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La belle France December 21, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Those who work in advertising in France have made it law that a female orgasm must feature in every TV ad. Regardless of whether toothpaste, wallpaper, cat-food or something more pertinently sexy is being hard-sold, the ad must have a woman nearing ecstasy. “A-oh-a-oh-a-chet-ez ce pa-ah-oh-ah-oh-aah-pier (ah, oui, c’est tellement bien) peint.” Dunno if it works. But France seems like a happy enough place.

I once went to a wedding near Paris and travelled with a woman who happens to live a life of relative luxury in London and, while she usually seems a pretty regular type of person, apart from being minted, you are only given an insight into her ivory tower when you and she are unleashed on the French provinces together.

For France still seems to do province. More than the UK, or, rather, and this is perhaps simply a matter of space, it is still easier to find relatively cut-off province in the environs of Paris than it is near London. We heroically made our way to a station not a million miles from Paris. From there, we would have the adventure of getting on a smaller line and arriving at a village station where we would be the only people getting on or off and the poplars would look brilliant in the French summer sun and our host would pick us up in a DS (actually, I think it was a Renault 5, but still…) and we’d probably all be dressed in white linen and it would all be bucolic and perfect and French and wonderful. We wandered off to find the ticket office for the tiny trains. Explained to the bonhomme where we’d like to go only to be told that the last train had gone. It was not yet noon.

We resourcefully found a phone box. It worked only intermittently. Almost impossible to get through to a taxi rank. It was Saturday and the province had closed. We waited hours for a carriage. So long, in fact, that we’d made friends with other people at the station. My rich companion confided in me that transport and telephones, indeed, everything in France appeared not to work. This was a woman with a very different experience of London from my own.

And it’s been nice being in France, even if the mountains do make the most of my very many imperfections. Both for the day-to-day, the getting stuck at provincial, empty, deserted railway-stations, but which are still staffed and, after so long, you are bound to become friends with the SNCFer, and the passion of articulation, not just in the ads, but on TV in general, with pundits of whatever hue currently going through Sarkozy’s love-life with a fine toothcomb and then bollocking themselves for this ‘showbization de la politique’. And the hanging on, here and there, to old routines. It’s been almost a pleasure to be turned away from restaurants for wanting to eat at an irregular hour, and then to be served by a nice, inbred waitress in a homely, unfussy way on simple plates and given simple knives and forks when the time is right.

I am far from Paris, in every sense. Village life appears, just, to be surviving. The village I am in must have been tiny twenty years ago. A nice little circle of a village. The church in the middle and peeking out over the top. The remains of a castle. Some old stone houses. Insane old country dogs with one eye and three legs which chase cars. The monument in front of the mairie to those from the village who died in the two World Wars. And the odd ancient local as the surviving relics of times past. Onto the village have been added nine billion chalets and other residences. There’s a crap new restaurant or two. A smart one selling unsimple food on unsimple plates with unsimple knives and forks. The permanent population, so the story goes, is 600. It increases to 18,000 when the tourists come. And yet I’ve got a feeling this is an out-of-the-way resort as resorts go. It’s not near the railway line. And even the new bit of the town is deserted on a weekday when night falls and the skiers must put off perfection for another day.

And it’s all fantastically beautiful. The village itself is pretty enough. But, and as inimical as they are for an utterly impractical city homo, you can’t go too far wrong on the beauty stakes with mountains, forests, lakes, sunshine and snow. “Just like Komi Repaablik, Raasha,” the Russian says proudly and as a softener for if we should ever, and so perish this thought, have to move back to Russia by some extremely cruel twist of fate.

And the mountain air. It really is knocking us out. As is the vin chaud.

Those who can December 20, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Humanity is divided into those who like skiing and those who don’t. Those who like having a go at things and those who are scared of everything. Those who like life and the world and those who don’t. I’ve got a feeling that those who fall into the second category on each occasion also happen to have a great love of drinking.

It’s dispiriting to look at those who like to ski. All perfect and sporty and young and healthy. Probably never had a drink in their lives. Dressed perfectly. Whooshing perfectly to a glamorous stop at the bottom of each slope. Wearing perfect boots and goggles. And the odd one that does happen to have outdone you in years also happens to have outdone you in everything else. Pensioner skiing couples are the ghost-writers of your destitute Christmases future. Pensioner skiing couples may say a polite bonjour and clomp past you in those awkward boots with a saccharine smile but when you turn round to see if they’ve noticed you’re not meant to be here, their eyes bore through you and tattoo the pensioner skiing couples’ motto into your shrivelled heart. “We have led perfect lives. We are still a perfect couple. We don’t touch a drop. What about you?”

Salutary, salutary.

