Random, The French

239 – The Need for Bikes after Paris

I was going to write a blog today about my new bike. A 1985 gold Peugeot PK10 ‘Record Du Monde’ in almost perfect condition that I bought from a guy down the road for the princely sum of 50 sheets. But then I saw the attacks in Paris.

France is a great country. I’ve lived here for four years and continue to do so. I’ve never been scared to walk the streets and will continue not to be. However, I was in a cafe today in Montauban, a town 40 kms north of Toulouse, and for the first time in my life, felt that these things do not just happen to other people, they could actually happen to me.

‘This is real,’ I said to Elizabeth.

It’s unlikely to happen in Montauban, because Montauban, with all due respect to Montauban, is off the map, but if people can waltz into restaurants and concerts in Paris, they can do it here if they want to. Which is probably why I like living in the middle of nowhere. Just in case.

I’m not particularly political, but I do understand that the reasons for these problems go back many years and are the result of various actions by Western countries, including France. What’s to be done about it? I’ve no idea. Stop invading countries, stop being greedy, get on your bikes. Literally. (I said I wanted to write about bikes.)

Bikes don’t need much oil to operate them or make them, even less so if they are thirty years old. It would at least start to reduce our dependency on oil, which – unless you’ve lived in a cave for the past twenty years – is a big factor in this mess. And I doubt anybody, except Tony Blair and George Bush, would deny that.

Bikes won’t solve the world’s problems, but they’re fun, healthy, cheap, and don’t require foreign oil. And better than driving around in an air polluting VW Golf all day. And if you get one as sexy as this, you’ll look very cool indeed. Allez France!

PK 10

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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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Animals, Places

236 – A Four Day Walk Along The Avon Kennet Canal For Absolutely No Reason Whatsoever

There is a gap in my summer posts. In July I went for a walk along the Avon Kennet canal. I was going to write about it after I got back but forgot. Only to be reminded of it a few days ago when I found the shaky film footage of the trip on my camera. Prising the half rusted memory card out of it, I ruthlessly edited it down in a vain attempt to make it look exciting. Which was hard, as nothing happened during the entire four days. Except for a brief run in with a canal boat owner over a dog, sheltering under a bridge from the rain for two hours, and visiting a Long Barrow. The rest of the time I walked, ate, drank a few beers, and slept. Below is a short film of this epic trip.

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Food and Drink, People, Photos, Places

235 – Blogley in Marrakech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blogley in marrakech

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Places

234 – Blogley In Wingerworth

Remember the first blog post I ever wrote. Blogley in Lyon. I’ve come a long way since then. To Wingerworth in fact. A place that to my knowledge has never had a blog post written about it. Certainly not a Blogley blog post anyway.

Where is Wingerworth and why is it here? Wingerworth’s Wikipedia entry tells me that it’s three miles south of Chesterfield and 150 miles north of London. Why London has anything to do with it is probably not that baffling when you consider that the capital is ‘only’ two hours away by train for those unfortunate souls who choose to commute every day. There are lots.

Nothing has ever happened in Wingerworth – or in Chesterfield for that matter, apart from that FA Cup semi final against Middlesbrough in 1997 (lost!). But it’s peaceful enough and reminds me of Horsforth in Leeds where I grew up. Both once separate villages that were gradually enveloped by the expansion of their larger neighbours in the post war years. The 1950s, 60s and 70s housing estates slowly forming a concrete corridor between the rural farming villages and the town and city whose wealth and success were derived from mining, steel, textiles, farming and warfare – Chesterfield was once a Roman garrison. If I sound too much like a geography or history teacher, I’ll go and shoot myself immediately.

But before I do that, just let me tell you that the old lanes and paths that once connected the old farms are still here. And provide an idyllic counterpoint to the endless modern estates. Estates that are incidentally still being built. Tetra-Pak shaped houses complete with ten pence sized lawns and bedrooms as big as Ryanair toilets.

Wingerworth was mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1086 as Wingreurde meaning King’s Land, and was a community of fourteen freemen. Now it has a Spar, a Chinese take away and a hair dresser. That classic retail recipe for anybody wanting to replicate modern England in their own country. Saying that, I’m actually quite enamoured with the place and the Chinese takeaway isn’t that bad either, considering it looks about as inviting as Trowell Services near Nottingham on the M1.

(I should know, I once had to wait there for five hours trying to hitch a ride to Exeter, finally getting picked up by a guy who took me as far as East Midlands Airport. Which if you know the East Midlands (i.e. Nottingham and Derby) is a distance of about five miles. I said ‘Thanks’ when he dropped me off, but it wasn’t very sincere. I got to Exeter Cathedral Square two days later and two stone lighter: I remember walking most of it.)

So have I fallen in love with Wingreurde? Probably not. Enamoured is probably too strong a word. But it’s a nice place and the countryside south of the village is lovely and within ten minutes you can be on the wilds of Beeley Moor where I used to roam as a teenager, sneaking cans of Fosters from my father’s beer supply, wandering across the purple heather moors wondering if there was any place as beautiful as here.

