much of interest.
  23. Roman Aqueducts are featured a lot.
  24. There’s too many references to baguettes.
  25. And crap coffee.
  26. Mosquitoes.
  27. Flies.
  28. And cheap lager.
  29. There’s no plot.
  30. No dialogue.
  31. Very little action.
  32. No direction.
  33. Certainly no heroes.
  34. Paris isn’t even in it.
  35. Nor is anywhere else.
  36. It’s absurd.
  37. Obscure.
  38. Ridiculous.
  39. And stupid.
  40. And that’s not even 99 reasons, which says it all. Rubbish!

However, if you still want a copy,  it’s your lucky month. Because during March, I’ve cut the price from an extortionate £1.99 ($2.99) to a bargain basement, cutthroat price of 99 pence or cents. Which means wherever you are (UK, Europe or the States) it’s the same price. Provided of course you buy the ebook (compatible with laptops, phones, tablets, Etch A Sketches, stone slates, or papyrus pith) and not the clunky paper version.

So for the price of a stale croissant, you can read this remarkable book for only 99 copper coins.

(It’s really quite good, despite what you read. Click the croissant below to buy.)

croissant-99p

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Sport, Writing and Books

277 – Death of a Vintage Bicycle

Last Sunday I completed my 10th cycle with the crazy guys from the Caussade Cyclo-Club. My best so far, mainly because I was riding a new bike. Dispensing, rather regretfully I have to add, with my vintage Peugeot PK10 (below).

PK 10

For those of you who know nothing about cycling or bikes. The Peugeot P10 series (PK, PX, PU, PN, PL) was one of the standard racing bike models of the mid-to-late 20th century. Their heyday being in the 60/70s with cycling legends such as Eddie Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet riding them.

Brought out in the 1930s the design remained almost unchanged up until the mid 1990s when the surge in cycling gave way to new ideas, materials and accessories. Cycling had become cool and the bikes (and of course their riders) had to look the part. The old classic racers became unfashionable, unused, and disliked. The grinding gears of the vintage models gave way to slick urban road bikes mounted by lycra clad, hi-vis wearing commuters who could be seen in every UK city sharing the miniscule piece of road left for them by a million angry motorists. The upside to this was that the old PK10s ended up on eBay or on Gumtree for enthusiasts to pick up for the price of a pint.

1930-catelogue

Peugeot 1936 catalogue

So I slightly stunned myself last week when I bought a brand new slick urban road bike, the likes of which I used to hate. It was my first new bike since my father bought me a PUCH “Sprint” Racer for Christmas in 1986 and cost me ten times what my PK10 did.

triban

Triban 520

It’s not bad, is it? True, it looks like it was designed by a kid on his iPhone, and would have the greats of the past who used to cycle up the Col Du Tourmalet on their 10 speed PK10s, turn in their amphetamine soaked graves. But at least I can now keep up with my riding buddies on their 39 speed Shimano Ultegra, £3000 carbon frame Pinarello bikes.

On my previous rides out with the club – the other 9 – I could keep up for about 60 kms, then my legs would buckle, like my wheels, and I’d watch them disappear off into the distance leaving me searching for another gear on my ancient Simplex shifters.

Saying that however, the great advantage of this year long battle on my unreliable and (relativity) heavy PK10, is that it’s hardened my legs and expanded my lungs to almost professional level. Or so it felt like on Sunday. Breezing over the finish line wondering where everybody else was. True a few had got lost somewhere near Cahors due to a vintage French road intersection (ten roads meeting in the same place with no signs in sight). But the transformation from the week before when I’d limped home feeling like my legs had been shattered with a pickaxe was astonishing.

Technology wins. If not for style then efficiency.

Further proof of this was on Monday when me and Elizabeth went for a quick ride. Me on my PK10 for old time’s sake, Elizabeth on her even older ‘Tour De France’ vintage racer (below).

nuttys-bike

1970s custom made racer. Origin unknown. https://www.instagram.com/wildbeebeauty/

After the mandatory chain-falling-off episode, which always plagues old bikes, she seemed to get on fine. Gliding up and down the steep pie-shaped hills of the Tarn-et-Garonne like a female reincarnation of Jacques Anquetil. I, on the other hand – the so-called new Chris Froome as they called me on Sunday – felt like I was riding a tractor. Clugging away up the hill to the village as though I had mounted a pedalo by accident.

When I got back home I threw the PK10 in the garage, cleaned my new bike (again) and hugged it like the cat. I feel bad about letting the it go, but sometimes things no longer serve their purpose. They have to be retired. Put out to seed. Or simply left in the garage to rust.

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Me after Caussade Cyclo-Club Ride No. 1

*For more cycle stories plus other exciting anecdotes of my five years in France, take a look at A Man in France: a series of offbeat journal entries, short anecdotes, observational pieces and travel articles from the dark side of the wheel of camembert. Available in ebook or paperback format. Click photo to order.

brand-new-cover                                                    Paperback

cover image                                                       Ebook

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Seasons, Writing and Books

275 – EIBAB

november-blog-final

It’s November. So it’s time to start thinking about Christmas…

I’m in Auty again. Holed up deep in the French countryside and about as far away from Christmas shopping scrumdowns and sloshed-on-sherry carol singers, as Icarus was from reaching the Sun. If indeed that’s where he was going.

I’m not going anywhere. Here for the silence. A special upgrade on my platinum gold card supplied by Mothernature Corp, a reward for a million hours of driving noisy holidaymakers around the Dordogne all summer. Time to cool off. Wake up to the sound of nothing every morning. The closest to what you’d hear I guess if you were dead. No cars, planes, people, dogs, mopeds, toads, mosquitos, or flies. Just a big cat. And he doesn’t say much, except a low pitched meow when I burn his kippers.

Christmas is great here. Everything stops. There’s no harvesting going on because there’s nothing to harvest. There’s no ploughing because you can’t plough frozen fields. Time to sit back and celebrate the season. And what better way than going down to the Caussade Monday Market and getting drunk on brandy at half-ten in the morning while stocking up on cheese, pork bellies, cabbage, wildfowl, potatoes, and ham. Plus a couple of crates of gut rotting Domaine des Ganapes for a Euro a litre from up the road in Realville.

We make our tree from conifer fronds under which we put our presents. Five each. Five for me. Five for Elizabeth. Then we get on with the eating, watch MXC (Muppets Xmas Carol), eat again and then crack open the Ganape. Toilet roll on standby. The perfect Christmas.

It would be therefore discourteous if I didn’t offer my own Christmas gift in the form of EIBAB. Or The Annual Blogley Books November Sale – TABBNS for short. This year we have two choice offerings on sale. Offerings I’m sure the three kings would have enjoyed on their long trip east.

  1. cover imageA Man in France – My lively, philosophical insight into 21st century France through the eyes of a cheese loving, wine snorting Englishman. A journey through the lesser known parts of the Republique. The dour plains of Poitou-Charentes, desolate Queaux, featureless Arcachon, crumbling Souillac, fog shrouded Auty. As well as some sharp and witty observations on the more well known cities of Lyon and Bordeaux.

  2. cover image3The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (Short Stories) – A bold leap into the plodding twilight world of the dead end job. The postal depot, the chain restaurant, the retail unit, the discount store, the office space, the factory floor. Those terrifying social landscapes inhabited by dreamers, do-gooders, yes-men, romantics and the deluded. The sort of people you’d rather shoot than speak to.

