Monthly Archives: October 2013

In love

Possibly my friends with bigger and better cameras will chortle at my innocent raptures over my new camera – an “entry level” Canon – though I have been using my old lenses and filters the last couple of days – but I am absolutely and utterly delighted with my new Canon 1100D. I can’t tell you the joy with which I’m now going out on dog walks – it’s like a new lease of life.

Of course, I am no stranger to SLRs and I did endless hours of night school learning how to use apertures, shutter speed, depth of field, cross-processing, cropping, composure, close-ups, lighting, pinhole cameras, push processing, developing toners and filters. There is something magical in developing your own film, in choosing the temperature at which to develop the negatives, the chemicals, things that could forever alter the tone of your negatives. The darkroom magic of developing a great image was less about chemistry and more about art, though old-fashioned photography – like cookery – was a good combination of both. And like cookery, it was easy to ruin a thing.

But the most important thing? A good eye.

I remember doing a landscape project and going up to Scotland. I got lucky because it was good weather, but I still ended up lugging my tripod and all my filters, as well as b&w and colour film at 50, 100, 200, 1600 and 3200 with me. Life is not like that these days. If I want 3200, I only have to press a button (though I am yet to see the golf-ball-sized grain I’d get from Neopan or the joy of Kodak 400 TMAX.) That was the best thing about photography back then – it was a geeky little club of niche artists who had preferences for Superia or TMAX, Ilford or Kentmere – and even the best prints had flaws, no matter how much dodging or burning you did. You never expected perfection and it would drive you mad to chase it – sending you over the edge and ruining what you did, not unlike an artist who puts one stroke too many on their painting and ends up overworking it.

Of course, it is not like that now. It is no longer a club of geeky cagoule-owning darkroom experts. It’s been taken over by men obsessed with your zoom length and F2.8 aperture, by techies who know how to get the best out of Photoshop. All the sins you could commit back in the day are no longer an issue. Bad lighting, not cropping enough, too wide an aperture – all easily resolved in Photoshop. Got a speck of dust on your lens? Clone and replace. Lamp-post in the wrong place? Move it. Sky and landscape not suiting each other? Take two images and cut them out, make a collage and stick them back together again.

And let’s not talk about what they do to models and actors and musicians.

Anyway, I have put aside my borrowed digital instant camera and got out my big boy camera these last two days. Nothing stunning yet, but lots of stuff that is just quite nice. That’s the joy of photography – digital or not – you can’t predict when you’ll get one of ‘those’ images – the ones that make you cry with artistic joy. That’s the final element. Serendipity.



Oh super-fine detail and F29 with ISO 3200, how I have missed you!


Oh, depth of field! Oh F4, how I have missed you!

IMG_0020Oh polarising filter, my best friend of all, how I have missed you!

IMG_0021Oh extreme close-up with pin-sharp detail, oh Manual Focus, how I have missed you!

IMG_0026See, even France looks lovelier with your joyous abilities.

♥ Canon.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ my DSLR

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ birthday presents from family




I’m glad I spent it with you

Lou Reed. One of the musical threads that holds the tapestry of my life in place.

1988. The Royal Hotel, Bury. Watching Henny playing pool with Danny. Boys in jeans with long hair and check shirts. Take a Walk on the Wild Side on the jukebox, with Sarah by Thin Lizzy and Hendrix and Deep Purple. Something about those lazy sounds and the nonchalance, the casual ease that said “whatever floats your boat, dude.” – those great jukebox hits that taught us to appreciate the older guys, that said it wasn’t all about anger and the hard edge. This was the sound of Saturday afternoons out of the rain when the day took the edge off the hard nights. Transformer was 15 years old that year – just like me. We grew up together. Me and Transformer and Hunky Dory. Long before the long haired freaks hit The Royal, it was just a place where a few kids could go for a beer if you didn’t fancy hanging out with the townies at the Knowsley or the wannabe gangsters at the Clarence. Old Men’s Pubs overtaken by kids in dirty jeans and motorbike jackets.

Satellite of Love is my favourite from this album though. Lou and Bowie at their best.

1991. The Doors movie. I saw this maybe four or five times in the newly opened multiplex in Bury – it’s the only thing I did between March and May that is of any significance. Caught up between a boy with a thousand faces and a boy who was not unlike the young Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise. The soundtrack to that movie became the soundtrack to my summer. The last great summer before I went to Sheffield. The summer when I still had a bit of the naive child left in me. Heroin by the Velvet Underground was the only modern track on the soundtrack beyond those by The Doors.