Since then I’ve travelled a lot and seen many marvellous places. However, even though I’m not from Chesterfield, and have little connection with the area apart from it’s where my folks happen to live (the reason I’m here at the moment), there is something special about the moors that surround it. Whether it’s pure nostalgia from my younger years, or the natural bleakness of the place that I like, I do sometimes think that there are a lot worse places to live than Chesterfield. London for one.

*My fee from Chesterfield City Council tourist board can be paid into the following Swiss bank account. Geneva Bank, Monsieur Blogley, A/C number: 0000001. Thank you.

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Places

233 – Loch Swimming, Canal Walking, Russian Oligarchs, Cardiff Castle and Teaching in Marrakesh

Since my last post I’ve swum in a freezing cold Scottish loch, visited an utterly drab Cardiff, camped out in sub minus temperatures in North Yorkshire (in August), walked along the Avon Kennet canal for four days and four nights for no reason, read the first three Knausgaard books, taught English to Russian oligarchs who live in Geneva under Cypriot passports (très intéressant!), and been brought to my knees with a cold virus from another planet.

If I was a football manager describing his season so far, I’d describe the last three months as mixed. Mid table obscurity. No romantic cup runs. No plaudits. No prizes. No glamour. No style. A very average summer peppered with fleeting moments of joy and intrigue. Like when the Russian oligarch I was teaching told me he’s actually retired from business. A minute before charging out of the classroom on an urgent ‘business call’.

‘Your wife?’ I joked when he returned (we were on good terms by this point).

‘Ha!’ he boomed in his loudest Siberian roar, his large red mouth as big as a halved ruby grapefruit. ‘My wife never phones,’ he continued laughing. I laughed back in my loudest English roar even though I was absolutely terrified.

My return to the UK has had its moments for sure, but on the whole it’s been a big disappointment. Full of Chino Moments, referring to the time I bought a pair of new grey Beau Brummel trousers for my first school disco. And didn’t get a single dance all night. Standing in the corner for four hours clutching a flat bottle of Happy Shopper Coca-Cola waiting for someone to ask me.

Me and Elizabeth have given thought to staying here, renting a place and giving old Blighty another go. Another throw of the Britannic dice. Batten down the hatches and wait to see what the British winter brings. But after much discussion – about a minute – we’ve decided not to. (Warning: Football analogies ahead) For the simple fact that the country has underperformed. Expectations were high at the beginning of the season, but the defence has been porous, the midfield lazy, and the forward line-up greedy and wasteful. Greedy being the overriding adjective. Is there any reason the Roman Baths in Bath cost nearly fifteen quid to get in? Or Cardiff Castle,  no more than a ruin on a pile of mud, twelve. Or a three bedroom house in Chesterfield, over 300 grand. Or train tickets, 75 quid for a mere 86 miles. Or French wine in Sainsbury, 7 quid. Are you serious? Even Wimbledon was crap. And as for the weather! What was that? Summer? More like a microwaved March. Hot at the edges, cold in the middle.

The only things I’ve found cheap here are bottles of Real Ale from Aldi. Black pudding from a butcher in Aberfoyle. Two pairs of trousers from a charity shop in Neston. And a pair of second-hand Birkenstock – which I didn’t even pay for. They were given to me. I’m not the biggest shopper in the world. I try to buy nothing and spend even less, if that’s possible. Reinforcing my title as the world’s tightest man as I was once called by a university friend. Waiting around until people donate stuff to me, rather than me wasting my money buying it.

My close friend Justin recently moved to Barcelona after fifteen or so years of living in London. When I visited him in May, I hadn’t seen him so happy since the day I met him way back in Nottingham in 1997. His line to me was: ‘Phil, this is paradise!’ I replied by saying that after living London, anywhere is paradise. Talking of paradise, I’m off to Marrakesh in a few weeks time on business…

‘Business, Oggers? I thought you were a TEFL teacher. Teachers don’t go away on business.’

Well, I am. I’m going to teach at a phosphate mine for a week on a special assignment. I see myself as the James Bond of the TEFL world. A quick in and out special ops mission to teach the present perfect to a host of middle managers. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to Morocco and even though I’m not beating a path through the desert on a stolen camel, it’s better than walking along the Avon Kennet canal for half a week waiting for the work to start, as happened in July after a student cancelled at the last minute and left me homeless for four days. It was an interesting few days in the end, and I’m glad I did it. But I really wanted to work this summer, not stomp along a canal in the rain and cold of a British summer. I wanted to ponce around in my linen suit in a conference room full of students who each have their own bottle of mineral water and a company embossed pen set.

There are many things wrong with teaching English as a foreign language – students cancelling at the last minute for one and not getting paid. However, if there is one big advantage, it is – if they don’t cancel – there’s always work somewhere. Always some Russian Oligarch, Moroccan phosphate mine owner, German tyre maker, or some Swiss air conditioning magnate looking to tighten up their vowels.