Both books are at a special EIBAB price of £0.99 for the ebook (compatible with all Kindles, tablets and smartphones). Or £3.99 (+p&p) for the paperback version (compatible with old fashioned eyes).

Get them while you can from BLOGLEY BOOKS: HERE.

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Italy, Writing and Books

274 – Jehovah’s Witnesses in Serramonacesca

It’s 10.38 am and I’m lying in bed fast asleep after attending the Night of the Dead carnival in Serramonacesca where I’m currently staying. I’m asleep because of the oceans of red wine consumed at the party. The party consisting of the whole village turning off their lights, putting candles and pumpkins outside their doors and getting smashed on Vina Cotta, a kind of port tasting sherry.

This is why I’m asleep. Perfectly happy in my dreams, my head on a soft pillow, my body spread out on the Italian linen like a man who’s died in his sleep. Relaxed. Content. In Southern Italy. In the mountains. What could possibly go wrong?

Knock knock knock!

I’m ejected from my dreams like I’ve been thrown out of an aircraft, hitting the solid concrete on some abandoned wasteland in Essex with a huge splat.

‘Hello?’ I say opening the door, almost gagging into the prayer book a young man of about 17 is shoving in my face.

He smiles at me pleasantly like a young boy seeing his mother after the first day at school. Kind, caring, affectionate. I look to my right, straining my eyes against the sun which is boring into my head like a raygun. Another boy. Younger, 13 perhaps, smiling, standing smartly dressed in white shirt and black trousers as though waiting for a medal. To his right is another, older, a lot older, maybe 50, looking divinely at the two boys like a shepherd watching his sheep.

‘You’re a bit late for Trick-or-Treat,’ I want to say. ‘About 12 hours in fact, but I’ve got some half opened Montepulciano if you want a slug on that?’

But I don’t say it. Instead my mind is working. Who the hell are these people? And then I get it. Of course. How utterly stupid of me. I’m halfway up a mountain on an old pig farm that’s been converted into a campsite. Who else should I have expected? Campers? Climbers? Walkers? The obvious choice. But no. I should have guessed. The old JWs right there on my doorstep.

The older of the two boys smiles at me. ‘Were you sleeping?’ he says in perfect English.

‘No,’ I lie. ‘I was reading.’

‘Are you OK?’ he then asks looking concerned.

‘I’m fine,’ I say. ‘I was only drinking strong wine till three o’clock in the morning. Apart from that I’m fine.’

I look at him blankly and realise his prayer book isn’t a prayer book at all. It’s an iPad.

‘Can I show you a short video?’ he says arching towards me.

This is crazy. ‘Sure!’ I want to say. ‘Why don’t we get it on the big screen. What have you got? Trading Places. Airplane. Rocky. Rambo?’

But I don’t because it’s at this point that I decide to end it. I’m not a man for slamming doors in people’s face. I’ve had that myself trying to sell Scottish Gas door-to-door on a council estate in Plymouth in 2002.

I tell him I’m not well and touch my head. But he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a hangover and forces the iPad in my face again.

‘I’m alright, mate,’ I say sounding like Don Logan from Sexy Beast and close the door in his face. Gently.

I then tell Elizabeth and we laugh loudly listening to them walk off up to the next house about four miles up the road. A family of devout Catholics. Talk about a wasted trip.

It’s funny because at about this time last year, I wrote about the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Caussade Monday Market in South-Western France (Blogley Post 241) and how unusual it was to see them there. But here. Up a mountain. On a campsite in Southern Italy on 1st November, All Saints Day. You couldn’t have made it up.

Well actually you could. All of it.

In a thousand years people will be knocking on the door of my descendents reading out sections from Book II, Verse 34, Drinks Please, taken from The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (my own collection of short stories). Although of course it won’t be called The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd anymore. It’ll be called The Bible.

You may laugh. But that’s how these things get started. Some buffoonish Englishman writes a book and years later people start believing it. Taking stories that were purely fictional, for the absolute truth. The word of God.

Waking people like me up at quarter to eleven in the morning to retell some ridiculous story written centuries ago. All because they need a few more good guys to help them fight Satan. When everybody knows if you want to fight the armies of darkness, you summon up Gandalf and Viggo Mortensen. It’s in the book by that buffoonish Englishmen, JRR Tolkien. Everybody knows that.

My advice to you people is this (and it applies to all religions/cults/sects):

GO HOME AND STOP WASTING MINE AND EVERYBODY ELSE’S TIME. I’M NOT INTERESTED. THANK YOU AND GOOD BYE!

*The Bible is available from Blogley Books now. Click here.

(In memory of my great friend Stan Mellema who hated all of this stuff as much as I do – See you in hell Stansislav!!)

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The French, Writing and Books

273 – Three Recent Books

hemming-book-cover

 Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

This is the book everybody told me I should read. Well I finally read it and immediately wanted to move to Paris. Why not? I thought. I already live in France, speak the language, have a bank account, so a move wouldn’t be that difficult – I could do it tomorrow.

I’ve been to Paris twice in my life. Once as a schoolboy and once as an adult two years ago (see Blogley in Paris). I really enjoyed it I have to say. Spending a few days wandering the streets doing nothing in particular. I didn’t even see the sights. I’d already seen them as a schoolboy and remembered the crowds. Queuing for hours and hours to walk up the Eiffel Tower even though I was terrified of heights.

But could I live there? That’s the question. The answer is yes. Of course, I could live there. Why not? I’ve lived in worse places. Bracknell for one. True, I probably couldn’t afford to live there and have money left over for sitting in cafes eating oysters and drinking white wine like Hemingway. (Montauban near Toulouse where I currently live is more my budget. Confit du canard + 50cl pitcher of red wine – 10 Euros.) But I could find a way.

I thought the book was great. Very simple, very direct, very real. By the end I knew Paris, but without an expanse of unnecessary detail that would have made the city complex and inaccessible. For much of the book I was there too, sitting in cafes, arguing with poets, conversing with writers, watching my money, drinking, walking the streets, while at the same time giving myself a chance at writing in this splendid city. Hemingway suggests that if you can’t write here, you’ll be hard pressed to write anywhere. It’s probably not true, but it might be.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The end of the world has always fascinated me. This stark and yet beautiful notion that you’re (finally) alone. No one to tell you what to do. No one to hurt you. No bills to pay. Free sweets.

Of course, it rarely turns out like that. There are always others out to steal your candy. Other humans, other animals, other aliens (depending on the genre). But the idea still holds huge fascination for readers and writers alike. I even tried it myself, once writing a story called The Final Memoirs of the Last Man on Earth. Rather Back-to-the-Futureish comic book fare I admit, full of clichés like ‘Finally he was able to drink as much beer as he wanted – if he could find it.’ But I enjoyed writing it all the same, and if I hadn’t introduced a cat into it, it might have gone somewhere. As it was, it fell away after the opening paragraphs and I scrapped it after 2000 words.

Point is I love this idea and when you add into this well-trodden narrative a writer as good as McCarthy, it’s going to be good. And it was. Too good almost and one of those books where you wonder why anyone else bothers to write. If you haven’t read it, I suggest reading it, even if you’ve watched the film. You might have Viggo Mortensen imprinted in your head all the way through, but he’s not a bad actor to have in the title role. Imagine if they’d cast Colin Farrell?

