Sunday, 25 September 2016


Before I know it, the various songbirds of Le Champagne have taken centre stage. Those birds are quite familiar, not that different from the hubbub of my childhood awakenings back in the burbs huddling at the juncture of North West Kent and South East London. The cheery flutes of blackbirds, the busy chatter and chirrup of sparrows, the mournful cooing of wood pigeons. It’s just another day in their world, I assume. The usual worries and tasks, flights to and fro gathering food for what is likely to be a thrashing pile of fledgling offspring, demanding, urging, and relentless.

We asked for an 8.30 breakfast. In our eagerness, we are awake early enough to bring that forward by a half hour, which is fine by our hostess. Downstairs is where continental breakfast will be served. The surroundings are spotless, of course, with a large woodburner in the corner, redundant at present. There are large wooden sideboards, a couple of tables and chairs.  The place has a kind of barn feel to it, quite probably because it was one once upon a time. Breakfast it’s self is a cornucopia of carbohydrates, coffee and confiture. There are other food types present, yoghurt and butter representing the delegate from the world of fats, but there is precious little in the way of protein. It’s all so neat in its nature this style of breakfast, so it seems appropriate for it to be provided by our hostess in these spruce environs. There is quite a lot of it though. So, because I am an absolute gutbucket, I sit for quite some time gorging myself, because I also know that this will be the last free meal till tomorrow morning, and I am going to be surviving on the road in a Vauxhall. The horror of it all! Ray seems less perturbed by the potential for starvation on the impending journey. He eats only a moderate amount. I don’t eat much bread at home, but here it’s practically ubiquitous, and as usual, I revert to whatever I can get, particularly if it’s not really costing me anything except my dignity. Dignity can be highly overrated in my opinion. This is the first trip abroad since my near moratorium on wheat based food. I think now though, a suspension of the suspension is in order, because Italy will be equally full of the stuff.

We’ve finished brekky by around 9am and the maps are beckoning us for another planning session. After a very short discussion, a decision is made to avoid tolls and opt for the casual saunter through the world’s most famed wine region. We bid our hostess a polite adieu, and hit the van, not bothering to wake Patrick just yet as he seems to be quite tired after his long day yesterday. (Good!).

Off we set, two travellers determined to get a decent starting stretch under our belts. But wait! Within a few minutes of leaving, there is a call to my mobile. Really? Who the hell?? I miss the call, which necessitates an expensive recall, reaching the answerphone first off. I can hear the cash registers at Virgin Mobile rattling from here. I get through at the second attempt. It is our hostess. She sounds deeply concerned that one of us has left something of indescribable import back at the BnB. Dammit! I knew it was going too well this morning. A passport maybe, or a computer? ‘What is it?’ I ask. ‘A toothbrush?’ .......... (RAYMOND!!) There is a snigger from the passenger seat. ‘No, thanks for ringing, I’m certain he’ll be able to buy another one....... No, really, it’s only a toothbrush...... No, I don’t think it’s anything special.....Yes, ...OK....Great, well, Merci beaucoups pour votre hospitalite....Oui, merci, et au revoir.’ The sniggers develop into laughter as Ray and I muse over what ill fate awaits his toothbrush now. Lonely, cast aside, forlorn and forgotten in a foreign land, redundant. Will it be sold on the black market, becoming just another statistic in a seedy underworld of gingivitis. Or maybe rented out with reckless impunity from the dimly lit doorways of backstreet dentists, suffering a daily onslaught from halitosis crazed French farmers with smiles like unkempt graveyards? Pauvre, pauvre brosse a dents.

Though progress is measurable once we hit the road in earnest again, our leisurely pace gives us a better chance of a tantalising view of the region unfurling around us. It’s a no-brainer decision with hindsight, this tariff free amble around rollercoaster scenery under overcast but gently improving weather conditions. The tarmac cuts a swathe through tiny towns and sleepy villages. Their names are fleeting navigational aids, and once passed through, they can be forgotten. But one cannot fail to have imprinted upon the memory the most striking thing about this place, the utter vastness of the vineyards. Rise after rise, slope after slope, tens of thousands of acres of straight rows of vines stretching off to every horizon like so many well organised legionaries. Leaf upon stem upon root, they line up dutifully at the start of another summer, waiting patiently, ready to convert the typically unbridled ammunition of sunlight into innumerable clusters of grapes. Once their efforts are realised, we will demand the ultimate voluntarily sacrifice of their fruits in our ongoing global war against sobriety. As I ponder this act of unselfishness, I assure them that their supreme altruism will not go to waste on my account. No indeed, because I intend to honour them on a frequent and regular basis.

