A lyric from one of my favourite songs ever.
I had such a crush on Ian McCulloch and his debut solo album Candleland is just amazing. As is the album this is taken from. I love a man with back-combed hair, it is true.
Anyway… Spring has sprung. It’s maybe a little later than last year, since this time last year, my ornamental plum had flowers on March 1st and yesterday it had its first flowers of 2012 and that’s one of the beauties of having a diary or a blog is seeing what you were up to this time last year. I notice my flower garden did not do so well – combination of repeated trips to the UK in May and then again in July – and because it was so dry. Also, I tried a few packets of seeds, but they were very old and came to nothing.
One of the things I love very much about this life is the renewed life that spring gives you. I just didn’t feel it the same in the UK – mainly because there are still arctic breezes that cut through and stick a knife right in your ribs. Yesterday, I got in the car and it said this:
I thought as I drove to my afternoon appointments that all the winter cold is forgiven just for one day like this. I can live with it knowing that the landscape goes from one under snow to one bursting with life in a month. And it is true, winter did give me a time of rest, hibernation and a time to earn a little money indoors.
This is what I came here looking for… proper spring, wide-open countryside, empty roads, greens and blues. You can see why I don’t miss the traffic and the M60 and the M61 and the traffic lights through Bolton and the sitting and the waiting for four turns of the lights to actually move up far enough to get through to the next bit. I miss many, many things about the UK, not least that Bolton feels like home and when I need to retreat, this place still feels like somewhere I’m visiting rather than somewhere I know like the back of my hand.
I think that’s partly to do with the fact that in England, by and large, most of my routes involved six or seven main ways to get there. Even when I worked in Clitheroe and had to drive 30 miles from my house to work across some beautiful landscapes, mostly it was fairly bleak – though I always loved the drive across from Preston to Clitheroe – which is a straight, fast road (not unlike the ones we have here) that slipped through Pendle Vale in the shadow of Longridge Fell and then Pendle Hill. On a good day, you can see all the way up to the Lake District – and yes, I would have loved to have lived in the Lake District and maybe one day I will be able to buy a house in the Lake District – one day when I am a millionaire. One of my great aunts and her husband had a house in the Lake District – I still remember that house. It was amazing. They live outside Penrith now, and I love it up there too, but it’s not the same as having a house in the shadow of a huge hill.
So yes, I miss this. I miss those days when we had training up in Cumbria and I had an overnight stay in Grange-over-Sands or Ullswater. I miss our training days in Ambleside. When I was an English teaching consultant, we often had our meetings up around the lakes. My very first one, fresh out of teaching in Clitheroe, was in Grange. It was May – our meeting started at 10:00 and having been used to setting off at 6:50 to make it to school for 7:30, then teaching all day before rolling in back at my house around 6:30, after all the traffic had gone – it was a complete shock to the system. My predecessor, Mary, who had moved to be an English consultant in another county and was thus at the meeting, had been for a run before the meeting. Two ladies sat drinking tea and reading the paper. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Whilst I think it’s true that you are probably only appreciated in paid employment for about six months (the time it takes for your bosses to grow accustomed to your efficiency and talent and then just to expect it, before, finally, getting frustrated if you do anything remotely human and non-robotic) I think maybe the same is true of jobs. I did work too hard at that job and invested far too much in it. Maybe I should have been a little lazier and enjoyed it a little more? That morning, I’d set off at 7:00 from Bolton to drive up – most people stayed over the night before. I ate in a Little Chef and they had breakfast in the restaurant. I was far too decent to take £15 for a breakfast from the tax payer. More fool me. I still am like that. There are some people in life from whom the tax man makes money just to support those others. I guess that was me.
So there were times I enjoyed my drive to work. There were times my offices were conducive to creativity. For the rest of those times, I had an office at the end of a dark corridor, or in a musty old building, or an office in an under-stairs cupboard formerly used for cleaning materials. Now I always stop to make sure I appreciate what’s around me – and even in the winter, I have the privilege of always finding beauty around me. I could have stopped in fifty places yesterday just for a little look about and to snap a photograph. Perhaps I should.
It made me very happy to do a top-ten list last week and I figured I’d do it as a regular feature, like I used to do when I was a teenager. Last week, I did a top ten of bands. All of my favourites. Well, my top ten favourites.
I thought today, I’d do my top ten singers of the solo variety.
1. Of course, this spot goes to Monsieur Leonard Cohen, all 77 fabulous years of him. I may dedicate future lists to my top ten LC songs, but my absolute hands-down favourite is Hallelujah. However, since some X-Factor trash ruined it, I won’t play this until she’s firmly out of the stratosphere and the song belongs once again to Mr Cohen and even Mr Buckley. My second favourite then is Everybody Knows.