Ian McEwan – The Children’s Act

I read this immediately after The Road and while I really enjoyed it, McCarthy, in this instance, knocked him for six. It’s not that Children’s Act was bad, it’s a fine book about the decisions a High Court judge has to make and the consequences they have on her own life. It’s just that The Road was so good. So raw, so stripped, so full of emotion, so intimate. The simple story of father and son played out on the most terrifying stage of all. The end of the world.

I read these books one after the other just because they happened to be on the shelf of the place where I’m staying at the moment. I’ve just started reading Point Omega by Don Delillo. A book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Tough competition though Donny boy. Good luck on that.

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Places, Sport, The French, Writing and Books

264 – Souillac: A small town in France

The rain is beating down today like a baton hitting an English football supporter. Hard raps against my window as I look out over a waterlogged road. When it’s sunny here, it’s as good as anywhere. When it’s raining, it’s like North Wales. Grey skies that look like they’re going to fall on you like a tonne of slate. I should know, I grew up there. Oswestry to be precise. Technically English, but Welsh at some point in its Godforsaken past.

There’s a football match on Thursday night involving the two teams (and supporters later on I’m sure). I haven’t got any Welsh ancestry, but I can’t help hoping they’ll win. For the simple reason that England teams are rubbish considering the players and money they have. They pick the wrong players in the wrong positions and think they’re going to win by right because, like all the folk back home supporting the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, there’s still an Empire. We then lose and look for someone else to blame. Normally the Russians. Or the French. Or in the case of the recent violence, both.

I used to watch Forest vs. Leeds at the City Ground when I lived in Nottingham and could never decide who I wanted to win. I’m from Leeds and have supported them since I was a kid. On the other hand, I’ve always liked Forest because of Brian Clough and the great European Cup winning sides of ’79 and ’80. Plus I lived there for nine great years as a student and musician in the 90s.

Sitting in the City Ground waving my red or white flag depending on if I was in the Home or Away ends, I always wanted a draw, with perhaps Leeds nicking a last minute winner in injury time. As it happened Forest won every time, so I always left a little bit gutted, but not as much as if they’d lost to Chelsea or Man Utd – or Derby.

I started writing this post to advertise my latest short film on the little French town where I live and got sidetracked by football and the weather. Two of my favourite subjects, or so I’m told by the hoteliers who I work with here. As though they don’t exist in this part of France.

‘Weather? We don’t have that here. Just blank skies and breezeless days. And as for football. Pah! Nothing to do with us. Only Rugby here.’

Which is why Souillac hasn’t really entered into the spirit of the tournament. There’s a board outside the Grand Hotel next to the Plat du Jour board that reads Match du Jour. One reads France vs. Romania, the other Confit du Canard.  Today is Tuesday, the France game was last Friday, so maybe that’s all I’m going to get during these Euros. A five-day old football match and a plate of reheated duck.

Enjoy the film

More films @ https://blogley.com/blogley-films/

Books @ https://blogley.com/blogley-books/

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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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Places, Writing and Books

259 – Blogley in Souillac

 

Where is Souillac and why am I here? Good question.

Over previous summers, I’ve taught English to earn a few coins. This year I wanted to do something different. Mainly because I’ve retired from teaching, as I was starting to feel self righteous, and I didn’t want to become one of those people who think teaching is the most gratifying job on the planet. It isn’t. It’s tedious and boring and I’ve had enough. Good. I’ve got that out of the way.

Enter life as a holiday rep in the Dordogne. Ferrying folk around from hotel to hotel, giving cycling and canoeing lessons, and dealing with fuming Basil Fawlty type hoteliers.

‘But surely Phil, isn’t that a bit of a step down? Isn’t that what you do in your twenties? Shouldn’t you be thinking of a career?

The answer to all those questions is NO. If I’d wanted a career, I’d have spent my twenties saying ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ to people I didn’t like waiting to get promoted or fired. Now 42, I’ve luckily avoided that phase, and as a result can pick and choose what I do with my precious time. This summer, it’s being a holiday rep in the Dordogne. Next summer, I might be wearing a kangaroo outfit in a circus in St. Petersburg.

I’ve never done this type of work before, so I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I once worked for a festival company driving and managing a burrito stall over a summer. I guess it’s going to be similar. Only this time I’ll be driving around holidaymakers and canoes instead of boxes of canned chili con carne and tortilla wraps.

Truth is, these types of jobs are like jigsaws. Once you get a few pieces in place – reading a map, telling the time, buying hoteliers bottles of pastis (in this case)  – the rest usually falls into place. Even the tricky leafy woodland part, where all the greens look the same, eventually becomes clear. Unless you’re really bad at them and your beautiful Turner landscape ends up looking like the vomit stained carpet of an inter city nightclub. In which case, it’s probably best to go back to teaching. Or cleaning toilets (of a nightclub?).

So that’s you all filled in. Updated and ready for another chapter of Blogley. Another chapter of A Man in France, which of course you can buy from Blogley Books.cover image

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Places, Seasons, Sport, The French, Writing and Books

257 – Blogley Rolls On…And On…And On

I once watched a Status Quo documentary entitled Roll On…And On…And On. They kept going on tour because they didn’t know any other way of life. In two weeks I’ll be on the road again. This time to Souillac, about 100km north of here, in the Dordogne. Why? Well, Elizabeth and I are going to be spending the summer giving cycling and canoe tours to holiday folk.

It’s very difficult to know whether this is the right line I’m taking. The line of constantly moving around, doing lots of different jobs while trying to forge a writing career. I’ve lost count of the amount of places I’ve lived in and the jobs to go with it. But it’s probably well over a 100 now.

I have friends and family who’ve stayed in the same job all their lives in the same town. I can’t imagine that life. Not because that life wouldn’t be good – it probably would – but simply because never having led that life, it’s hard to envisage what it’d be like, if you get my drift.

In fact I sometimes wonder what it’d be like to live in the same town where I grew up, do the same job week in, week out, playing footy on a Sunday, downing pints on a Saturday night with the same people I played tiddlywinks with at school. I can see a version of myself in that life, a murky dreamscape of a life in Leeds. But then it vanishes and I’m back to where I am. Which is normally stuck out in the middle of nowhere in France.

The truth is though, going to another town to do another job seems as natural as eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. Even if my cycling colleagues in the Caussade Cyclo Club think it’s totally whacked out to eat eggs for breakfast. A long discussion then ensues over the benefits of the croissant versus the fry-up until they eventually come round to the realisation that they are wrong and I’m right, and we finally get to go cycling.

I’m not quite sure how I arrived in this state of transience (and Elizabeth neither), but we did, and while it’s sometimes unsettling, it’s become a way of life. I recently posted on Twitter (@Blogley1) the following:

I’d never used the term travel writer before, but seeing as I move around a lot and I write quite a lot, the term travel writer seemed appropriate. I had a moment of doubt as to whether I deserved the title, until I concluded that I can call myself whatever I like. ‘Travel writing as you’ve never seen it before…’ it says on the back of my book. So what the hell!

This period in Auty in southwest France has been the best housesit we’ve done. But I think it’s as far as we can take the looking after other people’s houses malarky. We’ve had loads of time to think. It’s been free. I’ve managed to write three books, two of which I’ve published. The other, my novel, is still being worked on. However, the novelty has worn off a bit and it’s time to embark on other things. Like taking canoe and cycle trips in the Dordogne, for example.