So that’s been my summer. The blog continues…

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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, The French

231 – Cloud Camping in East Prawle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Places

230 – The Continuing Non Reality of Wiltshire

This week I find myself in exactly the same spot I was last week. At the residential teaching college near Bath I mentioned in my last post. Me and Elizabeth were both packing up to go camping in South Devon for the week when the boss ran over to us file in hand begging us to stay. I say begging, I mean asking whether we wanted to spend the week in a tent on an overpriced campsite in the rain. Or a week earning cash with as many cooked breakfasts and barbecue dinners as we could eat. Mmm.

I’m all for rough camping, I’ve done it loads of times over the years, but I’m not paying 20 quid for the pleasure of sleeping in a muddy field, when I could sleep under a hedge for free. Or get a room in a Travel Lodge for £39. Needless to say we said yes to the teaching and another week of living in this non-reality of PG Wodehouse’s country house in Wiltshire.

I say non-reality for two reasons: Firstly, I’ve never been so long without ever having to prepare my own meals (all meals, coffee, beer, and wine is provided by starched white uniformed waiters). And secondly, being here bears no resemblance to 21st century England. No supermarkets, kebab shops, betting shops, louts, drunks, litter. And certainly no dogs.

I love it. Love it for the same reason people go on holiday. True, I have to work. But as the work is just an extension of the meal times – chatting to the students over paella and steak frites – I’m happy to be finally finding that elusive place where my work and my life are becoming entangled into one long meandering road. Instead of two straight roads heading in opposite directions cluttered on either side by frustration, anger and fear, both leading to dead ends and the inevitable nervous breakdown.

I’m not quite there yet, but this is as close as I’ve come for decades. For one, I’m not clock watching, or fearing my classes or students. And two, neither do I have to travel to work. It’s not the journey I’ve always hated about commuting. It’s having to deal with reality before I’ve even sat at my desk. Here in Wiltshire there is no reality. I walk ten metres from my room to a massive cooked breakfast and the day begins, finishing 12 hours later over a huge plate of barbecue spare ribs and a barrel of Argentinian Malbec.

The only problem is what on earth am I going to write about over the next few months? Except my increasing weight caused by my fierce appetite and a never ending platter of food and wine. Perhaps I’ll have to wander down to the local pub and create a scene. An episode of loutish behaviour not seen since my days in Nottingham. Pleading to the police as I am dragged away that I only did it for my art.

‘I needed something to write about officer. Honest.’

‘You said that last time, Blogley. We’re not in Nottingham now you know. Or Lyon, for that matter. Get into the van. You’re nicked.’

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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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Places, Random

228 – On the Wirral

I find myself on the Wirral near Neston, which is close to Chester, a city I lived in before I moved to the house in Chesterfield, which if you read my last post, I left for the last time last week. Two towns that begin with the letters C-H-E-S-T-E-R. A spooky coincidence, or a simple fact that I live on a once Roman occupied small island where you are never very far from anywhere ending or beginning in chester, caster or cester. Manchester, Cirencester, Colchester, Doncaster, Chichester, Lancaster to name a few.

So anyway, after my brief history lesson on Roman place names, I got a call last week from one of the language schools I occasionally work for telling me that I was going to Turin for six weeks. Brilliant I thought. I was suddenly on the move again and very excited. Italy! A place I’ve never been to except a brief visit to Venice once on the way to Slovenia. Turin! I’m thinking of religious relics, cycling in the Alps, hot weather, and lots of rich food. Until the assignment was pulled at the very last minute.

It’s normal in this job. I deal with it and wait for the next to turn up. Hence why I’m on the Wirral staying with Elizabeth’s very generous and patient parents waiting for whatever hand fate chooses to deal me next. Or perhaps more accurately, whatever lily-livered teacher in some part of Europe will soon burn out, falling hideously ill with a twisted intestine and requiring old Oggers here to fly in to complete their courses.

Meanwhile on the Wirral, when the wind eases off and the sun shines, it’s very pleasant. Walking down to the marshland on the Dee estuary just past the Harp pub is like walking off the end of the earth.

Mud, Military Firing Range, Quicksand

DO NOT ENTER (ever)

Reads the sign. Which limits human activity once you get past the coast path here to almost zero. A stark contrast to the interior of the peninsula which is a busy, crowded place that acts as a massive satellite commuter town for both Liverpool and Chester. The marshland on the other hand, is a very quiet and peaceful place, almost like a desert. And just as hot when the sun eventually peeps out from behind the grey Welsh clouds.

It’s been more difficult being back in the UK than I thought. Whenever I visited a foreign country as a child, I always felt anxious: the signs, the shops, the language, the customs, all scary and uninviting. Coming back here after four years in France, that same feeling of unease has returned. I feel foreign in my own country.

