Tuesday, 28 August 2012

TGI Monday

They creep up on you don’t they? These weekends when you say ‘we’re going to take it easy’?
Thursday evening, out for a barbie, Friday another. Saturday an Irish invasion and a dozen mouths to feed. That’s something that never bothers me. A whole heap of folks turn up and I just get the pan on. Green and yellow peppers stuffed with sausage-meat and rice – quick, easy, tasty and cheap. They seemed happy.
Then it’s out for Sunday lunch and digestive back home afterwards. A late night in the warm summer air, talking rubbish, a midnight swim and  - oops, here it comes – Monday again.
But this is a different Monday, because it’s a UK bank holiday.
It always makes me smile that the irony of our bank holiday Mondays is totally lost on the French, because their banks don’t open on any Mondays, ever! Lundi is generally treated as a day of rest by most industries, after their busy social weekends. Which then allows their Sundays to be used for what they’re supposed to be - getting hammered!
What a great idea.
Do you think it will catch on in UK?
Je ne pense par!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Going Down?

Here’s a great idea – instead of raising the Titanic, lets just build another one?
Hmm, does that make any sense to you?
Yes, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is doing just that. A real life, full sized exact replica liner, for which he will then sell cruise tickets.
Hang on a minute.
An exact replica?
Wasn’t the design fundamentally floored?
Would you go on it? I sure as hell wouldn’t if the sky fell in.
So who are the 40,000 people queuing up for tickets then?
All I can think is that they are thrill-seekers hoping to get the full sinking experience, complete with flooded cabins, freezing waters and 3 life-boats between them. And possibly get a night with Kate Wimplet in the bargain.
A few years ago, I befriended a great man called Captain Ben Coutts who told me a story over a few drams of whisky. In that true tale, he gave me a word by word account of when the ocean liner he was travelling on got torpedoed and sunk. Believe me, it was a very moving story, not least because of the loss of over 2000 lives in the disaster.
Last week Wendy bought me a film they have made of the event, which I have just watched. Called simply THE SINKING OF THE LACONIA, it is a highly dramatised version of events, where Ben is portrayed as the gentlemen that he was. In fact it was quite weird watching someone you know played by an actor.
But somehow, with its love stories and array of personal plots, it didn’t quite seem the same sordid tale that Ben told me.
A bit like the glamour of that Titanic.
I think, if we saw real footage, which of course there is none, nobody in their right mind would want to relive that voyage.
But, sadly ours is a world of Hollywood - that and Aussie tycoons – that somehow manage to turn disasters into fairy-stories. Let’s home this one has a happy ending.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Should you be worried?

Doesn’t it strike you as odd?
A man, left on his own for a day while his fiancé is away, then spends a whole 9 hours watching sheep on TV?
Even when a friend visits, he shoves a glass of Chardonnay in his hand and tells him to shushhhh. There’s a really good one on, right now.
Especially when its 35 degrees and he is under cover of the terrace….with the speakers blasting out at 80 decibels.
Why would you do that?
Should I explain?
Could I explain?
Where do I start?
Would you understand? I’m not sure.
If I admitted that it was a passion, would you be worried? Because, I am afraid to say, that it is.
For many years I bred pedigree sheep and I loved every minute of it. I never made much money doing it and quite often I lost loads. And it should have been a business – but I treated it as a hobby.
Money was made elsewhere, and my spare time was spent with the ewes. They gave me immense pleasure, taking them away on holiday to shows, and selling their offspring at sales.
Odd? Well yes, I suppose it is.
But there is far more, so much that I don’t think I could vindicate it into words. Each year, I would put my brain and skills to the test. To sell this years crop – and buy next year sires. It was a game of chance, cat and mouse, pin the tail on the donkey – and dominoes. You pay’s your money and you takes your chance. Thankfully, I won a few hands, but I could never compete with the real experts.
In 2005, circumstances took all my flock away. It was a sad year, and one I never want to dwell on. But for 10 great years, my Texel sheep breeding days introduced me to fabulous folks, gave me huge heartaches, but with some top moments and celebrated achievements that I doubt I will ever encounter again.
Gone, but not forgotten.
So, despite my recent adventures, and our 16 strong flock of moutons on our little French smallholding of whom I both Wendy and I are mildly fond of, a day watching 500 proper ram lambs being sold on TV has been one of the most enjoyable I have had in months.
I don’t think I explained that very well, did I?
My latest novel – In Bed With Sheep – will probably be in excess of fifty thousand words and yet, still, I may not manage to elucidate my passion for the sheep species with enough decorum to excuse myself of the inevitable finger-pointing that will ensue from this declaration of the today’s activity.
I don’t care – I have just enjoyed taking the day off to watch 9 hours of sheep on TV.
For that, I make no excuses.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Is there anybodey out there