1992. Brixton. July. Lying on the floor in Jewels’ place, him plaiting my hair and talking about Marx and Lenin, God and angels. Oatmeal pancakes and fresh orange juice, pink rice from the Turkish takeaway. Me feeling glad I’d taken Sociology and being able to keep up a little bit with the smartest guy I ever knew. You don’t have to be a scholar to be smart. He knew me better than I knew myself. I know he told me then that I would always be a champion for the underdog, a collector of lost souls. He was right. On starry nights, I hope that he goes out onto the shores of Lake Maracaibo and looks up at the heavens. I look at star scenes every time I can. They always remind me that we see the same things, just a different way around.

1996. Bolton. Another soundtrack to my life. Trainspotting. Another Lou Reed track. The first time it would be in my life. Perfect Day. A different group of friends. A different time. It was the summer of endless energy and staying up all night, falling asleep in a heap of friends. No idea why but my endearing memory of that time is a lighter that fell onto the fire. We put the fire out, forgot about it, then switched it back on a few hours later. There were colossal fireworks. Still young enough not to think of the damage it could cause.

2001. Bolton. Perfect Day Mark II. Me singing karaoke in a bar with Andy’s best friend Kev in a Chinese restaurant. I did my first marathon the next day and I ate nothing but boiled rice to stock up on starch. It was the night when I took the last, best photograph of Andy – him doing a stupid pose like Doctor Evil in Austin Powers. This is the way your life unfolds. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

I guess there are a good few people out there who have a Lou Reed soundtrack of their own. The Velvet Underground & Nico deserves a blog post all of its own. Not only did Lou Reed play well with Bowie, but with another favourite of mine too – John Cale. And anyone who read 50 Shades looking for a little titillation would do well to look to Venus in FursThere’s more to do with kinky sex in those five minutes than there are in three entire books, without hardly mentioning sex.

Ultimately, though, pioneer as he definitely was, Lou Reed’s works will no doubt have left a mark on many people’s lives. If you do one thing today, dig out a copy of Transformer and spend a little time remembering where Lou was in your life. It seems to me like he holds together many pieces in the patchwork of my teenage years.

I ♥ Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Could there be a more iconic female to kickstart your Monday (or, in my case, to bring it to a close?) No, I don’t think so. Here’s Joanie with the amazing I love Rock N Roll. 

I nearly plumped for the Chesney Hawkes’ “epic” I am the One and Only after hearing it on the radio this morning. However, Chezza will have to wait. Joan just kicked him out of the queue for Much Love. Anyway, when Chesney sings ‘I am the one and only, nobody I’d rather be’, I’m sorry, Chesney, but you obviously hadn’t met Joan Jett otherwise you’d rather be her. Who wouldn’t? She might be 55 (yes really!) but Joan could still kick the proverbial arse.

Anyway, you’ll have to excuse my tardiness. I’ve been back in Manchester all weekend visiting family and I’m always a little dizzy after a flight. I was a complete space cadet on Friday until I had a Turkish Delight. You don’t get Turkish Delight chocolate in France apart from in niche English stores, so it’s a rare, rare treat for me. In fact, it was the first chocolate bar I saw. I didn’t get any further than that. I did manage a couple of Toffee Crisps later in the weekend.

I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy it very much indeed.

Second thing on the agenda (well, third after eating Fry’s Turkish Delight and marvelling at the shiny new cars on British roads) was getting a new camera – a belated 40th Birthday present. I picked up my first DSLR – a baby Canon 1100D – not up there with the big bad boys (and all my male geek friends who like things to be much more powerful) but it will a) use all my lenses from my SLR b) use all my filters from my SLR and c) take good pictures. Yay! Much Love for that!

After strange chocolate and cameras, it was lunch, then a trip to my mum’s new allotment, then a trip to see my Nana. Nanas rock, especially if they are like my Nana. She isn’t going to ever be the Shreddies’ knitting nana type (though she knits up a storm) because she still gets her toenails painted and skypes people. She doesn’t think that is anything amazing, but I do. I’ve been ‘off-grid’ for three years and now my sister’s TV is totally incomprehensible to me. We atrophy easily.