My parents are to blame, natch. Not that I mind them not having created a skier, and I like drinking. They even tried to, vaguely, thinking it might be the done thing, or I mistakenly nagged them into it, and packed me off to Switzerland when I was 15 but Robert B_ and I bunked off the lessons and went to Montreux and a Liverpudlian girl of solid frame tried to snog me and then, when I said I wasn’t ready for that sort of commitment so early in our acquaintance, told everyone in Switzerland I was gay. And Paul T_ got unsightly cold-sores all over his face and John G_ had a problem with mucus so skiing was spoiled for me forever.

And I was sure skiing was better suited to other children. Like John G_, in fact, who seemed to do nothing but ski and go to balls. Balls! At 15! Whereas I came from a much more HP-Sauce, homework-on-knees, overlit-rooms, siblings-and-their-friends-everywhere and TV-constantly-on kind of home. And I double-knew I wasn’t a skier when I went to a discotheque for youths in Switzerland. The Swiss youngsters were, naturally, terrified of us marauding school-kids behaving with the disdain for abroad that UK youngsters are taught at school and went all out to befriend us, thinking it might mitigate their ultimate punishment whenever that came. (It didn’t, as far as I remember.) My 15-year-old classmates commented effusively on the quality of the Swiss totty and I probably threw in a half-hearted phwoar or two for the sake of decency while fainting with admiration for anyone that had mastered the snowplough. (John G_, a natural born skier, was awfully good, in spite of the mucal issue, which put paid to any potential admiration, actually.)

And here the Russian and I sit now, surrounded by those who like skiing, those who like having a go at things and those who like life and the world. The Russian more naturally fits into their number, and has the advantage of having grown up in snow. Yet good + bad = bad and, rather than him pulling me towards that noble category, I, sadly, appear to be dragging him towards the hellish domain of those who are scared of everything, those who don’t like life and the world and those who happen to have a great love of drinking.

“Darling, we hate activities and nature and yet we always seem to get stuck in some national park or nature reserve whenever we go on holiday,” I say, hopefully, mumblingly and quickly, trying to subtly claim we are both natural non-skiers who should only ever holiday in administrative areas with a population in the millions and vermin and humans as the only representatives of the animal kingdom. “No, darlink. You not vont do anysink. You lazy and scared of everysink.” “Um, yes, well, that said, should we run away to Barcelona tomorrow? It’d only take a hundred hours by two coaches and two trains.” “No, ve go cross-country ski.”

I love the comfort zone. The familiar. The unchallenging. That which takes no physical skills. Which doesn’t have to be learnt. And the Russian says my New Year’s Resolution for 2008 must be to learn to drive. Yet I’d happily move to the middle of the forest as long as any mountains it had in it were bulldozed and there was broadband. (Mind you, I saw wolves today, which was spine-tinglingly exhilarating and that made me forget how bad I was at life until at least half a second after they left my field of vision.)

And just let’s not even mention snowboarders.

Run December 13, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian and I are running away to the mountains with nothing but a suitcaseful of bordering-on-the-defunct bank-cards between us. I’ve never had a good idea in my life but I’m brilliant at bad ones and dashing off to places when you’re otherwise struggling to keep the wolf from the door might just be my best bad idea yet.

I’ve got a feeling I hate mountains. I haven’t got the shoes for them and all they do is provide ravines and canyons and any number of fissures for folk to fall down and die. And the Russian will deliberately do things like go out for a walk wearing nothing but a singlet at 4 one morning just to make me worry that he’s dead. All he ever does is disappear when we’re in places. Only to reappear alively at some later point. Which is a relief.

I’m sure I hate mountains.

Our trip to the mountains will involve trains. If I try to be normal, I think this might provide a moment of beauty. Training it through the mountains. Imagine. But then the only thing trains through the mountains ever do, presumably, is fall off their tracks and down ravines and canyons and any number of crevices with enormous loss of life. Though maybe I’ll be exempt from death for wearing the wrong shoes. You never know what mood fate might be in.

I’m convinced I detest mountains.

It appears the accommodation we’ll be in will have an element of the communal about it. Not shared bedrooms, which I wouldn’t majorly give a toss about, really, though I wouldn’t sleep a wink for fear of snoring my co-nappers to distraction, but some of the leisure facilities. A pool, allegedly. For us and others. Maybe even a sauna. And a gymmy bit. I could do with making use of those, but they’re bound to be overrun with people from genetically unpink and perfect nations who’ll swim like mermaids, pump iron like Arnie and sweat neatly down their genetically superior bodies while I thrash about like a hippo, break my arm opening the gymmy-bit door and wheeze the wheeze of the dying in the sauna.

I’m convinced I loathe the communal.