What a lovely sky tonight - not that I know bugger-all about constellations. But I am sure Orion is on full view, standing tall like the Titan that he is, with his plough ready to carve its next furrow. Aries will be there somewhere as well - he always is - grazing in the shadows and leaving the thistles for the lesser mortals to eat.
If I apply my brain to it, I may start to wonder what the new space-ship Curiosity might find, out there on Mars – wherever that is.
Possibly some life-forms with intelligence?
God knows, the Earth could do with some of those. Especially in this area, when the Mairie has decided to double our taxes without warning and the local village team is playing Petanque as though it was interesting.
Pooper, the terrier, has a different take on the empty skies. I know, she is only a dog – but no ordinary one.
Hers is a complex world where sleeping all day is only generating fuel so that she can take control of the night. To sit atop the hill and scour the encroaching darkness, which turns ordinary forms into shadows that demand her attention and spark her imagination is a life of duty.
A few minutes ago, that was a clump of nettles, but now… now it might just be a hare, sitting waiting, staring her out until it wants to run, needing chase. Or one of the many coypu that lives under our lake, casually sleeping out their daytime heat before harmlessly eating a few weeds and maybe doing a midnight salsa before dawn.
Poops is equipped to see these things.
Her neighbours concur also. So it must be true.
In the same way that a sober man can see perfect sense with his first drink until gradually, as the evening wears on, the Kelly Osborne on the next stool turns into Kelly Clarkson. And then he wants to protect her from every hard-nut from here to his next AA session, with his spam-soft fists.
Hers is a need to bark into the night until it hears. And woe-betide-it if it doesn’t - she is female after all….'Bark, I say - Bark or be damned!'
Earlier this week, she got yet another trip to the salon. My salon! The one that doesn’t cost much. We are in France, after all, where un coiffure c’est tres tres cher.
From a past life, I have a collection of clippers and blades for doing most jobs, but since my retirement from that business, they are diminishing. In desperation, I dug out a set of rusty blades that may still have a sharp edge. Thankfully, after a whole tin of WD40, I did manage to get one set operational after I cleared off the rust.
And a haircut was performed – reluctantly.
But now the smell of oil has been passed on – and poor Poops smells like a tractor. Or at the very least, a rusty hedge-cutter.
So, despite her creeping up on that clump of nettles, the night no longer believes her either.
Even with her dog IQ of 100+, I am not convinced that she realises that this somewhat detrimental to her night-watchdog role, yet still she persists.
But what can I say. Mine is just to hit the keys and report.
I probably smell like a tractor too – especially in this heat.
Never-the-less – Double-Yew-Dee-Forty-Dog is still Lady and High Mistress of this little house of quietness.
Especially as her superior W-ladyship is away in UK
Louis and I will just content ourselves with biscuits. Shhh - dont say the B-word!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