I can’t even say how much I love his chocolatey voice and the violins on this track. Not to mention the lyrics. I’m Your Man came out in 1988 and I still haven’t put it down.
2. David Bowie – hate to say it but he didn’t get better than Hunky Dory, but that album alone is more than enough to make me happy. He’s 65 now. 65. He doesn’t still have it as much as LC does though. It’d be too cheesy to pick Life on Mars? as my favourite track, but it is. I bought my pristine original copy from Bury flea market in about 86/87 and copied it onto tape – the album I own has only ever been played once on vinyl
3. Alison Moyet. She’s genius. She makes me happy and she makes me sad. I love her voice. Here, she’s singing one of my favourite songs…
4. Bruce Springsteen. His new album is out today. I haven’t got it yet. Bruce gets inside my head and heart and starts squeezing somewhere around stomach. Here’s the favourite of all…
He just sings with every single bit he’s got. How he’s not a broken man who’s given his everything, I don’t know. This man puts everything he’s got into every single song he ever sings. He might be 62, but he’s still a hunk too.
5. Gwen Stefani. Pre-Gaga Post-Madonna. I love her in No Doubt and I love her solo. I love her so much if Gavin Rossdale up and leaves, I’ll marry her and be her dog. I love her fashion and how she can have a thousand looks and a thousand different types of music. It’s not so much the voice but who she is that puts her in my top ten.
6. Damien Rice… because he makes my heart hurt and if he’d only just done this one song, he’d still be in my top ten. It reminds me so much of loves lost and long gone.
And if this wasn’t enough, he went and topped it with Blower’s Daughter.
7. Johnny Cash. Just because the man is a legend. I was going to say he can take a song and make it better like no other man can, but there are a good few covers better than the original. There’s another list in the making.
8. He might be a midget. He might be weird. He might have had a meltdown. He might have had a fetish for scary-looking women, but he is THE songwriter extraordinaire. He might even be, as someone once said of Kylie, ‘sex on a stick’; he was the number one choice of my teen love of 1987, Mr D. Showman, and I spent a lot of 1987 listening to Sign O’ The Times and a lot of 1988 listening to Lovesexy. I’m talking about Prince, of course. Hard to know which of his oh so many excellent tracks to pick. There’s another future top ten. I’ve gone for I would die 4 U. He brought you text-speak way before mobile phones. That’s how he rolls. He brought you bonkers way before Jacko got Wacko. Jacko was still being Bad and Prince was watching girls walking in through the out door.
He does happy. He does crazy. He does love songs. He does sex songs. He does social songs. He does songs about cars. He does songs about Sesame Street. Versatile, you see. Plus, he became a Jehovah’s Witness because of Larry Graham. And I love Larry Graham. I’ve even softened up towards Jehovah’s Witnesses just because Larry is one.
9. I’ve got to even the balance because this is a man-orientated list, and I know this singer fits straight in the Alison Moyet camp, but I don’t care. I could easily post Janis Joplin (whose Take Another Little Piece of My Heart is more ballsy than any man I’ve ever met) and I could also easily post Amy Winehouse too, because Back to Black is a tremendous album that just aches, but Dusty is the Queen of emotional singing, if you want my opinion. It’s a little sad that the emotions got a little too much for Miss Janis and Miss Amy.
10. Finally, and I thought LOOOONG and hard about this, I picked Juanes. I put his albums in my CD player in the car and they don’t come out again. I struggled to find one single song I wanted on here. He’s going to be another with a top ten, I guess.
I’ve had to leave loads out. I could have added Shakira or Pink, both of whom I love very much, Mika, Annie Lennox, Raphael (La Petite Misere is a fabulous song and this man could sing about dustbins and make it sound sexy, although watching his video where he’s feeling up a statue takes him into Prince territory) James Morrison, ah – too many! I realise I left out the Kings of Leon in my last list and I love them. No doubt I’ll remember someone fabulous who I’ve missed out. This is why I used to do a different list every week!
Anyway, enjoy! And Happy Tuneful Tuesday to you all!
Today I’m loving a little of the Mamas and the Papas, so here’s your Monday Monday track. I love watching old videos like this. They’re both so dated and yet so cool.
I don’t think there are quite so many bands that are so evocative of a place and time.
So what am I loving this fine Monday morning? Firstly, I’ve made a start on the two little bedside units I bought a couple of weeks ago from Le Bon Coin.