I’ve never done it before, but it sounds great, and I even get paid for it. And I can write about it too. I’m thinking the Man in France series might outlast Status Quo. Why not?

A Man in France celebrates his 70th birthday on a canoe in the Dordogne.

 

A Man in France cycles across the Massif Central on a tricycle aged 80.

 

A Man in France flies across the Pyrenees in a paper airplane aged 100…

 

I’ve realised these past few years that I’m capable of more things than I thought I was.  And so on we go to Souillac…and on…and on.

 

phil in country

A MAN IN FRANCE

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Blogley, Writing and Books

254 – A Man in France

cover imageAfter the phenomenal success of my short story collection, The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (or TSOMT), there’s been quite a few enquiries as to where The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France went to.

For those in the dark, The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France (or TRROMIF) were my favourite blog posts shoehorned into a book and flogged on the open market.

Some people (who’ll remain nameless) argued it was a bit cheap, shoddy even, charging for a book that was blatantly ripped off a free-to-read blog, albeit his own.

I agreed with them. It was shoddy. But you’ve got to try these things for God’s sake! And anyway, you try navigating round four and a half years of a man’s life on an old PC with a slow internet connection. Not easy, huh? Best pay for the pleasure of it being nicely bound up in a book for your consumption. Think of the cost as a service charge.

The truth is, I originally did it for my own pleasure, a sort for personal memento. A souvenir, in case I died and didn’t have anything to show for it.

Luckily I lived, so I decided to sell it, calling it The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France, for no other reason than it was quite ridiculous. It sold quite well. But then my subscription to the e-selling website ran out and I decided to pull it off the market.

However, I can now proudly announce that TRROMIF is back and completely updated to include my adventures in Bordeaux, The Arcachon Basin and South West France. 71 rip-roaring journal entries, anecdotes, observational pieces and travel articles spanning four and a half classic years in France.

If you’re planning to renovate a farmhouse in Provence, or set up a cheese farm in the Ariege, this isn’t the book for you. If you’re looking for something a little more offbeat, unique even, this is it.

Informative, rich and at times quite bizarre, this is travel writing as you’ve never seen it before. And better still, it’s not called TRROMIF any more – too long. Simply AMIF. A Man in France.  Available as an ebook or paperback (click links to order).

Ebook (£1.99)

Paperback (£4.99)

Or visit Blogley Books

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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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Writing and Books

250 – A Final Word on The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd

To celebrate 250 posts of Blogley, I’m pleased to announce that there is now a paperback version available of The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd. This is probably the last time I will talk on the subject, so if you have no idea what The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is, read this:

The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a collection of 24 stories by Philip Ogley influenced by 15 years of dreadful jobs, strange adventures and extraordinary people. A madcap journey through the modern world featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more bizarre tales taking you on a fascinating trip through the curious imagination of the author. Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

To order the print version click below:

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To order the ebook version, click below:

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Writing and Books

249 – Why Kindles Are Great!

I never thought I’d buy or use a Kindle. I once ran a secondhand bookshop and have always loved the ancient feel of books. So it came as a shock to me this Christmas when I opened my stocking Santa had brought me and found a Kindle tucked away next to a satsuma. Since then, it’s been great. Here’s why:

1. When I write a story (or any prose), I can send it to the Kindle and read it instead of printing it out. I can’t proofread on a computer – my eyes go blurred – so this is a valuable aid. Sounds geeky and boring, but true.

2. I can read French books and look up tricky words quickly. Lazy perhaps, but incredibly useful.

3. I live in the middle of nowhere in rural France. If I want to read any book, I can. Again, useful.

4. I move around a lot. I have limited space. Books weigh shit loads. Obvious point.

5. I can read in the dark. No more reading under the covers with a torch! (‘You’re not at school, Oggers!’) OK, good point, but what I mean is, you don’t need the light on to read in bed, which might disturb other people around you (partners, children, dogs, cats etc…).

I’m not giving the thumbs up to Amazon, in the same way I wouldn’t give the thumbs up to Bill Gates or Dell Corporation, just because I use their operating systems or laptops. I’m simply stating a fact. The Kindle is a good invention, partly because it isn’t a tablet, which means you actually read and learn something, rather than wasting your time surfing the internet.

Anyway as I said, this isn’t a plug for Amazon. But it is a plug for my book, which in case you’ve forgotten goes something like this (extract from the Amazon website):

“The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a collection of 24 stories by Philip Ogley influenced by 15 years of dreadful jobs, strange adventures and extraordinary people. A madcap journey through the modern world featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more bizarre tales taking you on a fascinating trip through the curious imagination of the author. Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

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Places, Writing and Books

248 – The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd: A Short History

I first started writing short stories in 2003, the result of my six part sitcom, Crushed Soup, being rejected by the BBC comedy department. Gutted by their total lack of vision and foresight, I decided to shun script writing and pen short stories instead.

The first one I wrote, Capital Household, was about a father who ran his house like a business, employing his children to do chores in return for food and water. If they refused, or were sick, no dinner!

I sent it off to the Bridport Prize thinking it would win, such was the simplicity and brilliance of the story. It didn’t. Not even a mention.

However, not too perturbed, I wrote another story, and another and another. Two years later, living in an old house in Starcross near Exeter, I had the idea of putting them together into a collection. Maybe ten stories and call it The Road to Starcross. I even had a cover, a picture of me at the railway station in the village.

I did nothing with it and instead went off to waste a year studying writing in Falmouth. A year when I could have been writing more stories for my book, instead of listening to lectures about writing. But such is the mind of a thirty year old who’s only just started shaving.

After Falmouth, working as a postman in Bristol, I continued writing stories, but totally forgot about the collection idea. When I moved to France in 2011 to schlep my ass around Lyon as an English teacher, my short story writing career was in effect over, as the only thing I wrote during this period was this blog – see Blogley posts 1 to 113.

The idea only resurfaced last year when I started writing some new stories. I enjoyed it and after some coaxing from Elizabeth’s mum and Elizabeth herself, I decided to rekindle the idea and publish it as a Kindle (book). Why not, I thought? Every other fucker is doing it! The Road to Auty (where I now live), perhaps? As a kind of belated homage to Starcross.

In 2005, I had about 20 stories written. Ten years later in 2015, I had about 120. I couldn’t publish them all, the reader would die of boredom by number 31, so it was a case of narrowing the list down to 20 or 30. This was the difficult part. I wanted a balance of old and new, straight and weird, funny and sad. I had all of these, but which ones should I leave out? Some were too personal, some were too nuts, some were simply rubbish.

I got my longlist down to 40 and started re-editing them. This took ages. Ten years ago, I found writing incredibly difficult. I still find writing incredibly difficult, but back then it showed and the old stories needed a lot of work.

By mid January 2016, I had a short list of 25 for the final collection, which I cut down to 24 the day before my self-imposed deadline of 1st February.

I decided not to use The Road to Auty as the title for the book in the end as it sounded silly. Instead plumping for the much saner sounding title of The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd. Hope you enjoy it.