Of course, there is little not to love when I go back to England for a visit. Chinese food a-go-go. I didn’t even get as far as having curry, simply because I was enjoying having Chinese food so much. In between Chinese food and family visits, my sister and I did what we do best: be silly and go shopping. We found several onesies to be in love with (though not Asda onesies, which look like prison onesies) and I marvelled at the size of British bras. French bras are obviously made for women who have no need for a bra. English bras are made for women who need all kinds of scaffolding. Why I love English bras so much is that they don’t assume that just because you are bigger than an A cup that you don’t want some kind of padding to avoid inadvertent nipple displays. French bras beyond a B cup lend themselves to nothing more than being relegated to life underneath very thick fabrics, or jumpers, or coats. Thus you can get good t-shirt bras that can’t be used as an impromptu weather detector. Boobs are one thing. I trust people not to stare at boobs. Huge nipples are another. I defy even partially blind people to avoid eye contact with an erect nipple.

Heaven only knows what kind of web traffic this post is going to bring me. Oh well.

So… new clothes, new camera, tummy full of Gaviscon (I obviously eat a lot of very simple food out here… something I hadn’t even thought about!) and then dogs to come home to followed by a full-on fire.

Mondays do not get better than that.

Just wish I’d sneaked a Turkish Delight onto the plane…

Whenever you’re in trouble…

Today’s MLM is brought to you by Ben E. King and Stand by Me. 

I don’t think you can be between the ages of 35 and 40 and not have been influenced by this film – it’s one of the seminal experiences of growing up at the tail end of Generation X, when all the Baby Boomers were making films about coming of age. Between this and The Goonies – you couldn’t ask for better films. So many epic films about childhood and teen years in those mid 1980s (not least my favourite, Pretty In Pink) that said everything about friendship and values that ever needed saying.

p.s. just as an aside, can you belive River Phoenix has been dead for 20 years. That’s just made me feel so old. In fact, he died on October 31st.

Anyway, apart from having Much Love for the childhood epics of 1985 and 86, I’ve also got Much Love for being older. Friendships when you are young are so complicated. Rare are those times when you find a friend you really love and trust as a teenager – especially since you live in each other’s pockets. Nowadays, you can just say “I like you very much!” and not have to care about whether they just want to copy your homework or whether they are going to bitch about how many times you’ve rolled your skirt up, or how big your blazer is, or how flat and crappy your hair looks.

I think it’s only when you’re older, too, that you get to appreciate being part of a community. I mean, I was part of a great community growing up – my extended family had plenty of children, cousins, aunties, uncles and the likes – and I lived in a suburban heaven. We went to church and Brownies and Guides or cubs. We had village fêtes and were attendants for the Rose Queen. We had school fairs and discos and slid on our knees across the hall floor. But when you’re a child, surrounded by a safe bubble like this, you don’t really understand that this is something to cherish.

That’s why yesterday was such a fantastic day. It was the bi-annual book fair for the Hope Association (as it has been since Friday and still is today for those people tidying up!) and though I was feeling pretty grotty on my way up, from the moment I got there, I felt that old sense of what it means to be a part of something bigger than myself. I had barely got in through the door when it’s hugs and kisses from this person or that person, beaming smiles from my ‘regular’ friends. In fact, I DIDN’T get in through the door for a good five minutes because I had a good old catch up with someone right at the door. And I could have spent all weekend there, I am sure, catching up with the people I don’t get to see very often. I think you search all your life for that place where it feels like home, where people are glad to see you and you can really feel the love!

So yes, the book sale raises thousands of pounds to help out the local SPAs, to help rehome animals who have been abandoned and help take the weight off the rehoming charities out here. Yes, it helps out Twilight, the doggie retirement home. It does all of these things. And that is lovely. But what it does more is make a community out of a band of ex-pats, bringing them from miles and miles to come together and smile.

Sure, some of us see each other more regularly (though never as regularly as we’d like) but for most of us out here, afloat in a sea of Frenchness, it’s nice to catch up with people we haven’t seen for yonks. So, big, big Monday smooches to the Hope Association. It’s so much more than just helping out animals who need a home. Plus, it allows me to tick off one box in my requirement list for finding people I like. Must Love Animals. (Though I suspect a fair few had gone to share another of my requirements. Must Love Fish and Chips.) ANNNNNNDDDD – most of all – it allows me to identify those people who meet the most important of my requirements: Must Love Books.