I have regularly held reservations about the encyclopaedic website Wikipedia, because, so many times, its contents has either been incomplete or, more worryingly, inaccurate.
For my day job, that of balancing fiction and non-fiction on the same pages, research is the most critical part. Living in France, I don’t get access to British newspapers and the lies they purvey, nor BBC news – although it is there if I wish to depress myself with other peoples problems.
So, to me, the internet is my single source of reference for – well, just about everything, I suppose. This week, especially, I needed to get some crucial and detailed information, fast, for personal reasons. And, once again, Wikipedia let me down, giving me a bum steer. Eventually the situation was resolved, thankfully for the better, by trawling some American self-help sites, written by hypochondriac students who miserably failed their medical exams.
But this got me round to thinking that someone should email Wikipedia and give them a rollocking. Why can’t you keep your information precise? And anyway, who writes all that stuff?
Well, by doing some research on my research fountain – a bit like checking what books an author reads, or how many cigarettes your indignant doctor smokes – I find the simple answer.
We do.
Yes, in under one minute, I could register on their site, create my own account and start writing – bullshit!
What fun?
Well, let’s start with an autobiog then. Hmm, let me think.
Andy Frazier, aged 36, 3rd king of the Borrohootta islands. First job, rocket-scientist, astronaut, best-selling author and all round good egg.
OK, what else have they missed?
Straw-badger. Shit-kicking farm labourer who frequents the local pub, wearing rigger boots and ripped overalls. Permanently smells of diesel and bullshit.
Cowell-howler: Untalented person with as much musical prowess as a role of 2-ply, making money after being discovered on talent shows run by that bloke with bad dress-sense and voted for by a million tone-deaf morons.
Coulsening: To lie like a newspaper-editor – see Andy Coulsen
And finally – for now anyway, there will be more.
Wikipillock – a person or persons who make up shit and then post it on Wikipedia just to piss off other person or persons who might try and use it as an intelligent point of reference.
Samuel Johnson, eat your heart out!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The naming of the Free

What is with Americans? And why do they rule the world. Or at least think they do?
They certainly rule the internet, to the point where whenever I Google anything it always brings me a hundred useless American sites before I can get anything worthwhile. In the old days, Google would allow you to select UK entries ‘only’ but that has now been removed, possibly by Americans. It’s so irritating it makes me want to scream and write the word BOMB ten thousand times. If I could use another search engine I would, but Google has bought them all. I refuse to use BING, because it’s such a stupid name, as well as the fact that it’s as useless as a one-legged cockroach.
Here is a minor example, demonstrating my frustration..
This week, while finishing off a book, I am looking for a character name – that is unisex. You know, both for male and female. If you have read In Bed With Cows, you will know that eventually I settled on Charlie.
But when I Googled this I got an American site and then was so astonished at the preposterous handles the yanks saddle their kids with that I completely lost track of what I was writing.
Try some of these, and then imagine being a small child on your first day kindergarten with it written on your name tag.
Firstly we get Dakota, River and Phoenix – obviously from people who watch too many Hollywood movies.
Then we have London, Jordan, Keagan and Bentley – for imaginative parents who think England is cool.
Seemingly over 5000 American kids got called Bentley last year alone. What the hell for? Why not add, Royce, Aston, Jaguar as middle names while you’re at it.
It doesn’t stop there – Sawyer, Lyric, Zion, Ariel – and these are just the unisex names. What must go through the poor Sawyer’s mind when at 3 years old he discovers he has a willy and his friend Sawyer doesn’t.
There should be laws.
When it comes down to single sex names the rulebook really does get thrown out with the bath-water.
One website, started by an entrepreneurial genius, randomly generates them, I swear. It’s like an online version of Countdown!
Give me a vowel, please Zodiac, and another, and another, and a consonant.
Perfect! Little AUEGL will have great fun spelling his name out over the phone for the next seventy years.
When did reality vanish form the US?
The Land of the Free? Well, they certainly seem free from any intellect when it comes to this subject.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Just an assumption

39 degrees?
You’ve got to be kidding, right?
But that’s what the forecast tells me it’s going to be, tomorrow. Wow, that's warm.
Oh good. I know, let’s go out for the evening, as today is a national holiday - although I have no idea why. I didn’t realise either, until I had worked an 8 hour day writing fiction. But the night is young.
In the local town there is an Oyster festival, which sounds great. Not just Oysters either, but loads of other things like paella and mussels, it’s a feast of feasts. There’ll be wine too. Then there is an outdoor music festival nearby, where we can dance barefoot till dawn.
39 degrees? Are you sure?
Then, hang on, why is it raining? Yukky drizzle putting a dampener on things. You never mentioned that. It hasn’t rained for 2 weeks and, according to the forecast, won’t for another two.
I just looked up the reason it is a holiday today. ASSUMPTION – that’s the reason.
It means Theory, or Best Guess, according to the thesaurus.
That seems about right to me.
Weather forecasters – please never assume? Even in France it can rain on bank holidays.  