Drinks Please! (2004)
The East Street Massacre (2008)
The Need to be Nice (2015)
The 25th Bookshop Escape Plan (2003)
Smokers World (2005)
Lunar Whites (2015)
The Merrill Diet (2004)
The Supermarket (2006)
Reality At Last (2015)
The World’s Greatest Writer (2007)
Lotto (2009)
Shop Until You Drop (2003)
The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd (2006)
Six (2005)
The Mailman Milkman Affair (2010)
Four Knots and Back (2005)
The Last Christmas Tree On Earth (2010)
Paperweight (2005-6)
The Great American Bookshop (2009)
The World Famous Señor Domingo (2005)
The Writing Room (2009)
The Final Supermarket Trip of Jesus of Nazareth (?)
Postman Bastard (2007)
Where’s the Fish? (2008)

The book is available as a Kindle download. Click the cover below to buy it.

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Blogley, Writing and Books

247 – The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd and Other Stories

The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is a bizarre and enjoyable journey featuring an unforgettable cast of characters in some of the strangest situations imaginable. An angry postman in Bristol. An elderly couple addicted to bad French food. A boxing match on a cricket square between two public servants. A very unhealthy freezer shop in rural Devon. A wino who lives in a bandstand with a guy called Jeff. The hapless romantic who buys a 40-tonne boulder for his wife as a birthday present. The man trapped in a bookshop over Christmas. The holidaymaker who takes sunbathing to the extreme. Plus many more, taking you on a fascinating journey through the curious imagination of me, Philip Ogley.

Nomadic, zany, poignant and funny. The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd is definitely worth a read in any weather. (Just don’t leave your sunbed at home.)

Click on the sidebar or below to buy your copy.

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Film, Writing and Books

246 – Book Publication: The Sunbed of Malcolm Todd

Despite being very busy writing the final draft of my collection of short stories, I found the time to film this short public announcement about the forthcoming book.

 

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The French, Writing and Books

244 – L’étranger

camus

“Aujourd’hui maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile : ‹‹Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués›› Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier.”

The first paragraph of L’étranger, a book I read years ago after finding it in a pile of my maternal grandfather’s belongings after his death.

Since then I’ve read it three times at different stages in my life, and each time been mesmerised by it. The haunting routines of the protagonist Meursault. His functional lifestyle and lack of concern about anything, even the death of his mother. A man whose days, routines, acquaintances, family, work, hold little or no value.

Je me suis fait cuire des œufs et je les ai mangé à même le plat, sans pain parce que je n’en avais plus et que je ne voulais pas descendre pour en acheter.”

(I cooked some eggs for myself and ate them out of the pan without bread because I’d run out and couldn’t be bothered to go downstairs to buy some.)

I keep coming back to this line. It sums up the character. The minimum is always done. Eating the eggs out of the pan is enough. He would like some bread with the eggs – he is hungry, we know this – but he lets it pass. It’s not important.

The book continues in this style for its 182 pages almost devoid of description, which I like. I’m drawn into Meursault’s world, a world free from unnecessary distraction. He lives in his mother’s flat (his mother is in a home two hours away), he goes to work in an office, he smokes, he reads, he goes swimming, he has occasional sex, he goes to the cinema. All without feeling particularly anything for any of them.

The reason for this post is that Elizabeth very kindly bought me the French version for Christmas, having only previously read it in English. I was excited. I can speak and read French, but I’m not proficient. If ever I was going to start reading French novels, this was it.

I had started reading Saint Exupery’s Courrier Sud over the summer, but had got lost somewhere in his ramblings about his lost love Genevieve. I’d actually read the book in English years ago, and remembered it was pretty boring then, so a bad choice. L’étranger on the other hand was a guaranteed winner so I embarked on it on Christmas Day just after our traditional Christmas lunch of poached egg on toast (we had stuffed Turkey later).

I was engrossed from the start:

Mother died today. Or perhaps yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the home: “Mother dead. Funeral tomorrow. Yours faithfully.” It means nothing. It was yesterday.

And from here the story unfurls. A story of how a man should react to the death of his mother. A man overcome by grief, crushed by the loss, unable to partake in normal life. But this is not the case. Meursault gets on with life from the very first day. He goes swimming, goes to the cinema, has sex. It’s these small, almost irrelevant, actions that are ultimately Meursault’s downfall.

There is another strand to my quiet obsession with this book. When I was eight, I too was told that my mother had died. Not through a telegram, by my father. I remember the time, the place, the day, even the weather (overcast and warm), as though it was yesterday. And yet, like Meursault, life carried on as though nothing had happened.

I understand Meursault completely. I am (or at least was) him, an outsider looking in on the world. Indifferent to events around me and happy to plod along doing whatever is necessary to get through it. Murray Smyth, my housemaster at school, who I mentioned in Blogley 242 saw this. Describing me one afternoon as I was busy minding my own business away from everybody else, as insular. I didn’t know what it meant at the time so I looked it up: ‘Island like’, was part of the definition that stuck in my head. ‘Island like,’ I thought. ‘Like a boarding school.’ I didn’t understand the meaning of irony at the time either.

I think differently now. I’m not separated from other people or cultures, new or different ideas. I enjoy life and the world. I enjoy chopping wood, lighting fires, running, cycling, books, languages, food, animals, fresh air. I even like other people. But there’s part of me that can’t help thinking like, or wanting to be, Meursault. The Outsider.

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Places, Seasons, Writing and Books

240 – The Road to Auty

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I’m a resident of Auty, a village 80 kms north of Toulouse on the border of the Tarn et Garonne and Lot départements. I’m looking after a château and a cat for the winter with Elizabeth. Two weeks ago it was 24 degrees, now it’s 2. I’m sitting in the château writing and I can barely see the end of the drive because of the fog.

This is classic rural France in winter. Vintage in fact. To my right I can see the blue swimming pool that looks about as inviting as smashing my gonads together with bricks. I’ve swum in the sea in Cornwall in winter and in the upper reaches of the Ardeche in April. That was cold, I even got in three times to remind myself how cold it was. I take cold showers every morning, but I can’t bring myself to swim in the pool. And I don’t have much time left as it’s soon going to be covered up once I’ve finished fishing out all the leaves.

There are no pool duties here as such, we’re really just here for security. Watching out for intruders and for leaks and burst pipes. Making sure the mice and weasels don’t make off with the chocolate and biscuit supplies. Or gnaw through the cables and wires that will plunge this 17th château into darkness for days. Without the moon here at night, it’s one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. Like being in a cave where you can’t see your hand.

The scariest place is the boiler room, which is in the basement. Here you can still see the 12th century foundations on which the current château is built on. There’s a tunnel that leads down even further into the ground. I don’t know where it goes and I don’t intend to find out. I’m le gardien not Indiana Jones.

If you were reading this when I lived in Queaux on the farmhouse (see posts 114 through to 164), it’s a similar set-up, except that it’s like the Super Size option in a fast food joint. We’ve upgraded from House Sit Lite to the Super Deluxe. Instead of four bedrooms to sleep in, we’ve got a choice of fifteen. Before one kitchen to cook in, now we’ve got three. Two bathrooms to bathe in, now we’ve got eight. A small skylight to admire the surrounding countryside from, now we’ve got a turret. A small patio for barbecues, now we’ve got a terrace the size of a tennis court. And on and on.

If you’ve read Les Grandes Meaulnes by Alain Fournier that I talked about in Blogley 187 and 189, it’s like the Lost Estate described in the book. All my childhood memories are here: Woods, fires, chopping logs, foggy fields, cycling along deserted roads, cooking, long sleeps, hot chocolate, fresh air. No school. Perfect.