We mere mortals can have no real idea of what it is like, twice a year, to arrange and organise thousands and thousands of books, then pack them up and put them back in storage til the next time. And that’s just the books. There’s the cake-making and the tea, the calendars and the raffle, the toilet cleaning and the mopping up after the visitors have all gone home.

So, aside from helping out abandoned animals, eating fish and chips, eating fantastic cake, having lovely cups of tea, meeting up with so many people I don’t get to see enough of, petting several rescued doggies, cooing over the calendar pictures, you would maybe wonder where I got the time to search out any books.

But search I did. I found all of my reading material for the winter for less than 20€. Limiting myself to one bag of books is a little difficult, but I am very pleased with my lovely ‘new’ books.

After all that, I don’t think I have much more Monday love left.

Let’s hope today is as good as yesterday!

Bookish Survey

Two facts about me.

  1. I love books
  2. I love surveys

So here are both, in one tidy, neat form. Hoorah. This marriage of loveliness came from expert crocheter (is that a word??) and pug-owner, Habitual Homebody.

Author you’ve read the most books from:

Not counting school books, since I have read a lot of those, I guess it would be Michael Connolly or Robert Crais. Some people haven’t written as many books, which makes it tricky, since I might really have enjoyed them, but they weren’t quite so prolific. Shakespeare would be up there if he wrote books, but he didn’t. He wrote plays. So I can’t say him. I think Isabel Allende, maybe. I’ve read everything of hers. Or Angela Carter.

Best Sequel Ever:

The Silence of the Lambs. No doubt. There are lots of books I’d like to read a sequel of, but this was my favourite. Red Dragon was epic.

Currently Reading:

Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes story. Something soie in French. Maybe it’s called House of Silk? I’m too lazy to look.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Tea or coffee. Or coffee. Or tea.

E-reader or Physical Book?

Both. I did stick my nose in a book yesterday, though. I love the smell of books.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

Knowing my track record, Holden Caulfield. I fell in love with all the boys in The Outsiders (and the fact that S.E. Hinton was 17 when she wrote it.) and although I have a special place in my heart for the Johnny Cade boys, I was always a Dallas Winston girl. But a neurotic, semi-psychotic grumpy contradiction like Holden Caulfield was probably what I would have ended up with. No. I lie. I had funny, wisecracker boyfriends. I think Two-Bit Matthews from The Outsiders, then.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Best book I ever read that I didn’t expect to be good. I was hooked right from the first page. The ending broke my heart. I’m glad he’s writing a sequel.

Hidden Gem Book:

I’m stuck here, because I’m such a populist reader. I just read whatever the bookshop have gone to the trouble of displaying. It’s a compulsion. Once I pick it up, I’m hooked. That’s why I don’t get past the appetiser books they put out on tables. I’m going to say The Wasp Factory just because it’s not something most people have read, though Iain Banks is very popular. Or The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter. Great story.

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

Being in Bury Children’s Library as a child. From Noel Streatfield and Ballet Shoes to Monica Dickens, right the way through to the teen section in the adult library, that was it for me. Free books. Free books they let you read. What more could you want?

Just Finished:

It’s ages since I read anything non-work-related. I can’t even remember.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I am not a romance girl. I hate “rom-coms”. I’m not a Catherine Cookson type, either. It makes me all bleurgh.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Possibly the last ones in The Game of Thrones series. That was epic. It kept me reading all April and May. And got me in bed. If not, something by Stephen King. It is pretty long, or Needful Things. A Suitable Boy, also, absolute epic. I like what Stephen King said about long books – a short story is like a kiss from a stranger in a train going through a tunnel. A long story is like a love affair.

Major book hangover because of:

I’m sticking with Habitual Homebody on this one. The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. She said “The very last book in the series, I was sobbing hysterically and felt really damn sad it was over.” It will seriously alter how you read, I promise you. It’s Shakespeare, it’s The Tempestit’s fantasy, it’s modernist, it’s an epic, it’s brilliant. End of.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Twelvety. Seriously. Hundreds.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden… anything for school that I had to teach… God, hundreds. I love re-reading.

Preferred Place To Read:

In my bed!

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

I’m going to be really sad now, because it’s a smooch and if anyone gets the idea I’m soppy, I might have to come and punch you, but my quote is from The Great Gatsby. 

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Genius. Not inspiring as such, but what a kiss.