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A munch too far

There’s sex happening here at Chauffour and there shouldn’t be.
It appears that overnight, one of our ewes has morphed into a Thompson’s Gazelle as she effortlessly hurdles 6 foot high fences in a quest to satisfy her carnal desires.
Yes, it’s that time of year again when the boys meet the girls.
Meanwhile, in a tiny field at the other end of the holding, 3 rams nonchalantly chew at their cuds, watching her brazen antics through the only flimsy barrier that now separates them and getting ideas above their station. Fuelled with rising testosterone, they occasionally test their manhood by head-butting each other in an ovine jousting contest that would shock even the most hardened of Olympians. Blood flows – the one with the most dents is surely the winner.
Normally I would let them have their way, but this year I am trying to postpone next years lambing until February so that Wendy and I can spend a little time in Scotland for the winter. However, something tells me it’s a battle I am destined to lose. Nature at full strength has undeniable power and I feel like whats-his-name with a finger in the dyke – so to speak.
It’s like an episode of Big Brother!
Not that I have ever watched BB.
Although, for a house that rarely turns on a TV from April til October, this summer has seen ours on constantly as we followed every discipline of the Olympics. I will admit I was pleasantly surprised at London’s handling of the event and especially the opening ceremony. Wow, that really was something – apart from them wheeling out Sir Paul again. What amazed me was the opening part of the show, depicting medieval rural Britain and how in the blink of an eye, the whole thing transposed into the industrial revolution. That in itself was stunning but what I want to know is: What did they do with the sheep?
One minute there were 20 of them grazing happily on patch of ground tended by 2 shepherds, the next they were gone!
I never saw them leave – did you?
Because it was pitch dark, that’s why.
Many times I have tried moving sheep in the dark, and it isn’t easy.
Couple that with music so loud it would make your ears bleed and surely the things would have gone ballistic and run in a hundred directions when the lights went out – especially as we definitely saw people remove all the hurdles?
It would take more than a few actors and a couple of tame sheepdogs to hold that lot together, surely. Mystifying – to say the least. Whoever had sheep under that sort of control is invited here anytime…!
But the games were brilliant, weren’t they, especially winning all those medals? And beating the Aussies. They don’t like it up em – those Aussies.
The whole thing is so emotional, though. What is it about sport than can make grown men like John Inverdale and Sir Steve Redgrave – and me – cry like nursery children when we win or lose a gold by the skin of our teeth?
Well, I have a theory…..it all comes down to the National Anthem. Somewhere inside each and every Brit is a trigger which is programmed to be set off every time we hear those opening bars - just like Pavlov and his dog which would salivate every time it heard the dinner-bell.
Gold medal = National Anthem = blub like a 3 year old.
Clever bloke, that Pavlov, I’m telling you – doing all that research AND inventing the meringue cake…
As far as the Olympics go, I love the first week, watching all those sports we didn’t know we were any good at, like clay-trap shooting, my bother’s favoured sport, in which we won a gold. Also, there was that pretty judo fighter who was quite agile – I’m not sure many men would have lasted 5 minutes on the mat with her….? Cycling, sailing, kayaking, archery and gymnastics all take extreme levels of skill and balance in so many muscles which is what makes them so interesting.
But by the second week, I find it all a bit of an anti-climax. I know runners need to train hard, just like everyone else, but isn’t running a bit boring in comparison to pitching your strengths and skills against the elements? Especially those marathons – that go on for hours and hours – hogging the BBC channel. At least in the London marathon we can get to giggle at idiots in panda suits swooning from heat-exhaustion after 2 miles or Paula Radcliff stopping in for a pee behind the Queen’s gatepost. At one time we even had chance to smile every time Brendan Foster managed to get the name Haile-Gabrie-Selassie into every sentence as though he practiced it in front of a mirror every morning. But this year, it all seemed rather mundane on the track and field compared to the ‘lesser’ sports.
Not that I am capable of doing any of them. A bit of fencing, with netting and barbed-wire, that’s about it for me.
And what about those 7 African athletes who just used the Games as an excuse to get into the country? Are things really that bad in Cameroon that they wanted to come to UK – when many of us are leaving? I bet they soon turn themselves in when they have to queue for 12 hours for a bus – in the pouring rain – and then pay a hundred quid for a cup of tea. Very shortly they’ll be pining for the coastal resort of Kribi back home where, according to travel guides, the average annual temperature is 30 degrees, it has wonderful and deserted palm-fringed beaches and you can dine on fresh seafood in picturesque restaurants for a few cents. Sounds a helluva lot nice than London to me! Still, the grass is always greener – and all that.
Back to the subject of sheep, we lost a strong lamb this morning – one of the ones we had reared on a bottle which made it even more distressing. While checking the fences, I noted a lot of bright red berries, growing in clusters 6 inches high under the hedge.
Lords and Ladies, as they are known; proper name Anum Maculatum. Other names include Devils and Angels, Cows and Bulls, Cuckoo-Pint, Adam and Eve, Bobbins, Naked Boys, Starch-Root and Wake Robin. I’m not sure who thinks up all these colourful names but whatever you like to refer to them as, they are evidently deadly poisonous. Tiddling lambs will eat anything, but that was maybe a munch too far, poor chap.
I knew we should have got the thing on the bbq last week – damn-it Janet.
I would like to close this piece with an immortal track by the band Pink Floyd – because despite a few rumours, the Olympics didn’t!
When I was growing up listening to monumental albums like ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and clambering for tickets to their concerts, my parents were very busy telling me that all this long-haired modern clap-trap would never stand the test of time. Classical and Opera would still be around in centuries time where Roger Waters and Co would be long-forgotten by the end of the seventies.
Who’s music was it that ended the opening ceremony at 2012 – yes, them with a number called ECLIPSE.
And I am a little annoyed that they didn’t close the whole event as promised, perhaps with a few lines from the track entitled TIME, which is proffers sound advice to lethargic teenagers everywhere:
…and then one day you find,
10 years have got behind you,
No one told you when to run….
you missed the starting gun…
Topical - if not poetic.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Moonlight shadows