Patrick, who has been awoken from his slumbers like a yapping Cerberus, does not approve of drinking. He wouldn’t say it to our faces, but deep down we know it. I say we, but really it’s just my stuff this feud of attrition with Pat. Ray has known him longer by far. I’ve only been acquainted for a day. Call me paranoid, but I am getting the distinct impression he doesn’t really like me. Ray displays a calmness and patience with Patrick’s idiosyncratic outbursts which I have yet to bring into play. I’m sure he must have noticed me swearing and chuntering under my breath at him by now. For the time being, Pat and I will have to tread our paths in separate forests.

The skies are lifting, and by the time we are approaching Lyon, the sun has won the most recent battle in its perennial and turbulent war against clouds. It’s getting warmer, the van funk will rise in commensurate proportion, no doubt. Lyon seems to me to be the gateway to the South. As we view it from slight altitude on our approach, its sprawl is noticeable, and to this outsider, its road system appears to have enormous potential for sinister complexities which may be the catalyst for another of my tiffs with Patrick. I have chosen to ignore him. It’s becoming my chief defence against his interruptions. Ray and I have successfully shirked tolls thus far today for the sake of scenic beauty. However, by our combined reckoning, Lyon has to be circumnavigated by motorway for the sake of simplicity, so we reluctantly fork out at the peage and get cracking. Light traffic and decent signposting put the wind back in our sails, and Lyon becomes another box ticked on our itinerary of course plotting targets. But a need for speed is soon usurped by our requirement for more intricate scenery, and again we divert onto smaller and more winding roads. The Alpine backdrop is becoming less and less distant. No longer is this a region of the world known only to my imagination. There it is, ahead, looming large and evoking the spirit of a thousand charity shop puzzle box lids.

Hunger is also looming large, and until we find a shop to buy lunch in, it will grow until it consumes our every thought, or mine at least. So we need to find a supermarche.  Foreign supermarkets being their mix of wonderment, confusion and speedy mental arithmetic, I am soon more than ready for an al fresco feast. We would like to choose a picnic spot in the suburban environs a few minutes’ drive from the shopping area, but it’s easier said than done. Eventually, we settle upon a sort of play-park with tall trees in a suburban looking neighbourhood in Somewhereville, France. One of the more beautiful regions of the world, and we decide, out of time pressured necessity, upon a place where the local kids probably come to smoke illicit tabs and drink stolen hooch. Maybe I’m looking at it through English Park Tinted Spectacles. Are we two middle aged men without children trying their best to look like they should be adjacent to a children’s play park eating a picnic lunch?

Of course, cheese is on the menu. I adore cheese, just bloody love the stuff, but though I’ll eat almost any variety, not all cheeses are to my taste. I have gone for goat cheese with its tang and roof-of-the-mouth itching qualities. Ray has gone for some kind of rubbery stuff. Suffice to say, I don’t share some peoples’ admiration for bendy cheeses. There is also bread, of course, and tomatoes. It’s simple peasant fare. Ray has purchased a bottle of red grape juice. The juice is not rich, or wealthy, or princely. Oh no, it is the most stinkingly decadent grape juice known to mankind. Ray quite aptly describes it as ‘liquid raisins’. I look at the bottle label and sure enough, that’s what it says it is. It’s confirmation in writing, though my French to English translation may lean a little toward my personal requirement for poetic licence rather than any adherence to actual fact.

Fortified and restored by our super duper picnic in the park, we must return to the van with its burgeoning emanations and make for the border. We have a target, Asti, which is some distance across the Alps. It’s funny how we are aiming at another region synonymous with effervescent wine. Coincidence? We will never know. Once more, we assess the dichotomy of toll versus non toll. If time bore no relevance to the decision making process, then an amiable sightseeing roll through this staggering region would be preferable in the extreme. But time is pressing, and we have no real clue as to how steep some of the Alpine roads may be. In an attempt to lobby me toward his way of thinking, Ray embarks on a cautionary tale from his previous experiences, regaling me with disturbing reminiscences about the last trip he made when a burning smell issued from the van due to the effects of steep gradient on a Vauxhall clutch. I really don’t fancy the challenge of calling breakdown, because there are so, so many ways in which that particular scenario can go horribly wrong, so toll it is