Or else this from Angela Carter…

““We must all make do with what rags of love we find flapping on the scarecrow of humanity.”

And my third favourite is a quote from a poem (for poems are my quotable hunting grounds)

“There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.” by his Highness of Deep, Leonard Cohen.

Reading Regret:

Vernon God Little. I used to have a boss who was very literary. She used to recommend me books. I never enjoyed reading any of them. I used to wonder why she read. If you like Holden Caulfield, read Catcher in the Rye. If you don’t like whiney little bitches, stay the hell away from this. In my head, I hoped it would be like Napoleon Dynamite. It wasn’t. I’ve regretted many a Booker Prize book (though many have been great) Vernon God Little beat the marvellous Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Shameful.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series):

None. I am a compulsive reader. I devour all until there is nothing left on the bones to pick over. It’s why I’m hoping George R.R. Martin doesn’t die, because I will be well cross at him if he doesn’t finish the book.

Three of your All-Time FavoUrite Books:

I can’t pick three. That would be too difficult. Gatsby, Shadow of the Wind, Daughter of Fortune,

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

George R.R. Martin. I’m hooked. Him and Robert Crais or Michael Connolly. And Angela Carter. And Margaret Atwood.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

A Suitable Girl by Vikram Seth. I don’t even know if he has started it yet.

Worst Bookish Habit:

I leave books in my bed. I have a bed full of books. And I take my socks off in bed too, so I have a bed full of books and socks.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

Depends which shelf… I live in a library, virtually! I picked three shelves.

1. Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises

2. William Nicholson The Wind Singer

3. Joanne Harris Blackberry Wine

Your latest book purchase:

The one I’m reading tonight – the Sherlock Holmes one. And Benedict Cummerbatch has become Sherlock. Damn.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

The last George Martin one. I couldn’t sleep. And the nearer I got to the end, the less I wanted it to finish!

Are you local? What Rural France has in common with Royston Vasey

In 2000ish, I caught the tail end of an episode of a ‘comedy’ on BBC2. In it, a black-faced circus ringmaster and his gibberish-talking “wife” had kidnapped another woman with the immortal line “You’re MY wife now!” uttered by his strange, whispery, creaky voice. It was perhaps the most disturbing thing I had seen for years and after the first episode I saw, I was not keen to return to it.

I think what made it worse was there was no canned laughter, which made it incredibly creepy. However, return I did, and it became one of the seminal comedies that forms the backbone of what I find amusing. Disturbingly amusing, in this case.

Apart from the loop-the-loop circus ringmaster, Papa Lazarou, butchered transsexual Barbara,  weird urine-drinking Harvey Dent, Paedophile German Choir Master Herr Lipp, Job Centre re-start trainer Pauline and her permanent enrolee Mickey Love, the pinnacle of the show for me was Tubbs and Edward, a pair of inbred brother-sister, husband-wife shop owners. Tubbs, an elderly dreamer of an old lady, intent on counting the ‘precious things’ of the shop, and Edward, her angry war veteran husband-brother, were so far removed from what you might have seen on a comedy before that it was little wonder the word ‘comedy’ seemed like a misnomer. Tubbs and Edward were like Deliverance meets The Wicker Man. 

The League of Gentlemen became such a part of my life that I even went on a kind of pilgrimage to Hadfield with Pete. We stopped at the roundabout zoo and bought a tin of spam in the shop on the high street. It was quite surreal. But it’s not like those Pennine towns need any excuse to be surreal. From Glossop to Sheffield, it’s all a bit Twilight Zone. If you come in by plane over from Europe, there’s just this great, hulking, dark mass that is the Peak District that stops Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield becoming one town. It’s quite primeval.

In this clip, Tubbs and Edward have killed a young hiker who visited the shop. It has my two favourite lines in: “Hello, hello… what’s all this shouting? We’ll have no trouble here.” and “We didn’t burn him!”

(and is it only me, or is it a little weird that so many British comedians like to dress up as frumpy middle aged women?)

Anyway, as you see from the final lines of the clip, Tubbs is terrified that more “strangers” might come to their shop. This is what reminds me a little of France. And it’s because of one word. Stranger.

In England, strange means weird, odd, bizarre, unnatural, different. And strangers are those who embody those quality – outsiders. If you look in the dictionary, these words are less pejorative and more diplomatic. Let’s face it though, “You’re strange” is not a compliment. It’s not called Stranger Danger for nothing. We have a less bizarre word for unfamiliar people. Foreigners. Everybody who is not from the British Isles.