I’ve sanded them down and given one of them a coat of undercoat.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing with them yet – am I going for matt or satin? Am I going for a white or cream? I quite fancy a contrasting colour, so I’m thinking either the wicked pink on my dining room shutters, the orange of my lean-to wall, or even a black or turquoise. I’m spoilt for choice. I thought about an entire colour and then bands of white, but it’s much easier to do other things with them when it’s mostly white or mostly cream.
I’ve done part of the first undercoat and I’ll do the second today:
To be honest, there were hundreds of things I wanted to do. I could go for some padding with fabric, or a design, or a stripped-back look, or a Greek Key kind of pattern, or some hand-painting, or gold, or any million of ideas that float around in my head. However, you’ve kind of got to go with the design and shape of the thing – to do some stuff would just look silly. And I’m pretty organic. Once I see a colour I really like in Brico L’Eclerc tomorrow, I’ll know what I’m doing. I’ve got orange and pink here, so if I see nothing, I know I’ve got some good choices at home. I’m thinking turquoise though. Mainly because I’ve got a yukata I brought back from Japan that is turquoise with white cranes on it and I’d like to make more a feature of that. It’s too gorgeous.Plus, I like turquoise.
So, I’m loving the up-cycling.
I’m also loving the warmer days. By the end of the week, it’s looking like being 20 degrees. Lots of my seeds are beginning to poke their heads out from beneath the soil.
I’ve got some cauliflowers appearing, as well as some leeks and a couple of geraniums. I’m pleased with the geraniums because apparently they’re hard to get to germinate. The turnips are again far too easy to germinate. Last week, we had spicy parsnip soup with the parsnips from last year. I loved them. They were fabulously sweet and superbly parsnippy – not for Steve, as he is not a fan of sweet things – but it was very tasty nonetheless.
Mostly, all the vines are pruned – just a few left to do. Today is a day for joining the local library – something I’ve been planning on doing for a while, mainly because it’s in the chateau and I quite fancy going to a library that is in a real-live castle.
I’ve also got much love for my friend David, who is just about the most sweet person on the whole planet. I’d lost touch with him in about 2008 and he sent me this message yesterday via Facebook: “ It’s David here : I’ve been living in bristol and on adventures. I’ve come back to Adlington to visit friends. Have you got a telephone number. I would love to talk to you as i think it will make you laugh a lot and happy.”
Only David can make me feel all happy to get a message saying he’s been having adventures. His whole life is an adventure, and yes, he’s right. It will make me happy. Bless David. I never knew a person so full of niceness. I have two favourite memories of David. One is when we went to the 24 hour garage in Bolton, late one evening. We’d been holed up inside and keeping out of the winter weather. For some reason, and I have no reason why, David was wearing my pyjamas and I was wearing his coat. In my tartan pyjamas and pink duffel coat, and his shoes, he went to the garage. I don’t think either of us thought it looked weird. I love David with my whole heart. He does make me happy indeed and I used to love our adventures too. He always makes me smile.
My other memory of David is in the Dog and Partridge in Bolton. It’s a spit-and-sawdust type of pub with lots of cubby holes. It is – or was, at any rate – roughly painted with lots of home-made flyers for bands and a tiny, tiny bar. Some nights they had bands on; other nights, they had open mike night. I knew David played guitar, but I didn’t know how well until he was asked to play. He did and I was mesmerised. He doesn’t play songs as such, mainly things he’s just made up. He plays the kind of music that makes my soul ache. He was by far and away one of the best musicians I’ve ever heard play and I was very proud I was with him that night when he’d finished and came and sat back down next to me. I love Lil David very much.
And as for my poem of the week, today, it is a part of John Clare’s poem First Love Recollections. John Clare is one of my favourite poets, and this is one of my favourite poems from him. It’s another of those I know off-by-heart.
First love will with the heart remain
When all its hopes are bye,
As frail rose-blossoms still retain
Their fragrance when they die;
And joy’s first dreams will haunt the mind
With shades from whence they sprung,
As summer leaves the stems behind
On which spring’s blossoms hung.
I’m not a lunatic, contrary to popular belief. I’m not entirely sold on the fact that we should plant things at particular times of the month depending on lunar cycles, especially since there’s no scientific evidence for it, but then a big part of me thinks the moon can cause huge tides and can even have an effect on a little puddle, so why wouldn’t it have an effect on a plant. Not completely lunatic.
Anyway, I quite often follow Rustica’s advice on when to plant stuff, mainly because a) they are a gardening magazine and b) it’s a good reminder of what to do each day. It’s not because I believe in lunacy. I promise.