Herein lies a tale of simple economics, as it does in all situations where ruthless capitalism reigns supreme. We aren’t the only people who drive around here without local knowledge, and anyway, the roads don’t get any less steep just because one may know them. The ‘somebody’ who sets the toll charges knows this all too well, and not to put too fine a point on it, they exploit the Bejeezus out of it. The bit of toll road we’re to use next is far more expensive than the others. If I remember my economics A level well enough, this is an example of inelastic demand. A reasonable summation of any transaction involving inelastic demand is that it fucking sucks for the consumer. So we unfetter the purse strings once more and pay, because to not do so may mean that later we will be driving around the general vicinity of Asti in darkness, with hunger and frustration the unwelcome accompaniments to Patrick’s increasingly irksome ‘I told you so’ tone.
Once the toll is paid, progress is fast as we drive through a succession of long tunnels intermixed with bursts of wide open road in bright sunshine. And suddenly, Italy is all around us, clutching us to its rocky bosom. We notice that the non-toll road is frequently in view and not looking too slow. Of course! There is a brief moment, when stopped by a genuinely insouciant border patrolman, that I thought there was to be a hitch. But his petty questioning and expression of casual intransigence are short lived, replaced by utter bewilderment as to why two middle aged Englishmen would need to cross the Alps in a small van packed to the gunnels with such an assortment of apparent jumble. Our disguise is perfect, and we can continue unimpeded by the vice like clutch that no doubt exists at the long arm of the law. It’s not long before we trundle into Asti, follow Patrick’s simple instructions, and arrive at the appropriately named Luna, since there will be a full moon beaming once the night sky descends to guide us into a balmy stupor.

Luna is a large two storey house up a steep, narrow lane. It’s adjacent to similar old houses, with their terra cotta roofs radiating the stored heat of the first day of June back at us with accrued interest. I feel that there is an almost palpable veil of sticky air surrounding me. There are leafy vines and big potted plants placed in an unsophisticated and unplanned manner around a walled courtyard. A few chairs surround a metal table under a shady overhanging upper floor.
A middle aged woman ambles out to greet us, and after fairly brief ‘Hellos’ we are shown our rooms. They are full of dark wood and odd artwork, photos from a different era and painted mismatched furniture. In my room, above the bed is a strange painting of Harlequin, or Arlecchino, the 16th century comic servant from Italian theatre. Do I need a flamboyantly attired jocular butler hanging over my head through my slumbers? Perchance, nay. There is also a classical painting which depicts a gathering of miserable looking folk hanging around in a garden near a city wall. Their facial expressions are so subtle they are almost invisible. I can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing, but the composition intrigues me for that very reason. I resolve to seek the artist and name of this painting upon my return to Blighty, but for now it will just have to remain another of Italy’s many mysteries.

And then, and by far the best example of oddness found so far in this house, there are two small highly stylised modern paintings of children, just their faces. Any attempt at a written description of these paintings cannot begin to do justice to the unnerving spookiness of their staring blue eyes.
They are the stuff of horrifying childhood nightmares, a pictorial gateway maybe, to a strange nether world inhabited solely by the most blood-curdling of Old Nick’s imps. Yes, it’s those eyes, eyes that follow one not simply around the room, but also out of the door, around the corner and downstairs all the way back to the courtyard, blowing out the cobweb strewn candelabras which are the only source of illumination along the way. Perhaps my imagination has run amuck a tad, but only a tad.

Soon we are showered and back down to receive a most agreeable complimentary glass of white wine and directions to another venue for dinner. We are recommended Madame Vigna, which is a mile or so away, and that means we need to climb back aboard the van with its lingering, if gentle, aroma of unwashedness.

Madame Vigna is a trattoria at a crossroad in Baldicchieri. Once inside, we are greeted by a young woman who it turns out is the proprietor’s daughter. Good fortune because she speaks decent English. She explains the menu in a dancing tuneful lilt so dramatically unlike our own it’s almost as if it’s emitting from a different species altogether. Soon we are indulging in a beautifully prepared meal under a vaulted ceiling, the sound of Italian chatter bouncing from its angles like raindrops over palm leaves, mingling with rhythms from one of the strangest background CD choices I have ever heard for such a venue. There is some guitar based jazz, not uncommon I suppose. Elvis Costello is not that odd either perhaps, but Joe Satriani? And wait for it, my personal favourite as incongruousness goes, ‘Peaches en Regalia’ by Frank Zappa. We must endeavour to find out why. Once the meal is drawing to a close, the owner comes over for a chat and we find that it’s nothing more bizarre than a CD his mate did for him, so he thought he’d put it on in his restaurant. We turn down generously offered liqueur chasers as we’re going to be driving. Our host, in extremely broken English, still a million miles more useful than my non-existent Italian, proudly tells us he only drinks wine or beer now. His days as a former whiskey guzzler are over due to what I believe may be ulcers or acid reflux judging by his gargoyle impersonations and abdominally directed gesticulations. I wonder what lightweight is in Italian.