I’ve got some serious writing to do here. A project I started back in 2004 when I lived in Devon, in Starcross, a village near Exeter up the Exe estuary. I even called it The Road to Starcross. Since then it’s grown and I’m not sure what I’m going to call it now. I thought about The Road to Auty but that sounds ridiculous, so I need to think about it some more. I’ll keep you posted from the turret…

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Animals, Places, The French, Writing and Books

238 – Blogley in France Part V

By this time next week I’ll be back in France. Where I’ll remain until I die. A wild slashing overly melodramatic statement I know (and almost certainly false) but a forceful way to sum up how much I am looking forward to returning – I’ve even renamed the blog and done a new logo to mark the occasion, and I’m not even there yet. (Still in rain soaked Wiltshire.)

The best part though is the thought of having a permanent bed to sleep in for longer than a week. Over the past four months I’ve had to share my dreams with residential language schools, mud clogged campsites, greasy canal tow paths, patient parents and the threadbare sofas of friends. So it’ll be nice to be finally static after travelling around like some ragged salesman flogging cheap English lessons for glasses of warm lager and diced cabbage. To finally have a place where I can once again concoct my ass blowing curries, cement my cheese/potato top-heavy fish pies into cracked ceramic dishes, kneed and bake my crusty, hard, doughy, luxurious bread rolls. And most of all cook my breakfasts exactly the way I like them – two pieces of fried black pudding topped with two large fried eggs accompanied by fried bacon, fried sausages, fried bread. No beans or tomatoes, washed down with 5 cups of strong thick coffee. Heart food, ready for another five months of chopping logs in rural France in winter.

Yes, at last, me and Elizabeth are heading off on another house sitting caper, this time to the ‘wilds’ of Tarn and Garonne in South West France near Montauban to look after a Château and a cat until next April. It’s the 4th house sit we’ve done and to be frank we could have gone anywhere in Europe this time, inundated as we were by offers in Spain, Morocco, Switzerland and Paris to name a few.

So many in fact that I suddenly realised as I scrolled down the emails, that I’ll never have to pay rent again. I haven’t paid a cent for the last three years, I thought, so why start now. In fact the whole idea of paying rent seems totally ludicrous. Especially when I can live in large country houses and castles for free. Or log cabins in Arcachon. Or sleepy French cottages in Aude. My only regret is that I never thought of it earlier. Like when I was twenty! Instead of handing over my hard earned cash (or my dad’s cash) to greasy, B&H puffing landlords. Since I left home in 1992, I’ve worked out that I’ve forked out about £30,000 in rent. When all the time I could have been living for fuck all. Agghhh! Of course, there wasn’t internet 20 years ago, but I bet there were adverts for house sitters in newspapers and magazines. Probably my fault for buying electric guitar magazines throughout my twenties instead of HouseSits4U…

A naysayer of a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago that house sitting is in actual fact just glorified serfdom, looking after the homes of the rich. There is a grain of truth in that for sure. But no more, I told him, than being a slave to the banks in the form of monthly mortgage payments or credit card bills. And seeing as our job at the château entails looking after a sleepy cat, turning a few lights on and off, sweeping up leaves, and generally keeping an eye on the place, it’s hardly penal servitude. Far from it as I plan to write four books, a stage play and produce a full length feature film based on Blogley.

Joking aside ( I wasn’t joking about the film though – it’s happening!), house sitting is just another way of living. And one that I happen to enjoy. As I’ve mentioned countless time before, I support the theory that humans are naturally nomadic creatures and not house dwellers. Even if on this occasion, a 17th century French château is going to have to act as my cave for the winter. Naturally after this assignment is over, I’ll be going back to my roots and moving to the Sahara to live with the camels. In the meantime though, I’m going to have to make do with a five star château, from where I’ll be regularly updating my progress in Blogley in France Part V*.

*Click on the ladder styled sidebar icon at the top right hand corner of the page for further posts. There’s lots! Loads in fact! Too many most likely. Unless you’re reading this from prison or hospital, in which case you should have loads of time to wade through four years of Blogley! Or check out the short films in the film section!

bloglery in france

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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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Places, Writing and Books

232 – The Flatlands of Dartmoor

This week I find myself on Dartmoor for the first time in my life. I lived in Exeter and Plymouth for a combined total of five years and never once roamed these moors. Instead preferring the coast path to this bleak barren two dimensional landscape rolling out in front of me.

I say two dimensional because as I was walking yesterday I was unsure at times as to whether I was walking up or down. There were no visible indicators, no trees, fences, crags, or ravines, to show any change in gradient. As though the landscape itself lacked the dimension of depth. It reminded me of Edwin Abbot’s 1883 novella Flatland in which there is no ‘up or ‘down’. Just forward and back, left and right.

Dartmoor is very British. Nothing too fancy. Just your basic mountain. No high peaks, deep ravines, precipitous cliffs, gushing rivers. A few stones or poles to show the way. None of that glamorous Dolomites or Picos de Europa stuff with all those clever pyramidal peaks and plunging gorges.

I doubt I’ll be asked to write the next Dartmoor tourist guide. But then again I wouldn’t want to. And if I did I’d probably supplement it with extracts from Flatland. Which would make no sense to anybody reading it because it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Dartmoor, or hills in general. A fictional work of social satire, mathematics, philosophy and theology written under the pseudonym, A Square.

As I walked yesterday I started trying to remember what the one dimensional world was called in the book. Lineland, I finally remembered, where the only dimension is forward and back. Where everything exists on a single line with men the lines and women the dots. Where if a human existed they would have to eat and defecate through the same hole. Having two holes would mean splitting in two as there is no left or right dimension. I can’t for the life of me remember where I read this or if I was taught it somewhere, but I remember a diagram of a human living in Lineland. Something like this:

linelanderI say human, I apologise, more monster, but my skills of drawing have never been that good. But I think you get the point. The food and waste must go in and out the same hole – in this case the mouth. If the creature above had an anus, it would split in two.

The idea behind Lineland was to show a strict hierarchical society. The King is The King and no matter what you do, you can never be the King because you cannot get round or jump over. Like this:

lineland2After a day’s walking, I found myself back in the village where I’m staying with my friend Richard. Back in the house with all four dimensions restored, I started conjuring up a Reality TV show in my head where the contestants have to wander across Dartmoor for 24 hours blindfolded. A social experiment to see who would keep wandering aimlessly across the moor risking injury and possibly death in the blind hope of finding shelter. And who would simply sit down where they were dropped off, knowing that all they had to do was to wait, endure a day and night of discomfort and hunger, and then get picked up. It then might be possible to extrapolate the results into some kind of social demographic hierarchy based on the Lineland idea above.

The whole thing would probably be highly unethical. But then again, it is TV, plus it might kill off a few people who think reality TV is the path to stardom. I should know. I once auditioned for Big Brother in 2001. The thinking was that I could play my guitar on national TV and be noticed. What was I thinking, I have no idea? One morning in April I caught the train up to Birmingham from Plymouth, participated in some moronic games for an hour, came back, heard nothing and life went on. It seems ridiculous now – absurd even – but that’s what you do when you’re young. Like living in the shadow of Dartmoor for five years and not visiting it once.

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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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Audio, Blogley, Random, Writing and Books

227 – A Room With a View

I’m writing this post sitting in the bedroom I had when I was 16. Remembering the days I spent here gazing out of the window before I ever got drunk, smoked cigarettes, made love, had long hair, or grew a moustache. Before I knew anything about life.