To compound matters when I went into the job centre two days ago, I had to do a Habitual Residency Test. It’s not as official as it sounds, it’s just protocol because I’ve been living abroad for more than six months. But I felt like I was no longer part of the British system. As though I wasn’t British any longer. An immigrant with no nationality or place of residence.

The fact is that after three weeks here, I haven’t adjusted one bit and that’s a worry. And the reason the Turin option was so appealing. Everything could therefore be pointing to the fact that my home is no longer here and that this summer could be my final farewell. It feels quite sad writing that down. And it’s all very melodramatic I know, but that’s how I feel. That feeling of being adrift in the country of my birth. As though something has dramatically changed here to make me resent it. The Englishness of England still remains, so does the warmth of the people. But what I craved before when I lived abroad in my twenties and thirties – that feeling of coming home to something better – no longer exists.

It’s possible that my idea of home has changed. A less rooted ideal where the home is not fixed but movable. And a concept that goes back to the fact that humans are intrinsically nomadic creatures and not people who build castles and stick flags in them. I’m not advocating that the whole of the human race suddenly becomes nomadic. I’m simply espousing the idea that home isn’t fixed. On the contrary. When I lived in Nottingham, I used to call the city home. When in Bristol, the same. Ditto Exeter and Lyon.

When anybody ever asks me where home is, I stare at them blankly, as though I don’t understand the meaning of the word. Which is exactly my point. I don’t. When I look at my passport, it says I’m British. But the more I look at it, the less sure I am about what that actually means. It means I’m entitled to the benefits and protection of The Crown offered to all British citizens. But even that is slightly blurred now. I received a letter today telling me that I’d failed my Habitual Residency Test and was therefore not entitled to any benefits of any kind for three months. It doesn’t actually matter as during writing this I’ve received an offer of some work in Bath starting Monday. But the letter does confirm – almost in writing as it were – what I’ve been thinking for these past three weeks. I’m not really British any more.

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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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Animals, Places

226 – Why I Can’t Have Dogs

As my ten days as a dogsitter draws to a shaky close, I can categorically say that I will not be having a dog.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

For want of a better phrase. The wisdom they use in advertising campaigns. Free slices of salami or cheese or coffee rationed out in supermarkets by overly eager sales reps dressed in bright aprons. Giving you a taste of Brand X before you become a lifelong follower.

I tried DOG X and said no. Which was a good move because if I had succumbed at some point in my life to buying one, I would have instantly regretted it.

I would have got used to it, but I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed it. Too much like being a teacher. Making do, but always looking for a way out. Most likely with a loaded rifle, a bottle of whiskey and a long walk. (I’m talking about me, not the dog.)

The worst part of having a dog for me is the forced wake up call EVERY SINGLE morning. Getting woken up by some rat faced mutt breathing offal into my face. I want my weekends back. Which is the shocking truth of having a dog, isn’t it? You don’t get one.

There I was going to bed on my first Friday night here, looking forward to a full twelve hours sleep with a proper lie in. When I suddenly realised that I would have to get up in about seven hours time to walk the stupid dog.

It was at that point that I knew there would never be a dog called Oggers in my house. Not that I would call it Oggers, that would be ridiculous. But if there was an animal called Oggers, it would have to be a cat. Or a fish. Or better still, a wooden horse. Or a duck. Something that doesn’t bark, breathe, shit, smell, wake me up, or steal my sandwiches.

So that’s the dogsit accomplished. Next up is a short trip to Barcelona to visit some friends, then a drive back across the Pyrenees to Bordeaux to pick up some cash, sign on at the job centre, and then hot foot it back to the UK for reasons I can’t even remember now.

no dog

 

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Animals, Places

225 – Three dogs, a Nervous Breakdown and Two Very Good Cups of Coffee

After driving 480km from Taussat on the Arcachon Basin to Alaigne in the department of Aude, 25 km south west of Carcassonne, which included two rain washed nights camping out in the Ariege-Pyrenees, me and Elizabeth finally met up with the three dogs we were going to be looking after for the next ten days.

Two crazed Parson Russell Terriers (like a Jack Russell but with longer legs) and a Golden Labrador with big dark lonely eyes that made me want to give it a biscuit and say everything is alright.

The fun started yesterday on our first walk with the dogs’ owner, when I was towed up a hill by the male terrier called Idéfix like I was attached to a ski lift. He’s only a foot tall, but has the power of a bull. His little hind legs pumping furiously ten feet in front of me ignoring my cries to slow down as my shoulder slowly came out of its socket.

I asked the owner if I could let him off the lead for a minute, but he advised me not to.

‘Not this one. If you do that, you’ll never see him again,’ he said gazing into the distance.

I believed him as well, looking at the lead stretch out in front of me like a fully extended bungi cord, and imagining the dog being catapulted off towards the horizon the moment I let it go.

The other two dogs, Carla (the other terrier) and Holly (the sad Labrador) seemed to be having a nice gentle walk, and it made me wonder if I’d been specifically hired for the task of walking Idéfix because of my abilities as an athlete. I’m good at running up hills and don’t easily tire. Just like a dog. Perhaps in another life, I was a Parson Russell Terrier.