Today was one of those days when Rustica and I accidentally ended up doing the same thing. Pruning vines.
I thought I was a bit late. I am, in all honesty. I’m not sure when I should have done it – I was waiting for a frost and then it snowed and I couldn’t do it. Not such a good idea to prune in winter, mainly because it’s cold. If I think it’s cold, the plants do too. I take heart from the fact that half the vineyards round here ARE pruned, and half AREN’T. I also take heart from the fact that there are very many methods to growth and nobody seems to favour the exact same one. Pretty much, it comes down to leaving one longer branch with four buds on it, and one shorter branch with two buds on it on each side of the T shaped rootstock. This is not so easy for me because most of my vines aren’t T shaped at all, contrary to the pretty ones in the vineyards which are almost perfectly T shaped. Some of mine are S shaped. Some are more of a V. Some are a Y shape. Some of them don’t look like the alphabet at all, which makes them really hard to describe. But branches were growing out of them at all kinds of angles when we first got here, so I did the best I could. Considering I pruned them all back in early April, I’m pretty pleased I got anything at all and didn’t kill them. When you have 130 vines and no desire to a) make pineau b) attempt a small amount of wine or c) eat grapes 24/7 for 3 or 4 weeks, 1 or 2 don’t go amiss anyway.
Despite my early faux-pas, I got a good harvest, we made some paint stripper and I resolved never to try to make wine again.
Last year, I pruned over the winter – way before this point in the year on account of my premature zeal. We had a good harvest and I thought of other things to do with the grapes, like make grape jelly, freeze grape juice and make grape sorbet (the best fruit of my labour, it must be said, though I’m partial to grape jelly).
This year, snow and work kept me inside. I’ve only just started. I thought I was en retard. It turns out I was bang on, to the day, according to Rustica. I feel a little less silly. Now I’m more certain our elderly cock of the neighbourhood is not looking over my hedge laughing. I can say quite safely that I consulted Rustica and it said it was a good job for pruning.
Not only that, but I am also boxing up my clippings. Some people use them for barbecues, claiming the vine wood is the best for a barbecue. Italians say it is olive wood or laurel. The people round here say barbecues. I can’t see me having many barbecues of my own volition this summer – the IDEA of eating outside is nice, but bees/wasps/insects/mozzies/hens/dogs/cats are somewhat of a nuisance in reality, plus, there are about 4 days in the year when it’s not too hot outside to be slaving over a barbecue, when our beautifully cool house doesn’t offer a much nicer cooking arrangement – and it’s not too cold so that the house is warmer than it is outside. So saving my clippings for barbecues isn’t very useful.
Firestarting is though, so I’ve been boxing them up to start fires. With a handful of vine branches, you can have a perfect fire going relatively quickly. It’s easy to buy huge logs and medium sized logs and even little logs, but way more difficult to buy a bag of twigs, and unless you want to wander around looking for kindling much like Hansel or Gretel, then this is a vital part of the fire-making equation. So all of my clippings are going straight into the fire bins ready for October. How very sensible I am.
Our second row of broad beans has appeared, as have my early peas. I’ve got a row of broad beans in that I planted up that had been started off inside, and the same for a row of peas. Steve’s tomatoes have all sprouted, as have the chives and the cauliflower. Oh how I love this time of year!
I’ve spent a good couple of hours outside today, just chopping and pruning and binning up. I’m usually accompanied by a) The Chickens (who aren’t a patch on the former chickens who used to follow me around relentlessly) b) Noireau who likes to come outside if I’m outside and miaows like mental if I go out of his range and c) Tilly who doesn’t really want to be outside but is worried I might be finding things for her to eat or smell or roll in and doesn’t want to miss out. Sometimes, I feel like the Pied Piper. I’m sure I must make a comical sight, especially since I talk to Noireau all the time in French to reassure him and the chickens have taken up the habit of crouching down for petting. I am now a chicken-petting, French-cat-talking weirdo. But at least I’ve cut my vines back at an appropriate time!
I am, as you know, a fan of reading. Reading in general, reading specifically, reading closely, reading over people’s shoulders, reading on trains and buses, reading in bed and even reading on the toilet or in the bath. It’s all good.
At the moment, I’m reading The Year of Living Biblically by a man I’d quite like to marry if he weren’t already married: A J Jacobs.