We leave shortly afterward with a poorly pronounced ‘Grazie, Buona Notte’ or two. Back at the dark Bed and Breakfast, those terrible eyes pierce my soul, but I’m too exhausted to be unduly troubled by static artwork, despite its notable capacity to unsettle the weak willed. It’s time to stretch out in a comfortable if rather creaky iron framed bed. And so I do, and my world becomes the picture postcard images from my day, ushering me gently through the surreal mountains.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

TEN DAYS. Part One

There is a universe sized gulf between silence and sound, and the phone alarm exploding in the general vicinity of my ear is the precise if fleeting moment that the gulf is bridged. I am somebody who dislikes being roused from sleep. It usually takes some time before my senses are fully engaged. I can be the sort of person who can look awake, be fully dressed, and yet still put the tea bag into the kettle then put oats into a cup before I snap out of that particular mindfunk and start the process of breakfast again. Once the curtains are drawn, I can take a peek at what is beyond them. It is instantly apparent that a dreary looking day is dawning almost reluctantly over this Bristol city street. As I shuffle into the kitchen aiming manfully at the kettle, the stalwart kitchen clock ticks away time gently to itself, its hands showing that the time is just past 5.30 am. It really is not usual for me to be willingly awake this early and it is stretching the definition of willingly to say I am this morning. Today though is a day for an early start, just as yesterday evening was an occasion for reluctant alcoholic restraint in the pub with two old friends, reminiscing over just a couple of beers. Many years have escaped since we were all in the same room together, some may slip through the nets before it happens again.

One of those old friends is Ray, and he has been a guest overnight on the sofa bed in my terraced Bristol house. We’re off on an intrepid excursion today, but before embarking on a journey down the many, many long roads ahead, we require food, despite the fact that neither of our respective stomachs is really awake enough to require filling. The menu I can offer isn’t extensive, but whatever it is to be, for me it must contain uber-strength coffee to fire me up for a stint behind the wheel.

It’s been said many times, I suspect, that any journey, however long, starts with the first step. As we step towards the van, I get that exact feeling. It is one foot after the other, marking out a few yards at a time. It’s the first few yards of 1500 miles of road, the first few seconds of three days of travelling.
Since the arrangements were made to drive to Italy, I’ve been waiting to see what the van allotted to such an arduous pursuit will resemble. Behold! It’s a small white Vauxhall with two seats. The back is full of what looks like an assortment of charity shop tat, but is actually somebody’s possessions. Really? I remind myself that being instantly judgemental is both an understandable and reprehensible personality trait.

A driver’s seat is the throne upon which any self-respecting would-be Monarch of the Open Road must place his or herself in order to begin their reign. Upon opening the driver’s door, it is plain that this particular seat may be harbouring anti-Royalist sentiment, because at first glance I discover a slightly less than comfortable looking amalgam of old sofa cushions and rope. On second glance, the conclusions leapt to as a result of my first glance are irrefutably confirmed. This fiendish construction of lumbago-inducing menace stares casually back at me, alleging profound innocence with its quaintly wonky contours. It’s the look that an aging farm dog would give a lost rambler just seconds before it sinks its three remaining tallow-hued teeth almost intractably into an unsuspecting calf muscle. On an olfactory note, the seat is not genuinely unpleasant, but there is a general mingling of low level aromatic funks, the like of which only old vans and their dubious upholstery can emit with such aplomb. A reliable steed though, at least I hope so, because it’s going to be a hell of a journey if it proves otherwise.

I have volunteered to drive the first leg so that I can get used to any idiosyncratic behavioural issues regarding a Vauxhall. I’d rather be doing that in England before having to do so whilst simultaneously concentrating on remaining on the right hand side of the road. The journey starts in a fine drizzle, continues in a fine drizzle, and remains drizzly all the way to Dover. The only breaks in drizzle are the times when it is raining. England my England, this ‘green and pleasant land’, this ‘Sceptred Isle’, I cannot wait to see the back of you.