So that’s the deal for the next ten days, plus seven chickens and a cat to look after. And in truth I’m relishing the idea of being up here in the Aude. Dogs, chickens, loads of eggs, hooded priests, dark shadows, hidden skeletons, holy grail and all that Cathar legend stuff.

It’ll probably be more relaxing than the trip here that resulted in a partial meltdown. Not a physical one like blowing a head gasket, or setting ourselves on fire. But a mental one, caused by the realisation that after this housesit, we actually have nowhere to live and have no jobs.

But in truth that wasn’t the real reason. The meltdown was caused by the fact that we arrived at a campsite with no gas. And no gas means no coffee.

I can handle not having a place to live. Or not having a job. But not having a decent coffee first thing in the morning, especially camping, especially in the rain, especially when you’re wondering why on earth you’ve just driven 500 km with a car full of junk, really takes the biscuit. And we didn’t even have any of those either. Just half a packet of damp peanuts. Nightmare!

There’s no need to go into the precise details, but we had the meltdown on a road somewhere in the Ariege. I can’t remember where. It doesn’t matter. Our lives flashed in front of us in great detail and we both wondered how everything could have gone so wrong. But then we were saved. Not by God, or the Cathars, or hooded monks or priests. But by a nondescript roadside café on the main road to Spain near the town of Foix.

It proved once again that it’s only when you’re feeling really down that the simplest things in life are the best. Just when I was considering jacking the whole thing in and going back home, I was saved by the best coffee I’ve had in France in the four years I’ve been here. I’m not religious. But I now understood why people are.

You might think I’m exaggerating the moment for literary effect. I’m not. When I came out after those two mugs of coffee and four croissants, I was truly re-energised. I was ready for anything. I climbed back into the car, fired up the Honda Civic Extra Turbo Power Mark IV and headed to Aude to meet my destiny. My destiny being a two year old Parson Russell Terrier called Idéfix. The story continues.

ide

 

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People, Places

224 – A CV of Sorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CV of Philip Ogley (now aged 41)

 July – Aug 1990 – John Smedley Ltd – Labourer

July – Aug 1991 – John Smedley Ltd – Warehouseman

July – Aug 1992 – Chesterfield Council – Dustbin man

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 1998 – Mission beach hostel, Australia – Hostel hand

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

Aug 2000 – Nottingham Language Centre – EFL teacher

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

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

July 2001 – Nottingham Language Centre, Nottingham – EFL teacher

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

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

May – July 2002 – Southgate Hotel, Exeter – Barman

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 2005 – Pizza Express, Exeter – Waiter

Aug 2006 – Bristol City Council – Telephone Clerk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March – July 2011 – Communicaid, Bristol – EFL Teacher

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

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

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

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

March 2015 – Cetradel, Bordeaux – EFL Teacher

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

June 2015…?

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Animals, Places, Seasons

223 – Mosquitoes and Lemons

I’ve been fighting a war here recently. Each morning waking up a puckered corpse. Ravaged in the night by an elite squadron of mosquitoes whose only objective is to bleed me dry. So much so that I’ve been thinking of sleeping in a bath of bleach with a snorkel to breathe through simply to get a good night’s sleep.

The towns and villages on the Arcachon Basin are built on tidal swamps. A giant game reserve in which pink faced Homo sapiens are the prey and the red-necked harpoon toting mosquitoes, the hunters.

Luckily, help is at hand.

The old Algerian cleaning lady who I work with – and who I incidentally found four crates of out-of-date Heineken in the cellar with yesterday (coincidence? I think not) – told me to cut a lemon in half and rub it on my body as a repellent.

I did and it worked. Not a bite all day. Until I dived in the pool for my evening swim and got ravaged the minute I stepped out. In agony, screaming and stinging like a freshly pickled cat, I ran into my apartment, downed a can of the out of date Heineken and then pelted it to the shop to buy a crate’s worth of lemons. Plus a bottle of gin to make my blood too toxic for the mosquitoes to drink. A trick my father taught me on a camping trip to South Africa in the 1980s. Gin being cheaper than insect repellent. Or so he said.

I’m normally quite resistant to bites – even in the proper tropical countries I’ve visited. This year though in boring temperate France, I’ve been slaughtered by them. Their persistence astonishing. As is their powers of stealth. Appearing from behind cupboards, curtains and cabinets the minute I step in the shower. A blood bath!

I’m a hot and humid weather kind of guy. A result of someone in my ancestral line picking up some tropical blood from somewhere at some point in the dark distant past. I can sit in humid 35 degree heat all day. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But of course with hot humid weather in swamp land, you get mosquitoes. Millions of them.

I now have a solution though. Lemons. Now I can sit outside all day long and not worry. And there’s even the added bonus that I’ll never run out of lemons again for my gin and tonics. Which is proof – if ever I needed it – that there’s always a satisfactory solution to everything if you put your mind to it.

lemons3

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Places, Random

222 – A Bottle of Wine, a Piece of Meat, a Knife, and a Stove.