But I never really thought about it until today. The French word for foreigner or foreign is étranger. Stranger. Thus everyone who comes from abroad is a stranger. You drive stranger cars and wear stranger brands and eat stranger food and speak a stranger language. Of course, here, it’s like foreigner. A kind of neutral word depending on who is using it and for what purpose. But it made me laugh. It mostly made me laugh because from now on, in my mind when I am thinking about it, I will intepret it as stranger and not foreigner. And the residents of France will become like an outpost of Royston Vasey, where if you aren’t local and your parents aren’t known, you are just a stranger.

Anyway, given my recent exploits, I am bien connu so that is alright. I might still be strange, but at least I am known.

A trifle uncool

Today’s (delayed) MLM is brought to you by the 80s electronica of Martha and her Muffins with Echo Beach…

Sorry, Toyah, but this is far superior to yours. I know you were way cool long before Madonna had ever even thought of life in NYC, and before Cyndi Lauper ever brought kooky redheads to the pop scene, but Martha was just better at this kind of mid-20s malaise.

This post is much delayed on account of yesterday being about the worst day for things breaking. If it could break, it broke. If it could go wrong, it did. I should really just have gone back to bed. Call it the 13th and blame it on that. Gas leaks, water in electric sockets, raining all day, no dog walks, 5 students to teach, a backlog of ModPo poetry to get through. Then my car started making noises and smoke was coming from my tyre. Oh; and to top it all off, I lost my hairbrush.

Needless to say, I obviously spent a bad night in bed, as this morning my teeth hurt. I’d been grinding them in my sleep. I’ve not done that for a good five or six years. It used to be be really bad – so bad that I had to get a gumshield. I was always grinding them. Anyway, with a headache and other ailments, it seemed like today would be as bad. As soon as I opened the bedroom door, I could hear the rain on the laundry room. It even gave me a couple of claps of thunder just for good measure.

I had managed to dry off the socket and had a hot shower. Then I phoned the local garage. We have a garage in our village, but he mainly does autoelectric repairs, air con and body work. He’s a really nice guy, but I didn’t know if he was up for some major mechanic work. The garage down the road is like one of those old places you don’t see anywhere else in modern G8 countries any more. It’s not clean and orderly, bright or shiny. He has no computer equipment or diagnostic machinery. I would have taken it to Honda in Angoulême as they would have at least given me a hire car for the duration, but I seriously doubted the car would get that far. Could have called the truck, I guess, to come and pick me up.

I gave him a ring at 9.15. Many places aren’t open in rural France on a Monday. The bar is shut. The tabac is shut. The bakery is open, but the general store is shut. In the local town, the post office is open, and a handful of other shops, but by and large, Monday is still part of the weekend. So ringing any business is a bit suspect on a Monday.

I asked him if he was open today.

“Ca depend…” he said. That depends. I don’t know what it depended on. Okay. Time for damsel in distress. These old French guys love a bit of that.

“It’s my car – it’s broken – it’s making a funny noise and steam is coming out of it. It has a knocking sound from the back passenger side… Oh, Monsieur, if you could help me!”

“Bring it at 2pm.” he said.

I got there at 2pm. I’m so English. I was exactly on time. The door was shut, but there were keys in the lock and a radio on. I pulled at the door. Didn’t move. I knocked. No reply. Then a van beeped. A man stuck his head out and muttered something about the boss being on his way. So I waited.

At 2.20, a little man appeared – typical rural French, short and stocky. He had a cigar clenched between his teeth, like a peasant Del Boy. He shone a torch at the back end of my car.

“I’ll have to dismantle it,” he said.

Of course.

“Leave it with me.”

So I set off walking the two kilometres or so back to my house. I don’t mind walking. I would have called someone for a lift if I needed one. But it was very hot, as I had prepared for the torrential rain and storms that were overhead a scant fifteen minutes before. I’d even put my long johns on. So I was a little warm.

But as soon as the second car pulled alongside, a lady stuck her head out. A friendly mum from the village, whose husband had brought me 20kg of apples last year.

“Do you need a lift?” she said.

And that was that.

She ferried me back to my house, deposited me outside, gave me a stern instruction to call her if I needed anything and then departed.