Dover is not all that Vera Lynn cracked it up to be on this truly miserable Sunday morning. In truth, its appearance is not enhanced by the near-horizontal precipitation, I grant you. However, the purely functional nature of the fencing and gateways, with the Channel beyond, give it the look of a vast sheep dip. But the queue is short enough to drive straight aboard the waiting ferry, and our spirits are as buoyant as the bubbling plumes left in the wake of the vessel as we pull away from the dock, positive because we know we are heading toward a comparative paradise. I have been aboard quite a few of these ships, and they all smell exactly the same. The whiff of diesel fuel and salt spray transports me back in time in that way that only smells can. It evokes memories of school trips, cricket tours, hitch hiking to and from Ireland, all in an instant.
The sea leg of our journey is uneventful and calm, surrounded, of course, by many travellers of mixed nationalities. Some are going home, some breaking away from the everyday grind of the norm, perhaps. I’m compulsively nibbling away at a bag of peanuts, staring at maps, discussing the odd plan with Ray and generally enjoying the concept and reality of not being where I have been.

As our liner glides into one of the many portals to mainland Europe, I am left with the assured knowledge that ferry terminals are indisputably ugly, universally it seems, because when we arrive at Calais, it wears a joyless, misty countenance which stares blankly back at the white cliff broken-toothed grimace we have just left behind.

With Ray now behind the wheel, we exit Calais. Barbed wire fencing along the roadsides reminds me that this is a last bastion against the alleged ravages of asylum seeking hoards. Their desperate plight in this continental cul-de-sac on this morning of gritty reality somewhat juxtaposes our utter freedom to travel to the hard but pleasant working holiday ahead. There are thousands of men, women and children in those makeshift camps hidden by mounds of bulldozed soil, driven there by a desperation I have never and will never feel or experience. How lucky I am.

And so on we travel, through the succession of gentle waves of low hills that is Northern France as viewed from a French motorway. My job is navigator. Whether I am or not, I feel that I’m quite good at this, giving frequent geographical updates which are interspersed with occasional bird spotting reports. I can’t help but allow my mind to wander across those foreign fields, corners of which Brooke would have us believe are forever England. It’s late May, the last day in fact, and from that ‘rich earth’, scarlet poppies adorn the verges as incongruous as cheap lipstick smudges on a vicar’s starched white collar. So many poppies, waving cheerfully like blood-red flags, reminders to us of a bygone era of open hostility, grief, pain and death as we fly past. Whatever occurs upon this venture, I must bear witness to my own good fortune, fortune which brings it to my life. This bolt-from-the-blue opportunity has landed in my lap for a reason, and each moment that it brings is to be breathed in as one would the scent of rose petals at dusk.

We have been on a toll road to enable a fast escape from the port and its immediate hinterlands. Once that road is behind us, the sight of harsh fencing has faded into memory like mists under a summer sun. We downscale one road category, and the scenery calms. France is a big country, and the spacious nature of the landscape is beginning to add flavour to the tasty brunch that is an open road. OK, it’s Sunday, I don’t expect a busy road anywhere, but I am suddenly very aware that there are just less people per square mile here, which translates quite directly to less cars. I mention this to Ray, assuming that it would suit him too. He has always, on the face of things at least, had a laid back style of life. This attitude has sewn seeds, sprouted, taken root successfully, and flourished to embellish the bare trellis of the Highway Code with a lavish and colourful vine of eclectic driving techniques. With the wrist of his outstretched right arm perched on the midnight position of the steering wheel, fingertips resting on the dashboard, he nods in agreement that the dead straight stretch of uninhabited tarmac ahead of us would be teeming with traffic in England. Not necessarily everywhere though, I’m used to inner city life. By comparison, Ray lives in the middle of nowhere, a place where he maintains he may not pass another road user on an early Sunday drive. That fact alone reminds me that I don’t see enough of my own country, let alone far pastures.