My contract as Pool Boy terminates in 15 days time. My services are redundant and I’m moving on again. Jobless and homeless in two weeks. But not concerned.

It’s my long held belief that there’s always work and a bed to sleep in if you put your mind to it. Ask around, see what’s going on. Chances are there’s always someone who needs something doing that they can’t be bothered doing themselves. That’s how economies work. And if there’s no work, you move on. That’s called migration. And if you can’t find work, you sleep on it and see what comes up the next day. That’s called life.

Elizabeth said to me yesterday, ‘You don’t need much do you, Oggers? A bottle of wine, a piece of meat, a knife, and a stove.’

I’m not very good at being in the same place. Too many reasons to get bored. Looking at the walls for instance, wondering what colour to paint them. Eggshell, Sunflower Yellow, Lilac, Emerald. So many options. So many possibilities.

People say that’s why you go on holiday. To have a break. But surely the walls will still be there when you return. Unless someone’s knocked them down, rebuilt new ones, moved your furniture around and hidden your possessions. All in a charitable attempt to make the next year a little bit different from the last.

I always enjoy reading Bruce Chatwin at times like this.

“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I’m not a Nomad in the traditional sense – I don’t have animals for one.  But I do understand the pull of the road and being on the move.

I was born in Durham in the north of England almost 41 years ago (my birthday is in two days) and even though it’s only 1430kms from where I am now, it feels like a million. I only stayed there until I was two, before moving to Leeds. Now 41 (almost), I’m still moving, and as normal, even with fifteen days to go, my plans are vague. Fifteen days though, in anybody’s life, not just mine, is a long time. Anything could happen.

As long as I have a stove, a good Bordeaux, some sausage and a knife, nothing can go wrong.

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Film, Places

220 – Blogley Takes a Break

Today is the last Blogley for a while. No reason. Just fancy a break from the ramblings. Things to do. People to see. Places to go.

I’ve been writing a lot in longhand recently on old fashioned paper and need some time to read what nonsense I’ve written and whether any of it is usable for some project.

I’ve therefore decided that it’s time to let the blog go for a while and concentrate on other things. I don’t spend a great deal of time on the blog, but it’s enough to distract me. And I don’t like distractions.

Blogley will return soon. In the meantime, here’s a video of a trip to the shop I did today with Elizabeth. Call it an intermission: pop corn, ice creams, sodas.

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Random, Seasons, Sport

219 – The Pool – Revisited (again)

The pool still isn’t clean. Despite weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks of hard work, it still looks like a silage pit. A deep green vat of algal snot covering every surface like discharge from a gigantic sneeze. The fabled natural swimming pool of the villa, no longer a clear blue green embodiment of ecological modern living, but a huge used Kleenex sunk into a hole in the ground.

However much I clean it, hoover it, deploy the pool robot, skim off leaves with the net. By the morning there’s always a thick layer of green algae creaming every surface like someone went nuts in the night with a Gloop Gun.

The main problem I’ve deduced is the wind. Which has been blowing all sorts of crap into it on which the algae feed off. The human equivalent of bringing a fresh barrel of beer into a student house every evening. Suddenly the music’s blaring, people are dancing and the neighbours are banging on the ceiling. It’s a total disaster. Yet however hard I try, the party just goes on and on.

Tomorrow is April. I should be practising my backstroke by now in the hot sun, not poncing about in my Peter Storm cagoule scraping slime off the sides of the pool like I’m cleaning a communal toilet. It’s really starting to get to me.

Every night I dream of gigantic life size algae with razor sharp teeth eating their way through a mountain of leftover kebabs that have blown in from nearby Arcachon. Gorging themselves on junk, growing bigger and bigger, spreading across the surface of the pool as I lie sleeping. Their horrible evil grins I can see in my nightmares as they destroy everything I’ve worked for over the past three months.

The word ‘Thankless’ often comes to mind. As do the words ‘Litre of bleach’. That would do the trick. That would bring their algal fiesta under control very quickly.

A controlled dose I’ve calculated – say half a litre – might actually work. Kill off the algal blooms but leave the plants intact. The only problem is, I can’t be sure it’ll work. If it went wrong, there would be some difficult questions to answer from my boss.

Namely. ‘Why is everything dead?’ Quickly followed by, ‘Why are you still here? You’re fired. Get out.’

I can’t risk losing my job at this critical stage. It’s not my accommodation or the money I’m bothered about. More my conscience.

I want to leave here on my last day looking at a pool so clean I could boil potatoes in it. Drink from it. Deliver babies in it. I want it to look as pristine as the photograph in the villa’s brochure. So that when people visit, they think it is a photograph.

‘My God,’ they’ll say. ‘It looks exactly as it does in the photograph. Must have a good Pool Boy.’