First off, he seems to have written several books I wish I’d written. The first of these was called The Know-it-All and it’s about how he read the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not entirely, and not in one sitting, but he’s a man with a trivial mind, obviously. I’d like to have read the Encyclopedia Britannica and my head is always full of inane and pointless facts. The more I read and write, the more full of stuff my head is. Like did you know that stock brokers were such a rowdy bunch in London that they were kicked out of the Royal Exchange and had to hang about in coffee shops around the City?
I’m just reading A Year of Living Biblically which is about his attempt to live his life according to the Bible. Literally. He comes at it from an approach much as I do: the Bible is an interesting thing. He’s not quite as learned as I am about it, but that’s to be expected. Most of it is fairly insightful and amusing, but the bit about stoning is the bit I like the most. Trying to stone sinners in New York – you could quite easily get arrested.
Anyway, if you feel a little sacrilegious and would like an interesting read, this is definitely it. I’m currently working through this having just finished A Year in the Merde which is about a man living in Paris. At first, I thought it was autobiographical (despite the fact he’d given himself a different name, but then who am I to judge about that?!) and I was quite angry because the book was fairly racist and sexist. I wanted to go to his Amazon page and say how offensive I found it (in a Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells kind of way, having read it all the way through) and I’m glad I didn’t. The penny dropped half way through and I felt a little better to know it was fictional and such a racist, sexist English pig had not written a book. I was going to say ‘did not exist’, but I think I have to accept the fact I’d be facing an endless battle if I tried to go around admonishing racists and sexists. It was a quick and easy read – not literary genius, but funny enough for a French resident, especially concerning the Correze countryside and the Ile de Ré in the follow-up.
Anyway, if your reading list is thin (and mine never is…) then The Year of Living Biblically is highly amusing and entertaining. Not quite so much as Peter Moore’s travel writing, but enjoyable nonetheless. Peter Moore makes me howl hysterically on trains. I feel the need for a little lightly autobiographical list, so here it is:
Well, blue sky Monday at any rate…
My endearing memory of this song is doing some kind of rhythm dancing to it in PE. It’s a little bizarre.
I was blessed with Mrs Riley as my PE teacher throughout secondary school. She was a very silent woman. I don’t think she did much ‘teaching’. She told us what we were doing at the beginning of the term in the first year and we got ourselves into a routine. Winter was cross-country, netball and hockey. I’m not a team player. I was rubbish at cross country. It was only when I hit my late twenties that running became an obsession and I clocked up a good 100km a week, easily. I was always last at cross-country. Let’s face it, it was more of a long walk and an excuse for a cigarette on the monkey bridge than it was physical activity.
Summer was swimming, tennis or rounders. That was pretty much it.
And in this routine, we stayed until the fifth year.
She always wrote ‘good’ in tiny, precise, neat letters on my report and that was about the extent of our interaction. The song is, though, of course, a fantastic tune from a fantastic Manchester band.
Last night, we were watching a Robert Carlyle series called Looking after Jojo – it’s pretty old but the soundtrack is right out of my pre-teens. And it made me think.
During my teens, I was an avid list-maker. I listed all the things I liked. I don’t know why. It’s surprising looking back at those lists now. I made specific lists, like ‘hair I want’ (Julianne Regan from All About Eve or Susannah Hoffs from The Bangles) and I made general lists of stuff. Anyway, I thought I would do a list today of ‘Bands I love’ since Looking After Jojo reminded me how much I love The Jam.
I could pick out another forty or so, easily. But these are up there with ‘the best’. In fact, I’d kind of like to put The Killers on there, maybe The Stone Roses, maybe Green Day. And yes, they’re all popular choices. They’re popular because they’re good. I’m not that bad of a muso that I can only like bands that nobody has heard of. I know I do that with travel destinations – I can only profess to liking somewhere nobody else I know has been – for instance, I’ll always say I prefer Fes to Marrakech (well, I do) but with music, I don’t care if they’re ‘stadium rock’.
And no, I haven’t forgotten Bowie or Cohen or Alison Moyet… I’d have to have a separate list for them!
Besides Much Love for Music, I’ve got Much Love for the spring, for the green shoots, for the daffodils in flower, for snoring animals, for home-grown leeks, for leg-warmers, for brocante and bric-a-brac season, for policemen who let you off making an illegal turn, for spray paint, and for découpage.
And now for Pam’s Poetry Corner. I was thinking last week of poems I know off by heart. I am unashamed to admit I learnt this one because of Twin Peaks.
It’s a fabulous poem. It’s from one of my favourite poets (and there’s another list for you…) Shelley. Ozymandias is my favourite poem ever. Full stop. Uncontested.
But here is another of his… a more printaniere poem.
“See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea -
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me? ”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley
It’s been a while!