We are a microbial white Vauxhall shaped speck on the Petri dish map of France, and we are moving, moving inexorably closer to our first destination, which is a pre-booked B-n-B near Troyes. There are roadside signposts warning passers-by that locals don’t want fracking here. I have always felt that France is a country where civil disobedience bubbles near the surface as a societal reaction to any differences of opinion between the government and the rest of the population. I hope they succeed in this particular pursuit of opposition.
We arrive at that first night stop with a feeling akin to job satisfaction, and exchange mutual gratitude for a near perfectly executed plan. Ray the Eurodriver, myself as the map reader. And then of course, there’s Patrick. I haven’t mentioned Patrick until now, because I’m not so sure I like his company. I have been fermenting growing mistrust for his opinions regarding my map reading skills, and also developed disillusionment with his erstwhile assumed helpful sense of direction. He appears to be easily confused by what on the face of things, seems to be the most fundamental of requests. And there’s another thing. He has a bloody annoying habit of interrupting our conversations by suddenly blurting out where we should be going next. We already know, and he doesn’t take a hint when we say, “Yeah, Patrick, we know that, we’ve read the map.”  He has no compunction whatsoever regarding pointless repetition, and just keeps on stating the obvious until we’ve actually made the turn, despite telling him we heard him the first time. He’s has given me the distinct impression that he’s ‘on the spectrum’. Begrudgingly, I have to admit Patrick has been a help along the way, though. We bid him a bland ‘Adieu’ as he’s relegated to sleeping in the van. We head off into the tidy, clean world of Le Clos Poli.

We are greeted by our gracious hostess, who is quite frankly, a cliché personified. She is as informative as she is petite, and as far as I can make out, as she is speaking quite quickly in a potpourri of French and English, appears to be married to a large St. Bernard dog. That part may have lost a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ in translation, so it’s fortunate at this juncture that she notices our politely confused expressions. She continues our instructional introductory mini-tour employing only English and an increased level of multi-faceted gesticulations, thus rescuing myself and Ray from the profound discomfiture of displaying our combined grasp of the French language. That grasp could be likened to one which a morphine affected octogenarian may have upon an amphetamine crazed and well greased pig.

Bed and Breakfast means precisely that, and so after introducing ourselves and attempting to converse in, not just broken, but completely annihilated French, we are recommended a local eaterie which is a short drive away. First we need to rinse away the day’s grunge, and after a quick scrub up, we clamber back into the van trying not to wake Patrick up in case he wants to ruin dinner by joining us. Soon, we are arriving outside Chez Gibus.

I am sometimes guilty of preconception on a grand scale. I have imagined, as if influenced only by the amateur dramatic societies of middle England during the 1950’s, that the restaurant would be run by a portly chap squeezed into a fully buttoned waistcoat, his perfectly waxed moustache pointing at a quarter to three position underlining a pair of kitchen-heat rouged cheeks. Suffice to say however, one did not envisage the gentleman who greets us as we amble slowly through the door. He is an East Asian man of diminutive stature, dressed in loose fitting chef’s blues, and sporting a long thin straggly grey beard. He greets us in French, and of course, swaps seamlessly into English the moment he realises how far we are going to bite into his Sunday evening if he forces us to order food using any off-piste language skills. It’s already starting to grind with me how embarrassing it is trying to conduct a normal life using a conglomeration of my long forgotten low grade O level French and Ray’s GCE equivalent. Add to the recipe the kind of addling that an early start and a long drive will engender upon the human mind, season it with hunger, simmer for two long, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard minutes et Voila! Soup de Chagrin. Come back Patrick, all is forgiven. How we need his insistent Brogue to steer us manfully away from carnage upon the rocks of lingual ineptitude, toward the becalmed waters of bilingual ability.

Food is prompt, sufficient and delivered with charm. Wine is a half carafe of house red, unspectacular but pleasant enough. Once the meal is concluded and paid for, we thank and bid farewell to this Vietnamese/Frenchman who has received and fed us with graceful and efficient hospitality.

I am designated driver for the journey back. This is my first stint on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for nigh on fifteen years. There is a mantra reverberating around my cranial region, “KEEP RIGHT! KEEP RIGHT! KEEP RIGHT!”. By the time we’re halfway back, I feel totally comfortable with it as long as I have the mantra. It’s the junctions that are the weirdest. But since there is a dearth of other vehicles anyway, we can enjoy the quaint architecture of the genuinely cute village without becoming one of tomorrow’s talking points by crashing through a gate into one of the well manicured lawns.