Such an incredible phenomenon is the lunar star that it stirs my pen at this hour.
After a day where the power of the sun gives rise to every being, before setting in dramatic fashion over landscapes that warrant only a worthy with his water colours, tonight the late night moonbeams stream in while I pillow my head.
From where I now sit, my favourite vision of the windmill on our horizon waves to me through a glorious glow. In the distance, over a kilometre away, Puymiclan’s church displays its every gargoyle beneath a vibrant blue sky.
It is midnight.
And it’s beautiful.
How the sunflower must react, after waking to the dawn and seeking out its master rising in the East, following it religiously through the heat of the day, gulping in its rays until dusk and then harnessing natures power into its very cells while it sleeps.
By eleven pm it must surely rest after such a tiring effort, only to find a new sun back in its place, showering the vista in blue light that infiltrates the retina of every creature in its sphere. Animals that would dream by night no longer have such luxury as the fields bask in an eerie haze, instead gazing up to a moon in the sky, so vibrant that each and every one of its veins glow like the leaves on a beetroot leaf - and wondering why.
A few weeks ago I sought out a torch so I could see the damage that nature had thrust upon our humble home when the eye of a storm passed right though us. Now it’s there, that torch in the sky, giggling at me through a crack in the shutters without the aid of lithium.
‘Don’t forget me’, it says, ‘some beings sleep outside of hours.’
The night watchman gains his vigour from those who slumber.
His is an occasional lamp reserved for those that can sleep by day.