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Tuesday 30 June 2015

See major

It's the one on the left, it works better than it looks

Monday saw the second eye op. This one was free, on the NHS. The first, due to various exigencies, cost two grand. The same consulting surgeon did both.

Car driving was out. As I taxi-ed to the hospital, I chose to be blasé: been there, done that. Hardly worth a half-post. But I was wrong.

In the waiting room they were handing out Rich Teas, quite an austere, certainly adult biscuit. Americans must Google I fear.

A nurse holds your hand, allowing you to signal if you're about to cough. Eye ops are delicate; one wouldn't wish a 0.5 mm incision to morph into one 5 mm long. I was struck by the quiet, unforced sympathy of the hand-holding nurse who prepped me. There was no way such a manner could be taught. She explained hand-holding has a secondary function - human contact for the conscious patient in the operating theatre.

During the op I sensed a mild stinging and realised it was the blade doing the cutting. The anaesthetic is local and of shortish duration.

I was required to concentrate on a pink light which ebbed and flowed. I referred to this as "psychedelic" but the surgeon misheard. "Like magic mushrooms," I explained. He complimented me on my knowledge and I said I'd got it from a friend – “a good friend”. General laughter.

That night I woke up and found vision horribly blurred in the treated eye. Knew I wouldn't be able to sleep. Got up and edited the novel, two-ish in the morning. Went back to bed after a couple of hours, fatalistic and depressed, but slept well. This time when I woke the blurring had gone. Like being reborn – as an optimist.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Mightier than the sword?

The big one carries Barcelona FC's colours. Twas a gift
Great claims were made for the ball-point pen introduced soon after WW2. A triumph of technology, they said. There was even a suggestion that it would write for ever. Father Christmas put two of them - a red and a green - into my stocking in the late forties.

Enthusiasm for ball-points died away just as rapidly as it had grown. Some schools forbade their use, saying they would corrupt calligraphic skills. There was a legal interdiction against signing certain documents with a ball-point. As a journalist  using Pitman's shorthand I found it duff given it was incapable of producing thick and thin lines. After a month or so non-drying ball-point ink started to migrate into the surrounding paper, rendering what was written illegible.

My pal Joe suffered mightily. A ball-point, stowed away in the breast pocket of his newish jacket, exploded leaving an ineradicable large blue stain. Imagining this to be a purely cosmetic defect he kept on wearing the jacket for a while. But the stain assumed the power of  a stigmata and he was forced to discard this otherwise serviceable garment.

In parallel with the ball-point's decline arose a renewed - though minor - affectation for the fountain pen. This despite the fact that it was unwise to travel far without recourse to a bottle of Quink. Some deep-seated prejudice on my part associated fountain pens with people who voted Tory.

And then the word processor was invented, granting us all legibility and an infinite ability to make corrections. A style enhancer for those who cared to see it in this light. These days I use my ball-points to sign cheques. Hallelujah.

Friday 26 June 2015

No pic for this, alas

This mini-event is mere daydream, raw material gathered by a sex-yearning sixteen-year-old and stirred about many decades later.

We were leaving Bradford Civic cinema where I saw many foreign movies in my youth. Was it Le Salaire de la Peur? Un Condamné à Mort S’est Echappé?

Whatever. Outside, on the pavement, G uttered an unmistakable sound of approval about the movie (Whooo! Sheesh!) turned and said. “C’mon, gi me a kiss.”

Strange. She’s G but I never knew her name. She was two or three years older – a woman, virtually adult, addressing a desperate adolescent. In real life I saw her only on the bus home, always on the upper deck, often appearing grubby, staring blankly ahead, alone. She got off before me at the scruffy end of the suburb.

Her hair was memorable. Golden but lifeless, clearly lengthy but piled up into a tall crown held in place by a net. Sometimes grubbiness pervaded her heavily made-up face.

Inexplicably, we’d seen some fancy-schmanzy thing and now she was commanding me. A tense beginner I kissed her lips too hard, imagining  this might suggest the passion she was expecting. Or demanded. The excessive pressure rendered her lips as a car tyre. I was seismically aware of her full, possibly muscular body and carefully avoided contact.

Perhaps it was the grubbiness; people weren’t as obsessional about washing in the fifties. I liked her not caring about that and yet she did make-up. And yes I know what Freud says about dirt.

I used parts of G in a short story West Riding Strange, but thought she deserved this more explicit reference. Conventional teenage erotic? Perhaps. But what's conventional?

Monday 22 June 2015

Piped anthem

Sonnet: The Pragmatist’s Prayer

Oh Lord, preserve us all from those who write,
Who glory in overt loquacity,
Whose self-abuse, hand-driven, blocks the light
That shines from plumbing's greater honesty.