Once back to the b-n-b, we can digest our dinner and our day whilst planning a route for tomorrow. After a brief description from our hostess of what to expect for breakfast and deciding when we would like to take it, we adjourn to our room. Our room is pretty much spotless. There are small decoupages, humming birds stuck to otherwise plain walls. A brief reconnaissance of the bathroom reveals an en suite. I wonder what en suite is in French? Gosh, how I wish I had listened more to my French teacher at school instead of indulging in teen fantasies involving the mountainous environs which were hidden beneath her roll-neck sweaters. And back from the world of dreams, one cannot help but notice again what a very tidy space our room is. Not for long, because both Ray and myself are not feeling in a tidy mood, what with the fatigue and all. In the morning however, I will be rested and become tidy again. I’m not so sure that Ray requires tidiness in life. He’s always been a little like this. It’s one of his endearing features. In our youth, I was always amused by how he could walk without falling over because once his shoes were removed, within seconds both socks would be dangling halfway off his feet. He is a man of many endearing features.

We settle down to a messy map reading and route planning session. Once we’ve agreed upon our strategy for the morrow, we groove on into what remains of the evening. Ray is skyping home, I do texts. They don’t take long, so I defer to my holiday pottering routine. It is at times like these, I enjoy taking photos of the night creatures mesmerised by, and attracted to, artificial lighting. A Clouded Border becomes the latest addition to my collection of lepidopteran souls.

Soon it is time for sleep. Sleep will require ear plugs and music, because Ray may be snoring. At a distance of five yards, it is enough to clash discordantly with my snoring. As a result, I have resorted to Nirvana. Not in the spiritual sense, in the Seattle sense. Soon however, it becomes apparent that Kurt’s beauteous angst may prove a tad unsuitable on the lullaby front, and he is usurped by Node, a little known combo churning out fairly random dark ambient splurge. Node carry me out into deep, deep space. I am an abductee of their sound, borne willingly upon their nebulous cloudship of dark matter. There beyond, through the worm hole that is the night, the parallel universe of the next morning will, as always, be waiting to greet me.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Greetings once again from Rex.
Thank you for visiting/revisiting. It's been a while and I suppose apathy and distraction have torn my attention from this blog to such things as cricket, children moving schools, and work. None of these things are capable of stopping the creative flow. They actually are or can become the conduit for one's creativity to blossom.

And so, inevitably, to the issue of the hitherto unseen new shed.
Here is a summary of comments elicited from those who have laid eyes upon the shed's unique form and astonishingly intricate and thoroughly appropriate design. The content of these statements is subject to possible digressions from the original due to time induced recall lapse.

I have also changed or omitted names to protect the innocent/guilty.

"...I was talking to a friend who built a shed from a patchwork of different bits of wood. I had envisaged something like that, but this is something really different." remarked friend and neighbour Ozwald Guillimot.

Socialite stalwarts the Ming-Bunters, who were over for the annual Art and Mindbend Soiree, were moved to point out the conflict between it's use as either leisure or practical space. However, lover and Director of Weekend Entertainment Doris Blotch had this to say " That's nice dear, what is it?"
To some, it seems, my work has become inappreciable.

During the many hours of labour, though it was not the hottest of summers, teabreaks were a-plenty. Pictured here is the scene of one of those many pauses for refreshment. To the right can be seen the cunning use of internal doors as a large window. Sheds can be such dauntiingly dark places, and I decided to make mine quite the reverse. It helps when looking for those screws/nails/little bits of stuff which ping off into the otherwise dingier recesses during the process of junk shifting I call D.I.Y.

Here is a brief pictorial summary of the type of chaos I seem to prefer to work by whilst constructing anything bigger or more complex than a cheese sandwich. Surely, I hear you cry, somebody as reluctant to employ the necessary organisational skills or regard to health and safety regimes usually attributed to adult humans should never be allowed to purchase let alone use power tools such as the one depicted.

It's a free-ish country however, people can keep caged birds, cycle without helmets, drink strong coffee etc. So I figure I can tempt fate with a speedily rotating saw blade which would have ones digits reduced to mere bloody stumps within a split second.

And as those heady days back in 2008 rolled on, and the cricket season in it's politeness gave way to another brash and noisy bunch of overpaid oiks in football kits, the ediface began slowly to take shape.

Recycling all I could gather in my locale, the greatest aquisition I believe was the 4' square kitchen window. Whole, unbroken, in full working order and fully waterproof. It weighed quite a bit, so controlling the skateboard upon which I chose to transport it was tricky at first.

But control it I did and after several months of sitting under a tarp in the garden, the installation was a success and it looked like this. Note the flowering fennel in front of it, attracting as it does a variety of hoverflies and their nectar-guzzling cousins

Artists impression of what transporting windows on a skatebord could have looked liked to an innocent bystander.