I returned to the UK last Friday to help my parents move house and to collect my things – a seventeenth century oak chest, some books, some photos, and a guitar. I’m not returning to the country permanently, just visiting with the option of an extended stay if I fancy it. Although judging by the clogged up roads and angry looks I keep getting from people who look like they live off Pot Noodles, I suspect I might be jumping on a train back to the continent soon.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog since I returned, but have struggled to conjure up the necessary enthusiasm to put pen to paper. Being here though in the old house has generated ideas. Mainly the memories of sitting here as a blank faced sixteen year old looking out over the busy A619 that runs over the Pennines to Manchester. Remembering the cement lorries that clattered hourly along the road from the nearby quarries to build new Barrett houses in Sheffield. The buses carrying pensioners from the Dales into the city for a day out at the bingo hall. The peace and stillness of the nights when the road was empty and everybody was in bed.

Twenty five years is a long time. But I can still remember what I was wearing on that first day here. A pair of cords and a checked shirt. I know this because it’s the same as I’m wearing now. Not the same ones of course, that would be pushing it a bit, even for me. But a 32/32 pair of corduroys and a medium green checked shirt has been my standard issue attire since I discovered Burton menswear in Chesterfield town centre when I was 14.

As for possessions, I like the fact that I only have some books, some photos and a guitar. It sums up the sort of person I am. My favourite novels are the ones where nothing really happens. My favourite photos the ones where the people look dead. My favourite music the type that makes my heart beat faster than running up a steep hill.

There’s the temptation I admit to simply dump the lot into the canal and to walk out of the house with nothing. What would I actually miss? I rarely look at the photos, the books have all been read, my guitar is rarely played these days.

I’m not going to discover new things if I keep hold of the old. A person only ever has what is in their head. Everything else is superfluous. And as I can’t escape what is in my head – bar chopping it off – perhaps I should do myself a favour and not burden it with further baggage like old photos of long dead relatives and books I’ve read three or four times before.

I revised for my A-levels in this room. For months and months, day upon day copying out equations and facts from text books onto index cards and then reciting the information back to myself in the vague hope that I might remember something. It didn’t really work as I ended up at Nottingham Poly studying pesticide science.

I actually wanted to be an actor. But something went horribly wrong in the decision making process while I was at school. I think they had a careers department, but they must have been out when I dropped by. Either that or I got the wrong door and went into the one that said A Life of Drudgery instead of Stardom.

I even found my university dissertation in the pile here. That classic read: ‘The effects of adjuvants on the efficacy of cyproconazole on powdery mildew’ by Philip J Ogley. I even used the initial of my middle name as though I was some kind of technoscience guru living in Laurel Canyon in California developing new cures for madness and arrogance.

I eventually got out of agronomy and formed a band with the very guitar I’m looking at now. I also did a spot of acting as well, including one line in an episode of Peak Practice. I had to say ‘Sorry’ to a doctor. I thought I was going to get further calls from the casting agent, but never did. I was gutted too because I thought I’d executed the ‘Sorry’ line with the perfect amount of weight and tone. Not too fawning, but not too confrontational either.

But that disappointment passed and since then I’ve done a lot and travelled a lot with the road inevitably leading back to the A619 on the edge of Chesterfield. And so here I am, Philip J Ogley (science guru/actor), sorting through my things in this room for the very last time.

 

(** If you want more ‘unofficial’ Blogley, you could always tune into Alexander Velkey’s highly acclaimed Doubtcast where there is an audio Blogley about the UK education system at about 1hr 06mins 23 seconds in. Although I do recommend listening to the entire Podcast to understand the context.)

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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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Film, Random, Writing and Books

215 – Mister Guilt

On a Sunday I like to sit on the veranda and write a story. Just me and a piece of paper. The house I look after is generally empty from noon onwards, so it’s a good chance to sit down and do some solid writing.

Today’s story was about a man who had bought a large villa and yet had no need for it. He bought it because he could. It was big and expensive. He was rich. He knew as soon as he’d signed the contract that it was a mistake. He didn’t even like it, but had the deranged idea that buying it might win his wife back.

The story doesn’t matter. For now. It may appear somewhere at some point – it’s called The Castle. What does matter is that halfway through writing it – at about the time where the man is going through an alcohol induced breakdown in his huge house that he hates in the middle of nowhere – I had a block. Not a writer’s block. But a guilt block.

‘What are you doing? Can’t you spend your Sundays any more productively than writing your silly little stories, Phil? I mean no one is ever going to read them. Don’t you think you’re wasting your time? I mean who do you think you are, Charles Dickens?’

For those of you who write (or paint or create music or dance) you may be familiar with this. From somewhere out of nowhere, just as you’re enjoying yourself, storms in that demented beast of all creation, Mister Guilt. Coming over to destroy everything you’ve ever worked for.

I have a strategy for dealing with him though. Whatever I’m doing that is so silly and worthless, I double it, triple it, quadruple it. Make whatever I’m doing even more stupid, more ridiculous, more juvenile than it already was, so that Mister Guilt is simply lost for words. Then watch him run back to whatever angst ridden nightmare he lives in.

To combat him today, I decided to film myself finish the story I had started.

‘That dumb enough for you, Mister Guilt? I’m Philip ‘Oggers’ Ogley, I can do anything I want. I’m my own creation. So stick this in your fusebox and piss off.’

So that’s what I did. I got out my camera and filmed myself writing the second portion of my story, which I finished. (The owner of the Castle living happily ever after – sort of.)

The results of my experiment are below if you’re intrigued to see how I destroyed Mister Guilt. Maybe try it for yourself one day.

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Film, Food and Drink, Writing and Books

213 – Fish Pie and the Art of Writing

If I was asked what meal I’d eat before I died, I’d choose fish pie. I’d even offer to cook it, I like it that much.

I see making it as like writing a story or a book. Four or five strong characters – the fish. The peas as the bad guys. The béchamel sauce, the plot. The potato topping, the location. The grated parmesan and gruyere cheese (my personal choice), the twist. Baked in the oven for thirty minutes, it’s got the makings of a classic.

One of the reasons I like cooking this dish is the almost infinite combinations of fish you can use. Anything that lives in the sea is fair game in my book. So many strong contenders and characters.

And when you throw in all the differing variations of sauce, mashed potato and cheese, there’s literally a million ways your fish pie (or book) can end up. In fact, it’s safe to say that no two fish pies are the same. Just like a story.

The one I cooked last night wasn’t my best, I admit. Mainly because I was concentrating on filming it rather than thinking about my culinary journey.

Having all the ingredients on the table (good characters, strong plot, perfect setting, quirky twist) doesn’t necessarily make a great meal or a book. You need the passion. Your full attention. If you’re doing it half arsed then you’re going to bake a watery fishpie full of tasteless peas, tepid mashed potato, a bland filling, and a spongy topping with no twist in it whatsoever.

Writing is like fish pie. You can’t just throw it together and hope for the best. There’s no fluke in writing or cooking. If there was, everybody would be doing it. Not that anybody can’t. Far from it. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Even I can do it…

(The video below features strong fish.)

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Audio, The French, Writing and Books

205 – Harold Kynaston-Snell May Have Saved My Life

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

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

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

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

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

Whereas Kynaston-Snell seems to be saying:

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

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

Answer: Who cares.

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

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

Which in 1933 was probably all you needed to know.