Regard the waste pipe's simple unity,
See how it carries merde from here to there,
Then look at this corrupted minstrelsy
Adrift from zero on the way to – where?

Within all work syntax cannot compete
With solder’s certainty in fixing things,
Where olive joints – so apt, so neat –
Link taps to souls and gives them wings.

Stilsons as sceptres! Copper - king of life!
Tubes defeat odes in times when thirst is rife

Friday 19 June 2015

The mussel epiphany

We were more impulsive when we lived in Kingston-upon-Thames, 12 miles SW of London.

One working weekday near Christmas we took time off and had lunch in Boulogne. Just over 100 miles but there was a snag: a blessing in 1939 - 45, less so later as Eurotunnel continued to remain a mirage. Crossing the Channel then required a 90-minute ferry ride with a further 40 minutes devoted to embarcation/disembarcation if you took your car.

But it was doable and we did it. And the event changed our lives. Younger daughter Occasional Speeder was going at a panful of mussels in a messy way. La Patronne stepped in, picked up the twin halves of a used shell (still flexibly attached to each other), and showed how, as tweezers, they could pick out the innards of a mussel yet to be consumed.

The hands in the pic are those of Ysabelle, OS's daughter, to whom this skill has been passed down.

These days Eurotunnel cuts down the crossing to about 30 minutes but Hereford to the Languedoc is nearly 900 miles and there's hard driving to be done over two days. To sustain concentration the co-passenger (who also works the satnav), unwraps sweets and feeds them into the driver's mouth in a steady stream. By now there's a consensus about which sweet works best. Chocolates and toffees are no good, they're gone in a flash. Jelly babies similarly. Werthers (a sort of hard toffee) are too frangible, quickly splintering into easily dissolved pieces. Best are hard transparent fruit drops, sort of doughnut shaped. They last and last.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Life's daily burdens

Guess who? At Mèze, Mediterranean coast

Done with Intermarché, Carrefour, Super U and Leclerc, and back to Tesco (it's a mere seven-minute walk away from our Hereford home).

Immediately we're fratching: Marmite is either in this aisle or the one adjacent, but it's in neither. "Then you'll have to ask," says VR grumpily. Strange how reluctant we are to exercise this ultimate sanction.

But I've spotted three Tesco suits engaged in an on-the-floor pow-wow. I raise my eyebrows and I become the cynosure of three pairs of ambitious eyes. "Shall I take you there?" says one suit I've seen getting out of a BMW a week or so ago. He strides off and I've difficulty keeping up. "Marmite's to be found close to the jams," he says, and I can see some spreadable logic there.

He adds, "And jams are close to sugar."  I didn't know this.  We enjoy a little amiable argy-bargy about the way Tesco re-allocates shelf space for certain items ("It keeps customers on their toes," says he. "Which is not where you want to be when you're close to eighty," I riposte.)

Back with VR I suggest Tesco might do well to publish a policy document about where things are in its stores. "Especially stuff that isn't bought frequently, like Marmite," I say. "I mean twice a year and you tend to forget."

"Twice a year!", she says, still residually grumpy. "More like once every four years. Unless Ian (our grandson) visits."

I didn't know that either.

Thursday 11 June 2015

To Hell in a hack

 I am continuously ashamed to read other bloggers' holiday posts: tours of XII-th century churches, discourses on geology, bracing 25-km thrusts over rough terrain, socio-economic analyses of the local neighbourhood, off to bed at 22.00 to read Heinrich Hesse. Whereas we... are so unambitious, so vulgar and ultimately  so debauched.

Last night, for instance, primed with Leffe (Belgian beer) and Desperados (a hideous tequila-adulterated lager), and after seven or eight bottles of rosé and/or white, out came the unexpected bottle of Limoncello (dispatched after one rotation of the Lazy Susan) and then the standby Pessoa (such a pretty pink) before oblivion descended. Sustained by a baby's bath full of paella while it was still light.

And, oh the noise from ungoverned and unenlightened conversation. Veritably our lives lack subtlety.

Two days before we set out to lunch at Capestang but La Galinière there was closed. Things then became tricky. We are seven and thus two cars. But the satnav employed by D, Ysabelle's partner, has turned out to be defective and we must needs travel in convoy as we test narrow roads with grass growing in the middle. Great potential for embarrassment. In peculiarly named Quarante, growing in desperation, we saw a chalk-board saying: Plat du Jour: Foie de Veau. D has picky tastes, but the hell with it. We entered the scruffiest of scruffy French bars, TV playing, drunks roaring at each other.

Followed by a kind of magic. A genial waiter who indulged Zach, an option of bifteck for the liver, comparative conversation about liver in GB and La République. Result: a nugatory sense of achievement.