“I’ll give you skiing tips depending on the snow reports I get,” came the advice of the person extremely kindly making the accommodation in the death-trap mountains available to us. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll be doing any skiing,” I answered feebly. “But might you say if there are restaurants and bars to speak of?” “Nonsense, you must have a go on at least the baby slopes,” which maybe I’d better to justify the largesse. But won’t that cost money? “There’s a restaurant you can eat in without taking your skis off.” Skis? If I cut some old plastic tubing in half, that might do the trick. Hair-clips should do to attach them to my inappropriate footwear.

I think I hate sport.

Still, important to get into the festive spirit.

I think I hate winter.

-ise December 6, 2007

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Whenever I set foot on England’s hallowed, muddy soil, I am overcome by an insatiable urge to drink milk, which must be why they call it the motherland.

I was being a good pal, visiting my friend. She is 96, so it is a tad easier for me to visit her than vice versa. And she has never taken a plane in her life and is probably unlikely to start now as to get her to her bed takes two paid acolytes, with her chanting to her legs, “Come on legs,” the whole time. And it’s always good to go and check where you are on the I-hate-England-I-love-England continuum.

Inevitably, there’s not much fresh in a 96-year-old’s day-to-day life. Her news might be a slightly tweaked reworking of an event from 70 years ago. She tells me how she is. Worse since I last saw her, she claims, though I am hard pushed to discern the enworsement. Lonelier than ever, she claims, though her house is as busy as King’s Cross Station (but without the prostitutes) with relatives of the three subsequent generations, neighbours and life-assistants of one type or another constantly traipsing in and out. But if you’re stuck in a chair for most of the day and know that there is no initiative you can take yourself, perhaps the hours of loneliness do last longer than for you or me.

“Darling, you won’t believe it, C_ (great-grandson) can play songs to me on his lap-dog.” “Lap-dog?” “Darling, I mean lap-top.” C_ appeared. “What did you play her?” “Just whatever she asked for, I found on youtube.” I thought I’d make the world a little more mysterious and offer the same service. “Darling, you mean your lap-dog has the same songs?” “It does.” “Darling, you don’t mean it! You’re too brilliant!”

We had You’re the Top galore, Pretty Polly Oliver, Stille Nacht (though not by The Hoff, sadly) (I’ve got a feeling his Deutsch isn’t a patch on Leonardo di Caprio’s), Danny Boy (though not by Cher, thankfully) (“Darling, switch it off. It’s too sad, I can’t bear it”), Oh No John, Spanish Ladies, Alphabet (OK, not really) and all sorts of other folksy favourites.

“Darling, you go and do some work now. It’s just such heaven that you’re here. I spend so much time alone.” I fire up my latest gripping translation. Twelve seconds pass. I translate half a word. “Darling, do you think you might do something with me now?” We do an anti-Alzheimer’s crossword. Etymon is one of the rather satisfying answers. “Darling, do you love words? I adore words. I always thought it was awfully important that people should speak French. Have I told you the story about when I told M_ (her grandson, my ex) about Jean-Paul Sartre and, ‘L’enfer, c’est les autres’?” It’s one of her favourite tells. The story goes that she mentioned it to M_. He was, depending on the mood, anywhere between five minutes and five years old. “Darling, and do you know what he answered?” I did, as I’ve been told the story a good 300 times and I sneakily had my mobile out so that I could text M_ live that the story was getting a fresh airing. “L’enfer, c’est moi.” She tells it as evidence of his troubled genius. He says he had probably heard the noise ‘c’est moi’ somewhere and managed to repeat it. “L’enfer, c’est that story,” came his rather pleasing reply with equally pleasing alacrity.

Sheep grazed gormlessly in the field opposite her house.

When silence seemed appropriate, I stared at the fire. My pal soon got bored of that state of affairs and would ask why I was staring at it. “I don’t know. I’m mesmerised.” … “What must the etymology of mesmerised be?” We both propounded our theories. Mine was, “‘erm, dunno really,” and hers was, “Chambers Oxford Dictionary, bottom shelf.” Darlings, and hands up who knows where the word comes from? I was half-expecting the dic to say something along the lines of, “…from the Greek mesmein – to entrance,” but it said nothing of the sort. In fact it’s some old German, a Herr Mesmer, who went and got a verb named after himself by hypnotising folk left, right and centre.

Which we’d better make into a game, let’s face it. I asked my pal what the verb named after her surname would mean. Let’s say she’s called Smith. Which she isn’t. She hesitated so I prompted her with, “smithise – to sprinkle one’s speech with the word darling.” To bibbise, naturally, means to be a talentless, work-shy scrounger.

Darlings, I know half of us are anonymous, but please invent a verb with some surname/name/nom-de-blog plus -ise and give me the definition. -ize verbs will be tolerated upon submission of extenuating documentation.