By five, I was getting a little worried. I hadn’t heard from the mechanic and he hadn’t even called to ask me where the locking wheel nut was. I thought he was either having a siesta, or had stripped the car down and sold the component parts to a dodgy guy who was busily removing the VIN with acid.

But no. Ten minutes later, a phonecall.

“It’s ready,” he said.

“You’ve fixed it?”

“Of course!”

And I said I’d set off. He must have realised my walkerly intentions (that’ll be my mother, who never puts anyone to any inconvenience…) and he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll send it up to you.”

Thus my car was delivered to my house a bare three hours after leaving, replete with the parts it needed. Not only that, but since I didn’t have quite enough cash and I don’t have a chequebook (vital to French life, believe it or not) he said I could just drop the remaining 30€ in when I was passing. He left me the old bit of my car, didn’t tut-tut over it or look judgey, and, cigar still clamped in mouth, disappeared off into the sunset.

Now that’s what I call old-fashioned service. It might be more akin to Arkwright than it is to any kind of showy, “customer-orientated”, clean and modern franchise garage, but within three hours, he’s got a new part (for a non-French marque), replaced it and brought it back to me.

(if you are an overseas reader and haven’t seen Open All Hours, it’s an English classic set in Yorkshire. It’s not much different here in rural France to be honest.

That’s what made my Much Love Monday turn out to be such a sunshine of a day. And the sun did come out to smile on us all. Much Love, then, to ancient old garages and to local, local businesses, to back-yard mechanics, to friendly neighbours, to dads who replace gas bottles, to friends who offer to help out even if they live overseas.

Now if only I could get Tilly to stop rolling in pig muck.

The tide will turn

I don’t know why but last Monday, I was busily singing Dolly and Kenny’s Islands In The Stream until I caught myself out, so I thought I would go with an appropriately Dolly Partonesque Nine to Five. Along with The Bangles’ Manic Monday is there anything better to sum up the working life? I think not.

It’s for this reason alone that I love working for myself. I don’t think I could ever go back to the world of work. Issues galore. When I did one of my Masters’ assignments on the ‘Shadow Side of Organisations’, I even went to work in the place where I did the analysis. It wasn’t much different from the inside, let me tell you. Possibly one of my quite bizarre interests is the understanding of organisations and how they function – if you too are interested and haven’t read Gerard Egan’s Working the Shadow Side, it’s very interesting. Essentially, it’s the half of the work world that is messy and unproductive, filled with issues and neurotics, psychotics and crazy politics. It’s what can bring productivity grinding to a halt. Unfortunately, I only ever worked in one school where they didn’t hamper the general wellbeing of the workplace. And a greengrocer’s.

Anyway, suffice to say, Much Love for working on my own. I sometimes miss the great teams I’ve been a part of, but often they function like a healthy gallbladder in a diseased body – totally fine on their own, but completely useless on the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps it’s just a Manchester socialist thing to think about the workplace and expect it to give quality to life. No matter what we Mancunians do, we can’t shake off the Marxist in us.

Still, Nine to Five is a great movie. Sometimes I wish I could help all organisations be productive and effective and have a tiny, tiny shadow side that mostly revolves around who ate somebody else’s sandwich other than the fact that, by and large, the boss has been off playing golf and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. One day, I will publish a list of my worst bosses. My number 1 position would be occupied by a previous head teacher of mine who famously asked why a colleague of mine was off work for the first time in three years. “Is it because she is fat?” she asked.

My chin hit the floor.

I was the union rep, and I’m pretty sure that even if I were not, even if I were a little Southern girl with no red Peterloo blood in her soul, I would have been a little astounded.

“No,” I said. “It’s because she has flu.”

“Well, fat people sometimes have health issues,” this woman said.

“And so do skinny people.”

I would like to point out at this point that she was a size 16 if anything and wasn’t exactly on the skinny side. She used to tell me to tell people in my department to change their jumper or clean their shoes. I never did. She would forget she asked me and get a bee in her bonnet about something else in someone else’s department.

Bosses are great.

Sometimes, you get the feeling that the Peter Principle is the best explanation of why so many incompetent people are in positions of power. And the most capable insight into organisational behaviour? Dilbert. I still read Scott Adams’ comic strip every day. Much Love to Dogbert. My uncle said I was like Dogbert. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

What’s not to love about a talking dog who acts as a consultant and really harbours delusions of grandeur?