Here I can show you the interior doors that were in the best condition put to use as the comely face of the shed. It faces the house this way and I wash up looking straight at it. Washing up needs a decent view if possible. I'll allow you to make your own judgements, but I can stomach looking at this for 10 minutes at a stretch.
And here is one of those arty-farty oblique sort of views.
You may note that the tree in the background looks bare and yet this was reportedly the end of summer. Well, it's down to the ravenous nature of sawfly lavae. Those little bastards stripped every single piece of greenery from next door's spunky smelling tree inside two weeks of spring, reducing it to the skeletal form which it holds to this day.
A couple of years after completion, in the spirit of Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force team but without the smarm or wobbley boobs, I am proud to revisit the scene where architecture meets a junk yard. It is a unique construction, and is a place of solace and solitude without which I would get rained on, and so would quite a few of my rag-tag possessions.
Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to that most characterful of garden dwellers,


Monday, 30 August 2010


I travel in my mind to a thousand different places a day. If only my body could follow. I know very little of astral projection, but if I could get some in a jar nearby and reconstitute it by simply adding hot water I would. I despise the modern era of instant life via credit, coffee jars, dvd links on the net. This virtual reality we are fed every waking minute of every day is killing so many of us from within and yet even those of us who are aware of this are apparently powerless to alter the cataclysmic course these invasions are taking us on.

(Written in January this year, somewhere in a dark place I surmise.)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


I'll write this all in large type for the hard of hearing.

Here is something utterly stupid I have learnt to do whilst I have been away from the blogosphere. It's not all I've been doing. There has been work, decorating, cricket, drinking tea, visiting The B.F.G. and watching the days get shorter and shorter and shorter.

Soon I will be watching the days get longer and longer again. There is a possibility many more works of depth and integrity may ensue in time, but for now, all you lovely people will have to put up with this one addition to the wonderful world of utterly ridiculous 'art'.

Please enjoy.

I apologise for my lack of posting, especially about the shed as some of you will have burst with the suspense by now, of that I am sure.

I also apologise for not continuing to comment on your own efforts blogging about all manner of interests, but I lost all enthusiasm for doing so and hope to be back to my facetious and sardonic japes forthwith.

Until then good fellows, adieu and be good at least till Santa stuffs your stockings.

Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009




This photo of the Great City of Antropolis was taken last year when the sun shone. It shone again I'm sure this year, but the rain today got into my ear at a funny angle and appears to have washed my memory bank clean so I can't remember it.

And here is my next door neighbour, the tree. It's performing an astonishing feat of balance here, by balancing millions of tiny pieces of frozen water on top of each other. I don't know how it keeps so still. Probably practises when nobody is looking.

I think also I should show you all that there are lovely places to look at in this Sceptred Isle and that I've been to one or two of them. I went alongside The B.F.G. to the faraway land known locally as Kernow. It has a jagged edge which gets you wet if you stand too close to it. This was the view from the B.&B. Not bad if I may say so myself.

Anyway, Enough of the raiding of my hard drive for inspiration and a few memories. It's time to tuck up in a little bed with a cuppa and start a new and B.F.G. recommended funny book.

Nite Nite.

Friday, 17 July 2009


Reports of my death would have been greatly exaggerated if there had been any.

Sorry about the lack of shed stuff.

It's still stands and doesn't leak.

I broke another finger.

My head aches, not presumably related to a finger snapping incident.

My cricket team hasn't won any games this year.

I have accidentally usurped the captain to regain my rightful place as The Big Cheese.

My son is growing at an alarming rate.

My daughter is a legal adult, but struggles daily with the real implications therein.

I have been a legal adult for 28 years and 2 weeks and I still struggle with the legal, moral and other general implications therein.

I still wish for the extermination of all advertising executives.

I have completed Meta's questionnaire, a life achievement akin to climbing Everest or discovering time travel.

I still have a job.

I still love the B.F.G.

It's still fuckin' rainin' here!

Solstice came and went and I hardly noticed it.

I haven't had an alcoholic drink for 10 days.

Elderflower champagne doesn't count because it's far too weak.

If I ruled the World, every day would be the first day of last week.

I'm so very glad I'm not called Percival.

How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?

I should write to my Australian mate.

My neck hurts.

Cheese can possibly save the world from annihilation.

I'm just trying to find the bridge.

Moffs enjoy the environs surrounding my bathroom light, even they probably know it isn't good for them.

Bob Dylan can't sing.

Is this the eighth wonder of the world?