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

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

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

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

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

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Random, Writing and Books

201 – What do you actually do, Blogley?

My main profession – if you can call it a profession – is Teaching English as a Foreign Language, commonly known as TEFL – a horrible word for a horrible profession.

The result of a five week course I did in Nottingham in 2000 paid for by money I earnt testing anticoagulant drugs for AstraZeneca. £1800 for 9 days in hospital where I was injected with drugs and then bled to see how long it took to clot. Continue reading

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Food and Drink, Places, Writing and Books

200 – Blogley at 200

When I started this blog I thought it would stretch to twenty or so posts about my year in Lyon. Then I would return to the UK and forget about it. Consign it to the digital graveyard.

Three and a half years later and I’m still writing it. Twenty posts has ended up as two hundred. Two hundred posts on 21st century France with plenty of my ill-thought-out wisdom thrown in for good measure. Continue reading

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Random, Writing and Books

199 – The Pool Boy

When I left Lyon and my teaching job in July 2013, I had no idea I would end up as a Pool Boy a year and a half later.

It’s not my full job title, of course. My full title is le gardiennage, which translates as warden, housekeeper, caretaker, or security guard depending on what dictionary you use. I’m all of those things and none of them, as the translation doesn’t tell the whole picture. Odd job maintenance man is better, or as I prefer, general lackey with pool duties. (I just like the word lackey for some reason.) Continue reading

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Places, Running, Writing and Books

196 – Andernos-Les-Bains

The Blogley Roadshow has moved on. Or to put it slightly less dramatically, I simply shoved a few pants into a bag and drove down the D106 to my new home in Andernos-Les-Bains on the Arcachon Basin. Famous for seafood, gentle weather and the setting for countless French films depicting well-heeled Parisiennes sitting around eating oysters, arguing and drinking wine. Continue reading

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Film, Places, Seasons, Writing and Books

192 – Blogley in Paris

Since my last visit in 1989, a lot has changed. I’m not 15. I’m 40. Which means I can enjoy the finer points of a city. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything!

For four days I hared around Paris with Elizabeth taking endless ‘rolls’ of film and drinking coarse wine. The results you can see in the video at the bottom of the page. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

189 – Le Grand Meaulnes: Review

It struck me this week after finishing Le Grand Meaulnes, how similar the book is to another great novel I read three years ago when I first arrived in Lyon. The Great Gatsby.

I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic six times over that winter before finally trekking down to a bookshop one Saturday afternoon to unearth more of his books. I liked his writing, his style, his precision and wanted to read more. 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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Places, Writing and Books

164 – The End Of Queaux

When I left Lyon fourteen months ago I wrote:

‘Tomorrow I leave this city and Blogley in Lyon will be finished’ (Blogley 113)

I wrote that because at the time I thought I’d probably ditch Blogley once I got to Queaux. I had more important things to do. A book to write for one.

But I didn’t. Didn’t have the guts to take him out into the yard and blow his brains out like an old sheepdog. I let him fight another day and renamed him TRROAMIF. Or as you’re more familiar with The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France. Continue reading

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Places, Writing and Books

162 – Blogley in Bordeaux…almost

The book sale went well. I sold three copies. But that was before The Cement Manufacturers of Great Britain nominated me for their Annual Blog award – third category, second division.

Luckily you can still buy The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France – The Book! at £3.18 by clicking on the picture to the right of this post. Of course, once I’ve won the award I’ll have to increase it to £40, so best buy now and get yourself a bargain. Plus I won’t be here for much longer. Soon it’ll be Blogley in Bordeaux and I’ll have to release another book, so you better get cracking. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

161 – The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France – The Book!

To celebrate three years of Blogley in France, I’ve ripped out the best bits and stuck them in an E-book for you to buy for the price of a pint. Currently £3.18 in the UK (average – I checked it).

Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho. Looks like another fictional Blogley: there’s no such thing as The Ridiculous Ramblings of a Man in France – The Book! What a ludicrous idea! Have you lost it?

Not quite. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

156 – Stop The Clock

ogs confolens1

I used to be a real weekend guy (above). A thoroughbred clock-watcher. A Monday to Friday work horse who believed in the sanctity of the weekend as though they were the only days that mattered. For me life began at five o’clock on a Friday evening when I walked through the factory gates and into the pub. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

155 – How I Wrote My Novel

 

At school all I wanted to do was to write stories. But my teacher thought they were silly so I gave up writing them and focused on science. Ending up fifteen years later with a Biology degree I didn’t want. After university I concentrated on music – my grandfather’s profession – playing in bands in Nottingham for a few years. In my mid-twenties I went abroad to teach English and started writing stories again. I was back where I started. It felt good. Continue reading

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Food and Drink, Writing and Books

153 – Writer’s Coffee and Cold Showers

For the past ten months I’ve been getting up early to write. To do this I’ve needed two things. Coffee and a cold shower.

I possess three stovetop Mokas as shown in the photo below.

3-Cup, 6-Cup, 12-Cup

Continue reading

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Film, Writing and Books

151 – Making Films and the Art of Writing

Some of you may have noticed over the past few days a number of homemade videos appearing here and on YouTube. There’s no real reason for this flurry of cinematographic nonsense. Except that I’ve always wanted to make a film. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

150 – The Return of the Mighty Quad

This is the title of my book. But that’s not important at the moment. What is important is the importance of editing.

When I returned from my cycle trip a few weeks ago, I was not happy with the book at all. All I could think of was ten months wasted. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

144 – Drilling for Water and the Art of Novel Writing

Writing a novel is like drilling for water: at first there’s so much material, you think you’re going to drown in it. You’re overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it swilling around you. Memories you thought you’d buried are floating past like corpses. ‘Where did these come from!’ you scream. You feel helpless and terrified. ‘What do I do with all of them? There’s so many, they just keep on coming.’

This is where the novel starts. Continue reading

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Animals, Writing and Books

143 – The Coypu and the Synopsis

I was taking a walk yesterday evening when I saw a whiskered animal plodding up the driveway. The human mind is fairly quick I think. Under normal circumstances, it can normally distinguish reality from make believe within a few minutes at most. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

137 – A Few Figures

4968 hours later, I finally finished my novel. That’s 207 days, or 29 weeks. I say finished, I mean, I finished the third draft before I was 40 (3 May). I hit my own deadline five weeks early – cool!

It’s been quite an interesting journey. In 29 weeks I’ve hardly seen or spoken to anyone. But I feel it was worth it. I’m easily distracted you see. If I was ever going to write a novel, it was here in the middle of nowhere without any disco bars or karaoke. Continue reading

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Writing and Books

130 – Time to write?

I follow a blog called 101 Books written by a guy who’s reading his way through all of Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Books since 1923 (1923 being the date Time was founded), plus Ulysses, which was published in 1922.

It’s full of books you’ve probably read or want to read. Out of the 101, I’ve read 19½. Number 19, White Noise by Don Dilillo, I read a few weeks ago. Number 18, Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, I finished in the summer. Number ½, I half read in Plymouth 14 years ago, leaving the other half in a bar. It was Ulysses. Continue reading

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Places, Writing and Books

127 – Montmorillon

The nearest town to here is Montmorillon, 25 kms away. Well known locally for its status as a Cité De L’écrit. One of fifteen such places in Europe dedicated to writing, reading and books in general. Hay-on-Wye being another of the fabled fifteen. Continue reading

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