This is my favourite though:

I think my uncle might have a point.

Anyway, you can see why I am glad to be my own boss and you might also understand why some people are glad I’m not their boss.

So what else lovely do I have to share this Monday?

Well, it’s autumn, so I’m getting my craft on. My pinterest boards are filling up nicely, I have more red felt than you can shake a stick at, some embroidery thread and some sequins. Doesn’t take much to make me happy. Plus, I got to go to a warehouse that is just a temple of fabric. I’ve got my stocks in. I’ll see you in spring!

Why being a FB group admin is a bit like being God*

* And not in the ways you think.

I think the dear old Bible has a lot to teach us about Facebook groups. And I think Facebook groups have a lot to tell us about the Bible. I shall explain.

You have an idea to set up a community. Something nice. Maybe something fun. A place for like-minded individuals to flourish. You have in mind a community, a place to share and cherish. And you hope everyone who turns up will take responsibility for the group and for each other.

At first, you set it up. You might even post a few things to help get it going – something to nourish the first people. You set the stage. You make it look pretty. You pick a nice background and make it user-friendly. You’re so naive and optimistic that you don’t bother with rules as you think everyone will be pretty happy with what you’ve made for them.

And then your first members join!

It’s great. It’s small and friendly. You mingle freely with them, though you get the feeling they aren’t quite as forthcoming with you around as they might be. Everyone’s nice to each other. Oops, though. You show what could be construed as favouritism, because you ‘like’ something one person shares, but not something someone else shares, and you end up having to get all nasty and turf someone out.

After that, more and more people come. It’s great. For a time, there’s a real sharing of experiences, even of languages. People help each other out. You even make a few friends that you can send out to do your work for you if people are getting a bit out of hand. You make a few examples out of the crazies and everything runs fairly smoothly.

You get pretty confident you can leave your group for an hour or two to entertain themselves but wouldn’t you know it. One day you step out for fifteen minutes and all hell breaks loose. You end up having to have a blue fit just to get people back under control because as soon as you aren’t looking, they’re ignorant and offensive and often downright breaking the law.

After that, you get all draconian. Codes, laws, rules, commandments. Anyone who doesn’t do what they’re supposed to – pointy reckonings and smiting. And you build up a nice little team of stand-in admins who do a pretty good job of steering things and solving disputes.

But wouldn’t you know it… the group gets bigger and even all the admins can’t control it. You can’t man it 24/7 and neither can they. Every time someone thinks admin aren’t looking, up pops someone offensive trying to cause an argument. You go out for an afternoon and World War Three breaks out over something trivial and pathetic. Not only that, but it turns out a couple of your admin have got involved in it and now you have to kick them out. This thing that was supposed to be beautiful and harmonious and fun – well, it’s just a lot of shouty, judgey people who can’t behave themselves unless they are being constantly supervised and constantly threatened with expulsion and firey aftermaths unless they keep offensive thoughts and ideas to a minimum. All you wanted was a nice, smiley, cheerful place and what’s left is a cacophony of shouters and militants, each absolutely convinced they know better than everyone else.

So you spend less and less time there, leaving them to fend for themselves. Some people seem to get off on implying a personal connection to you, as if they know exactly what you’re thinking or what you would say. Others are downright rude about you behind your back. And some of them are whiny little bitches who spend all their time telling you how other people should behave and paying no attention at all to themselves.

Soon, you have no desire at all to spend any time there, let alone wander round among them Great Unwashed. People start to even doubt that you exist. They tag you over and over to try to get your attention, but it’s the same old, same old. But the less they are supervised, the worse they behave. Sure, they sometimes do nice things and pull out all the stops to be charitable or supportive, but give them two minutes and all the sense of community disappears up the Yangtze. Eventually, you are so sick of their miserable little lives that you can’t possibly hang around there any more. You leave them to their own devices and wash your hands of it completely, vowing never to do anything of the sort again.


Now, I’m sure if you are religious, you might not like my desire to make God into some kind of shouty admin, but the facts are there. I know. I read it in my Bible. And don’t tell me many admin don’t spread rumours that they’ll pull the plug on the whole thing if it gets too terrible. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like Revelations?

Anyway, enough of my rantings. It’s les vendanges – or the grape harvest to you and I. I better get to bed, get an early night because I have 150 vines to harvest over the coming days. A girl’s work is never done.