‘You betcha ass they do,’ the Ghosts of Algal Past will reply. ‘He’s the best!’

pool perfect

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Food and Drink, People, Places, Sport

218 – Wine Box Bike Racks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I think about it. Maybe it is.

wine box

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People, Writing and Books

217 – The Mugwump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Promotes paedophilia’

‘Should be banned!’

‘Sicko stuff.’

‘Nothing more than pornography.’

‘Truck stop filth.’

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

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

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

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Film, Food and Drink

216 – MockVert

If you read my last post, it was about not feeling guilty. Not being harangued by Mister Guilt every time I try and do something different or creative.

If you remember, ‘I was wasting my time writing a story no one would ever read.’ So I made a video of me writing it and posted it on the internet along with the blog.

So how did it go? Well, it made me feel pretty damn good actually. I felt proud and powerful. ‘Who gives a monkeys what I do,’ I thought. ‘If someone wants to laugh at me and say, “Well, you’re a rather silly fellow, Oggers,” then good for them. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with my life.’

So what’s a MockVert?

It’s an unofficial advertisement for a product featuring real life people.

So who invented it?

I did. Today in fact as I was standing in my kitchen making a coffee wondering how I would advertise the particular brand I was using.

Who’s in it?

Me. As later in the day, I thought what would happen if I actually filmed myself promoting a product – say a beer – and put it on the internet? How silly would that be?

Is it legal?

I don’t know. The only way to find out is to try. The Orville brothers didn’t invent the aeroplane by sitting on their fat American asses wondering what would happen if they glued a couple of long flat pieces of wood together and attached it to a motor.

What’s the product?

Export 33. It’s not my regular brand, but they’d run out at the shop. This was all they had.

Will I get sued?

I hope so.

Where can I see?

Here:

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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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Audio, Places, Random

214 – Beer Cans: Recycling or Rubbish

(this audio blog first appeared in Alexander Velkey’s highly acclaimed Doubtcast on 10 March 2015 – see end of post for further details)

I live in a small cottage by the sea. I’m the caretaker for a holiday villa that caters for people who drive cars that look like chocolate bars. Smooth soft-topped motors designed for fast driving. No roof racks, baby seats, car stickers, tow bars, awkward edges or angles to spoil the view.

I do most of my chores in the morning, so that I have the afternoons off to write and drink beer. I drink a lot of beer, and as a result accumulate a lot of rubbish. Or is it recycling?

It’s good that I can recycle the mountain of cans I see on the floor each morning. Stick them in the recycling box. Out of sight, out of mind. Buy another crate. Get smashed.

I don’t feel too guilty about buying them because they’ve got a green swirly logo on the side that gives me the licence to buy as many as I want. It’s not technically rubbish, is it? It’s recycling. Great! Let’s buy more of it. Let’s get smashed.

Sometimes I use cardboard from cereal boxes as kindling for my woodburner and feel guilty when I do. I should be recycling it. But why? Doesn’t the lorry that take it all away use fuel and create carbon. Cause congestion and traffic accidents. And if I didn’t use the cardboard for kindling, I would only use more wood.

I buy my beer in 33cl cans because it limits my alcohol intake. I could buy the same beer in 5 litre home barrels that cost less and create less waste. But that would create problems. One, I would drink it all. And two, if I didn’t, it would go flat. And I can’t drink flat beer.

In short, the best way for me to save the environment is to drink less beer. Or buy it in bigger containers. But that’s not going to happen. I like the ritual of popping the can. That gratifying metallic snap the ring pull makes.

There’s nothing better is there? Something so precise and conclusive about the sound. Followed by that calm hiss as the beer gently fizzes up to the rim of the can. That is, unless you’ve just carried it back from the shop. Then it just fizzes all over the floor.

The 5 litre home barrel wouldn’t work for me. I’d drink it for starters. Plus the pure enjoyment of popping the can would be lost forever. So it’s something my environmental conscience will simply have to live with.

It’s lucky there’s recycling. Otherwise all my cans would simply become rubbish.

(Listen to the entire Doubtcast below)

Or visit website http://www.doubtist.com/2015/03/10/doubtcast-1-rubbish/ for further details.

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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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Film, Random

212 – Lessons in Pool Hoovering

As discussed many many many times before on this blog, one of my jobs is to clear leaves and algae from the natural swimming pool where I work.

The pool net is the most traditional method at clearing leaves. But as it’s incredibly slow and tedious, I generally favour the pool robot. It’s effective at what it does but erratic in its methodology. Being a robot it lacks the basic intelligence to know what it’s cleaned and what it hasn’t. Like a human being painting a black wall with black paint. Where do you start and where do you finish?

Furthermore, the pool robot is only effective in the swimming pool. It moves on tiny plastic wheels propelled by a motor that creates propulsion by forcing water out of the sides. In short, it’s an underwater kid’s remote control car – a Bond car if you like – with a small hoover built in instead of a rocket launcher. Therefore on the stony and rocky surface of the regeneration and filtration beds, it’s pretty much useless. Like driving over a volcano in a golf cart.