Previously there'd been karting with D running off the other D (OS's hubbie) at the sweeping right-hander.

Honestly, you'd hate to be with us

Sunday 7 June 2015

The bikers unveil

In the end, despite my protestations about my need to communicate with the natives, we're like all other Francophiles, we eat out a lot. Especially with the temperature as it was yesterday PM, at 38 deg C.

Heck it's a holiday, we're here to enjoy ourselves. Finally we have a photo that proves the point with only VR appearing contemplative. For once the complete party has been captured on spouse's selfie.

I've posted about this place before. Its actual name is Les Tilleuls but we affectionately call it The Fly Restaurant. It sits by the roadside - almost in the road - and while we were eating a group of be-visored motorcyclists riding expensive bikes pulled up and did their now familiar Dance Of The Seven Veils. Divesting themselves of their helmets and jackets they revealed themselves as corpulent and in their early sixties.

The only major disagreement is between VR and me - she goes there for the barbecued duck breast, I for the mutton chop. The nearby village is St-Maurice-Navacelles - it's remote and every approach is gorgeous. The drive from our present villa takes 1 hr 21 min. but it's worth it.

WV BOOBOO For some reason or other - possibly because we're in France - an alternative WV system crops up. A dozen thumbnails of edibles and I was asked to tick those related to sushi. I ticked two but there were more. I scored better with gateaux.

FRENCH PHYSIC Grand-daughter Ysabelle, born to shine in France with a name spelt like that, had the collywobbles. A pharmacien offered the curiously named specific shown below.

Friday 5 June 2015

Charlie still lives

Remember the massacred journalists with France's Charlie Hebdo? I bought the latest edition of the mag (Price €3) and the journos still living are as ribald as ever. Decoding the jokes can be, however, a real brain-cracker and good taste is discounted.

The front page (above) suggests Charlie isn't in love with former president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Planning a comeback Small Sarky aims to call his new party The Republicans, something of a national no-no given that most French people regard themselves as just that already. The cartoon bubble summarises Sarky's new/old policies: Crush the testicles, stuff the ballot boxes.
The other big story concerns corruption at FIFA, the worldwide organisation for controlling soccer. Faced with the FBI tie-wearers the long-serving FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter, decided to resign. Here the bubble provides a sort of epitaph: He wasn't a bad sort of chap, he simply fell among thieves. A much simpler (and better) FIFA joke appears in the lower cartoon which shouldn't need translating.

Many of the double-, triple-, and quadruple-entendres are beyond this simple soul and some articles are discouragingly long. However, I culled these from a column of briefs.

BAD TASTE AWARD? Many train services have been cancelled. One may no longer travel directly from Drancy to Auschwitz.

IDENTITY Johnny has had wife Laeticia tattooed. The reason: should he contract Alzheimer's he doesn't want to deceive himself when he fancies deceiving his wife.

EVOLUTION Fourteen percent of French men were mistreated when young. As adults they now vote FN (Front National - the extreme right lot).

SAFER A child playing with a kite (actually a cerf-volant - a flying stag) got electrocuted. Had he stayed in his bedroom watching porn he would still be living.

Anyone translating jokes is on a hiding to  nothing. But then there was nothing funny about the massacres.

Monday 1 June 2015

Elegance traduced

Why France?

Not for the wine (I do better with The Wine Society in the good old UK). Not for the food (More and more restaurants there are rebranding themselves as pizzerias). Not for the scenery (NZ is superior). Not for the politics (Francois Hollande shrinks every living day). Not for the movies (They may have invented the phrase Film noir but they've only occasionally followed it up). Not for their public coveniences (They haven't got rid of all their asiatiques).

So what's left? Just this: the French, unlike the Brits, willingly listen to me speaking French. Which is a great treat.

But it's a treat that can weigh heavily.

On the way down to Autignac last Friday we stopped at a hotel in Chevilly, near Orléans. RR and VR in a room on the ground floor, OS, spouse and Zach on the first floor. OS was lollygagging with us while spouse was attending to Zach. It was quite late. Suddenly hands appeared outside our window, it was spouse. He'd been unable to reach our room since the dining room - the only conduit - was now locked. Risking his all he'd exited the hotel (without any means of re-entering) hoping to communicate with us by sign language. Our window was quite high, hence the disembodied hands. OS, ever efficient, found a way of admitting him but he (and she) still had no means of returning to their room.

I rang the patron who resolved the problem.

One learns French to discuss rhyming alexandrines, Foucault of pendulum fame, the bicameral parliamentary system, and de Gaulle's certaine idée. Not this sort of stuff. I was not only fatigued but somewhat betrayed.

My offspring applauded ironically.

Pic: Zach tackles saucisse in Béziers