My favoured option therefore is the fabled pool hoover that I talked about in Blogley 203. (And 206, 207, 208.)

It’s not really a hoover in the traditional sense, more an industrial water pump that leaves no stone unturned. Quite literally. Sucking everything up like a giant elephant’s trunk and regurgitating it either back into the pool through a mesh filter (a sock is actually the best thing I’ve found – see video), or by simply emptying it out on the grass.

In theory it should work well. But it doesn’t. Nothing is ever that simple, is it?

Why? Because as I’ve mentioned, the hoover not only sucks the leaves and algae up, but all the stones and rocks as well. Blocking everything up which means I have to switch it off and shake it violently to extract the stones. Once it’s done, it’s back to work. Until the next blockage five seconds later.

But of course like most things in life there’s always a technique to avoid such occurrences. Namely, be careful where you put your hose. It’s true. If you keep the vacuum hose close enough to the pool surface to suck up the leaves, but far enough away to avoid sucking up the stones, you can hoover happily all day. Just like hoovering dust off a curtain at home. If you keep it at the right distance, the dust and fluff comes off easily. If you get it too close, you simply yank the entire curtain and rail down.

So there you go. Now you all know what to do if you by chance have to clean your pool with a hoover. Yet another genius instructional blog post from Blogley – The Home of Pointless Information.

Video included (needs sound):

 

 

 

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Film

211 – Is This Entertainment?

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

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

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

Then I had an idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Film, Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Music: Fog Lake – Little Black Balloon)

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Film, Random

209 – Oggers Talks About The Pool – Live!

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

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

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

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Random, Seasons, Sport

208 – Pool Progress III (final update)

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

brush2

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

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

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

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

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MUST EMPLOYEES SWIM IN THE POOL

So that was out. As was draining the pool.

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

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

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

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

pole3

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

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

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Food and Drink, People, The French

207 – Pool Progress II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Ever been scuba diving?’

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

He looked confused but nodded all the same.

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

My eyes narrowed. ‘I’m sorry?’

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

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

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

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

pool boy3

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

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Random

206 – Pool Progress

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

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

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

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

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

pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Photos

204 – Incredible What You Can See When You Want To

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

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

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

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

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Audio, Random

203 – The Pool

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

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

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

pool-filtration-diagram

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

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

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

swimming pool

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

This is what I use in my war:

 

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

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

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

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

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Animals, Places, Seasons

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

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

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

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

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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, Seasons

198 – JG Ballard and the Madness of the Arcachon Basin

I’ve never lived on a beach before. Not that living on a beach is any better than anywhere else. It was just a thought as I wandered down to the sea this morning to breathe in the ion-charged air that blows off the bay and was purported in the 19th century to cure madness. Continue reading

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Places, Running

197 – The Lanton Pancake Run

After five days here, I’ve realised that I don’t live in Andernos-Les-Bains at all. I live in Taussat-Les-Bains, which is the next village up.

And to add to the confusion, I was just about to change the title of the Blog, when I noticed on a letter that my official address is actually in Lanton, another village 4 km down the coast. So I left it as it was. For now… 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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Places, Seasons

195 – Goodbye Bordeaux, Hello Andernos-Les-Bains

I’m off again. Off to Andernos-Les-Bains on the Arcachon basin to look after a villa for the winter with some cheffing and teaching work thrown in to pass the time.

‘Not bad if you can get it,’ a friend of mine said.

‘Well, yes, and no,’ I replied. ‘It’s work. It’s by the sea. But it’s also an hour from Bordeaux, a city I really like. It means exchanging some of the best wine in the world for some of the best oysters in the world. Which is great if you like oysters,’ I continued. ‘But I happen to hate them, so it looks like I’ll have to stick to crab and champagne for my lunches.’ Continue reading

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Places

194 – An Hour in Bordeaux – in Photographs

Having failed to write anything of any value or substance today – apart from a recipe on How to Cook Chicken Korma – I resorted to my camera and gave myself a task.

One hour to distil Bordeaux into an attention-grabbing photographic montage. Continue reading

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Animals, People, Sport

193 – Dogs and Pushchairs on Rue Malbec

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

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

heart rate2 Continue reading

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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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Places, The French

191 – Fear and Loathing and Small Dogs at the Pôle Emploi

pole emploi3

Yesterday at the job centre waiting my turn, I saw a girl on the seat opposite me carrying a tiny dog in a sling designed for a baby. It passed the time wondering what it all meant before I was called up to a cubicle to see someone. Continue reading

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Places, Sport, The French

190 – Scrum Down At The Gare St. Jean

student scrum4

One Friday evening a few weeks ago at the Gare St. Jean, I witnessed the largest exhibition of North Face puffer jackets, Samsonite travel bags and Bose Headphones in the Western Hemisphere. All attached, fastened or connected in some way to the pack of tired looking students hurrying down to the station to catch their trains home. Continue reading

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